|What may be the largest relic of the True Cross|
Santo Toribio de Liébana in Spain
September 14th, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
“There is no abbey so poor as not to have a specimen. In some places there are large fragments, as at the Holy Chapel in Paris, at Poitiers, and at Rome, where a good-sized crucifix is said to have been made of it. In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.” John Calvin, Traité Des Reliques
Protestants, rationalists, modernists, and other enemies of Christ and his Church attack the veneration of the True Cross (a practice as ancient as Christianity itself) with the mockery: “If all the supposed splinters of the True Cross were collected, there would be enough wood to build a boat!” Those who are not quite so pompous will add, “Or at least three crosses.”
But is it true? Just how much Sacred Wood is venerated in the Church of Christ?
A theological note: Two reasons we worship the Cross
Before examining just how much wood honored as relics of the True Cross, we should first note the real issue behind the protestant/rationalist/modernist accusation: That Catholics ought not to honor any relics, not even the relics of the Passion.
But, when we honor and worship the Cross, we do not worship a mere piece of wood. No, we worship our Savior through the veneration given to the True Cross. Because the honor paid to the image passes on to the prototype, the adoration we give to the True Cross (and we do genuflect before the relic of the True Cross, and we do pray to the True Cross calling the Sacred Wood our “only hope” [in the hymn Crux Fidelis]) passes on to the Savior which the Cross represents.
Furthermore, we worship the True Cross because it was so closely united to his sacred Humanity as to be entirely soaked in his Precious Blood as it bore his Sacred Flesh. Thus, as we worship the Humanity of Jesus for its union to his Divinity, so too do we worship the Cross in its union to his Humanity.
Hence, for these two reasons, Catholics are right to venerate, honor, and worship the Cross – not that the Sacred Wood is divine, nor that it is hypostatically united to the divinity, but insofar as it is the great icon of the Crucified Savior and was so closely united to his sacred Humanity in the work of our redemption.
And the Church does indeed worship the Cross, which is why she calls out on Good Friday: Behold the wood of the Cross on which the salvation of the world did hang. Come, let us adore.
More on this can be found [here].
An example of the modernist claim
From the Encyclopedia Britannica online [here]:
“Adoration of the True Cross gave rise to the sale of its fragments which were sought as relics. John Calvin pointed out that all the extant fragments, if put together, would fill a large ship, an objection regarded as invalid by some Roman Catholic theologians who claimed that the blood of Christ gave to the True Cross a kind of material indestructibility, so that it could be divided indefinitely without being diminished. Such beliefs resulted in the multiplication of relics of the True Cross wherever Christianity expanded in the medieval world, and fragments were deposited in most of the great cities and in a great many abbeys.”
Charles Rohault de Fleury
A certain French architect, Charles Rohault de Fleury, was much interested in the critique of John Calvin and others (including also Erasmus of Rotterdam). Hearing that, according to their conjecture (which was not based on any study and had no science behind it), there were enough splinters of wood being venerated as the True Cross to make a boat, De Fleury set out to catalogue all the various known relics of his day.
In 1870, the architect turned archeologist published his scientific and scholarly findings in his Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion. After careful investigation, M. Rohault de Fleury discovered that, were all the fragments collected together, they would not reach even to one-third the size of the Cross.
The myth, busted
In this work, which is still recognized today and has never been refuted, De Fleury estimates the Cross to have been about twelve to sixteen feet tall with a cross-beam of about six feet (which proportions are entirely likely). This would give the True Cross an original volume of about 6.286 cubic feet. However, the total volume of the known relics of the True Cross is only about .141 cubic feet. In cubic millimeters the difference is 178,000,000 to 4,000,000.
All the known relics taken together are scarcely even one-fiftieth of the original volume! They would not make even one-third of a cross, let alone a battleship!
We concur with the Catholic novelist, Evelyn Waugh, “As far as volume goes, therefore, there is no strain on the credulity of the faithful.”
We worship your Cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify your holy resurrection, for the wood of the Cross has brought joy to the world.
(Antiphon from the Church’s Laudes)