«The Wounds and the Ascended Body: The Marks of Crucifixion in the Glorified Christ from Justin Martyr to John Calvin Peter Widdicombe Laval ...»
39. In Joannem, vol. 3, p. 403-404. Here we see a theologically elaborate account of the “beaten path” motif that what we saw earlier in Athanasius.
40. For instance, in Sermon 88.2 (PL 38, 540) and Tractates on the Gospel of John CXXI.4 (CC 36, p. 667).
41. CC 48, p. 832.
42. In “Jesus is My Neighbour : Arendt, Augustine, and the Politics of Incarnation”, Modern Theology, 14 (1998), p. 489-504.
43. See BREIDENTHAL, “Jesus is My Neighbour”, p. 496 for a brief summary of the question of whether Augustine believed Christ retained his body eternally and for references to the history of the scholarship on the matter.
44. CC 36, p. 331.
THE WOUNDS AND THE ASCENDED BODY
Before turning to the medieval writers, however, I shall pause to look briefly at how the wounds and the glorified body are rendered in the representational tradition.
In the early history of Christian art, the treatment of the wounds and the ascended body is rather different from what we have seen in the writings of the Fathers. Indeed, the passion and the wounds are given little attention. In the first known depiction of the crucifixion and resurrection in a narrative context,46 in a set of four small Roman ivory panels, dating between 420 and 430, although a figure, presumably Thomas, points to the side of Christ, who appears to be either closing or opening his robe, it is unclear whether the wounds themselves are depicted ; but if they are, they are not as prominent as they would be in later representations.47 In the great mosaic of the Second Coming in the apse of the Church of Sts Cosmas and Damian in Rome, which dates from the 530s,48 there are no signs of Christ’s suffering and this is typical of the
45. CC 36, p. 199.
46. Felicity HARLEY, “Invocation and Immolation : The Supplicatory Use of Christ’s Name on Crucifixion Amulets of the Early Christian Period”, in Pauline ALLEN, Wendy MAYER and Lawrence CROSS, ed., Prayer and Spirituality in the Early Church, vol. 2, Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University, Everton Park, Queensland, Australia, 1999, p. 245-257, argues that the representation of the crucifixion on at least three gems predates the ivory panels. A particularly clear set of illustrations of the ivory plaques, which are housed in the British Museum (M & LA 56, 6-23, 4-7), is to be found in G. FINALDI, ed., The Image of Christ, ex. cat., National Gallery, London, 2000, p. 108-111. A discussion of the question of why the crucifixion appeared so relatively late in the artistic expression of the early church lies beyond the scope of this article, but what my account here suggests is that there was a parallel phenomenon for the wounds and the ascended body : the visual representation of the marks on the ascended body developed some time after the subject became a topic of theological importance. For a history of the
depiction of the resurrection from its beginnings to the eleventh century, see Anna KARTSONIS, Anastasis :
The Making of an Image, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1986. See also, Robin JENSEN, “The Suffering and the Dead Christ in Early Christian Art”, ARTS, 8 (1995), p. 22-28.
47. In a private correspondence, Felicity Harley, who has studied the Crucifixion panel, has commented to me that it can be said with confidence that the wound in Christ’s side is clearly rendered in the Crucifixion panel. Whether it is to be seen in the Resurrection panel and whether a mark, now worn down, was visible in Christ’s open palm in the Resurrection panel is difficult to tell.
48. See the discussion in Neil MACGREGOR, ed., Seeing Salvation : Images of Christ in Art, London, BBC Worldwide, 2000, p. 194-198.
PETER WIDDICOMBEearly mosaics showing Christ in his ascended glory. Seemingly, it is not until the ninth century that Christ is portrayed displaying his wounds in the Last Judgment — in an illustration in the Sacra Parallela of John of Damascus49 (whose comments on the wounds we shall have occasion to touch on below). There is, of course, ample evidence of such depictions from paintings of later periods, among them Roger van der Weyden’s Last Judgment of 1443-145150, Petrus Christus’ Christ as Saviour and Judge of about 1450,51 and Juan de Valdés Leal’s Finis Gloria Mundi of 1671-1672,52 in which, variously, the wounds in Christ’s hands, his feet, and his side are prominently displayed.
