The discord of screams simultaneously with the peal of Christmas Bells…


Matthew 2:18
Image source: Massacre of the Innocents, Guido Reni, Dec 31, 1610, Wikimedia Commons

Christianity is full of paradoxes. And none is so tragic and poignant, so hopeful and so devastating as the narrow escape of Christ upon His birth and the slaughter of the Holy innocents. A child was born unto us, but children were taken from us. The sounds of rejoicing and weeping came in the same night.

Chesterton wrote about Herod and his atrocity upon the children of Bethlehem from two vantages: First, in a biting satirical way, where his pen was used as sword, both as artist and writer, and then again, 5 years later, with deep mourning in his masterpiece, The Everlasting Man.  The pen and ink drawing above gives us a peek into how deeply this event from the past affected Chesterton as he “resurrects” the innocents in order to taunt Herod.

Nothing could be more bitterly tragic than the scene in this Nativity drama, in which the mothers sing a lullaby to the children they think they have brought into safety the moment before the soldiers of Herod rush in and butcher them screaming on the stage. Nothing could be more broadly farcical than the scene in which King Herod himself pretends that he has manufactured the thunderstorm….

We have seen a real King Herod claiming the thunders of the throne of God, and answered by the thunder not merely of human wrath but of primitive human laughter. He has done murder by proclamations, and he has been answered by caricatures. He has made a massacre of children, and been made a figure of fun in a Christmas pantomime for the pleasure of other children. Precisely because his crime is tragic, his punishment is comic; the old popular paradox has returned.

Cartoon depicting the humiliation of Herod by a child by G. K. Chesterton

-G.K. Chesterton,  The Humour of Herod, The Uses of Diversity, 1920

And just at that same moment, the Holy Family, warned to Joseph in a dream, escaped from Bethlehem to Egypt as the slaughter of the Holy Innocents occurred. As Christ purchased us with a price – the Cross – so, too, the Holy Innocents purchased time for His escape and the enemy was defeated.


We also cannot let this day pass without remembering the slaughter of innocents in our own day, by many Herods and Herodiases through abortion.  The child presents a rival to society’s own ambitions, for which many sacrifice their conscience…as did Herod. 

Abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace, because it destroys two lives, the life of the child and the conscience of the mother,”

– Mother Teresa

We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some rumor of a mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the capricious despots of Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new generation of the populace. Everyone knows the story; but not everyone has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of men. Not everybody has seen the significance even of its very contrast with the Corinthian columns and Roman pavement of that conquered and superficially civilized world. Only, as the purpose in his dark spirit began to show and shine in the eyes of the Admen, a seer might perhaps have seen something like a great gray ghost that looked over his shoulder; have seen behind him filling the dome of night and hovering for the last time over history that vast and fearful face that was Moloch of the Carthaginians; awaiting his last tribute from a ruler of the races of Shem. The demons also, in that first festival of Christmas, feasted after their own fashion. ….Herod had his place, therefore, in the miracle play of Bethlehem because he is the menace to the Church Militant and shows it from the first as under persecution and fighting for its life. For those who think this a discord, it is a discord that sounds simultaneously with the Christmas bells. For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the Cross is spoiled quite literally in the cradle.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925

The Coventry Carol – Full Lyrics

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
Thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay?”

Herod the king, in his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay.”

Coventry Carol, a song not about Jesus in the manger, but about the slaughter of the male children of Bethlehem on the night Jesus is born.

Our Christmas Prayer

We remember today, O God,
the slaughter of the holy innocents
of Bethlehem by King Herod.
Receive, we pray,
into the arms of your mercy
all innocent victims;
and by your great might
frustrate the designs of evil tyrants
and establish your rule of justice, love and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the union of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Holy Innocents Ora Pro Nobis

Beloved, let us do all we can to stop the slaughter of the innocents in our day through prayer and supplications.


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