These are the images that have caused a controversy in Rome.
What are they? What do they mean? And how are they being used?
Some claim they are Pachamama, Mother Earth, a pagan deity. Others that they are symbols of Life and Fertility. A few claim they are the Virgin Mary of the Amazon (that seems highly improbable).
Let us consider similar images in Byzantine and Western art. Here are images of the pregnant Virgin Mary.
In venerating these images, the veneration is directed to real persons, either Christ or the totus Christus, the saints who are members of His mystical body, especially Mary, the God-Bearer.
But suppose, as seems to have happened in the Vatican, veneration was directed to images such as these:
Caritas could also be entitled Maternitas, motherhood. (My wife is especially moved by these images. She had six children, including twins, in eight years. One child is nursing, the other is saying he’s hungry, and the third is pulling on her skirt saying he has a school project due in the morning.)
Suppose someone venerated such an image. What is he venerating? Not a real person, but what? An abstraction, a symbol, a force, a dynamic, an impersonal spiritual reality?
The Romans had a temple of Fides, later Fides Publica, Public Faith, the deification of good faith and honesty. Sacrifices were made to her. Libertas, the female personification of liberty and personal freedom, had a temple on the Aventine. There was a joint temple to Honor and Virtus, personification of manliness, especially military bravery. These are all good things, but should they be worshipped? Christians destroyed all these temples.
Venerating Motherhood, Maternity, would be a charming pagan practice, and perhaps a step to Christianity. The image might well be repurposed as the Virgin Mary. But in itself, such veneration is giving divine honors to something other than God, or to a person who is an image of God and a member of the Mystical Body. Even if one believes in one Creator God, it is still giving honor to something other than the Divinity, and would seem to be forbidden by the first commandment. We can’t have God and in addition gods, even Libertas, Honor, or Maternitas.
Obviously venerating such an image is radically different from venerating Moloch. But I am not impressed by the Vatican officials who think it is fine to venerate an image of Life and Fertility. How does that differ from the worship of Astarte and Ba’al? They were both symbols of Life and Fertility. Some Jews worshipped them and also YHWH. Syncretism is an ancient and chronic problem.
Lee Penn noticed: “there is an ominous literary parallel. In Robert Hugh Benson’s 1907 apocalyptic novel “Lord of the World,” Benson describes the minimal (!) commitment that the Antichrist regime would ask of its adherents: “The act of worship was so little, too; it consisted of no more than bodily presence in in the church or cathedral on the four new festivals of Maternity, Life, Sustenance, and Paternity, celebrated on the first day of each quarter. Sunday worship was to be purely voluntary.”
Benson may have had a good insight. The new false worship would not be of the old gods, whether Thor or Venus; that would be too obvious. Good things can be idols too: Maternity, Fertility, Loyalty, Community. We have been warned that the Antichrist may lead astray even the elect. It has also become clear that we cannot rely upon the judgment of a man just because he is bishop of Rome. Francis is not a good judge; John Paul called the incestuous drug addict child abuser Maciel “an infallible guide to youth.” Catholics must, like Protestants, use private judgment, e.g. common sense, prudence, knowledge of Scripture and tradition, and spiritual discernment, about what is going on in the world and in the Church.
(BTW, I wonder what the reaction would have been if the Amazonians had brought statues of the common male symbol of Life and Fertility, venerated them, and then placed them in Roman churches.)
(Apparently there were small phallic objects in the Vatican ceremony, or at least some other ceremony involving the statues, but the news media discreetly omitted any mention of them. Ah, the old time religion of Ba’al and Astarte.)
A cardinal of my acquaintance called a curial cardinal about a financial and contractual matter, asking how something questionable was done. The curial cardinal; explained “I lied.” The non-curial cardinal replied, “The Ten Commandments apply in the Vatican too.” To which the curial cardinal replied, “You’re so naïve.”
Alas, not much has changed in the curia since Luther was so scandalized that he ended up dividing Western Christendom. Why the curia has had repeated episodes of deep corruption is a mystery. Careerism? Too much money? Lack of accountability? Narcissism? Arrogance? Or a witch’s brew of all of these? Quousque tandem?
