The Feast of the Holy Innocents

This article was originally published in 2010:

Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.

Herod killed in order to protect his position. Fearing that the newborn King would supplant him, he ordered the death of anyone of the right gender and close to the age that the magi had told him.

Soldier with foot on naked baby, about to kill it, as mother clings to his legIn declaring them martyrs; in setting up a feast day to honour them, the Church is reminding us that God’s ways are not our ways. These little children didn’t do anything to deserve death. They didn’t live long enough to do anything, good or bad. Yet they are given the title ‘martyr’ along with St Stephen, whose feast day was yesterday, and who was the first to die witnessing to faith in Jesus, and St Thomas Becket, whose feast day is tomorrow. These two martyrs were movers in the currents of history, changing hearts and lives, offending the powerful and inspiring the devout.

The Holy Innocents, by contrast, were “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns. They stand for all those, throughout human history

…who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette… or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes (that is, according to the true value of things), no-one is unimportant, no-one is unnecessary, no-one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.

On a more personal level, the honour given to the Holy Innocents reminds us that if we suffer or even die for God’s sake, it has value even if we have little or no say in it ourselves. Honouring them effectively honours also the martyrdom of the people these children could have become, and their children’s children as well. (Universalis.com)

Today’s world is an unsafe place for millions of children. There are many Herods who will kill anyone who threatens their position, and in many places around the globe, children are orphaned, or killed themselves, in wars of one kind or another. The massacre of the innocents also plays out in the abortion industry.

And today, as in Herod’s day, those who order the deaths rely on the complicity of others: the soldiers who carry out the orders, the advisers who agree the deaths are necessary, the neighbours who turn to look the other way – all who put their own positions, their own comfort and lifestyle, ahead of the needs of these little innocents.

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About joyfulpapist

JoyfulPapist is an adult convert to Catholicism, with a passion for her God, her faith, and her church.
This entry was posted in Church History, Pro Life, Saints and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Feast of the Holy Innocents

  1. kathleen says:

    A very moving article Joyful, with some profound reflections that give plenty to meditate on.

    My sons were born within the Christmas season, and I remember hugging them close to me when recalling in horror Herod’s wicked deed this day. I pray for those mothers who 2000 years ago had their beloved baby boys wrenched from their arms and slain.

    Yet, as you pointed out, it is happening today too in so many ways.

  2. toadspittle says:

    .
    ” There are many Herods who will kill anyone who threatens their position, and in many places around the globe, children are orphaned, or killed themselves, in wars of one kind or another.”

    Toad agrees on this. Two thousand years later, and we have got precisely nowhere.

  3. golden chersonnese says:

    joyful, earlier in your post on the Good Thief I suggested that Dismas, the traditional name given him, must have been our first saint through the baptism given him by Our Lord as he stood on the cross beside Him.

    It seems now that these innocent babes may have preceded St Dismas through their baptism of blood, though they’d have had to wait thirty-odd years, but what is that in eternity?

    http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/12/holy-innocents-received-most-excellent.html

  4. joyfulpapist says:

    Yes, Golden Chersonnese. Thanks. I remember agreeing with you about Dismas, but these little ones certainly were first.

  5. kathleen says:

    “The massacre of the innocents also plays out in the abortion industry.”

    Absolutely! Who is tinier, less able to defend himself, more totally dependent on another from whom he draws life…… than the unborn infant. He/she is truly a Holy Innocent.

    The video of an abortion on Maryla’s great post, “The Silent Scream”, still haunts me.

  6. toadspittle says:

    “It seems now that these innocent babes may have preceded St Dismas through their baptism of blood, though they’d have had to wait thirty-odd years, but what is that in eternity?”

    Says Golden.

    What would happen to an innocent babe in the next village who avoided the baptism of blood, (!) but died of smallpox, say?

    Quite right about ‘eternity.’ Absolute ages!

  7. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad queries: What would happen to an innocent babe in the next village who avoided the baptism of blood, (!) but died of smallpox, say?.

    Baptism by smallpox, you think, dear Toad?

    Anyhow, the same question would apply to all the Just that preceded Christ, woonit?

    After the Lord’s Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, there must have been not only the Holy Innocents and Dismas gaining an entrée, but a procession of thousands upon thousands crossing into the realms of paradise, including any innocent babes that had most unfortunately caught the pox.

    By the way, baptism by water, blood or desire (as in the link to the new theological blog) kinda makes salvation available to all, dunnit, Toad, which should make you immensely pleased.

  8. toadspittle says:

    Golden, Who was it who said..

    “Unless you are baptised of water and The Holy Ghost, you shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven”?

    Name’s on the tip of my tongue, too…

  9. toadspittle says:

    “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. “

    Says a piece Golden posted. Does that hold good for Moslems, Jews and Aztecs too?
    Suppose they’ve never even heard of Christ? Can happen. Has. Does.

  10. golden chersonnese says:

    So who painted this then, ‘Christ in Limbo’, dear Toad?

    It has a NT theme too, Toad.

    (Answer, Agnolo di Cosimo, 1503 – 1572, ‘Il Bronzino’)

  11. toadspittle says:

    .
    Golden.

    1: You didn’t answer Toad’s question. Which was a serious one.

