26 April 2015

Spitting: how, when, why, and where to do it.

The theory has been attractively argued that the collect for the Third Sunday After Easter in the Old Calendar (as that Calendar was before, according to Fr Louis Bouyer, it was wrecked by "three maniacs") was originally composed, perhaps by Pope Damasus, during a Papal campaign to get the Lupercalia celebrations in Rome banned. An aristocratic Collegium called the Fratres Luperci, naked but for a  thong, ran through the streets of the City slashing with leather whips the outstretched hands of the citizenesses - who hoped thereby to secure fertility. This collect, in such a context, would be expressing the hope that the Roman aristocracy (who had conservative tendencies) will relinquish such pagan residues as incompatible with their Christian Faith.

Even if, however, that rather jolly theory were not true in its details, it does remain very clear, from the early Roman Sacramentaries, that this Collect comes from a Mass-set deeply concerned with the duty of Christians to abstain from going to the Sacrificial Banquets  which followed and were an integral part of the worship of pagan deities. Here is another prayer from the same set: "... Deus qui tuae mensae participes a diabolico iubes abstinere convivio, da quaesumus plebi tuae ut gustu mortiferae profanitatis abiecto puris mentibus ad epulas aeternae salutis accedant" [God who dost command the participants at thy table to abstain from the banquet of the Devil, grant we beseech thee to thy people that, rejecting the taste of death-dealing profanity, they may approach with pure minds the banquets of eternal salvation]. The Preface of this Mass-set vividly describes a situation in which true and false Christians are all mixed up in the Church, so that there is risk that the True might weakly slip away, while we must hope that the False and weak will be converted and get their senses back (resipiscientiam)**.

This, of course, is the point S Paul is already making in I Corinthians 10. We all need to be reminded, in our respective cultures, of the risks of conforming to this world, to the Devil, rather than to the very different Way of our Merciful Saviour. The temptation for Greeks and Romans was the stronger because those distinctly tempting Sacrificial Banquets were both  religious and social  occasions combined. Do we always bear witness to Christ in our modern social relationships?

Our rather good Anglican Patrimonial translation of this collect:
Almighty God, who shewest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant unto them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion; that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same.
In the Latin, the word Cranmer rendered as eschew, respuere, really means spit back out.  

Spitting ... Yes! The Pontiff who composed this collect is vividly suggesting that the rather decent food provided in Pagan Sacrificial Banquets deserves really to be just spat back out! It is Diabolical! Spitting back out is a Christian duty!

Spitting ... Memories crowd in of all those old notices whereby English town councils tried to preserve genteel ladies from the offensive spitting of the lower orders (somebody ought to start a museum for surviving examples; and for other old favourites like Commit No Nuisance, and Kindly Adjust Your Clothing Before Leaving The Convenience).

But we know from first millennium documentation that part of the papal entourage, as the Pope (on horseback!) made his solemn way through the streets of Rome, was a subdeacon carrying a bowl for the Sovereign Pontiff to expectorate into. What a shame we no longer have Subdeacons (the abolition of which was a 'reform' which Dom Bernard Botte, the main post-conciliar reviser of the Pontifical, regarded as a most unfortunate breach of an ancient tradition which the West shared with the East). One imagines seminary professors needing to instruct ordinands for the Subdiaconate on the best techniques for avoiding inaccurately projected Pontifical Spittle. Dear me, how I do ramble. You really should stop me.

I have never quite been able, when saying this lovely old collect, to get out of my mind an image of Marcus Antonius, who was a lupercus, capering through the streets of Rome generously bestowing welted hands and fertility upon the philoprogenitive womenfolk. Just imagine the look of sniffy disapproval on the face of Octavian. What a shame he won the Battle of Actium. I have never liked the cut of his ... rambling again ...

** FOOTNOTE  Try to empathise with the social temptations in a post-Constantine society in which not everybody has been perfectly converted. "Couldn't we go just this once? After all, it's not as if we would go the Sacrifice itself, just to the Banquet afterwards ... and Uncle Caius who's hosting it is a dear old boy ... and it is his eightieth birthday ... and he'll be jolly upset if his favourite nephews don't go ... and Metella went to the Robigalia banquet ... and she's actually a cousin of the Cardinal Presbyter of  Omnes Sancti in Via Appia nova ... ".


Little Black Sambo said...

Old signs. I used to see on school coach trips to London a big sign at the foot of a hill telling drivers to "Slacken Bearing Reins". And there was a sign at St Nicholas's Hospital near Canterbury prohibiting naughtiness.

