Having referred to the Holy Shroud of Turin in my last blog as the quixotic reason I have chosen cremation, I was glad to note that in a long appendix at the end of his most recent book, God So Loved the World (Ignatius Press), author Robert Spitzer SJ examines all the evidence for the authenticity of the Holy Shroud and concludes “we might reasonably infer that the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus.”
Spitzer, former President of Gonzaga University and founder of the Magis Centre, subtitles his book “Clues to Our Transcendent Destiny from the Revelation of Jesus”. It is a scholarly, prayerful and very readable response to the challenging question: Do you believe that God personally revealed himself to mankind? In his endorsement of the book, Cardinal Schonborn thanks the author for his “precious and fundamental help to understand God’s love for the world.”
In his appendix Spitzer emphasises that the evidence for the historical Jesus stands on its own and does not need substantiation by a relic like the Holy Shroud. Nonetheless, he believes the abundance of evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity makes it worth investigating as corroborating evidence for the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
Among this evidence, Spitzer details the fact that there are no paints dyes or other pigments on the Shroud; that the anatomical precision of the blood stains are in precise anatomical correlation to the image itself; that pollen grains indigenous to Palestine are found on the cloth, as well as coins minted in AD 29 on the eyes of the man on the Shroud.
Finally he asks: how could a medieval forger (as sceptics suppose) have used vacuum ultraviolet radiation to discolour the cloth on the uppermost surface of the fibrils? How could he have created a perfect photographic negative image?
As Spitzer explains, everything points to a transphysical or metaphysical phenomenon “suggestive of the transformation of Jesus’ body from a physical one to a spiritual-glorified one (reported by St Paul and the four Gospels)”; indeed, “a body transformed in glory, spirit and power.”
This is in stark contrast to the Halloween artefacts recently awash in our shops, which reflect not so much a preparation for celebrating the glory of the saints as a ghoulish fascination for the macabre and death.
Christians must counter this with St Paul’s wonderful words, “O Death where is thy victory? O Grave where is thy sting?” We have to remind society that God so loved the world so much that he laid down his life, only to rise again after three days – as the Holy Shroud shows us in its extraordinary and mysterious grandeur.