Why are you reading me and not Amy Welborn?

Here she is, offering her customary sanity on the pontificates of Benedict and Francis:

The red shoes – so maligned even by Catholics who should know better – are a symbol of blood.  Blood , people.  The blood of the martyrs and the blood of Christ on which His vicar stands, and through him, all of us.  Popes – yes, even John XXIII and Paul VI – wore them until John Paul II stopped.  Then Benedict reinstated them. That is, he humbled himself before history and symbol and put the darn things on.   Why did he reinstate them?   Because he was  vain, monarchical and arrogant?  Because he was out of touch with the poor? Because he was, in the terms of the esteemed professor, a “clotheshorse?” Because they look good?  I doubt it, because, you know, they don’t, not really.  Maybe – just maybe – because he believes what they symbolize?  That his office is rooted in the blood of the martyrs, especially Peter?

I totally don’t get the fixation on the shoes from the media.  Mitres, stoles, mozzetta, all manner of vestments. These go unremarked.  But this one piece of liturgical–yes, liturgical–clothing suddenly becomes a symbol of all sorts of things except what they actually symbolize.  And then media guys in Gucci shoes and Armani suits wring their hands in fake dudgeon about it all.  Silly.

How Everybody Will Misread the Encyclical on the Environment
Francis inspires rising tide of exorcists and exorcisms
Big C Catholics Likes Me! They Really Like Me!
Pope Lauds Iran Nuke Deal
  • FDS

    No high dudgeon here. I love BXVI, and I love what he was trying to convey with his choice in shoes. But the bottom line is, if most people understand the symbol to mean something other than what is intended … it is an ineffective symbol. The Church needs to be as shrewd as serpents in presenting the Gospel in an ignorant age. The red shoes didn’t seem to work, but Francis’ humble gestures do — for now anyway.

    In our current and emeritus Holy Fathers, we have been blessed with two holy successors of St. Peter, both infallible in matters of faith and morality. But Pope Francis seems to have a personal, evangelical style that more effectively conveys the Gospel at this moment. One can say that without intending to criticize or judge Pope Benedict in the slightest. God be praised for his loving, sacrificial service and care for the Church!

    • vox borealis

      I disagree, to a degree. Just because people do not understand the symbols does not mean they are not effective. Rather, they can still be effective because they provoke, and beyond that simply as markers or identifiers. Few today understand the meaning (if any) behind the odd uniforms of the Swiss guard, but they recognize them as synonymous with the unit. Most don’t know the meaning behind the dalai lama’s dress, but they recognize on some level that it is the “uniform” of the position. The red shoes have long been part of the papal “uniform,” and so whatever one might think they symbolize, they nevertheless are associated with the papacy. That people don;t understand the symbolize provides, what do they call it, a teachable moment.

      I get what you are saying about how symbols sometimes do not resonate. I do worry, though, that discarding symbols because “at this time” people don’t understand them, is perhaps a shortsighted way of doing things. The difficulty is striking the right balance, I guess.

      • Dustin

        “The red shoes have long been part of the papal ‘uniform’ . . . ”

        Except they haven’t, not for a while. They used to be, but John Paul II seems never, or at least seldom, to have worn them. The length of his papacy and his non-traditional style allowed many older symbols of his predecessors to pass out of cultural memory. When Benedict brought them back (the shoes, as well as a few other things), they constituted, for most people, a novelty. For those who had at least heard of them but never seen them, they were almost an archaeologism.

      • Subsistent

        If an Ecclesial trapping’s significance is UNKNOWN, no harm done, I can agree. Indeed, as Jacques Maritain has noted in his book *Creative Inruition in Art and Poetry*, if I don’t know what a given sign signifies, it’s free to signify *everything* for me: that a sign’s meaning is unknown, is almost the same as that it signifies the unknown.
        If an Ecclesial trapping’s significance is MISUNDERSTOOD, still, no serious harm done, as long as that misunderstanding is unimportant, as it is with the IHS logo misunderstood to mean “In Hoc Signo [vinces spiritualiter]” — whereas it’s really a sort of transliteration of the first three Greek letters of Our Lord’s given name, IĒSOUS.
        But when an Ecclesial trapping’s significance is misunderstood in an important matter, then harm IS done, as with the former papal tiara, misunderstood, as JP2 noted, to mean a claim to theocratic temporal power which popes no longer make.

