The Bufo and the Code – a response to Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina, a fellow patristicist, posted an amusing piece which you ought to look at.  He states he cannot find a link to the Fathers, however.  

I grant you, this is a task. At least it is a task to make a good link.  However, picking up on the Latin word bufo, perhaps something can be done.  My first reaction was make a connection with the first Georgic of Virgil.  I know that more for the great phrase exiguus mus, rather than for the reference to the bufo, but there it is. 

"But Father!" you say, "that’s not patristic!"  Yes, I know.  But let’s have some fun with it.

Augustine uses a form of bufo once, and not in a very interesting way; it is mostly a comment on word forms in De grammatica: regulae, namely, "Ab epicoeno struthio hirundo hirudo curculio bufo et talia. Ab u uocali solum neutrum, quod in singulari indeclinabile est, in plurali declinatur, ut cornu ueru genu tonitru:…"  blah blah blah  I do like the reference to the struthio or "ostrich" here, however.  Each year when we sing Tenebrae at St. Agnes in St. Paul (I think you have all heard of that place by now), in one of the Lamentations (I think on Saturday) we get the forelorn image of the struthio in deserto, which I always find amusing.  (I hope Dr. LAL, M.D. is reading this!)

Cassiodorus in De orthographia 5 is equally uninteresting and even more pedantic about the bufo.

You don’t get into any interesting texts until you move into later centuries.  To make a far too long post longer, medieval authors really have a thing about the poor little bufo who takes it on the chin, or whatever you call what they have, everytime.  Bernard of Clairvaux has something to say about the bufo but I would rather not write it here.  Look it up in the Vitae sancti Malachiae 41.  Even the critter loving Franciscan Bonaventure was pretty hard on the bufo (not to mention the Jews) when talking about the salvific water and Blood from Christ’s side in a Sunday sermon (6,6): "Hoc autem medicinali liquore impii Iudaei adeo sunt offensi ut ruinam mortis incurrerint et ruinam super ruinam multiplicarent spernendo medicamentum saluberrimum et antidotum quo genus humanum salvabatur simile bufonibus qui adeo offenduntur de bono odore fragrante de arboribus vinearum ut in fugam convertantur."  I mean, really, was that slander necessary?  Poor bufo.

The famous Thomas a Kempis in his Sermones ad novicios (Sermons to novices) is simply cruel to our bufo, though admittedly with real style!  Thomas the Novice Master is literally giving these kids hell, saying that to get over the desire for honors or even simply to stay in their cells for a little extra sleep, they should picture the ghastly flames of hell roasting their twisting crackling bodies.  They should summon to their minds the scariest things pppppossible, including the bbbbufoGet a load of those great active participles all strung together.  Read it aloud, shout, wave your hands around like flames as if you are trying to scare a bunch of novices!  "Pone in mente tua quae naturaliter horribilia videntur, scilicet ollam succensam pice plenam, sulphure foetentem; attende leones frementes, canes mordentes, serpentes saevientes: bufones corrodentes, dracones glutientes; et vinces citius turpissima vitia ad cor tuum maculandum per diabolum tibi immissa: fugabisque longius a te torporem mentis, somnolentiam corporis, et desiderium vanissimae laudis."  Wasn’t that fun?  You have got to read the whole thing sometime.

My favorite reference, is perhaps applicable to the whole DaVinci Code "thing".   I think Dan Brown would do well to keep this one in mind.  Keep in mind what a bad reputation the wretched bufo has by the time Thomas de Chobham (+c.1233/6) in his Summa de arte praedicandi says, and I think rightly:

Melius autem esset homini habere bufonem in ore, quam diabolum… It would be better for a man to have a toad in his mouth, than the devil.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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One Comment

  1. pauli says:

    Thank you, Father, for the wonderful connection. As the “father” of the bufo shirt, I have a certain pride in mocking the “DaVinci Code thing” as you call it.

    I was cutting the lawn when I first thought of it. I called up my friend who’s the President of Earth Sun Moon and explained my “vision”. He got to work on it right away with his best artist. It would have been nice if we could have brought it out sooner so more retail would carry it before the movie, but it was glorious enough last night when my shirts came amid howls from my children: “The Binchey Toad, the Binchey Toad!”

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