American Gargoyles: Flannery O'Connor and the Medieval Grotesque

By Anthony Di Renzo | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Grinning Devils and Ludicrous Saints: The Grotesque and the Dialectic Between Satire and Sanctity

Every Divinity School might well have in its senior year, along with courses in systematic divinity and homiletics, a course in the great masters of comedy; and, to arouse our sluggish wits and keep us on our guard, it might not be amiss to carve upon our pulpits, side by side with the lean Gothic saints, the figure of Aristophanes or Moliere with warning finger.

-- William Austin Smith, "The Use of the Comic Spirit in Religion"

C HRIST and Saint Peter are the Abbott and Costello of Sicilian folklore. Christ plays the arch and ironic straight man while Peter is his easily perturbed stooge. In one tale Jesus instructs his apostles to carry heavy stones from one village to another. Peter, a lazy lout, only carries a pebble. When they arrive at their destination, the apostles are famished. Jesus orders them to sit and transforms their stones into bread. Peter, of course, is left only with a crumb. He complains to Christ, but Jesus replies that the worker is worth his wage. Peter mutters and sulks, and Jesus decides to play a trick on him. The next day Christ again orders his apostles to carry stones. Peter, remembering his humiliation and greedy for bread, carries a boulder. He grunts and sweats but dreams vaingloriously of one- upping the others. "This will be a loaf to end all loaves," he thinks. When they arrive at the next village, however, Peter discovers that there is a bakery in the piazza! Jesus, eyeing Peter, asks the others to step inside and announces he will buy bread for them all. Peter is too exhausted even to take a bite, and Jesus and the apostles burst out laughing.

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