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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thomas Aquinas on relics

Reading an old post by Liam about relics led me to a lecture about them - Christian Materiality: Miracles in the Later Middle Ages by Caroline Bynum. It's interesting that theologians in the middle ages felt conflicted about relics - they were caught between fears of idolatry and wanting to affirm the holy instantiated in matter. Professor Bynum spoke of how Aquinas felt ...

Thomas Aquinas explained that a relic is *not* the living body of a saint, quote unquote, on account of its difference of form, that is, the relic is no longer informed by the saint's soul, which is in heaven. Like an image, a relic should be venerated for that towards which it points, in this case not the saint at all but God who works wonders through it. Yet, a relic *is* the saint, said Aquinas, quote unquote, by identity of matter which is destined to be reunited with its form. In honoring bits of saints, we revere physical stuff that will be reassembled, resurrected, animated, and glorified at the end of time. In other words, the relic both is and is not the saint. Aquinas and those who followed him held that there could not be bodily or quasi-bodily relics of Christ, such as the holy foreskin or vials of his blood. Christ's whole body had ascended into heaven, hence no part could be left behind without threatening his perfection.


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