Ancient Israel being a nation of herdsmen, cats are only mentioned once in the Bible:
“The idols' faces are made black with the smoke that is in the house. Owls, and swallows, and other birds fly upon their bodies, and upon their heads, and cats in like manner.” Baruch 6:20-21
“The young men of Heliopolis and Bubastis will fall by the sword, and the cities themselves will go into captivity.” Ezekiel 30:17
Initially, Christian painters honored the cat's role as a fertility symbol by including cats in paintings of the Virgin Mary. According to legend, Jesus' mother and a cat gave birth at the same time in a Bethlehem stable, and when Mary was unable to lullaby her baby to sleep, a newborn kitten crawled into the manger and purred him to sleep.
Saint Gertrude became the patron saint of cats, and Saint Agatha turned into a fierce cat when angry. Naturalistic cats were carved into church furniture, represented in gargoyles in Notre Dame, and appeared in illustrations in the 700 AD Lindisfarne Gospels, and in the 800 AD Irish Book of Kells. Christian Europe had laws that placed a high monetary value upon cats, punished anyone who abused or neglected a cat, and awarded the family cat to divorced wives.
In the ninth century, an Irish monk wrote endearingly of his cat in a poem entitled “Pangur Ban” (the title means A Fuller White):
“Pangur, white Pangur, how happy we are
Alone together, scholar and cat.
Each has his own work to do daily;
For you it is hunting, for me it is study.
Your shining eye watches the wall;
My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse.
I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
Pleased with his art, neither hinders the other;
Thus we live without tedium and envy.”
By the 13th century, the Catholic Church was experiencing a growing disillusionment within its ranks combined with a permanent split with its Eastern branch. Pope Gregory IX blamed the church's problems on Satan worship, and because the church regarded women as morally and intellectually weak and associated cats with Bastet, Artemis, Diana, Hecate, and Freya, women and cats became targets of the church's wrath. The resultant persecution was based upon the Bible and upon Pope Gregory's 1233 Vox Romana
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Exodus 22:18
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” I Timothy 2: 13-14
“Then all sit down to a banquet and when they rise after it is finished, a black cat emerges from a kind of statue which normally stands in the place where these meetings are held. It is as large as a fair-sized dog, and enters backwards with its tail erect. First the novice kisses its hind parts, then the Master of Ceremonies proceeds to do the same and finally all the others in turn; or rather all those who deserve the honor. The rest, that is those who are not thought worthy of this favor, kiss the Master of Ceremonies. When they have returned to their places they stand in silence for a few minutes with heads turned towards the cat. Then the Master says: 'Forgive us.' The person standing behind him repeats this and a third adds, 'Lord we know it.' A fourth person ends the formula by saying, 'We shall obey.'” Vox Romana
So it was that the little predator that had symbolized divine fertility; lulled Jesus to sleep; and was lauded for its protection of food, health, books, manuscripts, bedding, and altar candles, came to be regarded as the associate of Judas. In the eyes of the church, the cat not only represented Satan, the cat was the embodiment of Satan, and the screams of tortured cats came to be regarded as music to God's ears. But it wasn't just women and cats who were persecuted, the church ascribed cat worship to all its enemies, and under torture, its enemies confirmed that this was true. Nor was the persecution limited to Catholics--England's Queen Elizabeth I celebrated her 1558 coronation with the burning of a cat-filled papal effigy. The church's hatred of cats even infected medicine and academia.
“They who keep cats with them in their beds have the air corrupted and fall into hectics and consumption. The hair of cats eaten unawares stops the artery and causes suffocation.” Edward Topsell, The History of Four-Footed Beasts, 1607
“The cat is a venomous animal which infects through its hair, its breath, and its brains.” Ambroise Pare, French surgeon 1510-1590
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII declared: The cat is the devil's favourite animal and the idol of all witches. Witches, he argued, could shape-shift into cats, so he ordained that both witches and cats be burned. The last public killing of cats occurred in Ypres, Belgium in 1817, although the city's celebration continues to this day with toy cats. Yet cats were never universally despised even among leading churchmen, most famously the kitten-loving cardinal Amand Richelieu who left his kittens well provided for in his will although they were murdered after his death by the Swiss Guard. In his 14th century Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote:
“Lat take a cat, and fostre him wel with milk, And tendre flesh, and make his couche of silk, And let him seen a mous go by the wal; Anon he weyveth milk, and flesh, and al, And every deyntee that is in that hous, Swich appetyt hath he to ete a mous.”
In the 1700s, couples in the French court wrote love letters to one another under the pretense that they were written by the couple's Turkish Angoras, as did America's premier wit, Benjamin Franklin. By the 1760s British poet Christopher Smart could safely write:
“For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
“For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
“For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way....”
And of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), his cat-hating biographer, James Boswell, wrote:
“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature.”
But what of modern Catholicism's attitude toward cats? I don't know of a single church that concerns itself with the welfare of non-humans, but only the Catholic Church condemns them to suffer until such time as all human needs are met:
“It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2418
Although recent popes have apologized to various of the church's many victims, cats were not included despite constituting the majority of the aggrieved. Because St. Francis of Assisi referred to non-humans as brothers and sisters, one might hope that the current pope might do the same, but perhaps he took his name from some other Francis. In any event, upon learning how much money people spend upon their pets, Francis complained:
“After food, clothing and medicine, the fourth item is cosmetics and the fifth is pets. That’s serious.”
But on a positive note, he broke with numerous popes, including his immediate predecessor, by declaring that animals possess immortal souls and will live alongside us in heaven. The Bible agrees:
“The wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat...the lion will eat straw like the ox... Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain...” Isaiah 65:25
Despite this enlightened view, the prescribed relationship between animals and humans was determined within the second page of the Book of Genesis:
“God blessed them and said to them, 'Fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.'” Genesis 1:28
Rule over cats? Good luck! When cats' observation that ours is a large and heavily armed race of homicidal maniacs didn't suggest to them that we deserved their homage, what did we do? What could we do? We could kill them, and kill them, and kill them. We could dance like King Louis XIV danced as caged cats were slowly lowered onto Parisian bonfires, and, when burning them grew stale, we could flay, crucify, eviscerate, draw-and-quarter, and throw them from towers while Christians cheered, happy in the knowledge that the same Jesus whom a kitten had once lulled to sleep had since realized that kittens were demonic.
We, the hideous, the loutish, the churlish, and the clumsy, destroyed the free, the noble, the brave, and the beautiful, and then came the rodent-carried Black Death. Our defenders being dead, and our sadistic god's maniacal laughter grown strangely silent, our bodies turned the color of blackened catfish before our putrid corpses were cast high upon meat-wagons. Now that the Plague is a distant memory, Christ's faithful can again celebrate him in song: “I've got joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my soul today.” If I were a praying man, I would sing too, a song of my own invention. It would start with the words Hail Bastet, and I would sing it whenever I remembered that what Christianity was to cats, the Black Death was to Christianity. Happily, cats survived that long ago reign of terror to grace our homes today, but, sadly, the religion of Christ also survived.
Christianity's last public killing of cats occurred in 1817 in Ypres, Belgium, where they were thrown from a watchtower. Today, as part of a family-friendly festival, toy cats are cast from that same tower. Would the pubic consider it just as amusing to draw-and-quarter Jews, or, in the minds of the many, is it more entertaining to watch cats die?
|Kattenstoet, Ypres Belgium|