Schaff: Church History, Volume 5 (review)

This is his second volume on the Middle Ages.

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It is tempting to color the Middle Ages either as a period of gross or superstition or incredible beauty.  This answer is neither.  Or both. Much as we may be disgusted, and rightly so, at the abuses of the medieval papacy, some popes were truly talented individuals. Further, papal supremacy, while built on a foundation of sand, did nonetheless rein in lawless barons. For example, the most competent, if not the most scriptural, of medieval popes, Gregory VII, kept warring Europe in line.  Schaff writes, “it was a spiritual despotism, but it checked a political despotism” (Schaff 34).

The section on the Crusades read like a novel at times.  Schaff rightly deplores the indulgences and the erring piety behind the Crusades, but he notes, as we must all admit, that the military actions of the Western Europeans destroyed enough Muslim personnel to prevent a Muslim conquest of Europe (at least until the 21st century).

4th Crusade

Surprisingly, Schaff gives a relatively positive account of the 4th Crusade.  This one is tricky and requires some background. The rightful emperor was Isaac Angelus.  He was deposed and blinded by his brother Alexius III.  Long story short, the Latins intervened and deposed Alexius III and restored Isaac (for a time).  As unfortunate as later events were, this action “prolonged the successful resistance to the Turks” (273 n1). Yes, they turned Constantinople into a brothel, but one can’t help but wonder if Byzantine schemes didn’t set the stage.

Inquisition and Sacraments

Most people will find the section on the Inquisition fascinating, if only for morbid reasons.  It contains enough lurid details.

Theologically, Schaff’s section on the sacraments is of the most value to the theology student.   All medievals follow the Augustinian definition as “a visible sign of invisible grace.”  There is a virtue inherent in the sacraments.  They confer and confirm grace (continere et conferre gratiam).  God is the original cause of grace.  The sacraments, per Thomas, are the instrumental cause (705).

The body of Christ is in the sacrament not quantitatively, but in substance.  Not in dimensions but by a power peculiar to the sacrament.  This is the doctrine of concomitance (717). They argued that the whole Christ is in each of the elements, which justifies withdrawing the cup from the laity.

Penance and Indulgences

Penance deletes mortal sins committed after baptism (729).  It has four elements (contrititon, sorrow of the soul, which negative part is attrition), confession, satisfaction, and absolution. An indulgence simply mitigates the works of satisfaction needed for an absolution (737).

Sin and Grace

The flesh is tainted, being conceived in concupiscence. It is both taint and guilt (749). Grace: man needs prevenient grace “to beget in him the disposition to holiness” (753). Justification has four elements: 1) infusion of grace; 2) movement of the free will towards God; 3) the act of the free will against sin; 4) remission of sins.

This book is magnificent.  The prose reads like a novel.

Review: What Sort of Human Nature?

Medieval analytic philosophy gets to the heart of the problem:  If Christ has two natures, one of which he assumed as a human nature, and if he is consubstantial with us in our humanity, yet our nature is sinful, how is Christ not sinful?  Saying he chose not to sin doesn’t answer the question, as merely possessing a human nature tainted by sin makes one guilty. human nature

The short answer to the question is that we only need to show that Christ is fully human, and a tainted human nature is not necessary to the definition of what it means to be human.  Yet this reveals the deep octopus of questions that occurs at the intersection of anthropology and Christology.  Marilyn McCord Adams sets forth several questions on this topic and shows how (and why) the medievals answered the way they did.

Themes

(1) Metaphysical size-gap between God and man.
(2) There is a top-down pressure to regard Christ’s human nature with maximal perfection.
(3) Christ assumes something from each of man’s fourfold states. He has to have something to guide human beings into Beatific glory.

Adams interprets Chalcedon as defining person: Per 451, Person = supposit = individual substance (Adams 8). Other questions that arise: how much did the human soul of Jesus know?  Did it experience defects? If so, what kind?  Was it impeccable?

Anselm denies Christ is born in original sin. If he were, then he would be personally liable.  Anselm says Christ’s human soul was omniscient, yet he doesn’t explain how a finite human mind could have infinite cognitive capacity (17).

Lombard on Christ’s human knowledge: “Once again, Lombard charts a via media: the scope of Christ’s human knowledge matches the Divine, but the created act by which it knows will not be so metaphysically worthy or furnish the maximal clarity of knowledge found in the Divine essence. Even so, it will enable the soul of Christ to contemplate each creature clearly and as present and will include a contemplation of God as well” (21).

Conclusion:

The book admirably serves as a fine example of analytic theology. Adams plumbs the issues and shows the tensions and advantages in each theologian’s position.  I do feel the book’s conclusions were rushed at times, but given that it is actually a lecture and an essay, I suppose that can’t be helped.

