Infancy of Christ

Here’s the passage I was looking for today in Bartholomaeus Anglicus:

“Al þe membres ben ischape som and som, nouȝ[t] aile at ones. Crist alone was al at ones ischape and distinguid in his modir wombe when he was conseyved þerinne. So seiþ Austyn.” (On the Properties of Things, 6.4 [p.298])

It suggests that what distinguishes the human is the slow, incremental, accidental process of unfolding. Human childhood is an imperfect, even monstrous moment in the life-cycle. Maturity — spiritual or otherwise — is not guaranteed.

Christ evidently did not materialize “som and som.” He was formed all at once!

However, other texts from the same period suggest that the fetal and infantile life of Christ was not so different. As Julie Couch observes, the infancy gospel “imagines the life of a child who possess omnipotence but not the full-fledged identity and focused mission” of an adult Jesus.

For more on this this body of medieval literature see  Julie Nelson Couch, “Misbehaving God: The Case of the Christ Child in MS Laud Misc. 108″ (2006); Mary Dzon, “Joseph and the Amazing Christ-Child of Late-Medieval Legend” (2005); Jacqueline Tasioulas, “Heave and Earth in Little Space”: The Foetal Existence of Christ” (2007); and Kathryn A. Smith, “Accident, play, and invention: three infancy miracles in the Holkham Bible picture book” (2006)

 

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