Monday, December 28, 2009

The Massacre of the Holy Innocents in European Art

European artists of the late Middle Ages painted the Massacre of the Holy Innocents in the landscape and clothing of their location and era. Giotto's painting, below, is one of the two best known.

The other well-known one is by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

I just discovered a third which doesn't get as much exposure (at least to my knowledge) but is well worth a look. It is by Duccio di Buoninsegna.

(The Innocents, all boys according to the biblical story, seem to have no genitals. Also, the mothers are as important as the babies in this picture.)

This one is part of a much larger multi-paneled work now known as the Maestà, a panel for the Siena cathedral's high altar. The term Maestà usually indicates a representation of Mary the Mother of Jesus, the Madonna, seated with the child and surrounded by angels, and there was in fact such a representation on the panel.

Written Dec. 28, posted Jan. 1 once the image insert function started working again. Click on the images to enlarge them and see more detail.

Holy Innocents, cont'd: agencies working for children

More on children in commemoration of the Holy Innocents.

United Nations agencies working for the safety and well-being of children include UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency (the initials stand for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.

UNICEF commemorated this year the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Eloquent photo essay, with quotes from the CRC, here.

In the U.S., the Children's Defense Fund is the leading advocacy organization for children. ("We champion policies that will lift children out of poverty; protect them from abuse and neglect; and ensure their access to health care, quality education, and a moral and spiritual foundation.")

Remember that old poster, War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things?

The World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010) website is here. Did you know that European countries violate children's rights on a daily basis? Every continent suffers from the scourge of violence against children. The Council of Europe's book on eradicating violence against children is here.

Remember also that domestic violence affects primarily women and children. (Need help? Here's the National Domestic Violence Hotline.) An international downloadable (free) book on domestic violence and its causes and consequences is here. Got it from the World Council of Churches' Decade site too.

Children who experience violence in their homes have a strong chance of growing up using violence.

They don't have to. We can interrupt the cycle of violence. Well-loved, healthy children have a good chance of growing up healthy and with alternatives to violence in their experience and in their hearts and minds.

Love a child. Work and vote with the welfare of children in mind. Pray with the images of children before your eyes. Honor the Holy Child and all children. Remember the Holy Innocents.


"Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York." Brown Brothers, ca. 1908. Records of the Public Health Service.
The National Archives.

"Two Latin girls pose in front of a wall of graffiti," Lynch Park, Brooklyn, NY, June 1974. Danny Lyon. 1999 print from the original 35mm slide.Records of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The National Archives.

Child rape victim from war in eastern Congo. Hazel Thompson, The New York Times. See related
article and slide show.

Son of domestic violence survivor. From The American Domestic Violence Crisis Line [different from the above hotline] via

Children posing for a photo, India. Target Magazine #2, 2007 (TEAR-Australia, "engaging Christians in God's work of justice and compassion")

This post was composed between Dec. 28 and Jan. 1 and posted Jan. 1 using a Dec. 28 posting date.

December 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents

The Feast of the Holy Innocents commemorates the boy-children under the age of two whose slaughter King Herod is said to have ordered around the time of the birth of Jesus. (See the Gospel according to Matthew, 2:16-18.)

It is a good day to remember the children of the world, many of whose lives are threatened by violence, lack of clean water, inadequate health care, and hunger.

Photo: Refugees who fled the conflict in Sudan's western Darfur region run for shelter during a dust storm at Djabal camp near Gos Beida in eastern Chad June 19, 2008. Photo by Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters. Nicked from here.

Resources and information in next post.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

December 27: Feast of John, Evangelist

El Greco, Saint John the Evangelist (ca. 1600)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Santo Stefano

It is the Feast of St. Stephen, but also Boxing Day, and I am celebrating the latter more than the former by feasting with friends, but here is an icon for our contemplation of the martyrdom of Stephen. Do we remember his life as much as his death?

Two years ago I posted a poem I had written about the Feast of St. Stephen many years ago (in the early 1980s -- yes, I am that old). Here is the link to it.

May we who believe the Gospel take risks for it.

Chiesa di Santo Stefano del Cacco, Rome

Friday, December 25, 2009

With those for whom there is no room

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.
Thomas Merton
"The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room"
from Raids on the Unspeakable

The paragraph continues: For them, there is no escape even in imagination. They cannot identify with the power structure of a crowded humanity which seeks to project itself outward, anywhere, in a centrifugal flight into the void, to get out there where there is no God, no man, no name, no identity, no weight, no self, nothing but the bright, self-directed, perfectly obedient and infinitely expensive machine. This is part of a much longer Christmas essay of Merton's on eschatology, fear, and joy.

Thanks to Charlie Hawes, who began a Christmas sermon with this passage a few years ago and fixed it in my mind.

Photographs by Mev Puleo (1963-1996). These and other photographs by Mev visible here are available for purchase. Please contact Mark Chmiel at for further information.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

For those living a difficult Christmas

Special thoughts and prayers for those who on this Christmas Eve are grieving, sad, lonely, brokenhearted, or depressed. Prayers and thoughts also for all those who live with addictions and for whom this is a particularly challenging season. May peace be with you all.

Coptic Nativity

Cross-posted on Facebook

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Karl Barth and Thomas Merton - and Mozart

Note: I am writing this post on the weekend of December 11-13 but back-dating it to the day of the anniversary, the day I thought of it.

Karl Barth, considered by many to be the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century, author of the The Epistle to the Romans and the Church Dogmatics and principal author of the Barmen Declaration, and Thomas Merton, writer, Catholic convert, Trappist monk, spiritual seeker and teacher, died on the same day in 1968, December 10, and today we remember them both.

I remember them especially through the lens of Merton's short essay (from his journal) at the beginning of Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, one of two books that influenced and moved me during my conversion to Catholicism, which was also my time as an M.Div. student at Harvard Divinity School. The other book was Thoughts in Solitude. The Seven Storey Mountain never did much for me.

Here is the essay.

Karl Barth had a dream about Mozart.

Barth had always been piqued by the Catholicism of Mozart, and by Mozart's rejection of Protestantism. For Mozart said that "Protestantism was all in the head" and that "Protestants did not know the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi."

Barth, in his dream, was appointed to examine Mozart in theology. He wanted to make the exam as favorable as possible, and in his questions he alluded pointedly to Mozart's masses.

But Mozart did not answer a word.

I was deeply moved by Barth's account of this dream and almost wanted to write him a letter about it. The dream concerns his salvation, and Barth perhaps is striving to admit that he will be saved more by the Mozart in himself than by his theology.

Each day, for years, Barth played Mozart every morning before going to work on his dogma.: unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros. While the other, theological self, seemingly more concerned with love, grasps at a more stern, more cerebral agape: a love that, after all, is not in our own heart but only in God and revealed only to our head.

Barth says, also significantly, that "it is a child, even a 'divine' child, who speaks in Mozart's music to us." Some, he says, considered Mozart always a child in practical affairs (but Burckhardt "earnestly took exception" to this view). At the same time, Mozart, the child prodigy, "was never allowed to be a child in the literal meaning of that word." He gave his first concert at the age of six.

Yet he was always a child "in the higher meaning of that word."

Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
New York: Doubleday/Image, 1965, 1966
pp. 11-12