«The Wounds and the Ascended Body: The Marks of Crucifixion in the Glorified Christ from Justin Martyr to John Calvin Peter Widdicombe Laval ...»
Then how was it, someone may inquire, that the marks of corruption were apparent in an incorruptible body ? For the continuing trace of the holes bored through the hands and side, and the marks of the wounds and punctures made by steel, affords proof of physical corruption, though the true and incontrovertible fact that Christ’s body was transformed into incorruption points to a necessary discarding of all the results of corruption, together with the corruption itself.27 But his response to the question is oblique. He asks rhetorically whether anyone who is lame will be raised with a maimed limb or foot and whether anyone who has lost their sight in this life will be raised blind. To seal his case, he quotes the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:43 : that which “is sown in weakness is raised in power”, and that which “is sown in dishonour is raised in glory”, and he concludes that there will be “no remnant of adventitious corruption left in us […]. For the human body was not made for death and corruption.”28 Clearly, then, whatever we are to make of the retention of the marks of the wounds, they are not to be seen as signs of corruption in the saviour’s body.
Cyril is at pains to dispel any erroneous conception that the marks may remain because of a lack of divine power, a point later writers would also make. In his Letter to Acacius, Cyril makes it clear that it was not that Christ was incapable of putting off the marks, “for, when he rose from the dead, he put off corruption and with it all that is from it.”29 But how then to explain the continuing presence of the marks in the ascended body ? What is their significance ? In both the Commentary and the Letter to Acacius, this is Cyril’s principal concern.
There are several points to Cyril’s explanation. His introduction to the discussion
in the Letter to Acacius is remarkable and deserves to be quoted at length :
The only begotten Word of God ascended into the heavens with his flesh united to him, and this was a new sight in the heavens. The multitude of holy angels was astounded at seeing the king of glory and the Lord of hosts (Ps. 24:7-10) in a form like us. And they said, “‘Who is this that comes from Edom,’ that is from the earth, ‘in crimson garments, from Bosor ?’” (Is. 63:1). But Bosor is interpreted flesh or anguish and affliction. Then the angels asked this, “What are the wounds in the middle of you hands ?” And he said to them, “With these was I wounded in the house of my beloved” (Zech. 13:6).30 The angels in Cyril’s account, as in Justin’s and Gregory’s, are astonished at seeing the divine Word, the king of glory and Lord of hosts, in human form. But more
27. Ibid., p. 146.28. Ibid., p. 146-147.29. Letter to Acacius 18 (ACO 1.1.4, p. 46).30. Ibid.
than that, as their questions imply, their astonishment is all the greater because it is a human form that carries with it the signs of anguish and affliction, being, as it were, almost dyed in his own blood, as Cyril remarks in the passage in the Commentary, where he quotes Is. 63:2, “Why is your apparel red, and why are your garments like one who treads in the wine vats ?”31 More specifically, it is a human form that carries with it the marks of the wounds in his hands. But lest the angels, and perhaps we, be uncertain about the identity of the one who has appeared in such an unprecedented way, Cyril (in the Commentary) has Christ take the initiative to ensure that the ascended figure be “known to be the living God.” He maintains that in reply to the question “Who is this that comes from Edom,” the ascended Christ first replies with the words of Is. 63:1b, “I speak righteousness,” which, according to Cyril, means that he is a lawgiver and thus is divine.32 This story of the heavenly appearance of the marked body, is, for Cyril, replete with theological significance. The first point he makes, but does not dwell on, concerns Israel’s place in the divine economy. In the Commentary, Cyril maintains that the statement, “With these was I wounded in the house of my beloved” (Zech. 13:6), signifies that it was Israel, acting through the Roman soldiers, that inflicted the wounds upon Christ ;33 and in the Letter he explains that Israel has been displaced in the angels’ friendship.34 Of more importance to Cyril, however, is what Christ’s ascending with the marks intact means positively for humankind, and this has all to do with the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Paraphrasing Ephesians 3:10 and 11 in the Commentary — he quotes the same verses in the Letter without remark — he maintains that Christ ascended in the body marked by the wounds in order to make known “the meaning of the mysteries concerning himself to the rulers, principalities and powers above, and to those who commanded the legions of angels, he appeared to them also in the same guise that they might believe that the Word that was from the Father, and in the Father, truly became man for our sake, and that they might know that such was his care for his creatures that he died for our salvation.”35 Several lines farther on in the text, Cyril takes this up again. There he says that Christ, not being content simply to quote the verse from Zechariah to the angels, showed them his wounds, in order to satisfy them of three things : “that he truly became man, and that he underwent the cross for us, and that he was raised again to life from the dead.”36 The divine one, equal to the Father, who went down, has suffered and died as a man in the body and that very same man in the very same body, replete with the evidence of his death for humankind, has gone up.
31. In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 147.
32. Ibid., p. 147-148.
33. Ibid., p. 148. In the light of his use of this verse from Zech., it seems odd that Cyril makes nothing in the Commentary of the quotation of Zech. 12:10, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced,” in Jn. 19:37, a verse that Augustine, Bede, and Thomas refer to in their discussions of the ascended body.
