In my previous post, I showed how the essence of heresy is to resolve a biblical paradox in one direction or the other in order to satisfy the human need for a consistent rational explanation of things; and how the early church, on the contrary, used reason not to resolve or dismiss paradox and mystery, but rather to protect it. Examples included the writings of Irenaeus, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa against heresy (protecting the essentially paradoxical nature of the whole Gospel message), and the “four fences” of the Chalcedonian Definition (protecting the paradox that Jesus was both fully God and fully human).
Now we move to the medieval period for two more examples of this use of reason to protect, rather than resolve or dismiss, the paradox and mystery at the heart of Christian theology – that is, the Incarnation.
The first example is the doctrine of transubstantiation, promulgated at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. This explanation of how the Eucharist “works” extends the Chalcedonian explanation that one person (Christ) can indeed be both 100% God and 100% human, to a nuanced piece of (Aristotelian) scientific reasoning on how the same sort of “this and also that” reality can be true of the Eucharistic elements. In other words, transubstantiation tried to explain, in terms accessible to scientific reason, how Jesus’ words “This is my body, this is my blood” can possibly be true.
The second example comes from the teachings of Anselm of Canterbury and Peter Abelard, both of whom we’ve already met, and looks at their reasoned explanations of the bloody scandal that was the Crucifixion. Why on earth would God have to redeem his human creatures in such a bizarre and painful way? If you’re a thoughtful Christian or a thoughtful non-Christian considering the claims of the Christian faith, then you’ve likely wondered this yourself. Again, Anselm and Abelard used forms of reasoned explanation that made good sense in their cultural contexts to explain this paradox: God died.
In other words, the divine Being who “has His own being in Himself” ceased, as all creatures do, to be! Anselm and Abelard, both brilliant dialecticians, both refused to use reason (in the mode of the early heretics) to flatten this paradox in one direction (Jesus was not really human and thus God did not really die–the docetist heresy) or the other (Jesus was not really God, and thus God did not really die–the Arian heresy). Instead, each used cultural materials to protect that central mystery while offering reasonable explanations for why the God the Second Person of the Trinity found it necessary to die on the cross–the ultimate Being submitting, however temporarily, to death, just like a sinful human.
Here’s how I work all of this out in the “theology chapter” of Getting Medieval with C S Lewis: Continue reading
Thanks for visiting my historical playground!
This blog contains over 720 posts as of Oct 2020 (also over 518,000 views from 210,000 unique visitors since inception in June 2010). If you read something you like, odds are there are at least one or two other posts dealing with similar topics. Which is why there’s a search box right below this message. :)
Find posts by search term(s)
Follow “gratefultothedead” on www.twitter.com:
- @emilykmay "The girl who said yes" at Columbine. Fabricated (or mistaken), then when exposed as false, doubled down… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 3 months ago
What folks are reading most lately
- Quote of the day: "Scripture is like a river . . . broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim."
- Thank you, Ken Curtis: A pioneer in the popular communication of Christian history passes
- C S Lewis's dark night of the soul
- Martin Luther's Anfechtungen--his own dark nights of the soul, and how they affected his teaching and ministry
- Whither beauty, goodness, and truth in the modern American church?
- Wise words on reforming our churches and ourselves: Philipp Jakob Spener's Pia Desideria, pt. I
Join 981 other subscribers
What we’ve been talking about lately
- Whither beauty, goodness, and truth in the modern American church?
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part X – the Cistercian example (III)
- Five themes in Christian humanism (IV – final)
- Five themes in Christian humanism (III)
- Five themes in Christian humanism (II)
- Five themes in Christian humanism (I)
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part IX – the Cistercian example (II)
- Does “Christian humanism” even exist? Is anyone really talking about it? Part I
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part VIII – the Cistercian example (I)
- Christian humanism seminar outline (follow-up to the “sketch”)
- A sketch toward a seminar on Christian humanism
- Reading CS Lewis’s medieval retrieval as a Christian humanism for today
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part VII
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part VI
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part V
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part IV
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part III
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part II
- Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part I
- What hath Aquinas to do with the Market? An interview with Dr. Mary Hirschfeld
- A Holy Renaissance
- Above Every Name
- Andy Rowell
- Christian History magazine
- Christian intel daily
- Christian thought & culture (Kyle Roberts)
- Christianity & Western Civilization: The Radio Show
- Cloud of Witnesses
- Cole Matson: The Unicorn Triumphant
- Don Merritt's LifeReference blog
- Here I Walk
- History Makers
- Jesus Radicals
- Magdalena Perks: Anglicans, Plain
- Medieval History Geek
- Michael Cline–Recliner Ramblings
- Reclaiming the mind
- Religion in American History
- scientia et sapientia
- Scot McKnight–Jesus Creed
- Stand Fast in Faith
- Steve Gertz "All Things Halal"
- Tea at Trianon
- The birdseed desk
- The Christian Humanist
- The Discarded Image
- The History of the (Whole) World
- The MacLaurin Institute
- The Neff Review
- The Pietist Schoolman
- The Scriptorium Daily
- Theology PhD Mom
- Tony Siew–Revelation is real
- Travis Lambert
- Trevin Wax
Historically delicious sites
Browse a category with this dropdown list
- African-American Christianity Aristotle asceticism Augustine Augustine of Hippo Authorized King James Version Benedict of Nursia Bible black church Boethius Charles Williams Christ and culture Christian history Christian History magazine Christian humanism Creation C S Lewis CS Lewis Dante Alighieri Dorothy L Sayers Dorothy Sayers Early Christianity early church economics education embodiedness embodiment emotion ethics Eucharist evangelicalism faith and reason faith and work Francis of Assisi G K Chesterton Gregory the Great healing hospitals Incarnation John Wesley Jonathan Edwards J R R Tolkien literature Martin Luther medicine Medieval Methodism Middle Ages missions monasticism morality moral philosophy Pentecostalism philosophy Pietism poverty prayer Protestantism Roman Catholicism sacramentalism sacramentality sanctification scholasticism science scientific revolution sex sin social justice Spirituality Theology the poor Thomas Aquinas Tradition vocation work
- 544,541 hits