 

Inventing the Middle Ages (Review)

By Norman Cantor.

Norman Cantor (1991) takes the various approaches to medieval historiography and uses them to illustrate scholarship in general, and from there draws a number of interesting conclusions about modern politics, religion, and social life (Cantor, 410-414). Cantor got in trouble for writing this work. While 80% of this work is brilliant scholarship, the other 20% make the tabloids look like peer-reviewed journals. The subtitle of the book should read “Professor Guilty of Sex Scandal: Cantor Tells All!” Then again, that is also why the book is so highly entertaining. After reading this book one may legitimately talk trash about various historians. Just kidding…sort of.

The study of the middle ages in the twentieth century was a microcosm of the larger battle for Western civilization. We see the Hegelian dialectic at work in which the culturally conservative U.S. Government (just go with it for the moment) was funding radical left-wing schools in France whose only merit was they were not politically active Communists. We see conservative reactions in the Formalist school, yet even this school merely asserted cultural conservatism–it never defined it at its roots.

The Functionalists

The functionalist school of the Middle Ages represented the apex of modernity’s scholarship: it’s objective was to (rightly) note that people in the Middle Ages (or whenever) did something for a reason. Actions presupposed a function (53). Representative of this approach was Maitland. The problem with this approach represents the problem with modernity in general (and the University in particular): it isolated one aspect of reality and unwittingly identified that aspect with the whole of reality. Further, it is unable to write about larger strands throughout a period of history (Versluis 2000).

The Nazi Twins

Jewish historian Ernst Kantorowicz must be an embarrassment to international Jewry: he is a Nazi Jew! Against the Formalist school (see below), Kantorowicz read the Middle Ages not as a unified consensus, but as a dialectical development waiting for a charismatic invididual to exploit it (Cantor 1991: 203). Cantor’s original project was a revisionist biography on Frederick II. It was criticized by scholars as “unscholarly” and “pop history,” but who cared? Kantorowicz simultaneously captured the spirit of great men while communicating history in a clear and engaging manner. Unfortunately, one can easily see the connection to Hitler, whose rise eventually forced Kantorowicz to leave Europe. On the other hand, his masterpiece was The King’s Two Bodies, which traced the dialectical impact of “the twinned-person” idea on Medieval politics and is arguably the finest genealogical critique of late Western medieval theology.

The French Jewish School

One could probably summarize its approach, not surprisingly, as left-wing and nigh close to Marxism. It was not officially Marxist, though. This distinction is important because it is this distinction which allowed the CIA to fund radical left-wing institutions in Paris as a left-wing alternative to Marxism, presumably with American tax dollars (149). The ideology behind this school was heavily endorsed in the American universities.

Cantor’s discussion of the French Mandarin system is worth the price of the book (124-135). In this system one worked his way up through the respected eschelons of the university hierarchy. If one had the ability to write well, local salons would publish his work, making him a celebrity. American universities, always wanting to be fashionable, would discuss (and informally endorse) this philosophe’s work and invite him on a lecture circuit in the U.S. As Cantor notes (and as only he could), “He will be idolized by the university president’s wife at the reception afterwards, and female graduate students will offer him both their minds and their bodies” (126).

The limitation of this school of thought is in the limitations of Marxism itself. When Marxism ceased to go out of style in the Academy, and other historical models were suggested, the Annales approach found itself marginalized.

The Formalists

The Formalists were the cultural neoconservatives of medieval studies. Their focus was primarily on art and iconography, and they advanced the sensible thesis that artistic works (and probably culture at large) could not be separated from the texts that inspired them (161). For the functionalists, this presupposes a continuity between religious and cultural texts. For anyone familiar with Patristic and Medieval Theology, this is exactly the case (more so with Patristic theology in the East). This is in contradistinction to the Functionalist school and in radical contradiction to the French Jewish school.

The truth (and problem) of the formalist school is with their argument: it is true that texts cannot be divorced from the life around them—and the best way to communicate this life is in art (and poetry). If one is positing a unified continuity from the Patristics to the 15th century, then one is sadly mistaken as it ignores the huge differences between the Franks and Eastern Romans on one hand, and the Celts and Western Romans on the other.

The Oxford Fantasists

This is probably the most famous part of the book. Cantor discusses the two most beloved writers of the English language in the twentieth century: Clive Staples Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Their project is simple: draw upon the glories of medieval culture to rebuilt the shattered England from the ashes of WWII. While they accomplished no such goal, few can deny the staggering impact they have had on readers across the world.

It is at this point in the narrative that scholarly conservatives (and evangelicals in particular) will cry “shenanigans!” Cantor suggests Lewis was sexually repressed and was unable to consummate his marriage for several months, only to have his wife forcibly seduce him (211). The first problem with this statement is the obvious one: evidence? None. The culprit is nearby, however. One suspects Cantor is relying upon the speculations of Ian Wilson, who bore no love for Lewis. Yet, does not Cantor admit that Wilson failed in the basics of scholarly research and the demonstration of evidence (430)? Why should we take Wilson seriously?

