"There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world." - Benedict XVI - Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate - 24 April 2005

Friday, January 07, 2011

Why the pelican?

I suppose that the title of my blog merits some sort of explanation, so here it is.

Long before the invention of FruitLoops [Oops, that was Toucan Sam. So much for my flavorful introduction!] the pelican was regarded as a noble animal and held as a symbol for the most sublime of mysteries. But why? It's such a silly looking creature with some rather unusual habits!
The Physiologus, an ancient Greek text dated back to the II Century AD, is a collection of tales from an unknown author. It presents anecdotes of animals (both real and fantastic) and nature, each with a moral. Perhaps we could call it a Christian version of Aesop's Fables. 
Of the pelican it recounts that:

The Pelican is very fond of its brood, but when the young ones grow they begin to rebel against the male bird and provoke his anger, so that he kills them, the mother returns to the nest in three days, sits on the dead birds, pours her blood over them, revives them, and they feed on her blood.
(From the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by E. Cobham Brewer)
There are different variations of the tale in other sources, but the meaning is more or less the same.
Both the fable and the inspiring heraldry of the bird have somewhat faded from our minds, but the reality that it represents is most vivid in the hearts of those who believe that Christ is the Pius Pellicanus, from whose pierced side flows the only true life.
So to conclude, I shall insert what I deem the most magnificent of the many poetic references to this ancient story, from St. Thomas' hymn Adoro Te Devote.

Pie pellicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine.
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
Bring the tender tale true of the pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosum ran--
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.
Translated by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Neither let us forget that this magnificent beast has suffered much of late.