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The Early Church Fathers on Relics of Saints.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures



  1. St. Paulinus the Deacon, (Paulinus of Milan), (unknown - A.D. c.425)
    St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
    St. John Cassian, (A.D. c.360 - 433)
    St. Nilus the Elder, (A.D. c.385 - c.430)
    Philo of Carpasium, (late 4th to early 5th century)
    Zacchaeus, (unknown - A.D. c.430)
    St. Isidore of Pelusium, (unknown - A.D. 440)
    St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444)
    Apollinaris Sidonius, (A.D. c.430 - 489)
    Sozomen, (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus), (A..D. c.400-c.450)
    St. Avitus, (Alcimus Ecdicius), (A.D. c.470-525)
    Second Council of Nicaea, (in A.D. 787)
St. Paulinus the Deacon, (also known as Paulinus of Milan), (unknown-c.425), was the notary of Ambrose of Milan, and his biographer. In Carthage in 411 he had opposed Caelestius, a Pelagian. The formal proceedings were described by Augustine in On Original Sin. Paulinus set up six theses defining Pelagian views as heresy. His work is the only life of Ambrose based on a contemporary account, "Life of St. Ambrose" and was written at the request of Augustine of Hippo; it is dated to 422.

St. Paulinus the Deacon says of St. Ambrose, that:

"at the first dawn of the Lord's day, when his body, at the close of the celebration of the divine mysteries, was borne from the Church to be carried to the Ambrosian Basilica, where it was deposited, the crowd of demons cried out so that they were tormented by him, that their cries were past endurance. The grace thus bestowed on the priest continues to this day, not only in that spot, but also in several of the provinces : crowds also of men and women threw linen cloths, or their garments, so as to touch, however slightly, the saint s body."

Vita S. Ambros. a Paulin. n. 48, col. xiii. T. ii. Op. Ambros. Append.
See also Vita S. Ambros. a Paulin. n. 52, col. xiv., the account of the blind man restored to sight by touching the relics of Saints Sisinnius and Alexander, or rather the bier which supported them.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 278

St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

Having given earlier in this section the account of the discovery of the bodies of St. Protasius and St. Gervasius, by St. Ambrose of Milan, I will add St. Augustine's testimony on the same subject, himself an eyewitness:

"Then didst thou in a vision discover to thy forenamed bishop, where the bodies of Protasius and Gervasius, the martyrs, lay hid (whom thou hadst in thy secret treasury stored uncorrupted so many years), whence thou mightest seasonably produce them to repress the fury of a woman, but an empress. For when they were discovered and dug up, and with becoming honor translated to the Ambrosian basilica, not only they who were vexed with unclean spirits, the devils confessing themselves, were cured, but also a certain man, who had for many years been blind, a citizen, and very well known to the city, on asking and hearing the reason of the people's confused joy, sprang forth, desiring his guide to lead him thither. Led thither, he begged to be allowed to touch with his handkerchief the bier of Thy saints, whose death is precious in Thy sight. (Psalms 115) Which when he had done, and put to his eyes, they were forthwith opened. Thence wide-spreading fame; thence fervent, glowing praises of Thee; thence the mind of that enemy though not enlarged so as to have the healing of belief, was nevertheless repressed from the fury of persecution."

T. i. L. ix. Confess, c. vii. n. 16, col. 278.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 286-287

"We celebrate on this day the erecting of a place to the memory of St. Protasius and St. Gervasius, the martyrs of Milan: not the day whereon it was erected here, but we on this day celebrate the day on which the death of His saints was, through Ambrose the bishop, that man of God, precious in the sight of God; of the which great glory of the martyrs I also was a witness. I was there; I was at Milan; I knew the miracles done; God testifying to the precious deaths of the saints; that through those miracles that death might now be not only precious in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men. A blind man very well known to the whole city received his sight; he ran; he caused himself to be led; he came back without a guide. We have not as yet heard that he is dead; perhaps he is still living. He dedicated himself to serve during his whole life, in that basilica of theirs, where are their bodies. . . . Not to all does God bestow health through the martyrs, but to all that imitate the martyrs does He promise their immortality."

T. v. Serm. cclxxxvi. n. 4-5, in Natal. MM. Protas. et Gervas. col. 1689.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 287

"Why, they say, "are those miracles which you proclaim as having been done, not done now?" I might indeed say, that they were necessary before that the world believed, for this, that the world might believe. Whoever still seeks after miracles that he may believe, is himself a great prodigy, who, when the world believes, does not believe. But this do they say for this end, that those miracles may not be believed to have been even then wrought.

[Having replied with singular power to this objection, and stated that miracles even then continued to be performed, he gives, amongst other examples, the miracle recorded above.]

