«The Wounds and the Ascended Body: The Marks of Crucifixion in the Glorified Christ from Justin Martyr to John Calvin Peter Widdicombe Laval ...»
59. Ibid., p. 32-35.
60. Ibid., p. 35.
61. Ibid. Not surprisingly, there were variations on how the marks and the ascended body were viewed in the medieval period. MECHTHILD OF MAGDEBURG, for instance, writing in 1250-1270 in The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. F. Tobin, The Classics of Western Spirituality, New York, Paulist Press, 1998, p. 71-72, maintains that Christ’s wounds will remain unhealed, “ready to prevail over the Father’s justice”, until after the last judgment, at which time, although the wounds will be healed, the scars will remain, “bright red — love’s colour”, and never fade.
62. Summa Theologiae, vol. 55, p. 19-27.
THE WOUNDS AND THE ASCENDED BODYFor the most part, Luther’s references to the marks of the wounds are brief and his interest in them principally has to do with his attempt to show that the ascension does not mean that Christ cannot be bodily present in the Eucharist. But in one passage at least — in A Meditation on Christ’s Passion of 1519 — where he does discuss the issue of the marks and the ascended body, he maintains that the marks are not to be seen on the ascended body. It is the absence of the marks, not their presence, which is of importance in understanding his spiritual psychology. In contrast to the earlier writers we have considered, the focus for Luther lies squarely on the question of the believer’s subjective spiritual condition. In A Meditation on Christ’s Passion, he criticises what he perceives to be the unacceptable consequences of popular, theologically ill-ordered devotion to the passion of Christ : a superstitious belief that “carrying pictures and booklets, letters and crosses” on one’s person will protect one from “all sorts of perils” ; and an absorption in the contemplation of scenes from the passion so intense that devotees never get beyond a sentimental response to it.63 The passion, rather, is to stir us to a correct understanding of ourselves through the creation of a despairing conscience, in order that we might come through grace (and only through grace) to recognize the severity of our sin and thus to a softening of our hearts. Properly contemplated, the “passion of Christ performs its natural and noble work, strangling the old Adam and banishing all joy, delight, and confidence which man could derive from other creatures, even as Christ was forsaken by all, even God.”64 But Luther goes on to warn that contrition and penance are not enough in themselves to bring about one’s salvation, for in the end they will lead to despair. The key to finding peace of mind is the resurrected body of Christ. We are to cast our sins from ourselves onto Christ, in the firm belief that his wounds and sufferings are our sins, borne and paid for by him. If, then, we see sin “resting on Christ and [see it] overcome by his resurrection, and then boldly believe this, even it is dead and nullified. Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection. Now you see no wounds, no pain in him, and no sign of sin.”65 He goes on to enjoin the believer to pass beyond the suffering of Christ to “see his friendly heart,” a heart which beats with a love that draws us to the Father’s heart and the knowledge of the Father’s eternal love for us. This knowledge will lead to faith and confidence and to our being born anew in God.66 Calvin’s interest in the wounds and the ascension is even more scant than Luther’s, but he gives us little indication of why this is. He dismisses the idea that the ascended body retains the marks in a few sentences in his Commentary on the Gospel of John. Commenting on Jn. 20:20, “He showed them his hands and his side,” he begins by asking whether it is “strange and inconsistent with the glory of Christ, that
63. A Meditation on Christ’s Passion, trans. M. Bertram, in M. DIETRICH, ed., Devotional Writings I, Philadelphia, Fortress Press (coll. “Luther’s Works”, 42), 1969, p. 7-8.
64. Ibid., p. 11.
65. Ibid., p. 12.
66. Ibid., p. 13. In the light of this understanding of the our relation to God, we are then able to take Christ’s passion as a pattern for our lives because we will enter actively into it and not think of it as something that mechanically works for us while we remain passive.
PETER WIDDICOMBEhe should bear the marks of the wounds after his resurrection,” and he concludes it is not, as the wounds serve to confirm belief in the resurrection and anything which contributes to our salvation augurs to the glory of Christ. He goes on to make it clear, however, that “if any person should infer from this, that Christ still has the wounded side and pierced hands, that would be absurd ; for it is certain that the use of the wounds was temporary, until the apostles were fully convinced that he was risen from the dead.”67 This is all he has to say on the subject in the Commentary, no explanation is given, and the passage seems to be the only place in his writings where he addresses the subject. In the course of his discussion of the resurrection of the body in the Institutes, however, he does give us an oblique indication of why he may have held such an attitude concerning the marks. It appears to have to do with his notion of perfection and the basis for our having confidence in the reality of the resurrection.
He does not mention the marks in the passage, but, quoting Psalm 16:10, “Thou wilt not allow thy meek one to see corruption”, he remarks that “Christ alone, who is immune from all corruption, received back a perfect body,” to which perfection, he makes it clear, we may be confident our bodies also will be conformed on the day of judgment.68 Here we have the suggestion that the removal of the wounds is a sign of the triumph of the power of God over sin and the imperfection within creation to which it has led, and that it is in this power that one is to trust, rather than in the mercy and love of God evidenced by the enduring reality of the marks, as it was for the earlier writers in the tradition. Although he rails elsewhere in the Institutes against Severus’ view that the ascended body of Christ was swallowed up in his divinity,69 that body for Calvin nonetheless is a body devoid of the marks of what he must have regarded as the principle raison d’être for the taking on of that body.
That the Reformers may have rejected the notion of the permanence of the wounds, did not, of course, mean that the wounds did not continue to play a role in Protestant piety and art. Such a painting as Lucas Cranach the Younger’s The Crucifixion (Allegory of Redemption) of 1555 (Stadtkirche of Saints Peter and Paul, Weimar, Germany), although its subject is the crucifixion, and not the ascended body, clearly suggests that the wounds, properly theologically construed, have an on-going significance for the believer. The artist, standing at the foot of the cross, is being washed with the blood that flows from the wound in Christ’s side, while Luther, who stands beside him, points to passages in his own German translation of the Bible ;
and, although the lesson of the painting is that the word of God, received in faith, is sufficient to redeem us, the painting suggests that the wounds remain of contemporary importance for the Church. In another genre, Buxtehude’s beautiful passionCommentary on the Gospel According to John, vol. 2, p. 265. There may have been precedents for this view. AQUINAS, for instance, in the Summa 54, 4, implies that John of Damascus believed that the marks of the wounds were dispensed with once their purpose of establishing the identity of the body had been accomplished. In the passage of De Fide Orthodoxa IV.18 (PG 94, 1189) on which Aquinas is drawing, however, JOHN OF DAMASCUS does not in fact say that.
68. Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, ed. J. NEILL and trans. F. Battles, Philadelphia, The Westminster Press (coll. “The Library of Christian Classics”, XXI), 1960, Bk III.25.3, p. 990-991.
69. See, for instance, Institutes, vol. 2, Bk IV.17.29, p. 1398-1399.