God's Metaphors

The Shroud of Turin is an object subject to a great deal of devotion and a great deal of controversy. Many believe it to be the shroud in which Jesus was buried. While it's provenance is not known before 1349, it is a relic that will not go away. For every study that definitively determines it is of European medieval origin, another is published to establish that it is not.

My purpose is not to discuss the likelihood that the shroud is or is not genuine.  Let us assume for the moment that it is an accurate picture of the kind of crucifixion that Jesus suffered.  My interest is in the position of the wounds on the back of the hands of the the figure; more precisely, in the position of the wounds on the back of the wrists of the figure.

Part of the discussion surrounding the shroud concerns the feasibility of crucifixion in which nails were driven through the palms of the hands. It has been widely noted that the tissue of the palms would not support the weight of the body in crucifixion, but would tear through between the fingers. The consensus seems to be that the bones of the wrist must be involved to provide the necessary support. This augurs well for the shroud. What, however, does it do for centuries of Christian iconography? What for the Gospel of St John? Interesting as these questions are, I want to address another, and one of particular note for Franciscans.

What are we to make of the stigmata of St Francis and of Padre Pio? The positions of their stigmata, as near as I can tell, correspond to the traditional sites of Christ's wounds, notably the palms of the hands.
What went wrong? Did Jesus not remember? Or is this an indication that the stigmata are, in spite of the plethora of evidence presented in the Cause of Pio, extremely clever fakes?

For the purposes of this discussion, let us take it as a given that Pio's stigmata are genuine. By this I mean that they cannot be attributed to any natural causes that they are what they are said to be by the Church; a supernatural intervention in the natural world. On that assumption, the investigation and validation of Pio's stigmata has the happy side-effect of validating the stigmata of the founder of Pio's order, St Francis. But why the palms, if that was not the site of the Lord's wounds?

What would be the point of God's speaking to us in ways we do not understand? If every Christian in Italy understood Christ's wounds to be in His hands, how would wounds in St Francis' wrists be regarded? God translates for us. He translates His small personal epiphanies into the language of an individual soul. So, the overwhelming apprehension of the presence of God that is a conversion or a re-affirmation, and which cannot be conveyed to another human being. Likewise He translates His public utterances into the language of their audience. So, Pio carries the wounds in his hands and elsewhere for fifty years until they begin to heal at the end of his life, eventually closing without scars.

An instance of this kind of accommodation is the Ascension.  It is a perennial target of the mockers. The Creed has it that, He ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Let us assume, again, that this millennial belief of the Church is correct. The event of the Ascension is consonant with Jewish cosmology, and expresses the essential elements. The Jews knew that Heaven was up there; clouds were the medium of heavenly exchange, so to speak. How might it have been expressed? Perhaps a tardis in the shape of a dinghy, given Jesus' associations with the boats of Galilee. Perhaps the angels could, like Krishna with Arjuna before the battle, have set aside four days to explain and persuade: to lay out for the disciples the fundamentals of general relativity, quantum mechanics, the big bang (a familiar note, this), finally explaining that the glorified body of the Lord was about to depart through a warp in the space-time continuum to a parallel universe, viz. Heaven.

Yes, it's ridiculous, but what alternative would not be ridiculous?  The whole point of ridiculing of the Gospels is to support a philosophical commitment that a priori denies their validity. The mockers assume the superiority of their philosophy over what we may still call Christianity. Their superiority, though, is that of schoolboys clustering in gangs at universities and seminaries, egging each other on to ever more daring feats of mockery in order to carry themselves, en masse, through the prolonged intellectual adolescence that is the pre- and post- of modernism.

As it happens, I do not believe that is is necessary to abandon either the Gospel of St John or the shroud. They seem to me to be quite compatibile; but for the terms of this discussion that is irrelevant. Similarly, I accept that the stigmata of Francis and Pio are God-given, and that the Ascension was an actual event, witnessed by the Apostles. Furthermore, I will insist that these beliefs of mine are more reasonable, rational and coherent than the beliefs of those who oppose them.