One Lung, The Priesthood, and Summa Theologica Suppl. IIIae, Q. 39, Art. 6: school me

Francis I, the new pope, has only 1 lung. Note that.

Here is Aquinas on a newly relevant question:

Article 6. Whether lack of members should be an impediment?

Objection 1. It would seem that a man ought not to be debarred from receiving Orders on account of a lack of members. For one who is afflicted should not receive additional affliction. Therefore a man ought not to be deprived of the degree of Orders on account of his suffering a bodily defect.

Objection 2. Further, integrity of discretion is more necessary for the act of orders than integrity of body. But some can be ordained before the years of discretion. Therefore they can also be ordained though deficient in body.

On the contrary, The like were debarred from the ministry of the Old Law (Leviticus 21:18, seqq.). Much more therefore should they be debarred in the New Law.

We shall speak of bigamy in the treatise on Matrimony (66).

I answer that, As appears from what we have said above (3,4,5), a man is disqualified from receiving Orders, either on account of an impediment to the act, or on account of an impediment affecting his personal comeliness. Hence he who suffers from a lack of members is debarred from receiving Orders, if the defect be such as to cause a notable blemish, whereby a man’s comeliness is bedimmed (for instance if his nose be cut off) or the exercise of his Order imperiled; otherwise he is not debarred. This integrity, however, is necessary for the lawfulness and not for the validity of the sacrament.

This suffices for the Replies to the Objections.

I don’t pretend to be a Canon Lawyer (IANACL). If you are a canon lawyer, or a suitable imitation thereof, please weigh in below. And let me make this obvious, in case any non-medievalists wander in: I’m not raising these questions as someone hostile to Catholicism. I’m not trying to dislodge the newly minted Francis. I’m just a humble medievalist.

Now, obviously, Aquinas and the Levitican law concern only what they decide are visible disabilities. I do wonder, however, if the late antique decree that barred the priesthood to self-castrators still applied to the medieval church, which I ask only because castration is not, in typical habits, thought to be visible (rather, as we see with Chaucer’s uncertainly gendered Pardoner, castration troubles the operations of visibility and meaning-making).

In other words, visibility doesn’t always work in any obvious way to classify impediments as significant. For still more on issues of visibility and disability, see Greg Carrier here. Also recall last year’s précis of Maaike van der Lugt’s “L’humanité des monstres et leur accès aux sacrements dans la pensée médiévale” [The humanity of monsters and their access to the sacraments in medieval thought], here, where I summarize her summary of some thirteenth-century quodlibetal material:

And then, finally, we have the problem of intersexed people. The church authorized their marriage, but only if they adopted either a feminine or masculine role, and stuck with it. Those without a preference were to remain chaste. Choosing which gender dominated was a knotty problem: some thinkers emphasized genitals, others secondary sexual characteristics (a beard, for example), and others comportment and behavior. Baptism wasn’t a problem here, although in cases of doubt, the priest should give the child a masculine name, which could easily be made feminine if necessary (Robert would become Roberta, Gerald would become Daphne, etc.). Those intersexed people thought to have a dominant masculinity could even be ordained as priests.

We therefore have a kind of muddled field of visibility and invisibility in the notion of the priest’s being a proper, bodily representative of Christ on earth. With all due respect to Aquinas, all that’s clear to me at the moment is that there’s no single authority on whom we can rely.

Finally, for our readers with Google Books access, I direct you to Irina Metzler on the topic of medieval priests and disability, and for additional, relevant material, see Carol Rawcliffe, who summarizes British medieval legislation on disabled priests as part of her discussion on priests with leprosy. The key point from both works? Dispensations are possible, and, in practice, whatever these cultures marked as disability was nonetheless marked without its being a great impediment to the priesthood. Present under erasure, in a way.

In short–again, IANACL–because it is an “invisible” disability (though one now made visible perhaps to develop a supercrip narrative, as suggested here), and, furthermore, because Francis, like any priest, could simply obtain a proper dispensation, having only a single lung (or having, say, three lungs) presumably would not be sufficient to bar a man from the Papacy.

I’m inviting further discussion from people who actually know things about disability studies, canon law, and the complicated (and still very hot) issues surrounding the notion of the priest as representing Christ.

de monstro possunt fieri monstruosae quaestiones, or, an apology for an omission

“Le monstre sert d’outil conceptuel, au même titre que d’autres cas limites comme l’embryon ou le cadavre, pour penser la personne humaine et les rapports complexes entre âme et corps, forme et matière.”

[The monster serves a conceptual purpose, in the same capacity as other limit cases, like the embryo or the cadaver, for thinking about the human person and the complex links between soul and body, form and matter.]

I’ve spent the last month, not blogging, obviously, but rather hitting a tight deadline to produce 6k words about skin. Depending on reviewers, publishing schedules, and our developing environmental eschaton, you’ll see what I did sometime in…2014. Maybe sooner. Unless I paraphrase some of my ideas here first. For now, let’s just say that I had a lot of fun conceptualizing skin through object-oriented philosophy rather than psychoanalysis (those prices!). In essence, I was looking in instead of (inside my skin) looking out.

But today I’m here to confess something. I’m proud to have an essay in The Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous on “Centaurs, Satyrs, and Cynocephali: Medieval Scholarly Teratology and the Question of the Human.” I’m also ashamed, though, because I somehow missed an important essay, Maaike van der Lugt‘s “L’humanité des monstres et leur accès aux sacrements dans la pensée médiévale” [The humanity of monsters and their access to the sacraments in medieval thought], available for download here. I’m ashamed, because it’s a great article, but also because I’m a big fan of her work on barnacles and because her book on WORMS (hello!) somehow didn’t get cited in my worms paper. That will be corrected.

So, apologies, Professor van der Lugt, if you happen to be reading this. I hereby swear to follow your career with interest.

In the meantime, if your French is pas si bon (and–the Parisians know–mine is barely enough to get by), I’ll summarize some of my favorite bits from it, starting with the last line, a kind of punchline from Hugh of Pisa: “de monstro possunt fieri monstruosae quaestiones” (23 n91; concerning monsters, monstrous questions can arise).

The article concerns itself primarily with the baptism of conjoined twins and the ordination of intersexed people, mapping the differences and overlaps between canon and civil law (the former concerned with the sacraments, the latter with inheritance and paternity). It occasionally touches on disability, pygmies (included mummified pseudo-pygmies, traded by merchants), and the heterogeneous offspring of bestiality. Needless to say, discussions of monsters inevitably mean discussions of the so-called norm: questions of gender determination, for example, are universally applicable in a society–like theirs, like ours–that divides so much labor according to gender roles.

