The punchline of today’s strip is church mice.
Last week faithful and valued commenters William Thompson and Maxine of Arc got on the subject of church mice, specifically questioning why they would be quiet or poor. I promised them an explanation, so today here it is.
Why are church mice quiet?
Church mice are quiet because in the 20th century two idioms got smashed together. “Quiet as a mouse.” Which has been around since the 16th century, and “Poor/hungry as a church mouse.” which has been around since the 17th century.
The quietness of rodents is pretty self explanatory. But why are church mice poorer and hungrier than other mice?
For any of you who didn’t have to sit through three years of confirmation or multiple years of religious history in college, transubstantiation is the Catholic belief that communion bread and wine become, in reality, the actual body and blood of Christ. Not a remembrance or a symbol or even just inhabited by the the spirit or essence of the body, (Lutheran consubstantiation.) The substance has been transformed into actual Godflesh.
So Catholics take a lot of care that any excess communion bread left over after a Mass is protected; and the place they put the extra, either a tabernacle or an ambry, often has kneeling rails for private devotions or eucharistic adoration.
Even before transubstantiation became a set idea, early Christians didn’t want little mice gnawing on communion wafers.
“Let all take care that no unbaptized person taste of the Eucharist nor a mouse or other animal, and that none of it at all fall and be lost. For it is the Body of Christ to be eaten by them that believe and not to be thought of lightly.”(Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition III:32:2 235 AD.)
But what would happen if a mouse DID eat communion bread? Medieval theologians were fascinated with the idea, and used the question ‘Quid Mus Sumit?‘ ‘What does the mouse eat?’ as a thought experiment to explore the idea of The Eucharist. What is it? What does it do? What would it do to someone who ate it without knowing what it was? At what point does it stop being body and blood?
“Even though a mouse or a dog were to eat the consecrated host, the substance of Christ’s body would not cease to be under the species, so long as those species remain, and that is, so long as the substance of bread would have remained; just as if it were to be cast into the mire. Nor does this turn to any indignity regarding Christ’s body, since He willed to be crucified by sinners without detracting from His dignity; especially since the mouse or dog does not touch Christ’s body in its proper species, but only as to its sacramental species. Some, however, have said that Christ’s body would cease to be there, directly it were touched by a mouse or a dog; but this again detracts from the truth of the sacrament, as stated above. None the less it must not be said that the irrational animal eats the body of Christ sacramentally; since it is incapable of using it as a sacrament. Hence it eats Christ’s body “accidentally,” and not sacramentally, just as if anyone not knowing a host to be consecrated were to consume it. And since no genus is divided by an accidental difference, therefore this manner of eating Christ’s body is not set down as a third way besides sacramental and spiritual eating.”Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas. 1273 AD.
Of course all this Catholic rodent obsession was eventually used by Protestants during the Reformation as a big old ‘gotcha’ when lambasting Catholic ‘idolatry’ of the communion. Some of it got downright vicious and definitely disingenuous. And it’s from about this time that ‘hungry as a church mouse’ became an idiom.
So there you have it. Church mice are poor because they can’t get any communion bread, and we joke about it because of leftover anti-Catholic sentiment.
Many apologies to anyone who came to this blog today expecting comics criticism instead of a theological deep dive, but I wanted to end my shift talking about something I actually find compelling, rather than dance the Dinklepolka.
It’s been an interesting couple weeks. I mean in terms of the straws I grasped at to try and find something to say. Those straws were kinda fun to braid together. The strip was boring as mud. Actually, I take that back. Mud is much more interesting. I think I’ll research that next.
Join me again in a couple months as I regale you all about INTERESTING MUD. For example. Did you know all baseballs used in MLB are rubbed with special mud harvested, prepped, and packaged by a single man from New Jersey who gathers it in a secret location every year along the Delaware River?
Until next time then. TF Hackett is taking over tomorrow. Good luck good sir. You have my sympathies.
38 responses to “Quid Mus Sumit?”
This is informative, enjoyable and brilliant. Thank you, CBH. Expect a frustrated downvote or two from someone who cannot even keep last names straight.
Aww, thanks BC. And thanks to everyone else who appreciated my research this week. Y’all just make me feel soo loved.
