Vol. 3, Chapter VII (Cont’d) – Festivals of the Saints


The system of saint-worship, like that of the worship of Mary, became embodied in a series of religious festivals, of which many had only a local character, some a provincial, some a universal. To each saint a day of the year, the day of his death, or his heavenly birthday, was dedicated, and it was celebrated with a memorial oration and exercises of divine worship, but in many cases desecrated by unrestrained amusements of the people, like the feasts of the heathen gods and heroes.

The most important saints’ days which come down from

the early church, and bear a universal character, are the following:

1. The feast of the two chief apostles Peter and Paul, on the twenty-ninth of June, the day of their martyrdom. It is with the Latins and the Greeks the most important of the feasts of the apostles, and, as the homilies for the day by Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Leo the Great show, was generally introduced as early as the fourth century.

2. Besides this, the Roman church has observed since the fifth century a special feast in honor of the prince of the apostles and for the glorification of the papal office: the feast of The See of Peter on the twenty-second of February, the day on which, according to tradition, he took possession of the Roman bishopric. With this there was also an Antiochian St. Peter’s day on the eighteenth of January, in memory of the supposed episcopal reign of this apostle in Antioch. The Catholic liturgists dispute which of the two feasts is the older. After Leo the Great, the bishops used to keep their Natales. Subsequently the feast of the Chains of Peter was introduced in memory of the chains which Peter wore, according to Act_12:6, under Herod at Jerusalem, and, according to the Roman legend, in the prison at Rome under Nero.

3. The feast of John, the apostle and evangelist, on the twenty-seventh of December, has already been mentioned in connection with the Christmas cycle.

4. Likewise the feast of the protomartyr Stephen, on the twenty-sixth of December, after the fourth century.

5. The feast of John the Baptist, the last representative of the saints before Christ. This was, contrary to the general rule, a feast of his birth, not his martyrdom, and, with reference to the birth festival of the Lord on the twenty-fifth of December, was celebrated six months earlier, on the twenty-fourth of June, the summer solstice. This was intended to signify at once his relation to Christ and his well-known word: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He represented the decreasing sun of the ancient covenant; Christ, the rising sun of the new. In order to celebrate more especially the martyrdom of the Baptist, a feast of the Beheading of John, on the twenty-ninth of August, was afterward introduced; but this never became so important and popular as the feast of his birth.

6. To be just to all the heroes of the faith, the Greek church, after the fourth century, celebrated a feast of All Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost (the Latin festival of the Trinity). The Latin church, after 610, kept a similar feast, the Festum Omnium Sanctorum, on the first of November; but this did not come into general use till after the ninth century.

7. The feast of the Archangel Michael, the leader of the hosts of angels, and the representative of the church triumphant, (Rev_12:7-9; comp. Jude, Jud_1:9) on the twenty-ninth of September. This owes its origin to some miraculous appearances of Michael in the Catholic legends. The worship of the angels developed itself simultaneously with the worship of Mary and the saints, and churches also were dedicated to angels, and called after their names. Thus Constantine the Great built a church to the archangel Michael on the right bank of the Black Sea, where the angel, according to the legend, appeared to some ship-wrecked persons and rescued them from death. Justinian I. built as many as six churches to him. Yet the feast of Michael, which some trace back to Pope Gelasius I., a.d. 493, seems not to have become general till after the ninth century.


86. The Christian Calendar. The Legends of the Saints. The Acta Sanctorum

This is the place for some observations on the origin and character of the Christian calendar with reference to its ecclesiastical elements, the catalogue of saints and their festivals.

The Christian calendar, as to its contents, dates from the fourth and later centuries; as to its form, it comes down from classical antiquity, chiefly from the Romans, whose numerous calendars contained, together with astronomical and astrological notes, tables also of civil and religious festivals and public sports. Two calendars of Christian Rome still extant, one of the year 354, the other of the year 448, show the transition. The former contains for the first time the Christian week beginning with Sunday, together with the week of heathen Rome; the other contains Christian feast days and holidays, though as yet very few, viz., four festivals of Christ and six martyr days. The oldest purely Christian calendar is a Gothic one, which originated probably in Thrace in the fourth century. The fragment still extant contains thirty-eight days for November and the close of October, among which seven days are called by the names of saints (two from the Bible, three from the church universal, and two from the Gothic church).

There are, however, still earlier lists of saints’ days, according to the date of the holiday; the oldest is a Roman one of the middle of the fourth century, which contains the memorial days of twelve bishops of Rome and twenty-four martyrs, together with the festival of the birth of Christ and the festival of Peter on the twenty-second of February.

Such tables are the groundwork of the calendar and the martyrologies. At first each community or province had its own catalogue of feasts, hence also its own calendar. Such local registers were sometimes called diptycha (δίπτυχα), because they were recorded on tables with two leaves; yet they commonly contained, besides the names of the martyrs, the names also of the earlier bishops and still living benefactors or persons, of whom the priests were to make mention by name in the prayer before the consecration of the elements in the eucharist. The spread of the worship of a martyr, which usually started from the place of his martyrdom, promoted the interchange of names. The great influence of Rome gave to the Roman festival-list and calendar the chief currency in the West.