So. The article opens with two accounts of conjoined twins, one near Florence in 1317, the other in 15th-century Paris, the first denied baptism as a bad omen, the other baptized (as Agnes and Jeanne) shortly before they died; their body would be displayed for three days to the people of Paris (see here, item 508). Fascinating! Here follow some of my favorite bits:

  • the observation, via Aristotle, that all children not resembling their parents are already some kind of monster, insofar as the sperm didn’t manage to reproduce the image of the father;
  • Peter Abelard’s proposal that satyrs come from the union of servents and nonhuman animals, which means that they’re human, since one human parent suffices for a creature to be human, regardless of its appearance;
  • An anonymous mid-13th-century commentary on the human body, added to the Summa of Alexander of Hales, arguing that blemmyae, lacking heads, could be considered human only if some other part of their body has an organ that serves as a brain; preferring not to grant humanity to cynocephali; and identifying the internal organs rather than external appearance as the key element for determining humanity. The important organs are the brain, heart, liver, and testes. If these are human, so’s the creature. On the other hand, says our writer, since monstrosity is punishment for sin, then monsters are ipso facto human, since animals of course can’t be sinners;
  • Later in the 13th century, a Franciscan Quodlibet argues that, yes, pygmies are human, since they have human proportions; by similar reasoning, a child born with legs coming out of its sides isn’t one. The Franciscan also observes, on the topic of the spawn of bestiality, that human sperm is not powerful enough to convert other sperm into being human: see also mules [semen hominis non est tante virtutis quod possit convertere aliud semen ad suam speciem sicut asinus non convertit semen eque, sed facit tertiam partem (10 n40)];
  • Albert the Great, a dubious source tells us, stopped the execution of herdsman thought to have fathered a peculiar calf; au contraire, said (pseudo) Albert: the stars had aligned oddly! But in Holland in 1464, Willem Boudewinszn, a lover of cows and the father of one–or so he admitted under torture–was executed and burned, along with the cow he (confessed he) loved (11 n46);
  • Nicholas Oresme in 1370, countering the argument that humanity can be determined on the basis of form, argues that children born blind, deaf, and “nulla ratione utentes minus quam canis” (having less reason than a dog) should be baptized, though they seem far more monstrous to him than, say, a blemmye (12-13, n50). (van der Lugt also directs us at Aquinas);
  • On the question of baptizing conjoined twins: obviously, they should be baptized, but how many times? Quodlibets at the end of 13th and beginning of 14th century often considered the problem. Two heads might be sufficient cause for two baptisms, but several medieval theologians, following Aristotle, gave priority to the heart, not the head. Of course, there’s no easy way to determine whether an infant has two hearts, so we encounter recommendations that the second baptism be conditional (and, on this point, I said: HELLO Erkenwald! My favorite Middle English conditional baptism). Pierre de la Palus suggests that if a spot on the monstrous body can be found in which a wound or a stab transmits pain only to one head, but not both, then two baptisms will be required;
  • The quotlibets continued to worry at the problem of married conjoined twins: what if the twins have only one vagina between them? Then consummation for one would be fornication for the other, while the husband of one would be committing adultery and incest at the same time as he carried out his proper marital duties on the other. But nature makes nothing in vain, and, possibly, says Eustache de Grandcour’s quodlibet, they may have one vagina, but two uteruses [et possibile erat quod habuerint diversas matrices];
  • And then, finally, we have the problem of intersexed people. The church authorized their marriage, but only if they adopted either a feminine or masculine role, and stuck with it. Those without a preference were to remain chaste. Choosing which gender dominated was a knotty problem: some thinkers emphasized genitals, others secondary sexual characteristics (a beard, for example), and others comportment and behavior. Baptism wasn’t a problem here, although in cases of doubt, the priest should give the child a masculine name, which could easily be made feminine if necessary (Robert would become Roberta, Gerald would become Daphne, etc.). Those intersexed people thought to have a dominant masculinity could even be ordained as priests.

There’s much, much more, particularly in the footnotes. If your French is up to it, and you’re into monsters, gender, and the human as a question (and if you’re reading this blog, I suspect you are), then this is an article you’ll love. Highly recommended.

Who’s Your Daddy? Bestiality and Baptism

3287837195_a514feb114I’m in the midst of an editing marathon right now, but to let you know I’m still alive, I’ll share this.

In “Les Cynocéphales: Étude d’une tradition tératologique de l’Antiquité au XIIe s” (Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 24 (1981): 117-29, at 123, Claude Lecouteux speaks about how the question of the necessity of baptism made monsters a theological topic. For monsters born from bestiality, baptism was generally required:

Ainsi dit l’ancien rituel romain suivi par de nombreux rituels provinciaux. Toutefois, certain théologiens, s’appuyant sur Aristote, distinguaient si un homme or une femme avait eu commerce avec une bête; dans le premier cas, le monstre issue d’un tel accouplement devait être baptisé sous condition car c’était peut-être un homme; il ne pouvait l’être dans le second cas, car il n’en était certainement pas un. Depuis qu’on ne croit plus à la fécondité de telles unions, le Droit Canon a été modifié sur ce point.

This is what’s said by the ancient Roman ritual, followed by many provincial rituals. However, certain theologians, relying on Aristotle, distinguished between whether a man or a woman had had “commerce” with a beast; in the first case, the monster issued from such a coupling should be baptized conditionally because it was perhaps a human; it couldn’t be so in the second case, as it was certainly not human. Since the fertility of such unions is no longer believed in, Canon Law has been modified on this point.

He cites Lucius Ferraris, Bibliotheca canonica, ed. Bucceroni (Rome, 1885), volume I, p. 499. Unfortunately, I’m having some trouble tracking down the appropriate passage. However, thanks to the dubious gift of Google Books, I did find this, which speaks of a certain “Tractatus de Baptismo,” which considers a “monstrum genitum ex muliere et bruto, tum etiam ex viro et bruto femella, quod Auctor ibi possibile ponit, per nos impossibile praedicari.” There’s science again, stepping in our fun. Since my school skimps on research money, and since the online PL has recently stopped being useful (the baleful hand of Migne chills us even now), and since I’m honestly too busy to write this post, I can’t track this down any further, at least right now (although Suzanne Magnanini’s treatment of monstrous generation might be useful). But maybe you know something? Or maybe you’re just amused by an odd legal tidbit.

Delirious Melons, and Other Ancient Snark

2801381202_44dc0c1c27_bIn this several months-long absence, I’ve been plugging away at my book manuscript in hopes of an October submission. I’m ahead of schedule, but getting to that point meant much else that is important to me fell away, even as I frenzied myself in what I would have otherwise left alone.

To get back in the game, I’ll share over the next week or so some of the amusing bits I’ve run across while, uh, plugging. Here’s one: Irenaeus of Lyons’ parody of the specialized terminology of Gnostic cosmology in his Against Heresies I.11.4

There exists a certain royal Pre-principle, pre-unintelligible, pre-insubstantial and pre-prerotund, which I call Gourd. With this Goard there coexists a Power which I call Supervacuity. This Gourd and this Supervacuity, being one, emitted without emitting a Fruit visible in all its parts, edible and sweet, which language calls Cucumber. With this Cucumber there is a Power of the same substance, which I call Melon. These Powers, Gourd and Supervacuity, and Cucumber and Melon, emitted the whole multitude of Valentinus’ delirious Melons. For if one must accomodate ordinary language to the first Tetrad and if each one chooses the terms he wants, who would keep him from using these last terms, much more worthy of credence, in ordinary usage, and known by all?

I could tolerate nonacademic complaints about academic jargon much better if they were all packaged like this!

Like all of you, I hope, I’m a fan of ancient snark, although perhaps I ought not to be: it’s probably immoral for me, for example, to admire the snark of an anti-Catharist, if only for what the Cathars (or so-called Cathars?) suffered. I offer this to you (again, as I did in Sept 2006), then, in the hopes of inviting attacks from your good consciences: from Eckbert of Schönau’s (yes, they were related) Sermon 6, “Contra secundam haeresim de esu carnium,” of his Sermones contra Catharos:

Miror si Dominus creator omnium rerum, quando hominibus concessit ut ederent carnes, ignorabat hanc vestram sanctam rationem, videlicet immundos fieri omnes qui ederent carnes, pro eo quod omnis caro ex concubitu nasceretur. Heu! quod non habebat catharum unum, qui ei hanc sapientiam in aurem susurrasset, in illa hora quando dedit potestatem edendi carnes Noe et filiis ejus! (PL 195:37A)

It is quite extraordinary that when the Lord, the creator of all things, allowed men to eat flesh, he ignored your “sacred reason,” namely that because all meat is born from coitus, everyone who eats meat becomes unclean. Alas! that he didn’t have any Cathar about who could have whispered this wisdom to him in his ear in that hour when he gave Noah and his sons the power to eat flesh!

