In Christian art there is a common motif of saints and holy figures standing on the heads of reptiles. We see it with Mary, conquering the serpent as the second coming of Eve. Jesus tells his disciples, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.” Luke 10:19
In scripture Jesus crushes the head of the serpent in the Garden of Gethsemane. The New Adam has come to redeem the world by conquering evil.
I was thinking about the time visiting Metz Cathedral in France. It’s a special place for my family as my relatives came from there, and I was curious to walk in the land of my ancestors. This beautiful cathedral was all mine for as long as I wanted and it was a grand old cathedral that rivaled any I’d seen in France at the time.
There was a small museum that told the story of St. Clement of Metz. The story goes that St. Clement tamed the snakes and led them into an amphitheater where he sanctified them to himself. He then conquered the greatest of the snakes, Gramouly. This was all symbolic of making Christians of pagans. It’s commonly associated in Christianity. St. George conquered the dragon. St. Patrick of Ireland drove the snakes out as well.
Nietchze in “Thus Spake Zarathustra” prologue wrote about the “Thou Shalt” Dragon. This is the dragon that needs to be slayed as it stands in the way of our enlightenment.
It’s a standard motif in literature as the dragon guards the treasure or the dragon’s lair must be passed in order for the hero to move to the next level. Merlin convinces Arthur to conquer the Dragon Kilgharrah that was chained by Uther Pendragon, to redeem the city of Camelot. We see it in Eastern images as well. Bruce Lee enters the realm of the Dragon to conquer. Great myths telling us something.
C. S. Lewis deftly used this in his Narnia series in the story “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Eustace plunders the dead dragon’s treasure and becomes a dragon himself that needs to be conquered. Only with the help of Aslan (the Christ figure) is he able to reclaim his childhood and regain his human persona thus being made wiser for the wear.
We all have a dragon to conquer in our lives. We use what we can to conquer them. At the moment my “dragon,” is adorned in white cake and white frosting, and I’ve used a strong fork, but should consider the strategy of employing temperance. Sometimes we use the sword of truth. Sometimes it’s the fire of kindness or compassion. Other times it’s the willful prayerful state of mind to just be and let the demons move on as we stand strong and fearless in the face of them.
Although Jesus mentions the sword, it seems his weapon of choice to conquer evil is fire – the great purifier – the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, 49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” (Luke 12: 49-50)
We use what we can to conquer the dragons in our lives with the resources at our disposal. The Holy Spirit inspired creativity and ingenuity in conquering sin. This fire is the most powerful because it can cleanse and renew us in the process. It can redeem and call from the ashes something new and beautiful. “Israel will rise from the ashes.”
We, too, will slay the sin. The virtues are there in waging the war. May your battle be waged with tenacious mindfulness, applying the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.