J.C. Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 10-31-11
November 3, 2011
For at least the last two millennium, the donkey has been seen as both a beast of burden, and symbol of humility, both a manifestation of divine patience, and icon of stubbornness.
The origins of this duality perhaps go back to the Messianic Prophesy, which has many translations but is basically: “Oh look, Daughters of Zion, your King and salvation will ride unto you on a lowly donkey.” Another translation goes so far as to state, “The donkey is His Throne.”
Mary traveled on a donkey to Bethlehem, indicating that donkeys carried the maternal, and material burdens of the poor. Many portraits of the Christ family, and virgin birth, show a donkey prominently in the midst, and every Christmas diorama must have a donkey.
Then, there is the story of Jesus choosing the lowly donkey to help him carry his cross, rejecting the power of the elephant and arrogance of the lion in favor of the mild and meek donkey on his journey to crucifixion and ascension.
So there is a full circle enclosing human salvation from birth to death, involving the donkey. This may explain why, when the Spanish came to the New World, in the region that is now Mexico, they brought with them many breeding pairs of donkeys. The clergy multiplied their numbers, and used donkeys for their travels to the villages where they sought to convert the native populations.
Priests liked to be seen riding the symbol of Messianic Prophesy, while conveying simplicity and virtuous poverty. A common expression among priests of the day was, as Saint Josemaria said, “I haven’t even made the grade of being a donkey.”
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There is a story involving a Spanish priest in the New World. He came again and again to a village where he continually met with rejection from the inhabitants. In frustration, the priest placed a statue of the Sacrament in the center of the village square and declared that it would be easier to get a wild ass to worship the Sacrament than to get the people of the village to do so.
To everyone’s surprise, a wild ass appeared from the forest, raced to the Sacrament and knelt down before it, after which many in the village became converts, seeing the donkey’s behavior as a miracle.
However, many skeptics have pointed out that the tale of the worshipping donkey originated with Anthony of Padua, in an incident that resulted in him being declared a saint. This perhaps stimulated the priests in the New World to train a donkey to worship as a devotional aide for potential converts.
The theology of the donkey, and the various religious experiences associated with donkeys, helps to explain that, in the Daeman Symbolic System, donkeys are given the human characteristics of humility, patience, serenity and saintliness. Interestingly, though not surprisingly, a red donkey is thought to be a personification of the devil.
This might explain why red donkeys are so rare.