Monday, October 12, 2009

Who's Your Daddy? Bestiality and Baptism

by KARL STEEL

Thanks Jeffrey, Eileen, Jonathan, Holly, and Anna for your excellent comments below. I'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.

9 comments:

Bavardess said...

Interesting that there is such a marked gender binary at work in that passage. I imagine this ties back to the Aristotelian idea that man is the active element in generation whereas woman is just the 'matter' passively waiting to be imprinted. I wonder when people stopped believing that such unions could produce live offspring (and if that belief and baptismal practise re-appeared later in the Middle Ages)?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

This might be what you are looking for, from p. 368 of volume one. Discusses baptizing dubious humans.

Karl Steel said...

Here's a partial transcription:

"Sic etiam baptizari debent monstra ex viro, et muliere genita, et si constet ex geminatis partibus principalibus corporis, duas habere animas, bis sunt baptizanda; Si vero dubitetur, an duas habeant animas, ut v. g. (?) si aliquod monstrum habeat duo capita cum uno pectore, aut duo pectora sub eodem capita, bis Baptismus conferri debet, unus absolute in illa parte, in qua perfectius apparet caput, alius in altera parte sub hac conditione: Si non es baptizatus, vel si es capax, Ego te baptizo &c. Si autem monstrum sit genitum ex muliere, et bruto, baptizari non debet, quia certum videtur, quod non sit homo, cum ad generationem hominis per omnes requiratur semen viri. [If however the monster is born of a woman and a beast, it should not be baptized, since it seems certain that it is a not a human, since the generation of a human requires the male seed]. Quod si monstrum sit genitum ex viro, et bruto femella, baptizari debet sub hac conditione: Si es capax, Ego te baptizo &c [If the monster is born from a man and a female beast, it should be baptized conditionally, "If you are fit {to be baptized}, then I baptize you etc.] quia probabiliter est homo, cum dubium an semen foeminae ad foetum active concurrat [since it's probably a human, since it is doubtful whether the female seed has any active claim {? sorry, lousy trans.} to the fetus]. In dubio vero, an sit ex bruto masculo, vel ex viro, baptizari debet sub hac conditione: Si homo es, Ego te baptizo &c. [and if it's in doubt whether it came from a male beast, or from a man, it should be baptized conditionally, "If you are human, I baptize you etc.]

And it goes on for a while, citing some historical cases of monstrous births.

Great stuff! I love the worry about 2 souls in one body, above. And I love especially the "if you're human, I baptize you." It reminds me of nothing so much as this.

Thanks much Nicola! And see you at the departmental meeting...

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Perhaps I will find a place for the capital/pectoral doubling problem in relation to decapitation, since baptism is here working almost like a conferring of head/soul to a body.

Also makes me recall the fetus baptism discussion from Tristram Shandy.

Cheers, N

Nic D'Alessio said...

I don't have much to say yet on this post, but I can't help but think about the book "Dorsality" by David Wills.

Karl Steel said...

Nicola Capute: I like it.

Nic, I know the Wills only by reputation. Could you give me a couple more sentences?

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Tracking down theological and canon law discussions on the necessity (or not) of baptizing the offspring of bestiality is interesting -- but (and I am hear revealing my lack of perseverance when it comes to philosophical rigor versus imaginative play), I'm always intrigued at how these deep questions about souls and baptism do NOT arise all that much where monstrous are concerned.

Gerald of Wales, for example, is startling in his inconsistency when it comes to narrating the lives of such creatures: sometimes derision, sometimes sympathy, sometimes salvation, sometimes death. Sometimes just joining the herd. He's not a systematic thinker, and it seems to me that this attraction to multiple possibilities is what fostered his abiding fascination in bestiality and its products to begin with.

That has little to do with your question, Karl, or maybe it is its flip side: why bestial hybrids were so troubling to begin with. As Barvardess points out, Aristotelian theories of insemination would be one quick way out of the whole issue.

Karl Steel said...

Jeffrey, it has plenty to do with my question, so far as there was one. Mainly I was asking for help, and Nicola stepped in.

As for systematicity, agreed! Canon law is one thing, and tries to fix identities, behaviors, ritual. Ritual is defensive, recuperative, a way of doing memory, and thus is evidence of a culture's worries. In Imagining Religion, Jonathan Z. Smith writes:

"ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (i.e., the accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful. Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are in such a way that this ritualized perfection is recollected in the ordinary, uncontrolled, course of things." (63)

I think we could understand canon law's encounter with "abnormal" infants in the same way. It may retroactively justify, for example, the death or abandonment of a infant born suffering from a condition incompatible with life: it wasn't human, or a parent is to blame for some secret sin, now revealed.

But if canon law is ritual, Gerald--representatively--is the muddled stuff of life and wonder that ritual seeks to constrain. As you know, sometimes Gerald just makes 'monsters' signify, and the hermeneutic stance is incompatible with wonder, unless we think of it as among the reactive symptoms of wonder. But sometimes he just tells a story. I think narrative, which is particular to a set of circumstances, directed toward its own end, repeatable in its particularity, may be the polar opposite of ritual. And in that regard, we can think of Canon Law not as normative, but as performing normativity by flattening out the particularity of an event.

To sum up what I have so far: I don't see Canon Law, at least on this point abt monstrous infants, as representing the dominant medieval Christian thought on the issue, but rather as a contestatory reaction. Thinking the law this way sets it in motion, frees it from the way it's used by (perhaps mythical) bad medievalists, who use it as the LAW to shut down interpretation and wonder.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Eloquently stated Karl: I may end up quoting that articulation in the future. Thanks for that sensitive response.