Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

How the Doctrine of the Incarnation Shaped Western Culture

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

How the Doctrine of the Incarnation Shaped Western Culture

Article excerpt

How the Doctrine of the Incarnation Shaped Western Culture. By Patricia Ranft. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013, Pp. vii, 262. $90.00, cloth.)

The Incarnation, the doctrine which posits thatjesus Christ became man without impairing either His divinity or humanity, is a fundamental tenet of Christianity. Several prestigious scholars ranging from Alexandre Kojève to Tapio Luomo have argued that the Incarnation is one of the key ideas responsible for the uniqueness of Western thought and development. Recently, scholars in a variety of fields, such as art history, economics, education, the fine arts, literature, philosophy, music, physics, politics, and theology, independently have attested to the importance of the Incarnation in the development of their respective fields. Patricia Ranft's masterful monograph, How the Doctrine of the Incarnation Shaped Western Culture, both integrates and provides a useful overview of this plethora of material. Ranft, a historical theologian, offers the reader a comprehensive history of how the doctrine developed from the beginning of the second century to the late medieval period. Throughout her history, she demonstrates that the doctrine had resounding social, cultural, and political effects.

Central to Ranft's thesis is the idea that the doctrine of the Incarnation was a catalyst. Following the traditional scientific definition, Ranft defines a catalyst as "a substance that can cause a change in the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being affected by the reaction" (9). In other words, Ranft argues that the doctrine greatly affected society without any retroactive change to the doctrine itself. In the chapters on late antiquity, Ranft demonstrates that the Incarnation was essentially seen as a transformer of culture and as salvific for the City of Man. Since God became man and dwelled on Earth, the material world could not be considered evil. Early Christians, then, could not reject the world; rather, as Tertullian's writings on the Incarnation argue, the role of the Christian was to reform society in the image of truth. …

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