“The intelligent faithful don’t need trinkets like this to justify their belief, surely?”

Sometimes one runs across an article that so aptly summarizes a point of view that it takes your breath away.  That is especially so when the point of view is articulated by someone whose error is matched only by his ignorance.  An example of this crossed my path recently.

The Shroud of Turin is mysterious.  A preponderance of the evidence, if not clear and convincing evidence, supports the idea that it was the burial shroud of Christ, the shroud that covered His body at the moment of His Resurrection.  If proven, the implications are breathtaking: we would have physical evidence not only that Christ lived, but that He conquered death.

As a result, an almost panicky body of writing has developed attempting to debunk the Shroud’s connection to Christ.  Some points are worthwhile. We will never be able to conclusively demonstrate the Shroud’s connection to Christ simply because no reliable chain of evidence carries us back to the tomb.  (Of course, this is just another example of religious and specifically Christian claims being subject to higher, impossible to meet standards of proof).

The recent discovery that the Shroud’s image may have been produced by extremely intense ultraviolet radiation set the so-smart-we’re dumb set into another round of the vapors.  Perhaps one of the best examples of such hand wringing came from one Tom Chivers, who holds the exalted position of “Assistant Comment Editor” for the Telegraph newspaper.  In response to the news from Italy, Mr. Chivers quickly manned the barricades with a wonderful post titled “The Turin Shroud Is Fake. Get Over It.”  

This is quite an assertion.  Mr. Chivers, “Assistant Comment Editor,” it appears, knows for certain that the Shroud is fake .  Surprisingly, Assistant Comment Editor Chivers does not explain what the Shroud is, which you would think he would do since he KNOWS it is not what those Christians think it is.  Wow! A question that has baffled scientists for more than a century has been resolved by an Assistant Comment Editor for the Telegraph.  (Maybe the Telegraph should promote him to a full-fledged Comment Editor.)  What groundbreaking evidence does Mr. Chivers advance for this assertion? The debunked (or at least questionable) radio carbon dating from the 70’s. Oh, my, bestill my afluttering heart.  Mr. Chivers, of course, does not answer exactly how the 13th or 14th Century artist (assuming it was art — Mr. Chivers does not deign to tell us what the Shroud “is;” only that it is not, not, what those Christians say it is.)  He also notes that St. John’s Gospel mentions two burial cloths.  Finally, he states that John Calvin was skeptical, which of all things is the most revealing comment.

All of this writing, however, only the lead up to Mr. Chivers’ deepest insight.  He wrote:

“The intelligent faithful don’t need trinkets like this to justify their belief, surely?”

This is simply classic: a combined ad hominem deprecation of one’s rhetorical opponents.  Presumably, “intelligent” works both as a psychic goodie for those who agree with him (if you agree with me, Mr. Chivers implies, you qualify as “intelligent”) and a slam on those who don’t.  No reasons needed; only self-regard and the more of it the better.  The choice of the word “trinket” is even better.  No matter what you think the Shroud of Turin is, it is not a trinket — a small ornament of little value.  It is large — more than 14 feet in length — and priceless.  Perhaps, trinket means large and priceless in England.

But Mr. Chivers unwittingly stumbled on a very important point.  The point of the Shroud is that it reminds us that God became man.  God, an ineffable spirit, became a human being in a very specific place at a very specific time in history.  He had features.  He had a voice.  He was tall or short.  He was strong.  He ate. He drank.  He was one of us in all things but sin.  Why did God do that?  Why didn’t he continue to interact with us as on an ineffable, intellectual plane?  While we do not need the Shroud of Turin specifically, we did need Christ to become man.  Why?

The answer is well beyond your humble blogger.  But part of it is this.  God treats us like persons.  Mark Shea put it best in one of my favorite quotations:

For all the folk notions in the press that God thinks he is the Great and Terrible Oz, it appears the reality is something much different: God treats us, not like cringing, mindless slaves, but like persons. And persons ask questions.

Not only do persons ask questions, they relate to others concretely through sight, sound, smell, and touch.  I wonder if Mr. Chivers ever received a perfumed note from his girlfriend.  I wonder how he reacted.  Did he say, “Intelligent persons in a relationship don’t need such trinkets, surely?”  I doubt it.  I think he was happy to receive it and hold on to it because it was a concrete reminder of his affection for her.  On their most recent date, I am sure Mr. Chivers did not refuse to hold her hand, saying drily “Intelligent persons in a relationship don’t need to hold hands to know that we love each other, surely?”  I doubt there’d be another date if he did.

God’s approach to humanity is the same.  He could have remained an ineffable Spirit, complete in His perfections.  But He wanted us to love Him and if relating to us in a concrete form in a historical place and time was what it would take, then so be it.  Again, the insight is that God relates to us as persons.  He meets us much more than halfway — sort of a cosmic “come as you are.”

The answer to Mr. Chivers’ snark is this: the “intelligent” faithful do not turn the faith into a dry, inhuman intellectual exercise that demands that we cease to be persons.  For Mr. Chivers, God does not relate to us as persons, but as something else entirely — something that does not exist.  Our faith is a faith of sights, sounds, smells, and pageant of the whole human experience, concretely lived.  It is as much the stately beauty surrounding  a Carthusian monastery as it is the sights, sounds, and smells of a hospital ward in which a priest is administering the final Anointing and Viaticum.

So while the Shroud may not be the burial cloth of Jesus — we will never know for certain this side of Eternity — it is important because it is one thing among many through which God relates to us, not as automatons, but as people.  The Shroud reminds us that “smells and bells” are important and that a religion that posits a purely intellectual relationship between a god and man is a false one, no matter how intelligent the faithful are or how small the trinkets.

"Thy Face, I seek, O Lord"

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Local Shroud of Turin Event

A Church Guy passed this along and it looks interesting:

A Vatican approved replica of the Shroud is now on display at the Ukranian National Shrine of the Holy Family.  Its website with all of the details is here.  Viewing details from the website:

The Shroud of Turin replica has been lent by the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia to the Ukrainian National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington D.C. for display from March 6 through April 14, 2011. The exhibit will be open at the Shrine on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during this time period. Groups, or those that wish to arrange another time to visit, may contact the Shrine by telephone (202-526-3737) or e-mail (ucnsholyfamily@catholic.org) to arrange for visits.

The Real Face of Jesus, Part II

Seeking the literal face of Jesus as we Church Guys have been doing helped me to begin to approach one of the most profound mysteries of our faith — the Incarnation.  Christ, fully God and fully man.  I could repeat the formula pretty well, but did I have any real understanding? No, not really.

Deacon Jim opened it up for me with his question, “Does it mean anything for your faith if the Shroud is fake?”  One answer among others was that its authenticity wasn’t a make or break question, but it was something that if authentic, was amazing; something that enlivened the faith — an instance in which the infinite touched the finite, where the spiritual contacted the physical.  If it were a hoax, we’d still believe, but something would be lost.

But what about the greater miracle in which the infinite became the finite? When a spiritual Being became physical while continuing to be spiritual.  Fully God, fully man.  Whether God gave us the Shroud to provide evidence for the Resurrection or to remind us of the terrible suffering of those scourged and crucified or to code the literal face of Jesus, the Shroud speaks most compellingly to the reality of the Incarnation — the God became man.  The sheer improbability of that happening makes it difficult to get one’s mind around — and this may be one of those things that one simply accepts that understanding will come in time.

In the end, looking for the literal face of Christ affirming the mystery of the Incarnation and beginning to understand ever so slowly.