the First Week of Advent
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
Christ in the Middle Ages
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
CHRIST IN THE MIDDLE AGES.—The Christology of the Middle Ages was, of course, the outgrowth of that of the earlier time, and each medileval type can readily be traced to its source. The main lines of influence are: that of Augustine, working directly through the continued use of his writings, and indirectly through the personality and writings of Gregory the Great [Note: reat Cranmer’s ‘Great’ Bible 1539.] , Anselm of Canterbury, Bernard of Clairvaux, Abelard, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, etc.; that of the Neo-Platonie pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, working directly through the continued use of his writings, and indirectly through the propagation of his modes of thought by Maximus the Confessor, Scotus Erigena, the German Mystics, etc.; Adoptianism, which flourished in the immediately post-Apostolic (if not in the Apostolic) times, was vigorously propagated in Armenia, and perpetuated there by the Paulicians even down to the present time, had a vigorous development in Spain during the 8th and 9th cents., and affected much of the dissenting evangelical thought of the mediaeval time; and the Gnostic-Manichaean modes of thought, perpetuated from the early time, and reappearing in the Catharistic sects. For the Greek Church the Christology of John of Damascus, who in the 8th cent. reduced to system the net results of the Christological controversies of the three preceding centuries, continued to be normative during the Middle Ages, and little independent theorizing seems to have found place.
1. Beyond almost any other Christian thinker, Augustine magnified Christ. This name, drunk in piously and deeply, even with his mother’s milk (Conf. iii. 8), never lost its power over him even during his years of wandering. Having become emancipated from Manichaean dualism through the study of Neo-Platonic writings (Plotinus, Amelius, et al.) he found himself unable with satisfaction to fix his gaze upon the glories of the invisible and unchangeable God until he had embraced that ‘Mediator between God and man, himself man, Christ Jesus,’ ‘who is over all, God blessed for ever,’ ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ Yet he did not at once grasp the mystery of the Incarnation, and he failed for a time to attain to anything higher than Adoptianism. He thought of Christ ‘as of a man of excellent wisdom,’ virginborn and surpassing other men, an example to us of ‘eontemning temporal things for the obtaining of immortality.’ Fully assured of the unchangeableness of the Divine Word, he was unable to believe that He ate, drank, slept, walked, rejoiced, was sad, and discoursed; and so felt compelled (against Arians and Apollinarians) to insist upon a complete humanity in Christ to which such actions and experiences would be appropriate (Conf. vii. 24, 25). Though strongly influenced by Neo-Platonism, which generally made for Monophysitism, Augustine was a Dyophysite of the most pronounced type. Yet one would search in vain in his writings for any accurate definition of the relations of the Divine and the human in the Person of Christ, or of the manner in which the Divine Logos and the man Jesus were united in a single personality. He guarded carefully against any admission of a blending of Deity and humanity, as well as against the supposition that Christ’s humanity is converted into Deity. He calls the humanity of Christ ‘garment,’ ‘temple,’ ‘vehicle,’ ‘instrument.’ By virtue of its association with Deity, the soul of Christ possessed perfect knowledge from the very beginning; and His disclaiming of knowledge about this or that was for the sake of His disciples. Yet Augustine denied freedom of choice to the humanity of Christ, which he made subject to predestination. He regarded the Incarnation of the Logos as necessary in order that our souls might become His members, and that the devil might be vanquished by the same nature that he had seduced. The Incarnation was the work of the entire Trinity, and the Word stood in no nearer relation to the Son than did the entire Trinity (cf. Harnack, Dogmengesch. iii. 116 [English translation v. 226]). The following sentence is highly significant:
‘God assumed (suscepit) our nature, i.e. the rational soul and flesh of the man Christ, by an assumption singularly wonderful and wonderfully singular, that, no merits of his own righteousness having preceded, he should thus become Son of God from the beginning in which he began to be man, that he himself (the man Christ) and the Word might be one person’ (de Correptione et Gratia, 30).
Augustine seems never to have reached a thoroughly wrought-out and self-consistent Christology. He was uncertain whether the Incarnation was necessary to man’s redemption, conceiving it possible that God might have chosen another way. The body of Christ he regarded as a part of the Adamic mass, which was constituted a body by the act of assumption, conceived by Mary not by carnal concupiscence, but by spiritual faith (Dorner, Pers. [Note: Persian.] of Christ, ii. i. 398). By the Incarnation our souls become Christ’s members, and the devil is vanquished by the same nature that he seduced. As in accordance with the Divine plan of redemption Christ must needs purchase sin-cursed men with His own death, He assumed a human body with all human affections and infirmities, including mortality, yet without concupiscence. In assuming human nature He cleansed it. ‘He became man in order that He might make us gods.’ Yet He did not renounce the ‘form of God,’ but continued with the Father in heaven, while Jesus was sojourning upon earth. His emptying was merely an occultation. Like St. Paul, Augustine laid the utmost stress on the humiliation involved in the Incarnation, the human life, and the obedience even unto death; and yet he insisted that the Divine nature as being absolutely immutable could only join sympathetically with the human in psychical and physical suffering. The atoning work of Christ he thought of as redemption from the power of the devil—who had taken up his abode in human souls deserted by God because of sin, and who was conceived of as having a sort of vested right in them—quite as much as reconciliation to God. By receiving the penalty of sin, and not taking upon Himself the fault (culpa), He blotted out both penalty and fault for us. Christ’s death possessed atoning power because of His virgin birth, spotless righteousness, and voluntary obedience to God. The temporal death of Christ frees believers from eternal death.
