Why the Reformation Still Matters, Another Example

by | Aug 19, 2022 | Theological Issues | 0 comments

In April of 2021, I published an essay on this topic that had wide circulation thanks in no small part to another blog publishing a link to it. Today, I write a sequel to that article under a similar title because yesterday, a video dropped on the Catholic News Agency showing yet again the serious error that is still being promulgated by the Church of Rome. As a vocational church historian, the history of the Roman Church becomes a necessary field of study even if one is an historian of a particular sub-group of Christians—the Baptists in my case.

I have made the study of Catholicism an important part of my continuing education and try to keep abreast with what the church has taught and continues to say about itself. I have visited important cathedrals and basilicas across the world including many of the major RC basilicas in Europe. St. Peter’s Church, in the heart of Rome, is said to be built on the grave of the Apostle Peter. St. Mark’s Church in Venice is said to contain the bones of St. Mark, while the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain is said to contain the bones of St. James. Travelling to this basilica has become a major Roman Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century (the Camino de Santiago) that sees thousands annually traveling, most on foot or by bicycle through routes originating in France, Portugal, and eastern Spain as a part of their spiritual journey.

Whether these churches contain the bones they claim to contain is doubtful and their veracity would be impossible to prove. In the case of San Marco, the bones may actually be those of Alexander the Great. What is at issue in all of these places as well as at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, also in Rome, are the relics they are alleged to contain which highlights yet another serious problem with Roman Catholicism. As the above video reveals, the veneration of sacred objects, including the bones of important people, remains an essential part of the mythology the Church of Rome promotes to people grasping at any notion of the divine. The Basilica of the Holy Cross is said to have a piece of the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified which was authenticated when a corpse touched the piece and was miraculously restored to life. The reliquary also contains (purportedly) the Titulus Crusis that Pilate had hung on Jesus’ cross, one of the nails that pierced his flesh, and several thorns from the crown of thorns. Also in the reliquary are fragments of the Grotto of the Nativity and of the Holy Sepulcher, a piece of St. Thomas’s (the doubter) finger and a piece of the cross from the thief who trusted Jesus as he died next to him. All relics are encased in precious metals and put on display for the faithful to venerate. These relics were said to be conveyed to Rome by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, who secured them on a visit to the Holy Land in the 4th century. She kept them in a special chapel and the Church has revered them for more than 1500 years. The church itself was built in 1910 by Pope Pius X and the relics were moved to their current spot in 1931. Helena is also said to have secured the steps (Scala Santa) Jesus walked on as he appeared before Pilate which can be viewed in the Pontificio Santuario della Scala Santa, adjacent to the Archbasilica of St. John the Lateran, the church over which the pope actually presides as the bishop of Rome and the church which houses his cathedra (chair).

Most Protestants are uninformed about the place of relics and their veneration among their Catholic friends. However, such veneration remains an important part of the Roman Catholic tradition. When one venerates a relic, they touch, kiss, or stand near the object in a prayerful way—an external gesture that signifies an internal disposition. Relics and their veneration are found throughout the Roman system, particularly in the older churches. Fredrick the Wise of Saxony, the German prince who had a palace in Wittenberg, and eventually became the protector of Martin Luther had a reliquary that contained some 19,000 relics, thought to have the ability of remitting nearly 2 million years from one’s purgatorial sentence if properly venerated!

One need only visit modern day Rome and ride the yellow tour buses of Roma Christiana to see how the church caters to pilgrims to allow them to visit these holy sites with the enclosed relics so that the faithful can venerate these objects and places. Quite by “accident” on my first visit to Rome with my wife in 2014, I secured us “hop on, hop off” tickets on these buses to see the sites (conveniently routed to include all the important religious sites) of the city. So much of the city is owned by the church and the church actively, through tourism, seeks to bolster the faith of Catholics who visit the Eternal City and to win converts. Exiting the Mamertine prison, for example, we were subjected to a video that could best be described as an evangelistic “come home to Rome” video. It was after watching this video that I asked if the Roma Christiana was run by the church. It is! It gave us a very in-depth view of Roman Catholic Rome.

The veneration of relics is part of the Roman Catholic system of purgatory still taught by the Church. Purgatory is a place of cleansing, of judgment, of temporal suffering for sins forgiven but not fully cleansed. In the Roman Catholic system, there are two types of sin—mortal and venial. The more serious is a mortal sin, a sin described as “a sin of a grave nature,” a sin “committed with the full knowledge of the sinner” and a sin “committed with the deliberate consent of the sinner.” Examples of mortal sin include breaking the commandments—idolatry, blasphemy, “deliberate failure of the Sunday obligation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2181), murder, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, adultery, divorce, pornography, prostitution, rape, homosexuality, incest . . . and the list goes on. Confession to a priest is necessary to receive forgiveness for any of these mortal sins and if a person dies with any unconfessed mortal sin, he/she is doomed and damned. The Sacrament of Confession “remits the sins committed after baptism,” “remits the eternal punishment and at least part of the temporal punishment due to sins,” “restores or increases supernatural life to the soul,” and “gives strength not to fall back into sin.” Venial sins are sins “not fully consented to” or ones of which the sinner does not know that the actions were sinful. Purgatory then becomes necessary for saints to go to to be purified from the corruption not covered by the work of Christ. This time of judgement varies according to the nature and amount of these sins and may last for thousands of years. To shorten the time spent in purgatory, faithful Catholics can do any number of things, including the veneration of relics to reduce the amount of their temporal suffering.

No wonder Martin Luther had such despair before he came to grasp the solas! No wonder the Church was rent with such serious controversy as it threw off these unbiblical notions that kept people in the bondage of their sin. Sola fides! Sola gratia! Solus Christus! Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo gloria! Christ forgives sin and took all the penalty for sin, past, present, and future! Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!

Jeff Straub

Jeff Straub

Church Historian

Jeff is an experienced professor of Christian history and theology. In 1990, the Lord gave Jeff and his wife a wonderful son who has special needs. Due to issues related to the pandemic, Jeff has had to curtail his travel plans to concentrate his energies on loving his wife and son. When things change, Jeff hopes to again travel internationally to train Christian leaders. He continues to publish in the field of American religion. Research interests include Baptists and slavery, racism, and freemasonry as well as Pentecostalism, and global Christianity. Jeff has taught around the world including Canada where he resided with his family for his first nineteen years of ministry; Romania, Russia and the Ukraine in Europe; India and a limited access country in Asia; as well as Zambia and Kenya in Africa. He also speaks in US churches as the opportunities arise.

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