Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Slaughtered Innocents

No picture with this one. Sometimes, i have found a photo of a masterpiece to illustrate or begin an essay; sometimes i have found something nearby to photograph and present here; not to-day. The paintings by Rubens and the rest, do not do justice.

Then Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying:
A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. — Matthew ii. 16-18.

To-day is Herod's big day. Shakespeare refers to Herod, some eight times. Now, people remember Hamlet's acting advice, and his summation of the bad overacting: It out-Herods Herod. Shakespeare grew up in an England where catholicism was not extinguished. He had seen the Coventry and other mystery plays. This was a scene that played to people in town squares, where there was no stage. Men would mount wagons and carts. The role of Herod was as extravagant as could be mustered. Chaucer two centuries before mentions such an Herod. The Coventry Carol as a lullabye refers to it.
Herod, the king,
In his raging,
Chargéd he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight
All young children to slay
Herod was a child killer. Everyone knew his wickedness, and children would be scared of him, and fully knew the dread of the tale.

Shakespeare, in Henry V, brings up a more accurate reference to Herod:
...If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Desire the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters,
Your fathers taken by the silver beards
And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? Will you yield and this avoid
Or, guilty in defense, be thus destroyed? — Henry V, III. iii.
Henry V advises the town of Harfleur to surrender without a fight, without a siege. I can control my soldiers now, but not when they have been deployed, and when they are, only murder and rape will follow.

Now, for years Jonah House in Washington, D.C. has held retreats and demonstrations about the death wars and militarism bring about. Peaceniks that stand against violence, not far from the Pentagon will meet at St. Stephen and the Incarnation in D.C. Catholic Workers in Cleveland, to-day at 4 p.m., will have a small demonstration at Public Square, and then will march to the Cathedral of John the Evangelist.

Yes Rachel weeps for her children. This is an image that is used by some ministries to the unborn and the aborted. Taking of life is killing and murder, and great sadness follows. But in the scriptural text, it is the government that is killing the children. Whether it is the male children of Bethlehem, in order to include Jesus, or the mediæval knights of Herod in the plays, or the military and police of to-day, it is governmental action that causes the deaths.

Those children, two millenia ago in Palestine, were the first anonymous christian martyrs. Martyring of children has not stopped. Rachel still cries, and if she is in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other foreign land, which American hears her?

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