Medieval anthropology

Fra Angelico, "St. Jerome" (1440)

Fra Angelico, “St. Jerome” (1440)

In The Discarded Image (1964), C. S. Lewis describes hows the medievals understood human beings:

Man is a rational animal, and therefore a composite being, partly akin to the angels who are rational but – on the later, scholastic view – not animal, and partly akin to the beasts which are animal but not rational. This gives us one of the senses in which he is the ‘little world’ or microcosm. Every mode of being in the whole universe contributes to him; he is a cross-section of being. As Gregory the Great (540-604) says, ‘because man has existence (esse) in common with stones, life with trees, and understanding (discernere) with angels, he is rightly called by the name of the world.’


3 thoughts on “Medieval anthropology

  1. “Thus the human being, because of its dual nature as embodied spirit, spirit wedded to matter, becomes indeed a “microcosm,” as the ancients put it: i.e., a synthesis of the whole universe. By his body he sinks his roots deep into the material cosmos, which provides the initial input for his thought and action and the theater (in this life) for his journey toward self-realization. But by his spiritual soul he rises above the dispersion of space and time to live in the spiritual horizon of supra-material meanings and values and to set his sights on the Infinite and the Eternal. Thus to be a human being, as St. Thomas phrases it, echoing Plotinus and several of the early Christian writers, is “to live on the edge, on the frontier of matter and spirit, time and eternity,” to be an “amphibian,” as the Greek Fathers put it, able at will to direct himself in either direction, down toward matter or up toward spirit. His destiny is thus to journey through matter toward a fulfillment beyond matter.”
    -Norris Clarke, Person and Being

    • Parker: Thanks for sharing Norris Clarke’s quotation. I especially like the notion of humans as “amphibian.” My concern is with the concluding sentence, which seems to risk a kind of Platonic gnosticism. Human destiny is not to “journey through matter toward a fulfillment beyond matter,” but to undergo a resurrection of matter, thus to become a fully embodied soul or ensouled body in the new heavens and earth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s