He is a fairly common fixture around St. Blog’s, a passionate Traditionalist and a sometime critic of the Holy Father. As you may guess, we often conflict. However, he seems to me to be an honest man. One evidence of this is his refusal to bow to the Right Wing Lie Machine’s Panic du Jour over Our Lady of the Amazon. I link his piece on this ridiculous hysteria in the hope that those readers who have decided I am an apostate liberal (along with the Pope) will listen to one of their own:
Neo-traditionalist “Catholic” furor over alleged “idolatry” taking in place in Rome in connection with the ongoing Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region reached a fever pitch earlier this week, when vandals stole several indigenous Amazonian representations of a pregnant woman from the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina and cast them into the Tiber. The thief (or thieves) recorded the stunt in a video subsequently uploaded to YouTube, titled “Pachamama idols thrown into the Tiber river!”
Anyone who has spent an appreciable amount of time in religiously-oriented social media circles knows that the most vocal Christians (in this case, Catholics) are usually the most philosophically, theologically, historically, and culturally illiterate. (Alas, the same tends to hold true in political forums.) The recent manufactured outrage over “Pachamama” (
a South Americanan Andean, not Amazonian, Earth goddess) is no exception.
This latest manufactured outrage began with right-wing Catholic reaction to a prayer service held in the Gardens of Vatican City on October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, in anticipation of the synod’s formal opening two days later. It was at this ceremony that the images in question first made their appearance. As Catholic author Pedro Gabriel explains:
The high point of the ceremony, as the Vatican press release shows, was the planting of a holm tree from Assisi as “a visible sign of integral ecology” and to consecrate the upcoming synod to the protection and intercession of Saint Francis. There was also prayer and preaching, as well as a very interesting and moving segment where soil from the Amazon and other places on the planet (symbolizing a host of social problems worldwide) was added to the place where the tree was going to be planted.
Papal detractors on social media have, however, chosen to focus their attention on a five-minute segment at the beginning of the ceremony, where some indigenous leaders perform a ritual that that they interpret as being pagan in origin.
I will not recapitulate Gabriel’s two essays here, but they are well worth one’s read, as he appears to be literally the only Catholic author who has taken the time to watch the entire video of the hour-long ceremony, break it down into its constituent elements, and address each of the baseless “syncretism” charges thoughtlessly leveled by the critics.
In short, while it is unclear whether this indigenous icon of a pregnant woman is a representation of Mary, Mother of Jesus, or whether it is a symbolic, personified representation of “life, fertility, [and/or] Mother Earth,” there is literally no evidence that this image represents a pagan deity, let alone the notorious “Pachamama” of right-wing Catholic imagination. According to all the available evidence, these images (and others displayed alongside them) are mere representations of Amazonian culture, being displayed in churches and at prayer services during the synod to represent prayers for the work of the synod fathers, for the Amazonian peoples, and the Church’s mission to them, not qualitatively unlike the way Catholics and Pentecostals regularly and spontaneously pray for people and their intentions while holding or viewing a picture of them.
Confronted with the lack of evidence of express idolatry, the neo-traditionalists have resorted to claiming that the very personification of Earth or Nature as “Mother” is inherently pagan. Even the normally lucid Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has asserted that “‘Mother Earth’ . . . is a pagan expression. The earth comes from God and our Mother in faith is the Church.”
A man as well-educated as the eminent Cardinal Müller really ought to know better than to engage in false dichotomizing. It does not logically follow that because the Church is our “Mother in faith” par excellence that no other created entity can be called “Mother” in any other metaphorical sense. In fact, orthodox Christians have for centuries referred, verbally and artistically, to the earth as “Mother,,” without anyone batting an eye. This is because while our pagan ancestors all worshiped the earth as a female deity, we monotheists do not, so when we refer to the Earth as “Mother,” we do not mean this literally. We commonsensically regard such language as anthropomorphic.
Speaking of, or representing, the Earth in this way is nothing new to Christians, even if otherwise legitimate outrage over Pope Francis’s varied dissents from Catholic dogma have caused many in his flock to have (or pretend to have) short memories.
Orhideja Zorova, a professor at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje, has authored at least one paper on the subject which has been translated into English, “Medieval Simulacra of the Mother Earth in the Christian Tradition,” wherein she documents numerous late antique and medieval representations of “Mother Earth/Nature” in secular and sacred Christian art in the Byzantine East. As she notes in her introduction:
Within the sphere of the Christian doctrine the Earth is not existent as a [distinct person]. However, the representation of a female figure defined by the attributes and even by the name Gaia/Earth appears in the decorative solutions of the secular medieval material, as well as in the narrations of the Christian sacral art. In these contexts the figure is being determined as a personification of the Earth. Her iconography derives from the antique visual matrices which articulated the immanent and transcendent ideas of the primordial deity – Mother Earth.
Having in mind the hybridism of the Byzantine civilization – being a chrono-topic syncretism of Roman law and administration, of Greek culture and Oriental sensuality – the “pagan” remaining within its artistic system are not a lapse. Namely, every art begins by what is known as a borrowing from a higher culture, or, more accurately, by communing with it.
The article provides illustrations of about a dozen examples. Yet more (and a few of the same) are provided by Mirjana Gligorijević-Maksimović in her article, “Classical Elements in the Serbian Painting of the Fourteenth Century”:
The early fourteenth century marked a turning-point in the art of medieval Serbia. It was the time when influences of a new style emanating from Constantinople — the so-called Palaeologan Renaissance — began to reach the country. This renewed wave of reminiscences of classical ideas and forms, had an impact on the paintings in the Serbian churches which was felt until the end of the fourteenth century. . . .
The Earth was personified as a young woman — Gea, sometimes with a halo and sometimes with a veil or a crown (Gračanica), sitting either on a two-headed dragon (Bogorodica Ljeviška) or on the ground in compositions illustrating the Last Judgment (gallery of the Virgin Peribleptos in Ohrid, Gračanica). Elsewhere, the Earth is personified as a woman sitting on a fabulous reptile-like beast (Mateic), or holding a cave in an illustration of the Christmas Hymn (Žiča), or with a hoop-ocean in an illustration of Psalm 148 (Lesnovo), or again with a crown instead of Kosmos in the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Kučevište). The personification of the Desert in the form of a young woman with a manger (Žiča) or sitting on a lion (Mateic) was frequently represented together with the personification of the Earth in scenes illustrating the Christmas Hymn of Saint John of Damascus.
There is much much more and plenty of illustration besides. He’s done his homework.
Bravo, Mr. Giunta!