Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics (1489-91)
Thursday, January 30, 2014
The image is Filippino Lippi’s fresco in the Carafa Chapel in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome: Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas over the Heretics. The four female figures around Thomas represent Philosophy, Astronomy, Theology, and Grammar. Among the “heretics” pictured are Arius, Apollinarius, and Averroes (on the left) and Sabellius, Euchites, and Manes (on the right). Note the books thrown on the ground in front of them. For more details look here (credit to WGA for the photo as well).
One of the more fascinating issues in the history of parable reception is how the parable of the Wheat and Weeds/Tares is used in connection to the question of whether to “tolerate heretics.”
Thomas’s discussions of this parable need to be read in light of his historical context. Louis IX of France, for example, conducted two crusades, burned thousands of Talmuds and other Jewish texts in Paris, and expanded the French Inquisition, especially against the Cathars in southern France (Cathars were a dualistic Christian heresy that rejected the priesthood and use of church buildings; practiced celibacy, pacifism, and vegetarianism; owned no property; and so forth; see Kerr 2009: 52). Thomas was more restrained in his writings, but he still thought that heresy was serious enough of a matter for the civil authorities sometimes to take action. His focus, though, was primarily on Christian heretics and apostates, since they threatened the health of the church more seriously than others.
In Summa Theologiae, for example, Thomas uses the parable to discuss when and whether people should be excommunicated from the church. The first question is, since people can band together in “wickedness,” whether a whole group can be excommunicated (I will use the page numbers in the CCEL version of Summa Theologiae to make it easier to find online):
I answer that, No man should be excommunicated except for a mortal sin. Now sin consists in an act: and acts do not belong to communities, but, generally speaking, to individuals. Wherefore individual members of a community can be excommunicated, but not the community itself. And although sometimes an act belongs to a whole multitude, as when many draw a boat, which none of them could draw by himself, yet it is not probable that a community would so wholly consent to evil that there would be no dissentients. Now God, who judges all the earth, does not condemn the just with the wicked (Gn. 18:25). Therefore the Church, who should imitate the judgments of God, prudently decided that a community should not be excommunicated, lest the wheat be uprooted together with the tares and cockle (Summa Theologiae p. 5956 in CCEL).
Thomas also discusses this parable several other times in Summa Theologiae. In the “Treatise on the Theological Virtues” (in the Second Part of the Second Part”), for example, one of the questions Thomas answers is: “Whether unbelievers ought to be compelled to the faith?” The first “objection” to this question Thomas seeks to correct is that some interpreters like Chrysostom (Homily 46 on Matthew) argue that the parable of the Wheat and Weeds teaches that “unbelievers ought by no means to be compelled to the Faith.” Chrysostom also concludes that it is wrong to kill heretics since innocent persons would be killed as well. Thomas replies to this objection by saying that “unbelievers” should not be compelled to become Christians but they should not be allowed to “hinder the faith.” On the other hand, heretics and apostates should be treated differently:
I answer that, Among unbelievers there are some who have never received the faith, such as the heathens and the Jews: and these are by no means to be compelled to the faith, in order that they may believe, because to believe depends on the will: nevertheless they should be compelled by the faithful, if it be possible to do so, so that they do not hinder the faith, by their blasphemies, or by their evil persuasions, or even by their open persecutions. It is for this reason that Christ's faithful often wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will, but in order to prevent them from hindering the faith of Christ.
On the other hand, there are unbelievers who at some time have accepted the faith, and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates: such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion, that they may fulfil what they have promised, and hold what they, at one time, received (Summa Theologiae, pp. 2740-1 CCEL).
The parable also comes into play when Thomas addresses the question: “Whether [Christian] heretics ought to be tolerated?” Thomas argues that it could be examined from two sides.
