The Infant vs. the European Union: A Report from Prague
May 15, 2004
It was on a recent pilgrimage, taken by my son, and myself to visit the Holy Infant of Prague, that I realized something that I had avoided thinking about for a very long time. Christendom is dead. Everything, which we have traditionally understood by the idea of "Europe", has been entombed and now rests in the grandeur of the grave. This is not a thought that has come easily to one who has always held out "Christendom" as an ideal towards which all his actions have, in some way, been directed. This obvious fact, completely obvious to the traditional Catholic Europeans who live amongst the ruins of Christendom, should not have really been a surprise. If, as Belloc so correctly stated, Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe, I should have known that the apparent "disappearance" of the one would bring about the apparent "disappearance" of the other. The post-Communist restorers of the old city of Prague are simply like cemetery custodians, diligent about the appearances, but oblivious to the persons upon whose graves the old monuments sit. We know those persons. We love what they have loved. We yearn for the glory, which they have yearned for. Those who do not feel the leaden lump in their stomachs when they behold the barbarian tourists with cell phones [the Greek, barbaroi, literally meaning "those who do not speak the language"] tramping, with vacant eyes, over the tombs of Old Christendom, are surely no true sons of the Church.
A) The Chapel in Our Lady of Victory Church
But we were there to visit and pray before the Infant. "The Infant" is, of course, the statue of the Holy Infant of Prague. Maria Manriquez de Lara who was to marry Vratislav of Pernstyn, prince of a Czech royal dynasty, brought it to Prague in 1556. By bringing the statue of the Infant Jesus, garbed, not like the Babe of Bethlehem, but like the Infant King of Kings who was worshipped by the Magi, Maria Manriquez was extending to the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, the devotion to the Infant King that had emerged in Spain due to the mystic spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. This reformed Carmelite spirituality emphasized the devotion to the Holy Childhood and the humane littleness of God's greatness as a means of establishing the proper relationship of creatures to their Creator. This mysticism found a way to express these spiritual values in the representation of the Holy Child as King, Whom only the "little ones" are willing and able to worship.
The statue itself, and the chapel and church in which it is housed, are perfect expressions of both the traditional Catholic Faith and of the civilization, which that faith built. The side chapel, in which the Infant is enshrined in glass, is itself a perfect representation of Catholic theology and Catholic devotional life. It is arranged to display how the Infant King is the unifying element of both the earthly and heavenly trinities. Horizontally, there is the rendering of the earthly trinity of persons. Our Lady, on the Infant's right, points to the innocent holiness of her Son. St. Joseph, on the Infant's left, gazes in rapture, not at the Infant statue itself, but at the Holy Name of Jesus, rendered in Hebrew, which is displayed over the glass case. The litany and devotion that is most attached to the Infant of Prague is that of the Holy Name of Jesus. The feast of the Infant is precisely the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 2nd.
In typical Czech Baroque fashion, God the Father looks grandly and joyously down upon the Incarnate Logos from a canopy extended over the glass case. In His hands is the globe of the world, indicating the fundamental theological and philosophical reality concerning the relationship between Creator and Creation; God upholds everything other than Himself in existence and everything, at each moment, depends upon His most gracious Will. All Sovereignty in Heaven and Earth is, therefore, in His hands. Finally, expressing the love of the Father for the Eternal Son, and being Himself a Divine Person, the Holy Ghost, in the form of a radiant dove, hovers over both the praying pilgrims to the shrine and over the Trinitarian scenes.
B) The Vestments of the Royal Infant
It is in the very vesture and gestures of the Infant statue that we find expressed the institutional and spiritual realities upon which Christendom was based and to which St. Pius X said that we must return to if we are to truly "restore all things in Christ." The wardrobe of the Infant of Prague resembles liturgical vestments both of a priest and a deacon. The inner garments resemble an alb, which is covered by a dalmatic over which is worn a miniature cape, resembling a liturgical cope. The priestly character of these vestments, clearly expressing the fact that Our Lord was born Eternal High Priest and founder of the everlasting priesthood of the New Covenant, is further emphasized by the fact that the vestments are changed according to the liturgical season, a custom dating from 1713, the year which the faithful wished to render homage to the Holy Infant for His protection during a cholera epidemic.