To extend this survey a little further, in the medieval period elaborate devotions developed over the wounds of Christ, devotions that were independent of the specific narrative details of Christ’s life. The wounds became symbols “of Christ’s continual and gracious action in the world and of his promise to act as humanity’s advocate before the Throne of Judgment on the Last Day.”53 Such views concerning the wounds, as we shall see, were typical of the theology of period. The side wound, close to the heart, had a particular place in this. It was depicted as a refuge for sinners, a source of cleansing and feeding. A whole genre of images emerged that presented people bathing in the blood from the wound, the blood flowing into a chalice, and, occasionally, eucharistic wafers are seen to fall from the wound. The wound in the side was also referred to as a door to the Father or to eternal life.54 This idea of the wound as a point of entry we shall have occasion to note again when we look at Aquinas’ treatment of the wounds and the ascended body.55 To return to the textual tradition : the two last figures we shall consider before concluding with Calvin and Luther are Bede and Aquinas. Bede’s treatment of the question of the wounds and the ascended body, which are found in his Commentary on Luke and his Homilies on the Gospels, is especially rich. The focus of his discussion is on the ongoing salvific effects of the retention of the marks. The significance that he attributes to the retention of the marks is reminiscent of Augustine’s statement in Tractate XIX.16, but his explanation is more systematically and elaborately developed than was Augustine’s. Bede observes in a condensed passage in Homily II.9 on Lk. 24:36-47, as had Augustine and Cyril before him, that though Christ could have “shown his body to the disciples with all signs of his passion abolished”, he “preferred to keep the signs of the passion on it”, in accordance with the divine plan, and
49. KARTSONIS, Anastasis, p. 155.
50. Hôtel-Dieu, Beaune.
51. Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, INV. P.306.35.c.1979.
52. Church of San Jorge, Hospital de la Santa Caridad, Seville.
53. Susannah AVERY-QUASH, The Image of Christ, ex. cat., p. 176, referring to the statue known as Christ showing the Wound in his Side of 1420-1425, Florentine, Victoria and Albert Museum, INV. A. 43-1937.
54. AVERY-QUASH, The Image of Christ, p. 176.
55. The idea that the Church was born from the pierced side of Christ by the water and the blood is, of course, found in patristic literature. AUGUSTINE, for instance, in Contra Faustum XII.8 (CSEL 25.6.1, p. 336) writes that “Eve was born from the side of her sleeping spouse, and the Church was born from the dead Christ by the mystery of the blood that gushed forth from his side.”
THE WOUNDS AND THE ASCENDED BODY
this for several reasons.56 The first two reasons are the obvious ones we have seen before. Firstly, he kept the marks of the wounds in order that the disciples might believe that the body he showed them was the same body as the body that was crucified ; and secondly, to show that it was a real body, which would mean that the disciples could preach a belief in Christ’s complete resurrection, body as well as soul, and a hope for the future resurrection of all human beings. Thirdly, he retained the marks in order that the one who intercedes for us with the Father, “might demonstrate to him forever, by showing the scars of his wounds, how much he [Christ] laboured for human salvation”, and that he might tell the Father, who is “always prepared to show mercy, how just it would be for him to show mercy toward human beings”, of whose “sorrow and suffering the Son of God became a sharer” and “overthrew the sovereignty of death.” Fourthly, Christ retained the signs of his passion so that “all the elect who have been received into everlasting happiness […] never stop thanking him, recognizing that it is by his death that they live.” Fifthly, they were retained so that “even the damned” may see them in the “judgment, as it is written, ‘They shall see him whom they have pierced’ (Jn. 19:37), and may understand that they have been most justly condemned.” The damned, he goes on to explain, are not only those who crucified Christ, but those who have rejected and despised his “mysteries”. To this list of five reasons he adds in the Commentary on Luke that Christ preserved the wounds in order that there might be “a perpetual sign of his glorious triumph.”57 The comprehensive and enduring significance of the retention of the marks which were implied in Cyril’s discussion, and the more explicitly worked out statement of the significance of the wounds for Christ as judge in Augustine’s, are here drawn out more fully.
The marks of the wounds, for Bede, are an everlasting reminder both to the Father and to human beings, both the saved and the damned, of Christ’s compassion and the efficacy of his death, of his glorious triumph. They stand as both a promise and threat, testifying to both the mercy and the justice of God. They are a reminder that gives us access to the mercy of the Father and provokes our gratitude, but they also serve as a sign of the justness of God’s judgment on sinners. Once again, we see here with Bede, as we saw with Augustine, the notion that Christ judges us as our neighbour, as the one who knows our suffering, has shared in it, and rendered death ineffective. The enduring reality of the wounds perpetually gives us access to the Father’s mercy, to provoke thanksgiving on the part of the believer, and they allow the condemned to recognise the rightness of their punishment.
Aquinas largely relies on Bede for his explanation of why, as he puts the matter in the Summa 3a, 54, 4, it “was fitting that in the resurrection Christ’s soul” should have “taken up once more a body with wounds.”58 In Question 54, 4, he deals with the topic of the qualities of the risen Christ and there simply lists the reasons given by Bede in the Commentary on Luke, which, the point about Christ’s triumph excepted,
56. CC 122, p. 242. All the reasons are laid out on p. 242.
57. CC 100, p. 420.
58. Summa Theologiae, vol. 55, trans. C.T. Moore, London, BlackFriars, 1976, p. 33.