Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
As we approach the holiest liturgical week in the year, it is good to recall one of the liturgical treasures of the Church that links the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the “new Adam,” Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the first Adam, the father of all mankind, and ultimately to the Eternal Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The treasure that we will consider is the iconographic tradition of the Catholic Church.
Church-Approved Holy Icons Teach the Faith
St. Paul tells us to “Hold the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith, and in the love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:13). The word “form” is a translation of the Greek word “Hypotyposin,” which means a specific pattern or form. It is an important word, because it tells us that the doctrines of the faith have a precise definition; there is nothing vague or ambiguous about them. When Holy Church defines a doctrine, like the divinity of Christ, for example, she does so with precision, using a “form of sound words” that protects the dogmas of the faith against misinterpretation or misunderstanding. What we moderns often forget, however, is that, prior to the invention of the printing press, for three-quarters of the Church’s history, only a tiny handful of Catholics could read. For them, the “form of sound words” could not constitute their entire education in the faith, and Mother Church in her wisdom provided other “forms” which conveyed the truths of the faith clearly, correctly, and powerfully to the vast numbers of her illiterate children. These “forms” became known as the holy icons, images which made present in a quasi-sacramental way, the mysteries of the faith and of salvation history, as well as the presences of the holy angels and saints.
According to the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicea II, the holy icons approved for use in churches to teach illiterate believers the Faith, teach with authority in accord with the Word of God (CCC, 1160). From the first millennium until today, all authentic icons of creation have portrayed Jesus Christ, the WORD through Whom all things were made, speaking things into existence. In the icon of the first day of creation, for example, it is customary for the iconographer to show the Eternal Word bringing forth the angelic hierarchies and physical light simultaneously, as in the famous icon of the first day of creation from Monreale Cathedral in Sicily, made a metropolitan cathedral by the Pope at the end of the twelfth century. The fact that the Pope made Monreale Cathedral a metropolitan cathedral is very significant, because the holy icons in the cathedral tell the complete history of the world from creation to the Final Judgment. At a time when only a tiny handful of Catholics could read, these holy icons were the primary teachers of the Faith to the vast majority of illiterate faithful. Indeed, this is why the Roman Catechism and the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church take pains to insist on the importance of the icons, which agree with the teaching of Holy Scripture.
In every authentic series of icons on creation, the six days are presented as distinct days of fiat creation, in which all of the different kinds of corporeal and spiritual creatures were created for man, who is created, body and soul, on the sixth day, prior to Eve, who is created from Adam’s side later on the sixth day of creation. It is particularly significant that the doctrine of creation set forth in Monreale Cathedral and in all authentic icons of creation is identical to the doctrine defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, just a generation after the elevation of Monreale Cathedral to the status of a metropolitan cathedral. As demonstrated in the article at this link, the Firmiter defined that God created ALL things by His omnipotent power—that is, all the corporeal and the spiritual creatures, by fiat—and, finally, man, thus affirming that the work of creation was finished with the creation of Adam and Eve. This is beautifully reflected in the traditional icon of the seventh day of creation. Here we see God RESTING in His perfectly beautiful, harmonious, finished, complete work of creation—a creation completely free from human death, deformity, or disease.
Many people today object that Moses and the ancients could not have understood the complexities of evolutionary science and that this is why God allowed them to believe the fanciful fairy tale of fiat creation. But it is easy to refute this preposterous claim by simply reflecting on the familiar icon of human evolution—the all but omnipresent image of a common ancestor of chimps and humans evolving into an upright human being. In reality, this icon is a fantasy, concocted by proud human beings who could not accept that there are things that cannot be determined by extrapolation from our limited sphere of knowledge in this fallen world—things that we can only know through Divine Revelation. Indeed, the evolutionary icon does not correspond to any solid scientific evidence in paleontology, genetics, or any other branch of natural science.
Moreover, one does not need to know anything about natural science to understand what the evolutionary icon is saying. One does not even need to know that 2 + 2 = 4 to understand it. So, the whole idea that Moses and the ancients were too simple to understand evolution is absurd. If God had used a natural process, like mutation and natural selection, to evolve the bodies of the first human beings, He could easily have shown this to Moses. Then on the walls of our cathedrals we would have beautiful icons of reptiles changing into birds, land mammals changing into whales, and a common ancestor of chimps and humans changing into the body of the first human being. The reason we do not see such images in our cathedrals is that human evolution is a myth, based on the false assumption of Descartes that “things have always been the same from the beginning of creation,” and that, therefore, we can explain the origins of human beings by extrapolating from the material processes that we observe in this fallen world.
