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To any one at all read in sacred history, it must be superfluous to produce texts of Scripture, to shew the wonderful miracles wrought by Almighty God by means of the relics of his saints :- When Eliseus smote the waters of Jordan with the mantle of Elias, they parted, and the prophet passed over;
-When a dead man was let down into the sepulchre of Eliseus, no sooner did he touch the bones of the prophet, than he revived and stood upon
his feet." Numbers were healed merely by the shadow of St. Peter passing over them ;(%) and others by handkerchiefs which had touched the body of St. Paul. In the primitive ages, the miracles wrought by the relics of the martyrs were frequent and notorious, never failing to produce their effect, confirming the faith of Christians, and commanding the belief of Pagans in the religion in favour of which they were performed. Surely, then, it is lawful to venerate these instruments which the Almighty has so often been pleased to employ in the performance of his wonders ; and for this purpose, as well as to stamp a mark of sanctity on the spot, from time immemorial it has been the custom, when a Church was not actually built over the tombs of martyrs, to furnish it with the relics of saints, placing them immediately under
(u) 4 Kings, ii. 14.
(1) Ibid. xiii. 21.
the altar, that their mortal remains might occupy a similar situation upon earth, in which their souls were seen by St. John in heaven: I saw under the altar, says he, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.(a)
It is not that we believe any inherent power or supernatural efficacy to reside in these remains ; the very bones and ashes themselves serve to admonish us that the individuals whom we honour were perishable mortals like the rest of the human race. But when we remember the extraordinary graces the Almighty has conferred upon his saints, the signal favours he has granted them, and the heroic and exemplary manner in which they have performed all the duties of a Christian, thus preserving their bodies, according to the instructions of the apostle, the unpolluted temples of the Holy Ghost, we conceive it to be in full accordance with the best feelings of humanity, that the heart should pray with greater fervency in the presence of the memorials of such men ; which, while we yield them our honour, serve, by the recollections they inspire, to animate the soul, to cherish devotion, and to excite us to constancy and perseverance. The supplications which, under such circumstances, we offer to the saints, are in their end and object
(a) Rev. vi. 9.
addressed to the Almighty himself; it is through him that we cherish a veneration for the remains of those whose lives have been passed in his service, and whose death has been precious in his sight: in him it originates,-to him it is referred; —and to his honour and glory it is ultimately, though not immediately, directed.
Having shewn that we are not superstitious in our veneration of relics, I trust also to prove that we are not idolaters in our respect for images, and in the manner in which we use them. The answer in our English Catechisms to the question, Do Catholics pray to images ? is this ; No, by no means, for they can neither see, nor hear, nor help us. A similar answer, together with the most pointed condemnation of every species of idolatry, is to be found, without one exception, in all the catechisms in use in Italy, France, Spain, Flanders, Germany; in a word, in every portion of the Catholic world, in every language in which Christianity is preached, and in every clime in which the name of Jesus is known. Now, if we consider the diligence with which the Catholic clergy inculcate the study of the catechism, the earnestness with which they impress it on the minds of children, the clear and familiar manner in which they explain it, and the assiduity and frequency of these explanations, we ought at least to hesitate before we pronounce that those who receive and
believe these doctrines, receive and believe them in one sense, and practise them in another. It should also be observed that the clergy are nowise interested in keeping up any delusion upon this point; while the common instinct of man, every principle both of natural and revealed religion, conspire to direct his adoration to the sole object worthy of it to the great Creator and Disposer of all things. If, with all the checks and precautions employed, some abuse or extravagance should partially and occasionally exist, it must, in justice, be attributed rather to the perversity of human nature, than to any thing radically vicious in the system.
When the Almighty commanded cherubim, b) who are his creatures as much as man, to be made for the ornament of the ark of the covenant, he did so without fear that the Israelites, prone as they were to idolatry, would transfer those divine honours to them which they owed to himself alone.
(o) Upon the Propitiatory stood two Cherubim, face to face, with their wings expanded and spread, so as to cover the Ark, forming, as it were, a throne for the God of all Sanctity and Majesty. Hence comes the expression often met with in the Sacred Writings, of God sitting upon the Cherubim. It is in imitation of this, that Cherubim are not unfrequently placed to ornament the altar of the blessed Sacrament, where the Almighty deigns to be
Indeed, when the Jewish people fell into this most abominable of all crimes, the idolatry was generally meditated first, and the idol raised afterwards : so far were they from being led astray by the use of images in their worship! Yet, be it remembered, that, though we are bound to pay a due respect to the images of Christ and of his saints, when used, we are not bound to use them. They are not necessary appendages to our service, and may be dispensed with, whenever it is judged proper. Except the Crucifix, an image is hardly ever seen in our Chapels in England, for fear of giving scandal to our Protestant brethren : in this we act in conformity to the advice of St. Paul, who recommends us to concede to the weaknesses of others, when concession is no sacrifice of our duty. The Clergy of Catholic countries are the best judges how far the use of images is liable to be abused, and whether any mischief arises from the toleration of them; and, as they are not condemned, where there can be no sinister motive for continuing them, it is but charity to suppose, that they are not worthy of condemnation.") In England we
(e) That it is in itself no impiety to pay religious veneration to inanimate objects, is to be deduced from the commands of Almighty God himself, in the Old Testament. Moses was ordered to put off his shoes on Mount Horeb, and walk barefoot, because it was holy ground. The Israelites were, in several instances, commanded to