Wherein at the tail-end of 2021 Fr. Z reflects on the phrase “In cauda venenum”

There’s a pattern in papal and curial and chancery documents.  In general, after the salutations and other blah blah, there follow status quaesitionis points which stand as the justification for the correspondence or decree.  However, the business is nearly always towards the end, where, after the stuff up front, the stab comes.

The usual description of this pattern is the Latin “in cauda venenum… the poison is in the tail”, referring to the cuddly scorpion, mentioned by Our Lord as a singularly inappropriate gift from a father to his children (Luke 11:11-13).  Having been distracted by the pinchers, the stinger strikes.   It isn’t just the poison, it’s that the poison goes to the heart.

The pattern reveals itself fairly often in the Church as, for example, in the relationship of bishops to their priests or the Curia with the wider Church.  Trust is given on one side and the deadly, disappointing stab comes.

At least as this year grew into senescence, the situation of “canceled priests” emerged into the light.  Canceled priests have experienced from those who ought to be their fathers in the priesthood, the sting of the scorpion.  The relationship often begins well, and at the end it’s one-way venom, often unexpected.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, talking about the false teaching of Amaldus of Brixen, says, “conversatio mel et doctrina venenum, cui caput coumbae, cauda scorpionis est”… “his manner is honey and his doctrine poison; his is the head of a dove and the tail is of the scorpion.”  He goes on, “quem Brixia evomuit, Roma exhorruit” … “Whom Brixen vomited, Rome abhors” (Ep. 196, 1).

Venerable Bede wrote: “Recte namquae inmutatio boni praepositi nociva et concupiscentiae carnalis repetitio veneno scorpionis quod retro, id est gestat comparatur cum dicitur: aut si petierit ovum, numquid porriget ille scorpionem? (Homelliarum evangelii II, 14).

Shifting gears but keeping the same idea, Ambrosius Autpertus in his Expositio in Apocalypisin says (2.2): “Apis in ore mel portat, in cauda venenum occultat” … “the bee carries honey in its mouth and hides the poison in its tail”.

At the tail end of 2021, we had a scorpion’s tail from our father figures hidden in loads of honey.

Scorpions are inevitable in the Church. Ask Tertullian.  He wrote Scorpiace against the poison of gnosticism.  That could be helpful today, with the rise of a new type of gnostic in the Church, in places of power.

Regarding the dear and ubiquious ecclesiastical and indeed prelatial scorpion, there are different ways to receive him.  Let’s consider two fables.

Consider the naïve and vulnerable approach and then the suspicious and guarded.  Both are willing to deal with the scorpion, but with differing outcomes.

First, you know the Russian tale of the Frog and the Scorpion. A scorpion wants to cross a river but cannot swim.  He asks a kindly frog to give him a lift.  The frog is afraid that the that the scorpion will sting him, but the scorpion assures him that he won’t using the argument that, the frog’s good is their common good: if he stings the frog in mid-stream, they will both die by drowning!  The frog agrees. Off they go and, of course, the scorpion stings the frog.  With its dying croak the frog asks the scorpion why he stung, given the consequences.   The scorpion replies that he couldn’t help himself, because it is in his nature to sting.

This could be like the lesser, but still mortal, carnal sins people might commit from the appetites that are hard to control because of original sin.

Consider the backgrounds of some of the main figures involved in the Russian level pogrom against the Roman Rite, from the top down to the Curia and then highly visible archbishops.  It’s in their nature.

Next, there is the Indian tale of the Frog and Turtle.  This is similar to the situation of the Frog and the Scorpion, but with a difference.  The turtle is protected by his shell from the scorpion’s repeated stings after his promise of good behavior.  Again, when questioned on the other side of the stream, the scorpion says that it is his nature to sting.  However, the scorpion knew that the turtle’s have protective shells. He stings anyway, knowing that he won’t die with the turtle.  He stings because he is, by nature, a stinger.  Stinging for stinging’s sake.

Again, I direct you to consider the nature of our gracious, pastorally-minded shepherds, with their power to hurt and demoralize, goals worthy of the graver mortal sins of the spirit that begin in lesser, more carnal sins, but move quickly into the graver sins of the mind and heart.  Stinging for stinging’s sake, beyond just the drive to sting.

In cauda venenum.

At the end of this year, I propose to us all that we work on our protective shell.

