30 January 2013


Holden Caulfield is the troubled, adolescent narrator of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Caulfield is a common enough name locally; there’s a small village called Castlecaulfield a few miles away. And there’s this over the front door here:

(The spelling as Caulfeild was correct at the time.)

Holden begins his story:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all that before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it.

And David Copperfield does start just as Holden describes it. David says:

I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas.

The start of childbirth is usually announced by the “waters breaking”, that is the amniotic membrane ruptures with the release of amniotic fluid. Very occasionally the membranes don’t rupture, and the neonate is born within the amniotic sac, which had to be opened by the “gossip” or midwife. It was thought that being born in a caul was lucky, preventing death from drowning; sailors used to buy them as a precaution, a lucky charm.

Nowadays, at least in the westernised world, being born in a caul is very rare; if the waters don’t break, the membranes will be ruptured artificially. (The membranes are delivered in the third stage of labour, with the placenta.)

So, if “caul” implies luck, what about “field”? It might be over-thinking things, but perhaps field refers to batting away questions — with the unvoiced idea that the questions aren’t answered. Perhaps. If so, Caulfield is a cratylic.

04 January 2013

Theologians and women

If you’ve ever wondered what (male) theologians thought about women, here are a few quotations and some thoughts; and offered without any commentary by me.

Musonius Rufus
(Thought) “sex in marriage was just about permissible for the purposes of procreation; sex for pleasure, and especially extramarital sex, were anathema”

Philo of Alexandria
(Thought) “all the ills of civilization stemmed from the indulgence of sensual pleasure, and had nothing whatsoever to do with greed, slavery, tyranny or greed”

St Paul
(Thought) “celibacy as the ideal state for ‘mankind’”
(Thought) “women as ‘naturally’ inferior beings; they were a kind of afterthought”
[Saw man alone as] the image and glory of God
[Woman is but] the glory of the man
Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not allow any woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain silent.
The man is not of the woman, but the woman is of the man

Tertullian of Carthage
Dripping breasts, stinking wombs, and crying babies
Woman is a temple over a sewer
[Women should wear perpetual mourning to atone for] the ignominy and odium of having being the cause of the fall of the human race

Clement of Alexandria
Every woman ought to be filled with shame as the thought that she is a woman
Amongst all the savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman

St Jerome
Regard everything as poison which bears within it the seeds of sensual pleasure
Nothing is filthier than to have sex with your wife as you might with another woman

St Augustine
I know nothing which brings the manly mind down from the heights more than a woman’s caresses and that joining of bodies without which one cannot have a wife
Suppress prostitution, and capricious lusts will overthrow society

Do not hearken to a wicked woman; for through the lips of a harlot are like the drops from a honeycomb, which for a while is smooth in thy throat, yet afterwards thou will find her more bitter than gall, and sharper than a two-edged sword

Martin Luther
And if a woman grows weary and at last dies from child-bearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it
(Thought) [sex was] unclean

Jean Calvin
(After Deuteronomy) If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, they shall both of them die

Vincent Nichols (Catholic Archbishop of Westminster)
The moral teaching of the church is that ‘proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life’.