Gradually the whole calendar was filled up with the names of saints. As the number of the martyrs exceeded the number of days in the year, the commemoration of several must fall upon the same day, or the canonical hours of cloister devotion must be given up. The oriental calendar is richer in saints from the Old Testament than the occidental.

With the calendars are connected the Martyrologia, or Acta Martyrum, Acta Sanctorum, called by the Greeks Menologia and Menaea. There were at first only “Diptycha” and “Calendaria martyrum,” i.e., lists of the names of the martyrs commemorated by the particular church in the order of the days of their death on the successive days of the year, with or without statements of the place and manner of their passion. This simple skeleton became gradually animated with biographical sketches, coming down from different times and various authors, containing a confused mixture of history and fable, truth and fiction, piety and superstition, and needing to be used with great critical caution. As these biographies of the saints were read on their annual days in the church and in the cloisters for the edification of the people, they were called Legenda.

The first Acts of the Martyrs come down from the second and third centuries, in part from eye-witnesses, as, for example, the martyrdom of Polycarp (a.d. 167), and of the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne in South Gaul; but most of them originated, at least in their present form, in the post-Constantinian age. Eusebius wrote a general martyrology, which is lost. The earliest Latin martyrology is ascribed to Jerome, but at all events contains many later additions; this father, however, furnished valuable contributions to such works in his “Lives of eminent Monks” and his “Catalogue of celebrated Church Teachers.” Pope Gelasius thought good to prohibit or to restrict the church reading of the Acts of the Saints, because the names of the authors were unknown, and superfluous and incongruous additions by heretics or uneducated persons (idiotis) might be introduced. Gregory the Great speaks of a martyrology in use in Rome and elsewhere, which is perhaps the same afterward ascribed to Jerome and widely spread. The present Martyrologium Romanum, which embraces the saints of all countries, is an expansion of this, and was edited by Baronius with a learned commentary at the command of Gregory XIII. and Sixtus V. in 1586, and afterward enlarged by the Jesuit Heribert Rosweyd.

Rosweyd († 1629) also sketched, toward the close of the sixteenth century, the plan for the celebrated “Acta Sanctorum, quotquot toto orbe coluntur,” which Dr. John van Bolland († 1665) and his companions and continuators, called Bollandists (Henschen, † 1681; Papenbrök, † 1714; Sollier, † 1740; Stiltinck, † 1762, and others of inferior merit), published at Antwerp in fifty-three folio volumes, between the years 1643 and 1794 (including the two volumes of the second series), under the direction of the Jesuits, and with the richest and rarest literary aids. This work contains, in the order of the days of the year, the biography of every saint in the Catholic calendar, as composed by the Bollandists, down to the fifteenth of October, together with all the acts of canonization, papal bulls, and other ancient documents belonging thereto, with learned treatises and notes; and that not in the style of popular legends, but in the tone of thorough historical investigation and free criticism, so far as a general accordance with the Roman Catholic system of faith would allow. It was interrupted in 1773 by the abolition of the order of the Jesuits, then again in 1794, after a brief resumption of labor and the publication of two more volumes (the fifty-second and fifty-third), by the French Revolution and invasion of the Netherlands and the partial destruction of the literary material; but since 1845 (or properly since 1837) it has been resumed at Brussels under the auspices of the same order, though not with the same historical learning and critical acumen, and proceeds tediously toward completion. This colossal and amazing work of more than two centuries of pious industry and monkish learning will always remain a rich mine for the system of martyr and saint-worship and the history of Christian life.


87. Worship of Relics. Dogma of the Resurrection. Miracles of Relics

Comp. the Literature at §84. Also J. Mabillon (R.C.): Observationes de sanctorum reliquiis (Praef. ad Acta s. Bened. Ordinis). Par. 1669. Barrington and Kirk (R.C.): The Faith of Catholics, etc. Lond. 1846. Vol. iii. pp. 250-307. On the Protestant side, J. H. Jung: Disquisitio antiquaria de reliqu. et profanis et sacris earumque cultu, ed. 4. Hannov. 1783.

The veneration of martyrs and saints had respect, in the first instance, to their immortal spirits in heaven, but came to be extended, also, in a lower degree, to their earthly remains or relics. By these are to be understood, first, their bodies, or rather parts of them, bones, blood, ashes; then all which was in any way closely connected with their persons, clothes, staff, furniture, and especially the instruments of their martyrdom. After the time of Ambrose the cross of Christ also, which, with the superscription and the nails, are said to have been miraculously discovered by the empress Helena in 326, was included, and subsequently His crown of thorns and His coat, which are preserved, the former, according to the legend, in Paris, and the latter in Treves. Relics of the body of Christ cannot be thought of, since He arose without seeing corruption, and ascended to heaven, where, above the reach of idolatry and superstition, He is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. His true relics are the Holy Supper and His living presence in the church to the end of the world.