What must, also, be recognized is that the vesture of the Infant King is meant to portray imperial coronation garb. The orb and the crown, placed above the head of the Infant, and the dalmatic, which the Infant wears, were all used in the coronations of the Holy Roman Emperors, chief lords of Christendom and lay protectors of the Church and the Papacy. As part of the coronation ceremony of the emperors, the emperors were ordained to the sub-deaconate in order to express their perfect union with the Church and, even, the spiritual and sacramental nature of their office. Thus were the supreme institutions of Christendom perfectly expressed in the garb of the Infant Omnipotent King. One last note concerning the gesture of the Infant; his gesture of blessing with his right hand is in a form reserved for the supreme pontiff. That is, the first two fingers are upraised to symbolize the two natures of Christ, while the folded thumb and last two fingers touch each other representing the union of the 3 Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity. So we have here all the institutions that made the Old Christendom what it was: the papacy, the royal/imperial office, and the sacred priestly hierarchy. Finally, the chivalric orders, once a staple of Christian Order, are represented by the Cross of the Knightly Order of Malta which surmounts the globe that the Infant carries in his left hand. This same cross embosses many of the shrines and side altars in the church of Our Lady of Victory in the city of Prague.
C) The Knights vs. Cardinal Vlk
It is on the topic of the Knights of Malta, the most numerous of the chivalric orders still in existence, where the subject of the Holy Infant of Prague meets the contemporary European and Czech situation. Relatively recently, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Vlk (In Czech, the name translates, aptly enough, as "wolf") has relieved the Knightly Order of Malta from its guardianship and maintenance over the church of Our Lady of Victory in which the statue of the Infant of Prague resides. The Cardinal has given over the church to a radical group of Spanish Carmelites, who are more in accord, than are the Knights, with the Cardinal's understanding of Catholic devotional life and the Church. An example of the conflict between the, now rather mysterious, Knights and the Cardinal, is their struggle over the traditional Roman Mass. The Knights have petitioned the Cardinal to grant them the "right" to use this Mass, while the Cardinal, showing himself completely hostile to the traditional Catholic Mass, has so far refused. The problem for the Cardinal is that the Knights of Malta are considered by international convention to be a sovereign state, and, hence, technically outside his jurisdiction. The church in the headquarters of the Knights, just near the famous Charles Bridge, is one of the only church in the city that does not have a table as a Modernist replacement for the traditional altar.
D) Concert Halls and the Ghost of Gramsci
The condition of most of the churches of Prague is lamentable. Normally the Baroque splendor of the interior has been maintained (e.g., monumental statuary of the saints, a visual and psychological sense of being drawn upward along with the Church Triumphant, which surrounds you). The exteriors have even been renovated, and there is a new effort to brighten and enliven the old architecture. However, it should not be forgotten that Prague emerged from 40 years of Communist domination during which those who denied the Divinity, which is proclaimed throughout every inch of the old city, successfully claimed the spiritual core of the city. For any one who visits Prague with any historical and religious perspective, one would have to question the idea that "the West" won the Cold War here. If "winning" means that the Czechs can now vote for an amalgam of political parties that have, just recently, sacrificed their nation's own sovereignty to the bureaucrats of Brussels, then, perhaps the "forces of liberty" have indeed won. If to "win" means that one's fundamental values and outlooks have been adhered to by the peoples, over whose souls the war was fought, then we have to ask ourselves whether the materialistic and atheistic Communists of the post-World War II period did not, in fact, achieve a stealth victory. The tourists who flood into the emptied churches to hear Vivaldi and Bach, bear testimony to the spiritual triumph of the "reformist" Communist Antonio Gramsci who held that Communism, in order to ultimately prevail, must appropriate the culture of the Western nations rather than invade those nations with red-starred tanks. Churches as concert halls or museums, Massless masses, and a populace, uniformly garbed in the workers' uniform of the West "blue jeans," seeking the "good life" by attempting to acquire material possessions. What more could the intelligent Marxist ever want?
