Tuesday, August 07, 2007

How exactly was Christ crucified? Does it matter?

When I was in high school I saw a piece about the scientific studies concerning the Shroud of Turin. Various theories were put forward after the studies about the crucifixion of Jesus, assuming that the Shroud really was what it is claimed to be. One of them is that it was Christ's wrists, not the palm of his hands (as it is popularly shown in art), that were pierced by nails. One evidence for this came from an experiment showing that nailing the palm of the victim's hands would not be enough to hold the victim--his hands would simply be ripped due to gravity. And of course there is the blood on the wrists of the Shroud's image. Pretty interesting stuff. The article then concludes with a brag: how Science, often regarded as an "enemy" to Religion, is in this case used to actually show evidence for Religion.


How did those scientific studies show evidence for Religion (in this case, Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular)? The evidence was all about how an image on a piece of cloth might illustrate a logical way in which Christ might have experienced His Passion. It does not, and cannot, answer the things that is actually important to Catholicism: (1) Was the Shroud actually Christ's? (2) Did Christ resurrect from the dead? (3) Did Christ save us from our sins?

In fact, even if we find evidence that the Shroud isn't what it is claimed to be, it doesn't affect Catholicism at all. The Church does not use the Shroud of Turin as a basis for doctrine, and we will believe in the crucifixion with or without it. Catholics should be content that we have this interesting and beautiful (in its own way) image of the Suffering Christ, one with which we could meditate upon deeper divine mysteries like salvation. Of course, it would be nice if we had an actual physical relic of our Savior (well, we have the Eucharist, the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of our Christ, which is the best we could possibly get!), but we do not expect Science to show us that; we expect Christ to show it when we meet him. "Guess what? My shroud has been there all along!" It would like a nice surprise, a gift "hidden" out in the open, God's little programming easter egg.

Imagine my delight when I found this forum thread in the Catholic Answers forums. Some of the replies link to scientific studies that contradict the earlier ones, supporting rather the traditional look of the crucifixion with the palms pierced. These are, again, useless spiritually and theologically, but it shows that scientists ought to be a bit more humble when it comes to religious things, because whatever they discover, they cannot add or remove anything to the Catholic Faith.