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«The Wounds and the Ascended Body: The Marks of Crucifixion in the Glorified Christ from Justin Martyr to John Calvin Peter Widdicombe Laval ...»

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and 3), and inglorious, not recognizing him, they inquired “Who is this king of glory ?” And the Holy Spirit […] answers them, “the Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory.”8 This notion of the heavenly host failing to recognize Christ because of the incongruity between the condition of his ascended body and what they seemingly had expected to see is a theme we shall see in later writings.9 Irenaeus, the early Christian writer who gave most attention to the resurrection and ascension of Christ, also refers to Psalm 24.7-10, in Demonstration 84, and remarks on the incredulity of the angels on the ramparts, implying that it was occasioned by Christ’s ascending in the flesh, but he does not make reference to the condition of the body generally or to the wounds.10 In the Alexandrian tradition prior to Cyril, the wounds are only rarely commented on. Origen seldom refers to either Jn. 20:24-29 or Lk. 24:36-43 and makes nothing of the wounds when he does ; neither does he refer to Psalm 24:7-10.11 Similarly, Athanasius seldom refers to either of the two Gospel passages. His only use of them that is of significance for our theme occurs in the Letter to Epictetus, where he employs them to bolster his attempt, on the one hand, to refute the claim that the Word was changed into flesh and bones, and on the other hand, to argue both that Christ had assumed a whole human being, body and soul, and that the body was a real body.12 He quotes Psalm 24:7, in De Incarnatione 25, to make the point that, inasmuch as he was Lord, it was not the Word who needed the gates opened to him, but rather it is we “whom he carried up in his own body” who need to have them opened.13 This notion of a path being beaten for us14 we shall see again with Cyril. Athanasius does not comment on the condition of the ascended body.

Gregory of Nazianzus, by contrast with the earlier figures, does discuss the question of the wounds and the ascended body. His comments are brief but they anticipate some of what we shall find at much greater length with Cyril. In his Second Oration on Easter, in the course of an exhortation to the believer to ascend into heaven with Christ, Gregory remarks that the angels had to be convinced that the one bearing a body and “the marks of his passion” is the one who had gone down from heaven.

Accordingly, as Justin had done, he portrays the angels as quoting Psalm 24:8 and 10,

8. E. GOODSPEED, ed., Die ältesten Apologeten, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1914 (re-impression, 1984), p. 132-133. In Dialogue 85.1, Justin again quotes Ps. 24:10 and once again remarks on the ascended Christ’s “uncomely and inglorious appearance” (Die ältesten Apologeten, p. 196-197).

9. Clearly, by the time of the development of the legend with which I began (assuming it to be medieval), the heavenly host’s expectations had changed : the wounds were what allowed the ascended figure to be identified as Christ.

10. Démonstration de la prédication apostolique, trans. Adelin Rousseau, Paris, Cerf (coll. « Sources Chrétiennes », 406), 1995, p. 197-198.

11. It is uncertain whether Origen believed that Christ ascended bodily. See the discussion in FARROW, Ascension and Ecclesia, p. 97-98, and further, Peter WIDDICOMBE, “Ascension and Ecclesia and Reading the Fathers”, Laval théologique et philosophique, 58 (2002), p. 169-170.

12. Epistola ad Epictetum 9-10, PG 26, 1064-1068.

13. Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, Oxford Early Christian Texts, ed. and trans. Robert THOMSON, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 197.

14. A phrase used by O’DONOVAN, On the Thirty Nine Articles, p. 37.


“Who is the king of glory ?”, but he goes on to say more than Justin had. To those who marvel at such an appearance and say words like those of Is. 63:1-2, a passage which would also be quoted by Cyril, “Who is this that comes from Edom and the things of earth ? Or how are the garments of him red who is without blood or body, as one that treads in the full wine press ?”, he advises that one should “Set forth the beauty of the array of that body that suffered, adorned by the passion, and made splendid by the godhead, than which nothing can be more lovely or more beautiful.”15 But beyond this Gregory does not develop the topic of the wounds ; and he leaves unexplained how the body is “made splendid by the godhead” and of what the splendour consists. Later writers, as we shall see, were cognisant of the problem of how to reconcile the idea of an incorruptible body with the idea of the retention of marks of wounds inasmuch as they considered such marks to be an indication of corruption.

Aquinas would discuss the problem in terms of degrees of glory.

With Cyril, we encounter a different order of reflection on the question. For him whether the glorified body retains the marks of the wounds is of great theological significance : it has direct implications for how we are to think about what it is that God has done for us in the sending of the Son and how we are to understand the process of redemption. His principle discussion of the question occurs in the Commentary on John, written about 428, at the point where he is commenting on Jn. 20:24-29. The passage runs for 12 pages in the Greek text.16 He remarks in the midst of the passage that one might well be amazed at the minuteness of detail recorded in the text of Jn. 20:24-29 and he gives it commensurate attention.17 He also briefly refers to the wounds and the ascended body again, in similar terms, in his Letter to Acacius, Bishop of Scythopolis, which dates from between 433 and 435.