That's what I will examine in my next post.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
|St. Thomas Aquinas|
Monday, January 27, 2014
Photo taken Nov. 17, 2013, in St. David, AZ
I will return later to receptions of the parables in the early church (I’m looking at you, Clement of Alexandria!), but for the next couple weeks I want to discuss a topic that will arise again and again as I write this book: "Should heretics be tolerated?"
I have found some fascinating interactions with the parable of the Wheat and Weeds/Tares in my research on parable reception in the Middle Ages and discussions of what to do with "heretics." I'll discuss two main people in the next two weeks: Thomas Aquinas and Wazo of Liège. They use the Wheat/Weeds parable and reach differing conclusions about what to do about “heretics.” Although this parable is only one of 30+ that will appear in the book, the discussions of it are so important and compelling, I will need to include several interpretations of this parable in the book. The Reformation era should provide some other thought-provoking examples.
I also found something that I had never heard before: the alleged connection between vegetarianism and heresy in the Middle Ages! This is in contrast to some other earlier texts that connect piety and vegetarianism. More on both of those issues later.
The parable of the Wheat and Weeds (NRSV):
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
Thomas Aquinas interprets this parable in interesting ways in his Summa Theologica. But I want to set those discussions in context, so this post will talk about his life, career, and how he tended to interpret the parables overall.
Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1224/5-74)
Thomas was an Italian priest, philosopher, and the most influential Christian theologian of the Middle Ages. Born in Roccasecca (between Rome and Naples), Thomas was sent at the age of five to be an oblate at the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino. Against his family’s wishes, however, he entered the Dominican order in 1244 (his family actually held him hostage for almost two years to try to convince him not to join the Dominicans). He studied at the universities of Paris and Cologne, where Albert the Great introduced him to the works of Aristotle that would be so important to Thomas’s later work.
Thomas returned to study Paris in 1252 and received a masters of theology in 1256. He then became a “regent master” at the university (he was a contemporary of Bonaventure). In 1259, Thomas returned to Italy, where he served as a lecturer at several Dominican houses, and from 1265 to 1267, Thomas lived at Santa Sabina, the Dominican house in Rome, where he served as regent master of their studium (“study house”). It was here that he began his classic work, Summa Theologica. Thomas continued working on his Summa Theologica (and wrote various other works) during a second regency in theology in Paris (1268-1272), and he returned as a regent master to his alma mater, the University of Naples, in 1272.
During his twenty-five year career, Thomas wrote or dictated over eight million words, and one-fourth of them were biblical commentary (Kerr 2009: 19). Although he incorporated allegorical interpretations, Thomas emphasized literal interpretations, and this emphasis began the decline of allegorical interpretations of the Bible by theologians and scholars (see Kissinger 1979 for details). Thomas abruptly stopped writing and teaching in response to a mysterious mystical experience that occurred while he was saying mass on December 6, 1273, just three months before his death: “Everything I have written seems to me as straw in comparison to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me” (Kerr 2009: 19-20). His Summa Theologica remained unfinished, and Thomas died on March 7, 1274, while en route to a church council in Lyons.
Thomas and the Parables
As Thomas writes in Summa Theologica, it is “befitting” for Scripture to explain spiritual truths metaphorically, “by means of comparisons with material things,” especially since “all our knowledge originates from sense.” This allows human beings, even “simple” ones, to understand these truths. Some truths that are revealed metaphorically are explained more clearly in other parts of Scripture, but the use of metaphors helps create “the exercise of thoughtful minds”; they also are a better way to hide spiritual truths from the “unworthy” (I. q. 1, a. 9).
Since God is the author of Scripture and has the power to signify meaning not just by words but also by “things themselves,” Scripture includes the first sense, the literal or historical, and a spiritual sense, which is based on the literal sense and, in fact, presupposes it. The spiritual sense occurs in three aspects: the allegorical (e.g., events in the Hebrew Bible signifying events concerning Jesus in the New Testament), the moral (what we ought to do), and the anagogical (signifying what relates to eternal salvation). Thus what is written in the Bible may indeed, as Augustine argued, have several senses (I. q. 1, a. 10).
