I’m a medievalist, so forgive me. But I’m sorry to learn that Pope Benedict decided to turn in his organ donor card when he became pope. I don’t believe scholastic theologians would have had a problem had he decided to do otherwise. Pace Polish Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, the head of the Vatican’s health office,
who told La Repubblica that a pope’s
body should remain intact because it belongs to the entire church. Medieval saints were accustomed to having their bodies pulled apart, so different sites could enjoy the beneficial effects.
Bodies are strange things. As my old teacher Caroline Bynum has written, transplants raise all kinds of fascinating questions about continuity and personhood and the numinous quality of the fleshly. While I doubt doctors would consider 80-year-old organs plausible candidates for donation, there’s something extraordinary afoot here. Imagine having received a kidney from, say, the soon-to-be-beatified John Paul II, and turning into a living, breathing reliquary.