Questions for Medieval Protestants

When I realized the traditional Federal Calvinist position could not be salvaged, I began to look for alternatives that would not take me to Rome or Mother Russia.  Rome could not work because I could not square my mind with all of the perceived contradictions in Roman history and papalism, as ably evidenced by Robert Letham.  (Ultimately, I would begin to move towards Orthodoxy–to start the journey.  Incidentally, the late Jaroslav Pelikan’s bishop told him to wait ten years before he left Lutheranism for Mother Russia).

Federal Calvinists will probably point out–and rightly so–that I came through the Reformed faith reading the fringe elements, and in that cauldron I was cooked. That’s true.  I live(d) in close vicinity to Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church and was able to buy all kinds of historical and theological literature from 30% to 70% off (which reminds me, I need to go there today and buy Bruce’s book on the canon for $10).  Not surprisingly, they also had all the Canon Press materials and Rushdoony books.  I read all of what they had.   The Gnostics at Puritanboard.com were rebuking me and urging me to read “Berkhof” and Calvin instead.   Well, I read through Berkhof’s systematic and through Calvin at least twice. 

One of the books I read was Wilson and Jones’ Angels in the Architecture.  I was stunned by the beauty of the writing.  It made me want to become a Norse warrior and sail the frozen seas (they had a chapter on Beowulf), a dream I still have.  The book advertised itself as “A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth.”  Of course, that’s sheer nonsense since it has nothing in common with “medievalism.” 

Notwithstanding, it set the agenda.  I asked the question, “If such medievalism is so beautiful, why must we hate it theologically?”  Indeed, the owner of the SocietasChristianas blog had me asking similar questions.  If Church History is really God’s story of saving his people, are we justified in positing a break from the Apostles/Nicea until the Reformation?

The Medieval Protestants–I do not really know how to define these guys, even I I was one back in the day–want to posit some form of Protestantism’s continuity between today and the early and medieval church.   To their credit, they actually try.  Most Federal Calvinists say that the Reformation was the recovery of Calvinism, but aside from that assertion, they don’t argue anything.  So, my questions:

How do Medieval Protestants maintain the continuity between today and the practices of the early and Medieval Church? 

As Schaff admits, the early church engaged in liturgical practices–that in many cases would become more explicit in the medieval Church–that are out of bounds with any form of Protestantism.   Therefore, what is your link of continuity?   If you say you are connected–presumably organically, if I may reference Nevin–to the early church, yet you reject practices they considered essential, how are you then connected?

Do you have any friends?

I am not being snarky with that question.   If you are honest, you will realize that your theological worldview–I know that term is useless now, but I can’t think of a better one; I’ll use weltanschang instead–is out of bounds with the leading Calvinism today.  If you think it is in bounds, spend a semester at RTS instead.   On the other hand, the above question already noticed your discrepancies with more historical and traditional forms of Chrisitanity.   So where are you?  Of course, not having any theological or ecclesiological friends isn’t a slam against whether your theology is right or worng, but if this is the fullness of the faith, and there are only a few of you, well…

What is the Apostolic Deposit?

St Jude says the faith was once delivered to all the saints.   This is the heart of the post.   We all agree that the apostolic deposit cannot be lost.  That is where you are strongest, actually (ironically, that part of your blog also got me facing Orthodoxy).   This means that doctrines and practices from the early church should be visible today.   That’s easy to prove, regardless of whether one is Reformed, Orthodox, or Catholic.   Fair enough.  It also means the practices should be visible throughout church history.    Therefore, we should see from A.D. 100 to 1517:

  • A specifically Protestant canon.
  • A rejection of venerating Mary and the Saints.
  • Church rulership by elders defined in such a way to preclude apostolic succession and bishops.
  • Sola fide

Those are just a few.  If we don’t see those, then how do we say that these Protestant distinctives are part of the apostolic deposit?

 

 

Corpus Mysticum

Review of de Lubac. Henri Cardinal. Corpus Mysticum:  The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

De Lubac outlines the origins and evolution of the “three-fold Body of Christ,” particularly as its known by the term “corpus mysticum,” the mystical body.   It is tempting to read earlier phrases for the church—such as “the body of Christ”—back into the phrase “mystical body,” and define it that way.  De Lubac warns against that move, since either the phrase “mystical body” (hereafter MB) is either rare in the Fathers or is not used in the later medieval sense.  The threefold body is the Eucharist, the Church, and the historical body born of the Virgin Mary.

The problem with MB is its ambiguity.  Pre-9th century writers used it as a helpful way to bring together many of the nuances in Eucharistic theology (de Lubac 79).  However, intellectual moves would harden these nuances, place them in opposition with one another, and eventually see a body, or bodies of Christ, different from the one given to us in the Eucharist (162). 

