Bill Long 4/13/06
After this (and the next) Essay, Kiss the Subject Good-bye
We know that to osculate means to kiss, and that the word also has a meaning in geometry (an osculating curve, which touches another curve more often than a tangent curve) and in biology (an interconnecting or osculating species or process). I will finish up on kissing by showing its theological or ecclesiastical usage--from the Holy Kiss of the New Testament to the osculatory or pax of the medieval Catholic Church. First, however, a mini-disgression.
Osculatory and Kissing
I can't quite put aside the richness of the words derived from "oscul" which relate to the physical act of kissing. We have the simple verb osculate, meaning to kiss or to throw a kiss. From as recently as 1987: "When I asked him once why his hands were so cold he said, 'They've been insufficiently osculated.'" And, since operatic and other performers frequently throw kisses to the audience, the following sentence is not unusual: "Surely the artists are not expected to stand there osculating for two minutes!" Then we have osculable, meaning "that can be kissed" or, a definition which I just made up and like better, "fit to be kissed." Rather than looking at the baby and saying, "How adorable!," why don't doting mothers and sisters and aunts and friends say, "Oh my, how osculable!" It would mean that you just can't keep from smothering the child in kisses.
Though the word osculant is quite frequent in biology and mathematics, it also can mean "kissing" or "suggestive of kissing." Those of us who had our intellectual awakenings in the early 1970s read all about B.F. Skinner's "operant conditioning"--where there is a contingency between the response and the presentation of the reinforcer or, more simply said, the modification of behavior over time by the reaping he consequences of such behavior. Why not invent the phrase osculant conditioning instead, to suggest the kind of life of love which we might all desire to have? "After being exposed to months of his osculant conditioning training, she knew she could never go without physical intimacy." Can't you just see it in bright lights? SEMINAR: OSCULANT CONDITIONING. Maybe you would get tons of people to attend just to figure out what you mean by the term! The word might be used more prosaically as in the following sentence: "He poured on the affection--warm, succulent, osculant love."
Then we might use the word oscular, meaning "relating to, designed for, or consisting of kissing." A quotation from Blackwood's Magazine in 1828 captures this: "Neither let indignation curl that oscular lip of thine." Or, possibly in a more modern vein: "Oscular activity was on the agenda at the first-ever kiss-in at the university." Then, we could also use the word oscularity. "After her divorce and numerous failed relationships she was too mature for casual oscularity." And, could we invent a sort of nonsense word for a person living without kisses? What would it be? Maybe osculensence. "When he gave up his last relationship, he swore off kissing. Never did he realize, however, how painful his new state of osculescence would become." I suppose we could play like this for a good long time. But let's return now to where we should have been: the osculatory or osculatorium.
In the medieval Catholic Church the osculatorium/osculatory or pax was introduced into Christian worship. It was, as the Century points out (and there is a nice picture of a pax, or pax-board, as it is also called, under the word) a small tablet, with a handle on the back, ornamented with a representation of some Christian scene or symbol which was kissed by the celebrating priest during the mass and then presented by the acolyte to be kissed by all the officiating ecclesiastics and even by members of the congregation. I got conflicting information on the issue of how many people so kissed the pax and when precisely in the mass the pax or osculatory was kissed. No doubt there was lack of uniformity on the question over time. The Century goes on to say it was introduced into church worship during the 13th century, taking the place of the custom of the holy kiss or kiss of peace. And then, reflecting the Late Victorianism of that dictionary, the Century concludes by saying that the practice of the kiss of peace was discontinued "on account of the confusion and inconvenience involved." Confusion? Inconvenience? Tell me more... And, if the kiss of peace was abrogated in the 13th century, how was this done? Through a decree of Innocent III at a Lateran Council? By some other authorities? The OED says that it was discontinued in England after the Reformation but still was used, though sparingly, in the Roman Catholic Church.
Though I really am not interested (or competent) in providing a full history of the kiss of peace in Christian worship, a few things can be said about it. Let's turn to that now.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long