"Lore Hunter": Noun - Someone whom plays, studies and writes on the mythology and story of FromSoftware's Bloodborne.
TLDR; The Healing Church is explicitly an inversion of Catholic traditions and practices. Blood ministration is a perversion of the Catholic Eucharist and its transubstantiation theology. Blood-drunkenness is a parallel to ecstatic trances from Church history.
Lately, during my readings on the lore of Bloodborne I’ve noticed a reoccurring viewpoint regarding the religious aspects of the story and in particular the Healing Church of Yharnam. Many people have been quick to point out that although on the surface, the Healing Church appears to be a fictional version of Catholicism, it does in fact haVe more in common with eastern religions than anything else.
While this may be true, I don’t think it is as cut and dry as “one or the other”. Now, personally I’m no great expert on eastern religions and spirituality, so I will leave that aspect to those who are more studious than I in researching them. However, what I do know a lot about, and am somewhat of an expert in is Christian religion and theology. A lesser known fact about me is that I actually hold a degree in Christian Ministry and Theology from a past life/upbringing in Pentecostalism/desire as a young person to appease my traditionalist parents.
As such, I feel that although I am still in some ways very much a Bloodborne “Lore-hunter” noob, I can weigh in on at least this topic with a certain degree of accuracy. What I want to do in this piece is look at a few aspects of the Healing Church’s beliefs and then draw parallels between them and real-world theology and tradition in hopes that this might bring greater understanding to the complexity of this organization within the game world.
I’m only going to deal with four aspects initially in this article series (although I may add to them at a later date). While there are many more parallels, for the sake of brevity, this article is going to simply focus on components that I feel are the most interesting in the context of understanding the workings of the Church.
Blood Ministration and the Eucharist
Probably the most obvious, and arguably the most important parallel we can draw between the Healing Church and its real world counterparts is that of Blood Ministration. In the game, blood ministration is the act in which Yharnamites undergo blood transfusions, the process of which is still largely unknown but has been suggested by some to be the diluted blood of a Great One, mixed with a human medium. Unfortunately, we don’t’ really know much about the ministration process. We know that the Old Blood was discovered in the Pthumerian Labyrinths an unspecified time ago, we know that it is at the very least part Great One blood, we know that it heals diseases when taken into the human body, and we know it eventually causes the Scourge of the Beast.
We don’t know which Great One it has come from (although it could be argued to be from Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos, due to Cathedral Ward being seemingly built over top of her resting place), nor how a dosage of this blood is exactly taken.
When using blood vials to heal, the player character will inject into their leg, however the game’s opening environment (Iosefka’s clinic) seems to suggest a more complicated procedure. What’s more, during our play through of the game we encounter an item called a Pungent Blood Cocktail which description reads:
This is an interesting description as it tells us a few things important to the overall culture of blood ministration within Yharnam. Firstly, the item seems to imply that Yharnamites are imbibing the blood like alcohol as well as undergoing transfusions.
Like drugs in our real world, there appears to be a clinical use of the blood (which we know to be occurring when we observe the medical apparatus in Iosefka’s clinic.) as well as a more recreational usage of it.
We also can garner from this item description that this cocktail was brewed like alcohol to create an intoxicating effect on the user. This intoxicating effect is interesting, and something we will deal with a little bit later.
A Critique On Religion
Much of the intended meaning of Bloodborne’s Healing Church is arguably a critique on traditional religion and fundamentalism. It achieves this critique through the (some would say) blasphemous inversion of many traditional religious rites and concepts.
In the case of Blood Ministration, it is quite overtly an infernal parody of the Eucharist (more commonly known as communion) by having the members of this religious organization imbibe in real blood belonging to eldritch abominations, rather than the blood of Christ.
In Christian tradition, the Eucharist is a sacrament that is considered incredibly holy regardless of what denomination you are. Whether you are catholic or protestant, eastern orthodox or western, everyone belonging to the wider stream of Christianity will indulge in some way or other in the Eucharist.
