Forbidding Cliffs

I look at Fr Z’s blog exceedingly rarely, but I was curious to see if he had any comment on the deteriorating situation between Washington and Moscow via Damascus. I found none, only various topics of interest to some Roman Catholics and some presumably tasty dishes from his kitchen.

One thing did grab my attention.

indefectibleThis is an image to illustrate the belief of Roman Catholics in the indefectibility of the Church. St Peter’s Basilica stands on a solid rock in the midst of the sea, presumably the Rock of St Peter (“Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church”). The image needs a good look, because my first impression was that of a number of people in a boat who had moored their vessel to the rock. I thought: what a dangerous thing to do in such a rough sea, because the violent waves would crush the boat against the forbidding cliffs and kill everybody on board.

Looking closely, we see the Devil with his Dracula wings and men hauling away on the ropes. They appear to be standing, not in a boat, but on dry land – and trying to pull the rocky island into the sea, clearly a futile gesture. Therefore St Peter’s Basilica and the Rock are safe from any assaults of evil spirits and evil humans. That seems a nice thought for the doubting or triumphalistic Roman Catholic.

Two things did occur to me. Instead of being built on forbidding cliffs, the symbol of the Roman patriarchate could have been on an island with gentle sandy beaches so that those needing to land from the sea could do so and find a welcome. Many such symbolic images feature boats as we read in the Gospels. Christ was on a boat when the conditions were dangerous and caused fear. Yet, in this image, there is not one single boat trying to make landfall and find the safety of the Church. The fortress is forbidding and impregnable, not only to enemies but also to spiritual refugees or shipwrecked sailors and fishermen. It is almost as if the Church is saying to the world “I’m all right, Jack. Let the others eat cake“. I don’t think this is intended, but it looks almost like a Freudian slip! Were the Rock of Peter an island with sandy beaches and a protected port, it would be even safer from nasty little fellows trying to pull it down with ropes!

One thing I appreciate is an ecclesiology based on compassion and love for souls coming from anywhere or from any origins. It was certainly the view of the Apostles and the earliest Fathers of the Church. It was also the view of thousands of saints, living here on earth and in the world they desired all their lives. I am sure that they did not find a forbidding black cliff in Christ but a sandy beach or a port where boats could moor sheltered from the fury of the waves and swell of the sea.

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2 Responses to Forbidding Cliffs

  1. J.D. says:

    His message really amounts to “Matthew 16 speaks of the Roman Catholic Church therefore keep calm and carry on through all the cognitive dissonance being a member of the modern RC Church entails. ” It’s not convincing to me anymore than that black and white image is.

    Good points by the way. The picture makes the church seem like an impenetrable citadel that none can enter or leave.

    I always chuckle when I read about and view images from the pre conciliar era. The smug triumphalism was there in droves, but it’s just utterly unconvincing anymore. Men like Father Z fail to see that the Church of the Baltimore Catechism, pictures like the one above and Frank Sheed and Fulton Sheen apologetics tracts no longer exists.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This made me want to go back and see just what Domenico di Michelino did in depicting the Mountain in his 1465 fresco, La Divina Commedia di Dante – a combination of fairly gentle approach (I’m not sure how rough that vegetation is meant to be) and abrupt cliff (but with clefts to the viewer’s left) – I suppose I really should go back and reread the text to see how programmatic (or not) a depiction this is, before hitting ‘Post Comment’… (On the Church Militant side, it’s Duomo – and other buildings I can’t name at mere sight, some presumably church towers – is/are thoroughly immured, with what looks a sturdy fortified port in the foreground on the viewer’s right.) A good balance of access – even welcome – but not without – ‘challenges’, in both cases?

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