Doughnut Shop Apologetics
Finally! Here’s a book you can judge by its cover--for two reasons. First, it was written by the authentically Catholic John Hardon, S.J., one of those rare writers who seems incapable of producing boring or irrelevant work. The second reason is the cover’s color.
That’s right, its color. In one-inch bold type the words "Catholic Catechism" are splashed in vivid scarlet across a bright yellow field. This book fairly screams to be noticed. And that’s great, not simply because, as adult catechisms go, this is one of the best available, but because it is a sure-fire conversation starter.
Several years ago, I walked into a doughnut store, plunked The Catholic Catechism onto a table, and went to the counter for a doughnut and coffee. As I returned several people glanced curiously at me. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a sunburned, middle-aged man in jeans, boots, and cowboy hat fidgeting uncomfortably and staring straight at me.
He blurted out, "Why are you studying that Catholic catechism?" in the same tone of voice someone might ask, "Why are you juggling those rattlesnakes?" The whole shop had grown quiet. Before I could say anything he continued, "You’re not thinking about becoming a Catholic, are you?" The word "Catholic" rolled sneeringly off his lips.
I was surprised by his vehemence and embarrassed at being put on the spot, but I was determined not to appear mealymouthed or defensive about religion. "Not at all," I replied, affecting a nonchalance I didn’t feel. "I’m already a Catholic, and I’m reading this book to help me become a better one."
My response seemed to make him more pugnacious. Announcing in a loud, querulous voice that he was a "Bible-believing Christian," he explained to everyone within earshot that the "Roman Catholic system" taught "damnable traditions of men" and that I, as a "Romanist," had better start reading the Bible instead of catechisms (more sneering) or I’d never get off the high road to hell.
All I had come in here for, I thought, was a crummy doughnut and a cup of coffee, and now I was being mauled by a Bible-quoting Fundamentalist.
For the next half hour he harangued me with questions, liberally punctuated with King James Bible verses. He jumped from statue worship, to Mary, to the Eucharist, to auricular confession, and to a dozen other issues. At each new topic I was grateful for having read The Catholic Catechism. Although none of my answers changed his mind about the Catholic position, the book had given me enough solid information about my faith to answer his questions at least intelligently, if not persuasively.
Realizing I wasn’t going to back down, he tired of the conversation, headed out the door, climbed into his pickup truck, and drove off. Reflecting later on the fact that The Catholic Catechism had started the whole thing, I realized I didn’t have to work up my courage to start a conversation about the faith.
The book’s cover was so provocative that it prompted the other fellow to make the first move, something which suits me just fine. I love to talk about my religion, but I’m usually not gutsy enough to initiate a conversation with someone I’ve never met before.
Since that time, similar things have happened to me when carrying this book. I just make it plainly visible to those around me, and, presto, someone invariably makes a remark that gives me an opportunity to evangelize. Since I don’t have the admirable Protestant knack for walking up to complete strangers and asking them if they’ve "accepted Mary as their personal mother" (just kidding, folks), I let the book make the initial contact for me.
In his easy-to-read style, but with supreme attention to detail and quality, Hardon takes the reader from one end of the Catholic faith to the other. Starting with explanations of fundamental doctrines (such as belief in God, monotheism, the Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus), he progresses naturally to issues such as the nature of the Church, grace and sin, the sacraments, Mary and the saints, and the Mass.
A striking feature is his use of historical anecdotes to help explain theological issues. The reader learns what our doctrines are, how they developed, who championed them, and who opposed them (and why).
-- Patrick Madrid
The Catholic Catechism
By John A. Hardon, S.J.
New York: Doubleday, 1975
Facing Up to a Mystery
When the name "Jesus" is used a specific image of him comes to mind. It is a lean face with a long narrow nose and straight brows, dark hair parted in the middle and covering the ears and reaching down to the shoulders, a forked beard, and a moustache which thins as it approaches the lower lip.
Why this face? Nowhere in Scripture do we find a description of what Jesus Christ looked like. Was he short? Was he tall? Was he fat, or was he thin? Did he have long hair, or was he bald? Was he bearded or clean-shaven? In spite of this lack of testimony we have a face fixed in our minds that we recognize as that of Jesus--the Holy Face. Where did that face come from? Why do we have a very specific set of facial characteristics that artists have used persistently down through the centuries when portraying Christ?