The worship of relics, like the worship of Mary and the saints, began in a sound religious feeling of reverence, of love, and of gratitude, but has swollen to an avalanche, and rushed into all kinds of superstitious and idolatrous excess. “The most glorious thing that the mind conceives,” says Goethe, “is always set upon by a throng of more and more foreign matter.”

As Israel could not sustain the pure elevation of its divinely revealed religion, but lusted after the flesh pots of Egypt and coquetted with sensuous heathenism so it fared also with the ancient church.

The worship of relics cannot be derived from Judaism; for the Levitical law strictly prohibited the contact of bodies and bones of the dead as defiling. Yet the isolated instance of the bones of the prophet Elisha quickening by their contact a dead man who was cast into his tomb, was quoted in behalf of the miraculous power of relics; though it should be observed that even this miracle did not lead the Israelites to do homage to the bones of the prophet nor abolish the law of the uncleanness of a corpse.

The heathen abhorred corpses, and burnt them to ashes, except in Egypt, where embalming was the custom and was imitated by the Christians on the death of martyrs, though St. Anthony protested against it. There are examples, however, of the preservation of the bones of distinguished heroes like Theseus, and of the erection of temples over their graves.

The Christian relic worship was primarily a natural consequence of the worship of the saints, and was closely connected with the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which was an essential article of the apostolic tradition, and is incorporated in almost all the ancient creeds. For according to the gospel the body is not an evil substance, as the Platonists, Gnostics, Manichaeans held, but a creature of God; it is redeemed by Christ; it becomes by the regeneration an organ and temple of the Holy Ghost; and it rests as a living seed in the grave, to be raised again at the last day, and changed into the likeness of the glorious body of Christ. The bodies of the righteous “grow green” in their graves, to burst forth in glorious bloom on the morning of the resurrection. The first Christians from the beginning set great store by this comforting doctrine, at which the heathen, like Celsus and Julian, scoffed. Hence they abhorred also the heathen custom of burning, and adopted the Jewish custom of burial with solemn religious ceremonies, which, however, varied in different times and countries.

But in the closer definition of the dogma of the resurrection two different tendencies appeared: a spiritualistic, represented by the Alexandrians, particularly by Origen and still later by the two Gregories; the other more realistic, favored by the Apostles’ Creed, advocated by Tertullian, but pressed by some church teachers, like Epiphanius and Jerome, in a grossly materialistic manner, without regard to the σῶμα πνευματικόν of Paul and the declaration that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The latter theory was far the more consonant with the prevailing spirit of our period, entirely supplanted the other, and gave the mortal remains of the saints a higher value, and the worship of them a firmer foundation.

Roman Catholic historians and apologists find a justification of the worship and the healing virtue of relics in three facts of the New Testament: the healing of the woman with the issue of blood by the touch of Jesus’ garment; (Mat_9:20) the healing of the sick by the shadow of Peter; (Act_5:14, Act_5:15) and the same by handkerchiefs from Paul. (Act_19:11, Act_19:12)

These examples, as well as the miracle wrought by the bones of Elisha, were cited by Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and other fathers, to vindicate similar and greater miracles in their time. They certainly mark the extreme limit of the miraculous, beyond which it passes into the magical. But in all these cases the living and present person was the vehicle of the healing power; in the second case Luke records merely the popular belief, not the actual healing; and finally neither Christ nor the apostles themselves chose that method, nor in any way sanctioned the superstitions on which it was based. At all events, the New Testament and the literature of the apostolic fathers know nothing of an idolatrous veneration of the cross of Christ or the bones and chattels of the apostles. The living words and acts of Christ and the apostles so completely absorbed attention that we have no authentic accounts of the bodily appearance, the incidental externals, and transient possessions of the founders of the church. Paul would know Christ after the spirit, not after the flesh. Even the burial places of most of the apostles and evangelists are unknown. The traditions of their martyrdom and their remains date from a much later time, and can claim no historical credibility.

The first clear traces of the worship of relics appear in the second century in the church of Antioch, where the bones of the bishop and martyr Ignatius († 107) were preserved as a priceless treasure; and in Smyrna, where the half-burnt bones of Polycarp († 167) were considered “more precious than the richest jewels and more tried than gold.” We read similar things in the Acts of the martyrs Perpetua and Cyprian. The author of the Apostolic Constitutions exhorts that the relics of the saints, who are with the God of the living and not of the dead, be held in honor, and appeals to the miracle of the bones of Elisha, to the veneration which Joseph showed for the remains of Jacob, and to the bringing of the bones of Joseph by Moses and Joshua into the promised land. (Comp. Gen_50:1, Gen_50:2, Gen_50:25, Gen_50:26; Exo_13:19; Jos_24:32; Act_7:16.) Eusebius states that the episcopal throne of James of Jerusalem was preserved to his time, and was held in great honor.

Such pious fondness for relics, however, if it is confined within proper limits, is very natural and innocent, and appears even in the Puritans of New England, where the rock in Plymouth, the landing place of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, has the attraction of a place of pilgrimage, and the chair of the first governor of Massachusetts is scrupulously preserved, and is used at the inauguration of every new president of Harvard University.

