Supernatural In Middle Ages


Supernatural In Middle Ages Essay, Research Paper

Supernatural events and miracles are very common in medieval literature. Many of

these miracles were used for common purposes, which were to provide examples of

an ideal Christian way of life and promote conversion to Christianity. They do

this by writing about miracles that punished people who acted improperly,

miracles that took place to reward Christians for doing good deeds, showing

extreme and persistent faith, or for those who were leading moral lives. Some

examples of medieval literature that contain miracles which serve this purpose

are Saint Augustine?s Confessions, MacMullen?s Christianity and Paganism in

the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, HillGarth?s Christianity and Paganism,

350-750, Bede?s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Gregory of

Tours? History of the Franks, and in the works of Saint Boniface. Saint

Augustine?s work includes a miracle that took place because a man begged his

admission to god. This man was blind and had heard of people who were

?…vexed by impure spirits and were healed…? (165). He immediately asked

his guide to being him to the place were this was happening, which was where the

bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius lay. He rubbed a sacred cloth over

his eyes and immediately regained his lost eyesight. This miracle was included

to show the benefits of showing one?s allegiance to god and by doing so,

Augustine would be able to get others to convert to Christianity. Augustine

describes the roles of miracles himself when he wrote that they ?…symbolize

the sacraments of initiation and miraculous wonders necessary to initiate and

convert ?uninstructed and unbelieving people? (I Cor. 14:23)? (299).

MacMullen?s book also contains accounts of miracles that were used for

conversion. One such miracle (from Augustine?s catalog) took place when a

youth was said to have been entered by a water demon. He was brought to the same

shrine I mentioned earlier which contained relics of Protasius and Gervasius.

The demon then leaves the child?s body and writhes in pain and the boy is

cured. Other such miracles that were said to have taken place in front of large

crowds were done by Gregory the Great. He was known for ?…exorcisms,

restoration of sight to the blind, even restoration of sight to the dead…?

(96). It is his belief that ?The converts had cared little for sect or

theology, only for relief of what ailed them? (125). In other words, people

would often convert for selfish reasons, in order to heal themselves of a

physical problem rather than converting due to true belief in Christianity.

MacMullen also wrote of supernaural beliefs whose existence began sometime

around midway through the fourth century. This book touches on these beliefs

more so than the others. The beliefs in the healing power of relics is ironic in

that it almost seems Pagan. For instance, object that saints touched while

living were believed to hold special powers that the saints used during their

lives. There were even arguements in Palestine as to who would own the remnants

of martyrs bodies. This superstition got to the point where even monks were ween

fighting over Saint Martin?s cloak because of the belief that it was full of

healing power. MacMullen writes of how martrys may have been a creation of the

bishops of the time in an effort to put an end to paganism. Another example of a

supernatural superstition takes place when Severinus went on a mission to

Noricum and attempted to ?…banish blight from the wheat fields…by marking

boundary posts with the cross, to ward off floods? (97). Yet another case of

superstition existed in the belief that plants that were found only at the foot

of a statue of Jesus contained immense healing powers. While these plants may

have contained healing power, MacMullen takes note of the fact that many of the

plants taken from around saint?s relics were already known for their value as

healing agents. The reason I stated earlier that these beliefs were Pagan-like

is the fact that they are based purely on superstition. MacMullen?s

Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries offers many more

examples of both miraculous events and superstitions that existed in late

antiquity and the early middle ages. Through MacMullen?s work, it becomes

clear that many of these superstitions may have been fabricated in an attempt to

gain conversions to Christianity. In Christianity and Paganism, 350-750,

HilGarth justifies some of these practices by writing ?Today we know that

neither an unscientific view of the world nor the exaltation of asceticism were

the creatures of Christianity but were the leading features of the world

Christianity entered? (5). In other words, these supernatural beliefs in

miracles and superstitions were not at all purely Christian. On the other hand,

they existed in Chrisianity because people of that period accepted and believed

in them, which is why they play such a prominant role in the development of

Christianity. Hilgarth believes that Christianity?s advantages over Paganism

lay in its superior organization and its moral teachings, rather than its use of

miracles which was relatively universal to religions during this time period.

From Hilgarth?s work, it can be said that miracles were used mostly as a means

of conversion and proof of God?s will. For example in one of Saint

Boniface?s work, a section was devoted to the description of an event that

occured when a Pagan tree was ordered to be cut down. The Pagans held this tree

as sacred and believed that it contained special powers. When the very first

chop of the axe hit the tree, it magically shattered into many pieces, which was

supposed to prove to the Pagans that their religion is heretic and that they

should convert to Christianity. Miracles of this cleary prove HilGrath?s

belief that they focused on conversion. Bede?s Ecclesiastical History of the

English People and Gregory of Tours? History of the Franks also contain many

miracles which served the purpose of promoting conversion. This is supported in

a letter to Augustine from Pope Gregory in which Gregory wrote ?Clearly

understand your own character, and how much grace is in this nation for whose

conversion God has given you the power to work miracles? (93). One of these

miracles happened in the Province of the Northumbrians. According to Willibrord,

archbishop of Utrecht, a man returned from the dead and gave an account of all

that he saw. He died in the early hours of one night and woke up alive the next

morning to a group of people standing around him weeping. During his flirttion

with death, had a guide who showed him the souls of men in purgatory who failed

to show allegience to God. Upon his resurection, he became a monk. There is no

doubt that this passage was written to wanr non-Christians of what will come

after death if they fail to convert. While Gregory?s miracles often speak of

conversion, many of them also provide examples of an ideal Christian way of

life. For example, on page 107, Gregory wrote of a young Christain girl who was

being persecuted by Trasamund. Because this girl refused to renounce the Holy

Trinity, she was tortured and untimately killed. Gregory then wrote of how after

her death, the girl was ?…consecrated to Christ our lord…? (108). This

passage was about how absolute faith in God is rewarded in the end and that

there are benefits such as the afterlife for having strong faith. Gregory also

wrote of Saint Eugenius and how he often made miracles happen through Christ?s

guidance. Because of this, the Aryan Bishop, Cyrola, became jealous and

attempted to stage a fake miracle in Eugenius? presence. The Aryan Bishop paid

a man fifty pieces of gold to feign blindness. While Cyrola and Eugenius passed

by the man, he pleaded to Cyrola to cure his blindness. While Cyrola and

Eugenius passed by the man, he pleaded to Cyrola to cure his blindness. Cyrola

put his hand on the man and pretended to cause a miracle to happen. The man was

caused extreme pain in his eyes and lost his vision. He then pleaded for

forgiveness to Eugenius and regained his eyesight. This story taught Christians

that they can be forgiven for their sins, but they must be careful to look out

for false miracles. These miracles in these books were mostly used for

conversion, or to provide examples of an ideal Christian way of life. Many of

the superstitions may have been used for conversion as well. Regardless of their

respective purposes, there is no denying the significance of miracles and

superstitions in late antiquity and the medieval period.

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