Side by side with Augustine’s magnifying of Christ went his disposition to exalt the Church and its sacraments. He supposed that the benefits wrought for man through the Incarnation and sufferings of Christ become available for man only through the medium of the sacraments of which, the Church is the sole dispenser.
2. Gregory the Great [Note: reat Cranmer’s ‘Great’ Bible 1539.] was not an original thinker on Christological questions. He went far beyond Augustine in his ecclesiasticism and sacramentalism, and while professing to be a devout follower of Augustine, greatly enervated his doctrines in reproducing them. In his teaching regarding the atoning work of Christ he laid more stress than did Augustine on the rightful power of the devil over mankind, and the ransom paid him by Christ in His death. The God-man, virgin-born and without concupiscence, he regarded as both a mediator between God and man, and an example for us. The atoning work of Christ does not avail for human salvation unless man fills up by a life of humility and suffering that which remained of the sufferings of Christ. ‘He who strives to be redeemed and to rule with Him must be crucified.’
‘Without intermission the Redeemer offers up a burnt-offering for us, in that without ceasing He shows to the Father His incarnation on our behalf; since His incarnation is an oblation for our cleansing: and when He showed Himself as man, by intervening, He washed away the faults of man. And by the mystery of His humanity He perennially offers sacrifice, because these faults also which He cleanses away are eternal’ (Moral. i. 24).
He laid much stress upon the constant intercession of Christ; but this was supposed to be mediated by angels, saints, alms, masses, and by other forms of meritorious works. In fact, he was so overmastered by the efficacy of sacramental forms and the continuous sacrifice, that he regarded the death of Christ as not absolutely necessary for man’s, redemption. God who created us might have delivered us from the consequences of sin without the death of Christ. He thought of the death of Christ as an exhibition of the Divine love, and as an example wherewith to teach us not to fear the misfortunes and sufferings of this world, but rather to avoid earthly good fortune. His sacrificial view of the Lord’s Supper, with its sacerdotal accompaniments, greatly enervated his conception of the Person of Christ and its historical significance. In this rite the suffering of Christ is repeated continuously for our reconciliation, ‘the whole Christ being in each portion’ of the consecrated elements. In the words of Harnack:
‘Christ as a person is forgotten. He is a great title in dogmatics …; but the fundamental questions of salvation are not answered in relation to him, and in life the baptized person has to avail himself of “means” which exist partly side by side with him (Christ), partly without him, or only bear his badge’ (Dogmengesch. iii. 241 f. [English translation v. 271]).
Fear and hope take the place of faith and love; fear of punishment takes the place of repentance for sin. Thus the mediaeval type of ascetical piety was fully established (cf. Harnack, l.c.).
3. A vigorously led Adoptianist movement in Spain during the later years of the 8th century, probably influenced by Saracen thought, led Alcuin, supported by Charlemagne and the Council of Frankfurt (794), to set forth as the Christological teaching of the Frankish Church, in opposition to the Nestorian doctrine, alleged to be involved in the Adoptianism of bishops Elipandus of Toledo and Felix of Urgel, a doctrine scarcely distinguishable from Eutychianism. Alcuin insisted that Christ is not ‘man,’ but the ‘God-man’; that He is not ‘in everything like us apart from sin,’ but ‘in many things.’ He taught that in the union of the Divine and the human the human personality was blotted out (deleri) or consumed (consumi) by the Divine, and that the Divine personality took the place of the destroyed human personality. ‘In the assumption of flesh by God the person of man perished, not the nature’ (adv. Felicem, 2. 12). Thus Adoptianism provoked a reaction in the Western Church against an extreme as well as against the natural and proper interpretation of the Chalcedonian Symbol; and while it did not lead to the general acceptance of pure Eutychianism, it came perilously near eliminating from Western Christology the conception of the real and complete humanity of Christ.
It has been pointed out by Dorner, with admirable insight (ii. i. 270 ff.), that while Christ continued to be regarded by the Greek Church as the revealed wisdom of God, and stress was laid upon His prophetic office employed in the diffusion of enlightenment as embodied in the ‘orthodox faith,’ in the Latin Church He was regarded during the mediaeval time as first and foremost a King, Christianity was regarded as a means of securing power, and the hierarchy was supposed to have been appointed by Christ to occupy His place, rule in His stead, virtually to supersede Him in personal government, and to abolish any direct intercourse between Him and believers. No longer was personal fellowship of the believer with Christ thought of as the supreme good or even as a possibility. Having founded the Church and endowed it with plenary powers, Christ was no longer needed as a personal presence, and was deistically regarded. If a personal and highly sympathetic supernatural was desiderated, this was to be found in the Virgin Mary, who had already been exalted to almost Divine proportions. The Church came to be regarded as the present living incarnation of Christ.