But toward the middle of the fourth century the veneration of relics simultaneously with the worship of the saints, assumed a decidedly superstitious and idolatrous character. The earthly remains of the martyrs were discovered commonly by visions and revelations, often not till centuries after their death, then borne in solemn processions to the churches and chapels erected to their memory, and deposited under the altar; and this event was annually celebrated by a festival. The legend of the discovery of the holy cross gave rise to two church festivals: The Feast of the Invention of the Cross on the third of May, which has been observed in the Latin church since the fifth or sixth century; and The Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, on the fourteenth of September, which has been observed in the East and the West, according to some since the consecration of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335, according to others only since the reconquest of the holy cross by the emperor Heraclius in 628. The relics were from time to time displayed to the veneration of the believing multitude, carried about in processions, preserved in golden and silver boxes, worn on the neck as amulets against disease and danger of every kind, and considered as possessing miraculous virtue, or more strictly, as instruments through which the saints in heaven, in virtue of their connection with Christ, wrought miracles of healing and even of raising the dead. Their number soon reached the incredible, even from one and the same original; there were, for example, countless splinters of the pretended cross of Christ from Jerusalem, while the cross itself is said to have remained, by a continued miracle, whole and undiminished! Veneration of the cross and crucifix knew no bounds, but can, by no means, be taken as a true measure of the worship of the Crucified; on the contrary, with the great mass the outward form came into the place of the spiritual intent, and the wooden and silver Christ was very often a poor substitute for the living Christ in the heart.

Relics became a regular article of trade, but gave occasion, also, for very many frauds, which even such credulous and superstitious relic-worshippers as St. Martin of Tours and Gregory the Great lamented. Theodosius I., as early as 386, prohibited this trade; and so did many councils; but without success. On this account the bishops found themselves compelled to prove the genuineness of the relics by historical tradition, or visions, or miracles.

At first, an opposition arose to this worship of dead men’s bones. St. Anthony, the father of monasticism († 356), put in his dying protest against it, directing that his body should be buried in an unknown place. Athanasius relates this with approbation, and he caused several relics which had been given to him to be fastened up, that they might be out of the reach of idolatry. But the opposition soon ceased, or became confined to inferior or heretical authors, like Vigilantius and Eunomius, or to heathen opponents like Porphyry and Julian. Julian charges the Christians, on this point, with apostasy from their own Master, and sarcastically reminds them of His denunciation of the Pharisees, who were like whited sepulchres, beautiful without, but within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. This opposition, of course, made no impression, and was attributed to sheer impiety. Even heretics and schismatics, with few exceptions, embraced this form of superstition, though the Catholic church denied the genuineness of their relics and the miraculous virtue of them

The most and the best of the church teachers of our period, Hilary, the two Gregories, Basil, Chrysostom, Isidore of Pelusium, Theodoret, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Leo, even those who combated the worship of images on this point, were carried along by the spirit of the time, and gave the weight of their countenance to the worship of relics, which thus became an essential constituent of the Greek and Roman Catholic religion. They went quite as far as the council of Trent, which expresses itself more cautiously, on the worship of relics as well as of saints, than the church fathers of the Nicene age. With the good intent to promote popular piety by sensible stimulants and tangible supports, they became promoters of dangerous errors and gross superstition.

To cite some of the most important testimonies:

Gregory Nazianzen thinks the bodies of the saints can as well perform miracles, as their spirits, and that the smallest parts of the body or of the symbols of their passion are as efficacious as the whole body.

Chrysostom values the dust and ashes of the martyrs more highly than gold or jewels, and ascribes to them the power of healing diseases and putting death to flight. In his festal discourse on the translation of the relics of the Egyptian martyrs from Alexandria to Constantinople, he extols the bodies of the saints in eloquent strains as the best ramparts of the city against all visible enemies and invisible demons, mightier than walls, moats, weapons, and armies.

“Let others,” says Ambrose, “heap up silver and gold; we gather the nails wherewith the martyrs were pierced, and their victorious blood, and the wood of their cross.” He himself relates at large, in a letter to his sister, the miraculous discovery of the bones of the twin brothers Gervasius and Protasius, two otherwise wholly unknown and long-forgotten martyrs of the persecution under Nero or Domitian. This is one of the most notorious relic miracles of the early church. It is attested by the most weighty authorities, by Ambrose and his younger contemporaries, his secretary and biographer Paulinus, the bishop Paulinus of Nola, and Augustine, who was then in Milan; it decided the victory of the Nicene orthodoxy over the Arian opposition of the empress Justina; yet is it very difficult to be believed, and seems at least in part to rest on pious frauds.

