The Mindless Iconoclasm of Our Age. Fr. George W. Rutler
Excerpt: Galla Placida, the regent for her young son, the emperor Theodosius III, was shocked when Saint Augustine died in 430 on August 28, three months into the siege of his city Hippo by the Vandals. He may have died of malnutrition, if not stress, because the wheat crop had not been harvested. As destroyers go, the Vandals were not as bad as some of the other sackers of Roman civilization, and when they burned Hippo they preserved Augustine’s cathedral and library, but they certainly were energetic: in a short space they had made their way from home in southern Scandinavia all the way to North Africa. Physically, they fascinated the sultrier races and, a bit like Pope Gregory who called the fair Angles angels, the sixth century Byzantine chronicler Procopius said that the Vandals “all have white bodies and fair hair, and are tall and handsome to look upon.” Vandalism has come to be an unflattering sobriquet, much like the customs of the Thugs of India and the Buggers of Bulgaria. The three of them combined would resemble the platform of some contemporary progressives. As the Vandals had a conflicted social history, not to mention their heretical Arianism, they were amenable to contracts and concessions. That is a roundabout way of saying that nobody is totally perfect, and even if no one seems to have been inspired to erect monuments to the Vandals whose eccentric perfection was their skill at toppling statues, it would be hard to think of any historical figures who did not warrant criticism one way or another. Even George Washington’s greatest admirers, who justifiably were and remain legion, snickered when Horatio Greenough exhibited his colossal statue of the Father of our Country bare-chested in the toga and pose of Zeus. Charles Bullfinch, the third architect of the Capitol said: “I fear that this statue will give the idea of Washington’s entering or leaving a bath.” It stood in the Capitol Rotunda from 1841 to 1843 and then was removed to the East Lawn of the Capitol, eventually all twelve tons of it ending up in the National Museum of American History. In an hour of ill-advised passion after a public reading of the Declaration of Independence, a mob from New York stormed down to Bowling Green and destroyed the statue of King George III, which the people of the city themselves had erected in gratitude for the monarch’s tax concessions. This infuriated George Washington who, fully clad, berated them for such an indignity.