There are two reasons why so many of the churches in Prague are closed, turned into concert halls or into museums. First, there is the catastrophic decline in religious practice in the city since the advent of "liberty" in 1989. It has been estimated that attendance at mass, for population of the city is down to 2%. In the Czech Republic as a whole, the percentage practicing the faith is down to 8%. Cardinal Vlk precipitated the turn over of the churches to secular usage by ordering a census to be taken at each church in the city in order to determine whether or not their maintenance was economically and ecclesiastically "feasible." Most were not. Second, after the fall of Communism, but not Socialism, in 1989, the religious orders were allowed to return to the nation. Since, however, their ranks had been so decimated by the "reforms" of Vatican II, the numbers of religious could not staff all the churches that the religious orders, prior to World War II and prior to the aggiornamento of Vatican II had maintained throughout the length and breath of the city. As a very significant side note, not one church has been turned over to those who would like to use the building for the purpose for which it was built, a sacred place for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Sacred Victim in accordance with a liturgy sanctioned by the immemorial and inspired wisdom of the Catholic Church. To prove the old anecdote that "demons hide behind deserted altars," Cardinal Vlk, recently, gave the church, which is the most perfect example of the Czech baroque, St. Nicholas' (it contains, above the main altar, a miraculous statue of the much venerated saint), to an American film company so that they could film a vampire movie in it. The local faithful report many acts of sacrilege and desecration as a result of this handover. It seems here that Cardinal Wolf, Count Dracula, and the Old Serpent are in full ecumenical accord.
E) Charles Bridge and the Jew that didn't get away
One of the most fascinating aspects of the city of Prague ("fascinating," of course, for those who see in the city more than just a recent extension of Euro-Disney) is one of the bridges across the Vltava River. This bridge now made up of a grimed and blackened stone dates back to the middle of the 14th century. Emperor Charles IV, scion of the imperial house of Luxembourg and both Holy Roman Emperor and rightful King of Bohemia, constructed it. This king stamped his image and imagination on the entire city.
Not only the historic bridge, but also the city university (Charles University), and the traditional seat of governmental authority Prague Castle (whether housing Charles himself, the Habsburgs, or the New Age pseudo-dissident Vaclav Havel) all bear his mark. Outside the city, in the pastoral countryside of Bohemia, Charles constructed his castle "get away" Karlstejn, meant to be a place of quiet, reflection, and prayer for the great monarch. For a reason as yet unclear, only kings, knights, and priests were allowed into the royal fortress; women were strictly forbidden.
During the 30 Years War, which was both "over" Bohemia and fought throughout Bohemia, the Protestant Swedes had invaded the city and taken Prague Castle. They were planning to cross the Vltava River to seize the other part of the Old City. Since the Catholic Habsburg Emperor's army was not in the city, the bridge had to be defended by a Jesuit priest, who put on the armor of a knight and organized his own students and the local town-folk in a successful defense of the bridge.
The connection between Christian chivalry and the Charles Bridge extend beyond this one heroic case, however. Besides being entrusted to the guardianship of the Czech Order of the Knights of the Red Cross and Star, who have their headquarters on the banks of the Vltava at the gate of Charles Bridge, there is a statue along side the bridge, commonly mistaken for a representation of St. George, of a young knight with armor on and brandishing a sword. This is, actually, the knight Brunswig, who emerges from the Burgundian chronicles and who is connected to the Arthurian legends of the Round Table. There is an old tradition, which holds that the sword of Brundswig will emerge from the bridge when the last knights of St. Wenceslaus cross it. We wait for that day with hopeful expectation.
