Veneration of Relics in Roman Catholicism and Buddhismby Rit Nosotro
Compare the veneration of relics in Roman Catholicism and Buddhism
Although they are two completely different religions, Roman Catholicism and Buddhism both hold the relics in very high regard.
-Both Roman Catholics and Buddhists hold relics in very high regard
-Relics of the Roman Catholics include the thorns of Christ when He was crucified, nails from the Cross, and the cup from the last supper
-Buddhist relics include four teeth, two collarbones, and a frontal bone of Buddha
-In both religions relics serve to remind them of their religious history and for some are even believed to hold power
A relic is an object of religious veneration, such as a piece of the body or a personal item of a saint. 1 Although they are two completely different religions, Roman Catholicism and Buddhism both hold the relics in very high regard. For Buddhists, relics inspire great faith and devotion. Relics ensure "that the presence of the Buddha is perpetuated after the passing of the Buddha." 2 Roman Catholics draw inspiration out of their relics, in remembrance of the saint associated with that relic. They hold the veneration of relics in very high regard. Aside from honoring the relics, the Roman Catholic Church believes that, through relics, God can and does perform miracles. Roman Catechism says, "If the clothes, the kerchiefs, if the shadow of the saints, before they departed from this life, banished diseases and restored strength, who will have the hardihood to deny that God wonderfully works the same by the sacred ashes, the bones, and other relics of the saints." 3
There is a belief within the Roman Catholic Church that the existences of highly venerated relics are, in fact, the real items from past saints. Such examples include the crown of thorns which Christ wore when he was crucified, nails from the Cross, the cup used at the Last Supper, and a piece of cloth from Jesus' swaddling clothes. Esoteric relics included Mary’s breast milk, Christ’s umbilical cord, and up to 13 foreskins from his Jewish circumcision. One of the most highly revered relics is a piece of the "true Cross". The Roman Catholic Church claims that there are many pieces of the cross spread throughout the world. 4 It would make sense why they would think so highly of pieces of the Cross, for it was the very structure on which Christ redeemed the whole world! This may explain why many Catholics revere relics, especially those related to Jesus Christ. Because of some relics' strong link to Christ, they serve as reminders of Him for Catholics. One Catholic source points to the body of Christ as a relic. 5 They give several examples from the Bible of how people showed acts of reverence toward Jesus' dead body. 6
One must consider that no where in the Bible does it state that relics or objects are to be worshipped. Not all Catholics necessarily worship relics over and above Christ; however those that do should be cautious of this trap into which they may fall. A prime example is seen in the first several verses of the book of Numbers, chapter 21. Moses builds a bronze snake for the Israelites, so that whenever a snake-bitten person looks upon the bronze snake, that person is healed and continues to live. Eventually, the Israelites forget who the true Healer is and they begin to worship the bronze snake! Years later, King Hezekiah breaks up the bronze serpent because the Israelites had begun to worship it by burning incense to it. 7 There is always the danger of forgetting the source of the relic and giving praise toward that relic. But Roman Catholics are not the only religion that should take heed toward this warning.
Although Buddhists have a slightly different approach to their relics, their fundamental approach is to worship relics. When the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, died and was incinerated, his bones remained. According to his followers, four teeth, two collarbones, and a frontal bone remained. Those body parts became the seven great relics which Buddhists worship. They also worship the indestructible remains found in the cremated body of a Buddhist monk." 8 This practice of venerating relics plays a crucial role in the practices of a devout Buddhist. They "have always held in high regard the relics of enlightened beings." 9 For Buddhists, relics represent those enlightened beings and they serve as reminders of the qualities which the well-respected person(s) had. For instance, they consider a mere glance at one of Buddha's relic comparable to seeing the Buddha himself. According to the Buddhist scriptures, relics have a supernatural characteristic about them, which "enables them to increase in power, size and number, with time and veneration." Like the Roman Catholic Church, Buddhism dignifies their relics and looks upon them with awe. Clearly, both religions place considerable value in their relics. These objects link them to important person(s) in their religious history. They may even instill faith and devotion to their respective religion. However, for many followers in both religions, there is a belief that the relics, in themselves, hold true power; that these objects are an extension of the deceased holy persons. This is an example of venerating relics to the point of worship-something that is obviously not Biblical. Exodus 20:3-5 clearly says that we are not to worship anything or anyone other than God.
The New Testament offers an excellent example of this in Luke, chapter 8. During Jesus' life on earth, he becomes very popular with the people. One of the things which he is known for is his healing touch. In one case, a woman who has been subject to bleeding for twelve years wants to be cured. She tries all the medications and suggestions given by the doctors, but nothing helps. She thinks to herself, "If I only touch his [Jesus'] cloak, I will be healed!" One day, when Jesus is passing by, she comes up behind Jesus and touches the edge of his cloak. Instantly, she is healed and her bleeding stops. Jesus realizes that power had come out of him, even though the woman had simply touched his cloak. But Jesus says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." Jesus acknowledges the fact that her faith, and not the cloak, had healed her body.
So are relics not to be venerated at all? Not so! As in the case with Roman
Catholic relics, they are important reminders of the works which its owners
(saints) had accomplished while they still lived. However, one would be wise
to remain cautious and remember that God's miracles do not come from relics.
Rather, they come as a result of His grace and mercy toward His creation. Buddhists
consider relics as a symbol of a Buddha's presence. This notion only serves
to solidify their misplaced faith in the false religion that promises release
one who follows Buddha's eight-fold path from suffering through Karma and evolutionary
reincarnation into Nirvana. Buddhists need to look to Jesus Christ for answers,
since He is the way and the truth and the life. 10
Only Jesus, not lifeless relics, can heal one's body and save one's soul.
The author did an excellent job of incorporating a Biblical worldview into their essay. The author made a good point in stating that the woman was healed because of her faith in Jesus, not touching his cloak. The author also does a good job pointing out how eventually the Israelites forgot about God, the true healer, and instead began to worship the bronze snake that Moses had made. The concluding paragraph displays a solid Christian worldview in stating that relics can still be good reminders of what God has done but they are not to be worshipped and that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, not Buddhism or the worship of relics
1 "Relic." Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=relic. November 5, 2003.
2, 8, 9 Geleg, Ngawang. "The Holy Relics". http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/4886/relics.htm. November 5, 2003.[unavailable when checked in May, 2008]
3 Thurston, Herbert. "The Holy Relics". http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12734a.htm. November 5, 2003.
4 "Relics and Saints". Plains Baptist Challenger
November 5, 2003.
and "Relic Veneration and the Holy Land", The British Museum, James Robinson, http://www.fathom.com/feature/190140/
5 "Relics". Catholic Answers http://www.catholic.com/library/Relics.asp. November 5, 2003.
7 2 Kings 18:4. Bible. November 5, 2003.
14:6. Bible. November 5, 2003.
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