The story is, that when Ambrose, in 386, wished to consecrate the basilica at Milan, he was led by a higher intimation in a vision to cause the ground before the doors of Sts. Felix and Nahor to be dug up, and there he found two corpses of uncommon size, the heads severed from the bodies (for they died by the sword), the bones perfectly preserved, together with a great quantity of fresh blood. These were the saints in question. They were exposed for two days to the wondering multitude, then borne in solemn procession to the basilica of Ambrose, performing on the way the healing of a blind man, Severus by name, a butcher by trade, and afterward sexton of this church. This, however, was not the only miracle which the bones performed. “The age of miracles returned,” says Ambrose. “How many pieces of linen, how many portions of dress, were cast upon the holy relics and were recovered with the power of healing from that touch. It is a source of joy to all to touch but the extremest portion of the linen that covers them; and whoso touches is healed. We give thee thanks, O Lord Jesus, that thou hast stirred up the energies of the holy martyrs at this time, wherein thy church has need of stronger defence. Let all learn what combatants I seek, who are able to contend for us, but who do not assail us, who minister good to all, harm to none.” In his homily De inventione SS. Gervasii et Protasii, he vindicates the miracle of the healing of the blind man against the doubts of the Arians, and speaks of it as a universally acknowledged and undeniable fact: The healed man, Severus, is well known, and publicly testifies that he received his sight by the contact of the covering of the holy relics.

Jerome calls Vigilantius, for his opposition to the idolatrous veneration of ashes and bones, a wretched man, whose condition cannot be sufficiently pitied, a Samaritan and Jew, who considered the dead unclean; but he protects himself against the charge of superstition. We honor the relics of the martyrs, says he, that we may adore the God of the martyrs; we honor the servants, in order thereby to honor the Master, who has said: “He that receiveth you, receiveth me.” The saints are not dead; for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Neither are they enclosed in Abraham’s bosom as in a prison till the day of Judgment, but they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.

Augustine believed in the above-mentioned miraculous discovery of the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius, and the healing of the blind man by contact with them, because he himself was then in Milan, in 386, at the time of his conversion, and was an eye-witness, not indeed of the discovery of the bones — for this he nowhere says — but of the miracles, and of the great stir among the people.

He gave credit likewise to the many miraculous cures which the bones of the first martyr Stephen are said to have performed in various parts of Africa in his time. These relics were discovered in 415, nearly four centuries after the stoning of Stephen, in an obscure hamlet near Jerusalem, through a vision of Gamaliel, by a priest of Lucian; and some years afterward portions of them were transported to Uzali, not far from Utica, in North Africa, and to Spain and Gaul, and everywhere caused the greatest ado in the superstitious populace.

But Augustine laments, on the other hand, the trade in real and fictitious relics, which was driven in his day, and holds the miracles to be really superfluous, now that the world is converted to Christianity, so that he who still demands miracles, is himself a miracle. Though he adds, that to that day miracles were performed in the name of Jesus by the sacraments or by the saints, but not with the same lustre, nor with the same significance and authority for the whole Christian world. Thus he himself furnishes a warrant and an entering wedge for critical doubt in our estimate of those phenomena.


88. Observations on the Miracles of the Nicene Age

Comp. on the affirmative side especially John H. Newman (now R.C., then Romanizing Anglican): Essay on Miracles, in the 1st vol. of the English translation of Fleury’s Ecclesiastical History, Oxford, 1842; on the negative, Isaac Taylor (Independent): Ancient Christianity, Lond. 4th ed. 1844. Vol. ii. pp. 233-365. Dr. Newman previously took the negative side on the question of the genuineness of the church miracles in a contribution to the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, 1830.

In the face of such witnesses as Ambrose and Augustine, who must be accounted in any event the noblest and most honorable men of the early church, it is venturesome absolutely to deny all the relic-miracles, and to ascribe them to illusion and pious fraud. But, on the other hand, we should not be bribed or blinded by the character and authority of such witnesses, since experience sufficiently proves that even the best and most enlightened men cannot wholly divest themselves of superstition and of the prejudices of their age Hence, too, we should not ascribe to this whole question of the credibility of the Nicene miracles an undue dogmatic weight, nor make the much wider issue between Catholicism and Protestantism dependent on it. In every age, as in every man, light and shade in fact are mingled, that no flesh should exalt itself above measure. Even the most important periods of church history, among which the Nicene age, with all its faults, must be numbered, have the heavenly treasure in earthen vessels, and reflect the spotless glory of the Redeemer in broken colors.

The most notorious and the most striking of the miracles of the fourth century are Constantine’s vision of the cross (a.d. 312), the finding of the holy cross (a.d. 326), the frustration of Julian’s building of the temple (a.d. 363) the discovery of the relics of Protasius and Gervasius (a.d. 386), and subsequently (a.d. 415) of the bones of St. Stephen, with a countless multitude of miraculous cures in its train. Respecting the most important we have already spoken at large in the proper places.

We here offer some general remarks on this difficult subject.

The possibility of miracles in general he only can deny who does not believe in a living God and Almighty Maker of heaven and earth. The laws of nature are organs of the free will of God; not chains by which He has bound Himself forever, but elastic threads which He can extend and contract at His pleasure. The actual occurrence of miracles is certain to every believer from Holy Scripture, and there is no passage in the New Testament to limit it to the apostolic age. The reasons which made miracles necessary as outward proofs of the divine mission of Christ and the apostles for the unbelieving Jews of their time, may reappear from time to time in the unbelieving heathen and the skeptical Christian world; while spiritual miracles are continually taking place in regeneration and conversion. In itself, it is by no means unworthy and incredible that God should sometimes condescend to the weakness of the uneducated mass, and should actually vouchsafe that which was implored through the mediation of saints and their relics.