*hugs a snarky troll blog*
First things first. Yes, St. Spires and Bingo and that organ and the execrable Dinkle, I know, but this is an actual joke with a passable punch line and when that happens it needs to be acknowledged. I mean I don’t have to like or respect an outlaw motorcycle club but it doesn’t mean I can’t silently nod in approval when they do their annual Christmas toy drive for the kids in the burn unit. So it’s kind of like that, only way more benign and boring.
Then I started thinking about the totally plausible possibility that this ENTIRE ARC was reverse-engineered specifically do do this gag. Don’t put it past him, he’d do it without thinking twice about it. He once spent something like ten years on giving Les’ wife an incurable disease just so he could later do a bunch of gags about how annoying book signings are.
And have a reason for Funky to complain about running as he prepares for Lisa’s legacy run.
My hope is that the very last FW strip finally explains what “Funky Winkerbean” actually means and the whole thing will suddenly come together and make perfect sense. But it’s not like I’m gonna wager on it or anything.
The very last strip should show a young Tom Batiuk. In the first panel he says, “So, I think I’ll start a comic strip!” No dialogue in the second panel, and in the third he says “–nah.”
There’s no other reason Harry didn’t hear any mice in the choir loft. Nope. No other reason at all…
One of FW’s great all-time long-lost and buried arcs. Man alive, he was just putting the screws to everyone back then, you know? It was downright sadistic. He actually had his beloved Dinkle go deaf, just think about how vicious and cruel that was. And he was still drawing it back then and he was always just as strange an artist as he was a writer.
I came up with a theory.
Did anyone else ever see that episode of As Time Goes By where Lionel was losing his hearing, but he was too stubborn to see a doctor, and then (spoilers) it turned out he just had really bad earwax and his hearing was fine?
My headcanon is that the same thing happened to Dinkle, but by the time he found out he wasn’t actually going deaf, it was too late to get his job back and he was too embarrassed to admit the truth.
I love how often Batiuk has his characters pointing at things that are obvious. It really makes his characters look like morons.
But holy crap, what the hell happened to Dinkle? He’s devolved into something monstrous.
Thanks CBH for the interesting commentary. So sorry you got stuck with Dinkle Tinkles.
“You don’t hear any mice because Bingo is the best mouser you ever saw!”
Twelve years of parochial school and all I remember about transubstantiation is that if you step on the Eucharist, it will bleed. Back in the second grade I was assured that there was a bloodstain on a sidewalk where this had happened. However it was on the other side of the country so I had to take its existence on faith. (My grade school was in southern California. When I think about it, I wonder if kids on the East Coast were told it happened in California. And what would kids at the geographic center of the USA have heard about the miraculous stain’s location?)
I grew up on Long Island, and I can assure you that we were not stomping on Christ’s Body all the time in the Corpus Christi parish in Mineola. Relax.
I went to regular schools because my parents loved FDR.
Thanks for a really great and even-handed explanation of what can be an esoteric subject. There is the whole Aristotelian “appearance versus essence” (still has all the surface attributes of bread and wine but it’s essential nature is changed) part of it. For Luther both essences coexist.
I do want to make one comment about this Choir arc. By naming the church St. Spires, TomBa is leaning toward the Catholic/Lutheran/High Church Episcopal end of the Christian spectrum where honoring saints (deceased holy people whose lives make them role models) is more common.
Should I be annoyed that “Spires” is not a human name? I can’t decide.
Maybe it’s short for Spyridon.
Luther killed a third of the people in Germany. Didn’t mean to, but that was the result.
Thanks Gerard! Theology/church history is one of my favorite pet research topics since I have family all along the spectrum, from super devout Catholics to super charismatic evangelicals.
Your extensive knowledge and contributions to the blog are appreciated. Keep up the great work.
“I’ve never heard any mouse activity up here”? Forgive me for playing devil’s advocate, but doesn’t one usually SEE as opposed to HEAR mouse activity, nibbled-on hosts notwithstanding?
Funny how today’s strip appears to take place at the end of one of those post-midnight choir rehearsals with St. Spires all lit up. Will there ever come a day when they’ve actually be seen…oh, I dunno…PERFORMING IN AN ACTUAL CHURCH SERVICE?