4. Next to that of Augustine, the most potent influence on mediaeval Christology in the West was that of the unknown writer (probably active during the later years of the 6th cent.) whose Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Heavenly Hierarchy, Divine Names, and Mystical Theology were credited to Dionysius the Areopagite, converted by St. Paul on the occasion of his visit to Athens. The writer was thoroughly imbued with the Neo-Platonic thought of Plotinus, Proclus, Jamblicus, etc., and wrought out a magnificent and highly impressive scheme of Christian theosophy on a Neo-Platonic basis. The credit of these works was greatly enhanced by the supposition that they constituted the esoteric teachings of the Apostle Paul, which were too spiritual and exalted for the people of his time. In The Divine Names (ii. 10):
‘The Son is all in all and the head of all things …, for He is the fulness and cohesiveness of all things, and He conserves and firmly binds the parts by the wholeness, and He is neither part nor whole for He is above these, but both part and whole as having embraced all things; for He is exalted above nature, and is antecedent to causation; and He is the perfect among us imperfect, and imperfect among the perfect angels as being superperfect and anteperfect, and having no point of comparison with them as regards perfection; and He is the formative principle in things tacking form as the creator and originator of all form, and without form with respect to things that have received form as being above form.’
Much more is said by way of emphasizing the absolute transcendence and the relative immanence of the Son.
This view of Christ and the world would seem to preclude belief in a specific Incarnation; but the devotion of pseudo-Dionysius to the creed of the Church and his sense of the reality of historical Christianity held him back in some measure from sheer Docetism. He maintained, therefore, that the Deity of Jesus in its exceeding goodness came even to our nature and truly assumed the substance of our flesh, so that the Most High God could be called man, the super-essential essence thus shining forth out of humanity. He communicated Himself to us without mixture or change, suffering no harm from His unspeakable humiliation. He was supernatural in our natural, super-essential in what belongs to our essence, and He possessed in a unique manner all that is ours, of us, and above us. True to his pantheistic conception that God can be named with the names of all His creatures, pseudo-Dionysius asserts that He who is the author of man was truly man as to His entire nature. Yet He was not merely man, and not merely superessential in relation to man; but He is actually man above men and according to men, or, in other words, He is the archetypal man of whom all individual men are the unreal copies. In a superhuman manner He performed human acts. He was a man humanly born, but man above man; and inasmuch as in Him God had become man, He developed a Divine-human energy (Ep. ad Caium, iv.). The pseudo-Dionysius found it practically impossible to find any place in the Universe for the God-man Jesus Christ, thus vaguely and Docetically conceived (Dorner). To assign Him a place in the earthly sphere would be degrading; to place Him in the heavenly order would involve Docetism. Without being quite willing to do so, he virtually relinquished the historical Christ, retaining only the eternal. These writings figured largely in the Christological controversies in the East during the 7th and 8th centuries.
5. Maximus the Confessor (d. 662), though a staunch advocate of Dyothelitism, taught a form of mysticism derived largely from the pseudo-Dionysius. Banished by the Eastern Emperor because of his uncompromising opposition to Mono-thelitism, he made Carthage the scene of his later activities, and from this vantage ground diffused throughout the Western Church the pseudo-Dionysian mysticism. He regarded the pseudo-Dionysius as the holy revealer of Divine mysteries, as the ‘all-holy,’ the ‘great saint,’ the ‘God-revealer,’ and he had no doubt as to his identity with St. Paul’s Athenian convert. Almost equally with the Areopagite, Maximus falls into pantheistic and Docetic conceptions.
The fulness of the Godhead which was in Christ by nature Is in Christians by grace, as far as their nature is capable of receiving it. Man on account of his love to God becomes God for God; on account of his love to man he becomes man for man. Christ is continually and of His own will mystically born, for He is made flesh in and through the redeemed. The Logos became the Son of Man in order that He might make men gods, and sons of God.
The Incarnation can hardly be said to have been regarded by Maximus as more than a theophany, and it was by no means limited to Jesus. If the latter participates in the Divine more fully than other men, it is only because His nature laid hold of it more fully (cf. Dorner, ii. i. 228 ff.). The heterogeneous mixture of pseudo-Dionysian Neo-Platonic mysticism and mystagogy with Dyothelitism in Maximus opened wide the door in the West as well as in the East for the influence of the former.
6. That the influence of the Areopagite and of Maximus was brought mightily to bear upon the orthodoxy of the East is manifest in the Fountain of Knowledge of John of Damascus (d. about 754), who yet uncompromisingly maintained the persistence of two wills in the Person of Christ (Christ unitedly willing in correspondence with each of the two natures), and the freedom of His human will. The pseudo-Dionysian formula, ‘Divine-human energy,’ he understood to imply a Divine and a human activity each permanently differentiated from the other; yet he was at great pains to show the unity of the two natures (cf. Dorner, ii. i. 210). The permeation of the human nature by the Divine involved in his conception the deification of the human. He illustrates the relation of the Divine and the human in Christ by the permeation of iron by heat. The human intellect of Christ, by virtue of this permeation, participated in the all-comprehending Divine knowledge from the beginning. He takes a Docetic view of the NT representation that Jesus grew in wisdom and favour. So also he regards Docetically the prayers of Christ. God constituting the personality in Christ, there was no occasion for prayer except to furnish an example to us and to do honour to God. Yet he was very far from accepting the Eutychian idea that Divine attributes were communicated to the human nature. While the flesh became the flesh of the Word, and the soul of Jesus the soul of the Word, the human nature remained unaltered in essence. Solely on the ground of the fellowship of the Divine and the human was the flesh of the Lord enriched by the Divine activities. It is evident that this great thinker, whose Fountain of Knowledge is still normative in the Greek Church, failed to gain a perfectly consistent view of the relations of the Divine and the human in the Person of Christ.
