Saint John Henry Newman and the statuettes thrown into the Tiber River
By Andrea Tornielli
The theft and casting into the Tiber River of several wooden statues from the Amazon depicting a young pregnant woman is a sad episode that speaks for itself. Certain reactions to this violent and intolerant gesture, following its publication on social media, have been striking: "Justice is done", reads the enthusiastic headline on one Italian website. An image of motherhood and the sacredness of life, a traditional symbol for indigenous peoples representing the bond with our "mother earth", as described by Saint Francis of Assisi in his Canticle of the Creatures, was thrown away with contempt in the name of tradition and doctrine.
The new iconoclasts, who have gone from expressing their hatred through social media to acting in this way, might find it useful to re-read what was said by one of the new saints canonized a few days ago, Cardinal John Henry Newman. In his 1878 Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, concerning the adoption of pagan elements by the Church, Newman wrote:
“The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees, incense, lamps and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water, asylums; holy days and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields, sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the east, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the church”.