October 10, 2013

Is the Infant of Prague Idolatrous?

A Brief Response to Mr. Ρρ and Mr. Swan
The original Infant of Prague · Rene Fluger, 2012 · Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The orig­i­nal Infant of Prague · Rene Fluger, 2012 · Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

 

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VERY SO OFTEN, THE CATHOLIC APOLOGIST will be mind­ing his own busi­ness, ful­fill­ing the pre­cepts of the Church, when of a sud­den a Tas­man­ian Devil of anti-Catholicism will come whirling by, just as in the car­toon. TD will wreak mad and aim­less destruc­tion on what­ever is in its path, and the Catholic apol­o­gist will be left behind to calmly clean up the mess and restore order to the com­mu­nity. Such is my task today.

 

MR. Ρρ: INFANT OF PRAGUE TRUTHER

MR. ALANRHOLOGYMARICLE (the strong ARM of Calvin­ism) admits that he was bored. Liv­ing in Okla­homa, which will have that effect on a per­son, he “had some time to kill” and could think of noth­ing bet­ter to do than search about for some new Catholic out­rage. Catholi­cism is less plen­teous in Rhology’s stamp­ing ground than it is in Rome, and so he has to look hard across the land­scape for it, pos­si­bly with binoc­u­lars. In this frame of mind, he made a pil­grim­age to Prague, Okla­homa, and the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus.

Because of these kind of quixotic wan­der­ings in the state with the fin­ger point­ing west, Mr. Rho (Gr., Ρρ) strikes me as a sort of inves­tiga­tive reporter for Beg­gars All. He daily pounds the pave­ment on the Catholic beat. We always read, in his posts, that he was out on some inno­cent errand when he was sud­denly assaulted by a new out­rage of idol­a­try. The Catholics are swoop­ing down on the Okies like a new Dust Bowl.  Mr. Ρρ returns to Nor­man, where he files his copy. He and Mr. James “Luther Didn’t Say That” Swan are the Wood­ward and Bern­stein of Calvin­ism in the twenty-teens. I don’t know which is Wood­ward and which is Bernstein.

But to return.  Mr. Ρρ begins his exposé of the wicked baby Jesus by com­par­ing the Infant of Prague to a Shinto statue of Bud­dha.  The basis for this strange yet cliché-sounding com­par­i­son is solely the visual impact of see­ing a pic­ture of the one fol­lowed by a pic­ture of the other. You can check it out on his blog if you like. Now, I’m guess­ing at the sub­text here, but I think that Mr. Ρρ means for us to say some­thing like this: “Aha! The Infant of Prague is noth­ing other than Bud­dha in quasi-Christian dis­guise! See!  Those Catholics are no bet­ter than pagan idol worshipers!”

The cal­is­thenic mind that is required to make these Olympic-sized leaps! Like­wise, some peo­ple say that devo­tion to Mary is just dis­guised Athena-worship.  Some peo­ple say that Christ­mas is really the birth­day of the sun god Tam­muz.  Some peo­ple eat cars. Some peo­ple are 9–11 Truthers.  Some peo­ple claim that the moon land­ing was filmed in a Hol­ly­wood stu­dio.  One deluded soul tried to post a com­ment on this blog say­ing that the Knights of Colum­bus is a Masonic sect and that there’s some com­par­i­son between Leo XIII’s encycli­cal Humanum Genus and the Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion. (My spam fil­ter caught it.)

Per­plex­ingly, Mr. Ρρ misses Buddha’s red papal mozzetta

Hon­estly, I am look­ing at these two pic­tures as I type the very words you now read; and I fail to see a com­par­i­son. Per­haps Mr. Ρρ is more intu­itive about pagan rip-offs than I am. That’s pos­si­ble, I sup­pose. But here is what I see:  The Infant of Prague is wear­ing a crown.  Bud­dha is wear­ing a bam­boo hat. The Infant of Prague is stand­ing up.  Bud­dha is sit­ting down, in the lotus posi­tion.  The Infant of Prague is bedecked with rosaries.  No prayer beads for Bud­dha.  Bud­dha is sit­ting under a tree.  No tree for the Infant of Prague.  Bud­dha, finally, is sit­ting atop what might be a foun­tain.  No foun­tain for the Infant of Prague.

Mr. Ρρ is infan­tilely amused that Bud­dha has been dressed in a “sweater.” “Awww!” he gushes.  I rather doubt it’s a sweater; it cov­ers only the shoul­ders. I’m not sur­prised that Mr. Ρρ is inca­pable of rec­og­niz­ing a sweater; I’m sur­prised only that he appar­ently did not notice that it looks a lot like the red papal mozzetta. He could have got­ten mileage out of that.

 

WHY WE DEPICT CHRIST CRUCIFIED AND THE CHILD JESUS

But now we get to the gist of Mr. Ρρ’s anti-baby Jesus feel­ings. If there are small chil­dren in the room, you might not want to con­tinue read­ing aloud while I quote him:

I admit to won­der­ing aloud where this idea comes from, that it’s a good idea to depict Jesus as an infant. … What pre­cisely did Jesus ever do as an infant?  My guess is that he ate, slept, made cute noises, qui­etly learned, and pooped.

