Bernardo M. Villegas
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A New Economy of Images

           The Christmas holidays would be a good time for domestic tourists from the Metro Manila area (which can now extend all the way to Central Luzon because of the NLEX) to feast their eyes on the numerous religious images and icons for which Paete, Laguna is famous.  It may even be a productive trip for families looking for more permanent figurines with which to adorn traditional belens for next year's Christmas celebrations.

          Thanks to the pro-bono efforts of an orthodontist, Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, the carvers of Paete are getting more organized in guild-like fashion, professionalizing their work and efficiently carrying out their trade in carvings, both religious and secular.  In fact, Paete artists have diversified into painting, emulating the artists of Angono, Rizal and also into music.  For those tourists who need more than what a one-day trip would allow, there are already very affordable bed-and-breakfast facilities in the Laguna area.  One I would especially recommend to my friends is the Jardin Majayjay Bed and Breakfast at the foot of Mt. Banahaw in Majayjay, Laguna (www.majayjaybed.com).  It is owned and managed by the family of top advertising executive Herminio Ordonez and provides a most rustic and pleasant environment for families on tour. Beside the cultural attractions of nearby towns like Paete and Lumbang (famous for barong tagalog), staying at the Majayjay bed and breakfast facility will make possible varied activities for the family:  swim or picnic in Dalitiwan Resort or Taytay Falls; shop for delicacies and handicrafts in Lucban, Quezon; shop for shoes and footwears in Liliw; visit century-old churches; fruit harvest of lanzones from October to first week of December. Reservations can be made by calling landline no. 842-8272 or cell phones 0918-9181416 (Encar) or 0918-9237745 (Minyong).

          The religious images crafted in Paete are exhibited in many neighboring towns.  There is a home of the Anonuevo family in Lumbang, Laguna in which the dining room has life-sized images of Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles during the Last Supper.  These images are brought out for the processions held every Holy Week.  Some of these images remind me of the famous Holy Week celebrations in Seville, Spain where tourists from all over the world congregate to watch the spectacular Las Macarenas festivities.

          Thanks to the sculptors or carvers of Paete, Catholics in the Philippines can appreciate the new "economy" of the images introduced by the Son of God.  Contrary to some mistaken protestant or muslim criticisms, displaying images in churches and public places or private homes is not a violation of the second commandment, i.e., "Thou shall not have strange gods before me." As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (2129), "The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man.  Deutoronomy explains:  'Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure.  It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel.  He is the all, but at the same time "he is greater than all his works.  He is the "author of beauty." 

          Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word:  so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant and the cherubim.  Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons--of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and the saints.  By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new 'economy' of images.

          The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2132) clearly states that "The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the First Commandment which proscribes idols.  Indeed, 'the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,' and whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it."  The honor paid to sacred images is a 'respectful veneration,' not the adoration due to God alone."  St. Thomas Aquinas taught in his Summa Theologica that  "Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate.  The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is."  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.