Cardinal Gerhardt Mueller, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is a friend of the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, with whom he co-authored a book, An der Seite der Armen, On the Side of the Poor, so Mueller cannot be dismissed as a reactionary traditionalist. His take on the statues:
“The great mistake was to bring the idols into the Church,” replies the cardinal, “not to put them out, because according to the Law of God Himself – the First Commandment – idolism [idolatry] is a grave sin and not to mix them with the Christian liturgy.”
Rexcrisanto Delson is an indigenous person. His reaction to the statues and ceremonies in the Vatican gardens:
“There were idols, and even a Franciscan participated,” he continued.
“I later learned that an Amazon tribal leader confirmed it was purely pagan. Did the Catholics who participated and supported such a vile act not know it was pagan?”
Delson said that even if they didn’t know then, they should know now.
“There’s no excuse from here on out to claim they didn’t know they were violating the first commandment,” he said, and quoted Psalm 95:5 in saying that “all the gods of the Gentiles are devils.”
For those bishops who are a little rusty on their scripture, let us review some important verses:
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Father Martin said of homosexual behavior, every time Scripture mentions homosexuality it condemns it. But the interesting question for Martin is whether Scripture is correct in its judgment. Perhaps some of the participants in the Synod think the same about idolatry. Every time Scripture mentions idolatry, it condemns it. But the interesting question is whether the judgment of Scripture is correct. A very useful line of reasoning, with widespread application.
Yet further developments.
The Pope doesn’t think the first commandment is in force in the Vatican. The statues are images of Pachamama, a pagan goddess, they will be displayed in St. Peter’s, and they will presumably be honored in some way, but it’s not idolatry, because he’s pope, and he says so, and no one can stop him. So there:
Pope Francis is apologizing for the furtive removal of the carved fertility figures from a Rome church, and has announced they’ve been found and will be displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Amazon Synod’s closing Mass.
“As bishop of this diocese, I apologize to those who have been offended by this act,” said Pope Francis in the opening remarks for Friday’s afternoon general congregation, according to French media outlet i.media, present in the aula.
The pontiff referred to the statuettes as “Pachamama” — up till now a pejorative used by by critics who claim she represents the pagan Mother Earth goddess — and announced Italian police had found them and are currently have them in safekeeping.
“The Commander of the Carabinieri wished to inform us of the retrieval before the news becomes public,” he said, adding, “the statues are being kept in the office of the Commander of the Italian Carabinieri.”
Pope Francis also announced “the display of the statues at the closing Mass of the Synod.”
The pope insisted that the figures had been displayed “without any intention of idolatry” in Santa Maria del Traspontina, lamenting that their “theft” had caused a “media uproar.”
But Amazonian Bp. José Luis Azcona of Marajó in the Amazon region disagrees, confirming that “Pachamama” is a pagan goddess and denouncing the rituals in the Vatican.
“In those rituals there is the devil, there is magic,” he said in a sermon given Oct. 16 in Brazil.
The Restoration of the Idols 2019 AD (not to be confused with the Restoration of the Icons 843 AD)
As the learned Paolo Suess explained to Vatican Media, it doesn’t matter whom or what you’re worshipping as long as you are worshipping:
Last week, Vatican Media interviewed Fr. Paulo Suess, a German priest who has served for decades among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. Fr. Suess is in Rome as an official of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, and is regarded there as an expert on the region.
The priest was asked about a ceremony held in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 7, which seemed to use both traditional Christian symbols and unexplained symbols of indigenous Amazonian culture.
“It is definitely the case that there is a noticeable sentiment against the synod on the part of certain media here….Someone wrote that it was a pagan rite,” Fr. Suess responded.
“Even if that had been a pagan rite, what took place was still a worship service. A rite always has something to do with worship. Paganism cannot be dismissed as nothing. What is pagan? In our big cities we are no less pagan than in the jungle. That’s something to think about,” he said
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