But the following weighty considerations rise against the miracles of the Nicene and post-Nicene age; not warranting, indeed, the rejection of all, yet making us at least very cautious and doubtful of receiving them in particular:

1. These miracles have a much lower moral tone than those of the Bible, while in some cases they far exceed them in outward pomp, and make a stronger appeal to our faculty of belief. Many of the monkish miracles are not so much supernatural and above reason, as they are unnatural and against reason, attributing even to wild beasts of the desert, panthers and hyenas, with which the misanthropic hermits lived on confidential terms, moral feelings and states, repentance and conversion of which no trace appears in the New Testament.

2. They serve not to confirm the Christian faith in general, but for the most part to support the ascetic life, the magical virtue of the sacrament, the veneration of saints and relics, and other superstitious practices, which are evidently of later origin, and are more or less offensive to the healthy evangelical mind.

3. The further they are removed from the apostolic age, the more numerous they are, and in the fourth century alone there are more miracles than in all the three preceding centuries together, while the reason for them, as against the power of the heathen world, was less.

4. The church fathers, with all the worthiness of their character in other respects, confessedly lacked a highly cultivated sense of truth, and allowed a certain justification of falsehood ad majorem Dei gloriam, or fraus pia, under the misnomer of policy or accommodation; with the solitary exception of Augustine, who, in advance of his age, rightly condemned falsehood in every form.

5. Several church fathers like Augustine, Martin of Tours, and Gregory I., themselves concede that in their time extensive frauds with the relics of saints were already practised; and this is confirmed by the fact that there were not rarely numerous copies of the same relics, all of which claimed to be genuine.

6. The Nicene miracles met with doubt and contradiction even among contemporaries, and Sulpitius Severus makes the important admission that the miracles of St. Martin were better known and more firmly believed in foreign countries than in his own.

7. Church fathers, like Chrysostom and Augustine, contradict themselves in a measure, in sometimes paying homage to the prevailing faith in miracles, especially in their discourses on the festivals of the martyrs, and in soberer moments, and in the calm exposition of the Scriptures, maintaining that miracles, at least in the Biblical sense, had long since ceased.

We must moreover remember that the rejection of the Nicene miracles by no means justifies the inference of intentional deception in every case, nor destroys the claim of the great church teachers to our respect. On the contrary, between the proper miracle and fraud there lie many intermediate steps of self-deception, clairvoyance, magnetic phenomena and cures, and unusual states of the human soul, which is full of deep mysteries, and stands nearer the invisible spirit-world than the everyday mind of the multitude suspects. Constantine’s vision of the cross, for example, may be traced to a prophetic dream; and the frustration of the building of the Jewish temple under Julian, to a special providence, or a historical judgment of God. The mytho-poetic faculty, too, which freely and unconsciously produces miracles among children, may have been at work among credulous monks in the dreary deserts and magnified an ordinary event into a miracle. In judging of this obscure portion of the history of the church we must, in general, guard ourselves as well against shallow naturalism and skepticism, as against superstitious mysticism, remembering that

“There are more things in heaven and on earth,

Than are dreamed of in our philosophy.”


89. Processions and Pilgrimages

Early Latin dissertations on pilgrimages by J. Gretser, Mamachi, Lazari, J. H. Heidegger, etc. J. Marx (R.C.): Das Wallfahren in der katholischen Kirche, historisch-kritisch dargestellt. Trier, 1842. Comp. the relevant sections in the church archeologies of Bingham, Augusti, Binterim, etc.

Solemn religious processions on high festivals and special occasions had been already customary among the Jews, and even among the heathen. They arise from the love of human nature for show and display, which manifests itself in all countries in military parades, large funerals, and national festivities.

The oppressed condition of the church until the time of Constantine made such public demonstrations impossible or unadvisable.

In the fourth century, however, we find them in the East and in the West, among orthodox and heretics, on days of fasting and prayer, on festivals of thanksgiving, at the burial of the dead, the induction of bishops, the removal of relics, the consecration of churches, and especially in times of public calamity. The two chief classes are thanksgiving and penitential processions. The latter were also called cross-processions, litanies.

The processions moved from church to church, and consisted of the clergy, the monks, and the people, alternately saying or singing prayers, psalms, and litanies. In the middle of the line commonly walked the bishop as leader, in surplice, stole, and pluvial, with the mitre on his head, the crozier in his left hand, and with his right hand blessing the people. A copy of the Bible, crucifixes, banners, images and relics, burning tapers or torches, added solemn state to the procession.

Regular annual processions occurred on Candlemas, and on Palm Sunday. To these was added, after the thirteenth century, the procession on Corpus Christi, in which the sacrament of the altar is carried about and worshipped.