Charlesdawson said...

Outside the old Remploy factory [for youngsters, this was Government-backed organization set up specifically to provide training and employment for disabled people, especially ex-soldiers; shut down by the present Government as not financially viable. Or something.] in Poole, there used to be a zebra crossing with the uncompromising words "Cripples Crossing". We can't use the word cripples in public any more, as it is held to be offensive, but nor can we support an organization specifically set up to offer them the chance of independence and dignity. Go figure.

Reader said...

Wandering around Kent in the early 1970s, this then-young Yank was highly amused to notice the existence of well-worn pathways blazed across the dells and dingles of yon shire, each formally posted as a Public Footpath, as if their existence were one of the immemorial Rights of Englishmen. As, I think, they properly were and are. The very idea would be considered deeply un-American here, as an affront to the Rights of Property.

Hierodeacon said...

Some Evangelicals in America get it:

Hierodeacon said...

Some Evangelicals in America get it:

Edwin said...

One such notice engendered a politically incorrect Limerick:
There was a young man of Darjeeling
Who got on a bus bound for Ealing.
When he saw near the door
"Do not spit on the floor"
He stood up and spat on the ceiling.

Forgive me for lowering the tone.

Anonymous said...

@Reader, we still have them and they are still so labelled across all of our English counties and shires. Their existence is indeed regarded as an immemorial right of Englishmen, a right that pre-dates and trumps the rights of landowners. I have just been rambling along a few miles of them on a glorious Spring afternoon. Many of the signposts are newly refurbished. Happily, this is a social tradition that is wholly compatible with Catholic faith and morality. Indeed it is deeply conducive to prayer and thanksgiving to our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Rose Marie said...

Would that be spitto, spittere, spittui, splattus?

motuproprio said...

I love the sign on the wall of the Cathedral Clergy House in Ambrosden Avenue SW1

GOR said...

I have long had a revulsion for spitting and could never understand the need for spittoons in assorted places in the past. For me, as in an earlier post, it is probably ‘in the genes’ - and the maternal ones at that - as my mother abhorred the practice.

In earlier times in small-town Ireland ‘Fair Day’ was a monthly affair – less concerned with entertainment than with commerce - as in, buying and selling cattle, sheep, goats and horses. Ours was a wide street and we had front row seats for this. Once bargaining was over and the price set, the buyer spat on his palm and shook hands with the seller – or perhaps vice versa? – sealing the deal.

But I still didn’t like the practice. My only concession to it was spitting on one’s palms to get better purchase on the handle of a slane when cutting turf on the bog. Yes, I was what Dubliners superciliously refer to as - a bogtrotter.

Anonymous said...

"The temptation for Greeks and Romans was the stronger because those distinctly tempting Sacrificial Banquets were both religious and social occasions combined"

This might still be true for "Western" societies with a Christian history, but f.i. in case of Japan, you easily can get into trouble how to behave as Catholic if you are invited to religious and social events like the very common "ground breaking" ceremonies, a pagan (so-called Shinto) ceremony undertaken prior start of any construction works in Japan (for pictures please google "jichin-sai"). After the ceremony itself, typically a brunch follows, which is considered as part of the entire pagan ceremony, with a first drink with "Miki", a small cup of rice wine out of the offerings to the "gods".

And also local pagan festivals with almost naked men running around are very common in that land, see "hadaka matsuri" ... good old Rome is not that far away!

Anonymous said...


Today is the Feast of St. Petrus Canisius. In the collect of today, commemorating the great endeavours of this saint to fight the heresies of the time, we read

Deus, qui ad tuendam catholicam fidem beatum Petrum Confessorem tuum virtute et doctrina roborasti: concede propitius; ut eius exemplis et monitis errantes ad salutem RESIPISCANT, et fideles in veritatis confessione perseverent.

What a nice coincidence!

Bernard Brandt said...

One of the advantages of an Eastern Catholic/Orthodox liturgical life, and being a chorister/cantor in that life, is that one sees things from a different perspective than that of the West.

One example of this is in the baptism of babies in that life and that Church. Family and friends come into the narthex of the church, face the west, and are asked to renounce Satan, and to spit upon him, and are then asked to turn to the East to unite themselves with Christ. I will note that the former works rather better if the narthex and nave floor are not carpeted.

My point, though, is that we are incarnate spirits, and we worship with and through our bodies. One of the lovely things about the Anglican marriage service is that the recipients of that mystery are bade to worship each other with their bodies. And in other matters, even spitting has an appropriate place in our worship.