The sacrament is derived from scriptures in which Jesus on the evening before his capture and execution, breaks bread and drinks wine with his followers:
“As they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.” Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms to covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.” (Mathew 26:26-28 NL
There are several strains of thought as to what happens when a believer partakes in communion, but only one of these views seems to fit with Bloodborne’s Eucharist perfectly. This subset of theology is called Transubstantiation. Monsignor William P. Fay of the Catholic Church writes regarding the belief:
“…the Catholic Church professes that, in the celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the priest. Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world… For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. (John 6:51-55) The whole Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine – the glorified Christ who rose from the dead after dying for our sins. This is what the Church means when she speaks of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. This presence of Christ in the Eucharist is called “real” not to exclude other types of his presence as if they could not be understood as real (cf. Catechism, no. 1374). The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.” (Fay, 2001)
Now obviously in Bloodborne we don’t really have a bread component to our communion, but wine and blood are quite obviously interchangeable within this doctrine. Whereas the Catholic Church believes that the Bread and Wine become the body and blood of Christ, purifying them and making them holy, the Yharnam Healing Church believes that by literally ingesting the blood of their “Christ”, (most likely Ebrietas, daughter of the Cosmos considering her positioning at the altar of despair within the Cathedral Ward.) they will be healed/purified/receive enlightenment or insight – after all, one of the main goals of the Healing Church is to achieve evolution through the blood (something we will get into later on)
It is fascinating the parallels between the transubstantiation of bread and wine to blood and flesh, and the transformation of man to beast after communion in Bloodborne, but perhaps not that much of unusual interpretation of the doctrine. After all, in the days of the early church, the concept of communion and its doctrine tended to put early believers in hot water, many around them thought of Christians as being a peculiar cult of cannibals, eating flesh and drinking blood to be close to their God, in fact, there were often rumors that Christians sacrificed babies to Jesus in the sewers beneath the streets of the Roman empire:
“You Christians are the worst breed ever to affect the world. You deserve every punishment you can get! Nobody likes you. It would be better if you and your Jesus had never been born. We hear that you are all cannibals – you eat the flesh of your children in your sacred meetings.” (Felix, 197 AD)
Blood Drunkenness / Spiritual Ecstasy
I mentioned earlier in reference to the imbibing of blood in the game that the intoxicating effect of this substance is very interesting. Now that we have a rough understanding of transubstantiation and what is believed to happen when communion is taken, let’s look at the concept of ecstasy in Christian tradition.
Ecstasy is described in Strong’s Greek Concordance as being:
“A throwing of the mind out of its normal state, alienation of mind, whether such as makes a lunatic or that of the man who by some sudden emotion is transported as it were out of himself, so that in this rapt condition, although he is still awake, his mind is so drawn off from all surrounding objects and wholly fixed on things divine that he sees nothing but the forms and images lying within, and thinks that he perceives with his bodily eyes and ears realities shown to him by God.” (Strong, 1890)
Throughout Church history, ecstasy has been a reoccurring (albeit strange) experience amongst saints and believers. Side effects have allegedly ranged from overwhelming joy, trances and drunken euphoria, to the more miraculous, such as levitations, stigmata, healings and invulnerability.
Saint Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Nun from the 1500s’ writes regarding an ecstasy she once encountered:
“While seeking God in this way, the soul is conscious that it is fainting almost completely away in a kind of swoon, with a very great calm and joy. Its breath and all its bodily powers progressively fail it, so that it can hardly stir its hands without great effort. Its eyes close involuntarily, and if they remain open, they see almost nothing. If a person reads in this state, he can scarcely make out a single letter; it is as much as he can do to recognize one. He sees that there are letters; but as the understanding offers no help, he cannot read them, even if he wants to. He hears but does not understand what he hears. In the same way, his senses serve no purpose except to prevent the soul from taking its pleasure; and so they tend to do him harm. It is the same with the tongue, for he cannot form a word, nor would he have the strength to pronounce one. The whole physical strength vanishes and the strength of the soul increases for the better enjoyment of its bliss. The outward joy that is now felt is great and most perceptible.However long this prayer lasts, it does no harm. At least it has never done me any; however ill I might have been when the Lord granted me this grace, I never remember an occasion when I experienced any effects from it.” (Teresa & Cohen, 1957)
Again Teresa writes regarding another experience:
“In ecstasy come true revelations, great favours and visions, all of which help to humble and strengthen the soul, to make it despise the things of this life and more clearly realize the greatness of the reward that the Lord reserves for those who serve Him.” (Hebert, 2012)
Sounds rather similar to Bloodborne’s concept of Insight does it not? But ecstasy wasn’t always so docile or intellectual:
“Sometimes overpowered by this excess and abundance of this love, she said, “I can no longer bear so much great love, retain it in Thyself”; and through the great and consuming flame of this Divine Love which she felt, she could find no rest, but tore her clothes, went into the garden and tore up the plants, or whatever came to hand. In the midst of winter, she could not bear woolen garments, through that fire of love which burned in her breast, but cut and loosened her habit.” (Cruz, 1997)
In early Church history, these kinds of ecstasies would often fall on believers during or as a direct result of them taking communion. Saint Catherine of Siena once wrote:
“The Eucharist, refreshes me to such an extent that it is impossible for me to desire any kind of corporal nourishment.” (Farges & Jacques, 1926)
Blasphemy In Yharnam City
Once again, what we have occurring in Yharnam is a blasphemous inversion of what is traditionally a Christian experience. If you look at accounts of ecstasy (and there are many more of them than what I have just referenced) you will begin to notice a lot of similarities between blood-drunkenness amongst the hunters and people of Yharnam, as well as a lot of absolute opposites. Whereas an ecstasy might soothe a saint and make them peaceful, blood-drunkenness enrages a hunter and makes them violent. But what is intriguing to me is that both ecstasy and blood-drunkenness seem to be connected in some way to a) communion, b) revelation of metaphysical things and c) a connection to a kind of “divine” presence.
When we understand these aspects of the Christian belief system, what we find is that it creates a much wider and richer understanding of the perversities of Yharnamite religion. Although we do not explicitly know that the Christian belief system exists in the world, certain enemies can be heard crying out things like
"Please God, help me, I must live!" (Dexven, 2015)
- although Yharnamites have many "gods" to reference.