The reference there comes in the course of a Christological interpretation of the phrase from Leviticus 16:5, “and he shall take two male goats.”18 What Cyril has to say in the Commentary on John is complex and, in contrast to Gregory’s discussion, theologically refined. The burden of Cyril’s analysis of the retention of the marks of the wounds is twofold : to establish that the resurrection of the body of Christ actually took place, and thus that our bodies too will be raised ; and to show that the divine

15. Discourse 45.25, PG 36, 637.

16. Sancta Patris nostri Cyrilli achiepiscopi Alexandrini in D. Ionnis Evangelium. Accendunt fragmenta varia necnon tractatus ad Tiberium Diaconum duo (hereafter, In Joannem), vol. 3, ed. P. Pusey, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1872, p. 141-153. He briefly alludes to the matter in another passage of the commentary (In Joannem, vol. 2, p. 403-404), which I shall return to below.

17. I shall here only take up the points that are germane to the topic, but I note in passing one other of the topics he discusses : how we are to regard the disciple Thomas. Cyril gives an enormously sympathetic reading to the doubting figure, whom he describes as “wise” (In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 141). He comments not only that Thomas’ doubt was for the sake of those who would come later, but also that given the extraordinary nature of the event, it was perfectly understandable that he should raise questions about it (In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 149). Calvin’s attitude to Thomas, on the other hand, stands in marked contrast to Cyril’s. Thomas’ doubt demonstrated to the Reformer that Thomas was “not only obstinate, but also proud and contemptuous in his treatment of Christ” (Commentary on the Gospel According to John, vol. 2, trans.

W. Pringle, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1979, p. 275). Thomas, it would appear, had failed to appreciate the doctrine of justification by faith.

18. Epistula ad Acacium Scythopolitanum 18, Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum 1.1.4, ed. E. Schwarz, Berlin and Leipzig, De Gruyter, 1927-1929, p. 46.


economy of salvation can be known to have been effected through the whole history of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son.

I shall begin with Cyril’s discussion of the marks and the resurrected body, and then turn to his discussion of the ascended body. The appearance of the marks of the wounds in the resurrected body of Christ are, for Cyril, evidence specifically of two things : the identity of the body — the body which appeared to the disciples is the same one that hung on the cross ; and the physicality of the body — however it was to be conceived, what the disciples saw before them was a real body. On the identity of the body, Cyril states several times in the passage that the body that was raised was the self-same body that was crucified and died. Thomas’ lack of faith, he remarks, was well timed, because through it, we “might be unshaken in our faith that the very body that hung upon the cross and suffered death was quickened by the Father through the Son”19 ; and, to cite another example, farther on in the passage, he remarks that it was “no other body” that “was raised but that which suffered death.”20 As to the reality of the body as a body, Cyril explains that Christ, as he appeared in the midst of the disciples, “was no phantom or ghost, fashioned in human shape, and simulating the features of humanity, nor yet as others have foolishly surmised, a spiritual body that is compounded of a subtle and ethereal substance different from the flesh. For some attach this meaning to the expression ‘spiritual body.’”21 This last point, the meaning of “spiritual body”, is a topic to which he returns later in the passage.22 The importance of establishing that Christ’s body was an actual body is that it shows that that which is subject to death, namely the flesh, was in fact brought back to life, and, accordingly, it shows that our bodies too can be brought back to life.23 It is, he says, with respect to our “earthly bodies” that the resurrection must be effected.24 He goes on to observe that it was necessary for the marks to be manifest in order that there should be no excuse for us to be lacking in faith. Accordingly, Thomas had to see the risen Christ as he sought to see him, that is, with the marks of the wounds.25 The reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection is confirmed for Cyril by the Eucharist. When we, like the disciples, meet on the eighth day, we meet Christ not only invisibly as God, but also visibly in the body : “He allows us to touch his holy flesh, and gives us of it. For through the grace of God we are admitted to partake of the blessed Eucharist, receiving Christ into our hands, in order that we may firmly believe that he truly raised up the temple of his body.”26 Cyril clearly then has no doubts that the resurrected body of Christ is a real body showing real marks of the wounds, but he acknowledges, as Gregory had not, that

19. In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 142.

20. Ibid., p. 144.

21. Ibid., p. 142-143.

22. Ibid., p. 150.

23. Cyril does not here address the question of whether Christ’s body had a human soul ; he had already stated that it had in his exegesis of Jn. 1:14 (In Joannem, vol. 1, p. 138).

24. In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 142.

25. Ibid., p. 147.

26. Ibid., p. 143.


this presents us with a problem, inasmuch as Christ’s body is an incorruptible body and such marks are indicative of corruption. This is a problem Augustine and Bede and Aquinas would also address. Quite what Cyril means by incorruption he does not explain ; he is content simply to affirm the reality of both the marks and the incorruptibility of Christ’s body. He tells his readers that we ought to ask the following

question :

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