This multiplicity does not, however, produce equivocation or confusion as far as interpretation is concerned, because all of these different senses are founded upon the literal sense of Scripture, and arguments about the meaning of the text have to be drawn solely from the literal sense not those intended in the allegorical sense. Thomas writes:
Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense . . . .
The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this member, namely operative power. Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ (I. q. 1, a. 10).
Thomas also clarifies whether the “literal” sense of a text actually is the meaning of the text itself, the historical event described by the text, or a combination of both. Thomas detaches event and text by saying that the “literal” sense does not designate historical events but the intention of the biblical authors. This development means, for example, that parables could now be interpreted as literary devices, not as allegories. They could be seen as poetic ways that human authors could express their intentions. This expanded literal sense, Thomas declares, was the “sole locus of authoritative sacred doctrine.” The spiritual sense of Scripture, on the other hand, is directly authored by God (Hood 2002: 167). Thomas thus defends and uses allegorical interpretations of parables, but he also cautions about an over-emphasis on allegorization: it adds nothing “necessary to faith” (Kissinger 1979: 42; Grant 1963: 125).
Later this week: Thomas, the parable of the Wheat and Weeds, and what to do with “heretics.”
Thursday, January 23, 2014
|The Good Shepherd; Catacomb of Callixtus/Callisto|
Catacombs are underground cemeteries that contain numerous tombs, often consisting of intricate and sometimes extensive networks of burial chambers. Such subterranean burial places were used by Jews, Christians, and others in the ancient world, and they can be found in many areas of the Mediterranean. The most famous, extensive, and impressive catacombs are the 40-60 (the ways to count them vary) Christian catacombs that have been discovered around Rome. Many catacombs are found on the major arteries out of Rome, such as along the Appian Way (e.g., the Callisto/Callixtus catacomb) or the road to Ostia, Rome’s port at the mouth of the Tiber River (e.g., the Domitilla catacomb).
The Christian catacombs in Rome include many of the earliest Christian works of art, well-preserved in the subterranean chambers, and they give us much information about early Christianity and the genesis of Christian art. Initially, since there was no “Christian art,” Christians utilized icons or styles commonly used in the Greco-Roman world. Clement of Alexandria, for example, approves of the following images for the use on Christian seals: a dove, fish, ship, musical lyre, or a ship’s anchor. Clement disapproves of the use of the faces of idols, sword or bow (since Christians “followed peace”), or drinking-cups (The Instructor 3.11). Besides being an image of the apostles as “fishers of human beings” (e.g., Mark 1:17), the fish (Greek ichthus) became for Christians an acronym for Jesus (in Greek: Jesus, Christ, God’s Son, Savior), and, as reflected in statements by Clement and Tertullian, was also a symbol of baptism. The cross-shaped anchor came to symbolize hope (cf. Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”).
Some additional background before talking more about the Good Shepherd image in the catacombs: One of the earliest Christian uses of the Good Shepherd appears to be an early third-century oil lamp with the images of the Good Shepherd, Noah’s ark, and Jonah on it (currently found in the Skulpturensammlungund Museum für Byzantinische Kunst der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin). The image of the Good Shepherd dominates the circular image that is stamped between the handle on one side and the spout of this reddish, clay lamp. The shepherd is a young man in a short tunic who faces the viewer with the sheep over his shoulders. A small flock of seven sheep surrounds him on the bottom half of the plate, and the sun, moon, and seven stars are above him. There are additional figures on the left side of the image, such as the dove on top of Noah’s ark (the ark here symbolized by a small box; see Genesis 8:6-12) and Jonah having been “vomited out” of the large fish (see Jonah 1-2). Both stories speak of God’s preservation of humans from destruction in difficult times, but Jonah’s three days in the belly of the large fish specifically came to symbolize the “three days” of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. On the right side of the image Jonah is found sleeping under a set of gourds (see Jonah 4; both images of Jonah are found in numerous places in the catacombs as well). The use of the Good Shepherd image in conjunction with the images form the Hebrew Bible—including their Christian symbolism—makes it clear that this lamp was made specifically for/by Christians (Spier 2007: 172; this work contains a photo of an engraving of the oil lamp that makes it much easier to see the images).
