How Jesus Kicked Ass On The Cross, Ctd
A reader writes:
As a reformed Dittohead (hey, it was the '90s, I was young), the line "kill people and break things" used by Bryan Fisher struck a familiar chord. It was one of Limbaugh's stock phrases, used to explain that the proper role of the armed forces was just that - not any mamby-pampby humanitarian nonsense. Another example of epistemic closure, no?
As a medieval art historian, I was struck by Fischer's account of the theological meaning of Christ's death.
One of the transitions we study in medieval art is that between the living triumphant Christ on the cross found in Early Christian Art (like this one - an ivory from c. 400 now in the British Museum) and the dead suffering Christ, which enters European art in 10th century works (such as this life-size Gero Cross in Cologne). The earlier type is thought to relate to one explanation for why Christ had to die, which stresses his death as a trick that traps the Devil and leads to his defeat. Here, Christ is like the bait on a a fish-hook that catches the Devil (as in this image, from the Garden of Delights by Herrad of Hohenbourg).
In the latter type of the suffering, Christ emphasizes his humanity - one that God had to share with sinners in order for his sacrifice to be efficacious. Writing around 1100, Saint Anselm was instrumental in the shift. In Cur Deus Homo, he writes that the earlier explanation no longer had any force for him: "MOREOVER, I do not see the force of that argument... that God, in order to save men, was bound... to try a contest with the devil in justice, --- so that, when the devil should put to death that being in whom there was nothing worthy of death... he should justly lose his power over sinners. " The classic discussion of this is in Chapter 5 of R. W. Southern's Making of the Middle Ages, "From Epic to Romance."