VII. AN ASSEMBLY IN PARADISE (Continuation and End)
St. Catherine entered the assembly, her head encircled by a crown of emeralds, sapphires, and pearls, and she was clad in a robe of cloth of gold. She carried at her side a blazing wheel, the image of the one whose fragments had struck her persecutors.
The Lord having invited her to speak, she expressed herself in these terms:
“Lord, in order to solve the problem you deign to submit to me I shall not study the habits of animals in general nor those of birds in particular. I shall only remark to the doctors, confessors, and pontiffs gathered in this assembly that the separation between man and animal is not complete since there are monsters who proceed from both. Such are chimeras—half nymphs and half serpents; such are the three Gorgons and the Capripeds; such are the Scyllas and the Sirens who sing in the sea. These have a woman’s breast and a fish’s tail. Such also are the Centaurs, men down to the waist and the remainder horses. They are a noble race of monsters. One of them, as you know, was able, guided by the light of reason alone, to direct his steps towards eternal blessedness, and you sometimes see his heroic bosom prancing on the clouds. Chiron, the Centaur, deserved for his works on the earth to share the abode of the blessed; he it was who gave Achilles his education; and that young hero, when he left the Centaur’s hands, lived for two years, dressed as a young girl, among the daughters of King Lycomedes. He shared their games and their bed without allowing any suspicion to arise that he was not a young virgin like them. Chiron, who taught him such good morals, is, with the Emperor Trajan, the only righteous man who obtained celestial glory by following the law of nature. And yet he was but half human.
“I think I have proved by this example that, to reach eternal blessedness, it is enough to possess some parts of humanity, always on the condition that they are noble. And what Chiron, the Centaur, could obtain without having been regenerated by baptism, would not the penguins deserve too, if they became half penguins and half men? That is why, Lord, I entreat you to give old Mael’s penguins a human head and breast so that they can praise you worthily. And grant them also an immortal soul—but one of small size.”
Thus Catherine spoke, and the fathers, doctors, confessors, and pontiffs heard her with a murmur of approbation.
But St. Anthony, the Hermit, arose and stretching two red and knotty arms towards the Most High:
“Do not so, O Lord God,” he cried, “in the name of your holy Paraclete, do not so!”
He spoke with such vehemence that his long white beard shook on his chin like the empty nose-bag of a hungry horse.
“Lord, do not so. Birds with human heads exist already. St. Catherine has told us nothing new.”