Pilgrimages are founded in the natural desire to see with one’s own eyes sacred or celebrated places, for the gratification of curiosity, the increase of devotion, and the proving of gratitude. These also were in use before the Christian era. The Jews went up annually to Jerusalem at their high festivals as afterward the Mohammedans went to Mecca. The heathen also built altars over the graves of their heroes and made pilgrimages thither. To the Christians those places were most interesting and holy of all, where the Redeemer was born, suffered, died, and rose again for the salvation of the world.

Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land appear in isolated cases even in the second century, and received a mighty impulse from the example of the superstitiously pious empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. In 326, at the age of seventy-nine, she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was baptized in the Jordan, discovered the holy cross, removed the pagan abominations and built Christian churches on Calvary and Olivet, and at Bethany. In this she was liberally supported by her son, in whose arms she died at Nicomedia in 327. The influence of these famous pilgrims’ churches extended through the whole middle age, to the crusades, and reaches even to most recent times.

The example of Helena was followed by innumerable pilgrims who thought that by such journeys they made the salvation of their souls more sure. They brought back with them splinters from the pretended holy cross, waters from the Jordan, earth from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and other genuine and spurious relics, to which miraculous virtue was ascribed.

Several of the most enlightened church fathers, who approved pilgrimages in themselves, felt it necessary to oppose a superstitious estimate of them, and to remind the people that religion might be practised in any place. Gregory of Nyssa shows that pilgrimages are nowhere enjoined in the Scriptures, and are especially unsuitable and dangerous for women, and draws a very unfavorable picture of the immorality prevailing at places of such resort. “Change of place,” says he, “brings God no nearer. Where thou art, God will come to thee, if the dwelling of thy soul is prepared for him.” Jerome describes with great admiration the devout pilgrimage of his friend Paula to the East, and says that he himself, in his Bethlehem, had adored the manger and birthplace of the Redeemer; but he also very justly declares that Britain is as near heaven as Jerusalem, and that not a journey to Jerusalem, but a holy living there, is the laudable thing.

Next to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other localities of the Holy Land, Rome was a preëminent place of resort for pilgrims from the West and East, who longed to tread the threshold of the princes of the apostles (limina apostolorum). Chrysostom regretted that want of time and health prevented him from kissing the chains of Peter and Paul, which made devils tremble and angels rejoice.

In Africa, Hippo became a place of pilgrimage on account of the bones of St. Stephen; in Campania, the grave of St. Felix, at Nola; in Gaul, the grave of St. Martin of Tours († 397). The last was especially renowned, and was the scene of innumerable miracles. Even the memory of Job drew many pilgrims to Arabia to see the ash heap, and to kiss the earth, where the man of God endured so much.

In the Roman and Greek churches the practice of pilgrimage to holy places has maintained itself to the present day. Protestantism has divested the visiting of remarkable places, consecrated by great men or great events, of all meritoriousness and superstitious accessories, and has reduced it to a matter of commendable gratitude and devout curiosity. Within these limits even the evangelical Christian cannot view without emotion and edification the sacred spots of Palestine, the catacombs of Rome, the simple slabs over Luther and Melanchthon in the castle-church of Wittenberg, the monuments of the English martyrs in Oxford, or the rocky landing-place of the Puritanic pilgrim fathers in Massachusetts. He feels himself nearer to the spirit of the great dead; but he knows that this spirit continues not in their dust, but lives immortally with God and the saints in heaven.


90. Public Worship of the Lord’s Day. Scripture-Reading and Preaching

J. A. Schmidt: De primitive ecclesiae lectionibus. Helmst. 1697. E. Ranke: Das kirchliche Perikopensystem aus den Ältesten Urkunden der röm. Liturgie. Berlin, 1847. H. T. Tzschirner: De claris Eccles. vet. oratoribus Comment. i.-ix. Lips. 1817 sqq. K. W. F. Paniel: Pragmatische Geschichte der christl. Beredtsamkeit. Leipz. 1839 ff.

The order and particular parts of the ordinary public worship of God remain the same as they were in the previous period. But the strict separation of the service of the Catechumens, consisting of prayer, scripture reading, and preaching, from the service of the faithful, consisting of the communion, lost its significance upon the universal prevalence of Christianity and the union of church and state. Since the fifth century the inhabitants of the Roman empire were now considered as Christians at least in name and confession and could attend even those parts of the worship which were formerly guarded by secrecy against the profanation of pagans. The Greek term liturgy, and the Latin term mass, which is derived from the customary formula of dismission, was applied, since the close of the fourth century (398), to the communion service or the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice. This was the divine service in the proper sense of the term, to which all other parts were subordinate. We shall speak of it more fully hereafter. We have to do at present with those parts which were introductory to the communion and belong to the service of the catechumens as well as to that of the communicants.

The reading of a portion of the Holy Scriptures continued to be an essential constituent of divine service. Upon the close of the church canon, after the Council of Carthage in 397, and other synods, the reading of uncanonical books (such as writings of the apostolic fathers) was forbidden, with the exception of the legends of the martyrs on their memorial days.