Image via

“And the fervor of his devotion increased so much within him that he utterly transformed himself into Jesus through love and compassion.”

St-Francis-Receiving-The-Stigmata-1240-50A young man, disrespectful of institutional religion, is hailed by two women as Jesus. He allows himself to be crucified, wounded in five places. Elsewhere, another pious soul, caught up in the new fervor of imitatio Christi, crucifies himself on a hilltop on a Good Friday, is taken down half dead by passing shepherds, and recovers fully in a few days.

The first is a familiar story, somewhat muddled, but it takes place in the 1222, in Oxford, rather than the first century. Instead of Mary Magdelene and another Mary (Matthew 28:1; but cf. Mark 16:1, Luke 24, and John 20:1), it’s simply “duabus mulieribus,” one an old practitioner of the dark arts, and the other the young man’s sister. The second story, from Jacques de Vitry’s Sermones Feriales et communes, likewise recalls Gospel narratives both deliberately–the hilltop and Good Friday–and accidentally–the shepherds, the return to (full) life after a few days.

The latter exemplum may in turn recall another thirteenth-century pious self-mortification, that recorded by Margaret of Oingt in her life of Beatrice of Ornacieux (d. 1303) in acts meant for our admiration rather than disgust:

She evoked the Passion of Our Lord so strongly that she pierced her hands with blunt nails until it came out at the back of her hand. And every time she did this, clear water without any blood gushed out. Soon after, the wound closed and healed so well that nobody could see it any more. (49)

I bring these stories together as a companion to Jeffrey’s post below, on the mocking Jew of Lincoln, whose heckling, as Jeffrey suggests, “seems to be speaking a thought likely on more minds than his own.” The Jew is made by Gerald to bear the burden, and to materialize the problems, of dissension and uncertainty within the Christian community. Might we do something similar with the crucifying Jews of the thirteenth century, those accused of reenacting the Passion upon stolen Hosts and kidnapped Christian children? Considered within the field of the pious (and excessively pious–and what perfect piety is not excessive?) stories above, within the field of the various imitatio christi of the thirteenth century, what role are Jews and their purported crimes made to play?

I ask in part because of the first story, from Ralph of Coggeshall’s Chronicon Anglicanum, appears sandwitched within two other stories, one about a Christian who mutilates himself to become a Jew, and another about a Jew who mutilates the dead, with the help of an employee (a Christian (?) boy), to learn the future, the very temporal realm from which Jews–witnesses of the past–should be barred.

Presented without any further comment, because I have no further thoughts yet, here’s a fuller picture:

Anno Dominicae incarnationis MCCXXII, dominus Stephanus, Cantuariensis archiepiscopus, tenuit consilium suum apud Oxoniam post Pascha; ubi inter caetera exordinavit quemdam diaconum apostatam, qui pro amore cujusdam mulieris Judaicae se circumciderat: qui exordinatus, a ministris domini Falconis combustus est. Adductus est ibidem quidam juvenis incredulus cum duabus mulieribus in concilio, quos archidiaconus ejusdem provinciae accusavit crimine pessimo incredulitatis; juvenem scilicit, quod nollet ecclesiam intrare, nec divinis interesse sacramentis, nec patris catholici adquiescere monitis, et quod se crucifigere permiserit, quinque vulnera in corpore adhuc apparentia gestans, Jesumque se vocari a mulieribus illis gaudebat. Accusabatur una mulierum veterana, quod maleficis incantationibus ex longo tempore esset dedita, et quod juvenem praedictum suis magicis artibus ad tantam dementiam ac talem convertisset. Unde ambo, de tali crimine convicti, jussi sunt inter duos muros incarcerari quousque deficerent. Alia vero mulier, soror praedicti juvenis, libera dimissa est, quia impietatem illorum revelavit.

Eodem anno, quidam Judaeus nigromanticus puerum quemdam pretio conduxit, quem in cute recenti cuiusdam mortui collocavit, ut sic, per quasdam incantationes nigromantiae, futura posset prospicere; puero ad interrogata respondente de quibusdam futuris quae ei quasi praesentialiter apparebat. (190-91)

In the Year of the Incarnation of Our Lord 1222, Lord Stephen, Archbishop of Canterbury, held his council at Oxford after Easter; when among others he judged a certain apostate deacon, who circumcised himself for love of a certain Jewish woman: after being defrocked, he was burnt by the servants of the Lord of Falco (?). There was led forward into the hearing a certain unbelieving youth with two women, whom the archdeacon of that province had accused of the crime of the worst unbelief; namely, that the youth refused to enter a church or to take part in the divine sacraments or be content with the warning of the Catholic fathers and had allowed himself to be crucified, bearing the appearance still of five wounds on his body, and that he was called Jesus by these women who praised him. One of the women was accused, because she had been dedicated to wicked incantations for a long time and because she had converted the aforesaid youth by means of her magic arts to such insanity. As for these two, having been convicted of such a crime, they were commanded to be imprisoned between two walls until they died. But the other woman, the sister of the aforesaid youth, was set free, since she had revealed the impiety of the others.

In that same year, a certain Jew, a necromancer, paid a certain boy to collect the skin of those who had recently died, so that he might, by certain necromantic incantations, see into the future; the boy, when interrogated, spoke about future things that appeared to him as if happening presently. [my lousy translation]

(thanks to Gavin Langmuir, “Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder,” Speculum 59 (1984): 820-846, at 836 n55 for directing me to Ralph and Jacques).

Cistercians and Cluniacs: St Bernard’s Apologia to Abbot William

878746Bernard faced two mutually incompatible tasks: to calm the squabbling of (reformist) Cistercian and (presumptively sybaritic) Cluniacs, to maintain his good relations with Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, and, in a larger sense, to prevent scandal to the church. The first chunk of the treatise moves along nicely: he accuses his fellow Cistercians of being moralizing hypocrites who have done no better than find an uncomfortable road to Hell (35). He spins out an allegory on Joseph’s multicolored coat as a symbol of the various orders of the church, all coexisting harmoniously in their difference, and thus forming a “manifold unity” (44), and then assails those who, scorning others, have “the long, large log of pride” (46) in their eyes, while forgetting that “humility in furs is better than pride in tunics” (48). So far, so good: Bernard sounds like the Augustine of Confessions and Against the Manicheans in his insistence on the spirit, not the letter, of the law, and on abstinence as a moral, rather than physical, thing.

However, after writing “You [Cistercian:] keep [the Rule:] more strictly; he, perhaps, keeps it more reasonably” (51), Bernard turns to a satiric assault on Cluniac excess. But the excess may be primarily in Bernard’s rhetoric–and, for that matter, his logic; given what he argued in the opening, how can he insist that “any vice that shows up on the surface must have its source in the heart” (61)?

A minor point: he batters the Cluniacs because of their inadequate taming of the flesh; but then he sneers at them for their elaborate dishes, helpfully offering that such dishes oppress more than repress the stomach (56). The point may well be that excessive pleasure leads to its opposite, but, given the context, we can’t help but think of the Cluniac egg-eaters as punishing their flesh in their own peculiar way, by (over)filling instead of emptying the stomach.

