23. THE QUESTION WAS .. In the year 156 A.D., what did the Christians in the Church of Smyrna say were more valuable than precious stones?
A. the bones of the deceased bishop of Smyrna
B. the writings of the deceased bishop of Smyrna
The Answer is .A .the bones (relics) of the deceased bishop of Smyrna
The veneration of relics of the saints is found in the early history of the Church. A letter written by the faithful of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 provides an account of the death of St. Polycarp, their bishop, who was burned at the stake. The letter reads, "We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom." Essentially, the relicsthe bones and other remains of St. Polycarpwere buried and the tomb itself was the "reliquary." Other accounts attest that the faithful visited the burial places of the saints and miracles occurred. Moreover, at this time we see the development of "feast days" marking the death of the saint, the celebration of Mass at the burial place and a veneration of the remains.
After the legalization of the Church in 312, the tombs of saints were opened and the actual relics were venerated by the faithful. A bone or other bodily part was placed in a reliquarya box, locket and later a glass casefor veneration. This practice especially grew in the Eastern Church, while the practice of touching cloth to the remains of the saint was more common in the west. By the time of the Merovingian and Carolingian periods of the Middle Ages, the use of reliquaries was common throughout the whole Church.
The Church strived to keep the use of relics in perspective. In his Letter to Riparius, St. Jerome (d. 420) wrote in defense of relics: "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are." (excerpt from article that originally appeared July 13, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald.)
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