Daniel and the Immaculate Conception
Written by Ashley Faulkner, a professor at the University of North Florida.
Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,
His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.
Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.
Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. – Daniel 2:31-34, 45
In Daniel’s striking image of the immaculate conception, we are promised the gift of destruction. At the height of our golden glory, established on our feet of clay, we will be blessed by God with the redemptive gift of humility, of a fall. God promises, in the words of the prophet, to grind us to powder, to raze us to the ground.
And this grace—this dream come true—comes to us from God’s own hand and the Virgin Mary, not from the man-made artifice, the brass and costly metal, of this world’s brazen and costly life. Surely nothing we can do will “help” God to bring about this salvation, certainly not images of gold and brass….
So why go to church?
A wise theologian once said, “Beautiful churches distract the faithful from the word of God…. And ugly churches are much more distracting!” At the Cathedral of Amiens, in northern France, the image of the destructive stone of Christ’s incarnation—the stone cut without hands, coming free from the mountain by God’s own will—is physically depicted on the outside of the building, carved into the rock of the façade. It is a sculptor’s handmade reminder both that our salvation is out of our hands and that our hands should be busy with the work and message of the Gospels. “The work of our hands, establish thou it,” we pray with Moses in the psalm (Psalm 90:17). The works of our hands can be established, made firm, by Our Lord. He Himself teaches us to pray so. And the edifice of the church is never vain, if it celebrates and shelters the Eucharist, the incarnation of Christ, and the thing our handiwork alone can never bring, His redeeming grace.
In Lent we have the gift of being broken and ground down by that gracious stone. And when it has ground our idolatrous lives to powder, we see and behold Christ building us up again—building the Kingdom around us, all the weight of our redemption borne by the Cornerstone.