The image of the Good Shepherd is found approximately 120 times in the Roman catacombs, and it is especially common in the older ones. The Good Shepherd image at the top if this post is found in the Callisto catacomb, the earliest Christian catacomb in Rome (early third century). Although it initially was a burial place for the Christians in the lower economic strata in Rome, it also came to be the burial place for many third-century popes (Sixtus II was even killed on August 6, 258, in this catacomb during a persecution of Valerian, which led to the erroneous idea that Christians typically hid in catacombs from persecutions; see Rutgers 2000: 122).
The Domitilla catacomb contains over nine miles of subterranean passages, and it is especially famous for its wall paintings, some of which date back to the third century. A wall painting of the Good Shepherd that dates from the late fourth century is painted on an apse in the cubiculum (i.e., a large room) of the Pistores in this catacomb. This image dates from 350-75 CE.
|The Good Shepherd, The Catacomb of Domitilla|
The Good Shepherd stands in a garden, with one sheep over his shoulders, and four sheep around him. Two sheep are on his left, and two are on his right. The closest two sheep look up at him, but the two out sheep are turned away from him and peacefully graze on the grass in front of them. Even further away on each side are two predatory animals (lions?) from which the Good Shepherd loving protects his sheep. Another Good Shepherd image is found on the vault of the cubiculum of the Good Shepherd in the same catacomb, an image that stems from the third century (Schnell and Steiner 2009: 90).
Monday, January 20, 2014
|The ram bearer (right); |
the broken-foot bearer (left)
Photo: Corinth, Greece (2007)
Unlike scenes from the infancy narratives, the passion narratives, and miracles in the Gospels, depictions of the parables of Jesus rarely appear in early Christian art. One of the first and most common images used by Christians is the popular Greco-Roman image of the ram bearer (Greek kriophoros; κριοφόρος). This image can be traced back to 1000 BCE in reliefs at Carchemish, where it symbolizes an animal about to be sacrificed (Milburn 1988: 30). When the image appears in Greco-Roman environments, however, it can represent such things as philanthropy, the happiness of rural life (Rutgers 2000: 89-90), or an allusion to paradise in the afterlife (Spier 2007: 6). This latter meaning was often conveyed by portraying Hermes, god of compassion and guide to the underworld, as symbolic of the hope for a blessed afterlife and more generally of compassion or sympathy (Milburn 1988: 30). In the late second or early third century, Christians began to use this image, since the Gospel of John represents Jesus as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (10:11-16; cf. Ezek. 34:1-4; as Tertullian notes, the sheep is the Christian, the flock represents the people in the church, and Jesus is the good shepherd; On Modesty 7; “whom you depict on a chalice,” On Modesty 10). That figurative language in John is usually not considered a true parable, but the image of the ram-bearer also came to represent the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:3-7, where the shepherd goes out to find and bring back one lost sheep out of the hundred in his flock.
Dura-Europos (early 3rd Century)
I will look at the image in some Roman catacombs in my next post, but one early example of the Christian use of the image of the Good Shepherd is found in an early third-century fresco in the house church at Dura-Europos. Dura-Europos is an ancient city on the south bank of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria (about 25 miles from the border with Iraq). The military outpost in the eastern border of the empire (Limes Arabicus) was in Romans hands from 156 CE, when they took it from the Parthians, to 265 CE, when it was abandoned after being captured by the Sasanians. Among the important archaeological discoveries at Dura-Europos, beginning in the 1920s, are a fragment of Tatian’s Diatessaron (fourteen fragmentary lines with words from all four canonical Gospels), paintings in the Temple of Palmyrene Gods, a Mithra temple in the Roman camp, and an astonishing third-century Jewish synagogue whose four walls were covered with paintings with images from the Hebrew Bible, and a Christian house church with images on the walls of its baptistery.
