Monday, 7 June 2021

Characters in the Medieval Church

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Anselm was the son of a landowner in Italy.  Went to France to study when he was twenty-three.  He then goes to a monastic school in Normandy.  He was a brilliant scholar.  He rises to become becomes Abbot at the monetary.  As head of this monastery he enjoys to certain diplomatic career.  He becomes someone who has the respect of William the Conqueror.  At the age of sixty, he becomes the archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm is famous for his writings.  The work that we are going to briefly consider is called Cur Deus Homo (‘Why God became Man’).

Cur Deus Homo is cast as a dialogue between Anslem and a monk named Boso.  Boso comes to him and says, ‘I believe the incarnation, and I want you to explain why it had to be so.’  There had been an idea that a ransom had to be paid to the devil in order to redeem humanity.  Anselm reacts against this ‘devil ransom’ theory of the atonement.  He feels that it gives the devil too much right over humanity.  The devil has no such rights.  Instead, Anselm constructs an understanding of the atonement that is much more God-centred.  Anselm looks at how the incarnation relates to other doctrines.

Why can’t God just forgive sin?  Why does he need to have justice satisfied on the cross?  Anselm answers that God is both honourable and merciful.  Whatever way that God deals with our sins, it must in a way that God’s honour would be restored.  His thinking here is very much shaped by the feudal system of his time and the honour that is due to a feudal lord.  He could restore his honour by simply condemning the sinner, but it is more fitting to restore his honour in a means that also demonstrates his mercy.  The thing is that we have dishonoured an infinite God.  It would be one thing to spit on the wife of your feudal lord, but we have done something far worse, we have dishonoured the infinite Lord of all creation.  Anslem points out that we have not yet considered the weight of sin.

Anselm points out that in order to forgive sin, Jesus must be both God and man.  A mere human can’t make the payment for sin because the sin against God is of infinite value.  It would take a payment of infinite worth to restore God’s honour.  For Jesus to pay the debt on behalf of humanity he must become truly man.

Later reformers like Calvin would preach a similar idea of the cross being satisfaction for sin, but they replace the idea of God restoring honour with the idea of God satisfying justice.  The reformers were more influenced by the thinking of the law courts rather than the feudal landlord. 

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Bernard was born in Burgundy, France.  He was the son of a minor noble.  He became a monk and was the most successful monastery planter the Cistercians produced.  He set up sixty-eight monastic houses.  In 1115 he founds the monastery in Clairvaux. 

The Knights Templar was a military order of monks who were established by Bernard’s cousin in order to protect pilgrims in Jerusalem.  But how do you justify an armed group of monks?  Bernard justified this by suggesting that any violence they committed would be motivated by the best of reasons.  But aren’t monks supposed to be spending their time searching for God?  Bernard pointed out that these monks were based in the Holy Land, and so when they were not defending the pilgrims, they would be contemplating in that surrounding.

In 1130 Pope Honorius II dies.  The problem was that there was a split decision as to who Honorius’s successor should be.  Should it be Innocent II or Anacletus II.  Bernard spends the next eight years travelling around and using his considerable influence to rally support for Innocent II.  Innocent II becomes pope and Bernard’s reputation has become massively enhanced.

The most notorious event of Bernard’s life is his support for the second crusade (1146-48).  The crusade started with an alliance between the king of France and the pope.  Bernard preached that it should be a great pan-European action involving both the eastern and western churches invading the holy land.

Bernard was an expert on the nature of sin.  He was also an expert on the nature of love.  He taught we are to love for God’s sake.  ‘God is not loved without reward, but he should be loved without thought of God’s love.’  He sees the human ability to love as a reflection of the image of God is us.  God is to be loved because he is God.  He sees the essence of sin not as the destruction of love but the misdirection of love.  For example, you cannot love God and be motivated in life by the love of money.  God is infinite so he is to be loved in an infinite way.  Bernard sees God’s love as being permanently revealed on the cross, and that we should spend time contemplating the work of Jesus on the cross.  ‘God is the cause of loving God … He himself creates the longing.  He himself fulfils the desire.’

He spoke of the process of the Christian life in four stages of love.  The first stage is that man loves himself for man’s sake.  Sometimes this may prompt us to love others for our own sake (we might help someone with the hope that in the future they will help us).  The second stage is that man loves God for man’s sake (we cry out to God when we are in a crisis).  The third stage is that man loves God for God’s sake—you come to see God in his own being and see his beauty.  The final love is that man loves man for God’s sake.  You simply love people because they too are made in the image of God.  You love men and women because they are God’s men and women.  This final love is very much seen as an aspiration we are to aim at.  He thought of it only attained in heaven although some of the martyrs attained it on earth.

The Knights Templar

No decent conspiracy theory is complete without reference to the Knights Templar.  They even feature in Indiana Jones’s movies.

