Zaccone: The Shroud? As Wojtyla said, it is the “mirror of the Gospel”

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Zaccone: The Shroud? As Wojtyla said, it is the “mirror of the Gospel”

By Domenico Agasso/ lastampa.it

Interview with the Director of the International Centre for Studies on the Sacred Linen after the reopening of the Guarini Chapel in Turin, home of the Shroud until the 1997 fire broke out on the night of 11 April.

Professor Gian Maria Zaccone, why is it important to reopen the Chapel of Guarini?

“I really believe that the reopening of the Guarini Chapel represents an important moment not only for Turin but for the whole country and in general for the world, whether interested in the Shroud or in the history of art. The Chapel of Guarini is in fact an extraordinary and unparalleled monument to the religious expression of the Baroque, known and studied throughout the world. It is sufficient to see the level and provenance of the scholars who participated in the conference organized by Mibact in conjunction with the reopening of the Chapel to understand how much Guarini’s masterpiece is of international interest. The dramatic fire of 1997 had deprived the city and the world of a fundamental work, which today returns to public use. We owe a heartfelt thanks to all those who have worked on ensuring this monument back to us”.

And how relevant is it for Christians?

“During the days of the inauguration I stressed a point that might seem obvious, yet it can’t be reiterated enough. The Chapel is certainly a great work of art, an expression of human genius, a monument of enormous interest able to arouses many emotions. However, we must not forget that without the Shroud, there would not even be the Chapel of the Shroud. And the Chapel of the Shroud wouldn’t be what it is, without Guarini’s deep religious and Christological reflection which is at the base of the entire project. – Let’s not forget that this Italian baroque architect was a religious - evidently influenced also by the reading of works of the time that insisted on the meaning of the Shroud. Therefore, the Chapel is not only a monument that satisfies an aesthetic pleasure but is also, and for the believer above all, a concrete expression, mediated by the meditation of the artist and the religious, of a message that springs from the Shroud. A message that has remained identical in time and space even if perceived with the various sensitivities of each epoch and time in which the Shroud interacted with humanity”.

The archbishop of Turin and pontifical custodian of the Shroud, Monsignor Cesare Nosiglia, said that Guarini’s Chapel is “a path from darkness to light, from death to life”: why?

“The mystery to which the Shroud refers is the founding mystery of the Christian faith: the incarnation of Jesus Christ, son of God, true man and true God. The incarnation that allows the son of God to share human nature up to the extreme atoning sacrifice to free men and women from the slavery of sin. A death, however, that for the believer would not make sense if not seen in the light of resurrection. And all this is a possible fruit of the contemplation and meditation of the painful image contained on the Shroud, meditation that certainly places us in front of the mystery of suffering and evil but - as masterly suggested by St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in a line of thought already present in the seventeenth-century treatise and homiletics - is also open to the light of the resurrection. This was understood and translated into a monument by Guarini who placed the cloth – when not shown - in a dark context, a tomb in fact, which nevertheless develops in dizzying height in a wonderful play of lights increasingly brighter and vivifying until burst at the top of the Chapel in which hovers the representation of the vivifying Holy Spirit”.

What is the role of the Shroud in the history of the Church? What “place” should it have in the life of a believer?

“This is a very interesting question, which might need an answer at length. I think I have already expressed my opinion several times about the role of history in Shroud research. In particular, I continue to be convinced that using history as a lever to address the so-called problem of authenticity results in a fruitless and even frustrating exercise. For some time, I have tried to change the perspective, in a way that seems more stimulating to me, trying to understand the role that the Shroud has had in the history of the Church and Christian piety. I deal with history, my academic studied were on history of Law. Research on the application of law on the recognition of sainthood, alongside a personal interest in research into Franciscan sources, I have come to deal predominantly with the history of piety. Unfortunately, there is still a certain amount of confusion on this subject: many people confuse the history of piety with the history of so-called popular piety, a category which, moreover, needs to be better identified and clarified. The historian of piety deals with a matter that, in some way, lies at the root of popular piety: studying the way and the instruments that humans have used across eras and contexts to rise to true Pietas, which ultimately is the fulfillment of the Gospel dictum collected by Mark, which was proclaimed just last Sunday (”the Lord our God is One Lord, 30and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart andwith all your soul and with all your mindand with all your strength”). Therefore, piety - in its accomplished sense as a totalizing and radical form of love for God - and here we cannot forget the lesson of Don Giuseppe De Luca - is fundamental for the believer and the basis of concrete faith, while popular piety is, or at least should be, an expression of such Piety.

The concept of popular piety should be understood better, not in the “classist” sense, but as a typically ecclesial expression in the sense of God’s people, by its nature therefore necessarily transversal. I am pleased to see that an online magazine linked to the University of Padua has recently accepted this attempt of mine, even if there are still differences due perhaps to different modalities and levels of approach and in-depth study of the subject in general. Don Giuseppe De Luca, as I recalled in one of my writings published by the Lateran University, has the merit of having taught how to go through this history of Pietas, using modern historical methodologies - he was in contact with the great authors of the school of the “Annals” - which allowed him to apply results and methods of different sciences to historical reconstruction, to understand the ways in which men and women approach the faith in different historical, cultural and social moments. Certainly, the way of approaching a relic in the Middle Ages is difficult if not impossible to understand for the modern mentality. Texts by men of the Church who, over time, intervened on the problem of the cult of the relics and on the abuses connected to them, such as obvious falsifications or simoniacal trade, are often cited, such as for example, the medieval Gilbert de Nogeant, but also the more ancient Saint Ambrose, and later Saint Charles Borromeo. However, if we do not contextualize their reasoning, and consider their intervention as an expression of criticism in the modern sense, we risk misunderstanding the reasons and ends of their interventions.

Once the historical research on the Shroud has been freed from the “obsession” of authenticity, enormous spaces are opened for the interpretation of the role that the Shroud has had in the history of Pietas, especially in the West, linked to previous experiences that had as their object the search for the features of Christ, thus entering into the very heart of the Christological problem, as Cardinal Schoenborn recalled with great attention in one of his fundamental books on icons”.

So what is the usefulness of scientific investigation?

“It is a due process in our time, but we must know with serenity how to discern between the objective value of that image, as a mediating sign, for didactic, catechetical, and also for worship purposes - in the sense indicated by Nicaea II up to Vatican II and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, where it is specified that in front of the images the honor goes to the represented and not to the representation - from the possible reality of the relic, for which a critical scientific approach is fundamental, with all the characteristics of scientific research, first of all the rejection of a certain dogmatism that unfortunately prevails both in favor and in opposition to the possible status of relic of the Shroud. It does not seem to me to be a position that can be accused of anti-modernity - in the definition of which all the last popes, from Saint Paul VI to Francis, should therefore be included - nor of pursuing a sort of “double truth”: the religious one and the scientific one. In the specific case for the believer the truth is one and only one: the incarnation, passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Church asks to lend faith to this. As far as the Shroud is concerned, even if the historical and scientific evidence is contradictory, and our current knowledge of the Shroud is not able to establish with certainty whether it is the funerary cloth of Jesus Christ or a more or less ancient work, it is undeniable that that image refers precisely to the Passion of Christ as narrated”.

Fri, 11/09/2018 - 10:01
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