Mary Pezzulo and Mark Shea–two of my favourite Patheos Catholic bloggers–have responded to my piece Worshipping Priests, not Warrior Priests.
Mark takes the conversation in a new direction with his following insight:
One of the many things that anti-Catholic Fundies get wrong about the faith is the notion that if something in Catholic life has some pagan antecedent, that means “Catholics are pagan”. So we are forever treated to pictures of holly at Christmas with the dire warning that Catholics are secretly Druids. […]
[In] reality what matters is not the ancient, dead significance of a thing to ancient, dead pagans, but the living Christian content poured into it. […] Whatever a tree meant to a German pagan a thousand years ago, it has long since been filled with Christian content and refers to the Tree of Jesse, the House of David, and the evergreen promise of grace in the birth of Jesus now. […]
But sometimes the opposite happens. Christian forms get filled with an alien, pagan content. […] Which brings me back to the whole Manly Warrior Priest thing. Yes, Paul takes the image of the soldier and fills it with Christian content in Ephesians 6. Now and then–and very rarely–other military imagery gets used by Jesus or the New Testament authors, as when Jesus says he comes to bring not peace, but a sword. But the New Testament is terrifying in its fundamental call to non-violence. Peter, told to put up his sword after his outburst of vigilantism never takes up the sword again.
To summarize what Mark is saying, Christianity baptized Pagan culture. That is, following the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Christianity took an incarnational approach to the culture it sought to evangelize. It took what was morally good and morally neutral in these cultures, and infused these elements with Christian meaning.
Where properly understood, Christianity does not seek to replace local culture but to elevate it. Thus the Assyrian expression of Christianity is much different than the Greek or Russian expressions, which are different from the Latin, Alexandrian, Franco-Germanic, or Indigenous.
Take, for instance, the Lakota Trinity pictured to the left. Originally painted by Fr John Giuliani, it conveys the eternal Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity through the tangible temporality of Lakota art. As a Byzantine canonist I could point out several areas where Fr Giuliani’s work departs from traditional Byzantine iconography. Yet the latter is obviously a source of inspiration for the former. What is important is that each conveys Christ to its particular culture.
Nevertheless, sometimes the reverse happens. That is, sometimes Christians take what is good in Christianity and inject it with non-Christian meaning. Often evil follows. Especially when Christianity imposes itself through the sword rather than by the cross.
This brings me to a second point–one raised by Mary Pezzulo. Christ conquered the enemy not from a position of strength, but from a position of weakness.
As Mary writes:
[If] we realize that we are not chiefly warriors but children, sheep, nestling chicks, dough in need of leaven, good creatures fearfully and wonderfully made but tragically weakened by sin– then we might stand a chance. We are the sons and daughters of God; His servants and, yes, His army after a fashion, and our value is infinite. But we are not strong. We are not powerful or exciting. He has given us wondrous weapons and armor through our baptism and confirmation, but none of us is very good at wielding them. If we can accept this, we might see our fellow children of God as what they are: children of God, fallen and in need of healing like us, rather than manifestations of the Evil One. We’ll realize they’re struggling people in need of mercy just like us. We will cling to Christ Who is meek and humble of Heart, and let Him conform us to His own image.
This reminds me of a point raised by my bishop last week, while preaching to a group of clergy and lay professionals: Christ saves us through His weakness. We do not save ourselves through our strength. It is Christ who saves us in collaboration with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the cross is His chosen means. Only in subjecting Himself to the humiliation of death did Christ open our way to Eternal Life.
[Photo care of Andrea Kellaway Photography]