Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pope Francis shows St Peter's bones to public for first time

"Pope Francis Does it Again," Las Vegas Guardian Express, Paul Roy, November 24, 2013. My comments are in bold. I have used the more informative headline in The Telegraph article (see below) but without the single quotation marks because I accept that these probably are the Apostle Peter's bones.

[Above: "Italian archbishop Rino Fisichella holds the bone fragments during a ceremony of Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King at St Peter's square, Vatican City": The Telegraph. See also "Pope Francis shows 'St Peter's bones' to public for first time," The Telegraph, 24 November 2013; "Vatican Unveils Bone Fragments Said To Be St. Peter's," The Huffington Post, November 24, 2013; and "Pope venerates apostle's relics, urges people focus on Christ," The Catholic Sun, November 25, 2013.]

Pope Francis Catholic Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church has done it again. In a move which is sure to stir up controversy in the secular world and media today he venerated the bones of Saint Peter, who Catholics believe was the apostle Jesus appointed to lead his church and was the first pope. There is no evidence that the Apostle Peter was even the Bishop of Rome, let alone the first Pope. See "Was Saint Peter the first pope?"

This occurred at the Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The mass was celebrated at the conclusion of the "Year of Faith" as this year was dedicated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Why will this stir up controversy? As anything the Catholic Church does, the secular media will be sure to jump on this as some kind of stunt by the Pope to get people to convert to Catholicism. Because of the Vatican's duplicity (in the sense of "double dealing," "deception by pretending to entertain one set of intentions while acting under the influence of another"):

"duplicity ... a. Deliberate deceptiveness in behavior or speech. b. An instance of deliberate deceptiveness; double-dealing. 2. The quality or state of being twofold or double. ... [Middle English duplicite, from Old French, from Late Latin duplicits, doubleness, from Latin duplex, duplic-, twofold ... acting in bad faith; deception by pretending to entertain one set of intentions while acting under the influence of another, double-dealing" The Free Dictionary, 15 November 2013).
in refusing to confirm or deny that any of its relics (in particular the Shroud of Turin), are authentic or not, it would not be surprising if the secular media assumes this is merely a stunt to win converts to, or prevent Catholics leaving, Catholicism. It seems two-faced for the Pope and his bishops to mount a huge ceremony featuring these bones and yet refuse to confirm or deny that they really believe them to be authentic.

But on St Paul's principle, that: "Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Php 1:15-18), there may be some secularist who, like extremist atheist Richard Dawkins, believe that "it is even possible ... that Jesus never lived at all" and "the New Testament [is not] ... a reliable record of what actually happened in history":

"It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all, as has been done by, among others, Professor G. A. Wells of the University of London in a number of books, including Did Jesus Exist?. Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history" (Dawkins, R., "The God Delusion," 2006, p.97).
who might be shocked that the bones of St Peter may have been found.

The problem lies in the fact that no one is really sure if these bones belong to St. Peter or not. St. Peter's Basilica was built over what has always been believed was the site of where St. Peter was crucified upside down and was later buried. The site was excavated in 1942 and several bones were found. Unfortunately these bones belonged to several different people. Because there is no DNA evidence of Peter to be found anywhere, it was not able to be determined if any of these bones were Peter's. Even if DNA could be extracted from these bones, there is no way this could be determined to be from St. Peter.

The evidence used to determine this is where Peter lay was an inscription found during the dig, "Peter is within." Catholic tradition

[Above: The inscription, Πετρος ενι (Petros eni), "Peter is within," found under St. Peter's Basilica in 1968: SaintPetersBasilica.org]

states that if a relic, such as these bones, is somehow physically connected to a saint's legacy, they are considered "relics by contact." Since this site has been believed for centuries to be the site where St. Peter rests, this is good enough for Pope Francis. I accept that an inscription which says "Peter is within", if it is first or second century, and if the bones found in that tomb are of a 60-70 year man, as they seem to be:

