Religion Writer Forwards New Feminist Complaint: We Never See Depictions of Virgin Mary Breastfeeding Jesus!

December 11th, 2012 6:45 PM

As I argued yesterday, the Advent season is exploited every year by the liberal media to tweak faithful Christians, using the holidays as a hook for liberal political and religious themes or to advance ancient heresies. Ditto with the Lenten season.

Well, the latest example comes from David Gibson of the Religion News Service, who has picked up on a new complaint from a feminist scholar, Margaret Miles, which boils down to essentially this: How come we never see depictions of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the baby Jesus? I kid you not.

"At its heartwarming core," Gibson began his December 10 article, "Christmas is the story of a birth: the tender relationship between a new mother and her newborn child." Actually, no, the heartwarming core of Christmas is not about a birth but a most unique birth. It's about God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us, so that He might "save His people from their sins." You'd think a writer for the Religion News Service would get that, but alas, no. And yes, we're just getting started.

Indeed, that maternal bond between the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus has resonated so deeply across the centuries that depicting the blessed intimacy of the first Noel has become an integral part of the Christmas industry.

Yet all the familiar scenes associated with the holy family today — creches and church pageants, postage stamps and holiday cards — are also missing an obvious element of the mother-child connection that modern Christians are apparently happy to do without: a breast-feeding infant.

So modern Christians are silly prudes just because no one imagines much less shops for a nativity scene which depicts a bar-breasted Virgin Mary feeding the baby Jesus as the cattle, shepherds and magi look on?

Gibson turned to Margaret Miles, the dean of Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and author of "A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750," to flesh out her argument that the invention of the printing press not only did away with depictions of the Virgin Mary baring her breast but that it fundamentally shifted the focus of Christian art from the Nativity to the Crucifixion, a patently absurd claim (emphasis mine):

“It was the takeover of the crucifixion as the major symbol of God’s love for humanity” that supplanted the breast-feeding icon, she said. And that was a decisive shift from the earliest days of Christianity when “the virgin’s nursing breast, the lactating virgin, was the primary symbol of God’s love for humanity.”

In fact, the oldest known image of the Virgin Mary is from a third-century fresco in a Roman catacomb that shows the infant Jesus suckling at her exposed breast.

From those early traces, the motif of “Maria Lactans,” as it is called in Latin, became increasingly popular — and increasingly graphic — an illustration of what the Catholic writer Sandra Miesel called “the shocking fleshiness of our faith.”

By the Middle Ages, the breast-feeding Mary was shown in every possible context, and “lactation miracles” and “milk shrines” proliferated across the Christian world. Mary was “the wet-nurse of salvation,” as one phrase had it, offering holy succor to communities exposed to the vagaries of war and disease. Some images of St. Bernard of Clairvaux even show him kneeling in prayer before a statue of Mary, who is squirting breast milk onto his eager lips.

Obviously Marian art has been around since early in church history, but to argue that it was predominant, more so than the crucifixion, is absurd. To argue that the "primary symbol of God's love for humanity" was, from the days of the early church to the Reformation, "the virgin's nursing breast," is clearly contradicted by the biblical teaching that, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10 ESV)

To Christians, Christmas is about Jesus taking on human flesh to redeem His people. The Nativity is the earthly beginning of a divine rescue mission that met its climax at the crucifixion, was vindicated by the resurrection, is ongoing through the ministry of the gospel in the church Christ commissioned, and will be completely realized at Christ's glorious return.

That's truly the greatest story ever told, but Miles seemed fixated on Mary's mammaries, and ultimately shifting the focusing away from the Christ child to Christ's mother:

Whatever the obstacles, Miles thinks it would be a good thing for the culture, and Christianity, if Maria Lactans made at least a brief return to church — at Christmas or anytime.

“I think there should be a plethora of symbols of God’s love for humanity,” she said. “Can there be only one way to talk about so great a mystery? No, there can’t.”

It's utter nonsense, which sadly seems par for the course for Religion News Service and other religion reporters in the secular media these days.