The statuary that lines the sides of the bridge expresses the Catholic mystique that envelops the entire city. Not only do we have the oldest statue on the bridge, representing a 15th century priest St. John Nepomucene, but there is, also, marked out by a cross on which there are present five stars, the place where the much venerated martyr was thrown into the Vltava river upon order of a Bohemian king. According to accounts, St. John was the confessor to the queen. When he refused to reveal the contents of her confession to the king, the king had him tortured and then thrown, whether dead or barely alive is not known, into the Vltava River. This martyrdom, done in secret to avoid popular reaction, soon came to light when the body of St. John Nepomucene floated to the banks of the Vltava with his head surrounded by a crown of 5 stars; symbolizing, for the people, both his sanctity and his devotion to the Blessed Mother of God. The Jesuits popularized his cult. One of the reasons they did this was to counteract the folkic appeal of another Jan, this time Jan Hus, a 15th century follower of the English heretic John Wycliff, who was condemned by the Council of Constance in 1415 and executed for heresy. It was the followers of Hus, Utraquists, Taborites, and, even the nudist Adamites, who initiated what can be called the first revolution in Christian Europe.
At the other end of Charles Bridge, we find a Crucifixion scene that, also, expresses both the ideals of Christian civilization and the vehemence with which her enemies assail and revile her. On many of the days that I visited this scene on the bridge, there were Jazz bands and oblivious tourists apparently reenacting the mayhem and scorn surrounding the Crucifixion of Christ Himself. Surrounding the arms of the Cross and, hence, the visage of Our Lord, are Hebrew letters. Initially, I thought this might have been a modern example of Cardinal Vlk's dialogue with our Jewish brethren. However, it was pointed out to me that the letters were an expression of the words "Holy, Holy, Holy" in Hebrew. The lettering dates back to the time in which a Jew was caught blaspheming the Blessed Sacrament while it was in procession though the city. Since this was against the law, the Jew was made to pay a fine that went to pay for the lettering, which continually echoes the divine praises. This positive example of Jewish-Christian dialogue was subsequently "apologized" for and bemoaned, in the year 2000, by a local Jewish organization, the Cardinal, and the city of Prague itself. In a plaque, which is usually covered by the bejeaned legs of a foreign adolescent, it is explained that this lettering is the result of "unsubstantiated claims" against a Jew and that the words themselves were meant to humiliate the Jewish community. Here the Church authorities have gone along with this attempt to present objective praises of the Crucified God as mere historically conditioned legal nastiness. But, of course, in Europe now, the Holy Empire itself is portrayed as nothing more than historically conditioned legal nastiness. Lest you are ever moved to doubt that the old world was more tawdry than our own on account of the architectural and artistic grandeur which is everywhere present, there is always the omnipresent signs advertising the "Museum of Medieval Torture Devices" to "wake you up" from your romantic dreams of chivalric and ecclesial glory and cause you to thank the "forces of history" for the McDonald's which rests upon the spot where the Iron Bull once stood.
The most fascinating example of the use of architecture to express the integration of the faith with ever aspect of a man's life, including his view of the cosmos as a whole, is the gate of the Charles Bridge on the East Bank of the Vltava River. The Gothic arch itself, through which one enters onto the bridge, is meant to symbolize the earthly realm. This realm culminates with the statues of both Emperor Charles IV himself and his son and heir Wenceslaus IV. These images placed in niches in the part of the bridge in which the arch changes into the entablature. Above the earthly realm with its temporal lords of empire and kingdom, are portrayed two episcopal patrons of Prague, St. Sigismund and St. Adalbert. These represent the spiritual domain with its precedence over the temporal. Such is the true cosmology and political science of Christendom. For the tourists, who do not look up, this architectural marvel passes unnoticed as one looks through the souvenir shops, which riddle the New Prague. Also, on this entablature area over the arch, you can see a stone lion with a paw reaching down towards a shield that has upon it the enflamed eagle of St. Wenceslaus. On the feast of St. Vitus, Martyr, Patron of Prague and the saint to whom the cathedral in Prague Castle is dedicated, one can see the shadow of the overhanging lion cover the eagle of St. Wenceslaus. The lion, representing St. Vitus, covers the eagle that represents the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia and, since the 13th century, the Holy Roman Empire. The symbolism here is clear. The lion extends its "kiss" to the eagle expressing the fact that a nation shall know peace only when charity reigns and when all are united by the Faith.
