15 November, 2006

The filthy Eucharist

Humbert. . . may well have felt that both the Greeks and Berengar could be countered once and for all by a clear, bold and strongly worded insistence on the real, physical presence of the risen Lord in the Eucharist.

. . . Berengar threw the logical conclusions of Humbert's statement in his opponent's faces. Are we to believe, Berengar smirked, that "little chunks" of Christ's Body would be spread about on all the altars in Europe to be savaged by the faithful? Does this mean a little more Jesus is made each day as thousands of Masses are being said?

. . . Guitmund agreed that the verb, attero, to crush, can mean just to touch, or to press, really hard. Since both Thomas and the holy women touched the risen Lord, albeit lightly, surely there is no indignation involved in Humbert's assertion that the Body of Christ is touched very hard by the teeth of the faithful. Besides, teeth are cleaner than hands. Just think, Guitmund mused, of all the filthy things you touch with your hands that you would not dare to put in your mouth. Even Guitmund must have sensed that this line of thought was becoming (literally and figuratively) a bit messy, so he then asserted that even if the Body of Christ were divided by teeth or hands, no indignity would result.

— Gary Macy, 'The Theological Fate of Berengar's Oath of 1059: Interpreting a Blunder Become Tradition' (1983)

A second teaching associated with Berengar early on in the dispute concerning the Eucharist was stercoranism, that is, the belief that the Body and Blood of the Lord are eaten, descend into the stomach and are subject to digestion, and finally, as the name of the teaching suggests, undergo defecation.

. . . Guitmund also accused Berengar of teaching that the Body and Blood of the Lord descend into the stomachs of mice or other animals. Guitmund went on to respond as well to those who claimed to have seen animals eat the consecrated species, and then later to have found the remains in their bodies. . . The question of what the church mouse eats if it gets its little paws on the reserved species would remain a bedeviling and fascinating question for medieval theologians.

— Gary Macy, 'Berengar's Legacy as Heresiarch' (1990)

The officiating priest was required to swallow the remaining contents of the chalice, flies and all if need be, and to ensure that not a crumb of the consecrated wafer was left behind. . . Medieval stories relate how the Host was profanely employed to put out fires, to cure swine fever, to fertilise the fields, and to encourage bees to make honey.

— Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971)

9 comments:

Brett said...

I've heard reports that some Methodist churches have special sinks that, instead of draining to the sewer or septic tank, have pipes that lead directly into the soil. These sinks are used to dispose of the communion wine/juice, the idea clearly being that reunion with the ground is preferable to ending up in human wastes.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Ah, really? I'd never heard of that before, very interesting...

Brett said...

Yeah. After posting, I looked into a little more. The Methodists I know must've inherited the practice from their Anglican forebears, and they from Catholics. I found this, among others:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piscina

Simon Holloway said...

In the 14th century a Franciscan bishop (Francis della Rovere, later Sixtus IV) caused great controversy in his declaration that Jesus' blood, shed on the cross, descended into the ground and was thus released from the 'hypostatic union' that would have otherwise ensured its ascension into heaven. He was called to defend this belief before the Pope and for centuries afterwards there was bitter antagonism on this matter with the Dominicans.

I wonder: could this Methodist practise be an indication that della Rovere's claim has now been accepted by the church? Does the newly-created blood of Christ not share the same status as that which bled into the soil two-thousand years ago? Or does this mean that they secretly recognise that it's just red wine?

Conrad H. Roth said...

I can see I'm out of my depth here...

Anonymous said...

The special sink you're talking about is commonly called a sequarium (I think that's how you spell it, but I'm not 100%)

This practice came from the need to clean the vessels after Mass, so you could just rinse them in water.

The idea about Christ being in your stomach is not really consistent with Catholic thought. From the Thomistic viewpoint, the species is only consecrated so long as it has the appearance of bread and wine (the accidents). Once they are dissolved (or evaporated) then the presence is no longer there (or least that's how I understand it).

Conrad H. Roth said...

"The idea about Christ being in your stomach is not really consistent with Catholic thought."

Well, Berengar was a good 200 years before Thomas, of course. Even Thomas' opinion raises problems, though--eg., where does the Presence go? And as far as I understand, Thomas was still debating the church-mouse question.

Simon Holloway said...

Despite never having taken the sacrament, I find the idea of consuming God somewhat enthralling. Is there a parallel, do you think, in any other religion? There is a Hindu deity who swallowed the universe and I suppose that that's kind of the same thing, albeit in reverse...

Conrad H. Roth said...

I attended an Episcopal mass once, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine of all places--the largest neo-Gothic church in the world--surrounded by a crowd of excitable hand-on-heart Carolinians. It was a daunting experience.