Idolatry in context

Not one scrap of dignity is to be allowed us, it would appear.

The missionaries of colonial times were by any measure the greatest heroes Catholic civilization has produced.  No greater courage or charity could be imagined than for a man to go out into a strange land–the New World, India, or the Far East–and risk his life for the salvation of souls, indeed to save the very ones who will likely kill him.  Even as explorers, anthropologists, and humanitarians, their stories are quite remarkable.  Now we are told to be ashamed of them.  Everyone else is allowed to have something to be proud of, but not us.

Sacrifices must be made for the people of the Amazon.  Some say that they are Catholics deprived of the Eucharist who can only be helped by ordaining married men.  Some say that they are non-Catholics who will not convert unless we allow them to continue worshipping their fertility demon.  Some say that they are feminists who will not tolerate that women should not rule their parishes in name as well as in fact.  I suppose it is possible that all three are present in those wild places.

Evangelical zeal is not an unmixed blessing.  The missionaries and inquisitors of the Counter-Reformation would have laid down their lives to bring just one pagan to Christ.  I, however, am a modern man, a tolerant man, meaning I don’t give a shit about any barbarians and would prefer not to mangle the traditions of the Church to suit outsiders.  Perhaps it is true that their brand of heathenish superstition is particularly satisfying and ennobling.  We should then expect to get fewer converts from them.  Present the Gospel.  Let them take it or leave it.

Instead, Pope Francis has overseen the worship of pagan idols in Saint Peter’s itself.  This is taking becoming all things to all people quite far indeed.  The martyrs of ancient Rome chose to die rather than what our priests have now freely done.  Surely the Holy Father must have a reason.  Could it be simply to spite the God Who has so clearly abandoned us?  I can understand the sentiment, but it is nevertheless entirely irrational.  One cannot revenge oneself upon God.  If you decide to hurt God by defying Him, the very fact that you have made that choice proves that God doesn’t care about you enough to give grace to prevent it, and so only you and not He will be hurt by your self-degradation.  In any case, Francis does not seem particularly tribal and so would not be prone to such resentment.

I think the most optimistic reading of Francis’ pontificate is that he is positioning the Church (perhaps clumsily) to rediscover her essence as a priestly people and to lead a reaction against the tyranny of prophets now ruling and tormenting the world.  It is a daring maneuver.  Since the defeat of the Axis powers (Were they in fact the West’s last hope?), prophesy has ruled the world unchecked, and its self-righteousness and intolerance seem to intensify every year.  Despite its escalating illogic and cruelty, there is no reason to think a reaction necessary or even likely.  And yet, placing our hope in such a reaction is the only strategy that is consistent with the spirit of the Catholic people.

Idolatry was the first target of the prophets and remains a paradigmatic one.  The prophet always tells the people that what they think is holy is in fact profane, that in fact the social order is wicked and must be reformed by putting prophets in power.  Whatever the community cherishes, the prophet calls an idol.  A priest would rather tell the people that the social world which they think is profane in fact has a sacred substructure, that the people have in fact intuited this all along, that the social order is then better than they had thought and as good as they had secretly felt, and that existing powers should therefore be obeyed.  Defending idolatry cuts off the prophetic impulse at its source.  Defending the lifestyle of stone-age barbarians is the ultimate repudiation of the idea of progress.

Nevertheless, it is a clumsy move, because the synod’s idol-worship has offended against priestly morality as well by desecrating a space reserved for the worship of God Himself.  Priests do not care so much if uneducated people worship idols.  Such worship might often reflect their own rudimentary apprehension of the true God.  We are faintly disgusted by Saint Boniface cutting down sacred trees.  But idolatry has no place in our Churches, in which the duty to worship the one God has come to full, conscious recognition.

If we must have goddesses, I would rather have them from our own tribe’s history.  We are Roman Catholics, which means we are Romans, so I would rather that we honor Venus, mother of our father Aeneas, our beautiful morning and evening star!  The synod fathers deliberately chose not a goddess whose name would be familiar to men of the West–Minerva, Juno, Ceres, Proserpina, Isis, Ishtar–but one who is most alien to us.  Even in idolatry, they follow the anti-inculturation policy of Vatican II, whereby the sensibility of Catholics must be disturbed by things most foreign to their culture.  If one wants to be optimistic, one could call this a strategy as well.  We put out a case for respecting tribal traditions in the context of a very foreign people and only once the case is accepted apply it to our own traditions.

5 Responses

  1. “I think the most optimistic reading of Francis’ pontificate is that he is positioning the Church (perhaps clumsily) to rediscover her essence as a priestly people and to lead a reaction against the tyranny of prophets now ruling and tormenting the world. It is a daring maneuver.”

    I don’t follow this line of argument – I just don’t see a line of reasoning by which the events you describe might plausibly be intended to lead to the results you hope for. Could you mention a couple more steps in the argument?

  2. A point has been reached where the Pope can do anything and somehow Matthew 16:18 will cover it.

  3. We should rethink our prejudice against temple prostitutes. It wouldn’t be hard to convert the confessionals into cribs. Since we’re going to worship idols, how about a statue representing the lions who ate the martyrs? After all, we need to make up for giving them indigestion. I’m looking forward to the Day of Atonement for World Missions. We will all wear bushel baskets over our heads and try to lose our faith before midnight.

  4. On May 13, 609, as can be read in the papal annals, Pope Boniface IV carried out a “shocking exorcism” of the [Pantheon] before he proceeded to the solemn consecration of the basilica. The temple had been transferred to him the year before by the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610). After the outer purification, the gates were opened and the Pope entered the temple, which had not been entered by Christians until then. “An immense crowd” attended the event. The chronicles tell of frightening noises and terrible screams that came from within. The demons and idols “yowled horribly” because they were aware of being driven out. The Pope prayed and consecrated the building to Christ, so that the demons flew out of the old temple amid tumultuous noise.


    In 609, The Pope consecrated the Pantheon to Christ. In 2019, the Pope invited the pagans back. SSPX has declared 11/9 to be a day of reparation, but who can say if it is enough. I think youre right though: If this is the pendulum reaching the apex in one direction, it’s counterswing in the opposite direction should be dramatic and allow us to rediscover a “priestly people”.

  5. […] Throne and Altar discusses Points of Catholic Pride, and the idolatry of the Vatican these days. […]

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