Nothing New Under the Sun
January 25th, 2013
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. I’m sure you will remember the law recently proposed and nearly enacted in Virginia that would have required a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an involuntary invasive ultrasound procedure. The other day, a friend of mine shared on Facebook a satirical proposal that men’s penises should be similarly probed. Bearing that in mind, Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1759, and chapter 20 of Book One of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Just in case you cannot immediately recall to mind exactly what transpires at that juncture of Mr. Laurence Sterne’s novel, let me assist you. Tristram, the narrator, is busy instructing the reader that said reader should have deduced that Tristram’s mother was not a Catholic (or, as Tristram would have it, a “papist”), from the fact that Tristram’s mother said that it was necessary for Tristram to be born before he could be christened. Not so for Papists!, says Tristram. He cites – well, quotes in full, actually, in French – a purported 1733 opinion of the Doctors of the Sorbonne, then a Catholic institution, that in certain extreme cases an unborn infant could be baptized sight unseen “par le moyen d’une petite canulle… sans faire aucun tort à la mere.” Mr. Shandy, speaking one presumes for Mr. Sterne, goes on to suggest that a similar operation might benefit the “Homunculi” which were at the time supposed to be the male contribution to conception, “par le moyen d’une petite canulle… sans faire aucun tort au pere.”
I hasten to add that I am unable to verify the authenticity of the Sorbonne Doctors’ opinion. Sterne might have made it up. In any case, I am sure it does not represent present-day Catholic teaching regarding baptism! It’s comforting to know that at least some things change. It gives one hope that some day all men will respect women’s bodies as they do their own.