Calvin: Time For An Inventory (3)

Let us begin then with Christ. As his natural body could not be possessed, (though some have found an easy way of fabricating miraculous bodies for him, in whatever numbers, and with whatever frequency they please,) instead of it they have collected six hundred frivolities to compensate for its absence. They have not even allowed the body of Christ to escape entirely, but have managed to retain a portion. For, besides teeth and hair, the monks of Charrox give out that they have the prepuce, that is, the pellicle cut off in his circumcision. And how, pray, did this pellicle come to them? The Evangelist Luke relates that the Lord was circumcised, but it is nowhere said that the skin was preserved for relics. All ancient histories are silent respecting it, and for the space of five hundred years this subject was not once broached in the Christian Church. Where was it lying hid all the time, and how did it so suddenly burst into notice? Moreover, how came it to travel so far as Charrox? But as a proof of its genuineness, they say that some drops of blood fell from it. They, indeed, say this, but they should prove it. It is plainly a mere absurdity. But were we to grant that this pellicle was preserved, and so might be there or elsewhere, what shall we say of the prepuce which is shown at Rome, in the church of Joannes Lateranensis? As it is certain there was only one, it cannot possibly be both at Rome and Charrox. Thus the falsehood becomes manifest.

Next comes the blood, about which there have been great disputes. For very many have maintained, that no blood of Christ exists, except what is miraculous. And yet his natural blood is exhibited in more than a hundred places; in some of them, as at Rochelle in Aunis, in a few drops which Nicodemus is said to have received in his handkerchief; in others, in full phials, as at Mantua. At Billom in Auvergne, it is shown in a crystal vase, in the form of a liquid, while, at a village in the same neighbourhood, and in other places, it is coagulated. Elsewhere, as in the church of Eustathius at Rome, it is poured from full goblets. Nor was it enough to have pure blood; they must needs also have it mingled with water, as it flowed from our Saviour’s side when it was pierced on the cross. This ware is found at Rome in the church of Joannes Lateranensis. I leave every man to judge what certainty can be had on such a subject, and whether it be not a manifest falsehood to say that the blood of Christ has been found seven or eight hundred years after his death, and in such quantities as to be diffused over the whole world, and this without any menion of it whatever in the ancient Church.

Next come certain things which were in contact with the body of our Lord, or, at least, things which could be collected, and in the absence of his body be converted into relics, so as to keep it in remembrance. First, There is shown at Rome, in the church of the elder Mary, the manger in which he was laid at his birth, and in the church of St Paul, the linen in which he was swaddled, although some portion of it is said to be in the church of St Salvator in Spain. There also is shown his cradle, together with the shirt which his mother, Mary, put upon him. Likewise at Rome, in the church of St James, is the altar on which he was placed on his being presented in the temple—as if various altars had then existed, as under the Papacy, where they are erected at pleasure. In this matter, the lie appears without disguise.

These are the pretended relics which belong to the period of our Saviour’s childhood. It cannot be necessary gravely to discuss the question, how these articles were discovered so long after our Saviour’s death. No man is dull enough not to see that the whole affair is sheer madness. The Evangelical History says not a word of these things, nor were they ever heard of in the days of the apostles. About fifty years after the death of Christ, Jerusalem was pillaged and overthrown. Since then, numerous ancient Doctors have written and made mention of the things which existed in their day—in particular, of the cross and nails which Helena found. But of these paltry trifles there is not a word. Nay, even in the time of Gregory, as is evident from his writings, not one of them existed at Rome. After his death, Rome was repeatedly taken, pillaged, and almost utterly destroyed. If these considerations are duly weighed, what else can be said but that all these relics were devised for the purpose of imposing on ignorant people? And, indeed, the favourers of a false religion, both priests and monks, confess this, giving them the name of “pious frauds,” as if by their means the people were incited to piety.

A second class of relics belongs to the intervening period between our Saviour’s childhood and his death. Among them is the pillar on which Christ leaned when disputing in the temple, together with eleven similar pillars belonging to the Temple of Solomon. But who revealed to them that Christ when disputing leaned on a pillar? The Evangelist, in giving an account of the disputation, does not even allude to it. Nor is it likely that the preachers’ place was granted to him, when, as is manifest, he possessed no reputation or authority. Besides, even if he did lean on a pillar, how, I ask, do they know that this was the one? Again, where did they find the twelve pillars which they say belonged to Solomon’s Temple?

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. 295–98

Calvin’s Inventory Of Relics


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