        • Subsistent

          Correct “Inruition” above to “Intuition”.

          • Subsistent

            Actually, not “theocratic” strictly, but “sacral” rather, is what the philosopher Jacques Maritain and his theologian-friend Charles Journet have maintained medieval civilization was. (Cf. Maritain’s book *Man and the State*, the chapter titled “Church and State”.) But even if the two authors are right on this, I think that the term “theocratic” can be used here in a loose sense.

        • Dustin

          I know the topic at hand is the shoes, but I have to ask: isn’t the tiara historically synonymous with rule of the Papal States? Didn’t the papacy repeatedly assert a temporal supremacy over the other sovereigns of Europe: “father of princes and kings, the ruler of the world on earth?” I don’t think it’s a misunderstanding of the tiara to see it as a symbol of temporal power. I disagree with the late pontiff. I am, however, glad he declined the crown, and I hope we never see it again.

          Isn’t its retention as late as 1963 an embarrassing anachronism?

          • http://Www.SaintLouisAcupuncture.com Dr. Eric

            The Eastern bishops all wear crowns.

        • Dustin

          My final sentence was a mistake. I meant to delete it. Please disregard it.

      • midwestlady

        If you deal only in symbols and people don’t understand them, you do have a problem, yes. People who love symbols don’t always pick up on that because they’re into their symbols. But yes, it’s a problem for them whether they realize it or not.

    • Elizabeth

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I have to say that I take issue with the idea of the red shoes being an ineffective symbol. (This is not necessarily aimed at your respectful comment, FDS; I’ve just been seeing this opinion a lot around the web.) It’s not like red doesn’t still signify blood, fire, and love in our culture. Signs for blood donor drives, fire trucks, and Valentine’s Day flowers are all red. It’s not that arcane. The symbol was widely misunderstood because of a contemptuous media culture that actively wants to smear the Pope. The shoes’ symbolic effectiveness would have been a little different if journalists everywhere saw them and said, “Hmm, red shoes. What does the Church mean when she wears red? Let me take two seconds to Wikipedia this. Oh, to this day it’s the liturgical color signifying martyrdom or the fire of Pentecost. Maybe the shoes have something to do with those things.” (Ha!) Instead they grabbed an opportunity to jeer at the Pope (and in the case of whoever started spreading the rumor that the shoes were Prada, lie about him).

      Don’t listen to these people to determine what the Church should discard, because they won’t be happy till the whole thing is gone! We should not be embarrassed about our perfectly good symbols that only take a tiny amount of explanation (and most of that to counter misinformation)!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00805469860229478026 Irksome1

    I never had a problem with the shoes, though I admit I was ignorant of the symbolism. I think, however, in this silly little spat, both critics and defenders of Benedict XVI reveal more about themselves than anything else. Consider that for many of Benedict’s defenders, those same shoes would be sneered at as evidence of decadence or effeminacy if worn by any other man. To my mind, the shoes are evidence of nothing. They only serve as rhetorical devices, spun after the fact, to ratify the opinion one’s already formed of Benedict.

    • vox borealis

      Consider that for many of Benedict’s defenders, those same shoes would be sneered at as evidence of decadence or effeminacy if worn by any other man.

      That depends what you mean. Are you saying, if worn by another a pope? I doubt that. Or are you saying worn by another man in another context (i.e., some Joe from New York walking down the street in red shoes)? If that’s the case, they may very well have considered the shoes a sign of decadence…and they may be right. It is, after all, the context that matters. Again, Swiss guardsman wearing Swiss Guard uniform—ok. Average citizen wearing Swiss Guard uniform—very odd.

  • midwestlady

    You’re a lot of things, Mark, but at least you’re not usually tedious.

