Quaesivi vultum tuum

Guido Milanese

(Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Brescia)


The Introit Tibi dixit, unspectacularly placed during the second week of Lent, has been treated with much more consideration in the new liturgical calendars, where it has been moved to the preceding Sunday, and also to the Feast of the Transfiguration on the 6th of August. The text deals with man’s desire of seeing God’s face:

Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum,
My heart has said to Thee, I have sought Thy Face,
vultum tuum, Domine, requiram:
Thy Face, O Lord, will I seek,
ne avertas faciem tuam a me.
Turn not Thy Face from me.
V. Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea:
The Lord is my light and my salvation:
quem timebo?
whom shall I fear?

The text is taken from Ps. XXVI 8-9, not in the standard “Gallican” version but, asusual, in a more ancient Italian, Roman translation, thus witnessing the remote age of the composition of this piece.

The desire of seeing God facie ad faciem is a headstone of Hebrew and Christian spiritual life. From the book of Exodus onwards, seeing God’s face has always been the deepest desire of man and his greatest fear. God talks to Moyses facie ad faciem, sicut loqui solet homo ad amicum suum (Ex. 33, 11), but – a few lines later – He says that seeing His face is impossible to human beings, who will die as a consequence of seeing him (non poteris videre faciem meam; non enim videbit me homo et vivet). This dialectic tension between desire and prohibition, between attraction and horror, makes up the cultural and anthropological environment of the devotion to Veronica and the various Holy Faces: if no man has ever seen God directly (θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε, Ioh. 1, 18), it is nevertheless possible to see Jesus’s face: in the Incarnation God accepts to be seen.

The European Fortune of the Roman Veronica ​in the Middle Ages