    2: Toad thought Limbo, (for which he was beaten at school for being skeptical about) no longer existed. Nobody told Jesus, it seems. Maybe it’s just outdated. Like typewriters.
    So what happens to all the unborn babies now? Or have we just covered that. Baptism by smallpox, or whatever.Very confusing for a Toad of little brain, I fear.

    3: Lovely picture. And you are so clever to be able to put it on CP&S just like that.

  12. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad thought, Limbo, (for which he was beaten at school for being skeptical about) no longer existed. Nobody told Jesus, it seems.

    Toad, there seems to have been tow Limbi, Limbus Patrum and Limbus Infantium.

    Limbus Patrum (Limbo of the Fathers) was the condition all the Just before Christ brought His Redemption. It is quite biblical. In Luke it is called the Bosom of Abraham (Lk 8:29, Lk 16:22) and it is also referred to in Paul (Eph 4:9) and Peter (1 Peter 3:18-20), not to mention Tradition and the OT also.

    I suppose it no longer is as it has served its purpose.

    The Limbo of Infants is the tricky one which the present HF is having thoughts about.

  13. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad worries: Does that hold good for Moslems, Jews and Aztecs too?
    Suppose they’ve never even heard of Christ? Can happen. Has. Does.

    Well, let’s hope that as these Aztecs and things didn’t receive baptism by water or by blood, they might have been eligible for baptism by desire, (plan c , so to speak).

    Only God is in a position to say something definite on plan c baptisees, my dear Toad.

  14. manus2 says:

    Toad,

    We’ve discussed this before. Christ’s descent into “Hell” is in the Apostle’s Creed. The Harrowing of Hell is outside of time, so theoretically excluding no-one prepared to take up the offer. And Christ can baptise whom he chooses.

  15. toadspittle says:

    “Only God is in a position to say something definite on plan c baptisees,
    And Christ can baptise whom he chooses.”

    Right. That’s sorted that, then. The only response Toad could make is, “How do you know that?” but there’s no point, so he won’t.

    But he stubbornly feels that Christ’s own words, being a bit unpalatable, if you believe them – are being side-stepped in favour of ‘inclusivity.’

  16. manus2 says:

    Toad,

    If we assume God is just, then salvation must be theoretically available to all. The scriptural evidence (as discussed for example by von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope “That All May be Saved”, pp 20-21) is mixed: we all know Christ’s clear statements on judgement, but these are tempered by other statements in the New Testament, for example Romans 11:32 “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” – and there are plenty of them, which I can dig out if you choose. Von Balthasar is accused by some of universalism, but all he states is that we all stand under judgement now – the choice is placed before us.

    I also have a copy of Ratzinger’s Escatology, but I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet.

    As ever the Catholic, as opposed to Protestant, approach is to consider the whole of Scripture, as meditated upon through the tradition and teaching developed over the centuries. This avoids the personal bias that arises when an individual is more familiar with, or more struck by, some passages rather than others.

    The modern twist is to insist on salvation on our terms, rather than God’s – that’s what I would deem rather too “inclusive”.

  17. manus2 says:

    But Toad, don’t you think the Harrowing of Hell would make a great film, say, by Mel Gibson? I think “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper would make a great backing track, with very little lyrical adjustment.

    But then anything by Little Mel is likely to get Big Lemons from Toad, I fear. And there are worse anagrams, too, with which Toad is all to familiar, I gather.

  18. toadspittle says:

    Big Lemons! Magnificent!

    Gotta hand it to you, Manus!

  19. Brother Burrito says:

    Even toadster would admit that there is a difference between murder and natural causes,

    I hope.

  20. Brother Burrito says:

    Errh, perhaps he was addressing the able bodied and walking around folk, then?

    (I await learned correction.)

  21. Evette says:

    After today’s tragedy in CT. I thought of this specific situation and how these parents must feel. I can not fathom the wretched pain of the families suffering the loss of innocents, but as a mother and a living human, my heart suffers. God bless us all especially our children. May all the innocent souls be in heaven and RIP.

  22. toad says:

    “The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys …, the Syrians speak of 64,000, many medieval authors of 144,000, according to Apocalypse 14:3. Modern writers reduce the number considerably, since Bethlehem was a rather small town. Knabenbauer brings it down to fifteen or twenty (Evang. S. Matt., I, 104), Bisping to ten or twelve (Evang. S. Matt.), Kellner to about six (Christus and seine Apostel, Freiburg, 1908); cf. “Anzeiger kath. Geistlichk. Deutschl.”, 15 Febr., 1909, p. 32. This cruel deed of Herod is not mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, although he relates quite a number of atrocities committed by the king during the last years of his reign. The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod. Macrobius (Saturn., IV, xiv, de Augusto et jocis ejus) relates that when Augustus heard that amongst the boys of two years and under Herod’s own son also had been massacred, he said: “It is better to be Herod’s hog [ous], than his son [houios],” alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing, swine. The Middle Ages gave faith to this story; Abelard inserted it in his hymn for the feast of Holy Innocents…”

    The above from The Catholic Encylopedia, no less, or so it says.

    Toad finds it “odd,” to put it charitably, that Flavius Josephus, the most reputable, prominent and scrupulous Jewish historian of that era, makes no mention whatsoever of this – despite the report that Herod had even had his own son killed.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07419a.htm
    Doubtless others 0n CP&S will find the lack of second source evidence, and the collossal numeric discrepency quite reasonable.
    Love the “gave faith” bit, though! Nice way of saying he “made it up!”

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