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. ALAN “RHOLOGY” MARICLE (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.)
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.
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.