This amazing "kiss" happens on the Feast of St. Vitus on June 15th. What is even more amazing, and indicates the sacral nature of the old cosmology, is that, on this same day, when you stand at the opening of the gate you can see the sun set into Prague Castle in the distance in exactly the spot where lies the tomb of St. Vitus himself. In order to achieve these astronomic effects, Charles IV had to move the bridge slightly so that the two gates do not quite line up with each other. On this one spot, sun and shadow express the moral unity of Christendom and the Church Militant's unity with the Church Triumphant. All this, expressed in an age in which the sun truly "set" and hearts truly "rose."
F) European Union: The New Democratic Totalitarianism
When looking at post-Communist Central Europe, it is important to see that a "shadow" haunts the "free," "liberal," and "tolerant" Europe of the beginning of the 21st century; it is the shadow of Gramscian Eurocommunism. Antonio Gramsci was an Italian Communist who was imprisoned by Mussolini during the Fascist regime. He is the grandfather of Eurocommunism on account of his opposition to the tactics used by Stalin to achieve worldwide Communist domination. He differed with Stalin because of Uncle Joe's belief that the Red Army was the proper vehicle to achieve a Marxist society in Europe. Gramsci, coming from a profoundly Catholic culture and society, understood that there must be a penetration of the mind of the West before a Marxist society could be achieved. The stratagem devised by Gramsci was to secularize Western European societies in order to deracinate the European soul, dismantling the Catholic heritage from within the minds of European men and women. If a materialistic mentality could be universally achieved, if you could get man to live for the day, you would have a Marxist in a Marxist society even if there should be no tanks in the streets.
What has, apparently, happened in Europe since the fall of the post-World War II Iron Curtain in 1989, is the penetration of "Eastern" society (i.e., post-Soviet) by technology, Big Macs, Kentucky Fried Chicken, parliamentary democracy, and the doctrine of religious liberty; however, what you really have is the convergence of Western liberal materialism with Eastern socialist materialism. This convergence has produced a state in which the old religious and moral sensibilities of the people, in both non-Communist and post-Communist countries have been almost completely expunged.
When speaking in Prague to Czechs, all of whom have suffered in some way under the Communist system, one finds the view that many things have gotten worse under the liberal democratic system. Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist Communism is viewed as a stage in an unfolding process of secularist deconstruction of Western Man; liberalism, especially the totalitarian liberalism and "tolerance" of the European Union, is an even more advanced state in which things have been achieved in 15 years that the Communists could not achieve in 40 years. In fact, the Communists, working off a bourgeois 19th century understanding of respectability and order, even upheld certain values which liberalism has now completely exiled from the lives of the people. A basic concept of right and wrong (even though the Communists twisted and distorted the notion of "right"), discipline amongst the young in families and in schools, and high, enforced standards of academic achievement are just some of the values mentioned. Ironically enough, even though perfectly expected by the anti-liberal thinkers and popes of the 19th and 20th centuries, religion even fared better, in the hearts of the people, during the years of persecution. As I have mentioned, "free" religion has disappeared from the hearts of all but a small percentage of the people. During the Communist years, religion could be practiced within church walls, but would not be allowed in society. In such circumstances, in Czechoslovakia (N.B., a country which, of course, no longer exists), parents who wanted their children to be taught the catechism would have to submit the names of the children to the government. These would then be excluded from all access to higher education and, therefore, to lucrative careers. Many parents still signed up their children during those years.
