Day Among Dogs (or A. Cynic Reads Matthew 7:6)

I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and bite scoundrels.
— Diogenes
I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor. The class structure is of our making and our consent, not His. It is the way we have arranged it, and it is up to us to change it. So we are urging revolutionary change.
A young Dorothy Day
A young Dorothy Day. I couldn’t find the date or original publication. The caption reads: ‘Dorothy Day, youthful author, discarding feminine frills and frivolities at her tiny Staten Island bungalow, where she keeps house and writes novels.’

My first thought upon reading that Pope Francis had praised by name several American anti-war activists, including Dorothy Day (1897 — 1980), in his address to a joint session of Congress was one of Jesus' cautionary metaphors in its naive meaning: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (Matt. 7:6)

Evoking Dorothy Day in the halls of the Capitol seems so dissonant in part because Day was a life-long pacifist and anarchist who never paid income tax or voted (though the first time she was arrested, at age 19, was for picketing the White House in support of women’s suffrage). Abbie Hoffman once described her as ‘the first hippie’.

She eventually found in the Catholic tradition a love, meaning, and community which she failed to find among her secular socialist friends. But her conversion (perhaps like all conversions) to Catholicism was a synthesis which worked in both directions: she found her salvation in the Church, but the Church found a redemption of its own in her anti-capitalist corporeal works of mercy. Thomas Merton, for example, once wrote in a letter to Day that, “If there were no Catholic Worker and such forms of witness, I would never have joined the Catholic Church.”

Fifty years after her conversion she defended using the label anarchism to describe the tradition in which she worked by recalling that “Peter Maurin came to me with Kropotkin in one pocket and St. Francis in the other!” Day and Maurin founded the Catholic Worker on May Day, 1933, during the height of the Great Depression. The paper has been continuously published since, and today the movement it sparked consists of hundreds of communities and houses dedicated to nonviolence and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken.

In an ancient Near Eastern metaphor, we might think of dogs as the uncouth, homeless who scavenge at the edges of society; and pigs might represent the socially and ritually impure who are capable of defiling what is established as clean and holy. Those are the sort of social groups which produced the Jesus Movement in the first century and the Catholic Worker Movement in the twentieth. St. Francis the dog denounced his father and rejected his wealth, even his clothes, to beg in the streets of Assisi; and Kropotkin the prince-turned-pig trampled with no regard for the sacredness of law and property on man’s love affair with authority.

So on second thought, I don’t read Jesus' words as a warning to the prudent but as a threat to the powerful:[1] we reject what you hold as sacred and precious, and rather than accepting your offerings which are worthless to us we will trample them, turn on you, and create a new world where nothing is sacred: where gods can die, where mortals can have true life, and where the last will be first. This rejection of the holy extends, of course, to the chambers of parliament where members of the Pope’s audience plan wars and plot to rob the poor.

Dorothy Day is not a pearl to be offered as inspiration to the rich and their representatives; she was a dog and a pig whose works of love and mercy continue to bark at the greedy and trample under foot a society built on violence and inequality.

1. It is interesting to note that the Jesus Seminar scholars, in The Five Gospels, designated Matthew 7:6 as gray: “Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.” The two reasons for its dubious rating are that it repeats the well-known metaphor of dogs and pigs as unclean, and that it is insulting in a manner uncharacteristic of Jesus. However, the discussion of the verse makes no mention of the possibility that Jesus meant to identify his followers with the dogs and pigs of the metaphor. Recognizing the possibility of this reversal, I think, brings the saying much closer to something Jesus probably said.