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Sunday, May 4, 2014

An Exquisite Artwork and An Anti-Catholic Prejudice

Dream of the Magi by Gislebertus.
Capital of the Church of St. Lazare, Autun, France.
The other day an internet friend who is a Jehovah's Witness was proselytizing to another internet friend in a Facebook thread.

I don't have a problem with my friend being a Jehovah's Witness or with her proselytizing in my conversation threads.

It does really bug me a lot that she bashes Catholicism as part of her proselytizing. She knows I am Catholic.

Her particular angle that day was that the Catholic Church is anti-Bible.

My other Facebook friend is a liberal, an orgiast – he has talked on Facebook about attending orgies; not sure if this is actual truth or mere hyperbole – and a Christophobe. He frequently posts messages identifying Christians with every bad thing.

My Christophobe friend played Amen corner to my Jehovah's Witness friend. Oh, yes, he insisted. When the printing press was invented, the Catholic Church denounced it as Satanic.

I asked him to provide me with citations to support this claim.

He didn't have any citations.


I hear this a lot from Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christophobes, all of whom sometimes link arms in their bashing of the Catholic Church.

I grew up Catholic, in a house where there was probably a copy of the Bible in almost every room. But there were books in every room in our house, dozens of books per room, hundreds of books in the house. We were readers. We read the Bible. That never felt unusual.

We also attended mass and there are three, thematically-linked Bible readings in Catholic mass: one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels.

Protestants, JW and even Christophobes have tried to amaze and astound me with their Biblical knowledge, but they have yet to do so. I rarely hear something from the Bible that I haven't come across before.

My friend Robin mentioned to me recently that there is a verse in the Bible recommending the amputation of the hand of a woman who grabs a man's private parts while he is quarreling with her husband. I thought for sure that Robin was wrong. I googled it and I'll be darned – there is a verse mandating that very punishment for that very act: Deuteronomy 25 11-12. So, yes, there is stuff in the Bible with which I am completely unfamiliar.


The whole question of whether or not the Catholic Church prevented people from reading the Bible is complicated.

Yes, the Church wanted to use Latin, rather than the vernacular language.

I don't see the Church's affection for Latin as a criminal offense. I have lived in countries where just about everybody spoke at least two languages. I grew up in a house where three different languages – Polish, Slovak, and English – were spoken every day. A quick Google search turns up sites claiming that between sixty and seventy-five percent of the world's population is bilingual.

That Catholics centuries ago spoke their own local language and also Latin, an international language they could share with Christians from many countries, strikes me as a good thing, not a bad thing.

It's also true that the Church wanted to be careful about interpretations of the Bible. Christophobes bash this, but then they turn around and condemn the Church for not excommunicating this or that person they think should be excommunicated. Double standard.

But my JW and Christophobic friends' insistence that Catholics kept the Bible from people is simply not true.


In fact the Catholic Church communicated the Bible loudly and clearly, and, in an era when most people could not read, the Church did this in the most efficient way possible – with images. French art historian Emile Male called Gothic cathedrals Bibles in stone and glass, and indeed they were.

Gislebertus' depiction, above, of the dream of the Magi, takes my breath away. It is both virtuosic and heart-touchingly simple. It is as powerful, as gentle, and as eager to communicate as the angel waking and speaking to the magi. This Bible chapter in stone is typical of Gothic cathedrals.

Noah building his ark. Source

Basilique Sainte-Madeleine, Vezelay, France

Chartres Cathedral. The Tree of Jesse. Source
Everybody knows this story.  Lincoln Cathedral. Source

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