Ian Wilson is well known for his best-selling books on the Shroud of Turin (The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Cloth of Jesus? and The Mysterious Shroud). Readers who have these books will certainly want to include Holy Faces, Secret Places as well.
The Shroud of Turin has stood as a modern mystery since the turn of the century when the camera was first used to photograph it. The depth and quantity of research from medical and physical scientists researching the Shroud has been impressive and has accumulated over the years, making the Shroud of Turin the most studied human artifact on Earth. The research reached a pinnacle in the late 1970s when the Shroud of Turin Research Project (a team of American scientists) was allowed to perform a large battery of non-destructive tests on the Shroud with state-of- the-art technology.
The Shroud of Turin appeared in France in 1352 without any pedigree or paper trail. In the records of the Eastern Church and in legends dating to the first century there were accounts of a "miraculous" burial cloth with the image of Christ on it. It was this specific face that artists were attempting to bring into their portraits.
Wilson traced the historical records and associated art work in The Shroud of Turin; he compared the results with the photographic evidence of the Shroud. Out of this he was able to build a strong circumstantial case showing that the miraculous burial cloth that had been in the East from the first century until its disappearance from Constantinople in 1204 was the Shroud of Turin. He traced the movement of the cloth from Edessa to Constantinople, then via the Knights Templar to the DeCharnay family. This family began to show the cloth publicly in its French chapel in 1352.
In his latest book Wilson again is a detective. The book appears after the first attempt at dating the Shroud by the carbon 14 method. This testing came up with dates ranging from 1260 to 1390. Holy Faces, Secret Places begins by assuming that if the carbon 14 test results are true, then another cloth will have to be traced to find the source of that ancient visage that has inspired the Jesus portrait.
Wilson begins his "amazing quest for the Face of Jesus" by setting aside the Shroud and pursuing another "miraculous" cloth--the Veronica. He attempts to track down and view the oldest and most noted examples of the Veronica cloth to find the Holy Face they portray. He finds many of these cloths are locked away in "secret places," or at least in places which the owners or custodians will not grant access to. Much of his searching comes to a dead end. The most noted of these cloths is that reputed to reside somewhere inside one of the four great pillars supporting the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome.
Wilson's book is not just a historical investigation; it’s also an appeal to Vatican and other Church authorities to grant access to these "secret places" so the Veronica cloths can be examined. He dedicates his book "To His Holiness Pope John Paul II in the respectful hope that a little more glasnost may be allowed within the Vatican’s 'secret places.'"
Wilson’s dedication comes across as a bit unctuous and won’t be effective in gaining him access. (He also repeats gossip about some Renaissance popes, and this won’t endear him to Vatican bureaucrats holding the keys to reliquaries.)
Wilson has done us a service in sorting out what can be sorted out regarding the Veronica. The reader finds himself agreeing that the cloths available for examination are not ancient enough to be the source of inspiration for the Holy Face. In fact it appears that the Veronica face is derived from the Shroud image.
The traditional face of Christ and that on the Veronica cloths is one that "floats." It is a face painted without neck or shoulders. This facial representation is unique to Christian iconography. Wilson illustrates that the Shroud can be folded in four to expose just the face and not a whole body image. Given the peculiar optical properties of the Shroud image, no neck is seen, and the face appears unsupported by a neck and shoulders--that is, it "floats." The book includes a fine selection of illustrative material (eight color plates, 32 black and white plates, and 22 text drawings).
We come full circle; by the end of the book the Veronica is set aside and the Shroud of Turin is picked up again. Wilson does this bluntly in a chapter entitled "The Shroud: Can Carbon Dating Lie?"
He examines the issue of the carbon 14 testing itself. He notes that carbon 14 has encountered significant anomalies in its results. It is not infallible. He gives us recent and notable cases of carbon 14 testing failures (e.g., the Manchester Museum Egyptian Mummy no. 1770 and the Lindow Man excavated from Cheshire, England). Carbon 14 testing labs gave conflicting dates on each of these, with results as far apart as 800 to 1,000 years.
Who Jesus Christ was (and is) is paramount. Nonetheless, every time his name is invoked an image comes to mind. Where that Holy Face comes from will continue to fascinate, and for that reason we should have Wilson’s book on our shelves.
-- Clayton F. Bower, Jr.
Holy Faces, Secret Places: An Amazing Quest for the Face of Jesus
By Ian Wilson
New York: Doubleday, 1991