Page images

the Council of Trent, (to the decrees of which every popish priest is, in the present day, bound by solemn oath in all respects to conform,) at its twenty-fifth session, resolved on this canon :"That the images of Christ, and of the virgin, mother of God, and other saints, are to be kept and reserved, especially in churches, and due honour and veneration to be given to them: not that any virtue or divinity is believed to be in them, for which they are to be worshipped, or that any thing is to be asked of them, or any confidence to be placed in them, as was formerly done by the heathen, who put their trust in idols; but because the honour which is rendered to images is referred to the prototypes which they represent : represent so that by the images which we kiss, and before which we prostrate and uncover ourselves, we adore Christ, and venerate the saints, whom the images represent."*

The extent to which the practice of adoring the


* "Imagines porrò Christi, Dei paræ Virginis, et aliorum sanctorum, in templis præsertim habendas et retinendas, eisque debitum honorem et venerationem impertiendam; non quòd credatur inesse aliqua in iis divinitas, vel virtus, propter quam sint colenda; vel quod ab eis sit aliquid petendum; vel quòd fiducia in imaginibus sit figenda, veluti olim fiebat à Gentibus, quæ in idolis spem suam collo cabant; sed quoniam honos, qui eis exhibetur, refertur ad prototypa, quæ illæ repræsentant: ita ut per imagines, quas osculamur, et coram quibus caput aperimus et procumbimus, Christum adoremus; et sanctos, quorum illæ similitudinem gerunt, veneremur."-Sess, xxv.

pictures and images of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, and other saints, whose names appear in the Romish calendar, is carried in the Romish church, cannot be known from the practice of papists in a Protestant country. Expediency suggests that this species of worship should be practised less openly, and under greater limitations in Protestant states, where its condemnation would be instantly pronounced, and its idolatry made manifest, than in Roman Catholic countries, where the multitude are wedded to it by ignorance and superstition. This circumstance will explain the reason why, in the authorized catechisms, intended for the use of papists in a Protestant country, the second commandment, which forbids this, and every other species of idolatry, is given more at length; whereas, in those catechisms intended for the use of papists, in popish countries, it is so abridged and mutilated as to contain no interdict of the idolatrous practice in question.

It is not necessary here to adduce instances of this gross superstition-it is sufficient to remark, that in Roman Catholic countries the deluded worshippers may be seen bowing before, and kissing the images of their favourite saints, and bringing no small wealth to the church, by the votive offerings which they present at the shrines of the saints to whom they address their prayers, and whose favour they are anxious in this way to purchase, Though some of the more enlightened may not

confine their adoration to the image or the picture, but may refer it to the prototype represented by it, even the slightest knowledge of human nature is sufficient to show, that by far the greater number confine their devotion to the image, the picture, or the crucifix, which is before them. "The bias of human nature," as Bishop Burnett well remarks, "lies to sense, and to form gross imaginations of incorporeal objects; and, therefore, instead of gratifying these, we ought to wean our minds from them, and to raise them above them, all we can. Even men of speculation and abstraction feel nature in this grows too hard for them; but the vulgar is apt to fall so headlong into these conceits, that it looks like the laying of snares for them, to furnish them with such methods and helps for their having gross thoughts of spiritual objects."

But few remarks can be required on the subject of sacred relics, the veneration of which is closely connected with that of images. This superstition, together with that already noticed, sprung up in the fourth century. The remains of the true cross on which the Saviour died, and also the bones of the martyrs who suffered in his cause, were pretended to have been discovered :-these, in that age of superstition, were regarded as invaluable treasures; great virtue was ascribed to them, and many miracles were said to be wrought by them. It is not, therefore, surprising that the demand for such things should increase, and that many relics

should be palmed on the superstitious multitude as true and sacred, to the enriching of the churches, which were destitute of every claim to that character. In the fifth century so rapid had been the growth of this superstition, that the religious veneration at first shown to the relics of the cross, and of the saints, extended itself to clothes, stones, and ashes.* In the twelfth century, it had so greatly prevailed, that it gave rise to many vices and crimes. A great profusion of wealth and pomp was laid out in honouring them, and new devotions were invented for them :-they were deposited in gold and silver cases in the churches; and those churches which possessed the most precious relics were most frequented by the larger number of devotees, and most enriched by their offerings. "Relics were considered so valuable, that to beg, borrow, or steal them, were common occurrences, when they could not be had for money: such instances of superstition are numerous. Many important discoveries respecting relics were made in this century, (twelfth,) which are faithfully recorded by contemporary writers. A portion of the blood of Christ was found, and brought from the east, and the vest of Christ without seam was obtained in France," &c.t

* Spanheim, p. 326.

+ Spanheim, p. 480. "I have before me a catalogue of some hundreds of relics, which are objects of popish devotion in several

The arguments by which papists attempt a justification of image worship, have less weight and plausibility than those which they urge in sup. port of their other superstitions. They plead, as favouring their practice of setting up images, that various figures of cherubim, &c. were made by the command of God as symbolical representations in the Jewish temple :-but there is no proof whatever alleged, that these figures were for the purposes of worship and adoration. Much stress is laid on the erection, by divine command, of the "brazen serpent," in the wilderness, in support of images and pictures. The idolatrous use which

churches in France, Spain, and Italy. Many of them are too gross to appear in a modern publication. The least offensive are the arms, fingers, legs, and toes, of certain saints; and some of them must have had as many limbs as a centipede; for in Flanders, Spain, and France, there are no fewer than eight arms of St. Matthew, which would of course produce forty fingers, and these would enrich as many churches. The author of one catalogue in my possession assures his readers that he himself had seen three arms of St. Luke: and he could not tell how many St. Thomas à Becket had. Such relics are considered the treasure of the churches to which they belong, and in fact they bring no small gain to the church, as great sums are received annually from devout pilgrims, who come hundreds of miles to feast their eyes and warm their devotion by looking upon those limbs which would have been more honoured by being allowed to rest quietly in the earth. These pious relics are solemnly certified to be what they are said to be; and many have proved themselves genuine by most stupendous miracles; all which is piously believed by their devout worshippers."-Protestant, vol. ii. p. 10.

« PreviousContinue »