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Dialect Proverbs
Nothing can beat wine-Christ’s blood.
When folk wisdom is “differently sophisticated”
È u vére ca re carne de Criste so’ preziose frutte
Ma u sanghe de Criste è cchiù sàupe de tutte

[It’s true that the body of Christ is a precious fruit
but the blood of Christ is above all else]
(Ruvo di Puglia)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

This proverb straddles the fine line which, in folk culture, divides orthodoxy from irreligion. It is part of the mass of evidence showing that two worlds, by definition diametrically opposed, can not only coexist but also in many cases blend effortlessly in the ancient peasant world: a world that is religious but at the same time superstitious, practical and disenchanted, perennially hovering between heaven and earth.

There is nothing more theoretically sophisticated, in catholic theology, than the principle of transubstantiation, namely the conversion of the substance of bread and wine into that of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the liturgy of the Holy Mass. This question over the centuries has been the crux of a war between brothers which even led to the split of the Lutherans from the Catholic church: one side maintained that in the rite of consecration, the bread and wine did not change their nature, while the other side maintained that they are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, using extremely complex doctrinal arguments.

Such a traumatic event in the history of the whole of Europe could not occur without leaving its mark in folk culture. But how could such complex, abstract doctrinal analyses enter the culture of the common people? Only by translating from the abstract to the concrete, from theology to everyday life. The plastic representation of transubstantiation could only come about through concrete images: in this particular case, the images of bread and wine on the one hand and of the body and blood on the other.

But once the subjects under discussion have been identified, how can the debate between incomprehensible theories be transformed into a problem that can be understood, examined and solved using the means of practical culture? Our proverb reveals one of the possible strategies, and it is a very interesting discovery. It shows us a sophisticated procedure, divided into three steps:

a) it starts with a ‘transubstantiation in reverse’: it is the body that becomes bread and the blood that becomes wine. The protagonists of the debate thus become the bread and wine;

b) the problem is approached like a contest, with a winner and a loser. At this point the match is a pushover: between bread and wine there is no contest, wine wins hands down;

c) the wine is now ‘re-converted’ into ‘Christ’s blood’ and the bread into ‘Christ’s body’, re-establishing the initial situation, and the result of the contest is announced: È u vére ca re carne de Criste so’ preziose frutte / ma u sanghe de Criste è cchiù sàupe de tutte (It’s true that the body of Christ is a precious fruit, but the blood of Christ is above all else).

A theological problem, which could not be any more theological, has found a secular solution, which could not be any more secular.

This is a perfect example, a clear demonstration that folk wisdom is not simple, poor and naive, but quite the opposite: it is sophisticated, but it merely follows different paths than theological wisdom, which for a great many historical reasons, is far more familiar to us. In the terminology in use today, it isn’t uncouth: it is differently sophisticated.

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