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 700 posts as of May 2017 (also over 417,000 views from 143,000 unique visitors and 1,140 comments 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)
What folks are reading most lately
- Medieval monasteries in the history of hospitals
- The darker side of the chief King James Bible translator, Lancelot Andrewes
- Martin Luther's Anfechtungen--his own dark nights of the soul, and how they affected his teaching and ministry
- C. S. Lewis on pagan philosophy as a road to Christian faith
- Words in the King James Version that now mean something else: Have you ever run across these and wondered what they meant?
- Crusades and Inquisition: Part of a pattern of Christian violence?
What we’ve been talking about lately
- Another testament to the “earthiness” of medieval culture
- Death, Desire, and the Sacramental Function of Humor in Lewis and His Medieval Sources – or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Self-Denial – part III
- Death, Desire, and the Sacramental Function of Humor in Lewis and His Medieval Sources – or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Self-Denial – part II
- Death, Desire, and the Sacramental Function of Humor in C S Lewis and His Medieval Sources – or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Self-Denial – part I
- Christian vocation in a “secular” world – pt 3 – John Wesley
- Christian vocation in a “secular” world – part 2 – Gregory the Great
- Can we find Christian vocation in the “secular” world of work?
- Two Modern Mistakes About the Material World – and the Medieval Truth that can Save us from Them
- Getting medieval on modern Christianity: Announcing a June 2017 conference
- A last-minute Christmas gift suggestion :)
- Medieval scholastics’ use of Scripture: Explaining what can be explained, but no more
- Interview on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog
- How was C. S. Lewis influenced by the medieval era?
- Young, restless, and immediate: The future of evangelicalism
- Medieval stupidity? Works-righteousness? Monastic uselessness? Getting beyond the caricatures
- Medieval wisdom and the case for tradition
- The material world: good, bad, or . . . ?
- The book is out! So here’s a link to a whole website about it, and an interview clip introducing it . . .
- 10 Things You Don’t Know about the Clapham Sect
- Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler – parable for a broken marketplace
Browse a category with this dropdown list
- African-American Christianity Anglicanism apologetics Aristotle asceticism Augustine Augustine of Hippo Authorized King James Version Benedict of Nursia Bible black church Boethius Catholic Church Charles Williams Christ and culture Christian history Christian History magazine 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 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 Moravianism Pentecostalism philosophy Pietism poverty prayer Protestantism Roman Catholicism sacramentality sanctification scholasticism science sex sin social justice Spirituality Theology the poor Thomas Aquinas Tradition vocation work
- 478,442 hits