Relic veneration

I was reading the Catholic Encyclopedia and it said

In accordance with these principles it will readily be understood that a certain worship may be offered even to inanimate objects, such as the relics of a martyr, the Cross of Christ, the Crown of Thorns, or even the statue or picture of a saint. There is here no confusion or danger of idolatry, for this worship is subordinate or dependent. The relic of the saint is venerated because of the link which unites it with the person who is adored or venerated; while the statue or picture is regarded as having a conventional relation to a person who has a right to our homage – as being a symbol which reminds us of that person

I understand the technically worship means to honor, not necessarily adoration, or the worship of latria. . Therefore we may say “we give the Blessed Virgin the worship of hyperdulia”. I just don’t understand why we “worship” or “venerate” relics. I always was taught that we didn’t venerate the relic, we venerated, or in the broad sense, worshiped the saint represented behind the relic with dulia or hyperdulia. Please explain this to me. Thank you.

Well, it’s right there in what you quoted. You venerate (respect) the relic because of its ‘link’ to the person. The buckle itself, for example, is not venerated as a buckle, but because it was worn by (associated or linked to) a saint.

To answer that, here’s a quote from St. Basil the Great:

“If I point to a statue of Caesar and ask you ‘Who is that?’, your answer would properly be, ‘It is Caesar.’ When you say such you do not mean that the stone itself is Caesar, but rather, the name and honor you ascribe to the statue passes over to the original, the archetype, Caesar himself.”

As explained above - the feeling and attitude we have towards the person (the saint) transfers to their relics. Have you never had an object that you prized, perhaps because it was a gift from someone you love or otherwise associated with them? Perhaps just a souvenir that brings back happy memories?

Don’t you sometimes get the same feeling around the object that you would around the person or at the event it’s a souvenir of? It can certainly happen.

Thank for your answers. I just looked on the Encylopedia again and it delved in deeper. There is a distinction between Absolute Worship and Relative Worship. Absolute Worship (dulia, hyperdulia, latria) is given to the person for his own sake. Relative Worship is given to the holy object, not for its own sake,but for the sake of the person signified. We worship the relic to worship the person behind it. The Encyclopedia says “The sign itself is nothing, but is shares the honor of its prototype. An insult to a flag (flag or statue) is an insult to the thing of which it is a sign; so also we honour the prototype by honouring the sign.” It makes since. So we do worship the relic, but we worship the relic because it worships the person. Does this sound right? By the way, I’m using the word worship using its theological meaning (dulia, hyperdulia, latria).

So, if the relic is of Jesus (i.e. the Cross) do we give it Relative Latria? If the relic is of Mary, would we give it Relative Hyperdulia?

:shrug: probably

Places like Acts 19:11f teach:
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
Catholics consider such a passage a perfect description of relics, they are ordinary objects used by Christians to assist other Christians in healing of both body and faith.

A good follow up question is: What happened to these miraculous handkerchiefs?

Catholics would say they were preserved and venerated in the local communities as testimonies of Christ and miracles.

Protestants, in their rejection of relics, without realizing it turn around and use the handkerchief to blow their nose on and toss it in the trash.

Those are your only two options, preserve it as a testimony or else toss it in the garbage as if it were a used tissue.

It should be noted that Protestants use similar sacramentals for healing—oils and holy water, depending on the denomination.

:nod: Seen pictures of ‘em lining up for a baptisin’ in the Jordan - don’t tell me they don’t believe in the power of things (even places) that have been touched by the sacred!

That is a very good point—visiting the Holy Land and seeing the places where Christ walked is high up on many a Protestant’s To Do List. (And nothing wrong with that!)

And while in the Holy Land, why not stop by The Vatican and see where Christ lives? :wink:

So when we give relative worship to relics we are worshiping the relic in order to worship the owner of the relic? Am I correct. I was always taught that you never venerate at relic, just venerate the owner of the relic.

Just so. After all, there is no inherent value in a bit of bone or a scrap of old cloth (or even a piece of old wood). These things have value to us only by their association with the holy person.


Would all of my protestant and non-denominational friends and colleagues be guilty of this idolatry, this ‘relic veneration,’ with their extensive collections of

  1. Sports memorabilia (signed, dirty jerseys; signed footballs)
  2. Bric-a-brac that once belonged to the rich and famous from Hollywood.
  3. Framed papers of literary and historical value.
  4. Their child’s collection of Disney faux-Hummels.
  5. Their silly costumes and props on display at Eric Clapton and Dave Matthews Band concerts and Saturday showings at midnight of some cult movie (like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or , Lord Forbid!, High School Musical 2)

Just curious as I am wont,


Are relics the same as sacramentals?
I can see some “high church” Anglicans and maybe Lutherans using oils and holy water, but for the most part I have never heard of Protestantism preserving and venerating relics.

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