«The Wounds and the Ascended Body: The Marks of Crucifixion in the Glorified Christ from Justin Martyr to John Calvin Peter Widdicombe Laval ...»
"The Wounds and the Ascended Body: The Marks of Crucifixion in the Glorified Christ from
Justin Martyr to John Calvin"
Laval théologique et philosophique, vol. 59, n° 1, 2003, p. 137-154.
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AND THE ASCENDED BODY
THE MARKS OF CRUCIFIXION IN THE GLORIFIED
CHRIST FROM JUSTIN MARTYR TO JOHN CALVIN*Peter Widdicombe Department of Religious Studies McMaster University, Hamilton RÉSUMÉ : L’idée que le corps glorifié du Christ, lors de son Ascension, portait ou ne portait pas les stigmates de ses souffrances, devint une question théologique importante pour la première fois au Ve siècle, dans les écrits de Cyrille d’Alexandrie, et continua d’être discutée jusqu’à la période de la Réforme, lorsque Luther et Calvin rejetèrent d’emblée cette idée. Aux yeux des Pères de l’Église et des théologiens de l’époque médiévale, la permanence des plaies ouvertes témoignait du rapport étroit entre l’économie salvifique de Dieu à l’intérieur d’un ordre créé et l’économie éternelle. Cela soulignait la continuité de la bienveillance de Dieu et son engagement envers la création déchue. Même glorifié, le Christ de l’Ascension ne doit pas être perçu comme non humain, et les preuves de son passage sur la terre, comme être humain ayant connu la souffrance, ne doivent pas être effacées. Une humanité pécheresse et souffrante se retrouve dans le Fils, à la droite du Père, et reconnaît la compassion du Cœur divin qui continue de battre pour l’humanité sans cesse brisée. La présence durable au ciel des plaies ouvertes témoigne de l’engagement de Dieu envers l’humanité pécheresse, dans son jugement ou sa clémence ; en retour, cet engagement s’avère être le fondement de la réponse de gratitude de l’humanité.
: The question of whether the ascended and glorified body of Christ retains the marks of the wounds first became an issue of theological importance in the fifth century with the writings of Cyril of Alexandria and it continued to be developed until the Reformation, when both Luther and Calvin rejected the idea. For the patristic and medieval theologians, the enduring reality of the wounds testify to the intimate connnection between the economy of God’s salvific work within the created order and the eternal economy. It underscored God’s ongoing good intention for, and engagement with, fallen creation. However transformed in glory, the ascended Christ is not to be thought of as dehominised and the evidence of his history as the incarnate and suffering human being is not to be erased. Suffering and sinful humanity finds itself in the Son at the right hand of the Father and it can see there the evidence that the divine heart has and continues to beat with compassion for humanity in its continuing brokenness. It is the enduring presence of the marks of the wounds in heaven that testifies to the divine engagement with the sinful human condition, in both judgment and mercy, which in turn is the basis of humankind’s response of thankfulness.
* This article is based on a paper first given at the Canadian Society for Patristic Studies conference, at the Learneds, Université Laval, 29 May, 2001.
PETER WIDDICOMBET here is a legend, possibly medieval in origin, that the Devil, possessing the power to do whatever he wants, transformed himself into the image of Christ and appeared before the walls of the heavenly city. When the angels, gathered upon the ramparts, called down to asked him what he wanted, he replied “Lift up your heads O ye gates ; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors ; and the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7 and 9). At which point, the Angels called out to him to show them his hands, but when he held them up, there were no marks, and he was not admitted. The devil does not have the power to imitate the passion and death of the Saviour.1 While the idea that the ascended and glorified body of Christ retains the marks of the wounds continues to have a place in Christian art, worship, and devotion — one may think, for instance, of the Easter hymn “Crown him with many crowns” with its reference to “rich wounds yet visible above, in beauty glorified” — and, while the idea does occasionally appear in modern Christian writings2, it does not seem to have been a subject of theological concern, at least within Protestant theology, since the Reformation.3 It was, however, given considerable attention earlier in the tradition.
Cyril of Alexandria — the first to my knowledge to address the question theologically — wrote about it at length in his Commentary on John ; the Venerable Bede further drew out its theological significance in his Commentary on Luke and in his Homilies on the Gospels ; and Aquinas, relying on Bede, gave it a central place in his treatment of the resurrection in the Tertia Pars of the Summa Theologiae. Prior to the Reformation, those who wrote about the wounds and the gloried body assumed that the glorified body does retain the marks. For Cyril, Bede, and Aquinas, the question had to do with the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection, the identity of his body, the permanence of his bodily presence in heaven, and the enduring significance of his earthly suffering and death. Calvin and Luther, however, are notable departures from this tradition. Neither gave the question more than passing attention and both denied that the ascended body retains the marks.
