Cardinal Ratzinger Talks About the Holy Face

Old Testament Holds Key for Understanding Importance, He Says

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ROME, OCT. 25, 2001 ( Why has the representation of Jesus´ face been so important for Christians throughout the centuries?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger responded to this question when he addressed the congress on «The Hidden and Transfigured Face of Christ,» held here Oct. 20-21. It was organized by the International Institute of Research on the Face of Christ.

To give an idea of the importance of the question, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began by asking the Apostle Philip´s question: «Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough.» Jesus replied: «Whoever sees me, sees the Father.»

«In the Old Testament, man´s original destiny to see God assumed the form of the search for God´s face,» Cardinal Ratzinger told the congress. «Jesus´ disciples are men who seek God´s face; therefore, in seeking God´s face, when they met Jesus they followed him.»

«If we wish to understand the theology of the New Testament on the body of Christ, we must look back to the Old Testament; only in this way is it intelligible in all its depth,» the cardinal added.

The word «face» appears almost 400 times in the Old Testament.

«How is it possible to interpret this nostalgia for the vision [of God] in a religion that, by prohibiting images, seems to exclude the vision totally?» Cardinal Ratzinger asked. «What does the Israelite expect when he seeks the face of God and knows that no image of him can exist?»

The Bavarian cardinal explained that in the Old Testament the idea «of the image is abandoned, but the search for the face remains.»

«The objectified form, the reduction of divinity to an object, disappears, but God keeps his face,» the cardinal clarified.

«The ancient cultural form that had materialized and reduced God to a concrete reality is abandoned and its deeper orientation emerges; God has a face, he is a person. We can say that in abandoning images the concept of person has been formed and, more precisely, as a relational concept,» the cardinal emphasized.

This is, in fact, the contribution that Christian philosophy has made over the centuries, the cardinal concluded.

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