The miracle which was wrought at Milan, whilst we were there, when the blind man was restored to sight, was able to come to the knowledge of many, because both the city was great, and the emperor was there at the time, and the thing was done in the presence of an immense crowd that hastened together to the bodies of the martyrs, Protasius and Gervasius; which bodies when hidden, and utterly unknown, were found from having been revealed, in a dream, to Bishop Ambrose.

T. vii. L. xxii. De Civit. Dei, c. vii. col. 1057-58.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 287-288

[He then gives an account of various other miracles, to one of which he was also an eye-witness.]"

"A great testimony does the Lord furnish to His witnesses, whereas He who ruled the hearts of His combatants, does not desert even the bodies of the dead; even as He exhibited a most illustrious miracle in regard of the body of this very saint, Vincentius; that the body which the enemy had desired, striven,— caused not to appear at all, should be discovered by so manifest a fiat of God, and exhibited to be more religiously inhumed and venerated, that so an illustrious memorial might endure in him of conquering piety, and of conquered impiety. Truly precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints; when not even the earth of the flesh is, after life has abandoned it, contemned; and, after the invisible soul has gone forth from the visible body, the dwelling-place of His servant is preserved by the care of the Lord, and is honored by His faithful fellow-servants unto the glory of the Lord. For what does God, by performing marvelous works near the bodies of the saints, but furnish a testimony, that what dies perishes not to Him; and it may hence be understood in what honor He holds the souls of the saints who are with Him, when the exanimate flesh is adorned with so mighty an operation (effect) of the divinity. For, as the Apostle, speaking concerning the members of the Church, used a similitude drawn from the members of our body (saying), that, those which are the less honorable members of the body, about these we put more abundant honor (1 Corinthians 12); so the providence of the Creator, by granting so illustrious testimonies of miracles to the dead bodies of martyrs puts more abundant honor about the bloodless relics of men; and that which, the life having left it, now remains as something without beauty, there the giver of life is seen to be more evidently present."

T. v. Serm. cclxxv. in Natal. S. Vincent, n. 3, col. 1631.
See also the next sermon, col. 1635, B. C.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 288-289

He says of the relics of St. Stephen:

"A little dust has assembled together so great a multitude; the dust lies hidden, but the benefits are visible. Think, most beloved, what things God reserves for us in the land of the living, He who bestows things so great from the dust of the dead."

T. v. Serm,. cccxvii. n. 1, col. 1870.

Again of the same relics, he says:

"In this place we have not made an altar to Stephen, but of the relics of Stephen we have made an altar to God, such altars are pleasing to God."

T. v. Serm. cccxviii. De Martyr. Steph. col. 1874.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 289

St. John Cassian, (A.D. c.360 - 433), ordained a deacon by St. John Chrysostom and a priest in Marseilles, a Christian theologian celebrated in both the Western and Eastern Churches for his mystical writings. He is known both as one of the "Scythian monks" and as one of the "Desert Fathers". His opinions on grace being in opposition somewhat to those of St. Augustine and the Church, caused him to be opposed by St. Prosper.

"The bodies of these holy men were seized upon, and placed amongst the relics of martyrs, with so great veneration, by the whole population of Arabs, that the entire inhabitants of both cities rushed together in violent conflict, and their dispute proceeded even to the use of swords, in order to obtain possession of the sacred treasure."

Col. vi. Abb. Theod.p. 134, t. vii. ; Bib. Max. SS. PP.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 297-298

St. Nilus the Elder, (c. A.D. 385 - c. 430) (also known as Nilus of Sinai, Neilos, Nilus of Ancyra), Syrian, was one of the many disciples and fervent students of St. John Chrysostom; an eyewitness of the martyrdom of Theodotus.

"What a suitable place I see here, said Theodotus, "for the reception of holy relics". Why are you backward? And the presbyter said, "Do you strive for me in what I am wanting, and then blame my remissness (his meaning was about the bringing of holy relics); for I must needs, he said, be first furnished with relics, and then begin the building. But I beseech thee, father, do not neglect this work, but, as far as in you lies, make haste to complete it, for the relics will soon come. And whilst speaking thus, he drew oil off his ring, and gave it to the presbyter, saying, "The Lord be witness between us, that in a short time He will provide the relics, giving him to understand that he would either send another person or come himself. For he was soon to complete the course of his wrestling."

Martyr. St. Theod. a Nilo test. ocud. Galland. t. iv.p. 119.

Side note: From pages 128-130, [of this history] there is the account of the singular manner in which the priest obtained "the venerable (or precious) relics" of St. Theodotus.