Oh, CBH, I notice that you’ve added a new “dumb CBH tangents” to your last few posts. Be nice to yourself! You helped us all get through a truly dire fortnight, not to mention the dreaded Downvoter Fairy. I’m going to go stand in a line somewhere.
Downvotes mean you’ve struck a nerve. Don’t try to attract them, but savor them when thy show up.
LOL. Naw that was just a little ironic self-deprecation, and a way to label the posts I make that go WAAAAAY off topic.
I refuse to believe there’s only one place on earth to find this special mud…
You’re wrong! SonofStuckFunky is the only place on earth you can find the carefully curated snark mud we rub the sheen off each strip with!
That’s what I like about this site. I come for the snark and stay for the educational posts. Well done as always, CBH.
Hey, I just saw where I missed a discussion of Crankshaft’s discombobulated “Radio Ranch” reference. Believe it or not, I recently completed a project that included a bit of research into “The Phantom Empire.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of TB’s obsession with it.
I’d love to hear more about this project, if you are at liberty to tell.
It has to do with the “secret origin” of Gene Autry’s acting career. Maybe I can go into more detail later.
The origins of a phrase. You really know your Onions.
Have you noticed that Sunday comics could actually be three-panel weekday comics?
“So Bingo keeps the mice in check?”
“I’ve never heard of any mouse activity.”
“They’re church mice.”
Last week would need a total rewrite because of the confusing use of the word “bingo.” But all it says is that they need to fundraise differently. Two Sundays ago could go:
“It’s nice to practice in person again.”
“Instead of on Zoom.”
“Pat was never able to figure out how to join the site.”
Three weeks ago:
“I had to wear a mask to do deliveries.”
“But that wasn’t a problem for me…”
“Because I’ve been weairng masks my whole life.”
Four weeks ago:
“What do you think of this?”
“We have a table, and you said it would last forever.”
Five Sundays ago was the Flash #123 cover ripoff. Six Sundays ago:
“Spring can’t get here soon enough.”
“I think it’s already here…”
“..The septic lid is visible.”
You can edit almost any Funky Winkerbean Sunday strip into a three-paneler. Except for the ones that make so little sense they can’t even be edited. And of course, the stupid comic book covers.
And each word balloon, as a rule, could have half as many words and make twice as much sense. It would also be a real bonus if Batty would stop compulsively starting sentences with the word “so.”
I sometimes imagine what Batiuk would be like if you met him at a party. I imagine some luckless victim being cornered and subjected to a lengthy monologue on The Phantom Empire, Kids These Days, Flash of Two Worlds, The Phantom Empire, Why Back In My Day, Flash #123, and on and on. Each sentence would start with “So.” At no time would Tom ever make an actual point; it would be a literal internal monologue made audible.
If this is the way he writes, with a year of lead time, imagine how he talks off-the-cuff.
This use of “so” is what I call the stutter panel. So many word balloons, or even entire panels, are of someone saying only so, well, and, but, yes, and nothing else. It does nothing but fill space, and lazily prompts the conversation to continue. Crankshaft had a recent example:
This is fine occasionally, but Batiuk uses it way too much.
It’s a sure bet that he never encountered Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”. His writing abounds in “useless words”.
Comic strip writing is akin to copywriting, in that the goals should be:
1. To use as few words as possible, while retaining full meaning
2. To play off the art, NOT restate or explain it. Describing what you’re also showing is a waste of words and risks losing the reader’s interest.
Tom also breaks every rule of drama (raise the stakes, force the protagonist to struggle, don’t insert elements that you don’t intend to use [aka Chekhov’s Gun]), etc. It’s odd that he breaks every rule, yet instead of ending up with something avant-garde, he creates the most boring, mundane, prosaic comic strip there ever was.
I love how Bingo is just asleep on the actual keys.
“SING LOUDER EVERYONE! MY ARTHRITIC WRISTS ARE TOO WEAK TO MOVE THE CAT AND I THINK HE MIGHT BE DEAD!!! DEAD LIKE EVERYBODY WHO HAS EVER TOUCHED THE ST. SPIRES CHURCH ORGAN!!”
As always, I stand in line for CBH.