Thursday, August 5, 2010

Define Your Terms

Alright, people. Listen up. We've been seeing news items lately about "the remains of St. John the Baptist" being found in Bulgaria. Here's one. Now, that's not quite accurate, so I'm going to rant on the difference between "remains" and relics.
The headlines give the impression we're talking about a full body. That's not the case. It's just several bone fragments, so properly they should be saying "relics of St. John." Unfortunately, the press isn't very well versed in religious matters and wouldn't know the difference, or even in knowing there is a difference.
There are three sorts of relics. First class relics, such as the newly rediscovered fragments in Bulgaria, are actual body parts of a saint. Anything from a lock of hair to the full body. They're not worshiped or used as magic. They're simply a way of bringing great figures of the past closer to the general public. If you have a problem with that, try explaining why a fingernail clipping from Elvis Presley is likely to sell for a fortune on E-Bay. ( Though anyone who would sell a first class relic of a saint is violating canon law. ) First class relics of saints are much more common in America than most people realize. I can think of at least a dozen within five miles of the place where I'm writing this post.
A first class relic can also be a piece of the True Cross, or any item directly linked to the life of Christ. I know you're all familiar with John Calvin's remark that there are enough pieces of the True Cross to fill a ship, or to make a forest. Well, John Calvin was full of shit. All known relics of the Cross would weigh less than ten pounds. Not much when the full item would have weighed more than a hundred.
A second class relic is any item, or fragment of an item, that belonged to a saint, such as clothing. Likewise, there are more out there than most people realize. Within a few miles of where I live, you can find a fragment of one of St. Francis' habits and a zucchetto that belonged to Pope St. Piu X. A third class relic is anything, usually a piece of cloth, that has been touched to a first or second class relic. Third class relics are all over the place. In fact there are six of them within several feet of my desk. It's all simple when you bother to get your facts straight. Just don't expect the press to bother.
By the way, there's so much archaeological news coming out of Bulgaria lately that I'm starting to wonder if they're digging up the whole country.

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