The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Please don't eat the baby Jesus


...and some thoughts on not belonging

Over Christmas, AG and I went to visit her family in New Orleans. One of the attactions that her father brought me to on the North Shore was St. Joseph's Abbey and its beautiful church. Its frescoes were done in the early 1950's by Dom Gregory De Witt, and are awe-inspiring. More photos of the church and the grounds can be viewed by going to this site

There was among the frescoes an image I had never seen before. It seemed to be a version of the Byzantine Deisis, but the figure of St. John the Baptist was shown with wings and holding a chalice with a small child in it. My first reaction was, "St. John the Baptist has turned into a monster and is going to eat the baby!" After AG researched it on the Internet, we found that this is actually a traditional image in Byzantine iconography, which is odd since it was the first time I had ever seen it. (Of course, I've see the Forerunner portrayed with wings, but not with a cup of baby cocktail.) Here is one Russian example of the same image:



The more you know...

Changing gears entirely, since I am somewhat "between things" right now, I had this rainy and dreary California day off. So what does the modern 21st century individual do with a day like this off? That right, surf and surf and surf the Web. It is sometimes rather disturbing for me to think that much of my own religious formation took place because of the Internet. Coming back to the same websites and groups that I was allied with over eight years ago now is a rather bizarre experience. When I shared their opinions on many things, I was an entirely different person. Going back to the sites of many traditionalist Roman Catholic groups, I see just how crazy and surreal some of their views are. But somehow, I still sympathize with them, even if I am fully aware now that what they think is not reality.

I think the problem is that we like to put ourselves in bubbles, and the people who are right are the ones that are the best at thinking that the bubble is all there is. I can no longer do that. Once you have spent half a night praying with Coptic monks in the middle of the Mojave Desert, for example, you are never again going to see the liturgical wars that go on over the Web in the same light. The truth is much broader than we can ever imagine, though in some ways it continues to be very, very narrow. (Strange paradox.)

I am not a traditionalist by persuasion. At best, I am a fellow traveller. I don't belong to that movement since I think it is a lost cause. It will in the end lose since the tides of history are flowing the other way, and God does not particularily care about humeral veils, birettas, and the "dominos and biscuits" (read: Dominus vobiscum) But I will still be a liturgical snob until I die. I just know that this snobbery will die with me, and part of me thinks that this is not all that sad.

15 Comments:

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Calvin Broadus said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger Tawser said...

"I think it is a lost cause" is a strange argument from someone who worships a Crucified God. Personally, when you take a good look at the causes in the church that are "winning" these days, "lost" seems like a synonym for "sane" and "beautiful."

 
At 5:26 PM, Blogger papa herman said...

So... did you ever find out what the meaning is regardingthe Baby in the Chalice?

I have seen Icons of St. John the Forerunner with wings, and holding a platter with his head on it (St. John was beheaded and his head was placed on a platter)... but the Child in the Chalice is new to me.

 
At 5:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a famous Russian icon, the icon of the Mother of God “The Inexhaustible Cup”, which shows the Theotokos as a High Priest and the infant Christ emerging from the Chalice in front of her. This icon is famous for curing alcoholics and the story of the ex-soldier who was first cured of his addiction is rather touching.

http://rusmonastery.org/eng/chasha.html

Tom

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Judge373 said...

I'm not sure if "liturgical snobbery", will die. As a "millenialist", I can see lots of interest among people my age for more traditional forms of liturgy. Perhaps the interest does not extend to the use of birettas, yet I sense a definite desire to rebel against the liturgical laxity commonly admired by our boomer parents.

If the Boomers were to live forever, your conclusion would certainly be true. Luckily, generational response and rebellion is a never-ending process and cycle.

 
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