The Medieval Canon: part two

The Christology of Gregory of Tours

Long before the conversion of the AngloSaxon king of Kent by Italian Benedictine missionaries, the Romano-Gallic church of the new Frankish kingdoms attempted valiantly to maintain its own civilized culture amongst the mayhem of the Franks.

"When queen Fredegund had been packed off to the manor... she was very depressed, because much of her power had been brought to an end. In secret, she sent a cleric of her household who was to gain (queen) Brunhild's confidence by trickery and then assassinate her... He began by behaving in a most humble manner to everyone and so gave himself out as the obedient and trusty servant of the Queen. Not long afterwards they realized on what a treacherous errand he had been sent. He was bound and flogged until he confessed... then was permitted to return to the Queen who had sent him. When he told Fredegund what had happened and confessed that he had failed in his mission, she punished him by having his hands and feet cut off."  (History of the Franks)

Central to the authority of the Church was the power which the priesthood claimed over man and nature in the name of God. Every possible story or interpretation of actual events which could lend itself as evidence of this power was told and retold by the Church to its barbarous congregations, until these stories took on the mantle of dogma.

Within the pulp of this growing fiction, however, remained the kernel of the true faith. While, strictly speaking, St. Thomas Aquinas is the authority for medieval theology, his influence was felt less during the medieval period than afterwards. It was the early church fathers who informed the medieval cosmology. By the time of Gregory of Tours, who wrote around AD 575, the Christian faith of medieval Europe was taking shape inside barbarian Europe. In his massive set of manuscripts detailing the history of the Franks, St. Gregory of Tours was sometimes given to teaching the precepts of his true faith to his reader. It is from Gregory that the following lessons are taken:

II:29-30. The first child which Clothild bore for Clovis was a son. She wanted to have the baby baptized, and she kept on urging her husband to agree to this. "The gods whom you worship are no good," she would say. "They haven't even been able to help themselves, let alone others. They are carved out of stone, or wood or some old piece of metal. The very names which you have given them were the names of men, not of gods... You ought to worship who created at a word and out of nothing heaven, and earth, the sea and all that therein is, who made the sun to shine, who lit the sky with stars, who peopled the water with fish, the earth with beasts, the sky with flying creatures, at whose nod the fields became fair with fruits, the trees with apples, the vines with grapes, by whose hand the race of man was made, by whose gift all creation is constrained to serve in deference and devotion of man He made." However often the Queen said this, the King came no nearer to belief.

"All these things have been created and produced at the command of our gods," he would answer. "It is obvious that your God can do nothing, and what is more, there is no proof that he is a God at all."...

Nothing could persuade him to accept Christianity. Finally war broke out against the Alamanni and in this conflict he was forced by necessity to accept what he had refused of his own free will. It so turned out that when the two armies met on the battlefield there was great slaughter and the troops of Clovis were rapidly being annihilated. He raised his eyes to heaven when he saw this, felt compunction in his heart and was moved to tears. "Jesus Christ," he said, "you who Clothild maintains to be the Son of the living God, you who deign to give help to those in travail and victory to those who trust in you, in faith I beg the glory of your help. If you will give me victory over my enemies, and if I may have evidence of that miraculous power which the people dedicated to your name say they have experienced, then I will believe in you and I will be baptized in your name. I have called upon my own gods, but, as I see only too clearly, they have no intention of helping me."

...Even as he said this, the Alamanni turned their backs and began to run away.

(And so, as usual, the barbarian war leader was pleased to think of the Nazarene as his new War God, and the King of the Franks became a Christian.)

VI:5. "The fact that God, the Son of God, was made man", I said," resulted from our own necessity, not His. For had He not been made flesh, He could not have redeemed man from the captivity of sin, or from his servitude to the Devil...

What need was there for God to suffer these things?... man was innocent when God created him. Man was ensnared by the serpent's guile and encouraged to break God's command. That is why he was cast out of Paradise and condemned to all the travails of this earth. By the death of Christ, the only Son of the Father, he was reconciled with God...

The human race was given to sin from the very beginning... the Flood did not frighten man, nor the burning of Sodom, nor the plagues of Egypt, nor the miracle of the sea and the Jordan dividing their waters. He continued to resist God's commandment and he refused to believe the prophets; more than that, he not only disbelieved but he actually put to death all those who preached repentance. If God Himself had not come down from heaven to redeem him, by no other means could this redemption have been accomplished. We were reborn by His baptism, cured by His wound, raised up by His resurrection, glorified by His ascension."

The King... turned to me and told me that he must go, but he asked my blessing first. "Bishop," he said, "I will say to you what Jacob said to the angel who spoke with him: 'I will not let thee go, except thou bless me'." As he said this, he ordered water to be brought. We washed our hands, and I said a prayer. I then took bread, gave thanks to God, received it myself and gave it to the King. We drank the wine and parted, saying farewell to each other. King Chilperic climbed on his horse and set off for Paris, with his wife, his daughter and all his household.

VI:18. Ansovald and Domigisel, King Chilperic's ambassadors, who had been sent to Spain to look into the question of the dowry promised to Princess Rigunth, arrived back home... When I met them I was keen to discover whether there was still any zeal for the Christian faith among the few Catholics who still remained in that country. Ansovald gave me the following information: "Those Catholics who still exist in Spain keep their faith unimpaired. The King has a new trick by which he is doing his utmost to destroy it... he says:

"I accept without question that Christ is the Son of God and equal to the Father. What I cannot believe is that the Holy Ghost is God..."

How depraved his mind must be!What of the saying of our Lord:"God is a Spirit?" What of the words of Peter to Ananias:

"Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God."

What also of the words of Paul, when he reminds us of the mystical gifts of God:"But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will?"

VI:40. ... That is why we say: "Glory be to God the Father, who sent the Son; glory be to God the Son, who by His blood redeemed the world; glory be to the Holy Ghost, who sanctified man redeemed."

...Shall mortal man not give glory to the Son, whom the Father Himself glorified from Heaven, not once, but twice and even three times? Hear the words which He spoke from Heaven, when the Holy Ghost came down and the Son was baptized by the hand of John: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." If your ears are so blocked that you cannot hear these words, believe the words which the Apostles heard on the mount, when Jesus was transfigured in glory and talked with Moses and Elisha, and the Father spoke out of the bright cloud: "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him."

...When our Lord came to His Passion, He said to His Father: "Father, glorify thy Son, that they Son also may glorify thee." What answer did the Father then make from Heaven? He said:

"I have both glorified Thee and will glorify Thee again."

...Listen to St. Paul speaking... "And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." If He now shares the glory of the Father, and if He is now in that glory where the Father himself is, how can you dishonour Him as one without glory? Why whould He not be glorified among men, when He reigns in Heaven with the Father in equal glory? That is why we confess that Christ, the Son of God, is very God, and why, since the Godhead is one, so also shall the glory be.

A dramatic narrative of French history in the sixth century. Gregory of Tours (c.A.D. 539-594) intended his HISTORY to be a chronicle of events and included the 21 years he spent as Bishop of Tours. This volume contains all ten books of the HISTORY. As Gregory unravels the bewildering events of those decades, what emerges is no dry historical document but a colorful, detailed and moving pageant.

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