Calvin: Time For An Inventory (13)

I had almost determined to be silent concerning the Innocents, as they call them; for although I could muster something like an army of them, it might always be alleged that there is nothing in this contradictory to history, because their exact number has not been defined. Therefore, I will say nothing of their numbers. Only let it be observed, that there is not a region of the world where some of them are not said to exist. I would ask, however, in what manner, after so long an interval, their graves were discovered, more especially as they were not regarded as saints till Herod slew them. I would also ask, when were they brought hither? The only answer which can be given is, that it was five or six hundred years after their death. Any person, however ignorant and illiterate, may judge what the result will be if credit is given to such wild dreams. Moreover, even if these Innocents could have been discovered, how could such a number of their bodies have been imported into France, Germany, and Italy, so as to be distributed amongst cities so remote from each other? This imposture, therefore, I leave as clearly established.

As Lawrence is included in the list of ancient martyrs, we will here assign a place to him. I do not know, indeed, that his body is in more than one place, viz., at Rome, in the church which bears his name; but there is a separate vase filled with his ashes, and likewise two jugs, the one filled with his blood, and the other with his fat. Moreover, an arm and bones are in the church which bears the name of Palisperna, and other relics in the church of St Sylvester. But were all the bones collected which are in France alone, I have no doubt that two complete bodies might be formed out of them. There also is the gridiron on which he was roasted, although Palisperna, which we have mentioned, boasts of having a fragment of it. In regard to the gridiron I could pardon them; but there are other more notable relics as to which it were unlawful to be silent, I mean the coals which are shown at the church of St Eustathius, and the towel with which an angel is said to have wiped his body. Since they have idled away their time in devising dreams of this nature to impose upon the world, let those who read this Admonition take time for due consideration, and, by so doing, consult for themselves, and guard against being so imposed upon in future. Of the same manufacture is the dalmatic, which is also shown at Rome, in the church of St Barbara. Having heard that Lawrence was a deacon, they imagined that he decked himself in a vesture similar to that which metamorphoses their deacons when they play their part in the mass. But the office of deacon in the ancient Church was a very different thing from what it now is in the Papacy. Deacons were then elected to take charge of the poor and distribute alms, not to be a kind of stage-players, and, consequently, had no need whatever of dalmatics or similar maskings.

To Lawrence we will join Gervasius and Protasius, whose tomb existed at Milan in the days of Ambrose, as he himself testifies, and likewise Jerome, Augustine, and many others. Accordingly, the Milanese even now lay claim to their bodies, which are nevertheless at Brissac, in Germany, and at Besançon, in the church of St Peter, besides an endless number of fragments scattered up and down in various churches of the world. Each of them must, therefore, have had at least three or four bodies, or we must discard the bones which now falsely pass under their name.

In assigning to Sebastian the office of curing the plague, their object was to bring him into high esteem, and so make him be more eagerly sought after. The consequence has been, that his one body has been multiplied into four bodies, one of which is at Rome, in the church of St Lawrence, a second at Soissons, a third at Pilignum, in Brittany, and a fourth near Narbonne, the place of his birth. He has, moreover, two heads—one at Rome, in the church of St Peter, and another at Toulouse, in the possession of the Dominicans. Both heads, however, are empty, if credit is to be given to the Franciscans of Angers, who give out that they have his brain. Nay, these Dominicans have also an arm. There is also another at Toulouse, in the church of Saturninus, another at Casede, in Auvergne, another at Brissac, in Germany, beside minute fragments which exist in various churches. When all these things have been well considered, let any one guess where the body of Sebastian really is. Not contented, however, with these, they have made relics of the arrows with which he was pierced. One of them is shown at Lambesc, in Provence, another at Poictiers, while others are scattered up and down in various places. The whole makes it plain that they had taken it for granted that they were never to be called to account for their impostures.

 John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 332–334.

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. 332–34

Calvin’s Inventory Of Relics


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