Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Controversy Over Washing the Bear's Feet

Having been released from protective custody, and Liutprand departed, the Bear learns that Prior William is to be made the new Bishop of Turin, and, even more surprising, Angest is the new King of Italy, or at least claims to be.


"I will not do it," Prior William stated flatly, crossing his arms in front of him.

"You will do it," said Victor, Bishop of Spoleto who had arrived only that morning. "If you want to be Bishop of Turin, you will do it." Bishop Victor was calm, but implacable.

"Your Excellency," Prior William pleaded, "how can you even consider doing this, this thing? It is a mockery of the mandatum. The rubric does not call for ursi, but viri!"

"St. Corbinian's testament made clear the Bear is a rational creature with an immortal soul, stamped with the image of God. This is not open to debate, Brother William."

Prior William threw his hands up in the air as if in supplication and turned his back on Bishop Victor. "And now, not only does my deceased abbot say 'a bear is a man,' and he is a man, but a rabble says 'Corbinian is a saint, and he is a saint!' Will wonders never cease!" Then he turned to face the Bishop once again.

"You are welcome to walk outside and tell the people otherwise," Bishop Victor observed with a trace of humor. "If the people acclaim Corbinian is a saint, then a saint he is. The Bear is a mighty testimony. Or do you have reason to say otherwise? Surely you knew him best."

"That damned Bear knew him best, and that's my reason!"

"See, I step aside, Prior William. There is the door to this cathedral. Go ahead. Step outside and start taking the icons of St. Corbinian from the people's hands. They have just gotten rid of one iconoclastic bishop. What do you suppose they will do to an iconoclastic monk? People have...ah, not survived this controversy. But, no matter, I am certain we can find someone else to ordain today. Perhaps Brother Gunther."

"Terrible choice," said Prior William, somewhat calmer, shaking his head. "No, I have experience. As Prior. And how many icons happen to have been painted since the arrival of that Bear?"

"Prior Willian, if you do not learn the ways of the Lombards, you will never be a real bishop, but always the puppet you are now! Do you suppose Angest happened to leave Bavaria on a lark? The Bear is an unexpected golden opportunity that he recognized and seized! More troops have been recruited in Bavaria and are even now on their way. I would see you be a strong bishop among us. Use your head and bend with the wind or you'll snap. Just like Claudius."

"But I picked Angest," Prior William said in bewilderment.

"Did you?" Bishop Victor gave the Prior a long, searching look, and shook his head.

"Now, this business of washing of the feet," the Bishop began in soothing tones. "It is hardly a sacrament. It is a local custom. In some sees, it is done at baptism. In some not at all. We do it on Holy Thursday. Twelve men, or eleven men and one very large and hairy man."

Prior William seemed about to concede, but then a new objection seemed to occur to him. "If we wash the filthy paws of a bear, what is to prevent us from washing a woman's feet, or a Mohammedan's feet?"

"Now you are just being ridiculous, Prior William. The bear is not a bear. He is sui generis. He is a man unlike any other, but a man nonetheless. It has already been settled, and your absurd arguments are wasted on me. Now I have come a long way to ordain somebody, and I will have done so before lunch. If you must decline, I shall understand. But, I warn you, do not be fooled by Duke Agilulf's civility. There are only two kinds of men in the Duke's eyes: those who are of use to him and those who are not. Bishop Claudius was not. You will find it is a Lombard characteristic, and would be well to remember that."

* * *

After lunch, the Bear, King Angest and Brother Gunther, led by Duke Agilulf, escorted by skittish. cavalry, arrived at the cathedral. The mob went wild with joy at the sight of the Bear, and started shouting 'Long live St. Corbinian's Bear!' and "St. Corbinian, our patron!'" Many hands reached out for the merest brush of the Bear's fur. "Oh, thank you," and "Pleased to meet you," the Bear said in their native tongue. Every time he spoke, a fresh enthusiasm swept backwards through the crowd.

Inside the cathedral, by himself, cheered by no one, was His Excellency William, Bishop of Turin. He was dressed like Bishop Claudius had been, but held a golden crook. Most significant of what he wore was a sour face. He held out a gloved right hand with a large ring on the fourth finger.

"Hello, Prior William!" the Bear said, his greeting echoing in the silence.

