Professor Stephen Marini Discusses Nativity Symbols

Religion Expert Stephen Marini Talks to Metrowest Daily News about Symbols Important to Christian Tradition

December 19, 2012

A new book released this fall by Pope Benedict XVI calls into question several commonly held beliefs about the Nativity and the early life of Jesus Christ, including stating that there is no evidence that animals traditionally pictured gathered around the manger were actually present. Stephen Marini, Elisabeth Luce Moore Professor of Christian Studies and Professor of Religion, spoke with the Metrowest Daily News about the use of symbols important to the Christian tradition.

"Franciscan priests first used images of a manger scene with farm animals in the 13th and 14th centuries to help preach theological ideas to the poor," Marini told the Metrowest. "Other religions, such as Judaism and Islam, prohibit the use of pictures and statues for worship or teaching as forms of idolatry." 

According to Marini, Pope Benedict wrote the book as a scholar and theologian without invoking the dogma of papal infallibility. "He’s not claiming that authority," Marini said. "You don’t have to believe every word of it... For Catholics, it’s the difference between law and opinion.’’

The article, Ordinary Believers, Scholars React to New Book, appeared in print in early December.

Marini is a scholar and teacher of religion in American culture. His research focuses on the interpretation of religion in American history in the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Early National periods. In his faculty profile, Marini wrote that he designs his courses to engage with a variety of cognate disciplines—Religion in America (History), Religious Themes in American Literature (English), and Religion, Law, and Politics (American Studies, Political Science). He offers courses in Christian thought from the Reformation to the present and Christian ritual. In 2010, Marini appeared in the PBS Series God in America.