The Mediaeval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages - Vol. 2

By Henry Osborn Taylor | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIX
THE RATIONALE OF THE VISIBLE WORLD: HUGO OF ST. VICTOR

JUST as the Middle Ages followed the allegorical interpretation of Scripture elaborated by the Church Fathers, so they also accepted, and even made more precise, the patristic inculcation of the efficacy of such most potent symbols as the water of baptism and the bread and wine transubstantiated in the Eucharist.1 Passing onward from these mighty bases of conviction, the mediaeval genius made fertile use of allegory in the polemics of Church and State, and exalted the symbolical principle into an ultimate explanation of the visible universe.

Notable was the career of allegory in politics. Throughout the long struggle of the Papacy with the Empire and other secular monarchies, arguments drawn from allegory never ceased to carry weight. A very shibboleth was the witness of the "two swords" ( Luke xxii. 38), both of which, the temporal as well as spiritual, the Church held to have been entrusted to her keeping for the ordering of earthly affairs, to the end that men's souls should be saved. Still more fluid was the argumentative nostrum of mankind conceived as an Organism, or animate body (unum corpus, corpus mysticum). This metaphor was found in more than one of the Latin classics; but patristic and mediaeval writers took it from the works of Paul.2 The likeness of the human body to the body politic or ecclesiastic was carried out

____________________
1
For the Eucharist in the Carolingian period see ante, Chapter X. Berengar of Tours is spoken of in Chapter XII., iv.
Many members in one body, one body in Christ (Rom. xii. 4, 5).

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