The scorpions we have with us will do what they are going to do – try to hurt us more – because it is their nature.

In filial piety we might still be able to lend them a measure of trust – as the Lord counsels his disciples about the hypocrites who have the Seat of Moses (Matthew 23:2).  They are owed some obedience, but not unreasoned obedience and not obedience that will kill us (cf. the fate of the trusting and unprotected frog).

The better approach is, sadly now, to expect that they will continue to attack and to hurt us in regard to the Roman Rite.  Their documents will have the “poison in the tail”, just as the last line of Cupich’s scorpion to his spiritual children in Chicago says that the cruel and ultra vires restrictions he intends to impose was signed on Christmas Day.

That’s how they roll.

It’s in their nature.

Get ready for a New Year.  Let us pray for each other and for our pastors.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: Wherein at the tail-end of 2021 Fr. Z reflects on the phrase “In cauda venenum” – Via Nova Media

  2. Magister scholae says:

    denial is powerful thing, it feeds desire, not truth

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    May the Holy Spirit be the comforter of each of us.

  4. ChesterFrank says:

    The stinging started with a priest on a skateboard processing down the aisle, or a homily joke jabbing at the faithful. “They” have been at “this” for a long long time. They took the phrase “if you can’t beat them join them to heart. They aren’t a lone scorpion, they are wasps and hornets in a nest feeding and guarding their hive.

  5. UnwaffledAnglican says:

    In all fairness to our local arachnids, I think the comparison is insulting to scorpions, who are an ancient lineage of fascinating animals simply trying to make a living in a hostile world.

  6. pbnelson says:

    Here we read a lawyer-turned priest trying to use Pope Francis’ liberal weapons as a conservative shield. It’s a yeoman’s effort and well worth a read for those who believe that leftists are to be taken at their word when they elucidate their principles. As I read it I cynically shake my head in disbelief at the implicit naivete. For myself, I believe that in actual practice we will find church leftists to be exactly like secular leftists in their “tolerance of everything except intolerance”. Meaning that, with a clear conscience, they will freely violate any rights of any right-wingers for any reason and for no reason on the principle that intolerant right-wingers undermine the principle of tolerance which gives their liberalism free rein, and so must perforce be preemptively forestalled by acts of aggressive defense. At best, we can use these kind of arguments as a delaying tactic, putting off our day of reckoning until such time as a rescue party can be formed to break the siege. Until then, as Fr. Z. so perceptively observes: dogs gonna bark, cats gonna scratch, and scorpions gonna sting.

  7. MaterDeicolumbae says:

    For our Catholic zoologists re the scorpion pictured above:
    “The Emperor scorpion, Pandinus imperator, is a species of scorpion native to rainforests and savannas in West Africa.
    It is one of the largest scorpions in the world and lives for 6–8 years. Its body is black, but like other scorpions it glows pastel green or blue under ultraviolet light.”

    The Emperor scorpion (Pandinus imperator) are a popular species of scorpion to keep as a pet, as they are impressively large and relatively docile. … Emperor scorpions are fascinating animals and can make for a great pet for a beginner branching out into arachnid pets.

  8. TRW says:

    The trouble with leftists and progressives is that they have no first principles. The ends justify the means. Everything seems personal to them because they are motivated primarily by emotion, not by virtues like Prudence or Justice. There are Bishops who have been fatherly and merciful in their non-application of TC. Many are not progressives, even if they have at times been seemingly liberal in their approach to all things Catholic. There’s a huge difference between a true progressive/leftist (scorpion) and someone who has just been formed by the zeitgeist. Thankfully, some bishops have been merciful, because they aren’t blinded by ideology. The labeling in TC of supposed “groups” that attend the TLM is especially presumptuous. Many of the TLMs celebrated at diocesan parishes are attended by all kinds of folks. It is not a cohesive group. Of course everyone there appreciates a reverent Mass. That’s hardly an ideology. God willing, the progressives that occupy positions at the local/ diocesan level will eventually find that the Church is no longer a useful tool to implement their agenda. That may take some time. A generation or two. Unfortunately, I suspect that at the highest levels, the Church will continue to be a useful tool for the globalists, thus the malfeasance perpetrated by the progressives will continue for some time at the upper levels of the Church. At the local level, the Church may become so seemingly irrelevant that it won’t necessarily be useful to the ideologues.

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