The American School

The American school is the ideological brainchild of Woodrow Wilson. It’s particular historical methods are not that important. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson’s worldview has dominated American politics (and by extension, literally the rest of the world) for 90 years. Not surprisingly, we see the American medieval history school as a justification for post-Christian Western politics.

The actual historical arguments by representatives Strayer and others are not that interesting, except for this: it is a specific justification of the Norman invasion of England, and the replacing of Saxon culture with a specifically Norman and Papal culture (269). Such a task also involves a rewriting of the “other” culture’s history. Interestingly, Strayer was also a CIA asset (262). One cannot help but speculate on the connections between Wilsonian progressivism, Norman and Frankish historiography, and the CIA: all of which contribute to the relativising of traditional communities around the world (at least today).

Neo-Thomism

Cantor has a sexually charged chapter dealing with the neo-Thomists David Knowles and Etienne Gilson. It makes for interesting reading, but if the reader is either ignorant of Freud, or rejects Freud, or simply doesn’t care, then much of this chapter can be skipped. In all seriousness, Cantor does highlight the inability of Thomist Catholicism to offer a coherent account of the Middle Ages from Augustine to Ockham. Gilson tries, but Cantor dissects him quite well. (Personally, I think Cantor is wrong, but his analysis of Gilson is correct. Here is the problem: Cantor says Gilson cannot offer a unified reading because the discontinuity between Augustine and Aquinas is too great. However, granting the discontinuity, one can also say that Aquinas is the dialectical synthesis of Augustine. Or rather, he is the antithesis and Ockam is the synthesis. Obviously, Gilson will not take that interpretation).

Outriders

In a daring stroke of genius, Cantor illustrates the truth of his project by devoting a chapter on feminist writers who either reject medievalism or reconstruct its accepted tenets. These feminist critiques illustrate the limitations of the above historical models, but also the real gains and the directions in which future medieval history will take.

Conclusion

The book is outrageous because of its daring. Part of it is brilliant historiography, the rest of it is scandalous tabloid. Let’s be honest: few can deny the book’s entertaining value. Fewer still can deny its scholarly arguments. Indeed, we followed his arguments because he tied them in with the moral peccadilloes of most of his comrades. Granted, I think he overdid it, nor do I ascribe the same normative and omnipotent value to psychoanalysis, especially the sexual aspects.

On the other hand, this book is a must read in terms of historiography. It should be mandated in all freshman history and liberal arts classes. It is interdisciplinary in character and demonstrates the best ways to integrate various fields.

Sources:
Cantor, Norma. Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991.

Versluis, Arthur. “Western Esotericism and Consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7 (no.6) 2000: pp. 20-33.

Medieval Exegesis Vol. 1

Argument: Medieval exegesis isn’t simply allegory, for it goes far beyond the method of ancient pagan sources. Rather, it seeks the “spirit” of Scripture.

Medieval Exegesis. Volume 1: The Four Senses of Scripture. By Henri de Lubac. Translated by Mark Sebanc. Foreword by Robert L. Wilken. Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans

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Henri de Lubac is a master writer and theologian, but this book presents a challenge to the reader on a number of levels. De Lubac opens the door to a wide forest of patristic and medieval thinking–and he provides no map to navigate this forest. (Later volumes in the series do provide the map). That’s not to say de Lubac fails to offer a model for medieval exegesis. He does. You just have to read for a while to find it. In what follows I will try to provide a model of medieval exegesis–or rather, foundational presuppositions.

P1: The letter teaches what happened, allegory what we should believe, moral what we should do, anagogical what we should hope for.

(P2) “For the doctrine of the two senses of Scripture and the doctrine of the relationship between the two testaments are in essence one and the same thing” (De Lubac 8).

In order to show that the “spiritual sense” of Scripture is not completely arbitrary, de Lubac notes that it is always tied to “discipline,” which implies a rule or manner (23ff). Scripture is sacrament and symbol, spirit and rationality (76). The implication is the letter of Scripture always points beyond itself. Scripture, like the world, is like a garment of the godhead.

Early Christian symbolism was liturgical symbolism.  De Lubac writes, “It is well know that medieval symbolism readily encompasses not only Scripture and the visible universe, but that other universe, that other living, sacred book which is divine worship. The fathers transposed the ancient doctrine that saw the universe at once as a temple and as a body and each temple as being at once the human body and the universe.  By virtue of this transposition, the cosmic and liturgical mirrors, while corresponding with each other, also correspond to the mirrors of history and the Bible” (103).