While [author:Jean Leclercq|104640]’s introduction wisely reminds us of the textuality of Bernard’s treatise, warning us of its imperfect utility for social history, nevertheless, Bernard–and Leclercq’s introduction for that matter–contain some interesting material: on eating (Peters Damian and Venerable warn that the seas and land will be denuded of animals to feed monastic appetites, although both are worried, not about animals, but about the bad effects on human abstinents (17-18)); on clothing and textiles (apparently catskins, especially imported (!) catskins, were a la mode for monastic bedspreads (60)); warfare (contra Le Goff on Yvain, Bernard speaks of arrows and spears flying in warfare(58)–also note that Bernard speaks of soldier’s cloaks as suitable for kings (61),which says something about the changing status of the milites); disability (“sick” brothers, as a sign of their sickness, staggered around on with walking-sticks, so “earning” themselves better food (58)); on architecture (the beauty of a church inspires richer donations (65), a point not lost on university endowment officers!); and, most famously, interior decoration. Here we find Bernard’s assault on the “ridiculous monstrosities in the cloisters”:

Here is one head with many bodies, there is one body with many heads. Over there is a beast with a serpent for its tail, a fish with an animal’s head, and a creature that is horse in front and goat behind, and a second beast with horns and the rear of a horse. (66, and also see Aelred’s Mirror of Charity, where he characterizes such decorations as “the amusements of women” (qtd 67 n169), and, of course, the opening bits of Horace’s Art of Poetry)

My only complaint, apart from Bernard’s logic, is the shortness of this volume. Given that (at least) two Cluniac responses to Bernard survive, and given that this book is only 60 or so pages long, there’s no reason the responses couldn’t have been translated with this, except, of course, that this is a product of Cistercian publishers. Thanks, whited sepulchers!

Note that this work also translated in The Cistercian World. It would be nicely paired on a syllabus with the [book:Libellus de diversis ordinibus|5883772].

Burning to Read: : English Fundamentalism and Its Reformation Opponents, James Simpson

2093675Several months ago, visiting family, someone mentioned that he had just returned from a sermon on Ezekiel 16. We asked, “what did the pastor say?” “Do what God wants or else.” If you don’t know Ezekiel 16, have a read: it tropes Israel as a foundling that God raises, pimps out, marries, and then casts out for sleeping around. It might not strike you that “do what God wants or else” is the best or even an adequate reading of the strange sexuality of this chapter, but, armed with Simpson’s Burning to Read, you can at least have a sense of the faithfulness of such an interpretation to early modern “Evangelical” (Simpson’s locution in preference to the anachronistic “Protestant”) hermeneutics and soteriology. Likewise you will understand why I recall that Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”) was the favorite verse of my fundamentalist upbringing.

Simpson’s book, admittedly polemic, seeks to uproot claims that the liberal tradition begins with the ‘liberation’ of reading and interpretation in the early 16th century. His secondary purpose is to recuperate Thomas More and to reveal William Tyndale as champion of intolerance. David Daniell, Tyndale’s modern day promoter and (to put it kindly) anglophile, gets kicked down the stairs repeatedly: this is a thrilling bonus. As Simpson argues, evangelical reading practices simultaneously idolized the ‘mere’ text, jettisoned non-textual contexts (such as traditions, reading communities, historical situation, and different speech situations), atomized the reader, made adherence to scripture impossible, and set up this very impossibility as the foundation of spiritual life (since one’s own sense of failure was a sign, *perhaps,* that one belonged to the Elect). Despair, paranoia, and the secret impulses of fundamentalism sprang up in ground fertilized by Tyndale and Luther, points Simpson makes alternately by close reading of treatises and Psalm translations by Henrican courtiers (most of whom were on the verge of execution) and by citing casualty figures for the religious persecutions and religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Burning to Read never quite clarifies what this despair &c sprang up in place of. This is odd, since Simpson is a medievalist. As a result, the medieval church implicitly comes off much better than it should (and I’ll let aside Simpson’s explanation for More’s persecution of Evangelicals: short version: he blames it on *Evangelical* reading practices!). Given that the book is semi-popular rather than strictly scholarly, I can’t expect it to have the citational apparatus of, say, The King’s Two Bodies. Nonetheless, I wonder at the absence of any reference to Pelagianism. I also wonder at the absence of any reference to Reginald Pecock’s Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy (1450). In defending the mainstream Church from the Lollards’ refusal to hear any argument but those derived from scriptura sola, Pecock “asserts that whoever ‘expresseli’ bids any ‘gouernance’ to be carried out…’includingli’ bids all those further (unspecified) things to be done which logically flow out of the said ‘gouernaunce.’ Therefore one cannot rightly insist ‘that needis ech gouernaunce of Goddis … lawe and seruise muste be groundid expresseli in Holi Scripture'” (qtd from Alcuin Blamires, “The Wife of Bath and Lollardy,” Medium Aevum 58 (1989), at 228). Pecock’s argument helps encompass ecclesiastical traditions, the sacraments, &c, all this seemingly non-scriptural ‘dross’ that the Evangelicals scorned, within scripture, while rescuing scripture from mere textuality, returning it to the vitalism of communities of faith as a lived experience. Surely this treatise, and the late 14th- and 15th-century English debates to which it belongs, belongs in Simpson’s book? Without it, the debates of Tyndale, Luther, and More appear to be sui generis; with it, we would have been much better able to isolate the conditions that enabled Evangelical ascendence and all its nasty aftereffects.

As a side note, the discussion of Josiah (who provides a model for the bloody effects of the ‘rediscovery’ of scripture) could have been made even more useful had Simpson observed that the struggles described are, so far as I know, actually within “Judaism” between the centralizing Temple Cult and the dispersed Shrine Cultists, rather than–as it’s portrayed in Scripture–between Hebrews and purportedly “foreign” deities.

I should in closing emphasize that the last two paragraphs are grousing, ungenerous given how much I enjoyed the book, its argument, and its limpid prose. I simply wish, then, that Simpson, or his publisher, had provided a page labeled “for more on these issues see” followed by a list of relevant books on the relevant late medieval controversies

Animals and the Resurrection

paradiseIn my conference paper on meat and the resurrection, I quickly treated the question of animal resurrection in mainstream Christian doctrine: the answer? They don’t. Since then, I’ve been caught in a kind of research loop….

In between bouts of teaching and grading and committee-meeting [but, happy to say, not job-hunting: I hereby offer my support and encouragement to any of our readers interviewing at the MLA in a couple of weeks. All best!], my blog post-cum-book section swelled up into what could have been 3,000+ words: more an accidental conference paper than food for the blog. I realized I needed to limit myself, in part out of consideration for your time, but also to rein in this material. Even so, it’s probably too long for the blog. My apologies.

In Genesis 1:31, having finished his work, God gives his creation one last approving look. According to J. Edward Wright, this look inspired “a longing to return to this ‘very good’ mythical place, the place where humans existed before evil, pain, and suffering were introduced into our existence” (189); hence, as Wright suggests, the popularity of the conception of heaven as a garden. Yet something is missing: the renewed creation can scarcely be called a “garden.” Where are the animals? Where are the plants? They might be saved, but nowhere does Wright indicate that animals or plants ever found a place in heaven. I do not mean to single out Wright: his work, otherwise excellent, is typical of celestial studies in his non-acknowledgment of animal or other worldly nonhuman life (e.g., Peter Toon, Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview; Clifford Davidson, ed.,The Iconography of Heaven; Jan Swango Emerson and Hugh Feiss, eds, Imagining Heaven in the Middle Ages; Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History; Carolyn Muessig and Ad Putter, eds, Envisaging Heaven in the Middle Ages).

