Nolite dare sanctum canibus neque mittatis margaritas vestras ante porcos, ne forte conculcent eas pedibus suis et conversi dirumpant vos. (Matt. 7:6)
This verse suddenly popped into my head after I dismissed my composition class ten minutes early. Normally I am a patient man, but the snide and dismissive intransigence of a number of my students finally overcame my desire to awaken some (any!) interest in eloquence. I observed to Duileóg not last night that teaching at a community college is significantly more difficult than teaching at full universities, as years of institutionalized education — a horror indeed that the word should be impressed on such a process! — have inculcated the students with a blind and apathetic acceptance of their own mental vapidity. The depth of this depravity extends so far as to invert their perspective so that I find myself the butt of their mockery and pity.
As I began to pull up my Facebook account so I could post a fragment of this verse, however, I was suddenly struck by the phrase ‘nolite dare sanctum canibus…’. The apposition of the words sanctum and canibus, though of different cases, suddenly jumped out at me, and I realized that the two animals positioned here as depraved and vulgar beasts are in fact sacred. Hounds and pigs hold a very distinctive place in Celtic tradition. ‘A dog is a man’s best friend,’ hardly suggests a ravenous beast about to turn on its owner. Of course, the difference between porcus and aper is well maintained except insofar as in Ireland the boundary itself between feral boar and domestic swine was ill-defined; nevertheless I cannot help but see in this barbarization of hounds and pigs the imprint of a very Semitic point of view preserved through Christian tradition. So far had my Christian education permeated the foundations of my perspective that I hardly even noticed the automatic degradation of two of our most sacred animals. I wonder if horses suffer such ignominy elsewhere in Christian scripture.
This is nevertheless, as Pink Floyd so delicately put it, but another brick in the wall of European Civilization, beholden as it is to a bizarre amalgamation of distinctive Greco-Roman and Semitic cultural norms that find strange but comfortable fellowship in Christian tradition. How different is the graceful and terrible wildness of the gods. I believe it was in a book by P.D. Ouspensky that I first read that humanity always undergoes a process whereby a small group of good, decent men lift the rest up from their bestial barbarism and form the tenets of a lasting civilization only to have those of bestial intent tear it back down to its lowest common denominator. How far my perspective has removed from this!