The Dialectic Breaks Down

Besides the relative scarcity of the term (MB) in the Fathers and early Middle Ages, it could still work as a Eucharistic term provided it was carefully defined.   The problem arose when later theologians read current meanings back into the term.  When that happened, the ambiguities in MB hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions broke the synthesis.   De Lubac notes in the older sense of the word (mystery, mystical), the word conveys an action (49).   The Eucharist brings unity to the church.  This is contrasted with later developments:  given the truth of Eucharistic realism (which no one would deny), the problem of “real presence” substituted itself for the real action accomplished in the Eucharist (164).  No longer was the Eucharist seen as bringing unity to the church and uniting us to Christ, but it was seen as something for itself.

Why did Eucharist Realism bring about this problem?  In one sense it did not.  Rather, the nature of the terms were newly redefined, and this redefinition forced other equally valid definitions pertaining to the Eucharist into opposition with one another.  As a result, theologians found themselves forced to choose between St Augustine and St Ambrose (and the rest of the Greek Church).   The later medievals—just like today’s modernists—saw “real” as necessarily opposed to “mystery.”   But for the ancients, mystery simply meant “conveyed an act” (49) and revealed the secrets of heaven (41). It did not mean “not-physical” or “not-real,” thus it did not see itself opposed to realism.   However, men like Berengar and Ratramnus forced this opposition onto Augustinian texts.   Their opponents, while rightly challenging their false doctrine, did not challenge the starting points of their presuppositions.

But what of the ancients that did speak of a “spiritual” body?  Much like the word “mystical,” spiritual simply denoted supernatural or miraculous (141).

The End Result

The ambiguities hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions hardened into dialectics.    Ancients saw the Eucharist as how the church was brought together into Christ.  There could be no separation between the Eucharist, the Church, and the Historical Body for the ancients.  But for the later medieval, per de Lubac’s gloss, it was hard to see how the separation would not have happened.

Conclusion

The book is a landmark book.  It is a fresh discovery of older Patristic readings that were squeezed out by later Scholastic controversies.  While much of de Lubac’s insight into Vatican II proved disastrous for the Catholic Church, one cannot fault his energy and passion for resurrecting the Greek fathers and early Latins, and giving them an equal place at the table.  (A valuable project would be to investigate why de Lubac’s patristic project destroyed much of Vatican II liturgy afterwards, yet the Eastern Churches, using the same fathers, did not face that difficulty, at least not as acutely).

The book is not perfect, though.  Like many of de Lubac’s books, the reader is usually unsure of de Lubac’s point.  De Lubac rarely defines his thesis in clear terms, or if he does, it is only in passing.   The book could have been one hundred pages shorter and much clearer had he removed a lot of extraneous material and sharpened his thesis.  Secondly, and per the above point, it seems de Lubac’s method is to quote as many ancient texts as possible while avoiding integrating them into his argument.  One feels like one is often reading a junior high term paper:  the relevant sources are there, but it is difficult to see how they advance the argument.   Other than that major problem, this book deserves a wide dissemination.

The King’s Two Bodies

Review of The King’s Two Bodies

Ernst Kantorowicz analyzes the development in later medieval political thought by isolating one aspect of it:  the King’s Two Bodies.   By this phrase he means the conjunction of the king’s own natural body with that of the “body politic” (9).   It is not entirely clear exactly what “body politic” denotes, and Kantorowicz’s ambiguity is deliberate:  the phrase shifted in meaning throughout the Middle Ages.   It is Kantorowicz’s further claim that this shift in meaning had theological roots.

Kantorowicz argues, somewhat counter-intuitively, that “The King’s Two Bodies” is a monophysite construction—while purporting to be an analogy between the King and the divine, it actually takes the form of a heretical Christology (14-15; see also p.18).   The charge of monophysitism is somewhat difficult to follow, but Kantorowicz claims it resulted from the indifference (and inability) to properly distinguish the body of the mortal king from the body of his realm (p. 18).    As is evident, the medieval jurists were seeking to imitate their constructions of kingship from Christological truths.   That is nothing new, nor is there anything wrong with it.  The Eastern Romans already were doing that for hundreds of years.   The problem arose when other theological currents changed the way the Church in the West did Christology, and thus changed the way it did politics.

In the early middle ages Western Europe was similar to the Eastern Romans in terms of using Christology to shape kingship.  Both civilizations shared a common faith and used that common faith to understand politics.   They saw the King as imitator of Christ (47).  It should be noted, however, that the Eastern Romans did not use the phrase “King’s Two Bodies” as extensively (at all?) as the West did.  While the phrase wasn’t heretical, per se, it was always attended by many possible dangers.  In either case, both sides saw the King as the representative, not of God the Father, but of Christ.  This reflects the ancient reading of the Old Testament as a revelation of God the Son.   A moment’s meditation on this point will make it obvious:  political theologies are almost always based on the Old Testament simply because it deals with politics more than does the New Testament.  Therefore, one’s reading of the Old Testament will shape the way one does political theology.

The West’s grammar changed, though.   Previously, kingship was done in the context of liturgy.  The King represented Christ’s rule in a mystical way.  He was anointed with oil for the sake of the realm.   He was, in short, an ikon of popular piety.