It is the decided opinion amongst those to whom I spoke, that, during the years of Communism, it would be very difficult to find a man or woman who actually believed in Communism. Most all were opportunists who wanted a place and did what they were told. This showed itself to be the case after 1989, and even to this very year, when you saw (and continue to see) the very same men, involved in the apparatus of the Soviet State, fulfilling similar roles in the liberal democratic multi-party era. Note that the Communist Party in the Czech Republic, despite its history, continues to receive the support of 15% of the voters in democratic elections. This is substantially higher than the 10% received by the oxymoronic Christian Democrats. What is known, also, is that the Soviets and their minions killed off the true anti-Communists in the 1950s, during the years of fiercest persecution. The "dissidents" of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we think of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, were men either acting as deep plants of the KGB in supposedly anti-Soviet bodies or men filled with ideas that were only a variation of the materialistic secularist dreams of Socialism. All of these "reformers" have led Europe, from the Elbe to the Black Sea, into the arms of the European Union.
When I was in Prague, the Czechs were a couple of weeks away from entrance into the new super-state of the European Union. On May 1st, 10 former Communist nations were incorporated into that Union. Apparently, the Czech people were not supportive or enthusiastic about entering this Union in which 80% of legislative decisions for the Czech Republic would be made by the European Parliament or the bureaucracy in Brussels. They were, however, resigned to the "fact" that if they did not join they would be penalized by the member states. It is a frightening fact that the European Union, together with all of its New World Order Liberalism and Secularism, is supported, not only by the economic and political elite of Europe, but by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church itself, its greatest proponent being the Holy Father.
What struck me when I heard about the proposals to be included in the new European Constitution, scheduled to be reconsidered this summer, is the fact that the secularized, thoroughly liberal European elite, were attempting to form a "new man" like no other nation-state or revolutionary government has ever done. For those who are devoted to the "discrimination" of an all-male Church hierarchy and priesthood, along with those committed to the "intimidation" of women through the Pro-Life Movement, there is much to be feared, for unless something happens on a grand-scale, the future shall be grim. Not only is the national sovereignty of the 25 nations of the European Union completely compromised and bartered away, but also the opening of European borders means that waves of foreign workers coming into a nation can legally transform the character of that nation. In such a system, it would be illegal to try to maintain the coherence of ones' own country.
Such current realities are only the beginning, however. According to some reports, the new European Constitution will include a section making it illegal to in any way "pressure" a woman into having a child. In other words, the Pro-Life movement would be rendered illegal in Europe. Same-sex marriages would be legalized throughout the EU. Finally, and with the greatest potential power of cultural and religious destruction, are the policies of absolute non-discrimination. You could not, for instance, exclude a person from a job because they were sodomites or because they held or did not hold a certain religion. One feels hard pressed to see how this could not be applied to seminaries, churches, and Catholic schools. Could you exclude a Hindu from employment in a Catholic school? Could you exclude women from the seminary or from an institution like the priesthood? Even when it was illegal to have an institution that was exclusive?
The "man" formed in this culture will be the New Man. Any specific "European Man" would be banned. It is a situation even more Orwellian then we, so far, have had to deal with in the United States. The product, forseeably, would be an emasculated non-descript, non-judgmental Liberal Man. Virility would be exactly that which is made to be illegal.
It is to the 30 to 40 traditional Catholics in the Holy Infant's city of Prague, that I dedicate this article. They showed me the true character of this ancient Catholic and imperial city, along with unveiling for the eyes of my mind the Europe, which is, apparently, to come. I am especially indebted to Michal Semín and Petr Bahnik of the organization Lipovy kríž (Lime-Tree Cross; the lime tree is the national tree of the Czechs and the cross stands for the universal realm of Christendom) for their great generosity and charity towards myself and towards my son. Let the sword arise and Wenceslaus' warriors come again!