WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Atlantic is facing withering criticism after publishing an op-ed claiming the Rosary is an "extremist symbol" on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption. The Aug. 14 article was originally titled "How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol" before the title was changed to "How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-Opt the Rosary." It was written by Daniel Panneton, a Toronto-based writer and public historian.
The article has been further amended to change the subtitle from "The AR-15 is a sacred object among Christian nationalists. Now 'radical-traditional' Catholics are bringing a sacrament of their own to the movement," to "Why are sacramental beads suddenly showing up next to AR-15s online?"
The article contends that the Rosary is becoming militarized by "Christian nationalists," an academic umbrella term often applied wholesale to the entire religious right. Panneton claims that Christian nationalists view the AR-15 as a "sacred object." He asserts that militarizing the Rosary is used by Catholic men as "a sort of a membership pass to the movement," imitating the way other Christians supposedly "revere" the AR-15. His evidence for this is memes and rhetoric from Catholics online, which allegedly reveal a rise in the militarization of the Rosary (and Catholicism in general).
The original article contains some theological errors. The first version calls the Rosary a sacrament, even though it is a sacramental. It also claims that Catholic social media tells young men to become "Church Militants." The phrase "Church Militant" is used by Catholics in the singular, referring to the Church on earth, striving for sanctity; the term is not applied to individuals. The original picture included with the article showed the Rosary made out of bullet holes, but with the wrong number of beads.
While the theological errors betray ignorance of Catholic teaching, the lack of historical context is the actual problem at the heart of the article. Panneton views the weaponization of the Rosary as a new development. But the Rosary has been considered a spiritual weapon since its inception. Our Lady herself called it a "weapon" when presenting it to St. Dominic in the 13th century, then referred to it again as a "battering ram."
The Holy League used it as a "weapon" against the Ottomans at Lepanto 300 years later. An unlikely upset victory for the Catholics was immediately attributed to the power of the Rosary. Ever since, the anniversary of that battle at Lepanto has been celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.
Historically, saints have referred to the Rosary as a weapon. Popular modern-day saints as well-known as St. Pio of Pietrelcina have proclaimed it "the weapon of our times." Saints Josemaría Escrivá and Louis-Marie De Monfort called it a weapon as well.
In our own time, memes became popular in the 2010s, and Catholic online culture eventually embraced them and started producing its own memes. Memes featuring the Rosary as a weapon are a natural outgrowth of what the faithful have always perceived it to be. In St. Dominic's time, Our Lady called the Rosary a "battering ram" to symbolize that era's most powerful siege engines, used to smash down the walls of the most imposing strongholds.
The AR-15 is the most common rifle in the United States and the platform from which the military's M16 series is derived. Whether or not associating it with the Rosary is in good taste is an open question. Still, it's not a deviation from how the Rosary has been understood or portrayed by Catholics for 800 years.
Conflating Catholicism with nationalism is itself problematic. The Catholic Church is a worldwide institution, and the Holy Rosary is prayed all over the globe. None of the saints who referred to the Rosary in the examples above were American. Lepanto was a battle fought by Europeans against Turks long before America even became a country.
The article has triggered a spectrum of reactions from Catholics online, and none of them are likely to be what the author intended. Traditionalist Catholic and right-wing commentator Jack Posobiec has taken the article in stride and changed his Twitter handle to "Rosary Extremist Poso" at the time of this writing. Catholic "memesmiths" appear to view the article as a goldmine for new material. Numerous other Catholics online have expressed anger and outrage.
But Rod Dreher of the American Conservative has a more sober take: "The one to worry about is not Daniel Panneton. There will always be ideologues selling anti-Christian, anti-Catholic polemics. The one to be concerned about is The Atlantic magazine, which, by publishing such a sloppy and hysterical propaganda piece, is preparing the ground for persecution."
Daniel Panneton has set his Twitter Account to private.