Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Catholic Answers and Veronica's Station of the Cross
04/06/2008 - James Swan
"Originating in the Middle Ages and promoted by the Franciscans, the Stations of the Cross is a devotion to the passion of Christ from the moment of his condemnation by Pilate to his burial. Churches place fourteen images, representing scenes from the passion, spaced out on walls in such a way that a person walks from one to the other until meditations and prayers are completed" [Alfred McBride, O. Praem, Catholic Beliefs From A to Z (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 2001) p.159].
Recently John Martignoni appeared on Catholic Answers Live to answer questions on "Scriptural Apologetics." John is "dedicated to explaining and defending the Scriptural foundations of the Catholic faith." The show began with a lengthy discussion on the Stations of the Cross. This intrigued me, considering the practice appears late in church history, thus it is not a Biblical tradition. It appears to be based on a tradition that Mary daily walked the Via Dolorosa. At each place of importance, Mary knelt and prayed. Martignoni tried to present some sort of "scriptural foundation" to solidify each station, but one in particular has absolutely no explicit or implicit Biblical proof that can even romotely be mustered up for the cause of Rome: Station six- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Don't bother pulling out your Bible concordance and looking up "Veronica," she isn't there. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers this information on her:
"In several regions of Christendom there is honored under this name a pious matron of Jerusalem who, during the Passion of Christ, as one of the holy women who accompanied Him to Calvary, offered Him a towel on which he left the imprint of His face. She went to Rome, bringing with her this image of Christ, which was long exposed to public veneration" [source].
Before one begins to suspect the historical possibility of Veronica and this story, the Encyclopedia then notes that early relics like the towel described above were called "vera icon (true image), which ordinary language soon made veronica...By degrees, popular imagination mistook this word for the name of a person and attached thereto several legends which vary according to the country." The Catholic Encyclopedia then lists many of these several legends. This though does not deter the Encyclopedia from concluding:
"These pious traditions cannot be documented, but there is no reason why the belief that such an act of compassion did occur should not find expression in the veneration paid to one called Veronica, even though the name has found no place in the Hieronymian Martyrology or the oldest historical Martyrologies, and St. Charles Borromeo excluded the Office of St. Veronica from the Milan Missal where it had been introduced."
Well, I can think of a few very good reasons not to venerate Veronica: the Encyclopedia has presented no positive historical evidence that such a person ever existed, and it earlier confirmed the origination of her name evolved from a description of an inanimate object to the status of a person!
Now let's take a listen to Mr.Martignoni's "scriptural apologetic" for Station six:
First Martignoni informs us the source for Station six comes from the apocryphal Acts of Pilate from 100-125 A.D. Some of the sources I checked date the work from 150-255 A.D. The Catholic Encyclopedia, though an older work, states, "We are forced to admit that is of later origin, and scholars agree in assigning it to the middle of the fourth century" [source]. Obviously, the certainty that this is an early work is debatable. The actual reference to Veronica from this text is also less than compelling:
There was found there also a woman named Veronica, and she said: Twelve years I was in an issue of blood, and I only touched the edge of his garment, and directly I was cured.The Jews say: Our law does not admit the testimony of a woman.
Martignoni refers to the story of Veronica as stemming from "small 't' tradition." He correctly notes that the story from the Acts of Pilate speaks of Jesus healing a woman of a blood disorder. Note above, the story of Veronica's towel is...missing. The Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature notes,
"A late tradition represents [Veronica] as a niece of King Herod and as offering her veil, or a napkin, as a sundarium to the suffering Christ on the Way of the Cross, whose pictured features were thus impressed upon the linen. This tradition has found no acceptance since the 11th cent." [Henry Wace, William Piercy, eds., The Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1911), p. 1106].
In fact, in some translations of the section above, the name isn't Veronica, but Bernice [Willis Barnstone, ed., The Other Bible (San Francisco: Harper San Fransisco, 2005), p.366]. The reason appears to be that the name "Veronica" is found in a later Latin manuscript (the original text is in Greek). Veronica (or Bernice) appears in the text as witness on behalf of Christ. These two women may in fact be the same, as "Veronica" appears to be a latinisation of "Bernice." But, neither name may be accurate. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII [Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995 (reprint)] translates the text simply as "a woman" (p. 419), and notes that only some of the manuscripts use either the names mentioned.
Martignoni states if one or two of the Stations of the Cross did not happen, well, "so what?" He states, "You can't prove it did not happen." He then states the tradition of this story goes back almost 2000 years. This serves as proof that it did happen! My challenge to Martignoni would be to document this claim. Trace the tradition of this story back 2000 years. Explain why this is not a tradition of men, like those decried by Jesus.
Where then did the Veronica story come from? I found a version of it in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII, pp.466-467, "The Death of Pilate Who Condemned Jesus." The editors note of this text, "The language shows it to be of a late date" (p. 354). Here is the pertinent section:
"And this messenger returning to his inn, met a certain woman named Veronica, who had been a friend of Jesus; and he said: O woman, a certain physician who was in this city, who cured the sick by a word alone, why have the Jews put him to death? And she began to weep, saying: Ah me! my Lord, my God and my Lord, whom Pilate for envy delivered, condemned, and ordered to be crucified. Then he, being exceedingly grieved, said: I am vehemently grieved that I am unable to accomplish that for which my Lord had sent me. And Veronica said to him: When my Lord was going about preaching, and I, much against my will, was deprived of His presence, I wished His picture to be painted for me, in order that, while I was deprived of His presence, the figure of His picture might at least afford me consolation. And when I was carrying the canvas to the painter to be painted, my Lord met me, and asked whither I was going. And when I had disclosed to Him the cause of my journey, He asked of me the cloth, and gave it back to me impressed with the image of His venerable face. Therefore, if thy Lord will devoutly gaze upon His face, he shall obtain forthwith the benefit of health. And he said to her: Is a picture of such a sort procurable by gold or silver? She said to him: No; but by the pious influence of devotion. I shall therefore set out with thee, and shall carry the picture to be seen by Caesar, and shall come back again.
Volusianus therefore came with Veronica to Rome, and said to Tiberius the emperor: Jesus, whom thou hast been longing for, Pilate and the Jews have delivered to an unjust death, and have through envy affixed to the gibbet of the cross. There has therefore come with me a certain matron, bringing a picture of Jesus himself; and if thou wilt devoutly look upon it, thou shall immediately obtain the benefit of thy health. Caesar therefore ordered the way to be strewn with silk cloths, and the picture to be presented to him; and as soon as he had looked upon it, he regained his former health."
In the same volume, a document entitled "The Avenging of the Savior" claims Veronica was the woman "who suffered from an issue of blood twelve years" [The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII, p. 475]. In this story, Veronica has a "portrait of the Lord." This portrait has miraculous powers.
Martignoni notes that the Stations of the Cross are an act of devotion, therefore, one can still gain spiritual benefit from it. What benefit could possibly be gained from a practice not only non-Biblical, but including non-historical, and most likely fictional facts about Veronica? I've read elsewhere that plenary indulgences can be granted to those who take part in this act of devotion [Stanley Stuber, Primer on Roman Catholicism for Protestants (New York: Association Press, 1953), p.190]. Hence, an act that is part of small "t" tradition has quite an effect on a participant.
Catholics continually make the claim that to be deep in history is to cease being Protestant. Well, if one does history as Martignoni does, I would have to ask how the word "history" is being defined. If it means that anything is history because one cannot prove it did not happen, and whatever small "t" tradition is now part of Catholic practice is true because it's a nice act of devotion, I would rather not go deep into Martignoni's method of history.