Friday, February 09, 2007


Men of Parts

You've probably heard this riddle:
Arnold Schwarzenegger has a big one, Michael J. Fox has a little one, Cher and Madonna don't have one, and the Pope has one but doesn't use it. What is it?
The answer, of course, is "a last name," although most people guess something else.

The last time I told this joke, I said that I thought canon law required the Pope's plumbing to be in working order, and that no one could become Pope who had undergone, for example, a vasectomy. But when I tried to verify my statement later, the closest I could find in the Code of Canon Law was Book IV (Function of the Church), Part I (The Sacraments), Title VI (Orders), Chapter II (Those to be Ordained), Article 3 (Irregularities and Other Impediments), Canon 1041, which states that "The following are irregular for receiving orders ... 5. a person who has mutilated himself or another gravely and maliciously."

I'm not sure how this prohibition against self-mutilation squares with Jesus' injunction at Matthew 18.8-9:
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Canon 1041 may go all the way back to the first Canon of the Council of Nicaea (325):
If any one in sickness has been subjected by physicians to a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, let him remain among the clergy; but, if any one in sound health has castrated himself, it behoves that such an one, if [already] enrolled among the clergy, should cease [from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who wilfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men the Canon admits to the clergy.
According to Eusebius, Origen castrated himself after taking too literally Matthew 19.12:
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
Origen was nevertheless ordained a priest after his self-mutilation. He lived before the Council of Nicaea, though.

The old tale that papal candidates sat on a chaise percée (sella cacatoria) and had their nether parts inspected from below is a scurrilous falsehood, although the report of one supposed inspector is worth quoting: "Testiculos habet, et bene pendentes."

It's interesting that priests of one ancient cult voluntarily castrated themselves, the priests of Cybele. See Catullus 63 for details.

Update here.

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