Brother Gunther whispered, "Do what I do." He then knelt and kissed Bishop William's ring, and said, "Your Excellency." Everyone followed suit, including the Bear, who felt quite embarrassed by his earlier mistake.

Bishop Victor stepped out of the shadows. "Do you know what confession* is, my son?"

"Yes," the Bear replied. Then he knelt and kissed the Bishop's ring, which brought a smile to the cleric's face. "Bear used to confess all the time to Father -- the people are calling him saint. May Bear?"

"Of course," the Bishop told him.

"Bear would confess, but Father -- Saint Corbinian would say they weren't real confessions, and he could not speak Bear's sin away."

"Bear, this is a real confession. And I shall really speak your sins away, but remission of your sins comes ultimately from God. Perhaps we could have some privacy as the Bear gets on his knees and confesses."

The Bear's confession was overlong on the subject of horses and ponies, but otherwise good. He felt like a spring shower had cleaned him. He could not eat until Easter Sunday, though, when he would be baptized.  

Thursday, however, Prior William -- Bishop William, that is -- was going to wash his paws. The Bear felt embarrassed, and supposed his paws were too dirty to be in a church. He licked them furtively.

When asked what his name would be, the Bear could not think of anything. "Bear?" he asked finally.

"Perhaps more of a real name, now. A man's name," Brother Gunther coaxed. 

"Then Bear will be St. Corbinian's Bear."

"How about just Corbinian?" Brother Gunther gently suggested. 

"No," said the Bear, "Bear is unworthy to take St. Corbinian's name. How about St. Corbinian's Bear?"

When Brother Gunther looked at Bishop Victor, the Bishop nodded. "Let the Bear have the name he wishes."

Despite all the instruction from St. Corbinian, the Bear still needed to have a few things cleared up, and Brother Gunther was assigned to instruct him. The pair left with a small escort on foot by a back way to avoid the crowds. "Your God and Savior approach, this is not the time for a clouded face, St. Corbinian's Bear."

"Please, call Bear 'Bear.' Bear only wishes St. Corbinian could see this."

"Bear, remember the Communion of the Saints. All these people could not be misled. St. Corbinian sees you, and is very proud of you. His testament has been executed. You a Christian, and I abbot, God be willing."

"Your words have blown away the clouds on Bear's face, my dear friend. You are so like St. Corbinian. He is very proud of you, too."

"But like a good abbot, I can hear him reciting from Father Benedict's rule. 'The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and does not speak unless in answer to a question.' Bear, it seems to me that it is better to allow few to hear you speak, and only those whom you trust. But at one time the appearance of a dumb brute may serve best, and another speaking. You must learn which is better under different circumstances, but my counsel is the former.

"I tell you this, O St. Corbinian's Bear: you shall be an instrument of men. You shall be flattered, cozened, collared, chained, muzzled and caged. These things I see have already begun. You will suffer much, but try to remember that by doing so, you are bearing the Holy Cross of Our Lord. Yet other times, your humility will be tested by pride. You must be agnus, not ursus. Even worse than pride and suffering, you shall forget that you are Your Father's son beneath that hairy coat, and will revert to mere bear indeed."

"These are terrible things you say, Brother Gunther," the Bear said after awhile.

"It is a terrible and wonderful thing to be a Christian, St. Corbinian's Bear," Brother Gunther replied, then smiled, and gave him a scratch behind his ear.

"Bear has never yet gotten the honey without being stung by the bees."

***

People used to believe cubs were born unformed,
then they were licked into shape by their mothers.
Elsewhere a tailor looked at a diagram with measurements. "I've got the white linen, but surely there is something wrong with your figures!" he said. 

"Shall I tell the Duke I have found you to be uncooperative?" replied the nondescript figure of a young man before him.

"No! No. Don't do that," the tailor said. "Of course I shall make what is required."

"Then make this." The young man handed the tailor another pattern.

The tailor nodded. Finally the young man gave him two large gold broaches, and a short, but substantial gold chain. The design on each of the broaches was a dark brown bear against a mosaic-like green background.

"Be glad you're not the armorer," the lad said, winked and was on his way.

______________

* Nowadays confession does not take place in the Church until after baptism. There was little uniformity in the 8th century Church.

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