The Traditional Meaning of the Veil

In my essay on Harry Passing through the Veil, I neglected to make a link with an important website called “The Veil: Contemplating Christian Mysteries.” For understanding why Harry’s passage through the Veil has important Christian reference points and profound meaning, this site is a must visit.

Here is a small selection of what can be found there, on an introductory page entitled, “Why the Veil?

The veil, or more specifically its rending, as recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels (note 1) marks a moment in human history, and a turning point in the destiny of mankind. In his essay on Christian initiation, Marco Pallis noted its rending “marks the end of Christ’s human ministry … since all that follows … is of a miraculous order” (note 2). As such, it is most certainly a sign, in that it points to an event, even if its occurrence is instantaneous with that which it signifies. It signals the importance of the event, of that moment, in human history, in light of the purpose which the veil serves (note 3), because mention is made of it specifically, and nothing other.

The focus of the veil, therefore, is on that miraculous order. Its purpose is to explore the path to the contemplate heart of the Christian tradition, which is the contemplation of a Mystery. It addresses itself firstly and unashamedly to a Catholic audience, and as such is neither apologia nor argument, but rather a focus on the metaphysics of its theology jewels of our tradition that are all too easily forgotten or overlooked. The first of these, from the Veil’s perspective, is the rich seam of the symbology of Scripture that unfolds to the inward eye, and thus The Veil stresses the contemplative or interior aspect of Christianity, the wellspring of its active and outward life.

The veil, in this instance, is a symbol of the cosmos. It was woven, we are told, “with embroidery of blue and fine linen, of scarlet also and purple, wrought with marvelous skill. Nor was this mixture of materials without its mystic meaning: it typified the universe … Portrayed on this tapestry was a panorama of the entire heavens” (note 4). Such being the case, then its rending signify a fundamental change in the cosmological order, or a fundamental change in man’s relation to it.

This shift marked, for the children of Abraham, the revelation by an Absolute and Transcendant God of his Infinite Love and Immanent Presence in the world, and of his intimate and Immanent relation with his finest creation, man. The key terms here are ‘in’ and ‘with’, God is not ‘in’ the world as a disengaged and disinterested entity, a Creator detached from His creation; God is ‘with’ the world in that He became man, suffering not only the constraints of a human nature wounded by Adam, but suffering also the abject desolation of that wounded condition put to death through ignorance and fear.

The rending of the veil marks not only the triumph of light over darkness, the triumph of life in God over the dissolution of the soul, the ultimate privation of being and an absolute death, but implies, as it were, that this super-natural event is not bound by any contingency of the natural order, and thus this salvation won on the cross is not conditioned by the exigencies of time and space, but applies eternally and universally.


1 – Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45. St Paul mentions the veil three times in his letter to the Hebrews, and the ‘vail’ five times, referring to that worn by Moses, in 2 Corinthians. In both cases St Paul’s exegesis of the veil is the most direct and profound expression of Christian Symbolism, and in Hebrews “By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (10:20).

2 – “The Veil of the Temple — A Study of Christian Initiation” in The Sword of Gnosis ed. Jacob Needleman, Penguin 1974 and Arkana 1986.

3 – See The Veil of the Temple on this site.

4 – This description by Josephus, writing at the time of Christ.

This site, as they say, is Roman Catholic, but, though I am not Roman Catholic or sympathetic to the theology, ecclesiology, or anthropology of Rome, I recommend ‘The Veil’ to anyone wanting to think more profoundly about the meaning of that Veil in the basement of the Department of Mysteries. The gateway may just be a Torii passage, but the Veil? That’s a symbol needing exploration and the traditionalists are the best place for that, be they Catholic, Buddhist, Sufi, or Hindu. (Marco Pallis, incidentally, was a Buddhist and the collection they site is predominantly a collection of Sufi essays; these are not triumphalist or exclusionary Catholics). The longer essay on the Veil there is a demonstration of that, I think.

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