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John Calvin, Treatise on Relics - Preface Edinburgh, May 1854
Author: John Calvin
Language: English
THE Treatise on Relics by the great Reformer of Geneva: is not so generally known as it
deserves, though at the time of its publication it enjoyed a considerable popularity. F1 The
probable reason of this is, that the absurdity of the relics described in this Treatise has since the
Reformation gradually become so obvious, that their exhibitors make as little noise as possible
about their miraculous wares, whose virtues are no longer believed except by the most ignorant
part of the population of countries wherein the education of the inferior classes is neglected. And,
indeed, not only Protestants, but many enlightened Roman Catholics believed that all the
miracles of relics, images, and other superstitions with which Christianity was infected during the
times of mediaeval ignorance would be soon, by the progress of knowledge, consigned for ever
to the oblivion of the dark ages, and only recorded in the history of the aberrations of the human
mind, together with the superstitions of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Unfortunately these
hopes have not been realized, and are still remaining amongst the pia desideria. The Roman
Catholic reaction which commenced about half a century ago by works of a philosophical nature,
adapted to the wants of the most intellectual classes of society, has, emboldened by success,
gradually assumed a more and more material tendency, and at length begun to manifest itself by
such results as the exhibition of the holy coat at Treves, which produced a great noise over all
Germany, F2 the apparition of the Virgin at La Salette, the winking Madonna of Rimini, and,
what is perhaps more important than all, the solemn installation of the relics of St Theodosia at
Amiens; whilst works of a description similar to the Life of St Francis of Assisi, by M. Chavin de
Malan, and the Lives of the English Saints, which I have mentioned on page 113 and 115 of my
Introduction, are produced by writers of considerable talent and learning. These are significant
facts, and prove, at all events, that in spite of the progress of intellect and knowledge; which is
the boast of our century, we seem to be fast returning to a state of things similar to the time when
Calvin wrote his Treatise. I therefore believe that its reproduction in a new English translation
will not be out of date. On the other side, the politico-religious system of aggression followed by
Russia has now taken such a rapid development, that the dangers which threaten the liberties and
civilization of Europe from that quarter have become more imminent than those which may be
apprehended from the Roman Catholic reaction. Fortunately England and France have taken up
arms against the impious crusade proclaimed by the Imperial Pope of Russia. I think that the term
impious, which I am advisedly using on this occasion, is by no means exaggerated; because how
can we otherwise designate the proceedings adopted by the Czar for exciting the religious
fanaticism of the Russians, as, for instance, the letter of the Archbishop of Georgia, addressed to
that of Moscow, and published in the official Gazette of St. Petersburg, stating on the authority of
the Russian General, Prince Bagration Mukhranski, that during an engagement between the
Russians and the Turks, which recently took place in Asia, the Blessed Virgin appeared in the air
and frightened the Turks to such a degree that they took to flight! F3 I have developed this
subject in the last chapter of my Introduction, in order to show my readers the religious condition
of the Russian people, because I think that without it a knowledge of the policy now followed by
their Government cannot be well understood, or its consequences fully appreciated.

Edinburgh, May 1854




Origin of the worship of relics and images in the Christian Church


Compromise of the Church with Paganism


Position of the first Christian Emperors towards Paganism, and their policy in this respect


Infection of the Christian Church by Pagan ideas and practices during the fourth and fifth
centuries — General state of the Christian society during that period — Opposition to the
worship of angels, saints, images, and relics — Vigilantlus


Reaction against the worship of images and other superstitious practices by the Iconoclast
Emperors of the East — Opposition to the same worship by Charlemagne


Origin and development of the pious legends, or lives of saints, during the middle ages


Analysis of the Pagan rites and practices which have been retained by the Roman Catholic as
well as the Greco-Russian Church


Image-worship and other superstitious practices of the Graeco-Russian Church