“If You Have Seen Me, You Have Seen the Father”
As we draw near to Holy Week, there is one holy icon that connects the Passion, Death and Resurrection of “the last Adam,” Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to the “first Adam,” and to the very image of “God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” That icon is the Pantocrator, the icon of Christ the Ruler of all things, whose Holy Face perfectly matches the Holy Face on the burial sheet of Christ, the Shroud of Turin. As explained by Dr. John Jackson and the Shroud of Turin Research Center:
Shroud researchers Mary and Alan Whanger have conducted studies that suggest the key to identifying the archetype for the St. Catherine’s Pantocrator is the congruence between the icon and the Shroud of Turin. The Whangers used a process known as the “Polarized Image Overlay Technique” to analyze the congruence between the two images. Their research found over one and hundred and fifty (150) points of congruence (PC). Generally, forty-five to sixty PC are enough to declare forensically that two facial images belong to the same person. (The Shroud of Turin, John Jackson, Ph.D., (The Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, 2017), p. 17.)
How are we to explain the sudden emergence of the Pantocrator Image in the mid-sixth century as the model for images of the Holy Face of Our Lord? Dr. Jackson and his team support the hypothesis of Shroud historian Jack Markwardt that the Holy Shroud was most likely removed from its place of honor in the Antiochan Church of Hagia Sophia when the city came under siege by the Persians. According to Markwardt, the Patriarch of Antioch, Ephraemius, took the Holy Shroud to Cilicia where it began to be widely known and venerated, rapidly becoming the model for images of Our Lord far and wide. In God’s Providence, the Pantocrator icon soon became the prototype for icons of Our Lord throughout the Catholic world. Commenting on the Pantocrator image, Jackson and his team marvel at the theological depth of the Holy Image:
The message that the artist portrays lies at the heart of orthodox Christology, the area of theology devoted to explaining the nature of Christ. When viewing the icon, the left side of the asymmetrical face shows Christ with a gentle gaze and his hand raised in blessing and mercy that is extended to all of humanity . . . Savior. The right side of the asymmetrical face of the icon shows Christ with a severe expression and a penetrating gaze as he holds the Book that contains the Law . . . Judge and “Ruler of All” (The Shroud of Turin, John Jackson, Ph.D., (The Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, 2017), p. 18.)
The Icon of the Last Adam Reveals the First Adam
In our publication The Light Comes from the East, we argue that the primary purpose of the Fatima apparitions was to heal the rift between Eastern and Latin Christianity and to restore the unity of Eastern and Latin Christians under the successor of St. Peter. In that work we argue that the divorce between old Rome in Italy, the capital of Latin and universal Christianity, and New Rome in Constantinople, the capital of Eastern Christianity, led to tragic imbalances in the spiritual, liturgical and cultural lives of the faithful of East and West, as the complementary gifts of Eastern and Latin Christianity were to a certain extent divorced from one another.
In the Latin Christian world, separation from the East led to an abandonment of the iconographic tradition in sacred art in favor of a naturalistic approach. While western artists produced many masterpieces in this style, the abandonment of the iconographic tradition had some grave consequences. These can be clearly seen in the devolution of the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the sacred art of the Latin Christian world, so that by the end of the nineteenth century many popular images of the God-Man had become downright effeminate. It would be hard to exaggerate the harm that effeminate portrayals of Our Lord in sacred images have done to the spiritual lives of the faithful—but especially to Catholic men. It is no coincidence that the proliferation of effeminate images of the God-Man has been accompanied by an epidemic of sexual deviancy among clergy and male religious. To be attracted to follow the God-Man, young men must see the true Holy Face of Jesus, as it is faithfully portrayed in the Pantocrator Icon and in other icons of Christ that have been modeled on the Holy Face of the Shroud of Turin.
