Calvin: Time For An Inventory (6)

The next thing in order is the soldier’s spear. This ought to be one only, but perhaps, from having felt the fire of some alchymist, it has increased and multiplied. For four have come to light, besides those which exist in different places, of which I have not the names. There is one at Rome, another in the Holy Chapel at Paris, a third at Saintonge in the monastery of Ciseaux, a fourth at Selve, near Bourdeaux. Which of these, then, is to be selected as the true one? The easier course will be to turn them all adrift, and leave them as they are. But granting that there is one, I would fain know where it was found. As no ancient histories, or other writings, mention it, it must be of modern manufacture.

In regard to the crown of thorns, it would seem that its twigs had been planted that they might grow again. Otherwise I know not how it could have attained to such a size. First, a third part of it is at Paris, in the Holy Chapel, and then at Rome there are three thorns in Santa Croce, and some portion also in St Eustathius. At Sienna, I know not how many thorns, at Vincennes one, at Bourges five, at Besançon, in the church of St John, three, and as many at Köningsberg. At the church of St Salvator, in Spain, are several, but how many I know not; at Compostella, in the church of St Jago, two; in Vivarais, three; also at Toulouse, Mascon, Charrox in Poictou, St Clair, Sanflor, San Maximin in Provence, in the monastery of Selles, and also in the church of St Martin at Noyon, each place having a single thorn. But if diligent search were made, the number might be increased fourfold. It is most evident that there must here be falsehood and imposition. How will the truth be ascertained? It ought, moreover, to be observed, that in the ancient Church it was never known what had become of that crown. Hence it is easy to conclude, that the first twig of that now shown grew many years after our Saviour’s death.

Next comes the purple robe in which Pilate clothed Christ in derision, because he had called himself a king. It was a costly robe not to be carelessly cast away. Nor is it to be supposed, that, after the mockery of Christ was over, Pilate or his servants did cast it away. I should like to know who the merchant was that purchased it from Pilate to preserve it for relics. To give some colour to their fiction, they show some drops of blood upon it, as if, forsooth, the villains who put it on the shoulders of Christ in mockery had afterwards chosen to destroy it. I know not whether any thing under the same name is found elsewhere. The coat, woven from the top to the bottom, and without seam, as it seemed better adapted to stimulate the piety of the unlearned, has produced a considerable number of others. For one is exhibited at Argenteuil, a village in the suburbs of Paris, and another at Treves. But if the Bull which is in the church of St Salvator in Spain says true, Christians have, from inconsiderate zeal, sinned more heinously than those wicked soldiers who did not dare to divide it. Christians have not feared to tear it in pieces, for purposes of adoration. But what will the Turk say, who, while he derides the madness, declares that it is with him? It is unnecessary, however, to go to law with the Turks about it, as they will have enough to do in settling the quarrel among themselves. Meanwhile, we have a good excuse for not giving credit to any of them; for we must not favour either party before hearing the cause. This were a violation of equity. Nay, if they wish to be believed, they must first reconcile themselves with the Evangelists. The matter stands thus—The garment for which lots were cast was the tunic, which the Greeks call χιτων. I would have men carefully consider the form of the one which is at Strasburgh or at Treves. They will find that the one at Strasburgh resembles the robe used at mass, and to which they give the name of chasuble. And, therefore, though they were to put out men’s eyes, the imposture might still be detected, being such as may be felt by the hand.

To conclude this article, I wish to propose a simple question. Scripture declares that the soldiers parted our Saviour’s vesture among them; and it is most certain that they did so for their own private advantage. Will they now then tell me what Christian it was who bought of the soldiers the tunic and other vestments, which are exhibited, for instance, at Rome, in the church of St Eustathius, and in other places? How came the Evangelists to forget the circumstance? For it was absurd to tell us that the soldiers parted the vesture among them, without also telling who it was that redeemed it out of the hands of the soldiers, in order that it might be preserved for relics. Moreover, how came the ancient writers to be so unkind as never to say one word on the subject? In solving these questions, they had better choose a day when men are devoid of sense, intelligence, and judgment. But they have not stopped here. In addition to the robe, they have thought proper also to have the dice employed in casting the lots. One of these is at Treves, another at St Salvator’s in Spain. In this they have characteristically displayed their childishness. The lots to which the Evangelists refer were those which were usually taken out of a hat or urn, as in the present day when a king is elected by ballot, or in the common game called Biancha. In short, everybody knows how lots are cast when lands or heritages are divided. But those asses have imagined that the lot was like our one for playing at dice, though that thing was not then in existence, at least in the shape in which we now have it. For, in place of the dots which are upon our dice, they had certain figures, such as Venus, or a dog, which they designated by their proper names. Let them now go and kiss their relics, on the testimony of men, thus stupid, and thus absurd in their lies.

We must now consider the napkin, as to which they have still more openly betrayed their impudence and stupidity. For, besides the napkin of Veronica, which is exhibited at St Peter’s, and the robe which the Virgin Mary is said to have wrapped round our Saviour, and which is shown in the church of Joannes Lateranensis, and also in the Augustin monastery at Carcassone, they have also the napkin in which our Saviour’s head was wrapped in the sepulchre. This is exhibited at the same place. There are, at least, six cities more which boast of having this very napkin, as the one at Nice, which was brought from Cambray, also those at Acqs in Germany, at Maestricht, at Besançon, and also at Vindon in Limoges, also in a certain town in Lorraine, on the borders of Alsace; besides portions of it which are scattered up and down in different places, as at St Salvator’s in Spain, and in a monastery of Augustins in the Vivarais. I say nothing of that complete napkin, which exists in a certain nunnery at Rome, as the Pope has expressly prohibited the exhibition of it. Must not men, I ask, have been exceedingly infatuated, to travel so far, at great expense, and with greater trouble, to see a bit of cloth, as to which not the least certainty could be had, or rather as to which they must, of necessity, have had their doubts? For whosoever believes that this napkin exists in one particular place, brings a charge of falsehood against all the others which boast that they possess it. For instance, he who believes that the piece of cloth which was at Cambray is the genuine napkin, condemns those of Besançon, of Acqs, of Vindon, of Maestricht, and of Rome, as guilty of falsehood and of wickedness, inasmuch as they stimulate the people to idolatry, and impose upon them, by making them believe that a bit of common cloth is the linen which wrapped our Saviour’s body in the tomb.

Let us now attend to the testimony which the Gospel gives on the subject; for it were little that they merely convicted each other of falsehood, if the Holy Spirit did not oppose them, and openly condemn all of them to a man, First, it is very strange that the Evangelists make no mention of Veronica, who is said to have wiped our Saviour’s face with a napkin, though they speak of all the women who accompanied our Saviour to the cross. The circumstance would have been remarkable, and well worthy of a place in their narrative, had our Saviour’s face been miraculously imprinted on a napkin. On the other hand, it does not seem a matter of much importance that some women accompanied our Saviour to the cross, if nothing miraculous, in regard to them, was performed. How comes it that the Evangelists relate things of little or of no great importance, and are silent as to the most important of all? For, had such a miracle been performed as is commonly pretended, the Holy Spirit is chargeable either with forget-fulness or thoughtlessness, in having failed to select the matters which it was of most importance to relate. So much for their Veronica, as to whom all men may see how manifestly false every thing is which they would fain have generally believed.

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. 304–08

Calvin’s Inventory Of Relics


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