Ass and Name
Zola and Zoilus
A few Neos
What's in a Nem?
Pleo III-Two More Pleons
Achron.. and Acroam..
Per IV--Perpotation et al.
Per and Pre--Prevenient
Perpense and Perpend
Epi I--Epiplexis, et al.
The Doric Column
Epi III--Episemon et al.
Bill Long 10/12/04
I think I would easily have washed my hands of this whole dung business after the previous essay if it had not been the theologians and churchmen who entered in to try to save the term. Their effort gave us a new word, a word that should give us pause. The OED has an interesting entry on stercoranist as "a nickname given to one who holds that the consecrated elements in the Eucharist undergo digestion in, and evacuation from, the body of the recipient." Hence stercoranism is the belief of a Stercoranist (the OED both capitalizes and lower-cases the word) and a stercoranite is another term for a stercoranist. Recall that stercorarian in contrast, used as both an adjective and substantive, is a derisive term for a physician pursuing obsolete medical methods.
Looking More Closely at Stercoranists or Getting the Theology Straight
We see immediately that since this group (though how many there were no one ever tells us) deals with the Eucharist, it hits directly at the heart of Christian practice and worship. The term doesn't seem to have been used earlier than the 11th century (Pope Stephen IX in 1057 or 1058 first uses the term to describe the approach to the Eucharist of one Nicetas Stethatos, a follower of one St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022)). No one in popular culture knows about Nicetas, but the few dozen scholars who publish work on medieval Eastern Orthodoxy love the guy. Apparently Nicetas helped refine the tradition of "interiorized apocalyptic" in Eastern Christian ascetical literature.
Ah, rather than getting confused by this last statement, we should be getting "warm." Nicetas was a mystic/ascetic theologian, a revered profession in medieval Eastern Orthdoxy. He was also very committed to the tradition of apocalyptic literature, a genre of literature that sprung up in Judaism of Late Antiquity in the 2nd century B.C.E. and then flourished into the early Christian centuries. But, the Greek Orthodox were not about to go crazy with the millennial fever of the Western branch of Christendom, where many people considered the coming of the year 1000 a sign that the end time was imminent, and which led to a mini-efflorescence in the study of apocalyptic literature at the time. And so Nicetas, appropriately, "internalized" or "interiorized" his apocalypticism.
But what kind of person interiorizes apocalyptic? A person who might be a mystic, a person who lives primarily in the mind, a person who might be tempted to internalize or interiorize other theological concepts. Ah, here is the hook. For if a person tends to live in the mind, he may consider "spiritual" realities to be much more real, much more powerful, much more "true" than the physicality of things. He might consider the physical reality of things to be downright inessential. Here is where Nicetas earned the ire of the Pope.
Starting with Scripture
Just as it was best for Dorothy and Toto to start at the beginning of the Yellow Brick Road, so it is best for theological controversies to start with the Bible. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus made a reference not to the Euchariast, but to the general principle that the heart is the seat of good or evil (Matt. 15:18-20). Directly preceding these verses is the verse that says, "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer (Matt. 15:17)?" Now, some monks with nothing to do but to internalize the text of Scripture and meditate on it decided that this text taught the truth that the body of Christ, when ingested in the Eucharist, was also masticated, digested and finally excreted. After all, Jesus had said that "whatever goes into the mouth," finally ends up in the sewer.
But this caused a theological problem for these monks. They knew that even though the Church had not yet officially adopted the doctrine of transubstantiation (that wouldn't happen until the early 13th century), people for years had been talking very vigorously about "eating the body" and "drinking the blood" of Christ in the Eucharist. The notion of physically eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ, however, caused the problem of Matt. 15:17, for if all you eat physically eventually ends up in the sewer, wouldn't Christ himself, who was "changed" into the elements of bread and wine, end up in the sewer too? Not a good place for the Savior.
But that is where someone like Nicetas could come to the rescue. He could argue that what was in fact happening when you ingested the bread and wine was that the physical body of Christ and his physical blood were taken in, but that the really important thing was that some kind of "spiritual eating" was taking place at the same time. This would comport well with his other theological concerns--to interiorize apocalyptic, for example. Christ, therefore, could be interiorized, too, through spiritual consumption of him in the Eucharist without endangering Christ's dignity by the picture of him ending up eventually in the sewer. The bread and wine itself of course would be consumed and eventually evacuated, and even if Christ was pissed out, so to speak, it would not be the real Christ. How could anyone be pissed off at that?
The Attack on Nicetas
If Nicetas' way of "solving" the problem of the Eucharist with the help of Matt. 15: 17 sounds logical and helpful, don't be deceived. Logic and help often are the losers in theological controversy. So it was here, also. Nicetas had made a nice distinction between the body and blood of Christ which were spiritually ingested and evacuated and the spiritual eating of Christ, which aided faith.
What did it get him? The "hypocorism" (pet name) of stercoranist. Ah, now we have returned to the word. It is a term of derision, a term of insult, really. The Pope is using the term to characterize Nicetas' position. Nicetas is, as it were, a "dung-person," an "excrement-man," because he seemingly denigrates the actual body and blood of Christ, which are physically present in the Eucharist, by saying that they are passed out of the body. Rather than "saving" the doctrine of the Eucharist, Nicetas would split Christ yet further. Thus, the papal vituperation against him. Nicetas' position is the "shit position." He characterizes Christ's body as nothing but "shit."
When all else fails, make sure you drag your opponent through the mud, even calling him a "shit man." It sure adds to your stature.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long