Stay classy, Mr. Ρρ; it has never occurred to me to med­i­tate upon the bowel move­ments of God. Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Ρρ asks an odd ques­tion for a Calvin­ist: “What did Jesus ever do as an infant?”  All of a sud­den it is about works!

It is not about what the infant Jesus did, Mr. Ρρ; it is about who the infant Jesus was. The Wise Men didn’t need to see Christ per­form the labors of Her­cules before they wor­shiped at his feet.

But Mr. Ρρ’s line of quasi-reasoning has kin­ship to that which says that cru­ci­fixes are some­how bad because Jesus is no longer on the cross. Why do Catholics leave him up there for eter­nity?  The Cross is empty now! Yes.  We know that.  We also know that Christ’s sac­ri­fi­cial offer­ing of Him­self to the Father has redeemed us; and we wish to have that reminder always before us:  of what our sin­ful­ness, and our ulti­mate sal­va­tion, cost God. That is why we med­i­tate upon cru­ci­fixes; it has noth­ing to do with a belief in good luck charms, as I’ve heard many anti-Catholics pretend.

And like­wise, we know per­fectly well that Christ is no longer a baby; we do not require Mr. Ρρ to tell us that (thanks any­way). Of course, to hear him tell it, you might con­clude that Catholics believe God is still mess­ing in his diapers:

Lit­tle Infant Jesus does not exist any more than lit­tle infant Rhol­ogy exists.  Infancy is intended to be a mere phase in the life of a per­son, and it doesn’t last long.

News flash to Mr. Ρρ:  Duh.  But here is where he clutches reflex­ively to the hob­gob­lin of his lit­tle mind:

My best guess is that Roman Catholics make a big deal out of Infant Jesus because Jesus is more approach­able when a baby than a full-grown man.

Actu­ally, no. That is not cor­rect.  Luther’s Inter­preter, James Swan, also has it wrong when he uses the com­box to spec­u­late (not from his brain, as he him­self admits, but from his “gut”) that the “Roman­ist” respond­ing to Mr. Ρρ will say, “These prac­tices are not con­doned by the Roman church.”

Wrong again, Mr. Swan. For the enlight­en­ment of Wood­ward and Bern­stein, this “Roman­ist” chooses to respond with Matt. 18:1–4:

At that time the dis­ci­ples came to Jesus, say­ing, “Who is the great­est in the king­dom of heaven?  And call­ing to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn, and become like lit­tle chil­dren, you will never enter the king­dom of Heaven.  Who­ever hum­bles him­self like this child, he is the great­est in the king­dom of Heaven.

Thus it is rather a pity than oth­er­wise that “lit­tle infant Rhol­ogy” no longer exists.  Pay atten­tion now, Mr. Ρρ, I’m about to give away the dirty Catholic secret: The rea­son we depict Christ on the cross is to remind us of the cost of both sin and redemp­tion.  And the rea­son we depict Christ as an infant is to remind us that God did what we are also called to do:  He became a lit­tle child.  He hum­bled Him­self. There is no greater act of humil­ity than for the cre­ator of the uni­verse to become a baby, even a baby who messes in his dia­pers and has to be cleaned up—wait for it, Mr. Ρρ—by Mary. God is the great­est in the king­dom of Heaven because He hum­bled Him­self the most.  That is what the Infant of Prague (and all other depic­tions of the baby Jesus, which Mr. Ρρ abhors) are meant to remind us of.  And if the Catholic who prays before the Infant of Prague is not med­i­tat­ing upon that, then pos­si­bly his mind is in the wrong place.

 

WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THIS WORLD AND WE TAKE NOTHING OUT

The “sad­dest part” of Catholic idol­a­try, accord­ing to Mr. Ρρ, was all the quar­ters he found at the base of the statue in Prague, OK. He used them to hold down some anti-Catholic tracts he left behind. (One sus­pects that this was the point of  Mr. Ρρ’s pil­grim­age to Prague, after all, and that he wasn’t really just killing time.) He com­pares the quar­ters to coins tossed into a foun­tain for good luck. Did it not occur to Mr. Ρρ’s mind (even as admit­tedly small a mind as his) that these are noth­ing more or less than sac­ri­fi­cial reminders—a small sym­bolic gesture—that our riches belong to God? We lay them at His feet. Pos­si­bly, for some Catholics, they are sym­bolic of the gifts of the Wise Men.

The embar­rass­ing Mr. Ρρ calls Jesus a false god

But no; it does not occur to him. Every­where he looks in the Catholic Church, Mr. Ρρ finds idol­a­try.  The rea­son he finds it is because that is what he expects to find. Gen­er­ally, you find what you’re search­ing for; and even if you’re search­ing for water in a desert, you will still see a mirage.

It does not occur to Mr. Ρρ that idol­a­try is, by def­i­n­i­tion, the wor­ship of a false god. It should embar­rass him that he is now on the record call­ing Jesus a false god. It won’t. He will con­tinue with his child­ish sar­casm, cute noises, and false under­stand­ing of the Catholic Church, because that is all he knows—unless the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God alone, con­verts his heart.

Such are the non­sen­si­cal con­tra­dic­tions into which Tas­man­ian Dev­ils inevitably spin them­selves when they go on a ram­page across the Catholic landscape.