Hygenius Publicus

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hygenius Publicus

After being elected pontiff, Cardinal Ratzinger chose to take the name of "Benedict" -- a tribute to both church tradition and the saint himself.

How coincidental then that, on my way to work, the name of St. Benedict entered my brain. No, I'm far too unsaintly to have a divinely-inspired vision. It entered my brain via a page from John Kelly's excellent (so far, at least) book, The Great Mortality.

In the book, Kelly notes that the Bubonic Plague that swept Europe in the late 1340's was aided by the lack of hygiene in the late Medieval period. Kelly refers to St. Benedict as he traces the origins of Christianity's dismissive views toward bathing:
The Greeks, who worshipped the body, considered cleanliness a cardinal virtue, and the Romans considered hygiene so important, their public baths looked like temples ... However, early Christians, who thought self-abnegation a cardinal virtue, considered bathing, if not a vice, then a temptation. Who knows what impure thoughts might arise in a tub of warm water?

With this danger in mind, St. Benedict declared, "To those who are well, and especially to the young, bathing shall seldom be permitted."
I hear that the newest Benedict (Ratzinger) enthusiastically embraces the church's traditional orthodoxy. But fear not. To my knowledge, the newest pope has made no public statements voicing even the slightest hostility toward bathing.

So good ahead and take a shower. Just don't have too much fun in there.

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