Jaroslav Pelikan: Glimpses into medieval theology


These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300), Vol. 3. in his series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978).

As with the David Bell “glimpses” posted yesterday, I thank my t.a., Shane Moe, who transcribed these and inserted  brief contextual tags where helpful. Page numbers are at the beginning of each excerpt. The designation “Q” means I wanted to save the text as a quotation, for use in teaching and writing. “D” means a definition of a term. “Use” means I want to use an idea or statement in my teaching:

Q, 3: “The Middle Ages may be seen as the period when the primary focus of Christian thought about Christ shifted from what he was to what he did, from the person of Christ to the work of Christ.”

Q, 9: “The definition of Christian doctrine was set by the authority of tradition.”

Q, 11: “This combination of adherence to authority (auctoritas) with independent critical reflection (ratio), in widely varying proportions, was to characterize Western theology throughout the Middle Ages.”

U, 16: [Discussing 9th century and quoting Harnack, 1931] Gregory the Great, for all his repetition of Augustine, was ‘the most widely read of the Western church fathers’.

D, 17: Etymologically, the word ‘heresy’ had come from the Greek word for ‘choice’, so that the heretics were those who chose a ‘perverse dogma’ [quoting Isidore of Seville] and for its sake withdrew from the fellowship of the orthodox church.

D—what are the two central dogmas?, 19: The mysteries of the Trinity and of the person of the God-man constituted the rule of faith of the church catholic, and orthodox adherence to them determined the integrity of the catholic tradition.

Q, 41: [Discussing 7th and 8th centuries primarily] “The decrees of the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the statements of the Gospels were put on the same level.”

Use (in section on shift from early western church to RC—w/ Gregory the Great?), 50: The growing recognition that the Augustinian synthesis must be interpreted, and that perhaps it must even be transcended, provoked controversy, stimulated research, and nurtured reflection; and out of these three elements would be shaped the distinctive character of medieval theology.

Q, 129: [Discussing Bernard’s response to Abelard re: the cross] “Salvation must be more than discipline, more even than humility and love.”

Q, 133: [Discussing how the cross and crucifixion came to occupy a unique place in the life of Christ as “the one event in which the plan of salvation achieved its fulfillment”] “Among the events in the Gospels, his passion and death clearly made the decisive difference; for before it happened, not even Abraham had been able to enter heaven, while after it happened, even the thief on the cross was able to gain entry. Not even the resurrection of Christ occupied this same place in the plan. Although the passion, the resurrection, and the ascension corresponded to faith, hope, and love, it was the cross that was the instrument of the victory of Christ over the devil.”

Q, 135: [Discussing Christus Victor] According to Odo of Cluny [in his Occupation, 5.64-66, Swodoba, 96], “the One who died killed death and attacked hell.”

U (in class re: Augustine, 140): [Discussing disruption of rightness of creation in angelic fall] It was a long-established teaching, apparently based on the statement of the Septuagint (which was neither derived from Hebrew nor carried over into the Latin) that [Deut 32:8] ‘he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the angels of God’ that ‘the number of the good angels, which was diminished after the fall of the evil angels, will be completed by the number of elect human beings, a number that is known only to God.’

Q, 141: [Discussing atonement and incarnation] “Therefore, ‘because no one owed satisfaction for guilt except man and because no one could render it except a merciful God, God became man, who, because he did not owe anything in his own name, discharged our debt by dying for us’ [Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, I. 23 (Schmitt 2:91)].”

Q, 147: [Discussing soteriological salience of Trinity and dual natures] “As the Logos assuming humanity, he bestowed divine love on behalf of God; as humanity being assumed by the Logos, he accepted it on behalf of man.”

U, 150: [Discussing B. of Clairvaux on salvation] three basic purposes of the Incarnation: ‘the pattern of humility, the proof of [divine] love, and the mystery of redemption’ (brackets original).

Q, 167: [Discussing Mary as second Eve and mediatrix] “The curse of Eve had been a consequence of her pride and disobedience, the blessing of Mary a consequence of her humility and obedience.”

Q, 171: [Quoting Bernard of C. on Mary] “I say that she gave birth as a virgin, but not that she was born of a virgin.”

Q, 175 [Comparing communion of saints to communion w/in Trinity]: “The person of Christ was the link between the divine communion of the hypostases in the Trinity and the human communion of the saints in the church, for in a theology whose ‘central point’ was ‘communion with God’ Christ was ‘the common prize’ of the saints, as he had been ‘the common price’ of their redemption.”

