Monday, November 13, 2006

The Feast of the Lateran Basilica.


Last Thursday was the Feast of the Lateran Basilica.

The Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris is the ecumenical mother church of Catholicism and the only Cathedral in the jurisdiction of Rome itself. This means that it has precedent over every other Catholic church, including the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican.

The basilica is perched on a hill on lands once owned by the patrician Lateran family. Supposedly, during the reign of Nero, the emporer decided he wanted to become pregnant, bring a child to term, and become a mother. Roman doctors, unsure how to resolve this medical conundrum but not wanting to displease Nero, fed him a tadpole which he regurgitated some time later as a frog. During a parade up the Lateran hill, the frog escaped, and Nero flew into a rage, killing his servants and onlookers.

To call the story unlikely is quite generous, and yet these dubious beginnings embody the paradox, humor, sympathy and humility at the bottom of the best church traditions. Likewise, the Church, while ancient and splendid by most standards, cannot compare for grandeur or size with the great basilicas of the world. The church of the Church of all churches is, like most of salvation theology, as sobering as it is intoxicating, and as unlikely as it is necessary.



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