The Knights Templar (also called The Poor Soldiers of Christ and of The Temple of Solomon) were armed monks who protected the pilgrims visiting Jerusalem after Jerusalem was taken by the Christians in the first crusade in 1099.  At this time many pilgrims traveled across Europe to Jerusalem.

One interesting thing about the Knights Templar was their role in banking. 

The pilgrims needed to fund months of food and supplies, and they could not simply carry huge sums of cash with them.  So, the Knights Templar came up with a solution.  A pilgrim could leave cash at the Temple Church in London and withdraw the same amount of money in Jerusalem.  Now they simply needed to carry a letter of credit.  

This was not the first time such a system had been used, a similar system had been used in China several centuries earlier, but the Chinese system was operated by the government, whereas the Templars were operating more like a private bank—albeit owned by the Pope, king and princess across Europe, and run by monks who were sworn to poverty.

The also provided banking services to Henry III, facilitating the sale of an island to him.  In the 1200s, the crown jewels were kept at the Temple church in London as security on a loan.

The Templars lost their reason to exist after Jerusalem was lost to the Muslims in 1244.  They were disbanded in 1312. 

Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

There are plenty of myths surrounding Francis of Assisi.  For example, he is pictured as preaching to the birds and making friends with wolves.  However, Francis must have been a formidable figure given the impact he made in the thirteenth century.  His contemporaries claimed that he lived out the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else they knew of, other than Jesus himself.

Francis was born in Assisi in Italy.  His full name was Giovanni Francesco Bernardone.   He was the son of a wealthy merchant.  As a young man, he lived a worldly, carefree life.  He marched to war in the fifth crusade in 1202 and was taken prisoner in battle.  A year passed before his father could arrange a ransom for him.  Now in his twenties, he needed a year to recover.  During this time, he experienced dreams and visions.  While he prayed in a dilapidated church, he says he heard Christ saying, ‘Francis, go repair my house, which, as you can see, is falling completely in ruin.’  He proceeded to sell off family goods to repair that building.  His followers believed, however, that Christ’s world to repair the church referred also to the whole of the institution.

His father was furious with him for selling family good and dragged him before the local bishop to change his behaviour and pay the money back.  He left that meeting to become a hermit.  He wanted to be alone in solitude and silence.

One day in church he heard Jesus’ words to the disciples to, ‘take no gold or silver or copper in your wallet, no bag for the journey, nor two sandals or a staff.’  He took this for himself and began the life as an itinerant preacher.  He aimed at living simply and preaching the gospel.

Not all his habits would seem healthy to us.  In winter, he sometimes threw himself in a ditch full of ice and stayed there until every vestige of temptation departed.  To avoid lust, he fixed his gaze on the sky or the ground whenever he spoke with a woman.  While joyful, he disapproved of laughing. 

He wandered all over Europe and even visited crusaders in Italy.  He crossed enemy lines and tried to convert the Muslim sultan.

In 1209 he gathered around him twelve men who wanted to share his life and ministry.  He wrote a Rule, and so set up the Franciscan Order.  A rich woman of Assisi called Clare was fascinated by his message and set up a female Franciscan order known as Poor Clares.

Soon his followers were making trips all over Europe.  They preached a message of repentance, simple living and radical obedience to Jesus’ teaching

Francis was the first person it was claimed to have stigmata—his bloody receiving the bleeding wounds of Christ.  As he entered his forties, his body was racked with illness and his eyesight eventually faded completely. 

After his death, the Franciscans continued to grow.  He was made a saint just two years after his death.  A stunning basilica was built in his honour in Assisi in 1228, his relics were moved there in 1230. 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Thomas happened to be massively fat, he suffered from dropsy (a swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your tissues) and had one eye that was hugely bigger than the other.  He was introspective in mood and was mostly silent.  When he did speak it was often completely unrelated to the conversation.  His classmates in college called him the dumb ox.  Yet today he is recognised as the greatest theologian of the middle ages.

He was born in an Italian castle.  At five this pudgy boy was sent to school at a nearby monastery.  At fourteen he went to University in Naples.  His Dominican teacher so impressed him, that Thomas decided that he would join the Dominicans.

His family fiercely opposed his decision to become a Dominican.  They wanted him to become something rich and influential, like an abbot or archbishop, rather than a friar who took a vow of poverty.  His brothers kidnapped him and held him in confinement for fifteen months to try and stop him being a friar.  His family tempted him with a prostitute and offered to buy him the post of archbishop of Naples.  Nevertheless, Thomas resisted their efforts and moved to Paris, which was the centre of theological learning.

Thomas wrestled with the question, ‘if knowledge could only come through God’s revelation, then how come many non-Christian teachers like Aristotle were so good at explaining things?  He decided to extract from Aristotle everything that was helpful.

His greatest work is called Summa Theologica. There he sought to distinguish between philosophy and theology, between reason and revelation (although he said that these did not contradict each other, and that both are from God).  He pointed out that reason can lead us to believe in God, only revelation can show us God as he really is.  Only the Bible can show us the triune God.

