Here’s what the veil torn in half depicts… and why I’m reticent to write about it.
Last week was about Christ’s death on the cross occurring simultaneously with redemption, betrothal (marriage) to Christ, and a new family. Betrothal is the first stage in Jewish marriage, followed by preparation, then presentation (at the wedding banquet). These three stages depict salvation, which scripture describes in three stages, or tenses. We have been saved, we’re being saved, so that we will be saved.
Which leads to something else that happened simultaneous to Christ’s death on the cross: the veil of the Temple was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. Earthly marriage depicts this, specifically the tearing of the hymen at the time of the first sexual intercourse. In fact, the French word hymenée, which means “marriage,” originates from “hymen.” It’s a small membrane in a woman that partially closes, or “veils” her vaginal entrance. It’s torn open at the time of the first sexual intercourse.
This explains why there are three veils in the Temple (as well as the three veils in the desert Tabernacle before the temple was built) depicting the three stages of marriage to Christ, the three stages of salvation. Here’s a brief summary.
In the Tabernacle and the Temple, the first veil opened to the Courtyard which was accessible to the Hebrew people. It depicts repentance leading to salvation (the bronze altar) and the need to mature in salvation (the bowl). The second veil gave access to the Holy Place reserved for the priests, the Levites. We are a royal priesthood called to grow in salvation. Finally, only the high priest could pass through the third veil, entering the Holy of Holies. Jesus as High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, passing through the third veil, which was torn in half when he died. The veil torn in half depicts the fullness of salvation, nuptial union with Christ, which is now available to us.
Which brings us to why I’m reticent to write about this, particularly about genitals and intercourse. Too many Christians imagine eros as porn. This happened recently. The board of the Tallahassee Classical School fired a principal because she allowed Michelangelo’s David to be taught as part of the curriculum. So much for a “classical” education. I thought to the pure all things are pure (i.e., those with a clear conscience). Paul lived his whole life with a clear conscience. Makes me wonder how many Christians do today.
My hunch is art historian Laura Morelli has a clear conscience. Deeply dismayed by the Tallahassee School’s decision, she wrote a thoughtful letter to the board, closing with a gracious offer. I urge you to read it. In a later post, Morelli added, “In all my years as a teacher and author, I have never received the number of emails, direct messages, comments, etc. about ANYTHING I’ve ever shared before. I am speechless!”
“What it tells me is that the David has always been—and continues to be—a pivotal work of art. A work so significant to the history of western culture that it holds the power to capture people’s imagination even in our multimedia-overloaded era. Today’s controversy only confirms my belief that images and words matter. That they hold power—as they have in every culture in history.” Amen. And kudos to Hillsdale College for severing ties with the Tallahassee School over this dismaying incident.
I close with a confession. For many years I saw only a single meaning in the cross: payment for sin. I was wrong. But it was what I was taught, so I looked for churches that taught what I believed was right. G. K. Chesterton took a different approach: “We do not really need a religion that is right where we are right. What we need is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” Between Christ’s death on the cross and Pentecost, many Jews had time to ponder the veil torn in two and where they were wrong. It appears that many used that time wisely, widening how they imagined Jesus and the cross, coming to faith in Christ at Pentecost.
You might use these next fifty days to widen how you imagine the cross.
I got to hand it to you, this is the first time I have ever heard anyone linking the tearing of the temple curtain at Christ’s death and the tearing of the hymen on initial intercourse. I continue to see West’s influence on you.
The action of the Tallahassee Classical School is indeed regretful. I am sure it was well meaning but not very thoughtful. It is embarrassing for evangelicals to be linked to this kind of behavior based on a shallow appreciation for art or the human body’s beauty. This is a far cry from porn which is what I am sure motivated the school to provide protection for its student body.
It is hard not to believe this is partially the result of our secondary education institutions being driven by market forces to become credentialling factories that have increasingly steered clear of the humanities and arts in their curriculums. Unfortunately, I see this happening in both Christian and secular schools. Business majors are growing rapidly as are their departments and the humanity departments are declining.
The linkage certainly isn’t original with me, Tim. Goes back to the medieval church of “the Long Middle Ages” (c.300s-1500).
But David is nekkid!!! Maybe they can rustle up a fig leaf somewhere, or choose a nice Botticelli instead—like the birth of Venus.
Mike, thanks for this entry touching on two of my keen interests, the torn veil and classical art. I’ve often wondered how the synagogue leaders “managed” the torn veil. The book of Acts does tell us that the followers of Jesus were going to the synagogue daily following his crucifixion and resurrection. And as for the David, I will never forget standing in front of it, walking around it, considering the “manishness of man”, to quote Schaeffer. God grant us the humility to become all we were made and re-made to be!
I should have mentioned, I waited with my family in a line two blocks long to see David in the Uffizzi. He was magnificent, if not exactly biblical.