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Filas Francis L. (1915–1985)

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Jan S. Jaworski
University of Warsaw, Poland

American Jesuit of Slovakian origin, professor of dogmatic theology, known internationally for his books on St Joseph and the first coin identifications of the Shroud of Turin. He was born in Cicero in the United States. At the age of 17, he joined the Jesuits and was ordained a priest in 1945. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy from Ignatius Loyola University in Chicago, and his doctorate in sacred theology in 1952 from Bellarmine Pontifical University in West Baden Springs on the basis of a dissertation on the fatherhood of St Joseph. After his bachelor’s degree, he became a teacher at Jesuit high schools in Cleveland and Detroit.

He taught mathematics, religion, Latin and English, but also music (his brother Thomas was a composer). In 1950, he became a professor (assistant professor) in the Theology Department at Ignatius Loyola University in Chicago and remained with the university for the rest of his life. There he obtained successive professorial degrees (up to full professor in 1961) and was dean for eight years. He retired in January 1985 and died after a heart attack on 15 February that year.

His scholarly interests focused on the person, theology and cult of St Joseph (he published seven books on this subject), sexual education and family issues (three books), and sindonology. He was one of the leaders of the initiative to introduce the name of St Joseph into the Eucharistic prayer in the Roman Canon, and a founding member of the Centre for Research and Documentation of the “Oratory of St Joseph” in Montreal. “If I talk too much about my books, it is only because I want you to love the man about whom I wrote them all—St Joseph,” he wrote in his autobiography around 1957 (quoted by catholicauthors.com).

Francis L. Filas belonged to American societies: biblical (Catholic Biblical Association of America), theological (College Theological Society and American Catholic Theological Association), Mariological (Mariology Society of America) and dedicated to St Joseph (North American Society of Josephology), as well as syndological (he was vice-president of the Holy Shroud Guild fraternity). He helped establish the ‘Cana Movement’ marriage course programme in Detroit. He gave hundreds of lectures in the USA on family upbringing and disseminated CDs of them. He became primarily famous as the author of presentations on the Shroud of Turin, broadcast first on Chicago television and later on the national ABC network annually on Good Friday, from 1951 for more than twenty years. In 1959, the programme was honoured by the Time magazine. He also produced more than a dozen educational videos on subjects including the location of biblical sites in Jerusalem and the Galilee and sites associated with St Paul, as well as popularising knowledge of the Shroud of Turin. He received the Israeli state prizes Shalom and Terra Sancta, as well as the Diplome Ateneo Pro Pace awarded in 1982 by the International Peace Centre in Brussels and Turin. In 1982, he donated his biographical documents and materials (writings, photographs and films) to the Ignatius Loyola University Archives and they are available there and an index can be found on the Internet.

Father F.L. Filas’s best-known activity as a Shroud researcher concerned the discovery in 1979 of the four letters UCAI near the right eye on a negative reproduction (3rd generation) of a photograph taken two-thirds life-size by →Giuseppe Enrie and the hypothesis that it was a coin from the time of Pontius Pilate. [Photo by G. Enrie of the face itself, taken from a closer distance, does not give such a sharp image of the coins, which F.L. Filas explained by a similar mechanism as when viewing the Shroud with the naked eye (cf. →Photographs of the Shroud), since the details of the image can be better discerned from a further distance]. As early as 1954, on enlarged copies of photographs taken for a television programme, he noticed letters εCAI, which he could not explain.

It was only after John P. Jackson’s team published three-dimensional images of the Shroud indicating the presence of a round coin-like object there that he—relying on the expertise of numismatic experts and comparing catalogues and collections of ancient coins—came up with the hypothesis that it was a lepton lituus. It is a small bronze coin with a drawing depicting the ritual augur staff (lituus), and around it the Greek inscription: TIBERIOUKAISAROS (Old Greek: ΤΙΒΕΡΙΟΥΚΑΙΣΑΡΟΣ—Emperor Tiberius). The letters on the coin were approximately 1.5 mm high.

After critical remarks by scientists at a conference of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (→STURP)—accusing him of dishonouring their scientific reputation—F.L. Filas, a founding member of STURP, withdrew from the project to continue the search on his own. In 1980, he privately published a monograph on the dating of the Shroud from coin traces: The Dating of the Shroud of Turin from Coins of Pontius Pilate. A year later, he managed to find two coins of Pilate with the wrong letter C instead of K. The one with the identical lituus as on the Shroud had the year 16 (reign of Tiberius, i.e. 29/30 AD) stamped on the reverse. At the independent Log E/Interpretation Systems laboratory in Overland Park, it was confirmed that in the images of the Shroud, both coins lying on the two eyes, as well as the letters and the lithuus identified by F.L. Filas, were three-dimensional. Later, the Jesuit also observed the same letters and lithuus in more recent photographs of the Shroud, taken directly in Turin by Vernon Miller in 1978. In 1983, at his request, Dr Robert M. Haralick of the Spatial Data Analysis Laboratory at Virginia State University examined new copies of Giuseppe Enrie’s photographs using digital image enhancement techniques and found yet another letter C from the inscription. Francis Filas was convinced that his research not only pointed to the origins of the Shroud in Palestine during Pontius Pilate’s tenure, but also proved that a forgery of the Shroud was completely impossible (Filas 1982, p. 20).

F.L. Filas’s hypothesis found followers in Italy and the USA, who successfully tried to confirm it and identify the coin on the left eye. However, neither →STURP researchers nor later, in the 21st century, numerous sindonologists considered these hypotheses sufficiently proven (cf. the critique of digital image analyses in →Photographs of the Shroud). Nevertheless, the name of F.L. Filas and his hypothesis have been permanently inscribed in the history of the Shroud of Turin research, and his role in popularising the Shroud in the USA cannot be overestimated.

References and Selected Syndonological Bibliography

Baima Bollone P., Czy na prawym oku Człowieka z Całunu znajduje się moneta?, [in:] Całun Turyński, 101 pytań i odpowiedzi, przeł. z ang. K. Stopa, Kraków 2002, pp. 229–231.

Filas F.L., Biographical Sketch, [in:] “Francis L. Filas, S.J., Papers 1931–1989”, University Archives. Loyola University Chicago, [on-line:] https://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/archives/pdfs/filas.pdf – 15 X 2021.

Filas F.L., The Dating of the Shroud of Turin from Coins of Pontius Pilate, 2nd ed., Youngtown 1982.

Filas F., The Dating of the Shroud of Turin from Coins of Pontius Pilate, “Sindon” 1983, Anno 25, No. 32, pp. 65–73.

Filas F.L., Święty Józef. Człowiek Jezusowi najbliższy, WAM, Kraków 1979 (exact 1981), title treatise, pp. 9–287; treatise: Św. Józef w świetle Soboru Watykańskiego II, pp. 289–325.

Jaworski J.S., Identyfikacja monet z Całunu Turyńskiego, “Przegląd Powszechny” 1985, 762, No. 2, pp. 292–294.

Reverend Francis L. Filas, S.J., [autobiography], [on-line:] htttp://www.catholicauthors.com/filas.html – 15 X 2021.

Sources of Images

Catholicauthors.com, http://www.catholicauthors.com/filas.html (public domain)

SabanaSanta.org, https://sabanasanta.org/monedas/ (public domain)

Jan S. Jaworski

Professor Emeritus of the Faculty of Chemistry at the University of Warsaw. He conducted research in the field of electrochemistry of organic compounds (list of publications). Since 1982, he has followed the scientific research of the Turin Shroud and popularized it in numerous articles and lectures. Associated with the Polish Syndonological Centre in Krakow since its foundation.

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