His works were attacked even before his death.  In 1277, the archbishop of Rome tried to have him formally condemned.  Over time the genius of his writings has been recognised.  However, Thomas may not have approved of this.  Towards the end of his life he had a vision that caused him to stop writing.  He had experienced many visions before, but this was different.  His secretary pleaded with him to start writing again, but Aquinas replied, ‘I cannot.  Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw.  His Summa Theologica was left unfinished when he died three months later. 

Julian of Norwich (1343-1416ish)

Julian of Norwich was an anchorite.  Anchorites were people who had withdrawn from society to live a prayer centred life living in cells, that were often associated with a church.  She is particularly famous for her book called, ‘Revelations of Divine Love.’

For much of her life she lived in permanent seclusion in her cell.  Nothing is known of her life before she became an anchoress.  As an anchoress living in an urban area, she would have not lived an entirely secluded life.  She would have been allowed make clothes for the poor.  She was a respected religious authority at her time and would have given some people counsel. 

According to ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ she fell seriously ill when she was thirty.  A curate even served her the last rites on the assumption that she was dying.  As she did this she gazed upon his crucifix and began to see Christ bleed.  Over the next hours she had a series of visions.  She writes about these.

The main issue in the ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ is the problem of sin but she speaks of the certainty of being loved by God.  She likened God’s love to that of a mother.  She believed that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when human souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer trouble us.  ‘God is nearer to us than our soul’, she repeated wrote.  Of her visions she recounted Jesus saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  ‘This was said so tenderly, without blame of any kind towards me or anybody else.’  

Three questions that emerge from the patristic and medieval church

1.     When did veneration of Mary and the saints begin?

2.     When did the bishop of Rome become the dominant pope?

3.     When did the church start using church building?

Mary and the saints

It is important to realise that our Catholic friends refer to venerating Mary and the saints, not worshipping Mary and the saints.  Worship is something that is due to God alone.  It also has to be understood that the answer to this question is open to debate.  Our Catholic friends would say that Mary was venerated from the time of the New Testament.

The respect that Christians have for Mary can be seem in paintings found in the catacombs of Rome from the second century.  There she is seen as holding the baby Jesus.  Ambrose writes in praise of Mary.  Veneration of Mary was sanctioned at the Council of Ephesus (431).  Bernard of Clairvaux believed that Mary never sinned in her life and that we should call on Mary in times of temptation.

The spread of monasticism in the fourth century promoted the idea of celibacy as being the ideal.  The first notable Christian leader to have defended the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary seems to have been Ambrose, who presided over the Synod of Milan (389), after which Mary’s perpetual virginity became the established view.  While the New Testament mentions Jesus having brothers and sisters, the Catholic response is that Joseph had been married before, and widowed, and that these were his children.  They would have been Jesus’ stepbrothers and stepsisters.

While the taught of Mary committing no personal sin was commonly taught, what about her original sin?  Augustine had said that original sin is transmitted from generation to generation through the sex involved in our conception.  Bernard and Anselm argued against the idea that Mary was born without original sin because the, given the belief that she lived a sinless life, she would not have needed Jesus as her saviour.

The Council of Basel (1431) declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be a ‘pious opinion’.  In 1854, Pope Pius X issued Papal Bull in favour of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Veneration of saints began with a belief that martyrs went directly to heaven, rather than having to go through purgatory, after their death.  Remember that Tertullian had designated saints as a special category of Christian rather than simply being all Christians.  Such a belief will affect how you read passages like Revelation chapter five verse eight, which speaks of the prayers of the saints in heaven being like bowls full of incense being presented before God.

The pope of Rome

From the third century the term pope was used of all bishops.  Bishop Stephen, around 250, seems to have been the first bishop of Rome to quote Jesus’ words to peter, ‘You are Peter, and it is upon this Rock that I will build my church.’  It was believed that Peter had established the church in Rome and then claimed that this meant that the bishop of Rome was to have to be the head of the bishops.  Cyprian argued that these words to Peter was not a charter for papacy but applied to all bishops.  The third Council of Carthage (256) asserted that the Roman bishop should not attempt to be ‘bishop of bishops’.  In the Council of Nicaea (325) three churches being given special place—Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.  Pope Gregory (590) claimed that the care of the whole church had been placed in the hands of Peter and his successors of Rome.  This claim did not go unchallenged.  Those in the east, whose centre was Constantinople, resented this claim of universal rule.  The doctrine of Papal Infallibility was declared in 1870, when Pope Pius XII defined the assumption of Mary as an article of faith.

Church buildings

In the New Testament the believers did not meet in a designated church building, but in homes (Acts 17:5, 20:20 and 1 Corinthians 16:19) or in Jewish places of worship (Acts 2:46 and Acts 19:8).  It is not until the second half of the third century that the first purpose-built halls for Christian worship were built.  Many of these were destroyed in the persecutions under Diocletian.  Large church buildings began to emerge from the time of Constantine’s conversion.

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