But regardless of what Aquinas might say (see here and, for the Latin, here), regardless of the gaps in celestial studies more generally, plants and animals do sometimes appear in the future paradise. Verdant, bucolic heavens appear as early as 2 Enoch 8:1-3 and, in more mainstream works, in Jeremiah 31:12 and Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25 and in Revelations 22:2, which finds a place for the tree of life in the Eternal City. The twelfth-century De contemptu mundi of Bernard of Cluny pictures a heaven in which the saints will “stroll and dance amidst holy lilies and blooming flowerbuds” (21); the Elucidarium pictures a world freed of the postlapsarian curse, in which “odoriferis floribus, liliis, rosis, violis immarcessibiliter” (PL 171:1168D; unfading, sweet-smelling flowers—lilies, roses, violets) bloom in a world without thorns; and Pearl famously imagines the afterlife as a garden thronged with the souls of the saved. There’s also this painting, which, if you’re feeling generous, can stand in for any number of sylvan depictions of paradise.

Giovanni di Paolo’s painting takes the floral luxury of the Elucidarium one step further by granting animals a place in paradise. They find a place, too, in Savonarola’s Compendium of Revelations, where “mild animals, like white sheep, ermines, rabbits, and harmless creatures” frolic in a meadow, although Savonarola effaces their animal existence by glossing them as representing “Christians engaged in the active life.” However, in a much earlier work, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies 5.33.4, actual animals resurrect to live again as they did in Eden:

the resurrection of the just [shall also apply] to those animals mentioned. For God is rich in all things. And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth. But some other occasion, and not the present, is [to be sought] for showing that the lion shall [then] feed on straw. And this indicates the large size and rich quality of the fruits. For if that animal, the lion, feeds upon straw [at that period], of what a quality must the wheat itself be whose straw shall serve as suitable food for lions?

To the best of my current knowledge, Irenaeus’s point here had little effect on medieval Christianity. Various apocryphal stories (discussed ably by Christopher R. Matthews in this anthology) were as uninfluential: in a version of the story of Androcles and the lion, the apostle Paul is saved in the arena by a lion he once baptized (Jerome, who himself records talking centaurs and all manner of pious animals, sniffed at the story: what nerve!); in the Acts of Philip, Philip and his entourage baptize a goat and a leopard, both of which eventually transform into humans in order to receive the Eucharist and thus, presumably, become suited for the resurrection. As stillborn as were these stories, tantalizing evidence of hope for animal life occasionally appears in later texts. Students of Middle English will remember the church founded at the end of Bevis of Hampton to pray for the souls of Bevis, his wife Josian, “And also for Arondel, / Yif men for eni hors bidde schel” (4616-7). In Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (in a version of a tale also told by Rutebeuf), a poor village priest buries his beloved dog in a churchyard (and manages to dodge the avarice of his bishop by convincing him that the dog had set aside a fund for its own burial).

Yet the mainstream exegetical reaction to Romans 8:19-23 is telling. Paul writes:

For the expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.

Paul is otherwise scornful of animal life (see 1 Corinthians 9:9-10). But here, if “the creature” that groaningly awaits delivery from “corruption” into another more perfect existence is understood as distinct from the “ourselves” and “we” awaiting the “redemption of the body,” then Paul is suggesting that nonhuman life will resurrect. The possibility, only a possibility because of Paul’s typically obscure prose, becomes glaringly apparent in the reactions of medieval exegesis. Rabanus Maurus feels compelled to assert that “creaturam, ut pote rationabilem, habere exspectationem quamdam” (PL 111:1454C; “the creature,” insofar as it is rational, has this expectation). A late antique commentary on the Epistles (ascribed by the PL to Jerome but likely by Pelagius) explains that Paul’s promise of redemption could apply only to humans and then reemphasizes the proper dominance of humans over the worldly creation: “Exspectatio creaturae, de rationi creatura sermonem fecit, et non sicut quidam existimant, de irrationali, vel insensibili, quae ad servitutem hominum creata est” (PL 30: 683A; “The expectation of the creature”: he said this about a rational creature, and not as some think, about an unreasoning creature, or an insensible one, which was made to serve man). Augustine’s exegesis in the Refutation of the Priscillianists and Origenists and in question sixty-seven of the Miscellany of Eight-Three Questions proved to be the foundational approach to the verses (see the commentaries by Lanfranc, PL 150:132A-B; Hervé de Bourg-Dieu, PL 181: 710D-11C; Hugh of St. Victor, PL 175:481D; William of St.-Thierry, PL 180:634D-635A; and Peter Lombard, PL 191:1442B-1444C). Countering the purportedly Origenist notion that the stars and other celestial bodies might resurrect, Augustine argued that Paul referred only to humans. As he explained, all creation may be understood as present in humans, since humans are a microcosm: they are rational, like angels; they can sense, like animals; they have life, like trees, which, like our hair, can grow without being aware of its own growth. Moreover, the four elements are present in humans: they are made from earth, heat is required for bodily life and “light shines forth from our eyes”; the lungs are filled with air; and the flow of blood is evidence of the presence of moisture. Haymo of Auxerre (in a commentary the PL ascribes mistakenly to Haymo of Halberstadt) directly asserts what is only hinted at by other exegetes, namely, the gross error of any reading of the passage that “comprehenderit…bestias” (PL 117:432B,; understood it as being about beasts) rather than as about men, who can stand in for all creation. For, in Haymo’s citation of Gregory the Great wrote, humans “esse cum lapidibus, vivere cum arboribus, sentire et [0432D] vivere cum animalibus; intelligere, id est rationabilitatem habere, cum angelis” (PL 117:432D; have being as do stones, live as do trees, sense and live as do animals, understand, that is, have reason, as do angels).

To sum up: the most doctrinally orthodox Christianity reserved the afterlife for rational beings only: humans, God, and angels. Only animals and other worldly nonhuman life, as I have argued elsewhere, could be said to die; humans suffered, at worst, an interruption. Nonetheless, we can still glimpse witnesses to the love of humans for at least individual animals; in a point I hope to talk about further, we can also witness the difficulty of imagining human life unworlded. The gardens of paradise, I think, are not just returns to Eden; they are not just fantasies of an elite in love with their own Springtime. Ralph Acampora has argued that the primacy of being “always already caught up in the experience of being a live body thoroughly involved in a plethora of ecological and social interrelationships with other living bodies and people” (5). It requires a vigorous effort, the effort of high, professional doctrine, to sustain the imagination of a future in which humans exist as themselves, with their God and with the angels and with each other, but without anything else; it requires an effort as vigorous as any effort, Cartesian or otherwise, of “dissociation and nonaffiliation” (5) with the world. Failures of that effort, or what might better be called refusals to unrecognize being a worlded (human) creature, can be witnessed in those visions of paradise that are worlds, like this one, but better, of humans and plants and animals and rocks and wind and the smell of flowers, all with each other. To fail the philosophical project of Aquinas and others is, as Acampora might write, to sustain oneself in the hope of the presently existing paradise that we could make paradise if only we knew our place in it.

The Return of the Pig?

I’m told that I’ve been away for too long. What brought me back, today, and I hope again and again, is a dispensation sealed with a promise. Various people, bless their hearts, wanted to bi- or even tri-localize at SEMA Saturday morning, and I convinced them to leave my panel alone by promising to load down the blog with my conference paper. ITM wouldn’t suffer too much, after all, since chunks of what I gave at SEMA I’ve done in some version before.

But, my friends, by missing my paper, you also missed a very alimentary journey from eating to digestion to excretion to more excretion (yes, twice, for what is shit but excess?): Fabienne Michelet on the OE Andreas, a favorite poem around these parts; Michael Johnson, on a chain of shitty asses in Provençal lyric; and Susan Morrison, Charlotte Allen’s bête noire, who, in granting us a glimpse of her fecopoetics, refused play the hoarder (a favorite piece from her paper: the 15th-century travel guide that describes the habitus of the committed shipboard shitter in a bit too much detail: remember how the reluctance to pray is overcome by habitual kneeling? How habitual kneeling itself makes prayer sincere? Now imagine unbuckling your cloak, 3 times a day, to trick your Jerusalem-bound bowels into sliding past their ironic refusal to engage).