7. The views of the pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus reappeared among the monks of Mount Athos about the middle of the 14th cent. (Hesychasts, Quietists), and occasioned the Hesychastic controversy, the chief opponents being the leaders of the party that was promoting union with the Latin Church. The cause of the Hesychasts was ably defended by Nicolaus Cabasilas, bishop of Thessalonica, and by Marcus Eugenicus, archbishop of Ephesus. The Christology of Cabasilas is highly transcendental. He regarded Christ as the resting-place of those human yearnings that are directed towards the highest good, as the luxuriant pasture of the thoughts, as the eternal good incorporated with time. Although he held fast to the Chalcedonian doctrine of two natures and two wills, he yet regarded the Word as super-essential even in the Incarnation, and the humanity of Christ as superhuman and deified though of like substance with us. The sacraments of the Church he regarded as the channels through which life streams forth from Christ to us. Baptism represents the generation in us of the new Christ-life. Everything pertaining to man’s salvation was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism simply transfers the saving efficacy to the individual. The purification of human nature accomplished in the Incarnation in Christ is accomplished in the individual Christian by his partaking of the Divine-human nature present in the Eucharist. Appropriating Christ in this feast, we enter into a blood-relationship with God and Christ; and as Christ’s humanity became deified in the Incarnation, so do believers by partaking of Him.
8. In the West, John Scotus Erigena (d. about 880) translated, under the patronage of Charles the Bald, the pseudo-Dionysian writings, by which, as well as by the writings of Maximus, he had been profoundly influenced. Through him the Neo-Platonic mysticism was transplanted to the West, and came to exert a marked influence on later Christological thought. His teachings were even more openly pantheistic than those of his Oriental masters, and his denial of the reality of derived existence and his thoroughgoing Docetism make it extremely difficult to interpret much of the language in which he strives to give a certain value to the historical facts of redemption. While asserting that Christ took upon Him the form of a servant and human nature in its entirety, he shows at once how little his language accords with common-sense usage by saying that the human nature that the Word assumed contains in itself the entire visible and invisible creation. Christ’s mission was to call back effects into causes, and thus to prevent causality itself from perishing. Thus in assuming and renovating human nature He renovated the whole of the creation visible and invisible. In assuming and renovating human nature thus with its universal contents, Christ raised it in Himself above all that is visible, and converted it into His Deity. He saved the entire human nature which He entirely assumed entirely in itself and entirely in the entire race. Entire humanity is exalted in Him and sits at the right hand of God, having become God in Him. It is manifest that such conceptions of incarnation leave no place for evangelical views of sin or redemption. By his seeming recognition of the historical life of Christ he can have meant only to set forth belief in a theophany which had the effect of furthering and facilitating the rise of men above theophanies to the archetypal (cf. Dorner, ii. ii. 294 ff.).
9. A far more evangelical type of mystical Christology is found in the writings of Hugo of St. Victor (d. 1114) and Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173). In them the theosophy of Erigena was transformed into ecstatic enjoyment of God Himself. They were unable to find satisfaction in the Church doctrine of the transubstantiation of the bread and the wine into the body and the blood of Christ as the form in which Christ may be enjoyed, but yearned for a spiritual union with Christ, the transubstantiation of the believer by an ecstatic exaltation into a mystical union with Christ. The Christology of Hugo and Richard was clearly that of the pseudo-Dionysius and of Erigena; but with them the Incarnation was conceived of more distinctly as a historical fact, and the ecstatic union of the believer with Christ did not so clearly involve loss of individual consciousness and virtual absorption.
10. The pantheistic features of the teaching of Erigena found their most extreme development in Amalric of Bena (d. 1204), who identified God with the world and with man. Yet he did not wholly ignore the historical, and maintained that God revealed Himself as Father in Abraham, as Son in Mary, and as Holy Spirit daily in us. He declared that we are the natural members of Christ, because the identical soul of Christ dwells in all good men. Spiritual exaltation from Christ dwelling in us emancipates us from all moral obligation, and makes sins of the flesh a matter of indifference.
11. More profoundly philosophical but scarcely less destructive to the Christology of the NT and to true religion was the mysticism of Master Eckhart (d. c. [Note: circa, about.] 1327). He refused to recognize any distinction between man and God, in nature or in persons. All creatures he regarded as a ‘pure nothing.’ Every believer is God’s only-begotten son in the same sense in which this is true of Christ. ‘Whatever God the Father has given to His only-begotten Son in human nature, He has given wholly to me. Here I except nothing, neither union nor sanctity.’ ‘Whatever the Sacred Scripture says concerning Christ is also absolutely true of every good man.’ Eternal generation applies to every good man as fully as to Christ. In fact, man as well as God may be said to have created the heaven and the earth, and to have generated the eternal Word.
