The shows have been surrounded by controversy for a number of reasons. Doctor von Hagens prepared some art-inspired exhibits, such as a man carrying his own skin (based on a 16th century drawing by Gaspar Becerra); a man on horseback holding his brain in one hand, the horse’s brain in the other; and a man kneeling in prayer, holding his heart in his hands. Some religious groups object to any public exhibition of human corpses. Others accuse Doctor von Hagens of sensationalism. Various religious groups, including the Catholic Church and some Jewish Rabbis have objected to the display, stating that it cheapens human life, is inconsistent with reverence towards the human body, and is more artistic and exploitative than educational.
Doctor von Hagens has been repeatedly accused of using bodies from deceased persons who did not give consent, such as prison inmates and hospital patients from Kyrgyzstan and executed prisoners from China (this latter led to a lawsuit against Der Spiegel, which Doctor von Hagens won).
Doctor von Hagens maintains that all bodies exhibited in Body Worlds came from donors who gave informed consent via a unique body donation program. A commission set up by the California Science Center in Los Angeles in 2004 confirmed Doctor von Hagens‘ statements. Doctor von Hagens does not make the same claim for all specimens prepared by his plastination institute, only the ones exhibited in Body Worlds. There is also the issue that the children and unborn fetuses included in the exhibition had no way of giving informed consent to the display of their bodies; in the case of children informed consent would have to have been obtained from their parents.
Relics in Early Christianity
The veneration of relics is seen explicitly as early as the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom written by the Smyrnaeans in A.D. 156. In it, the Christians describe the events following his burning at the stake: “We took up his 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 to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.”
In speaking of the veneration of relics in the early Church, the anti-Catholic historian Adolph Harnack writes, “. . . [N]o Church doctor of repute restricted it. All of them rather, even the Cappadocians, countenanced it. The numerous miracles which were wrought by bones and relics seemed to confirm their worship. The Church therefore would not give up the practice, although a violent attack was made upon it by a few cultured heathens and besides by the Manichaeans” (Harnack,History of Dogma, tr., IV, 313).
In the fourth century the great biblical scholar, Jerome, declared, “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” (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907). `
4 Kings 13:20-21 “And Eliseus died, and they buried him. And the rovers from Moab came into the land the same year. And some that were burying a man, saw the rovers, and cast the body into the sepulchre of Eliseus. And when it had touched the bones of Eliseus, the man came to life and stood upon his feet.”
Matthew 9:20-22 “And behold a woman who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. For she said within herself: If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed. But Jesus turning and seeing her, said: Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.”
Acts 19:11-12 “And God wrought by the hand of Paul more than common miracles. So that even there were brought from his body to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons: and the diseases departed from them: and the wicked spirits went out of them.”
When considering relics, it is to be remembered that the body and soul are forever one, even when they seem to be separated by death. The body of the saved will be resurrected and glorified (the bodies of the damned will also be resurrected, for that matter). Forever is there a connection between the remains and the soul that has departed from them — and the great souls whose remains are left to us have a power described well by St. John of Damascus (a.k.a. “John Damascene“), ca. A.D. 676 – 754/87, in his “Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”:
These [the bodies of the Saints] are made treasuries and pure habitations of God: For I will dwell in them, said God, and walk in them, and I will be their God. The divine Scripture likewise saith that the souls of the just are in God’s hand and death cannot lay hold of them. For death is rather the sleep of the saints than their death. For they travailed in this life and shall to the end, and Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. What then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is Life and Light, and those who are in God’s hand are in life and light.
Further, that God dwelt even in their bodies in spiritual wise, the Apostle tells us, saying, Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?, and The Lord is that Spirit, and If any one destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy. Surely, then, we must ascribe honour to the living temples of God, the living tabernacles of God. These while they lived stood with confidence before God.
The Master Christ made the remains of the saints to be fountains of salvation to us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in oil of sweet fragrance: and let no one disbelieve this. For if water burst in the desert from the steep and solid rock at God’s will and from the jaw-bone of an ass to quench Samson’s thirst, is it incredible that fragrant oil [see below] should burst forth from the martyrs’ remains? By no means, at least to those who know the power of God and the honour which He accords His saints.