"It was Pope Paul VI who announced that the bones of St. Peter had been found. The announcement was made during a General Audience on 26 June 1968: `New investigations, most patient and accurate, were subsequently carried out with the results that we, comforted by the judgment of qualified, prudent and competent people, believe are positive. The relics of Saint Peter have been identified in a way we believe convincing." Excavation work under St. Peter's Basilica began in 1939 and was personally funded by Pius XII. No one had dared descend beneath the basilica to see what was there. St. Peter's was built above Constantine's basilica. During the Holy Year proclaimed in 1950, Pope Pius XII announced that the Apostle's tomb had been found. ... The research carried out by Archaeologist Margherita Guarducci led to the discovery of a chapel supported by a wall - covered in precious graffiti which Guarducci managed to decode - that dates back to the year 150. The writing contained invocations to Peter and references to Christ and Mary. One of the messages which dates back to 160, is written in Greek and reads: `Petros eni', `Peter is within'. Professor Guarducci found the bones - which had been collected from a burial recess near where the graffiti was discovered – inside a box inside the Vatican Grottoes. The bones were analysed and it turned out they all came from one man with a robust build, who died at an advanced age. They were encrusted with earth and wrapped inside a piece of purple woollen cloth with golden thread – a particularly opulent burial. Fragments of all bones were found except those of the feet." ("Peter's relics to be officially exhibited for the first time," Vatican Insider, November 11, 2013)
then they probably are St. Peter's. But a "relics by contact" tradition is absurd: that a relic is "somehow physically connected to a saint’s legacy" does not mean it is physically connected to that saint. It is this attempt to make even fake relics seem authentic which has prevented successive Popes from declaring the Shroud to be authentic. Because that would be tacitly acknowledging that almost all other Catholic relics are not authentic.

But like other burial sites from 2,000 years ago, such as that of Saint Paul, and other relics such as the Shroud of Turin, it is hard to know exactly if these are actual relics. But Catholics rely heavily on tradition and tradition says they are. Lumping the Shroud of Turin in with all other relics that tradition says are authentic, like a government printing too much money, only cheapens the real thing.

Through the years however, as new scientific methods are developed to date artifacts and learn more about them, some of these artifacts come closer and closer to being verified as real. The Shroud of Turin for example has long been believed to be the cloth used to bury Jesus in his tomb and from where his resurrection happened. Since its discovery the shroud has been called both real and a fake, yet, each time it has been tested, it is the most tested piece of material in the world, more evidence comes to light showing it is very possible it is authentic and that Jesus, or at least a man was wrapped in it after having been crucified. This is the difference between the Shroud of Turin and other Catholic relics (with the exception of the Sudarium of Oviedo). The Shroud's authenticity has been confirmed Biblically, artistically, historically and scientifically, independent of Catholic tradition, which is why Protestants like me accept it.

Since Pope Francis was elevated to Pope in May, he has managed to stir up all kinds of controversy with remarks he has made and the secular press has jumped on these, taking them out of context, and have claimed Francis will be changing the long standing rules of the Catholic Church such as its stand against same-sex marriage, contraception, abortion and ordaining women as priests. Somehow this will also be spun as the Pope changing things again or more likely it will be seen as some kind of ploy by Catholics to fabricate history to prove their church is the true church, something most non-Catholics don't believe. Devout Catholics however, love their new pope and are glad every time Pope Francis "does it again" because he restores their faith. It will be interesting to see if Pope Francis does declare the Turin Shroud to be authentic in a way that most other Catholic relics are not. However, I don't expect that he will. In his only public comment on the Shroud that I am aware of, Pope Francis has described the image on the Shroud as merely an "icon of a man scourged and crucified":

"How is this possible? How is it that the faithful, like you, pause before this icon of a man scourged and crucified? It is because the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth. This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our heart and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love." ("Turin Shroud: full text of Pope Francis' comments," The Telegraph, 30 Mar 2013).
which, if it was translated correctly, means that Pope Francis thinks the Shroud of Turin is not even a relic, and is tantamount to him declaring it to be a fake!

Posted: 14 February 2014. Updated: 7 May 2016.

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