The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 253

Philo of Carpasium, (late 4th to early 5th century), known as bishop of Carpasia (or Carpasium, in Cyprus), according to others bishop of Carpathus (an island between Crete and Rhodus), has hitherto enjoyed but slight repute as a Christian writer.

We will run after the of thine ointment (Canticle of Canticles 1:3). The Church is one, and yet he says, in the plural number, We will run; for, being many, we are one in Christ. Behold all running after the odor of the mysteries of Christ; for where the relics of martyrs lie, thither do we hasten, thither do we run to the odor of Christ's ointments."

Enarr. in Cant. Cantic. p. 724, t. ix. Galland.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 294

Zacchaeus, (unknown - A.D. c.430), name of a fabricated writer under which he defends Christianity. His real name seems to be Evagrius, who flourished in the late 4th century.

"There furthermore are extant the acts of the Apostles conversation amongst us, and we are taught to follow the form of justice well-nigh as if they were present, seeing that the things which we read that they did when alive, we frequently see done before the ashes even of the dead."

Consult. Zacch. et Apollon. 1. i. c. 21, p. 214; Galland, t. ix.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 297

St. Isidore of Pelusium, (unknown - A.D. 440), a disciple of St. John Chrysostom, he was born in Egypt to a prominent Alexandrian family. He became an ascetic, and moved to a mountain near the city of Pelusium, in the tradition of the Desert Fathers; known to us for his letters, written to Cyril of Alexandria, Theodosius II, and a host of others. His letters display great judgment, precision, and learning.

"If thou art scandalized at the dust of the bodies of martyrs being, on account of their love of God and their firmness, honored by us, interrogate those who are cured by those martyrs, and learn to how many afflictions they vouchsafe remedies. And then wilt thou not only not scoff at what we do, but thou wilt imitate what is in every way rightly done."

L. i. Epist. Iv. Hieraci,p. 17.
See also L. i. Ep. 63.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 289-290

St. Cyril of Alexandria, (A.D. 376-444), Egyptian; bishop, theologian and Doctor of the Church. He succeeded Theophilus in the patriarchal see of Alexandria, in A.D. 412, and was the great champion of orthodoxy against Nestorius, against whom the general council of Ephesus was called, in A.D. 431 and in which St. Cyril presided.

Julian: You, ye unfortunate men, worship the wood of the cross, making shadowy images of it upon your foreheads, and depicting those images on the porches of your houses.

St. Cyril: "As he calls those unfortunate men, who make it a matter of care and are especially sedulous about the duty of ever engraving, both on their houses and foreheads, the sign of the precious cross, we will without difficulty demonstrate that these foul words, which prove his extreme ignorance, proceed from his wicked thoughts. For the Lord and Saviour of us all ... endured the cross, despising the shame, that He might destroy the power of corruption; one dead and raised again in behalf of all, that He might rescue the human race from the snares of death... Of all these things that salutary wood excites the remembrance in us, and moreover moves us to reflect that, as the divine Paul says, One died for all. . . .We therefore, as I have said, make the wood of the precious cross into a remembrance of every good and of every virtue."

St. Cyril's reply to Julian s accusation about the honor paid to martyrs and their tombs. Ib. I. x. pp. 339-43.

Julian: "But this evil derived its origin from John (the Apostle). But who shall execrate as it deserves what you have invented for yourselves since then; introducing, besides that dead man who suffered long ago, numbers of other dead men. You have filled everywhere with tombs and memorials, although it is nowhere declared in your religion that you are to stretch yourselves upon tombs, and to venerate them. Whereas you have proceeded to such a pitch of wickedness, as to think that you ought not, in this matter, to listen even to Jesus the Nazarite. Hear, then, what He says concerning monuments, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you are like to whited sepulchers," (Matthew 22:27). If, then, Jesus declared sepulchers to be full of filthiness, how is it that you invoke God over them?

[St. Cyril shows that all men honor the memory and remains of those whose lives were distinguished and pre-eminent, and asks:]

"Why, then, does Julian so unjustly inveigh against the justice of Christians, if they too make much of the veneration and honor paid to the holy martyrs?"

T. vi. 1. vi. adv. Julian, pp. 194-5.
T. vi. I. x.1 adv. Julian, pp. 335-6.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 298-299

Apollinaris Sidonius, (A.D. c.430 - 489) Gallo-Roman; a poet, diplomat, and bishop.

"The body of Martin, where in even after life's close honor lives, is an object of veneration to all the earth. ... At once, by the grant of so powerful a patron, his temple has increased in size, and the builder thereof in merits."