Father Gascoigne's clothing set also states that his clerical term is not from the Healing Church but a part of a foreign religion.
Are There Christians In Bloodborne?
If these coincidental clues are signs of other religions out there in the Bloodborne world, it is possible then that one of them may very well be a version of Christian faith.
This is not as absurd of an idea as it may first sound. Bloodborne is heavily influenced by the manga series Berserk which has a religious order within its story that is pretty explicitly Catholic in presentation and theological leanings.
If the Christian faith does exist somewhere else, understanding the Eucharist would go a long way to explain why Yharnam is so decrepit and cut off from the rest of the world. It would also provide a blueprint for the Healing Church to establish their hierarchy upon instead of the alternative of simply springing up and taking power of the city entirely on their own.
In a Victorian era world, the Catholic Church would most likely reign supreme, and would not take very kindly to a city state perverting the Eucharist through the vampiric drinking of blood. This would be frowned upon so much so that they would probably do all sorts of things to shut the city down, one such thing would be persecution, but failing that (perhaps because of the dangers of the beasts residing in said city) they may simply excommunicate the church and by extension the city, isolating it from the rest of civilization to collapse in upon itself.
I am speculating here, but it is my personal belief that this is what has happened with Yharnam. The Healing Church, eager to study the Old Blood and attain evolution through it, looked at the power controlled by the Catholic Church or a Catholic-like church, in the surrounding country/continent/world and used it as a blueprint to create their own organization - an organization that would inspire religious fervor in the local populace, and allow them the finances, power and freedom to experiment as they saw fit.
If this were true, the Catholic Church would be enraged. They would see Blood Ministration as blasphemous, and do everything in their power to stop it. Perhaps they sent Holy Crusaders to persecute Yharnam at one point in its history? Rather like they did with smaller sects in our world such as the Jansenites or the Quakers. Perhaps they were beaten back, either by the Healing Church’s executioners, or the scourge of the beast in its infancy.
If I am correct and in Yharnam's ancient past a war did ensue like what I am describing, it could explain the xenophobia and fear that Yharnam locals have towards outsiders to their lands?
When the Christians lost the crusades (depending on your view point either in 1291 or 1588), xenophobia was rife in European cities, the word heretic became synonymous with Muslim, Outsider and Sodomite.
Returning to the Bloodborne theory, if this had happened the Catholic church would have beat a hasty retreat and instead tried to isolate Yharnam, let it self-destruct into oblivion, starve its economy, and discourage outsiders from visiting the place. It is at this point in history in which I believe the game begins – Yharnam is in disarray, tired and dying from being cut off from the rest of the world and sucked dry by the leech that is the Healing Church.
One potential hole in my theory regards the power a Church would actually have during Victorian times. While it is true that the Catholic Church lost much of its political power during and after the Renaissance period, if Bloodborne were to take place in the early days of the Victorian era (which by my reckoning makes a lot of sense considering so much left over medievalism can be seen in the game, as well as the fact that people are still struggling with intense - although justified - superstition.) a global Catholic or Catholic styled Church would still at the very least hold enough power to morally sway people from visiting Yharnam, maybe even have the power to cut off trade routes etc.
Regardless, we don't know how long Yharnam has technically existed for. The architectural seems to suggest that parts of it could pre-victorian, in which case the idea of a "Catholic inquisition" during the early days of the city would not be out of the question at all.
If you liked this post, please let me know your thoughts! My next addition to the series will be regarding Catholic Relics and their relation to particular items and artifacts in Bloodborne. I’m not quite sure when it will be out, but please if you enjoyed this one, keep an eye out.
Cruz, J. C. (1997). Mysteries, marvels, miracles in the lives of saints. Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers.
Dexven. (2015). [SPOILERS] Mention of 'God' in Bloodborne. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/bloodborne/comments/3jh83x/spoilers_mention_of_god_in_bloodborne/
Farges, A., & Jacques, S. P. (1926). Mystical phenomena compared with their human and diabolical counterfeits: A treatise on mystical theology in agreement with the principles of St. Teresa set forth by the Carmelite Congress of 1923 at Madrid.
Fay, W. P. (2001, June). The real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the eucharist: Basic questions and answers. Retrieved from http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/order-of-mass/liturgy-of-the-eucharist/the-real-presence-of-jesus-christ-in-the-sacrament-of-the-eucharist-basic-questions-and-answers.cfm
Felix, M. M. (197). The octavius of Minicius. Retrieved from http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/why-early-christians-were-despised-11629610.html Hebert, A. J. (2012). Saints who raised the dead: True stories of 400 resurrection miracles.
Strong, J. (1890). Strong's greek: 1611. ἔκστασις (ekstasis) -- a displacement (of the mind), i.e. bewilderment, ecstasy. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/greek/1611.htm
Teresa, & Cohen, J. M. (1957). The life of Saint Teresa of Avila. Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.
Tyndale House Publishers. (1996). Mathew 26. In Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, IL: Author.