The early date of the Christian images make them unique, since they are in a place of worship and baptism, instead of in a tomb. The baptistery is one rectangular room of the house (which consists of eight rooms, another of which was a meeting or assembly room for worship) with a wooden roof. Portions of frescoes line the walls, including images of Jesus healing the paralytic, the Samaritan woman at the well, the three women/Marys at the tomb of Jesus, Jesus and Peter walking on the water, and, from the Hebrew Bible, David and Goliath. On the west wall of the baptistery is a decorated curved arch, resting on decorated pillars. On the wall behind/within the arch and over the baptismal font is a painting of the Good Shepherd that follows the curved outline of the arch. On a red background, the Good Shepherd carries a rather large (in proportion) sheep on his shoulders, and a number of his flock walk before him. A representation of Adam and Eve, much smaller in size, is in the bottom left of the painting. Both Adam and Eve holding something (a fig leaf?) before their naked bodies. An image of a coiled serpent is barely visible beneath them.
Obviously the juxtaposition of these two images makes a statement about the sins of human beings and the forgiveness of those sins signified through Christian baptism. The aptness of the shepherd imagery is also reinforced by such Hebrew Bible passages as Psalm 23, including Jesus as Lord being “my shepherd,” the baptismal waters as the “still waters,” the “prepared table” and the “cup” prefiguring the Eucharist, and the imagery of dying/rising with Christ being associated with baptism and the forgiveness of sins (see Jensen 2000: 39).
For Further Reading
André Grabar, Early Christian Art
Clark Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos.
(Other references upon request)
Friday, January 17, 2014
I know that many readers of this blog are primarily interested in the visual art on the parables I will be covering in the book, so my posts next week will discuss early Christian images of the Good Shepherd.
In the meantime, I want to share with you an image that a reader of this blog sent me this week. With her permission: HT to "revnancy."
The painting is by Roger Wagner, and as this article shows, he was inspired by the work of Fra Angelico at the San Marco (if you get a chance to go to Florence, do not miss going to see Fra Angelico's frescoes. The are simply amazing, including the one that resembles a Dali in some respects -- see a close-up view here).
revnancy noted that Wagner's take on the "Harvest" was distinctive. Have a look:
There are so many paintings on the parables from which to choose, this one won't make it into the book, but I thought I'd share it with you.
Irenaeus discusses a number of parables in Book 4 of Against Heresies (I am using the text found at CCEL; my list below is slightly different from the one identified by Denis Minns, "The Parable of the Two Sons"):
1. Wicked Husbandmen (Matt. 21:33-45; AH 4.36.1-4)
2. Great Supper (Matt. 22:1-14; AH 4.36.5-6)
3. Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32; AH 4.36.7)
4. Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16; AH 4.36.7).
5. Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14; AH 4.36.8).
6. Two Sons (Matt. 21:28-32; AH 4.36.8)
7. Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9; AH 4.36.8).
8. Sheep and Goats (Matt. 25:31-46; AH 4.40.2)
9. Wheat and Weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; AH 4.40.2)
The first three parables signify that “the prophets were sent from one and the same Father” (4.36.5), an argument that strikes directly at Marcion’s claim that the God of the Hebrew Bible was different from the Christian God. The parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, for example, demonstrates the unity of the God of the “Mosaic dispensation” and the God of Jesus, because it is the same “householder” (Jesus’ Father) who sends both his servants (i.e., the prophets) and his son (i.e., Jesus). God now rejects those who rejected the Son of God—those of the “former dispensation to whom the vineyard was formerly entrusted”—and has given the vineyard to the Gentiles—the Church—who were formerly outside the vineyard.