34. Letter to Acacius 18 (ACO 1.1.4, p. 46).
35. In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 147.
36. Ibid., p. 148.
THE WOUNDS AND THE ASCENDED BODYIn terms typical of Cyril, then, the retention of the marks of the wounds tells us everything we need to know about God and salvation : they tell us that the Son is divine, that he became incarnate for our sake, and, that we might know the extent of his care for us : they tell us of his death for our salvation, specifically, death on a cross, and of his resurrection from death to life. The marks of the wounds are of a piece with the history of salvation, indeed, are integral to it. This seemingly is underscored by the notion that the “mystery concerning himself” needs to be made known to all the heavenly powers. The initial astonishment and implied incomprehension of the heavenly hosts suggests that what has taken place represents a stunning transformation of reality, both earthly and heavenly, made all the more remarkable, not only because a body ascended into heaven, but also because it is a wounded and bloody body. We see here, by implication at least, that the effects of the ascension of Christ’s body are comprehensive and that the wounds have eternal significance. Would it be too fanciful to conclude that for Cyril, the lawgiver, the “Lord by nature and ruler over all”37, is also the one who eternally manifests the signs of his human nature and his death for humankind, eternally manifests the holiness and graciousness, the judgment and mercy, the expression of love, that are entailed in that death ? This may be to go too far in our reading of the passage, but, as we shall see, these are themes which will be made much of by later writers.
There are two more points concerning Cyril’s view of the ascended body that it will be helpful for us to note and which go some way to supporting my suggestion that Cyril thinks of the wounds as having comprehensive, eternal significance (although in the context of the discussion of neither point does he mention the retention of the marks). The first is that he appears to have believed that Christ retains his ascended body permanently, or at least until the parousia. In his Answers to Tiberius and his Companions of 431-433, in the course of explaining that just as the Word did not change his nature into flesh in the incarnation, it is nonsensical to say that Christ’s body has become “merged or consubstantial with the nature of the holy Trinity,” Cyril remarks that at the second coming, Christ will come in the flesh.38 The second point is that through the body of the risen Christ we have access to the Father.
He states this in the Commentary on John in the midst of his exegesis of Jn. 14:2-3, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you ? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.” Although he does not refer to the wounds, he does remark on the astonishment of the angels at seeing flesh ascended. He writes that “heaven was then utterly inaccessible to mortal man, and no flesh as yet had ever walked upon that pure and all-holy realm of the angels ; but Christ was the first who inaugurated for us the means of access to himself, and granted to flesh an entrance way into heaven.” A few lines later he adds that Christ, “in his absolute power as Son, while still in human form” obeys “the
37. Ibid., p. 151.
38. Cyril of Alexandria : Select Letters, ed. and trans. L. Wickham, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1983, p. 156-158.
PETER WIDDICOMBEcommand : ‘Sit on my right hand’ (Ps. 110:1 ; Heb. 1:13), and so may transfer the glory of adoption through himself to the whole race […]. He has presented himself therefore as man to the Father on our behalf” so that we might be made by the Son once again to stand “as in the Father’s presence.”39 In the light of the central place we have seen that he gives to the retention of the marks later in the Commentary and in the Letter, it may well be that he thought of the wounds as integral to our gaining access to the Father. Both Bede and Aquinas later would reach just such a conclusion.
The evidence for Augustine’s attitude to our topic is not a clear-cut as it is for Cyril’s, but he appears to have believed that the ascended body retained the wounds.
He does not take up the question explicitly and we shall have to get at the question indirectly. (Neither he nor the later writers I shall comment on sketch the scene of the heavenly drama of Christ’s arrival in heaven as the earlier writers had done.) Typically, when commenting on the wounds of Christ, he remarks that while Christ could have removed the marks of the wounds, he did not in order that the wound in our minds (hearts), by which he means sin, might be healed, which at least implies that the ascended body continues to bear the marks.40 And in the City of God Bk XXII.12, he observes that if Christians maintain that the resurrected bodies of human beings will be without deformity and defects, their opponents can point to marks of Christ’s wounds, inasmuch as Christians claim that “Christ rose from the dead with those marks upon him.”41 But there is, for our purposes, a more telling context in which Augustine refers to the wounds. In my comments here, I am in part following the argument of Thomas Breidenthal.42 Breidenthal argues that in his later writings at least Augustine considered the humanity of Christ to be permanent.43 Christ retains his body up to and beyond the last judgment in the post-judgment period, it having been transfigured into the Church. Breidenthal’s concern is to show that Augustine’s Christology is a neighbour Christology. Christ judges us not only as the one who as divine judges with authority, but also as the one who, in retaining his human nature, judges as one who is in solidarity with us. We can, however, take Breidenthal’s argument a step further. Twice in the Tractates on the Gospel of John, Augustine alludes to the wounds in the context of discussing the last judgment. In Tractate XXXVI.12, Augustine writes that the Son will judge “in the form in which he suffered, and rose again, and ascended into heaven,” quoting Acts 1:11, “He shall come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,” in support of his claim.44 In both this and the parallel