    On subject, all this craziness about clothes is wearing thin. You’d think that was Christianity the way Catholics go on. I’m starting to think a lot of them do think that’s what Christianity is. *facepalm*

  • Andy, Bad Person

    Amy Welborn’s take is outstanding, and it perfectly captures everything I had been thinking and feeling over the pst week. Thanks!

  • Michael

    Midwestlady – you know the whole point of this post was to relay a sensible warning against reading too much into clothes, right?

    • midwestlady

      I know. I’m just having a hard time lately with the superficiality everywhere in the Church. I think most Catholics miss the whole point of Christianity on a regular basis, and I find that difficult.

  • http://kristenwestmcguire.wordpress.com Kristen

    Heh. As a longtime journalist and lurker on sites that make me slap my forehead – I think the shoe fetish is just the secular media’s way of saying, “Heck yeah, I read Rocco on Whispers, too.” Seeing how twitter is so important to them and he feeds it right up there…and he mentions details like that…multiple times.

    Just saying. if you don’t really know how to spin a pope who clearly defies your ideological categories, yeah, focus on the shoes.

    • dan

      “if you don’t really know how to spin a pope who clearly defies your ideological categories, yeah, focus on the shoes.”

      It does highlight the weakness and emptiness of the critics. One would think that folks who esteem logic and reason would have something deeper to contribute.

  • Mr W

    I was wobdering whether the guy who wrote Wizard of Oz was making a comment on popery when he wrote about the Ruby Slippers. Anyone know?

    • http://Www.SaintLouisAcupuncture.com Dr. Eric

      In the book, Dorothy wore silver shoes. They were changed to “ruby slippers” because the movie was going to be in color.

    • Mark Shea

      Extremely doubtful.

    • Thorny

      There is one tradition that says that Baum was writing an allogory about the election of 1896, in which silver based money was the major plank of William Jennings Bryan’s platform (Google “Cross of Gold” speech). Thus the silver shoes are the transport along the golden (“yellow brick”) road to take the innocent farmer (Dorothy) to the Emerald City (Washington DC or Wall Street, depending on the telling). As noted above, the shoes were changed to ruby for the movie, which meant that any such symbolism was lost in translation. Of course, many critics of Baum discount this allogory theory since it does not continue through the rest of the Oz novels.

      If I were pope, I would wear the red shoes. But if I ever become pope, it will be proof the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor.

  • Will J

    Is it the media that is fixated on the shoes or some specific bloggers?

  • http://barryhudock.wordpress.com/ Barry Hudock

    Amy’s primary point is right on: more than anything else that he was about, Benedict proposed Christ. If liturgy is his central concern, it’s because we encounter Christ more directly and effectively there than anywhere else. As Amy has pointed out well and many ways, anyone who bothered to really pay attention to him pre-2005 knew the whole God’s-Rottweiller thing was slanderous and/or silly, and was surely not surprised when “God Is Love” was became his first encyclical and the leitmotif of his pontificate.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s being honest to say that “The ‘changes’ that Benedict made to the liturgical direction of the Church are not expressions of his aesthetic or taste.”

    Also, I’d be willing to bet that the red-shoes-symbolize-blood thing is a meaning that was tacked onto the practice long after the practice was in place. I’d be willing to bet that theologian Kevin Irwin’s explanation of them is closer to the truth: “They are red shoes given to him [that is, to the pope in general] because Constantine gave him the privileges of being an emperor and he allowed him to wear red shoes and a red cape.” (Source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/01/pope-benedict-s-red-shoes-weren-t-prada.html)

    • Dustin

      The “shocker” tag is irritating, as if this were an astounding and sudden revelation, when plenty of us already knew the shoes were bespoke. But, yeah, much of the papal regalia is mixed up with the legacy of the pope as the temporal ruler of the heart of the old western empire. Francis, very slowly, is helping to dismantle that legacy.

      • Dustin

        I’ve commented too much on this thread. No one will read any of this. But I’ll leave this relevant link :


        • Claude

          Very informative article, thank you.

