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A Telling Remark on the Holy Shroud of Turin

by Christopher A. Ferrara
April 23, 2015

An exhibition of the Holy Shroud of Turin is now underway. In connection with the exhibition, the Archbishop of Turin, Msgr. Cesare Nosiglia, gave an interview in which he was asked a simple question: “But is the Shroud a relic?” 

The simple answer is: Of course it is a relic. There is no scientific explanation worthy of credence for the existence on a piece of cloth native to first century Palestine an image presenting in minute, three-dimensional, anatomically correct detail a Man — the only Man in history — who was whipped, fitted with a Crown of Thorns, crucified and then lanced in the side. There is no scientific explanation for this image being effectively a photographic negative that revealed its mysteries fully only to the cameras of our skeptical age, which converted it into a vivid, positive image. No painter could have devised such an artifact, and there would be no conceivable reason for its existence if it were not the very image of Christ Crucified.

But Archbishop Nosiglia did not give the simple answer. He gave the kind of ambiguous, self-contradictory reply that typifies the speech of most post-conciliar churchmen, who seem to have a dread fear of making a definite statement about anything, even the dogmas of the Faith. The Archbishop replied:

The Popes of recent decades have not used this term because if, on the one hand, there are good reasons for plausibility and possibility, it is also true that science has thus far not been able to offer a comprehensive interpretation on formation of the image, which, as St. John Paul II said, “is a provocation to the intelligence.” The Shroud is still a reality in some ways inexplicable but rich, however, with a suggestion that approaches the heart of the Gospel: the Passion and death of Jesus.

What a telling remark. Telling because the Archbishop notes that only the Popes of recent decades have declined to call the Holy Shroud what it so clearly is: a relic. Before Vatican II — indeed, until literally a historical moment before — the Popes unequivocally referred to the Shroud as a miraculously produced image of Our Lord in the Tomb. As Pius XII observed: “Turin, city of the Most Holy Sacrament, guards as a precious treasure the Holy Shroud, which displays, both to move and comfort us, the Image of the lifeless body and the tortured Face of Christ.” His immediate predecessor, Pius XI, likewise declared that the Shroud was “certainly not the work of any human hand.”

Contrary to Archbishop Nosiglia’s equivocation, John Paul II is said to have considered the icon a relic, while Benedict XVI did refer to it as merely an “icon,” which would reduce it to a mere work of human art. So what has changed in “recent decades”? Of course we know: Vatican II led to the disastrous “opening to the world” that Paul VI called “a veritable invasion of the Church by worldly thinking,” and in consequence the human element of the Church has been bowing to worldly opinion, including “scientific” opinion, on one issue after another for the past fifty years.

Archbishop Nosiglia’s remark is also self-contradictory gobbledygook. First of all, that “science has thus far not been able to offer a comprehensive interpretation on formation of the image” is precisely why we ought to consider the Shroud a relic, not a reason to doubt that it is! If science could explain the image on the Shroud by purely natural means, then it could be reproduced in a laboratory and there would demonstrably be nothing miraculous about it. But all attempts to reproduce the Shroud have resulted in crudely fashioned images that only make it more obvious that the Shroud is scientifically inexplicable, defies the laws of nature, and is therefore a miracle.

Secondly, it is nonsense to decline to call the Shroud a relic only to say in the same breath that it is “still a reality… rich, however, with a suggestion that approaches the heart of the Gospel: the Passion and death of Jesus.” For centuries before “the Popes of recent decades” the Shroud was rightly revered as a true relic of the Risen Lord. If it were not such, then it would be simply a fake — at best an icon created by some unknown artisan, and certainly no reason for Catholics around the world to make pilgrimages to Turin during the limited time the image is exposed for public viewing under tight security. (This year it will be from April 19 to June 24.)

But, in that typically post-conciliar mode of doubletalk, the Archbishop wants to have it both ways: we cannot say the Shroud is a relic, but we can say that it is “a reality” — whatever that is supposed to mean. In like manner, many of today’s churchmen will solemnly assure us that no one need actually be a member of the Catholic Church in order to be saved — or even a believer in God for that matter — but this does not mean we should not evangelize. Really? Whatever for? Or, as we see with the Phony Synod, we are told that marriage is of course indissoluble according to a divinely revealed dogma of the Faith that cannot change, but this does not mean that people living in second “marriages” cannot receive the Blessed Sacrament by way of a pastoral “exception” that denies the dogma in practice.

And it goes, as a Church in constant retreat before the conquering march of the spirit of the age exhibits precisely the spectacle that the future Pius XII, referring specifically to the Message of Fatima, predicted in 1931: “The day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will doubt as Peter doubted. She will be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

Only the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will bring an end to this unparalleled situation. And only the obedience of the Pope and the bishops to Her request for Russia’s consecration will bring about that triumph.