St. Denis was beheaded by pagan priests 1756 years ago today, at the top of Montmartre in Paris. He picked up his own head and then walked six miles to a cemetery, which is where the magnificent basilica of St. Denis now sits.
Countless statues depict St. Denis holding his own head in his hands, including one from the 1400s which is kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
Among other things, a St.-Denis statue reminds us of man’s grim capacity to do violence to man. When I was growing up, I remember hearing plenty of people dismissing such things as relics of a barbaric past now vanished forever. Such ugliness has been conquered by our modern enlightenment!
But we have learned that man still has the same capacity for inhumanity to man. 2014, the year that has given us the iPhone 6, has also given us plenty of public beheadings.
The malice of the fallen human race does not die. But there’s a difference between beheading people, on the one hand, and letting yourself be beheaded on the other—in order to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.
The great moment of ‘enlightenment’ for the human race does not occur when “all great religions accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world,” as President Obama put it at the UN last month.
No, the great moment of enlightenment for the ugly and violent human race came when God became man and died on the cross.
If we, as a race, think we can cross the river from barbarity to civilization by ourselves, without divine aid, we fall into a dangerous fantasy. The only boatman Who can get us from the darkness of beheading our enemies to the light of loving and praying even for those who would behead us—the only boatman to a world of light is Jesus Christ crucified.