Away from St. Louis, having given your Saturday morning to other pleasures, weep for your loss, charissimi, if you can, but not so hard you can’t track what follows. Pour yourself a cup of tea, put up your fuzzy slippers, and read on.

The earthly material out of which men’s mortal bodies are created never perishes; but though it may crumble into dust and ashes, or be dissolved into vapors and exhalations, though it may be transformed into the substance of other bodies, or dispersed into the elements, though it should become food for beasts or men, and be changed into their flesh, it returns in a moment of time to that human soul which animated it at the first, and which caused it to become man, and to live and grow.

This argument for the persistence and return of the human body, taken from Augustine’s Enchiridion, might have been drawn from any medieval explanation of Christian resurrection doctrine. The doctrine was well suited for alleviating concerns over catastrophic change and the total disappearance of the body. Shipwrecks and anthropophagous animals, deaths in the arena or at the stake, putrefaction, dessication, and dispersal: none of this actually destroyed the body. There could be nothing simpler than coping with catastrophic destruction, but life itself proved an almost insoluble problem. During their life, humans grew, and eating, digestion, and assimilation—apparently—caused this growth. Life means change. If the human body changed as a result of things it consumed, what could be identified as the original body? What if the inhuman substance of food supplanted rather than merely supplemented the resurrectable human body? What if, as Peter Lombard wondered (see Bynum Resurrection 124), eating and digestion gradually transformed human bodies into bread or roast pig? What of the human would remain?

Peter Lombard’s anxiety about bread is unusual. Typically, resurrection doctrine focused on the problem of meat. Another twelfth-century theologian, Master Martin, offered the argument that the

meats of animals and fish that are fit for the table of humans turn into the flesh of the eater. All the flesh of humans will resurrect, therefore the flesh of these animals, having been made human, will resurrect. Also, the flesh of humans crosses over into the flesh of a wolf [that has eaten humans] and thus the flesh of the wolf will resurrect since the flesh of humans, which has crossed over into the wolf, will resurrect.

Similarly, Gilbert of Poitiers argued that if what humans ate turns into human flesh, then “pig flesh would resurrect”; and an anonymous twelfth-century Summa wondered whether “man, in eating beast flesh, turns it into his own flesh and that conversely a beast eating human flesh turns it into its own flesh, and thus the flesh of a beast having been converted into human flesh or having been made human will resurrect” (see Richard Heinzmann, Die Unsterblichkeit der Seele und die Auferstehung des Leibes 211). These questions all implied the possibility of a paradise thronged with human-animal hybrids. In a sense this was a best case scenario, as the “chain consumption” problem suggested that some unfortunate humans might not be able to resurrect at all. In a typical chain consumption scenario—such as that found in Julian of Toledo’s seventh-century Prognosticon or its thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman translation—a wolf kills and eats a man, and then a lion kills and eats the wolf, and then dies shortly afterwards. I’ll quote from the translation: “The carcass lay on the ground and entirely rotted and turned to earth: where could the man be found in here? Know, indeed, that I do not believe at all that this man could be recuperated from death into life, because the earth that was the man cannot be divided from that which became the beasts’!”

Resurrection doctrine focused particularly on animal flesh because of the essential role played by the resurrection in distinguishing human from merely animal life. The Christian tradition almost universally asserted that the afterlife would be without plants and animals. Irenaeus’s Against Heresies argues that immortal, resurrected humans would spend eternity with animals—including straw-eating, vegetarian lions; there is also the common medieval story about Judas’s rooster [e.g., Cursor Mundi, Horrall ed., III.15985-93], which springs back to life to mock Judas’s declaration that Jesus could no more resurrect than the rooster in his pot; but, to the best of my knowledge, Irenaeus’s conception of heaven as an exact restoration of the Edenic paradise did not take root in medieval Christianity, and Judas’s rooster, after all, was presumably resurrected only to end its existence, once again, in the soup. The main literary tradition on the resurrection, The Fifteen Signs of the Last Judgment, shows humans entering into eternity and animals, if it acknowledges them at all, as only mourning as their complete destruction approaches. Christian scholars generally insisted that the souls of animals did not outlast animal life. And Aquinas explained that since “in that final renewal of the universe…the body will rise not natural but spiritual…animals and plants will…cease to exist then.” Both humans and animals had bodies that were born, that grew and ate, and that underwent pain and putrefaction, but resurrection did away with these resemblances by breaking human life entirely from any shared bodily existence with animals. Furthermore, since humans would resurrect, only animals could really die; humans experienced what might better be called a temporary setback, or a preparatory stage for a more perfect existence. Resurrection would fail as an ultimate guarantee of difference, however, if the doctrinal worries about digestion proved justified. If animals that were eaten by or ate humans could enter into eternal life, if humans might enter eternal life as hybrid human-animals, and if humans eaten by animals might, through digestion, become animal flesh and thus be unable to resurrect, then to quote once more the question from the Dialogue of St. Julian, “where could the man be found in here?” With every bite, the human would gradually meld with the animal and be given over to death.

There is at least one additional complication to the utility of the resurrection for separating humans from animals: the resurrection is the promised, eternal demonstration of the distinction between humans and animals, while the worldly, present-day guarantee of difference is the human subjugation of animals. In a process that Derrida termed carnophallogocentrism, humans establish themselves retroactively, through this subjugation, as uniquely possessing “speech or reason, the logos, history, laughing, mourning, burial, the gift, and so on”: had Derrida extended his analysis to the Christian Middle Ages, his “and so on” would have included the immortal soul. The human consumption of animal flesh is the central act of domination by which animal life is denigrated and human life exalted and thereby created as human life. In this system, no human can be slaughtered and eaten, at least not legitimately, whereas no form of Christianity could deny the legitimacy of eating animals without incurring the suspicion of heresy. A human death might be murder, but an animal death at the most would be only a property crime. With a few notable exceptions, any claim that an animal might possess more than merely instrumental life was self-evidently absurd: this explains, in part, the humor of the Testamentum porcelli and the Stultus Stultorum, and the scorn of the Apostle Paul and Guibert of Nogent for the Deuteronomic verses that call for kindness towards animals.

If the human establishes itself as human by dominating animals, then, in another instance of the key insight of any number of postmodern philosophies, there is no essential human identity; there is only a fundamental conflict. The human is both a structural position and an ongoing event that seeks to produce both the human and the animal by elevating one and denigrating the other. It might be expected that this conflict could end once humans resurrected into an afterlife populated only by God, angels—or demons—and by other humans, where humans will have assumed their perfected bodies, freed from all flux. By passing through death, humans finally realize their distinction from nonhuman earthly life, and, in an afterlife lacking any lifeforms that can be dominated, they should be freed from the necessity of conflict. This peaceful end might be understood as the point when the human at long last comes into its own. But if the meat-eating by which the human struggles to be human contaminates the human body, if the pork we eat resurrects with us, then that struggle will be marked on the human body for eternity. Rather than finally arriving at an identity, the human will permanently display a corporeal reminder of its systemic antagonism; rather than transcending flux, flux would be fixed in the human forever. The truth of human nature—its contingency, its inessential relationality—will be irrepressible.