There was as yet no obligatory system of pericopes, like that of the later Greek and Roman churches. The lectio continua, or the reading and exposition of whole books of the Bible, remained in practice till the fifth century, and the selection of books for the different parts and services of the church year was left to the judgment of the bishop. At high festivals, however, such portions were read as bore special reference to the subject of the celebration. By degrees, after the example of the Jewish synagogue, a more complete yearly course of selections from the New Testament for liturgical use was arranged, and the selections were called lessons or pericopes. In the Latin church this was done in the fifth century; in the Greek, in the eighth. The lessons were taken from the Gospels and from the Epistles, or the Apostle (in part also from the Prophets), and were therefore called the Gospel and the Epistle for the particular Sunday or festival. Some churches, however, had three, or even four lessons, a Gospel, an Epistle, and a section from the Old Testament and from the Acts. Many manuscripts of the New Testament contained only the pericopes or lessons for public worship, and many of these again, only the Gospel pericopes. The Alexandrian deacon Euthalius, about 460, divided the Gospel and the Apostle, excepting the Revelation, into fifty-seven portions each, for the Sundays and feast days of the year; but they were not generally received, and the Eastern church still adhered for a long time to the lectio continua. Among the Latin lectionaries still extant, the Lectionarium Gallicanum, dating from the sixth or seventh century, and edited by Mabillon, and the so-called Comes (i.e., Clergyman’s Companion) or Liber Comitis, were in especial repute. The latter is traced by tradition to the learned Jerome, and forms the groundwork of the Roman lectionary and the entire Western System of pericopes, which has passed from the Latin church into the Anglican and the Lutheran, but has undergone many changes in the course of time. This selection of Scripture portions was in general better fitted to the church year, but had the disadvantage of withholding large parts of the holy Scriptures from the people.

The lessons were read from the ambo or reading desk by the lector, with suitable formulas of introduction; usually the Epistle first, and then the Gospel; closing with the doxology or the singing of a psalm. Sometimes the deacon read the Gospel from the altar, to give it special distinction as the word of the Lord Himself.

The church fathers earnestly enjoined, besides this, diligent private reading of the Scriptures; especially Chrysostom, who attributed all corruption in the church to the want of knowledge of the Scriptures. Yet he already found himself compelled to combat the assumption that the Bible is a book only for clergy and monks, and not for the people; an assumption which led in the middle age to the notorious papal prohibitions of the Scriptures in the popular tongues. Strictly speaking, the Bible has been made what it was originally intended to be, really a universal book of the people, only by the invention of the art of printing, by the spirit of the Reformation, and by the Bible Societies of modern times. For in the ancient church, and in the middle age, the manuscripts of the Bible were so rare and so dear, and the art of reading was so limited, that the great mass were almost entirely dependent on the fragmentary reading of the Scriptures in public worship. This fact must be well considered, to forestall too unfavorable a judgment of that early age.

The reading of the Scripture was followed by the sermon, based either on the pericope just read, or on a whole book, in consecutive portions. We have from the greatest pulpit orators of antiquity, from Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil the Great, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, connected homilies on Genesis, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles. But on high festivals a text was always selected suitable and usual for the occasion. There was therefore in the ancient church no forced conformity to the pericopes; the advantages of a system of Scripture lessons and a consecutive exposition of entire books of Scripture were combined. The reading of the pericopes belongs properly to the altar-service, and must keep its connection with the church year; preaching belongs to the pulpit, and may extend to the whole compass of the divine word.

Pulpit eloquence in the fourth and fifth centuries reached a high point in the Greek church, and is most worthily represented by Gregory Nazianzen and Chrysostom. But it also often degenerated there into artificial rhetoric, declamatory bombast, and theatrical acting. Hence the abuse of frequent clapping and acclamations of applause among the people. As at this day, so in that, many went to church not to worship God, but to hear a celebrated speaker, and left as soon as the sermon was done. The sermon, they said, we can hear only in the church, but we can pray as well at home. Chrysostom often raised his voice against this in Antioch and in Constantinople. The discourses of the most favorite preachers were often written down by stenographers and multiplied by manuscripts, sometimes with their permission, sometimes without.

In the Western church the sermon was much less developed, consisted in most cases of a simple practical exhortation, and took the background of the eucharistic sacrifice. Hence it was a frequent thing there for the people to leave the church at the beginning of the sermon; so that many bishops, who had no idea of the free nature of religion and of worship, compelled the people to hear by closing the doors.

The sermon was in general freely delivered from the bishop’s chair or from the railing of the choir (the cancelli), sometimes from the reading-desk. The duty of preaching devolved upon the bishops; and even popes, like Leo I. and Gregory I., frequently preached before the Roman congregation. Preaching was also performed by the presbyters and deacons. Leo I. restricts the right of preaching and teaching to the ordained clergy; yet monks and hermits preached not rarely in the streets, from pillars (like St. Symeon), roofs, or trees; and even laymen, like the emperor Constantine and some of his successors, wrote and delivered (though not in church) religious discourses to the faithful people.