Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Having been accused (somewhere that I won't link to) of being a PoMo renegade who discounts the historicity of the resurrection, permit me a moment of self-defense. Although it feels like a gut punch, the opportunity to clarify is appreciated.

In Saving Veronica I suggested that one might approach medieval apocryphal accounts metaphorically. Not being a Bultmannian sellout, I repeatedly suggested I was unwilling to approach canonical matters in that fashion. I knew this might provoke suspicion, which is why I wrote, "To expect contemporary Christians to navigate this delicate terrain is much to ask." Are we all simply PoMo or anti-PoMo? On some matters (the resurrection) the stakes are indeed that high. On others, there is room for nuance. Perhaps more importantly, why should PoMo set the agenda in the first place? Hence I quoted Balthasar's remark that the gospel contains "its own interior authenticity," to which aesthetics and historicism - which is to say postmodernity and modernity - need both submit.

No one would (I hope) refuse to read novels on the basis that one can't permit any dangerous middle ground between truth and falsehood. Novels attempt to do something different than relate facts, yet as we know, they often ring surprisingly, refreshingly true. The medieval accounts I referred to arose well before the category of "fiction" as we know it; yet they can perhaps be understood in the same way: as novellas refreshingly true. The question as to whether the Veronica or Mandylion accounts happened exactly as recorded I left open. However, I am a Christian, and so the matter such accounts ultimately refer to - the Word Made flesh - I left closed.

Was Luke really a painter? I don't know. I do not insist upon that matter in the way I insist upon the resurrection for two reasons. One, we don't have enough evidence, and two, it is not an essential matter of faith. In the meantime, I am willing to direct such apocryphal accounts towards matters of faith that are essential.

Those images - the Kamouliana, the Acheiropoieton - are they what Christ really looked like? At the very least such images record one most important fact: God in Christ has a human face - two eyes, one nose, and a mouth. Is not the fact that God omniscient limited himself to a few sensory organs more significant than their exact configuration?

Those images - the Shroud of Turin, the Lucca statue - do they record the actual stature of Christ? To quote Theodore the Studite, at the very least such images transmit that
He who is without quality becomes three cubits high... he whose position cannot be designated stands and sits and reclines... he who is without form is seen in the form of a man (Patrologia Graeca 99.332B).
Is not the fact that God in Christ took on a body more significant than whether or not it was 5'10''?

By marshaling such image legends toward their referent, I am doing exactly what the last ecumenical council insisted icons must always do - point us to their heavenly prototype. To quote Basil the Great, "the honor paid to the image passes to its prototype." To quote Pavel Florensky, "The icon - apart from its spiritual vision - is not an icon at all but a board."