Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
That’s right, an Italian scientist whose work was funded by an Italian association of atheists and agnostics has undertaken some experiments that he claims “prove” the Shroud of Turin isn’t really the burial cloth of Jesus, but rather a fraud created in medieval times.
What is the conclusive research that the scientist has conducted that allegedly refutes the substantial body of scientific findings that suggest the cloth was indeed wrapped around the body of Jesus following his crucifixion?
According to this Reuters article, it consists of nothing more than the fact that the scientist has managed to come up with a complicated technique to create an image on a linen cloth that looks like the one on the shroud. He hasn’t demonstrated, in any way, that this technique is in fact the one that actually created the image on the shroud — merely that you can create a similar image using his procedures.
Obviously, it remains altogether possible that the actual image on the shroud was created in a quite different way: by coming into contact with the battered and broken face and body of Christ as he lay in his tomb in the hours following his brutal torture and subsequent execution by crucifixion.
But for some reason, this Italian scientist (and, one assumes, the religious disbelievers who paid for his research) has proffered this research as compelling evidence of the shroud’s inauthenticity.
The Church, for its part, has always adhered to a far more judicious approach to assessing whether the shroud is indeed Christ’s burial cloth. Since there is no authoritative tradition attesting to that fact, the Church stresses this is not an article of faith that any Catholic is required to believe.
Moreover, Church authorities continue to make the shroud available to scientists in order to assess its possible authenticity with the best means available. To date, those tests have yielded conflicting results. But some of the data strongly points in the direction of a supernatural explanation for the generation of the image of Christ on the cloth. Other evidence, such as the fact that the weave of the shroud is consistent not with medieval weavers but rather with the techniques employed in the Holy Land in the first century, supports the conclusion that the cloth was indeed created in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus.
In any event, as the Reuters article notes, the Church insists that the most important lesson to take away from any contemplation of the bruised countenance and broken body that is represented on the Shroud of Turin is this one: Whether or not the shroud is the actual burial cloth of Jesus, it serves as a powerful reminder of the brutal suffering and the cruel death that Our Lord endured in Jerusalem at the end of his earthly life as a loving sacrifice for the salvation of all humanity.
Speaking during a May 1998 visit to the Shroud in Turin, Pope John Paul II stressed the Church does not regard the shroud’s authenticity as a matter of Christian faith. “As it is not a matter of faith, the Church has no specific competence to pronounce itself on these questions,” he said. “It entrusts the task of research to scientists, to arrive at appropriate answers for questions related to this cloth.”
Emphasized John Paul, “What really counts for believers is that the holy shroud is a mirror of the Gospel.”