17 February 2014

Unexpected success

One day last week I was visiting with a friend I have met here in Rome talking about the Holy Face enshrined at Manoppello (you might have noticed this image of the Lord Jesus is very much on my mind). In the course of our conversation he remarked that a theology of the face - especially in relation to the Volto Santo (the Holy Face) has not yet been written (or, if it has, he has not seen).

I have to admit to being very much intrigued by the idea of exploring such a theology and setting it to paper, even in the midst of my studies in canon law and possibly even taking a look at the history of the artistic depictions of the face of Jesus in light of the Volto Santo (everyone needs a good intellectual distraction to keep from going insane, and all the better if it involves the sacred at the same time!).  My friend recognized this interest and said, "I don't want to distract you from your studies, but you're already distracted." I couldn't argue with that.

A couple of days ago I read somewhere an intriguing aspect of the ancient emperors of Byzantium, and possible or Rome (or perhaps the other way around): If the emperor himself could not go to a particular location, his image would be sent and it was received as if the emperor himself had come. My curiosity being peeked, I went back into the library this afternoon to read again the encyclopedia entries for "Face" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary and The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament because I was all but certain I read it one of those entries. In the midst of my - unsuccessful - search a simple thought occurred to me (maybe by divine inspiration): look in On the Divine Images by Saint John of Damascus [N.B.: Previous spelling mistake in the title corrected].

Since I'd read this short book many years ago and did not recall such a passage (and because I hadn't read or even picked up this book recently), I went to the shelves to retrieve it with a bit of self-doubt (I knew just where it was because it had caught my attention as I walked by it one day last week). Imagine my delight when I read a brief passage of Saint Basil the Great which the Damascene quoted:
The image of the emperor is also called the emperor, yet they are not two emperors. Power is not divided, nor is glory separated. Just as He who rules us is one power, so the homage He receives from us is united, not divided, for the honor given to the image is transferred to the prototype. Therefore, the One whom the image materially represents is He who is Son by nature.
Now I just need to track down Saint Basil's Thirty Chapters to Amphilochius on the Holy Spirit.


  1. This is something I have been praying for... Theology of the Holy Face! If you are going to be distracted by anything, it should be this! I had to put together a booklet on the Holy Face for our Carmelite nuns and in the course of doing it was astounded at what I found our Popes have written or spoken about the Holy Face. From Pope John Paul II in Novo Ineunte, placing the Millenium "under the radiant sign of The Face of Christ to Pope Benedict XVI, (if anyone taught a theology of the Holy Face, it would be him! Look at his book, "On the Way to Jesus Christ", and his homilies on Jan. 1st and Jan. 16th of 2013. Wow!) to Pope Francis, who explemifies that element of discipleship in this devotion, which is seeing the Face of Christ in our neighbor. Lumen Fidei is filled with theology of the Holy Face. (Especially, sec. 22 and 37. Sec. 22 quotes a rabbi on idolatry... Seeking "the face which is NOT a face." ). It's more than a distraction, Fr. Daren... Maybe, Our Lord is calling you to make this theology of His Face known. Keeping you in my prayers!