1. I first heard the legend recounted in a sermon preached by Michael Bedford-Jones, now suffragan Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on Ascension Day 1980 at the Church of the Epiphany, Scarborough.
2. The New Catholic Encyclopedia in the entry “Wounds of Our Lord, Devotion to”, p. 1035, states that “After the Resurrection Our Lord retained the marks of His wounds as badges of triumph.” Simone WEIL, in an apparent reference to the ascended body of Christ, writes in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, New York, Harper & Row, 1951, p. 123, that the “glorified body bore the marks of the nails and spear ;” she does not, however, go on to explain what significance she thinks this has. More recently, the wounds have been written about in the light of post-modern concerns. See, for instance, Frederick BAUERSCHMIDT, “The Wounds of Christ,” Journal of Theology and Literature, 5 (1991), p. 83-100. At p. 93, he analyses the wounds in terms of absence and presence, the “openness and emptiness of the wound being an expression of divine fecundity”, but he does not take up the question of the retention of the marks. Theresa SANDERS, Body and Belief : Why the body of Christ cannot heal, Aurora, Colorado, The Davis Group, 2000, on the other hand, does. For her, the enduring “holes in Jesus’s body articulate a longing for God that is humans’ deepest knowledge of God. This longing […] is not a lack that could ever be filled but is grace itself. In our present life it is the grace that impels us outward towards others in love, and in the resurrected life it is the very space that love requires in order to be itself” (ibid., p. IV).
3. And neither, it would appear, for such modern Catholic theologians as Rahner and Balthasar, although SANDERS remarks that “for the most part, Catholics believe the wounds to be a permanent part of the risen Jesus” (Body and Belief, p. III).
THE WOUNDS AND THE ASCENDED BODY
In what follows, I shall trace the development of the question of the wounds and the glorified body in theological writings from the second to the sixteenth centuries and I shall also make reference to its representation in Christian art. The biblical passages that feature in the discussions, as we might expect, are Christ’s showings of the wounds in Jn. 20:24-29 and Lk. 24:36-43, but Psalm 24:7-10, Is. 63:1-2, and Zechariah 12:10 and 13:6 also are cited and commented on.
Two preliminary observations are in order before we turn to the substance of our study : the first is that the doctrine of the ascension proper has not been a major topic of discussion in the history of Christian thought.4 This at least in part is because the ascension has tended not to be differentiated from the resurrection and to be subsumed under it.5 It is perhaps not surprising that this should have been so : the two moments are closely related — both deal with questions of the triumph of Christ and the final nature and status of Christ’s body and ours. One of the consequences of the tendency to blend the two moments together, however, is that it is often not clear whether an author or artist is distinguishing between the two or treating them as one.
The second observation is that both events present similar difficulties of representation in both words and art. They are events that take place at the transition between the realm of time and space and that of the eternal and infinite, the realm of the being of God. Narrative and pictorial accounts are stretched to their limits.6 During the patristic period prior to Cyril of Alexandria, little attention was paid to the question of the wounds and the ascended body. The only Apologist to comment on the condition of the ascended body is Justin Martyr, but he has little to say about it ; he does not cite the showings from either Lk. or Jn. ; and he makes no explicit reference to the wounds. Justin refers briefly to Psalm 24:7-10,7 in Dialogue with Trypho 36.5-6, in the course of his attempt to prove that Christ and not Solomon is being referred to in the Hebrew Bible with the title “Lord of Hosts”. He there remarks that […] when our Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the rulers in heaven, under appointment of God, are commanded to open the gates of heaven, that he who is king of glory may enter in, and, having ascended, may sit on the right hand of the Father until he make the enemies his footstool, as has been made manifest by another Psalm. For
when the rulers of heaven saw him of “uncomely and dishonoured appearance” (Is. 53:2
4. But see now Douglas FARROW, Ascension and Ecclesia : On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999.
5. See the comments of Oliver O’DONOVAN, On the Thirty Nine Articles : A Conversation with Tudor Christianity, Exeter, The Paternoster Press, 1986, p. 34-37, where he observes that in the Gospels only Luke narrates the ascension as an event, John and Matthew hint at it allusively, and Mark has nothing to say about it. In the Pauline epistles it is most often undifferentiated from the resurrection.
6. Witnessed, for example, in the attempt to portray the ascension by showing a pair of divine feet dangling from a cloud, which I first saw in the medieval stained glass of St. Mary’s Church, Fairford, Oxfordshire.
7. For a history of the interpretation in the Bible and in patristic literature of Ps. 24:7-10, in the context of the discussion of the ascension, see J.G. DAVIES, He Ascended into Heaven : A Study in the History of Doctrine, London, Lutterworth Press, 1958.