The watershed mark demonstrating the transition best is the reign of Otto II, and the best way to illustrate this difference is in the ikonography surrounding Otto.  Otto is important for he represents the intersection between the Byzantine East and Frankish West, including the best and worst elements of both.   Kantorowicz contrasts two ikonographic paintings which portray rulers:  the Aachen miniature over against the Reichenau painting of Otto.   The former portrays the Charlemagnic king as the representative of God the Father whereas the Reichenau painting places Otto in the foreground of a Byzantine halo, suggesting he represents Christ (77).

The above is an important point and I suspect the larger part of it is lost upon Kantorowicz.  This ikonography reflects a shift in theology, which probably reflects a shift in the way sacred texts are read.  It was mentioned earlier that the Old Testament was now read, no longer as a revelation of God the Son, but of God the Father.   One could probably take it a step further—it was seen as a revelation of God-in-general.

The Corpus Mysticum

In many ways it is the concept of a “Mystical Body” that contributed to the secularization of Western political thought.   One must avoid, however, overly simplistic reductions regarding the phrase.  The phrase “Mystical Body” originally connoted the interplay between the Eucharist, the body born of the Virgin Mary, and the Church itself.   While the phrase is not Pauline, if left at this stage there is no problem.   As Kantorowicz, drawing upon the work of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, notes, the distinctions between the two bodies hardened into oppositions.   Therefore, the body of Christ per the Church was separated from the body of Christ the Son of God.  While small at first, this opened the door for a secularization of concepts.

The King as Corporation

One suspects that the idea of the “corporation” arrived in the West coterminous with the sharpening of the “King’s Two Bodies.”  Indeed, even if not chronologically accurate, it is logically consistent.  Jurists were puzzled over the problem of whether the king’s other body—his realm—died when he died.  The short answer to this problem was that the king’s other body did not die.  The people were in-corporated into this body and outlived the king.  The canon lawyers coined a phrase for this:  dignitas non moritur—the dignity does not die.

One cannot avoid noticing throughout this work, and if the argument holds then throughout Western history, a progression of concepts regarding political theology.    Like its Byzantine cousin, Western political theology began with liturgical roots (59).  After the Ottonian period, these liturgical roots were translated into secular terms (115).  Therefore, when the King is called a “corpus mysticum,” this cannot be interpreted in early liturgical Christian categories.  Rather, it can only reflect the ongoing secularization.   Because of the hardening of “the King’s two bodies,” jurists had to account for the fact that the second body, the realm, did not die[i], and they could only do this by introducing the idea of the corporation.  Therefore, one can trace the movement of Western political theology along the following line:

Liturgical Kingship à Law-based Kingship à Corporate Kingship à Corporation à The State

Conclusion

This book is a genealogy of political theology.  It traces the rhythm of Western politics through the lens of a highly disputed phrase.   Further, it traces the nuances later attributed to that phrase, and the earth-shattering consequences.  Our only regret is that this was the only book of its kind that Kantorowicz had written.

There are some difficulties with the book, though.   Kantorowicz does not always identify his main point in each chapter, or he might wait until some random moment in the middle of the chapter before he informs the reader of his argument.   Further, there are some portions of the book which do not seem relevant at all (e.g., his extended discussion on medieval English fiscal rights).   On top of all of this is the rather dense style in which he wrote, coupled with the numerous (usually un-translated) sentences and paragraphs in Latin.  One suspects that many of these phrases are indeed central to his main argument, but if one’s grasp of Latin is not on a post-graduate level, the argument will be lost on the reader.

EXCURSUS ON MONARCHICAL POLITICAL THEOLOGY

Thirdly, one suspects that a key point in Kantorowicz’s central thesis is likely lost on the average reader, for Kantorowicz mentions it in passing.  He notes that the phrase “The King’s Two Bodies” has Monophysite tendencies (e.g., the heresy that Christ has only one nature, which is akin to a divino-human hybrid).   For those schooled in church history, this appears counter-intuitive.   “Two Bodies” seems to suggest “two persons,” which is Nestorianism (which is indeed the route many thinkers to the phrase when they referred to the ‘twin-personed’ king).   Further, Western Christologies often have Nestorian tendencies; therefore, it seems odd that a culture operating on a Nestorian Christological structure would employ a Monophysite structure in its political theology.    On the other hand, this might not be too odd.   One should recall St John of Damascus’ dictum that all heresies deconstruct on the same point:  they confuse person and nature.

Regardless, Kantorowicz rightly notes the connection between theological heresy and political theory.   One is reminded, again, of another Patristic father on this matter, St Gregory of Nazianzus.  In his Third Theological Oration St Gregory notes the three opinions about God: monarchy, polyarchy, and anarchy.  St Gregory notes the latter two opinions deconstruct to the same end—chaos.   This leaves monarchy as the only viable option.   English-speaking students are going to miss an important point.    The suffix arche denotes a principle of order for both social and theological ethics.   Therefore, one’s position regarding the Trinity will affect one’s position on politics.


[i] One cannot help by notice the Nestorianism here:  there are two bodies that are separated from each other.  Interestingly, we see that the Monophysite structure of “The King’s Two Bodies” has deconstructed into the dialectically opposite heresy—Nestorianism.