Christian thinkers countered this truth of human nature by proposing another truth. Only what belonged to what they called the veritas humanae naturae, “the truth of our human nature” would resurrect. In effect, this clarification set aside a portion of the human body as essentially human, rendering the rest of the body a kind of inhuman supplement unfit for resurrection, associated rather than joined with the truth of body. Philip Lydon Reynolds’s Food and the Body: Some Peculiar Questions in High Medieval Theology tracks the doctrinal debates over whether food could contribute to the truth of human nature. Theologians like Peter Lombard and Master Martin answered no. Proof texts for this position included God’s creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, the feeding of the 5,000 from the 5 loaves, the resurrection of infants into adult bodies, and Matthew 15:17, “Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy?” Thus, the human would be preserved from its own eating; pig flesh, as Gilbert of Poitiers wrote, would not resurrect [“Die Sententie Magistri Gisleberti Pictavensis Episcopi (II). Die Version der Florentiner Handschrift.” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge (AHDLMA) 46 (1979): 45-105]. While this solution required that human growth take place miraculously rather than naturally, while it cut off the human from any alimentary interaction with the world, it had the advantage of simplicity on other points: nothing essential in the human body was subject to change.

Later theologians promoted a naturalistic explanation for human growth. The aforementioned anonymous twelfth-century Summa, which, after wondering whether animals might resurrect, provides several options, the first two miraculous, and the latter at least tending towards a naturalistic explanation of growth:

Neither human flesh turns into that of a wild beast or the other way around, but…one nourishes the other and makes it grow . . . Or, if it is allowed that one is converted into another, it is not however converted into the truth of human nature or the other way around. Or, however, if they are converted the Lord will know one from another and in the resurrection will separate them.

Another anonymous treatise, De novissimus, argues that pork eaten by people

is not pork but is transformed into human substance to be resurrected, and so will not be unsuitable, just as the mud of the earth is not simply mud, but, having been transfigured into the human form, will arise with Adam. [Edited in Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, 6 vols. (Louvain,: Abbaye du Mont César, 1942), Vol. V, 396.]

Chain consumption arguments, like that in the Prognosticon, always ended by asserting that God would sort things out. The Elucidarium explains:

What was the flesh of the man will resurrect; what is of beasts will stay behind. For He knows well how to separate these, who knew how to make everything from nothing. Therefore, whether they are devoured limb by limb by beasts or by fishes or by birds, all will be reformed in the resurrection so much so that not one of their hairs will perish.

Finally, Aquinas, like De novissimus, asserts that “although that part of matter which at one time was under the form of bovine flesh rises again in man under the form of human flesh, it does not follow that the flesh of an ox rises again, but the flesh of a man: else one might conclude that the clay from which Adam’s body was fashioned shall rise again.”

The double argument that food contributed to human growth and that only the human body could resurrect granted humans a monopoly on constructive earthly violence. Animals’ own meat-eating could have no long-term effect: animal flesh consumed by other animals might assimilate to the carnivore’s body, or it might pass out of its body, but both eater and eaten were destined for the same end to which all nonhuman animals were subject. Human flesh consumed by animals might become part of their bodies, for a time, but God will separate human from animal flesh for the resurrection, so ordering animals and humans into their own proper destinies.

Barring the cannibal consumption of unensouled fetuses—which I won’t get into today—the violence of the human consumption of animals is the only violence that might transform flesh into a substance fit for the Eternal City. No pig or cow could become immortal, but by suffering the violence of humans, either might contribute to an immortal substance. What could be put to use would be, and the rest would be discarded. The life of an animal was only a means, never an end.

Yet even while belittling animals, theologians nonetheless commemorated animal life and death, as the peculiar attention to meat in these debates itself attests to the value of animal life. It is that moment prior to the final belittlement, the moment the life of the pig enters the theologian’s consciousness, the moment prior to the declaration that the pig will not resurrect, the moment before the theologian announces that God cannot think the life of a pig worth preserving, on which I want to linger as I continue to think about these matters.

WOOFING AND WEEPING: The State of Research, or No One Knows But God

437704271_75e20c18caIn much of his late work, Jacques Derrida characterized the question of the animal as “not one question among others” but the question that “represents the limit upon which all the great question are formed and determined, as well as all the concepts that attempt to delimit what is ‘proper to man,’ the essence and future of humanity, ethics, politics, law, ‘human rights,’ ‘crimes against humanity. ‘genocide,’ etc.” The humanism that utterly divides humans from animals is a legacy of the Christian Middle Ages; consequently, the Middle Ages is an ideal site for exploring the development of the modern concept of the human. It is also, however, a place in which other possibilities for human/animal relationship might be discovered. When and where is anthropocentrism suspended? Such moments might be discovered in hunting practices, chivalry, various literary texts–Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, traditions of the “hairy saint”–and medieval theology and philosophy (from either Christian or non-Christian traditions), all of which might productively be used to think through, for example, the phenomenological ethics of Ralph Acampora, the assemblages of humans, animals, and objects in Deleuze and Guattari, and even perhaps the responsibility promoted by Levinas, despite his indifference to the question of animals.

On with the show! Several weeks ago, I discussed stumbling upon the weeping of animals in Ava’s version of the 15 Signs of the Last Judgment. In response to Eileen’s request that I clarify my interest in this scene, I wrote (slightly edited):

Given the profound anthropocentricism of sacred history–since however much God or Creation matters, God and Creation matter only insofar as they serve humankind–any acknowledgment of other lives is always in excess of what is required. Animal life should not rate; after all, they have no share in the afterlife, there’s no friendship possible with them, they can be the recipient of only indirect duties, &c. I think here of Heidegger’s conviction that animals, in their total captivation in their world and thus their total inability to relate to the future, can only “perish,” that they cannot die [since writing this, I’ve discovered some roots of Heidegarrian animal thinking in Schopenhauer, who wrote “indeed the brutes do not properly speaking feel death” and “between the brute and the external world there is nothing, but between us and the external world there is always our thought about it”]

Yet in Ava we have several stanzas concerned solely with disruptions to animal life. We can conceive of these stages of the 15 signs as a systematic undoing of creation (hence the fish first, then fowl, then beasts of the field), and hence as moving in a trajectory towards the human. Nevertheless, Ava–and I hope not only Ava–marks the suffering of animals as a particular suffering in creation. It’s not simply that the mountains are falling, the seas turning to blood, freshwater is turning bitter, and all the other business from John’s Apocalypse.

Instead, in excess of what is strictly necessary for her project, which nowhere else pays much attention to animals, Ava acknowledges the lives and deaths and passions of animals. And she acknowledges the relations of animals with each other. Her acknowledgment does not redeem animals, but I’d say that the fact that animals cannot be redeemed increases the interest. We might say that we see zoē–mere life–and “animal sacer” given what they should lack: a voice, a sadness, rage, a death that matters, even at the very moment when their deaths, in a sense, matter least of all (since they’re not being sacrificed anymore to human appetite or instrumentality). And we might say that this is not “given” but is rather revealed. At the very moment humans pass into redemption, at the very moment when their lives are marked for eternity as the only lives that ‘really matter,’ we see–maybe!–the catastrophe of human indifference to animal life. Sacrificed life, a life only as means, speaks and reveals itself as what it was all along, as life, as an end in itself, but only at the moment of its destruction. This is the one moment, the only moment, when animal life is for itself.

To this I’ll add that we see a grief that cannot be sacrificed. Whatever the fear of humans during the last 15 days, their fear will be exchanged for something, whether heaven or hell; but whatever the fear–or love, in fact–of animals, they ultimately get nothing for it. Certainly the fear of animals has been put on display for humans, since, insofar as it astonishes humans, since insofar as it’s being expressed in a particular genre with a particular purpose, it is being sacrificed to the generation of proper human piety; but this is not all there is. My argument–and this, I hope, begins to answer Nicola’s complicated comment on the previous post–may include: a) that animals are shown to experience more fully than humans the injustice of the end of hope and dread; b) that animals do in fact get closer than humans to the Great Impossibility, namely, the experience of their own deaths, since, after all, humans, even in dying, leap over their own deaths into eternal life.