          I encountered the “red Prada shoes” meme at Andrew Sullivan’s blog (and have repeated it myself). As many of you are probably aware, Sullivan is convinced the Pope Emeritus is gay.

          • Peggy R

            Every body is secretly gay to the homosexuals.

            • http://chicagoboyz.net TMLutas

              If everyone bears a secret sexual identity, what does that say about the openly homosexual?

              • midwestlady

                Too much information.

    • midwestlady

      There it is again: The religion of Catholics is precisely the Mass, and nothing else.

  • Mitch

    All of the Cardinals used to wear red shoes, before Pius V papal attire was basically the same as cardinals attire. The popes kept the shoes when they started wearing white. Perhaps it is originally from imperial dress, however imperial purple is not so bright a scarlet. It is a darker shade of red just on the margins of violet but not crossing over to violet so even if it has its origins in imperial purple it is far from that color and meaning now. The blood of the martyrs explanation may have been a later accretion, but when something is maintained for its later symbolism rather than its former the link to the original symbolism is lost except as a historical note. The shoes don’t bother me one way or another, frankly the white soutane(cassock) is more bothersome. Just as Cardinals have completely scarlet soutanes and more plain black soutanes with red trim (one for formal occasions, one for less formal occasions) maybe too the pope should go with that model. For less than formal occasions black soutane with white trimmings and zucchetto, and all white for more formal occasions. Wear the red shoes with the white robes, don’t with the black.

    • http://coalitionforclarity.blogspot.com/ Robert King

      Just curious: what is bothersome about the white soutane? Does it convey some problematic symbolism that I’m not aware of?

      If simplicity and poverty is the motive, multiplying the kinds of clothes the pope wears would only add to the “clotheshorse” aspect of the pope’s public face.

      • Mitch

        Its a Dominican habit. I just don’t get it. The pope’s not Dominican. Okay so Pius V was and he liked his habit so much he kept it, I’m not sure why following popes kept it. If a Franciscan was elected and like the brown habit so much he kept it as pope should all popes following him wear brown?

      • Mitch

        Its a Dominican habit. I just don’t get it. The pope’s not Dominican. Okay so Pius V was and he liked his habit so much he kept it, I’m not sure why following popes kept it. If a Franciscan was elected and like the brown habit so much he kept it as pope should all popes following him wear brown?

        I just think that it wouldn’t hurt for the Pope to adopt the same two tiered dress of the cardinals. The all red (or in the pope’s case white) soutane would be for special occasions. It lets pope dress down while maintaining many papal traditions relating to attire. Its a Catholic both/and solution to my way of thinking, everyone gets their cake and can eat it too.

        • Dustin

          The Pius V thing is just a legend. Popes before him wore white cassocks, and Pius V himself did not cease to wear red.


          • Mitch

            I’m not saying that the Pius V “thing” is a sure fact but when you look around online all of the places that suggest he was not the originator of the white Cassock link back to that one website. Remember too that at times the mozzetta is worn with an alb, what we see in the paintings might not always be a cassock. For example in the painting of Pope Leo X you see cardinals with the same garment under their outer clothing as the pope, white sleeves with buttons. But we see no definitive evidence that the pope is wearing a white cassock, maybe — maybe not. My point being some guy on the internet looking at paintings does not authoritative historical findings make.

  • les

    in response to your headline about why… for Penance :>)

  • Kirt Higdon

    Prior to the sudden emergence of shoe color as a huge issue in Catholic politics, I would not have been able to tell you the color of shoes worn by any Pope.

    • Will J

      Who would have thought it was that important? But I think, to some, it is symbolic of possible liturgical changes. There is a liturgical divide.

    • midwestlady

      You’re right, Kirt. Catholics just want something to fling at each other, and shoes work as well as anything else, apparently.

  • Corey

    They talk about shoes when we profess (correctly) that the God of the Universe takes the appearance of Bread and Wine. No pun intended, but isn’t it telling when people tip toe around the fringe of what is really important? If people can’t see what is tip toeing and what is honest to God discernment of truth, then maybe we shouldn’t wring our hands over their confusion?