What a Dog-Headed, Giant Saint Can Tell Us About Our Role in the Decline of the West
The story of Saint Christopher has taken on a few forms in Christian days of old. In the West, he’s a Canaanite Giant (think, Paul Bunyan but not as nice). In the historic East, he’s been depicted as a dog-headed man. And in Protestantism, no one even knows who the hell he is. To the confusion of many and the embarrassment of some, this peculiar saint’s history is shrouded in mystery. But what we know is this: he was a ferocious warrior who once rode with the devil’s calvary only to give it up for a life in service of weary travelers.
It’s true, Saint Christopher is a puzzling symbol, and to clear a crowded liturgical calendar, Pope Paul VI dropped his feast day as obligatory back in 1969. But the story of Saint Christopher provides us with an important symbol as to what our roles in the economy of existence should be.
Saint Christopher (Reprobus before his Christ encounter) was a warrior. Drawn to the allure of power and strength, his pre-Christ life was one of a constant thirst for the transcendent. But before his conversion, our beloved saint ran with a crowd that preferred conquering over compassion in a tiresome effort to serve the strongest and the most powerful. At first, Reprobus went to serve the strongest king in the land, but he quickly discovered the royal was but a shell of true power. From there, he was encountered by a group of hooded horsemen who swore their leader was, in fact, the most ferocious and powerful in all the lands. Our beloved saint found some satisfaction serving this new leader — the devil — but when the father of lies quivered in the site of a roadside cross, Reprobus came to the sad realization that he was still serving shadows and not yet the transcendent.
Soon after, Reprobus’ search led him to a hermit who insisted that his master was, in fact, the master of all. When Reprobus inquired of how he could take part in this power, the hermit recommended fasting and prayer. But not eating and sitting still doesn’t bode well for a man-beast such as this, so the hermit, picking up on our soon-to-be-saint’s God-given abilities, told him he should help travelers make it across the foreboding river, and sent him on his way. Reprobus viewed this as a task he could accomplish, and he began a lifelong pursuit of helping people travel from one side of their journey to the other. After completing this good work for some time, a little child came to the giant and asked for assistance, our future saint agreed.
Upon bearing the child on his shoulders, he felt a severe weight, almost as if the whole weight of the world was bearing down upon his body. Reprobus started to sink; he asked for strength, but relief did not come. He panicked as water began to fill his lungs, he asked for strength, but relief did not come. As the pressure on his shoulders increased and his lungs were about to burst, Reprobus cried out for mercy; relief came. As he reached the shore, he let down the child and said, “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.”
The child replied: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.”
After these words, the child vanished. But Reprobus had earned himself a new identity because of his encounter with Christ — Christopher (Christ-bearer). After this, as legend has it, Christopher ventured to Lycia to comfort a group of persecuted Christians, meeting his fate when the local king beheaded him because of his refusal to worship the shadows.
You see, Christopher had finally encountered ultimate power, and it wasn’t anything like he was expecting.
So, you may be wondering how this story of Saint Christopher relates to both the Virgin Mary and the decline of the West. Well, Christopher bears significant similarities in his bearing of the Christ-child (the Logos), something I laid out in more detail in my previous post. But this idea of bearing the Divine Logos is something that is directly applicable (and necessary) to the present state of our culture.
Christopher was a figure in search of strength, even going so far as to serve Satan himself in his quest for power. But everything he encountered before was just a shadow of the real thing. No matter how many raids or wars Christopher took part in, he did not possess near enough strength to bear the burden of the world — that is, until he cried out for grace.
Christopher bore — in spite of the crushing weight of existence — divine reason across the tumultuous waters of culture.
As Americans, as people, and as citizens of the world, we face a similar quest ahead of us. Christ stands at the door and knocks. He stands in the form of honest, constructive dialogue; in the form of love and understanding; in the form of unwavering strength and personal responsibility. Christ stands in the most monotonous and mundane of forms. Perhaps, even in the form of a lowly child asking for assistance.
Or in the form of sovereignty over and transcendence from outrage culture.
Like Mary and Christopher, we are called to bear the Logos. Like Christopher, we are called to Christ despite our status as an outsider and our constant flirtation with the shifting shadows.
Our battle is not physical nor is it political. Our struggles are deeply rooted in the spiritual realm. Ever since the crucifixion of our old gods, we’ve been in a perpetual state of impoverishment — and don’t get it wrong, we still have gods — we’ve just replaced the old ones with new forms (I happen to think the old ones are better). Like Christopher, our history of conquest can only take us so far. Our capitalism (the best system we have), humanism, naturalism, and materialism have only taken us so far. We, like Christopher, are realizing that perhaps we are not serving the transcendent. Perhaps the structures we thought were impenetrable are really but a shadow of the real thing.
Maybe we are the ghosts upon the earth.
Maybe we are at the crossroads.
Just as we are coming to the ends of ourselves, we, like Christopher and the Blessed Virgin, are presented with a chance to bear the Divine Logos. Will we bear Christ in all we do? Will we reach across the aisles for the edification and enlightenment of our hearts and minds?
Only time will tell. But we have the choice, and that’s a start. I believe we are feeling the crushing weight of the sins of the world. May we learn to add to that weight the One who truly bears them.
Original Source: I Might Believe in Werewolves — Medium