Beauty out of horror

by Kevin Birnbaum

Peter_Paul_Rubens_Massacre_of_the_InnocentsMassacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

It’s easy to forget, among all the idyllic imagery of the Babe in the manger, and the shepherds and the angels, and the Wise Men and the star, that the story of the first Christmas gets pretty grisly and gory. But the Church doesn’t let us forget. Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, those babies slaughtered by Herod the king in his jealous attempt to assassinate the newborn King.

When the Wise Men did not return to Herod to tell him where the baby Jesus was, he flew into “a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Mt 2:16). It’s hard to imagine anything worse than the murder of innocent children. And yet, somehow, the Christian tradition has drawn beauty even out of this horror, as in the 16th-century “Coventry Carol”:

P.S. The best recording of this song I know is a suitably stark and terrifying rendition by the King’s Singers.

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