The Cross as Cosmic Universe:

“This Christian, who undertakes a new kind of De natura rerum, has achieved a profound realization of the cosmic dimensions of his faith.  He wants to show forth a universe that has been entirely taken up by Christ and recreated in the same Christ…He plants the Cross of Christ at the center of everything, just as Virgil placed Orpheus in the middle of the cosmic cup.  Time and Space, Heaven and Earth, angels and men, the Old Testament and the New, the physical universe and the moral universe, nature and grace: everything is encompassed, bound together, formed, “structured,” and unified by this Cross, even as everything is dominated by it” (111).

But there is a problem in the sources. Most of us are familiar with the so-called “fourfold method” (history, allegory, tropology, anagogy). But medieval and patristic writers didn’t always follow this model. Sometimes it was threefold, or maybe the terms were inverted. Is there a threefold distinction of Scripture, or a fourfold one? Sometimes authors collapsed anagogia into allegory.

Beginning with the fathers we note:

Body = history
Soul = tropology
Spirit = anagogy

The problem before the house: tropology was seen as an intermediary principle between body and spirit (140). There was a danger of introducing the “psuche” Scripture before its “pneuma.” This fails to respond to the intentions of the spirit. De Lubac highlights the problem: there “cannot be found in it an explicit allusion to the Mystery that is at once historical and spiritual, interior and social, a Mystery which is recapitulated in the other formula by “allegoria” (140-141). So which method is correct and when did the fourfold start? De Lubac doesn’t really tell us.

Unity and Harmony

Thesis: Christian tradition understands that Scripture has two meanings: literal and spiritual (pneumatic) and these two meanings have the same relationship to each other as do the Old and New Testaments to each other (225). The spiritual meaning discerns internal causes. The spirit is contained and hidden in the letter. History as a key to understanding the present is more and more transformed into allegory of the future (230).

Typology is not enough. It needs allegory, allegory understood as the pneumatic sense (259). Typology simply tells that A prefigures A’. It says nothing of the opposition or unity between the two testaments.

Conclusion and evaluation.

“High hopes and empty pockets” may be the best way to summarize this book. This is one of those instances where de Lubac’s brilliant reputation actually worked to his disadvantage. Given the rich spirituality of the patristics and medievals and de Lubac’s own brilliant handling of Augustinian Supernaturalism, one rightly expected this book to be a stunning tour de force. It wasn’t.

Given what I’ve read of de Lubac on the social dimension of Christianity and his take on the Surnaturel, I expected this book to outline the failure of liberal and fundmentalist hermeneutics (including, obviously, the failure of modernity), a brief section outlining the medievals’ take on Scripture, the structure of allegory, and how to do allegory in today’s church.

As tedious as this book was at times, it is a necessary read if one is interested in reading de Lubac’s corpus. Fortunately, volume two appears to be more smooth, compact, and focused on the main issues. It was that de Lubac seemed to merely compile quotations of people who agree with him. While I suppose that makes his point, he is always bordering on overkill (I tried to pull this stunt on graduate level essays. The profs were not amused!). Still, at the end of the day when reading de Lubac, one knows one is in the presence of a master.

Frame: Medieval Philosophy

Frame draws heavily from Leithart’s essay on medieval philosophy.  It is a standard treatment in many ways, starting with Boethius and ending with the nominalists.

Boethius

Since we are temporal, this means we lose some of our being as time passes.  Not so with God (124).  Boethius takes the chain of being ontology and applies it to time.

His definition of person is problematic:  A person is an individual substance of a rational nature.  As Frame says, “If each person is a substance, then the whole Trinity is one substance and three substances” (125).

Anselm

Standard summary of his arguments.  Tries to make him a presuppositionalist.  The best we can say is that Anselm presupposes the dogma of the church.   Within that he can use reason and not Scripture.

Towards Scholasticism: Avicenna, Maimonides, Averoes

Heavy influence of neo-Platonism.  Creation is seen as an eternal act of God, not an event in the beginning of time (141).

Aquinas

Standard treatment.  Quite fair to him.  Frame has a fascinating footnote on p.150.  Many traditional theologians say we can know the “who” of God, but not his essence.  Greek theologians denied we could know the essence because in Greek philosophy knowing was a form of dominatingAbsolute knowledge erases differance. One who has the concept of “a thing” has the thing.  Concept is domination.  Knowledge is knowledge only insofar as it “seizes” the thing and has complete certainty.  

It is not surprising, then, that Christian theologians say we can’t know God’s essence.  We certainly cannot bring God under our domination as a thing.  But this raises a problem:  why is Christian discourse obligated to define knowledge this way?

Let’s completely disregard the above def. of knowledge.  Why not rather say with the better moments of the tradition that knowing presupposes–at least in some cases–a loving bond between subject and object?