Monday, 26 November 2012

capricorn or ex cathedra

The Pope recently published a biography of the early years of the historical personage of Jesus of Nazareth. Most of the focus and controversy concerning this book are on a couple of lines, where the Pope sides with the bulk of scholars and historians and says that the date and setting of the Nativity are probably wrong and the customs that have developed have lost the real dates and circumstances to history.
I am sure that the Pope says a lot of other things in his book and I think I would enjoy reading it, and it is an important distinction that the Pope is not speaking ex cathedra, pronouncing doctrine or the Church’s official stance, but is rather writing as a private academic. The sensational headlines miss those few lines and are instead making it seem that Catholics ought to disapprove of Christmas trees and crรจches. The year of Jesus’ birth may have been miscalculated or strategically positioned by an determined monk and the timing of the celebration, with all the trappings, may have been a substantial appeasement to standing traditions to ease holiday-substitution, but customs have become more than that and carry their own force of belief.
I don’t think the Pope would disagree, and the basis and rationale for the character of the celebration may be more subtle and a far more abiding mystery than mere politics, diplomacy or commerce. Though the administrative loss of a proper ruling planet for Scorpios seemed to garner more discontent, this focus and controversy (substantively, I think) though visible and timely I think withers in comparison with another potentially disenchanting demotion by a previous papacy: the downgrading of Saint George. The martyr and dragon-slayer lost his pivotal spot on the calendar since his veneration is in part based on said dragon, which makes the saint’s existence a bit suspect. Considering all the places, traditions and families that claim his patronage, I can well imagine some people were upset to lose this symbol and protector. Yet, no one dropped the convention or honours or took up a saint with more reliable credentials because of this, and instead maybe the meaning and regard became stronger for diminution.