Devotion to the Holy Face: Divine Antidote to Modern Evils
It is no coincidence that Our Lord asked for a special devotion to His Holy Face in the middle of the nineteenth century at the very time when Lyellian geology and evolution-based communism exploded onto the intellectual scene and won huge numbers of adherents . Karl Marx wanted to dedicate his work Das Kapital to Charles Darwin in recognition of the fact that the microbe-to-man evolutionary hypothesis provided the “scientific” basis for Marx’s economic and social program. The evolution of man from an ape through a struggle for existence provided the perfect backdrop for Marx’s utopian vision of the evolution from a capitalist society to a class-less utopia through “class struggle.”
But even as Lyell, Marx, Darwin and their disciples propagated their icon of human evolution from the ape, the first photographic images of the Holy Face on the Shroud of Turin allowed the world to see not only the true face of the “last Adam,” the God-Man, but also the true face of the “first Adam,” the Father of all mankind. This is because, throughout the centuries, the mystical saints and doctors of the Church who were shown the creation of the world in their Church-approved private revelations testified repeatedly that Adam looked just like Our Lord Jesus Christ and that Eve looked just like the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the seventeenth century Enlightenment thinkers first began to propose a natural rather than a supernatural origin for mankind, the Blessed Virgin told Venerable Maria of Agreda that:
Adam in regard to the body was so like unto Christ that scarcely any difference existed. According to the soul, Adam was similar to Christ. From Adam God formed Eve so similar to the Blessed Virgin, that she was like unto her in personal appearance and in figure. God looked upon these two images of the great Originals with the highest pleasure and benevolence, and on account of the Originals He heaped many blessings upon them, as if He wanted to entertain Himself with them and their descendants until the time should arrive for forming Christ and Mary.
“If You Have Seen Me, You Have Seen the Father”
It would be wonderful enough if the Pantocrator Icon and the Holy Shroud revealed the Holy Face of the Son of God and the true face of our first father, St. Adam. But there is one more marvel that surrounds the holy icon of Christ that is in its own way even more wonderful. Recall that when St. Philip the Apostle approached Our Lord Jesus Christ shortly before His Passion and said, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8), Our Lord replied to him, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”
In various places in the New Testament we are told that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect “icon” of the Father, meaning that in His Holy Face we can truly see the face of Our Heavenly Father revealed. St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians teaches that Our Lord Jesus Christ “is the image,” literally, in the Greek text, the “icon”—of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). In Second Corinthians 4:4, he writes that “Christ is the image—“the icon”—of God.” Strong’s Concordance explains that:
/eikṓn translated as “image” properly [means a] "mirror-like representation," referring to what is very close in resemblance (like a "high-definition" projection, as defined by the context) [one that] exactly reflects its source (what it directly corresponds to) . . . (eikṓn) assumes a prototype, of which it not merely resembles, but from which it is drawn" (R. Trench). (eikṓn) then is more than a "shadow"; rather it is a replication.
In our day when fatherhood is under attack from every side and even many Catholics have been estranged from their human fathers for one reason or another, we have become like the Prodigal Son in our relationship to our Heavenly Father, so far estranged from Him that it seems that we can only make our way towards Him by force of will, lacking the capacity to lift up the eyes of our soul to look at Him. In these circumstances the Holy Face of the Shroud of Turin and the Pantocrator Icon and other holy icons derived from it can be a tremendous aid to our mental prayer and to our whole spiritual life, as we can literally see in the Holy Face, the Face of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the face of our first father St. Adam, and the all-loving Face of “the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” Like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this holy icon helps us to realize that even when we cannot see Him and are perhaps too ashamed to lift up our eyes to Heaven, Our Heavenly Father sees each of us “from afar,” and “runs towards us” faster than we can ever run to Him! (Luke 15:20)
Through the prayers of the Mother of God and of St. Joseph, may we always make good use of the holy icons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that “beholding the Lord,” we, too, may be “transformed, from one degree of glory to another, into the perfect image”—in the Greek text, literally, “icon”—"of Christ!” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Yours in Christ through the Holy Theotokos in union with St. Joseph,
P.S. If you are interested in attending this year’s annual leadership retreat in Bloomingdale, Ohio, from August 22-28, please let me know as soon as possible. To obtain more information or to reserve a place for an individual or a family, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.P.S. On Tuesday, March 16, I was interviewed for a second time on Radio Maria at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time on the program "The Quest for a Culture of Life in America" on the traditional Catholic doctrine of creation as the only firm foundation for a culture of life. Here is a link to the interview. Please spread the word!