Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holy Innocents, second year, part II

Here is another reference to Herod's massacre of the Holy Innocents, from Revelation 12:4-5. 'And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.' This passage is, of course, popular with Catholics and Anglo-Catholics because of the honour it gives to Mary, the Mother of God.

Chesterton said, of the massacre of Holy Innocents, 'On the first Christmas, the demons also feasted, after their fashion.' And he ties together, brilliantly in my opinion, the massacre of the Holy Innocents to the horrible tradition of child-murder and child-sacrifice that had gone on, in the name of the dark god Molech and his other name, Baal the Lord, throughout the ancient Middle East and that had persisted as a dark undercurrent through the Old Testament. Like a dull, dirgelike refrain, the Old Testament, literally from Moses to Malachi, is full of the warnings against the cult of Molech. Roman history, too, is punctuated by the war against Carthage, and the way that Rome barely escaped destruction and obliteration at the hands of the Carthaginians, and their cult of child sacrifice to the demonic Molech: and Roman culture was marked forever by the memory of that trauma. As Elijah reminds us cuttingly, eventually every man must choose between God and Baal, between the one who chose to be born as a child and the one who chose to consume them.

For Herod was, not merely by habit and nature but also by ancestry, the descendant of those who had lived next door to the Jews, and had practiced the kind of child sacrifice and worship of the demonic that has provided a tempting siren song- the temptations of power, of mystery, and of evil- to Jewish culture for a thousand years. He was an Idumean, and his people had begun by worshipping Baal/Molech with child sacrifice, and providing an ever present temptation that men like Ahab and Manasseh fell victim to. Later, his people had converted to Judaism. Herod himself had been placed on the throne of Judaea by the Romans just one generation before Christ: when the last revival of an independent Jewish kingdom faded from the pages of history. The kingdom of the Hasmoneans had ruled with a feverish brilliance for a hundred years, after Judah the Maccabee, who had won his people's freedom from the Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes through a relentless and heroic campaign of guerrilla war and established an independent Jewish state for the first time in four hundred years: it was brought to an end a generation before Christ when the last male heir of the Maccabees was drowned in his bath by Herod. This was Herod the usurper, Herod the collaborator, Herod the incestuary, Herod the traitor, who chose at last to become Herod the murderer of children. In this way Herod not only embodied the evils of the future, and of all the mass murders of children that would plague the bloody twentieth century, but also the evils of the past, summing up in one last gasp the dark will of Molech and of all evil forces that strive to destroy children.

Chesterton points out something that our age has forgotten: that throughout history, the worship of power, of lust, of greed, and more generally of the dark spiritual forces that lie just under the surface of things, has usually involved a curious hatred of children. The red dragon, in its urge to destroy the Child, is symbolic not only of the Evil Power and its inspiration of Herod's massacre, but of a desire to destroy children in general. This is the real meaning of the worship of Baal and Molech, of the curious accounts of witches' sabbaths in the middle ages, of the Roman habit of exposing children on hilltops, of Gilles de Rais' orgies of child rape and murder, of the horrible serial killers of our time, of Milton Blahyi's resurrection of cannibal atrocities and child-sacrifice in the late twentieth century, and of the way in which in our time, Evil has tempted priests, clergymen, schoolteachers, and politicians to abuse and blight the lives of children in their care, and in which Evil has tempted those of us who live in wealth and comfort to ignore the cries and the suffering of those children who live in poverty and misery. If that red dragon could get its way, this would be a world without children, and a world without life.

Christ loves children, for as he said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for the kingdom of heaven is made of such as these.' And for just this reason, the evil power hates them. For it is the nature of evil to hate what is good, true, and beautiful, for no other reason than that it is One whose very core and very being is hatred of the good. Just as God is love, His enemy is pure hatred, and this hatred expresses itself supremely in the hatred of those who, by their perfect innocence and childish wonder and awe, express more clearly than anything else the kind of wide-eyed wonder and love that we should try to emulate in our own lives. To fully understand love, as Christ tells us in Revelation 2:6, it is necessary to understand evil too, and this is key to understanding evil: to know that evil, by its very nature, hates children, and strives to do them ill, and that for this very reason, we are bound to strive to love children, and to help them thrive whenever we can. Whether that means volunteering at a school, helping to care for one's nieces or nephews, donating money to children in the third world who suffer from poverty or disease, or doing good to children in other ways, we should know and remember that whenever we do any of these things, we are striking a blow for good and against evil: for God, and against Herod.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

No comments: