BtC 16/22. Talking Cats and Transubstantiation

Previously on Beware the Cat: Mouseslayer the Cat has been called before the Great Grey Cat and is telling the assembled cats her lifestory.

Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin

Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer

Layer 3: The council of cats

Layer 4: Mouseslayer’s stories

The split of Protestantism from Catholicism was fuelled by many things from socio-political change to expedient convenience for monarchs. However, theological disputes helped frame those issues in terms of differences in faith. For Catholics the sacrament of the Eucharist ( ) involved a literal change of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. This idea had been rejected by protestant theologians including Martin Luther.

At the time that Beware the Cat was written the Catholic Church had confirmed its doctrine on transubstantiation at the Council of Trent ( ). Meanwhile the doctrine had been rejected as part of the protestant reforms in England. Later during Elizabeth’s reign the Church of England would officially assert that: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Instead many Anglicans would claim that while there was no literal transformation, Jesus was present (in some spiritual sense). This theological debate contnues to this day – although its much less heated and nobody is either burnt at the stake or has their head chopped off as a consequence.

While not a perfect match, there is some similarity with the discussion in the first part of Beware the Cat as to whether witches literally turn into cats or just put their souls inside an existing cat. I assume that is intentional on Baldwin’s part and it seems a bit sacrilegious even from the protestant perspectives of the time.

Mouseslayer’s first story discusses this sacrament more directly. An old lady is cured of her blindness by a priest saying mass. As told, the story presents the sacrament as having real power. The assembled cats even discuss whether they could make use of priests to ensure that kittens aren’t born blind. The pragmatic Mouseslayer epxlains that she’s tried that experiment and it doesn’t work.

Mouseslayer’s First Story

“You should understand that my lord and lady, whose lives I told you about you last night, had left the city and gone to dwell in the country. They carried me with them, but being thus strange I lost their house, and with Birdhunt, my make, the gentlest in honest venery that ever I met with, went to a town where he dwelt, called Stratford (either Stony upon Tine, or upon Avon, I do not well remember which) where I dwelt for half a year. This was in the time when preachers had leave to speak against the Catholic mass, but it was not forbidden until half a year later. In this time I saw nothing worthy to certify my lord save this, my lady, with whom I dwelt, and her husband were both old, and therefore had to be turned from their rooted beliefs in the mass, which caused young folk, chiefly their sons and a learned kinsman of theirs, to be the more earnest to teach and persuade them. ; When they had almost brought the matter to a good point, I cannot tell how it chanced, but my lady’s sight failed her, and she was so sick that she kept to her bed for two days. So she sent for the parish priest, her old godly father. When all had left her chamber, except she, the priest and me, she told him how sick she was and how blind. Because that she could see nothing, she desired him to pray for her and give her good counsel.

The priest replied thus, “It is no marvel though you be sick and blind in body which suffer your soul willingly to be blinded, you send for me now, but why send you not for me when these new heretics taught you to leave the Catholic belief of Christ’s flesh in the sacrament ?’

‘Why, Sir,’ said she, ‘I did send for you once, and when you came they posed you so with holy writ and saints writings, that you could say nothing but call them heretics, and that they had made the New Testament themselves.”

“Ye,” said he, ‘but did I not bid you take heed then, and told you how God would plague you?”

“Yes, good Sir,” said she, “you did ; and now, to my pain, find you too true a prophet! But I beseech you forgive me and pray to God for me, and whatsoever you will teach me that will I believe unto the death.”

“Well,’ said he, “God refused us sinners that will repent, and, therefore, in any case believe Christ’s flesh, body, soul, and bone, is as it was born of our blessed Lady in the consecrated host; and see that you worship it, pray, and offer to it, for by it many of your friends souls may be brought out of purgatory, which these new heretics say is no place at all, but when their soul’s fire is in it they shall tell me another tale! That you may know that all I say is true, and that the mass can deliver those souls that trust in it from all manner sins, I will by and by say you a mass that shall restore your sight and health.”

Then took he out of his bosom a wafer and called for wine, and then, shutting the door, dressed himself in a surplice, and set upon a table before the bed he laid his posture, and there he said mass. When he came to the Kyrie Eleison, he lifted up the wafer and said to my lady, , “Wipe thine eyes, thou sinful woman, and look upon thy Maker.” 

With that she lifted up herself and saw the wafer, and her sight returned and her health was as well as ever she had before.

When mass was done she thanked God and the priest exceedingly, and he gave charge that she should tell to none of the young folks how she had been helped, for his bishop had throughout the diocese forbidden them to say or sing any mass, but he also commanded her that secretly to tell of it to old honest men and women. By reason of this miracle many are so confirmed in their belief that, although by common law all masses upon penalty have been forbidden, many have them privately and nightly said in their chambers until this day.”

The Cats discuss Mouseslayer’s First Story

“Marry, Sir,” said another cat called Polinos, “this was either a mighty miracle or else a mischievous subtlety of a majestical minister. If we assume the priest, by magical arts, blinded her not beforehand, and then by like magical sorcery cured her again, it would be good for us to hire him, or other priests, to sing a mass before our kitlings, that they might in their birth be delivered of their blindness. If I hear the priest it should escape me hard but I would have one litter of kittens in some chamber where he used now to say his privy night masses.” 

“What need of that,” said Mouseslayer, “it would do them no good, for I myself, upon like consideration, kittened since in another mistress chamber of mine where a priest every day said mass, but my kitlings saw no the better, but rather the worse.”