instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, June 18, 2004

Idols, idle and otherwise

Just as the dust here settles over whether Protestants have the Real Presence, Fr. Dowd adds Hindus to the question:
I asked her about the worship of this statue, and she replied that it wasn't really worship of a statue, but of the presence of the deity in the statue.... I said, "So it's a real presence, taking the place of the substance of the statue will keeping all the external characteristics." "Exactly!" was her enthusiastic response. This is what transformed the statue into a proper idol, worthy of true worship and not mere veneration.
This puts in a different light my joining in the condescension with which some contemporary Biblical commentators view the various Scriptural condemnations of idolatry. Isaiah satirizes the idol-maker:
Half of [a tree] he burns in the fire, and on its embers he roasts his meat; he eats what he has roasted until he is full, and then warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm, I feel the fire."
Of what remains he makes a god, his idol, and prostrate before it in worship, he implores it, "Rescue me, for you are my god."
A commentator says, "Of course, the pagans didn't think the idols themselves were gods, they merely represented the gods," and I say, "Yes, yes, poor old deutero-Isaiah's rhetoric got a tad overheated, what?"

Well, maybe not. And maybe the proper response to the Bible Christian's condemnation of the Eucharist as idolatry isn't, "No, it's not an idol, we believe the Eucharist is actually God Himself," but, "Yes, it is an idol, as the term would be used in comparative religious studies -- but then, so was Jesus during His earthly life!"