Q, 175 [Quoting Pelikan quoting Bernard of C. on communion of saints]: “The communion of the saints and the communion with the saints meant that believers were ‘fellow citizens and comrades of the blessed spirits.’ As such, they were united with the saints in the society of faith, and the saints served them as ‘a mirror and an example, and indeed as a seasoning of human life on earth.’

Q, 181 [Discussing miracles and saints performance or not]: “While miracles supported the preaching of the gospel and thus supported faith, faith itself was the greatest miracle of all.”

Q, 184, good summary of the issue of the Real Presence, [Discussing relics and the presence of Christ in Eucharist]: “Apparently the presence in the Eucharist was the ‘principal reality’, with which relics, even and especially so-called relics of the body of Christ, could not be allowed to compete. But this raised again the question that had been asked, but not answered, in the ninth century, whether the body present on the altar for the sacrifice of the Mass and present for the communicant in the liturgy was substantially identical with the body born of the Virgin Mary and sacrificed on the cross.”

Q, 185 [Discussing real presence and need for sacrament, Pelikan quoting Fulbert of Chartres]: “To be sure, it was only in this life that the Sacrament was needed, but it was needed desperately. There were, accordingly, three necessities in life: the Trinity (including the incarnation), baptism, and the Eucharist; for ‘the sum total of our faith is this, to know Christ in the Father, Christ in the flesh, and Christ in the participation of the altar’.”

Q/U, 210 [Discussing potential centrality of penance among sacraments, quoting Geoffrey of Vindome]: “’Without it’, said a cardinal and reformer of the early twelfth century, ‘none of the sacraments is of any use to sinners’.”

Q, 216 [Rendering Berengar on problem of patristic consensus and appeals to majority to justify views on presence]: “It was better to stand with the few in the defense of the truth than to err with the many.”

Q, 220: “The assumption that there was such a thing as patristic consensus on the question of the Eucharistic presence was difficult to substantiate, even for the opponents of Berengar.”

Q, 228 [Discussing contradictions b/w fathers]: “Even those who maintained that the contradictions within the tradition were often apparent rather than real had to concede that the tradition was less than uniform on many questions.”

Q, 257 [Discussing faith, reason, and heresy] “While bad Christians such as heretics were in some ways worse than unbelievers, they both deserved to be met on their own chosen field of battle, which was reason.”

Q, 257 “When the Christian gospel came into the world, it succeeded in converting the most rational of men, the Greek philosophers, to its message; this was proof that the gospel was not to be dismissed as irrationality and ‘insanity’.”

Q, 258 [Final sentence also noted as “hinge idea” from HS201 to HS202] “In the history of the development of Christian doctrine (and of ‘theology’ in this sense of the word) as distinct from the history of medieval philosophy (and of ‘theology’ in this sense of the word), the discovery of this imperative that faith must move on to understanding is perhaps the most important aspect of the intellectual changes that took place during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. For this discovery shaped the development of several fundamental doctrines in ways that were to determine their future course for centuries to come.”

Q, 259 “The classic interpretation of the words of Isaiah [7:9] was the one formulated by Anselm in the first chapter of his Proslogion: ‘I yearn to understand some measure of thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe even this: that I shall not understand unless I believe’.”

Q, 259 “The idea of faith in search of understanding, together with the use of Isaiah 7:9 to support it, came from Augustine, to whose thought Anselm, in the context of his apologetic writings, acknowledged his continuing debt.”

Q, 260 “It was not until the Christian tradition stood virtually unchallenged that it could undertake the task of determining how much of its contents could be known without faith.”

Q, 261 (Quoting Hugh of St. Victor):“It was the responsibility of philosophy to ‘investigate the reasons of all things, whether divine or human’”

Q, 262 [Quoting Richard of St. Victor on reason and doctrine]: “there were doctrines that were ‘above reason but not beyond reason’”

Q/U, 265 (Quoting Abelard’s response to Roscellinus about unity in the Trinity): “In opposition to the statements of Roscellinus about ‘three Gods’ and about ‘a community of majesty’ rather than ‘a singularity of majesty’ in the Trinity, Abelard declared that the Christian faith ‘consistently proclaims and believes a singularity of unity, except for what pertains to the distinction of the three persons. . . . not three Gods or Lords’; thus ‘the three persons are somebody different without being something different’.”

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