12. In John Tauler (d. 1361) we have a highly Neo-Platonic mode of thought combined with the most devout and heartfelt recognition of the Incarnation and the propitiatory sufferings of Christ as absolutely necessary for our salvation. Christ’s being is cause, essence, and beginning in relation to all things. He is the life of the living, the resurrection of the dead, the restorer of the deformed and disordered who have corrupted and spoiled themselves by sin, the beginning of all light, the illumination of all those who are illuminated, the revealer of obscurity according to what it is proper for us to know, and the beginning of all beginning. His being is inconceivable and unspeakable, and without names. In becoming flesh and making atonement for the guilt of humanity He is its Redeemer. The Holy Spirit took of the most pure blood of the virginal heart of Mary, which was glowing with the powerful flame of love, and created of it a perfectly pure little body with all its members, and a pure clean soul, and united these together. This soul and body, the Person of the Son of God, who is the eternal Word and the reflexion of the Father’s glory, from genuine love and mercy, for the sake of our blessedness, took upon Himself and united with Himself into the unity of the Person. Thus the Word became flesh and dwelt with us. The humanity of Christ he regarded as even in the humiliation permeated by the Divine, and sharing in the possession and use of the Divine attributes. The same was true even when He suffered and died on the cross. According to its lower powers Christ’s soul was subject to needs. From this point of view he could say that not a drop of His Deity came for one moment to the help of His poor agonizing humanity in all its needs and in its unspeakable sufferings. Tauler is never weary of emphasizing the importance of the death of Christ. He speaks of the whole human race as fallen into eternal death and the eternal wrath of God, with the loss of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Christ broke the bands of eternal death in His death on the cross, and made a complete peace and reconciliation between man and the Heavenly Father. This reconciliation is confirmed by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The sufferings and death of Christ he regarded as an equivalent for man’s guilt, as a fulfilling of the Law which we were under obligation to fulfil, in that He suffered in our place and on our behalf. Tauler dwelt with great persistence and with remarkable pathos on the details of the sufferings of Christ and His infinite love for the souls of men. It will not be practicable to give here any further phases of mystical Christological thought.
13. Scholastic Christology next demands attention. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109), in some respects the most important of the mediaeval theologians, wrought out no new theory of the Person of Christ; but his satisfaction theory of the Atonement, involving the abandonment of the supposition that the death of Christ was a ransom paid to the devil, and basing the necessity of the death of the God-man on the infinite weight of sin and its infinite offence to the honour of God, was an important contribution to soteriology. Satisfaction to the Divine majesty could not be made by man, seeing that he is finite, or by the Son of God alone, seeing that He owed no satisfaction; but it must be made by the God-man. While perpetuating the Augustinian modes of thought as they had been modified by Gregory the Great [Note: reat Cranmer’s ‘Great’ Bible 1539.] , Alcuin, etc., Anselm was also greatly influenced by the Neo-Platonic semi-pantheism of Erigena. In opposition to the tritheism of Roscellinus, which seemed to him to require the Incarnation of Father, Son, and Spirit, and not of the Son alone, as the means of man’s redemption, he insisted that it was impossible for Father and Spirit to become man. The Incarnation merely accomplished the union of the Divine and human personalities, and not the union of the Divine and human natures. The Divine Person became man and formed one Person with the humanity assumed, but not the nature. There was no transformation of Deity into humanity or of humanity into Deity. Not the Divine nature but the Person of the Son became man. If the Divine Person alone and not the Divine nature took part in the Incarnation, it is plain that we cannot speak of the three Persons having become man in Christ, unless we hold that several persons could become one person (Dorner, ii. i. p. 442 ff.). Anselm as a Realist insisted that in the Incarnation the Logos united Himself not with an individual man, but with impersonal humanity, in this opposing the Nominalists, who insisted that the humanity of Christ was individual and personal.
14. Abelard (d. 1142) was essentially Sabellian in his doctrine of the Trinity, and insisted that, being unchangeable, God could not have become something which He was not eternally. He rejected such expressions as ‘God is man,’ ‘Man became God.’ He affirmed ‘God did not become anything in and through the Incarnation.’ He preferred to say in effect, ‘in the man Jesus, God worked’; that ‘in Jesus the wisdom of God revealed itself, in order to lead men to salvation by doctrine and example’ (Theologia Christiana, iv. 13). This thought he is never weary of iterating and enforcing, that whatever our Lord did in the flesh was for our instruction by way of example. This includes His walk, His death, and His resurrection. He regarded Incarnation in the proper sense of the term as unthinkable and impossible, because of his conception of the omnipresence and the unchangeableness of God.
