Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ostensio corporum hominum

1545 woodcut by Charles Estienne.

Talmida has written a good post on the "Our Body: the Universe Within" exhibit in Detroit, inspiring me to post something I've been thinking about for some time. There is a similar exhibit in New York, in which supposedly "unclaimed or unidentified corpses from China" are displayed dramatically, posed in regular human activity, skinned, and often cut to reveal different anatomical features. This "educational" activity can be experienced at the South Street Seaport for the modest price of $27, and yours truly is forced to see the ads, complete with corpses, on buses and in the subway.

I have been surprised by the lack of controversy about the exhibit. The comments section of the article I linked to above
shows for the most part a concern about the origin of the bodies, but not about the idea of publicly displaying the physical remains of fellow human beings for the sake of entertainment. I have difficulty with the idea that this is purely educational. Would people pay $27 to see, for example, identical plastic reproductions of this exhibit, or an exhibit featuring only animals? I think morbid curiosity might have more to do with the success of the show that interest in anatomy.

There is something very revealing about our society in the fact that we can pay money to see human remains imported from China, just another consumer product that we feel we have a right to enjoy because we can afford it. I can imagine people who have enjoyed the exhibit reading this and thinking that I am a moralizing killjoy, or perhaps an anti-modern obscurantist. No -- there are times, as Talmida suggested, when the donation of a body is a gift of mercy, either to provide the ill with new organs, or to teach medical students who truly need to see the real thing to learn how to save lives. This exhibit, however, is deeply dehumanizing. In the end, the bodies are slashed and flayed like cuts of meat, and, most tellingly, the faces are removed. There is no sign that these were living, breathing individuals with families and dreams and personalities -- which should be enough to make you pause, even if you're not religious. If you are, think about what the exhibit promoters have done to the imago Dei. The depersonalized sons and daughters of God in this show are frightening metaphors for what our technological and commercial society does to all of us -- it divides us into soulless products and consumers.

"But Liam," someone may protest, "you blog about relics all the time. Isn't it hypocritical of you to complain that something is morbid?" Well, I certainly understand that a lot of people will not see eye-to-eye with me about relics, but even though we are talking about the public exposition of body parts, they have little to do with this show. The relic affirms two things: it exalts the individual whose relic it is, and it points to the glory and eventual permanence of the redeemed human body. When we see a relic, if we believe the theology behind it, we are reminded of the life, character, and deeds of the saint in question; and we gaze upon something that will one day be in paradise. The faceless corpses in the exhibit suggest that human beings are so much meat to be bought by the highest bidder, then to be flayed, cut and posed for our entertainment and eventually, one may suppose, be discarded when no longer profitable.

We need to remember that we are human beings.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Pope Gregory the Great, respectfully commenting on the Holy Spirit's blog.

I got back from the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, last night and I found that someone had left a comment on a blog post I wrote about a year and a half ago. Imagine my dismay to find an insulting attack on my post by an anonymous visitor. Briefly, he or she said that the post was full of "unsubstantied [sic] assertions, and irrational conclusions about the mediaeval priesthood" and called me a "so-called scholar" who should "go back to kindergarten." Strange that he or she should criticize what I said about the Middle Ages, basic information that can be found in any textbook on the tenth-century reform, and not the more subjective speculations I made concerning the present state of the Church, but then again the commentator was not very specific in his or her criticism.

Not the most thick-skinned of bloggers, at first I was agitated. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I've only received a couple of negative comments before, both when I had the nerve to suggest that Muslims might be human beings. In the end I decided to delete the comment and leave one of my own as an invitation to whoever it was to come back and engage in real dialog. What I wrote might serve as a comment policy for this blog:
Dear anonymous:

I deleted your comment. I welcome anyone who disagrees with me to comment on my blog. If you are capable of explaining coherently what is wrong with my post and can do so without being insulting, I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

By the way, I consider leaving anonymous insults in someone's comment box a cowardly act.
And that is the policy.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Emperor Justinian I (c. 482 - 565), from the Basilica of San Vitale.

Sorry I have not been blogging. Busy, busy, busy. Still, I found something entertaining I'd like to share. I was looking at the wikipedia entry for King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and I came across a list of his titles. I knew he was King of Jerusalem, but apparently he's also the Byzantine Emperor. Who knew?

