Why Now?
Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Merriam-Webster has a list up of the “Top Ten Words of the Year” and since blog sits on the top of the list, blogtopia [tm skippy, another marauding marsupial] has exploded with comments. The patron of Friday Cat Blogging found it via Talk Left, the Beeb has an article [Oxford dictionary wonks added the word last year], Steve Gilliard uses it to tee off on heir presumptive to Tom Browkaw, Brian Williams, and so a topic spreads like a panblogic virus.

I have a personal fondness for number ten: defenestration, throwing something [usually a person] out a window. This was a favorite manner of dealing with people who disagreed with your religious views during the Reformation. The forces of the Catholic Queen Mother of France, Catherine de Medici, used defenestration to eliminate approximately 13,000 Huguenots on August 24th, 1572, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

Actually I find the practice a bit troubling. When you’re pitching Protestants out of the fourth floor windows, how can you be sure there aren’t nuns walking by on the street below? Would you called it a miracle if a Protestant’s life was spared from imminent termination by the intervention of the body of a passing Priest whose robes cushioned the descent to the cobblestones. If the Priest died and the Protestant didn’t, would those who ejected the Protestant receive praise for their intent or penance for the result? Troubling questions indeed.

It is similar to the problem of Witch discovery. The concept had merit: good Christians had souls, souls must have weight, ergo Christians with souls must weigh more than Witches who had no souls [having sold them to Satan]. It was well known that heavy objects sank in water, while light objected floated. This leads to the water test: if a person sinks, they have a soul; if they don’t sink, they must be a Witch without a soul. Some scientific method there, but a rather glaring philosophical problem: no one survives the test.

They could, of course, be relying on the counsel of Arnaud-Amaury, Papal legate to the Catholic forces at the siege of Bézier, who had the task of finding approximately 200 heretics in a town of between 10,000 and 20,000 Catholics. When the town fell on 22 July 1209, he supposedly said: “Kill them all! G-d will recognize His own!” [actually being abbé de Cîteaux, and French, he probably said something like “Tuez-les tous, Dieu reconnaîtra les siens!”]

Edit to correct who Brian Williams replaced. Thanks, Michael.


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