15. Peter Lombard (d. 1160), in his Sentences, which became the text-book of mediaeval scholasticism and thus exerted a moulding influence upon later scholastic thought, asked and sought to answer nearly every conceivable question respecting Christ. His great master was John of Damascus; but he was well acquainted with Augustinian thought, and no doubt with the works of Anselm and Abelard. He was also somewhat familiar with Neo-Platonic modes of thought without being overmastered by them. He sees no reason why Father or Holy Spirit might not have become incarnate, but finds especial appropriateness in the fact that He who created the world should deliver it, that He who proceeded from another rather than He who is self-existent should be sent on the mission of redemption. It would have been less fitting for Him who is Father in heaven to become Son in the sphere of revelation. The human nature that the Son assumed comprised body and soul, the substance of humanity. This humanity, which was impersonal, was free from any stain of sin; yet, because He so willed, the liability to punishment which clung to humanity in general remained. Though as regards His flesh He descended from Adam and Abraham, He did not sin in Adam, there being no concupiscence in His conception. The question then arises, whether the Personality or the nature of the Son assumed humanity. As he felt the necessity of maintaining that the Son, as distinguished from the Father and the Spirit, became incarnate, and as nature is what the Persons of the Godhead have in common, while personality connotes the distinctions in the Godhead, he could only answer that the Personality and not the nature of the Son assumed humanity (against Augustine). But he seems to have held that in and through the Son the Divine nature as such united itself with, and appropriated to itself, humanity. Yet, in agreement with John of Damascus and the Antiochene theologians of the 4th cent., he thought it advisable to avoid the expression ‘the Divine nature became flesh.’ In further discussing the significance of the Incarnation, he rejects the Eutychian and the Nestorian views of the union of Divine and human in the Person of Christ. He denies that out of the two natures was formed a single compound nature. The Word of God, on the contrary, was simply clothed with body and soul as with a garment, in order that He might appear in a form accommodated to human vision. Thus he virtually denied the reality of the union, and reduced to a mere theophany the Incarnation of the Son. The humanity being regarded as a non-essential, accidental feature of the Son of God, its end and aim was solely that of manifestation, and God might for this purpose have used some other means for helping man than that of Incarnation. He regarded Christ’s mediatorial work as accomplished by His humanity alone, the Divine nature remaining apart by itself. We are reconciled with the Son as with the Father and the Spirit. The entire Trinity blots out our sins through the mediation of the humanity of Christ. The work of atonement is accomplished chiefly, if not exclusively, by Christ in His humanity setting forth by His sufferings the fact of God’s reconciliation, and by thus awakening in men love for God and a desire to follow Christ’s example of love to God and self-sacrifice for men. In some passages he seems virtually to deny that God became objectively a man in Christ, and to maintain that the humanity of God was a purely subjective conception of the human mind. Moreover, reconciliation was not really effected by Christ, but God intended that His life and death should be regarded as propitiatory. His denial of personality to the humanity of Christ necessitated his denial of the growth of Christ in grace and wisdom. Peter Lombard’s denial that God became anything through the Incarnation which He was not before, involves the doctrine more fully wrought out by his successors and known in the history of doctrines as Nihilianism. This conclusion had already been reached by Abelard (see above); but the general orthodoxy of Peter Lombard gave it increased importance.
16. Gerhoh of Reichersberg (d. 1169) protested most earnestly against the Nestorianism or Nihilianism involved in the teachings of Abelard and Peter Lombard, and maintained that ‘the man born of the virgin mother is in truth also to be called the Most High, not only in the nature of the Word always most high, but also in His human nature that has been exalted even to the point of sitting with God the Father.’ He claimed for the humanity of Christ ‘the same glory, omnipotence, omnisapience, omnivirtue, omnimajesty, which belong to the Most High Father,’ and held that ‘the man in Christ is to be adored with worship’ in the highest sense. ‘Christ who is everywhere, according as He wills, cannot be shut up in a place, however beautiful or desirable.’ The body of Christ ‘so grew, became so dilated, that it filled the whole world.’ Again he speaks of Christ’s body as ‘a spiritual body that has overstepped every limitation of time and space.’ Thus we see in this German theologian a strong reaction against French Nominalism towards the Realism of Eutychianism and Neo-Platonism, which was to go to the utmost extreme in German Mysticism (see above) and to be perpetuated in Lutheranism.
17. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) built upon the foundations of his Scholastic predecessors, and was much influenced in his Christology by the works of John of Damascus and the pseudo-Dionysius. Like most of the mediaeval theologians, he denied the necessity of Incarnation apart from human sin; yet he guarded carefully against representing it as a mere accident as regards God, a mere assumption of flesh by God as a garment. He insisted upon a personal union of God with humanity; and yet denied that ‘the Divine Person so assumed one human nature that it could not assume another.’ ‘That which is uncreated cannot be comprehended by a created thing.’ While he opposed the Nihilianism of Abelard and Peter Lombard, he yet minimized the part taken by the Divine essence in the Incarnation. Like most of his mediaeval predecessors, he denied the personality of the humanity in Christ. Personality it found in the Logos as a distinction Divinely conferred. Like Peter Lombard also, he maintained that not the Divine nature (which would involve Father and Spirit as well as Son), but only the Divine Person of the Son, became in any sense united with humanity in the Incarnation. This union bestowed upon humanity nothing of the Divine nature, but only such created graces as humanity was able to appropriate. ‘The soul of Christ is a creature, having finite capacity.’ This creaturely grace was bestowed in perfection at the moment of incarnation in such measure that its increase is inconceivable. Christ’s knowledge did not embrace the Divine knowledge, it being ‘impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine essence.’ Whatever has been, is, or will be, was within the sphere of the comprehension of Christ’s soul in the Word; but not the knowledge of the possible, involving a knowledge of the Divine essence. Thus even the time of the Divine judgment which Christ professed not to know He really knew, but was ignorant of only in relation to others. Thomas also denied omnipotence to the soul of Christ on the same ground. Only as the instrument of Deity could the human soul exert superhuman influence. He maintained that in Christ there were two wills, a Divine, which was the active cause of all He did, and a human, which was purely instrumental. In the human will he distinguished between the sensuous (sensitiva) will and the rational will, the former sometimes willing things other than God willed, but not contrary things; the latter co-operating and harmonizing perfectly with the will of the Word. Yet, while His human will was free, Christ did not have the power to decide for Himself, but was determined by God. Like Peter Lombard, Thomas ascribed Christ’s mediatorial function to His humanity and not to His Deity. He agreed with most of his predecessors in denying the necessity of the Incarnation and suffering of the Son for man’s salvation, maintaining that without injustice God might have freely pardoned human sin. Yet he recognized the propriety of the plan of redemption actually adopted. The very least degree of suffering on the part of the God-man would have sufficed. He finds difficulty in reconciling Christ’s sufferings with His blessed fruition, and reaches the conclusion that the higher aspect (the essence) of His soul continued in perfect fruition while the lower suffered. It is evident that this great thinker, while rejecting Eutychianism, Nestorianism, and Adoptianism, failed to reach a self-consistent view of the relation of the Divine and the human in the Person of Christ.
18. We must conclude our survey of Scholastic Christology with some account of the contribution of John Duns Scotus (d. 1308). Although Scotus differed in many respects from Thomas, and gave his name to a party antagonistic to the latter (Scotists versus Thomists), in Christology he was content for the most part to follow in the path that had been so well beaten by Thomas and his predecessors. Like these, he maintained that the union of the Divine and the human was only a relation so far as the Divine was concerned, and that for the Divine to become anything that was not eternal is inconceivable. More than Thomas he laid stress on the relative independence and separateness of the human in Christ. Independence he regarded as indispensable to personality. He supposed that the human nature of Christ was such that it would have attained to personality apart from the Word; yet a personality dependent on God, and not, like the Divine, incommunicable. More than Thomas also he kept clear of Adoptianism, and guarded against representing Christ’s humanity as a selfless husk (Dorner). He regards Christ’s humanity by virtue of Divine predestination and grace as exalted to a dignity not possessed by nature. Scotus had an exalted idea of human nature as such, and attributed to it a capacity for the Divine that enabled it through the Word to gain an intuitive view of creation that may be said to be infinite in its scope. In the Incarnation the infinite ethical susceptibility of the human soul was filled by the infinite God. He did not regard the humanity as merely passive and instrumental. In joining itself with the will of the Son that was seeking union with humanity, the human will of Jesus was not passive, but being wrought upon by the Divine it determined itself to increasing susceptibility to the Divine. He attributes to the humanity of Christ growth in knowledge and volition, and suffering of soul and body. He regards as miraculous and inexplicable the fact that the Divine nature did not swallow up the human so as practically to annihilate it, but rather caused it to retain its true humanity. The necessity of supposing the humanity of Christ active in the Incarnation, doubtless had to do with the stress that Scotus laid on the immaculate conception of Mary in whom this activity could be assumed. In some respects Scotus advanced beyond any of the Scholastic theologians in his efforts to solve the mysteries of the Incarnation.
19. The Christology of the Evangelical sects of the mediaeval time (Petrobrusians, Henricians, Arnoldists, Waldenses, Taborites, Lollards, and Bohemian Brethren) may be characterized in general as naïvely Biblical, and accordant with that of the orthodox teachers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Much of the mediaeval Evangelical Christology, as well as much of the Anabaptist Christology that was its outgrowth, savoured strongly of Adoptianism. This was no doubt due in part to the widespread influence of the Paulicians, who were transported in large numbers from Armenia to Bulgaria by the Eastern Empire during the early Middle Ages. All the Evangelical sects of that era laid the utmost stress upon obedience to the precepts of Christ, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and on following the example of Christ. While they kept the humanity of Christ constantly before them, they worshipped Him as God, repudiating utterly all Mariolatry, and all worship of images, holy places, saints, martyrs, etc. They seem not to have concerned themselves at all about the relations of the Divine and the human in the Person of Christ, but to have been content with the NT representations accepted in a devout and simple-minded way. It is probable that nearly all of them would have accepted without hesitation the so-called Apostles’ Creed, but would have hesitated to accept the so-called Athanasian Creed. The inquisitors frequently charge the Waldenses and related parties with denying the true Deity of Christ, although they had the profoundest reverence for Him and gladly gave their lives for Him. The Catharistic sects, following the Gnostics and Manichaeans of the earlier time, denied the true Deity of Christ (regarding Him as one of many angelic beings or emanations), and the reality of His Incarnation and suffering.
