The Kiss and its History/Chapter 4

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1981682The Kiss and its History — Chapter IV. The Kiss of PeaceWilliam Frederick HarveyKristoffer Nyrop



Salute invicem in osculo sancto.

Salute one another with an holy kiss.



The kiss, as expressive of deep, spiritual love, also came to figure in the primitive Christian Church.

Christ has said: "Peace be with you, my peace I give you," and the members of Christ's Church gave each other peace symbolically through a kiss. St Paul repeatedly speaks of the "holy kiss" (φίλημα ἅγιον), and, in his Epistle to the Romans, writes: "Salute one another with an holy kiss"; and he reiterates this exhortation in both his Epistles to the Corinthians (1, xvi. 20, and 2, xiii. 12), and his first Epistle to the Thessalonians (v. 26), wherein he says: "Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss."

The holy kiss has gradually found admission into the ritual of the Church, and was imparted on occasions of particular solemnity, such as baptism, marriage, confession, ordination, obsequies, etc., etc. At a wedding the ceremony was as follows: On the conclusion of High Mass and after the Agnus Dei had been chanted, the bridegroom went up to the altar and received the kiss of peace from the priest. After this he returned to his wife, and gave her the priest's kiss of peace at the foot of the crucifix. Reminiscences of this rite still survive in several churches in England.

The holy kiss played an important part even at the Mass; in the Greek Church it was imparted before, in the Roman Catholic Church after, the consecration of the elements. The priest kissed the penitent, and through this kiss gave him peace; this was the true kiss of peace (osculum pacis). We have a peculiar memorial of this in Old Irish, where the word pōc, which is derived from the Latin pax, means "kiss,"—not "peace." This change of meaning must, I suppose, be attributed partly to a misunderstanding of the priest's words when he kissed the penitent: Pacem do tibi (Peace I give unto thee), i.e., people understood the kiss as the chief thing, and thought pacem referred to that. The same peculiarity is again to be met with in mediæval Spanish, where paz has also the meaning of "kiss." In an ancient romance which relates how Fernando dubbed the Cid a knight, it says at the end, "He buckled a sword on his waist, and gave him 'peace' (i.e., a kiss) on the mouth":

El rey le ciñó la espada
Paz en la boca le ha dado.

The holy kiss occurs even in the early Christian love-feasts, the so-called ἀγαπαί, and indeed was often exchanged in the church itself by all the faithful without regard to sex, which gave the heathen cause for scandal, and its use was restricted so that only men kissed men, and women, women.

The kiss of peace was in vogue in France down to the thirteenth century. We find it in the story about a very unpleasant incident to which Queen Margaret, the wife of St Louis, was exposed. One day when she was in church and the kiss of peace was to be imparted, she saw close beside her a woman in splendid apparel, and taking the latter to be a lady of rank, she gave her the kiss of peace. It turned out, however, that the queen had made a mistake; she had kissed one of the common courtesans who always swarmed about the Court. She then complained to the king, the consequence of which was that certain ordinances were drawn up with respect to the dress of women of that class, in order to render all confusion with respectable women henceforward impossible.

The kiss of peace in the churches seems to have been abolished in the latter part of the Middle Ages, at different times in different countries.

In the middle of the thirteenth century; a special instrument for conveying the kiss was introduced into England—the so-called; osculatorium or tabella pacis, which was composed of a metal disc with a holy picture, and was passed round the church to be kissed.

From the English Church the osculatory was gradually introduced into other churches, but nowhere does it appear to have contrived to rejoice in any particularly long stay. In various ways it gave occasion to scandal.

It was provocative of contention and strife in the church itself, when people of position quarrelled violently as to whom the honour belonged of kissing it first, Contentions as to precedence at church are, as we see, of long standing.

It seems also to have served as a sort of profane intermediary between lovers. When a young and beautiful girl kissed it she had close beside her a fine young fellow who waited impatiently to take it directly from her hand and lips. We read in one of Marot's poems:

I told the maid that she was fair;
I've kissed the Pax just after her.

W. F. H.

Through the use of the osculatory, the well-known custom of gallants such as, from the Greek romances and Ovid, existed in ancient times, was revived—Huet calls it elegans urbanitatis genus—when the lover drank out of the goblet from the very place which the beloved one's lips had touched. Formerly a sort of pax was employed even in Danish churches. The Catholic priests showed the people "a picture in a book" (of course the picture of some saint), and this picture was kissed by the congregation; for which purpose a small fee termed "kiss-money" or "book-money" was handed to the parish clerk.

