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The Ree, the Roo, the Raa!; or Bene Bene Pendentes!

Amatoritsero Ede

It is surprising that the world was surprised at, or by, the recent little drama in The Church as one sitting pope resigned and another ascended the throne of Peter. For waywardness, that event is insignificant compared to several papal commotions during the Middle Ages in Europe. Although it is a literary work, Geoffrey Chaucer’s satirical Canterbury Tales (1475) is, in part, a useful sociological, albeit fictionalised, account of medieval ethical and moral clerical excesses. One variant of that was the ‘selling’ of indulgences to believers. Professional ‘pardoners’ granted shrift in exchange for lucre. One of the colourful characters through whom Chaucer focalises his searching narrative is the satirical figure, ‘The Pardoner.’ In “The Pardoner’s Tale” that protagonist mocks the clergy, whom he personifies, by declaring:

           If gifts your change of heart and mind reveal,
           You’ll get my absolution while you kneel.
           Come forth, and kneel down here before, anon,
           And humbly you’ll receive my full pardon;
           Or else receive a pardon as you wend,
           All new and fresh as every mile shall end,
           So that you offer me each time, anew,
           More gold and silver, all good coins and true.

Chaucer wrote of a time when faith was on its knees like a sinner or a shrunken beggar, a time when the steeple was as crooked as the tilting tower of Pisa. This was the dark ages in clerical as well as in any other term: popes fought for office like the nastiest of mafia bosses; devilish intrigue and executions were not exempt.

For example the phenomenon now described as the Western schism, consolidated between 1378 and 1417, was a situation in which an official pope and one or two equally legitimate ‘antipopes’ existed simultaneously between Rome and Avignon, France. The height of such political brouhaha was 1409 when three holinesses co-existed, installed one after the other by the same conclave of disgruntled cardinals in that one unholy instance. Across the ages the Holy See sees to it that wicked entertainment is provided its admirers, secular and lay alike. But no histrionic compares to the catastrophe – for a very misogynist clergy – of accidentally installing a female pope in Rome or Avignon in the ninth century (?).

If true, that is probably the first serious documented case of ‘passing’ in history – way ahead of its appearance in slave-owning America when bi- or multi-racial slaves who looked white enough simply passed for white and lived a more humane existence. Women in the medieval period were not much more than cattle – just like the Slavic people from whom the word ‘slave’ derives. And since poor nutrition and the shaven heads of priests, not to talk of cross-dressing amongst the clergy, bent the features of man or woman to a sexless blur, it was possible for the latter to pass by crossing genders and thus escaping slavish conditions towards upward social mobility. This is much within the same existential goals, which made Slavs convert to Christianity because The Church declared that the Christian ideal precluded a follower of Christ from being a slave. Medieval gender and social transgressions provided the opportunity such that a certain John Anglicus who  ‘had no balls’ could nevertheless become a man, a priest – and a pope (?).

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17 Responses to “Editorial”

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  1. My prayer is that The Poor Pontiff should pray earnestly for the redemption of your Esu-Elegbara (signifying monkey) soul!

  2. Elizabeth Dudley says:

    Wow, strong provocative interesting stuff, raising serious question of a future, if not past!?! female Pope…to be debated, argued, considered further…….

  3. peter akinlabi says:

    The church is some shape-shifting trickster, confounding us all in its Eshu hat of many manifestations; it is also a sign that must be used to lie so that it can be used to tell the truth. The Ree, the Roo, the Raa!

  4. Ralphie Edema says:

    It has always been of my opinion that the catholic church is made up of unchristain people – masquerading themselves as the “HOLINESS(S)… Through ages, as you have pointed out, they have fought, for power. Ruled nations like the typical politicians we see today…. Only God knows what fate awaits them… ABout the gender, that is an age old discourse

  5. Y. says:

    Dr Ede, a group whose leader popped a kid during an – open – procession would be correct to myth the incredulous incident and their leader who popped and revealed. But then, it’s required no more. That was pre-celibacy.

  6. Chris says:

    Thoroughly enjoying this issue. Unusual and interesting angle you take here in the editorial. Well done.The point is clear and not to be dismissed. I enjoyed the piece for the argument and for the history and research supporting it.

  7. Joan says:

    Ama, there is a glaring omission in this your very interesting and provocative editorial…who impregnated Popess Joan? 🙂

    • Perhaps it was another immaculate conception? Anyhow, she was rumored to have had a lover, who was a fallen angel from the priestly class, and on whose encouragement she proceeded to Rome in the first instance. A ree roo raa of a situation whenever they got together; hence the big belly, well camouflaged under clerical robes.

  8. Chielozona Eze says:

    Insightful. Galileo said it long ago: the earth moves.

  9. socrates says:

    Quite an interesting piece that hits the nail on the head. The question of a female pope or popess is one the Catholic church still remains and might continue to remain wordless about.
    The secrecy in which the Catholic church, especially the papacy shrouds itself in, leaves one asking a lot of questions. Will there ever be a black pope or female cardinal or popess? Or does the answer just lie in ‘testiculos habet et bene pendentes?

    • Chike Ofili says:

      Witch Doctor Ede,

      Thanks for making it plain for us to run with. You must also admit that as curious and seemingly unchanging as this brand of Christianity is, it is a most exemplary model in making haste slowly. The act of the last pope still leaves me feeling that we have not heard the last of that matter. It remains so pregnant with meanings that we are yet to exhaust its ramifications. It is as courageous as it is suspicious and deftly indicting.

      But you can’t deny the Catholic church the beautiful conduct that finally attended the way of the unexpected pre-death election. It spoke so profoundly to politics; particularly the rascally politics of Africa. it spoke so instructively for order; even if it wore a mask.

      But the new Witch doctor must also be thanked for helping us to draw the connections across history, literature and politics.

  10. Wow! I’ve always known the church (no matter what religion) is patriarchal. There’s no place for women in it. Some protestant churches have allowed women to be pastors/reverends/priestess but I wonder to what extent.
    There are many mysteries surrounding what went on around the papacy before and after the Medieval Ages.
    You should watch the weekly TV show, “The Borgias,” the first mafia family. I know they exaggerate to make it more appealing to the viewers but there’s a lot of truth in it. Pope Alexander VI was a despot and women were objectified. Anyway, I could go on but I’ll stop here. Very interesting piece, Ama.

  11. Biodun Bello says:

    Thanks Dr. Ede for sharing this important piece, particularly for being able to point out the temporal signposts through the eye of Chaucer, as they relate to the politics of Papacy. The recently unfolding crisis in the Catholic Church, and its undercurrents are nothing but a validation of the thrust of this treatise of yours.

  12. Gutsy, timely editorial, Amatoritsero. And very erudite as usual. I just got here (on the site) but even at a quick glance the issue looks good. Congrats.

  13. David Ishaya Osu says:

    (Laughs). Hmmm. I am particular about how the human psyche is patterned and even enslaved by her very inventions. This is illuminating. I think Chinelo Okparanta treats these subjects too, as mirrored here. Yet I wonder why or how humanity has not fully given ears to the true depictions and interpretations it portends. This negligence alludes to the severity of deception and bondage…


    This piece is insighhtful, and could not have been anything else than the product of a highly productive mind. I love it!

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