Irenaeus’s discussion of the Workers in the Vineyard provides an excellent example of his parable interpretation: The householder is God and the workers called at different times of the day demonstrate the continuity between the God of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian God:
the same God is declared as having called some in the beginning, when the world was first created; but others afterwards, and others during the intermediate period [i.e., the time between Moses and Jesus; cf. AH 4.25.1], others after a long lapse of time, and others again in the end of time; so that there are many workmen in their generations, but only one householder who calls them together. For there is but one vineyard, since there is also but one righteousness, and one dispensator, for there is one Spirit of God who arranges all things; and in like manner is there one hire, for they all received a penny each man, having [stamped upon it] the royal image and superscription, the knowledge of the Son of God, which is immortality. And therefore He began by giving the hire to those [who were engaged] last, because in the last times, when the Lord was revealed He presented Himself to all [as their reward].
Irenaeus’ use of allegory is rather restrained in comparison to other early interpreters, such as the Gnostics against whom he writes, and this example does not take interpreters much farther down an allegorical path than does the author of Matthew’s Gospel. Reventlow suggests that it was in fact Irenaeus’s “anti-gnostic attitude” that led him to downplay the allegorical “spiritual” meaning (i.e., not separating a “bodily” meaning and a “spiritual” meaning) more than later interpreters.
In this section of Against Heresies, Irenaeus continually focuses on the role of the fathers in the parables, whom he interprets as symbolizing God, because he wants to stress that the God of the old dispensation is the same as the God of the new dispensation. In addition, since Irenaeus argues that interpretations of the parables must in harmony with the other part of Scriptures, whatever is unclear or ambiguous in the parables can be elucidated by other passages that are clear and unambiguous. Therefore, in his parable interpretations, Irenaeus often “prooftexts”—citing other Scripture passages without regard for the context because of a perceived relationship in words or ideas to the first passage.
An example of such prooftexting can be found in Irenaeus’s interpretation of the “parable” of the Fig Tree: The tree’s barrenness signifies that Israel, from the time of the prophets, was barren of “the fruit of righteousness” and that the tree therefore should be cut down. Irenaeus then explains by citing Matthew 23:37-38, where Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem because, even though he desired to gather them “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” they had killed the prophets and were rejecting him.
The parable of the Good Samaritan also demonstrates the continuity of God: the same “Spirit of God” (the Comforter/Paraclete) given to Gideon, Isaiah, and others in the Hebrew Bible has now been conferred upon the church (Against Heresies 3.17.3). Here Irenaeus also laid the foundation for later allegorical interpretations of the parable. He implies that the Samaritan represents Jesus who had compassion upon and tended to the wounds of the injured man, who symbolizes the human race. Jesus also pays “two royal denaria” to the innkeeper, who represents the Holy Spirit and who is our advocate against the “accuser” (i.e., the devil).
Irenaeus was a pioneer in many ways. He emphasized not only harmony of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures, but he was one of the first writers who treated Christian writings as authoritative scripture on the same level as the Hebrew Bible.
I like how Robert Grant states it. Irenaeus, he says,
gathered up and combined the traditions of his predecessors from Asia Minor, Syria, and Rome and used them to refute the Gnostics who were subverting the Gospel. He built up a body of Christian theology that resembled a French Gothic cathedral, strongly supported by columns of biblical faith and tradition, illuminated by vast expanses of exegetical and logical argument, and upheld by flying buttresses of rhetorical and philosophical considerations from the outside. In his own person he united the major traditions of Christendom from Asia Minor, Syria, Rome, and Gaul (1997: 1).
In addition to the general works about the early church I mentioned in previous posts, here are a couple works specific to Irenaeus that I found particularly helpful.
Mary Ann Donovan, One Right Reading?: A Guide to Irenaeus. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997.
Robert Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons. London: Routledge, 1997.
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