I study medieval kingship, but I find modern kingship a bit silly. And although JC1 is one of the cooler monarchs out there, the following list will show that he has more titles than he can possibly use. I think he should share with the rest of us. In case you're reading this, Juan Carlos I, I would really like to be King of Jerusalem, but I'll settle for Duke of Burgundy.

From Wikipedia:
King Juan Carlos I is a direct descendant of many famous European rulers from different countries, such as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who as Carlos I is said to have been the first King of Spain), King Louis XIV of France and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Therefore, he is related to all the current monarchs of Europe.

The current Spanish constitution refers to the monarchy as "the crown of Spain" and the constitutional title of the monarch is simply rey/reina de España: that is, "king/queen of Spain". However, the constitution allows for the use of other historic titles pertaining to the Spanish monarchy, without specifying them. A decree promulgated 6 November 1987 at the Council of Ministers regulates the titles further, and on that basis the monarch of Spain has a right to use ("may use") those other titles appertaining to the Crown. Contrary to some belief, the long titulary that contains the list of over 20 kingdoms, etc., is not in state use, nor is it used in Spanish diplomacy. In fact, it has never been in use in that form, as "Spain" was never a part of the list in pre-1837 era when the long list was officially used.

Spain, unmentioned in titulary for more than three centuries, was symbolized by the long list that started "...of Castile, Leon, Aragon,..." - The following long titulary in the feudal style was the last used officially in 1836 by Isabella II of Spain (see the account of titulary in her article) before she became constitutional queen:

Juan Carlos I is titled or styled:

Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, King of Castile, King of León, King of Aragon, King of the Two Sicilies, King of Jerusalem, King of Navarre, King of Granada, King of Toledo, King of Valencia, King of Galicia, King of Sardinia, King of Cordoba, King of Corsica, King of Murcia, King of Jaen, King of Algarve, King of Algeciras, King of Gibraltar, King of the Canary Islands, King of the Spanish East and West Indies and of the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Duke of Brabant, Duke of Milan, Duke of Athens and Neopatria, Count of Habsburg, Count of Flanders, Count of Tyrol, Count of Roussillon, Count of Barcelona, Lord of Biscay, Lord of Molina, Captain General of the Royal Armed Forces and its Supreme Commander, Sovereign Grand Master of the Celebrated Order of the Golden Fleece (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal & Distinguished Order of Charles III (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal Order of Isabel, the Catholic (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal & Military Order of St. Hermenegildo (Spain), Grand Master of the Royal & Military Order of St. Fernando (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Montesa (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Alcántara (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Santiago (Spain), Grand Master of the Order of Maria Luisa (Spain), Grand Master of other Military Orders.[1]

The first king to officially use the name Spain as the realm in the titulary was Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte, brother of Emperor Napoleon, who used King of the Spains and the Indias; the present Spanish monarch is not his heir. The Bourbons returned to the feudal format (...of Castile, Leon, Aragon,...) until 1837, when the short version "queen of the Spains" was taken into use. The singular Spain was first used by Amadeo - he was "by divine grace and will of nation, king of Spain"; the present Spanish monarch is not his heir, either. Alfonso XII, when restored, started to use "constitutional king of Spain, by divine and constitutional grace". Juan Carlos uses simply "king of Spain", without any divine, national or constitutional reference.

Juan Carlos also may have a legitimate claim to de jure Emperor of the Romans (basileus, kaisar autokrator ton Rhomaion) as he is descended from and is the successor of Ferdinand II of Aragon. Ferdinand received these rights as de jure Roman Emperor by the last will and testament of the ultimate Palaiologos claimant of the Byzantine Empire, Andreas Palaiologus (d. 1503), a nephew of the Emperor Constantine XI, who was the last to actually reign in Constantinople and was killed in 1453. Others potentially entitled to the same rights are (1) Alice, Duchess of Calabria as the heir-general of king Ferdinand II, (2) Louis-Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, as the heir-male of Maria Theresa of Spain, great-great-great-great-granddaughter of king Ferdinand II, who brought the Aragonese succession to the Bourbons; and (3) Otto von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, Semi-Salic heir-male of Ferdinand II (Ferdinand left only daughters; the male line of his eldest surviving daughter Joanna went extinct in 1741 with Emperor Charles VI and the next line started from Maria Theresa of Austria, surviving today). This, of course, presumes that Andreas had any rights of which to dispose: there exist heirs to other Byzantine imperial lines as well.