A fascinating documentary from the BBC on the Shroud of Turin

…piling up more evidence for its authenticity.

I’ve always believed it to be genuine. If it’s a fake, make another one, using the technology available in 14th century France or 13th century Constantinople. Good luck with that.

There’s even a credible line of transmission from first century Jerusalem to 14th century France.

One of the curious passages in Scripture regarding the morning of the Resurrection is this:

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (Jn 20:1–9)

“He saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” What did he see? I think he saw the Shroud. And I think his point is that it kindled the beginning of faith, while at the same time that faith was immature and required the Resurrection appearances to link the event to a mature understanding that Christ had really fulfilled the law and the prophets.

It is also notable that the blood stains on the shroud–yes, it b-l-u-d blood and not paint–match exactly the stains on the Sudarium of Oveido, the napkin that had been on his head.

Why does that matter? Because the carbon dating on the Sudarium dates it back to 700 AD, while we know the history of that cloth is traceable back to at least 570 AD. In other words, don’t bet the farm on carbon dating–particularly of relics that have been constantly exposed to smoke in liturgies for the first thousand years of their existence, not to mention a Shroud that was in a huge fire in the mid 16th century.

Some people will not that the Church makes no claims about the authenticity of these relics and that they constitute no part of the deposit of faith. Perfectly true. You can ignore them and be a perfectly good Catholic.

Still and all, that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth is also not an integral part of my Catholic faith. But it’s still true though. That the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ is, I am persuaded by the evidence, still true, integral part of the Faith or no. It’s a grace–a help. Not a mainstay. And it one of the strangest things in the world.

Whenever I say this, one common response I receive from skeptics (typically atheists) is something like what I got on Facebook today:

“It’s a leftover from the Middle Ages’ obsession with relics. This is sad.”

Such kneejerk reaction to the Shroud always make me remember all that stuff about how Christians are dogmatic obscurantists who fear science while rationalists are hard-head realists who just follow the facts wherever they lead. The evidence keeps piling up for its genuineness. And the challenge stands to make another one. And in response, the skeptic can only tweet insults like Donald Trump. My recommendation: Don’t be afraid of science and just follow the evidence where it leads.

But there’s no evidence that the figure on the Shroud is Jesus!

Yeah. Even though it contains fossil pollen from the Holy Land, cannot be reproduced, and has a perfect photo negative image (and by the way, why? if it’s a forgery) showing the blood-stains that exactly match the biblical description of the Crucifixion (including the unknown-in-the-14th century nails through the wrists and not the palms), it is possible that image is of some other random guy and not Jesus and that the early Christians somehow came into possession of such a strange fluke and believed it was Jesus’ image.

Me: I would bet more money that Elvis is still alive than on that proposition.

Another complaint one hears comes from Fundamentalists that veneration of the Shroud is “idol worship”. The sensible response to this is that veneration is not worship, but honor. Scripture has always recognized degrees of honor. So God commands us, for instance, to honor our parents and to honor the king. And we have always shown honor to people and things in various ways: saluting the flag, applauding actors, standing when the President enters the room, etc. None of that is worship which is the highest form of honor a human being can give. As long as a creature is not honored above God, there is no problem. And that includes the Shroud.

I honor the Shroud for what it is, an image of what Jesus endured for our salvation and a profound mystery born (I believe) in the instant that he was translated from death to glorified eternal life. It is a token that he, almost playfully has left behind to help the faith of those who believe and tantalize those who are willing to at least make the effort to wonder.

Thanks be to God for the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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