Thursday, January 21, 2016
The child Agnes
It is the relic of St Agnes, that tiny skull in her Church in the Piazza Navona, it is the skull of a small child, it haunts me.
It is a stark reminder of the very nature of Christianity, of the Church of the little ones, of both ancient and modern martyrs. The proto-martyrs of Christianity were the Holy Innocents, Daesh are still killing faithful Christian children or selling them into sexual slavery. To kill a child is a terrible act of inhumanity, it is the ultimate act of terror, because it is not so much the child one wants kill, the child is no threat, it is the terror that wants to transmit in child killing.
The real passion of St Agnes has been lost in legend, perhaps even her real relics have been lost and what we venerate is not the real Agnes but the legend of her martyrdom is terrible and persists in the Christian memory, central is the idea of the virgin violated, of the child who remains faithful.
It is the littleness of St Agnes, her weakness, her in-consequentiality that haunts me. In pictures she is shown as a teenager on the verge of maidenhood but relic is the skull of a child at the most four or five, probably younger. It is the skull of someone incapable of any kind of power, or of any kind of real choice, let alone any act of self defence. She is the meek lamb, the swaddled lamb, who like her Lord is led to her death, without the strength or power to resist.
She makes me question what we mean by 'virginity', it is not so much as the Liturgy might have us think, the bride who has made a choice for her heavenly Groom but rather the victim who has been chosen. It is not just bodily integrity, it is about powerlessness or more accurately a lack of any potency.
Christian ascetical practice is about choosing impotence: a monk or a nun living in monastery, without contact with the world chooses not to have power except the powerless power of prayer. Similarly fasting or keeping vigils or other corporal penances are about choosing weakness. Through exhausting bodies we exhaust the will,
Posted by Fr Ray Blake