A weekly column by Father George Rutler.
For quite a while, the Richard III Society was easily passed off as one of those eccentricities like the Flat Earth Society. It sought to salvage the reputation of the Plantagenet king who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. As a propagandist of Richard's Tudor successors, Shakespeare gave us the undying image of the dying king, physically malformed and morally corrupt, lamenting “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and finally crying out: “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Much objective good can be said of him, in fact, as he was an enlightened reformer of laws and a brave fighter. Through the efforts of his fan club — the “Richardians” — archeologists have exhumed in Leicester what are “beyond a reasonable doubt” the king’s bones. In addition to other evidence that corroborates his identity, such as his spinal deformity and wounds, his mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has been traced from his sister, Anne of York, all the way to a young Canadian carpenter now living in London.
This is another instance of how physical science vindicates ancient truth. The king’s character certainly remains a disputed matter, but the oral tradition of his appearance and place of burial has now been confirmed. Forensic scientists will even be able to reconstruct the appearance of his face. The same was recently done with Robert the Bruce, and the result was, to say the least, a disappointment to those with romantic notions of the man. In a similar way, genetic science can now trace the development of human life and even film it in the womb. Those who until recently spoke of a “blob of tissue” have been defeated by the evidence of this irrefutable fact. And the prophet Jeremiah is vindicated: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:4).
The prophet was specifically looking forward to the Messiah, whose divine nature can only be revealed by the higher science of the saints. Unlike Richardians, who are glad to have found the bones of their king, Christians know that their King has left no bones. That is why we have forty days of Lent, not to search for Him, but to search for ourselves. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:4). The Psalmist answers his own question: “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). The Letter to the Hebrews quotes this and declares, not by any archeological discovery or forensic evidence, but by the eyewitness of the apostles themselves: “We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).