I knew that the fifteen signs were a medieval Christian commonplace, but I was also nervous that Ava’s attention to animals would be the only place animals received any notice. Time spent with William W. Heist’s The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday (Michigan State College Press, 1952) and in the meagerness of Brooklyn College’s library (would whoever moved The Prick of Conscience please put it back where it belongs?) dispersed all my worries. Here’s some of what I discovered:

  • Heist argues that the Irish Saltair na Rann is the most important source for the transmission of the 15 signs: there are a few references to animals in it, but as I can’t even fake Old Irish, and since Heist offers his translation as provisional, I’m just marking this wellspring and moving on;
  • the pseudo-Bede, from the PL (provided in Heist, with a translation): “Quarta die pisces et omnes belluae marinae, et congregabuntur super aquas, et dabunt voces et gemitus, quarum significationem nemo scit nisi Deus.” “On the fourth day the fishes and all the sea monsters will both gather together upon the waters and give forth voices and groans, whose meaning no one knows but God.” (25);
  • Peter Damian’s De novissimis et Antichristo (warning: PDF): “The sign of the fourth day: all the monsters and all things that live in the water of the sea will be gathered together upon the sea, roaring and bellowing back and forth as though in contest; and men will not know what they are singing or what they are thinking, but only God will know, by whom all live that His purpose may be fulfilled. These four signs are of the sea, and the next three signs are of the air and ether. The sign of the fifth day: flying creatures of all heaven will assemble in the fields, every kind in its order; these birds will be speaking and weeping together, fearing the coming of the Judge…The sign of the ninth day: all the stones, both small and great, will be split into four parts, and each part will strike the other part, and no man will understand that sound, but only God [this included in the quotation because I thought it might interest Jeffrey]….The sign of the twelfth day: all the beasts of the earth will come from the woods and mountains to the fields roaring and bellowing, not eating and not drinking” (Heist trans, 28).

As I expected, the 15 signs appear frequently in Middle English, and the four or five references that I’ve examined so far tend to include references to animals. Two examples. In the “Quindecim Signa ante diem Judicii” (ed. in Furnivall, Hymns to the Virgin and Christ EETS OS 23, 118-25) all creation cries out:

“The ix day, wondyr hytt ys,
As the prophecy tellyth hytt I wys:
Thatt all þynge schall speke þan,
And cry in erthe aftyr þe steuyn off man,
And be-mone hem self in owr sy3th
Ryth as þey speke myth” (ll. 100-105)

To forestall any memory work by medieval drama specialists: I did find the reference in the Chester “Antichrist’s Prophets,” where one of the Expositor’s several references to animals runs “All manner of beastes shall rore and crye / and neyther eate nor drynke” (ll. 321-4)

Now, if you’re still with me, I want to point out that animals are not the only grieving elements of creation. In an Anglo-Norman version, “the stars fall from heaven and run about the earth like lightning; they shed tears and run under the mountain; they turn black and plunge into the abyss….the moon turns to blood, descends, and tries to run into the sea….all the rivers speak and cry to God for mercy” (28-29, Heist’s summary: I haven’t examined the original yet). However, my research so far suggests that crying stars and pleading rivers are less common compared to crying and pleading animals. Surely it’s easier to imagine an animal crying than a star; and most traditions of the 15 Signs do not include weeping stars, which surely matters in an eschatological tradition whose content remained–remarkably?–stable throughout its life. I’m justified, then, in concentrating on animals, but, at the same time, I thought some of our posthuman ITMers might want to know about the stars, just as they might want to know about the “battling rocks” (debellabunt petrae adinvicem) of pseudo-Bede.

We’ll see where this takes me! Hopefully to Kzoo 2009. Suggestions and comments are, of course, encouraged.

(creative common image from here, from flickr user ChinchillaVilla)


Nicola, first, thanks for the reminder about Lippit. On its face, I’m inclined to say that the animals are not experiencing/shown to be experiencing a suspension of temporality (although I’d have to review Lippit’s argument to know if I’m mangling his thought or not). Rather, I’d say they’re, as they do so often, experiencing the deaths that humans, at least in mainstream medieval Christian doctrine (hereafter MMCD), never do. Only animals experience–or suffer–the complete breakdown of the body, only they have–if this can be called a ‘having’–the sheer vulnerability of life that cannot be exchanged for anything else (including memories, since, after all, who remembers–who memorializes–slaughtered pigs? This gets at my SEMA paper). Can we say that time is being suspended in any way in this moment? I’m not sure, so I’d love to hear more from you on this point. For now, I’m inclined to think that the future ends, and with it, time itself. That complete end marks it, I think, as something other than a suspension. MMCD splits the import of that terminus in two: the end of the future as the end of world and hence the end of self belongs–with the proviso about ‘having’ marked again–only to animals, whereas the end of future as the end of the threat of the future (that is, that time and our names will persist without us) belongs only to humans.

Jeffrey, thanks as well (and THANKS to Letty and Nic too!). I’ve finally ordered the Valerie Allen book, and I suppose I should read all of the Exemplaria medieval noise cluster. You now have me wondering how much I should make of the distinction between versions of the 15 signs that reference God’s singular knowledge of the meaning and those that leave out even that comfort of resolvability. As I said above, it’s a very traditional genre, which means, I think, that I should assume minimal PURPOSE to any individual variation–it’s much safer, I think, to assign the differences to happenstance transmission issues rather than individual/institutional/cultural (wherever we draw our lines) deliberation. Now, do we call this “god only knows” a “comfort”–it CAN be interpreted–or an anxious marking of the ungraspability of meaning: God, after all, isn’t going to tell anyone what the sounds mean. He hears their grief, their wailing, and still destroys them. This approach is on my mind because I was listening to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which–surprisingly–captures some of the melancholy, uncertain eschatology and deathsense that I’m seeing in the animals of this tradition:

I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it

God only knows what I’d be without you

If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me?

God only knows what I’d be without you

Lettty, thanks very much for that reference. The getacniað troubles me, however. I normally go out of my way to avoid animal allegory: my preference has been for creatures like the Donestre, who–for what reason?–mourn over the bodies of the people they kill, just as the harpies do in The Branches of the Appletree (ed. in The Tretyse of Love, J. H. Fischer, EETS OS 223):

“Vpon this braunche [compunction] makith hir neest a byrde whiche is callid harpia, that hath the semblaunce of a mannes visage, & hir nature is to slee the fyrst man she fyndeth, & thenne gooth she to some water where she beholdeth hirself & seeth that she hath slayn hir owne liknes, & thenne makyth she a full grete sorowe alwaye that euer she sawe ony man. This signefyeth þe soule that slew cryst by hir synne, whose semblaunce is in hir, for to his semblaunce was she created” (113).

I love this UNTIL we get to the “signefyeth.”

But responding to your comment has forced me to rethink some of this. The “signefyeth,” “getacniað,” “significavit” shuts things down, but rather than focus on that moment, I should focus instead–as I’ve been doing in my 15 signs thinking–on why animals included at all. In part this is a ‘why are animals good to think with’ question, and the answer to that is, in part, Jeffrey’s observations (in On Difficult Middles and in his essay in the Engaging with Nature anthology) about animals as apt sites of fantasy, as places to dream other lives. So, in part I want to mark, with you Letty, that Aelfric knows these birds mourn, and then to wonder why Aelfric should be interested in this.

Similarly, Nic, THANK you. I’ve largely avoided the Gowther because of its allegory. But you’ve suggested a useful way to come at things, and, no, I’ve NEVER thought of the 15 signs connection to it: right now, I’m inclined to think it’s tenuous, but, who knows? I’ll have another look.

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