Calvin: Time For An Inventory (11)

Now let the Apostles come forward in order. Their number, however, may beget confusion; and, therefore, the better course will be to take Paul and Peter by themselves, and afterwards proceed to the rest. Their bodies are at Rome, half at St Peter’s, and half at St Paul’s, Sylvester having, it is said, weighed them to make sure of an equal division. The heads of both are in the church of Joannes Lateranensis, though in the same church there is a tooth of Peter existing separately by itself. Though these things are so, it does not prevent them from being in other places also, as at Poictiers, where they have Peter’s cheek-bone and his beard. At Treves they have many bones belonging to both, and at Argenton, in Berri, they have Paul’s shoulder. But the thing is endless. Wherever there are churches dedicated to them, they have their relics in abundance. If it be asked, what kind of relics? let them call to mind what kind of a one the brain of St Peter was which I formerly mentioned, and which stood on the high altar of this city. As it turned out to be a pumice stone, so, on inquiry, it will be found, that many of the bones which are attributed to these Apostles are those either of horses or dogs.

Then come the things belonging to the bodies, as accessories. For instance, there is a shoe at St Salvator’s in Spain, but of what form and material I am unable to say. But the probability is, that it is an article of a similar description to the shoes which they have at Poictiers, and which are made of polished leather, ornamented with gold. See how splendidly they have adorned him after death, to compensate for the poverty in which he passed his life! As the Bishops of the present day, in representing pontifical majesty, are so splendidly clothed, it would seem to derogate from the dignity of the Apostles, were not something of the same nature attributed to them. True! painters can draw pictures in what colours they please, decking them from top to toe in varied attire, and then give them the name of Peter and Paul, or any other name; but every body knows the kind of clothing which they actually had in this world, and that it was no better than that which is usually worn by the poor. They have also at Rome the episcopal chair in which Peter sat, together with the sacerdotal robe in which he used to say mass, as if Bishops had at that time sat on thrones. Their business rather was to teach, comfort, and exhort in public and private, and make themselves ensamples to the flock; not to show themselves to the people to be adored by them, as the prelates of our day are wont to do. With regard to the robe for mass, the custom of masking after the manner of players was not then introduced; for plays were not then acted in the Church as they are now. Wherefore, in order to prove that Peter was dressed in a missal robe, they must first show that when he worshipped God he performed the part of a player like the Popish priests. It was natural enough for them to give him a missal robe, as they had previously given him an altar; but there is no more plausibility in the one than in the other. What kind of masses was then celebrated is well known; for the Apostles in their time only celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and for this no altar was necessary. That kind of monstrosity called a mass was altogether unknown, and continued to be unknown for long after. Hence it is clear, that these men, in fabricating their relics, must have supposed they were never to meet with an opponent; so shamelessly and extravagantly have they dared to lie. And yet they are not agreed among themselves as to that altar. For the Romans say that they have it, while the people of Pisa also show it in their suburb which faces the sea.

But that they might lose no possible means of making profit, they have not forgotten the sword with which the ear of Malchus was cut off, as if it were some fair ornament worthy of being preserved as a relic. I have omitted to mention the staff which is shown at Paris in the church of St Stephen á Pierre, and which is in as high repute as the altar and missal robe, and just for as good a reason. As to the staff, there is somewhat more plausibility in it, as it is not unlikely he may have used a staff in travelling; but then they throw every thing into confusion, by not agreeing among themselves about it. For the inhabitants of Cologne, and likewise those of Treves, contend for the possession of it. While they accuse each other of falsehood, they furnish us with good grounds for not giving credit to either. As to the chain with which Peter was bound I say nothing. It is shown at Rome in the church which bears its name. Nor do I say anything of the pillar on which he was beheaded, and which is shown in the church of St Anastasius. I only leave my readers to reflect how that chain must have been procured for the purpose of being converted into relics, and also whether, at that time, it was customary for executions to take place upon pillars.

We will now consider the case of the other Apostles jointly, and will dispose of it in a very few words. And first, we will mention where the whole bodies are, that by comparing them together, it may be seen what certainty can be had in reference to the things said of them. Everybody knows that the inhabitants of Tholouse think that they have got six of these bodies, viz., those of James the Greater, Andrew, James the Less, Philip, Simeon, and Jude. The body of Matthias is at Padua, that of Matthew, at Salerno, of Thomas, at Ortona, and of Bartholomew, at Naples, or somewhere in that district. Now, let us attend to those who have had two or three bodies. For Andrew has another body at Melfi, Philip and James the Less have each another body at the church of the Holy Apostles, and Simeon and Jude, in like manner, at the church of St Peter. Bartholomew has also another in the church dedicated to him at Rome. So here are six who have each two bodies, and also by way of a supernumerary, Bartholomew’s skin is shown at Pisa. Matthias, however, surpasses all the rest, for he has a second body at Rome, in the church of the Elder Mary, and a third one at Treves. Besides, he has another head, and another arm, existing separately by themselves. There are also fragments of Andrew existing at different places, and quite sufficient to make up half a body. For his head is at Rome, at the church of St Peter, a shoulder in that of Grisgon, a rib in that of St Eustathius, an arm in that of the Holy Spirit, and some other part in the church of St Blaise. There is also a foot at Aix. Were all these joined together, and properly fitted, they would make up two quarters of the body. But as Bartholomew left his skin at Pisa, so also he has left one of his heads at Treves, and some other member, I know not what. He has also a finger at Frene, while some other relics of them exist also at Rome, in the church of St Barbara. Thus, there is not only no want, but a superfluity in his case. The others are not so well supplied, yet each of them has somewhat to spare. For Philip has one foot at Rome, in the church of the Holy Apostles; also in the church of St Barbara he has I know not what relics, besides these which he has at Treves. In these two last churches he has James for his companion; for James, in like manner, has a hand in the church of St Peter, an arm in that of Grisgon, and another in that of the Holy Apostles. Matthew and Thomas have been left poorer than the rest. For the former has only one body, together with a few bones at Treves, and an arm at Rome, in the church of St Marcellus, and a head in that of St Nicholas, unless there be some which have escaped me. This is very likely; for how can one avoid losing one’s self in such a labyrinth?

Finding in their legends that the body of the Evangelist John vanished as soon as it had been consigned to the earth, it has been impossible for them to produce his bones, but they have endeavoured to compensate the matter in another way, by making a rush at all the articles connected with him. And the first thing which occurred to them is the cup out of which he drank poison after he was condemned by Domitian. But as two cities lay claim to it, we must either give implicit credit to what alchymists tell us of multiplication, or these people with their cup have played off a hoax on the world. There is one at Boulogne, and another at Rome, in the church of Joannes Lateranensis. Next, they have laid hold of his tunic, and the chain with which he was bound when he was brought from Ephesus, together with the oratory in which he prayed while he was in prison. I should like to know, whether at this time he hired carpenters to make an oratory for him, and also what intimacy between Christians and his jailors enabled them to obtain the chain from them, and so give it a place among their relics. These things are too absurd even to amuse children. But the most extraordinary articles of all are the twelve apostolic combs, which are exhibited in the church of Mary Insulan, near Lyons. I believe they were placed there at first with the intention of exhibiting them as combs which belonged to twelve peers of France, but their dignity afterwards having increased, they became apostolic.

John Calvin | “An Admonition Showing the Advantages Which Christendom Might Derive From an Inventory of Relics” in Tracts Relating to the Reformation, Vol. 1 | Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844, pp. 324–29

Calvin’s Inventory Of Relics


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