Tuesday, July 05, 2011

MacCulloch, Chapter 12

Theology, Heresy, Universities (1100-1300)

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the advent of universities in Christianized Europe. Few people would guess, however, something that MacCulloch mentions about these schools: they were modeled after institutions of higher learning in the world of Islam (398). The scholastic approach to understanding God, the Bible, the way of Christ, etc. led to the development of a much more formal theology. Thus the scholastic theologians drew the precise lines by which some believers were deemed out of bounds, i.e., heretics. MacCulloch emphasizes that the universities, though they grew up in a thoroughly Christian society, had a good bit of independence from the Church, and dealt with ecclesiastical leadership in an advisory role.

A Pastoral Revolution, Friars and the Fourth Lateran Council (1200-1260)

Dominic began an order of friars (related to the term fraternity, brothers) that was dedicated to radical poverty and intellectual rigor. Dominicans were also called Blackfriars.

Francis of Assissi grew up in a wealthy family but rejected his upbringing, emphasizing that Christ was, to borrow the words of the song, "despised and afflicted, homeless, rejected, and poor." Francis was the first person we know of to have suffered stigmata, the physical marks of the crucified Christ (403). The Franciscan friars grew from his legacy. Franciscans were also called Greyfriars.

Pope Innocent III's push for greater definition of the beliefs and practices of the Church, for order and standardization, in effect generated the Inquisition. The activities of this episode, which are often misunderstood and exaggerated, were carried out by the Dominicans. The interests of Innocent were behind the calling of Lateran IV. "This fourth Lateran Council embodied the Gregorian aim of imposing regulated holiness on the laity and ensuring uniformity in both belief and devotional practice" (405). One idea was that every Christian should know what he's doing and why, what's going on in the Eucharist, etc. Such interest led to the closer definition of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Along this line, MacCulloch wisely notes: "It is easy to confuse the doctrine of the 'Real Presence," the general devotional belief that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are to be identified with the body and blood of Christ, with the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is just one explanation of the miracle" (406).


Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy and Faith

Thomistic theology, highly influential, was a blend of Aristotelian philosophy and Church doctrine. Thomas's great work was his Summa Theologica (which MacCulloch translates "Sum total of Theology") and which runs to 61 volumes in its standard English translation.

Love in a Cold Climate: Personal Devotion After 1200

The climate of Europe began to turn much colder, beginning around 1200. MacCulloch suspects that this unfortunate change may have led to the "personalization" of God and Christ in the years that followed. The period exhibits a deep thirst for God. St. Francis's popular book Meditations on the Life of Christ (most likely written by John de Caulibus, a.k.a. pseudo-Bonaventure) expands on the life of Jesus as we know it from the gospel accounts. These embellishments strike MacCulloch as part of the evidence that people of the time wanted to know Jesus better, to have a closer view of him.

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