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Stop Attacking Our Lady
A lovely image, and a misplaced protest

By Michael Potemra, NR Deputy Managing Director

May 24, 2001 9:30 a.m.

The EWTN Catholic news site reports that despite protests, a controversial image of the Blessed Virgin Mary will remain on display in a museum in Santa Fe, N.M. The workin question is a collage by artist Alma Lopez, in which an attractive young woman in a floral bikini represents Mary.

The Museum of International Folk Art announced on Tuesday that the artwork would remain on display, despite the fact that — in the words of the Catholic World News report — "Catholics had condemned the image as sacrilegious and insensitive to their beliefs."

Now, "Catholics" is quite a capacious word, and it is certainly true that some Catholics condemned Alma Lopez's work. But to say that "Catholics" in general did would be like saying "Americans condemned George W. Bush's tax plan as a giveaway to the rich." In the latter case, it would be more strictly accurate to say that it was not "Americans" in general, but rather "Al Gore and a bunch of his Democratic partisan hacks," who issued this particular condemnation.

But let's look at a more interesting issue: Should Catholics — or anybody else, for that matter — object to this work by Alma Lopez? I think not, and here's why: The central innovation of Christianity, especially in its Catholic form, is its theology of the Incarnation. According to traditional Catholic dogma — also accepted by Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox — one Person of the Holy Trinity decided to become truly Man as well as truly God. His Mother, therefore, would be 100 percent human — with the human body and human soul from which the Divine Person would emerge in his own full humanity.

The Alma Lopez collage, which I have seen reproduced in the media, shows a woman of great loveliness, bedecked with flowers. Surely this is an appropriate image for the loveliest member of the human race, the woman described in medieval Catholic writings as Flos florum — the flower of flowers?

The objection, as best I can deduce it, is that she is not wearing enough clothing, and therefore displaying too much of her body. But isn't it precisely the insight of traditional Christianity that the body has been redeemed, and recognized as restored to its aboriginal beauty by the decision of Christ to become Man? In Genesis, we are told that God created, and beheld, and declared, good. In the Christian Scriptures, we are told that the damage done by man's sins has been repaired; the creation is, once again, good (or, to use the theological term: redeemed).

America is a free country, and people are therefore entirely free to opine that the female human body is ugly, sordid, evil, and in need of disguise. But it would be inaccurate for them to represent this view as Catholic thought. The Blessed Virgin Mary was not a statue; she was, and is, a woman, and — if we are to believe the tradition — a beautiful one. Alma Lopez deserves thanks for helping to impart this valuable theological insight, in such a striking manner, to a new generation.