Chiliastic views were widely prevalent among the heretical offshoots of the Franciscans, Joachimites, Olivists (followers of Peter Olivi), Taborites, etc.
20. The idolatrous disposition of the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches in the mediaeval times created an insatiable demand for holy objects connected with the Person and the life of Christ (articles of clothing, fragments of the cross, etc.), and especially for portraits and statuettes produced from life by contemporaries or miraculously formed. In the East the ikons, as they existed at the beginning of the Middle Ages (close of the Iconoclastic Controversy), which had long before become conventionalized, furnished the models for all later productions, and little scope was given to the imagination of the artist or the exploitation of fraudulent antiquities. In the West unlimited license was given to both. The Abgar picture (see Abgar), whether what purported in the 4th cent. to be a contemporary portrait had been preserved or not, was sure under the circumstances to reappear in the mediaeval West, and it could hardly have been expected that one church would be allowed to enjoy a monopoly of an object at once so desirable and so easily made. There is no sufficient foundation for the story that the handkerchief-portrait remained in Edessa till 944, whence it was taken to Constantinople by Imperial order, and thence went to Italy in the 14th cent., presumably in connexion with the Crusades. It is not likely that so perishable an article would have lasted for six centuries, to say nothing of the thousand years that have elapsed since its supposed removal from Edessa, and the ecclesiastics of the mediaeval time were so unscrupulous in providing themselves with revenue producing holy objects that no dependence can be placed on their accounts of their sources. It may safely be assumed that neither the Roman, the Genoese, nor the Parisian handkerchief-portrait is that which long abode in Edessa, and that all alike are of mediaeval or later origin, though the Genoese enjoys the honour of having been pronounced genuine by Pius ix. Even more manifestly spurious and lacking in antiquity is the so-called Veronica portrait, said to have been transferred by Boniface viii., in 1297, from the Hospital of the Holy Spirit to St. Peter’s in Rome. Those who have been vouchsafed a glimpse of the sacred object represent it as almost completely faded out. The legend is that a pious woman (according to some the woman cured of the issue of blood), moved with compassion for Jesus, as, bleeding and sweating, He was going to the cross, gave Him her head-cloth to wipe His face with, and that Jesus imprinted His features upon it and returned it to her as a token of love. The name Veronica was by some supposed to be the Latin equivalent of the name of the woman; but by others it is taken to mean ‘true image,’ as etymologically it might. The Roman Church has canonized this purely mythical woman as St. Veronica. The picture, according to copies made before it faded out, represents an oval bearded face with thin hair reaching to the temples, eyes closed, and a somewhat agonized expression. This inartistic picture became a model for Correggio and other artists of the later Middle Ages. The stories about the sweat-cloth image, and probably pictures purporting to be the original, may have found place as early as the 7th or 8th cent.; but those exhibited in the mediaeval and later times were probably of purely mediaeval origin, and were no doubt freely produced as they were needed. Rome was not allowed to monopolize the ‘original’ Veronica portrait, Milan and Jaen having put forth rival claims. Many other pictures, equally lacking in authenticity and with similar claims to antiquity, were produced and exhibited during the Middle Ages, portraits of the earlier time (4th cent. onward) being for the most part taken as models. The symbolical representation of Christ as a fish was perpetuated from the earlier time. Christ as the Good Shepherd, with the face of a beardless youth, was a common form of representation during the Middle Ages, as earlier. It is the opinion of many that the artists of the Renaissance, while influenced to some extent by the older portraits, drew freely on pagan materials, using especially the earlier representations of aesculapius to aid their imaginations in depicting the ideal Christ. Crucifixes with agonized face and bleeding wounds were freely used during the Middle Ages. It needs scarcely be said that the Evangelical and Catharistic parties utterly repudiated the use of pictures of Christ and crucifixes as idolatrous.—See Christ in Art.
Literature.—Writings of the theologians whose opinions are presented: works on the History of Doctrines by Harnack (German and English), Baur, Seeberg, Thomasius (ed. Seeberg), and Loofs; Bach, Dogmengesch. d. M.A., 1873–5; Schwane, Dogmengesch. d. mittlcren Zeit, 1882; Reuter, Gesch. d. Aufklarung im M.A., 1875–7; Dorner, Entwickelungsgesch. d. Lehre v. d. Person Christi, 1853 (also English translation ); works on Church History by K. Müller, Moller, Gieseler, Neander, Schaff, and Hase; art. on ‘Christologie,’ ‘Christusbilder,’ and on theologians and systems concerned in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , and in Hastings’ Encyelopœdia of Religion and Ethics; Gottschick, ‘Studien zur Versöhnungslehre d. M.A.’ in Zeitschr. f. Kirchengesch. xxii., xxiii., and xxiv.; Döllinger, Beitrage zur Sektengesch. d. M.A., 1890; Denifle, Archiv f. Lit.- u. Kirchengesch. d. M.A., 1885, and onward.
Albert Henry Newman.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Christ in the Middle Ages'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​c/christ-in-the-middle-ages.html. 1906-1918.