Even after the use of the pax had been abolished by the Reformation, the "book-money," as a customary due to the clerk, was retained. But at a congress at Roskilde in 1565, parish clerks were forbidden to demand this fee.

The holy kiss is still imparted in the Greek Church on Easter Sunday; all the faithful greet leach other in church with kisses, and the words, "Christ is risen," the reply to which being, "Verily, He hath risen." In the Roman Catholic liturgy this usage has been confined to certain masses, and the holy kiss is only exchanged among the clergy, not among the members of the congregation. First, the bishop and archdeacon kiss the altar, then the archdeacon kneels down and the bishop gives him the kiss of peace with the words: Pax tibi, frater, et ecclesiæ sanctæ Dei (Peace be with thee, brother, and with God's Holy Church). The archdeacon answers: Et cum spiritu tuo (And with thy spirit), after which he gets up, genuflects towards the altar, and carries the kiss of peace to the chief canon, whom he kisses on the left cheek with the words pax tibi, and thus it is sent round to all the officiating clergy with many different ceremonies.

The holy kiss soon spread beyond the walls of the church, and came into usage even in secular festivities. Thus, during the Middle Ages, it was the custom to seal the reconciliation and pacification of enemies by a kiss. The old German poets mention such a kiss under the name of "Vredekuss," and so widespread was the custom of the kiss of reconciliation, that the verb at sone, or udsone, got the meaning of "to kiss." Sônen has still this meaning in Frisian.

In an old French miracle-play St Bernard of Clairvaux says to Count William and the Bishop of Poitiers, who had had a long-standing feud with each other, and between whom he had managed to make peace: "In order to show that your friendship is true and sincere, you must kiss each other." Count William then goes up to the bishop, saying: "My lord, I crave your forgiveness for the wrong I have inflicted on you; I have erred greatly towards you. Kiss me now to seal our peace, and I will kiss you with loyal heart."

Even knights gave each other the kiss of peace before proceeding to the combat, and forgave one another all real or imaginary wrongs.

In Covenant Vivien, Vivien exchanges the kiss of peace with Girart and six other illustrious warriors before the great fight with King Desramé begins.

Manzoni has made use of the kiss of peace in the pathetic scene in I promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), when Fra Cristoforo obtains forgiveness from the nobleman whose son he has slain. The nobleman receives the monk in his palace. Surrounded by all his relations, he stands in the middle of his great hall, with left hand on his sword-hilt, whilst with his right he holds a flap of his cloak pressed against his chest. Cold and stern, he gazes contemptuously and with suppressed wrath at the novice as he enters, but the latter exhibits such touching remorse and noble humility that the nobleman, there and then, abandons his stiffness. He raises up the kneeling brother himself, grants him his forgiveness, and, finally, "carried away by the emotion that prevailed, he threw his arms round the latter's neck, and gave and received the kiss of peace."

After the Middle Ages the kiss of peace disappears altogether as the official token of reconciliation; solitary instances, indeed, can certainly be quoted from Catherine of Medici's Court, but they are rather to be regarded as studied efforts to re-introduce an old and abandoned usage. After the murder of Francis de Guise in 1563, his widow and brother meet Admiral de Coligny; the latter swore that he had not the least suspicion of the assassin's plot, whereupon they kiss each other, and mutually promise to forget all enmities, and henceforward to live in peace and harmony. This kiss of peace was as powerless to revive the old custom as Lamourette's memorable attempt at the time of the Revolution. On the 7th July 1792, when the quarrel amongst the members of the Legislative Assembly had reached a terrible height, at the time when the Austrian and Prussian armies were marching on Paris, Lamourette got up and made a fervent patriotic speech, in which, in the most moving terms, he exhorted all the members of the Assembly to sink their differences. He finished by saying: "Let us forget all dissension and swear everlasting fraternity"—et jurons-nous fraternité éternelle, and the deputies at once fell into each other's arms, and in a universal kiss of reconciliation every one forgave each other's wrongs. But this unity did not last long. The quarrels began again the following day, and two years afterwards Lamourette himself died by the guillotine; but the expression, a kiss of Lamourette—un baiser de Lamourette—still survives in the French language as a half ironical term for a short-lived reconciliation.