After nearly 500 years, the forearm of St. Francis Xavier is coming to Canada for the first time. The Archdiocese of Ottawa, the Jesuits in Canada, and Catholic Christian Outreach are working together to accomplish this feat, which will allow Canadians to go on a pilgrimage to see the saint’s arm. According to the Catholic Christian Outreach, they are expecting “three particular extraordinary graces in this pilgrimage.” The extraordinary graces are: “(1) conversion of souls; (2) the raising up of missionary disciples who are abandoned to God’s will; and (3) healing.”
To announce the relic, the Catholic Christian Outreach released a video, and announcer concludes by asking, “What graces do you think Saint Francis Xavier wants to bring for you, for Canada?”
My answer? Not one iota of grace.
If Protestants were tempted to say that the Reformation is no longer relevant, the forearm of St. Francis is living proof that they are wrong.
Relic veneration for extraordinary grace waylays any conviction of Sola Gratia (grace alone), which is part of what it means to be a Protestant. I am not saying that all icons or symbols are out of bounds in all Protestant traditions. I am saying that extraordinary grace ministered through the body parts of saints is.
Jim West quotes Martin Luther at length on relics and chapels that house them, and I think it’s worth repeating Luther’s words. After arguing that chapels that house certain relics ought to be leveled, Luther writes:
Oh, what a terrible and heavy reckoning those bishops will have to give who permit this devilish deceit and profit by it. They should be the first to prevent it and yet they regard it all as a godly and holy thing. They do not see that the devil is behind it all, to strengthen greed, to create a false and fictitious faith, to weaken the parish churches, to multiply taverns and harlotry, to lose money and working time to no purpose, and to lead ordinary people by the nose. If they had read Scripture as well as the damnable canon law, they would know how to deal with this matter!
In short, Luther was not a fan.
And we shouldn’t be either.
Rome claims that the relic is “incorruptible.” According to Angèle Regnier, this means that “the body of this person has not decomposed in the natural process.” Okay. Now click here and look at the pictures that the CBC hosts. That arm looks pretty corrupt to me. I suppose the argument goes that the arm is slowly being corrupted. It has supernatural grace to slow down the process.
I am not saying that supernatural events cannot happen.
But I am saying that if Scripture is your final authority, then you have to place your hope on the grace of God through faith in Christ, testified to by Scripture, and experienced in baptism and in the Lord’s table.
With that, I will leave my Protestant complaint to rest.