P.Z. Myers, over at Pharyngula, recently asked folks to send him some consecrated wafers, in a response to a story that a student walked out of mass with a consecrated host instead of eating it, an act that enraged Catholics and earned him some death threats. Myers says (in other related posts) that he's also received death threats, and now there's a letter writing campaign trying to get him fired.
Makes me want to go all medieval on them all!
There are a number of medieval texts which relate stories about how non-believers (alwyas Jews, in my recollection) take a consecrated host and abuse it in some way, only to find that it turns into a baby and bleeds all the heck over when they tear it up, or bleeds and gets them caught when the local authorities basically find the river of blood. Then there's either a conversion scene or an execution scene (or a combo). Stephen Greenblatt writes about one such piece of art in Practicing New Historicism, and argues there that there's no evidence that Jews actually ever did steal host(s), and why would they, since they don't believe in the thing anyway.
Instead, Greenblatt argues, the texts (in several senses) reveal a Christian obsession with and anxieties the host and the problems of understanding, comprehending, and believing in transubstatiation, the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood through the words of the mass. They're also a handy way to incite or justify violence against Jews.
But the student's act of taking the host out of the church and Myers' request for some consecrated host sort of bring those Christian (and especially Catholic, now that there's been that whole protestant thing since the middle ages) anxieties into reality. Now, instead of creating narratives about Jewish desecrations, the thing itself is brought into play.
As Chaucer says, again and again, there is nothing new that nys not old.
I hope Myers lets us know if someone sends him some consecrated hosts and they turn into a baby and bleed all over or something.
Okay, so there's bad taste all around. Would the folks involved--the student, Myers, the Christians who are responding violently--have done the same if they studied medieval history and thought about the history of narratives about desecrating the host?
Myers is tweaking Christians just for, as it were, the pleasure of tweaking, and to point out the inconsistencies of some Christians' behaviors. But was was the student thinking? Was he hoping for/against some magical blood? Going to run some scientific tests? Chase off vampires? I think there's probably something really interesting going on in his mind, and that a good conversation would be in order. Wouldn't it be cool to show him some art?
The answers are clear: More medieval lit for all! More history! More art!