L. iv. Epist. 18, p. 1098, t. vi. Bib. Max. SS. PP.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 293

"And as to you only has it been granted, since the time of the confessor Ambrose, who found two martyrs (St. Gervase and St. Protase), in the western districts, to translate the entire body of the martyr Ferreolus, together with the head of our (martyr) Julianus, it is nowise unjust to ask, by way of compensation, that a portion of patronage be derived to us from you, seeing that a part of (your) patronage has been restored to you from us."

Epis. 1. vii. Ep i. Mamerto, p. 519, t.x. Gallandii.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 293-294

Sozomen, (Salminius Hermias Sozomenus), (A..D. c.400-c.450), Palestinian; was a historian of the Christian church. He composed an Ecclesiastical History in nine books, comprising the period between A.D. 324 and 439.

"About this same time, Helen, the emperor's mother, arrived at Jerusalem, both to pray and to see the sacred places. And being piously disposed as regards the religion of Christians, she made it her great object to find the wood of the venerable cross. But neither the discovery of this, nor of the divine sepulcher, was an easy matter." He afterwards, notices the difficulty of distinguishing "the divine cross" from the others found with it, and ascribes its recognition to the cure performed on a noble matron who was dangerously ill; and notices, as a report, that a dead person was restored to life. "The divine wood having been found, the greater portion is even yet preserved at Jerusalem, in a silver case; and a part she conveyed to her son Constantine, together with the nails with which the body of Christ was pierced."

Having described, at some length, the place wherein the relics of the forty martyrs (of Sebaste) were deposited and hidden, and the way in which they were kept so long concealed, he describes their discovery as follows: "Pulcheria Augusta, the sister of the emperor, was the discoverer of them. For the admirable (martyr) Thyrsus, appearing thrice to her, made known to her the martyrs that were hidden under the earth, and commanded them to be translated to him, so as to share the like deposition, and honor. And the forty (martyrs) also, clothed in resplendent robes, showed themselves unto her. But the thing seemed past all belief, and utterly impracticable. For not even the oldest clergyman, though frequently interrogated, nor anyone else, could discover the martyrs. But at last when all were without hope, the divine power brought into the mind of a certain presbyter, named Polychronius, who had formerly been one of the familiar acquaintances of Caesarius, the monks that once dwelt on that spot.

[He narrates in what manner one of those monks was found, and many minute particulars relative to the spot, and shrine where the martyrs had been deposited, and adds:]

She then returned thanks in prayer to God, that she was found worthy of such a sight, and had made the discovery of the sacred relies. Afterwards having honored the martyrs with a most costly shrine, she deposited them near the admirable Thyrsus; a public festival, as was proper, being celebrated, with due honor and pomp, and singing of psalms: at which I also was present. And that these things happened in this wise, they who were present at the festival will testify; for almost all are yet alive."

H. E. L. ii. c. i. pp. 43-45.
H. E. L. viii. c. ii. pp. 366-368.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 300-302

St. Avitus, (Alcimus Ecdicius), (A.D. c.470-525), a Latin poet and Anti-Arian archbishop of Vienne in Gaul, born of a prominent Gallo-Roman senatorial family

"For which cause, even though we thought that you had by you the security of the relics of the sacred cross, we should still think that we ought to ask for this mighty boon from the holy bishop of the city of Helia (Jerusalem)."

He returns thanks to that bishop, in Ep. xxiii., for a particle of the cross which he says, "Is not to be estimated by its size, but by the value of salvation."

Ep. xviii. p. 718, L x. Galland.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 3, Page 302-303

Second Council of Nicaea, (in A.D. 787) in Nicaea (site of the First Council of Nicaea) to restore the honoring of icons (or, holy images)

"who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted".

Council of Nicaea II in A.D. 787



God alone is the object of our worship and adoration; but Catholics show honor to the relics of saints; and they place images and pictures in their churches to reduce their wandering thoughts and to enliven their memories towards heavenly things. They show a respect to:

      • the representations of Christ
      • the mysteries of their blessed religion, and
      • of the holy saints of God

beyond what is due to every profane figure; not that they believe any virtue resides in the relic, they honor; but because the honor given to the relic is referred to the prototype, or the thing being represented.


The Church's Scriptures that support the Relics of Saints:


The mantle of Elias parts the water so Eliseus can pass over.

13 And he took up the mantle of Elias that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the mantle of Elias that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elias?" And when he had struck the waters, the water was parted to the one side and to the other; and Eliseus went over.

2 Kings 2: 13-14

Contact with Elisha's bones restored life

20 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet.


2 Kings 13:20-21

The woman who was suffering a hemorrhage is made well after touching Jesus' garment

20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; 21 for she said to herself,
"If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well." 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well.


Matthew 9:20-22

Cures performed through Peter's shadow

15 Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.


Acts 5:15-16

Cures through handkerchiefs or aprons that touched Paul

11 And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.


Acts 19:11-12

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