The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2022, 16-42

God without a Family? The Family of Jesus and Its Representation in the Works of Gregory of Tours

Y. E. Vershinina

Lobachevsky State University of Nizhni Novgorod


For citation: Vershinina, Yuliya E. God without a Family? The Family of Jesus and Its Representation in the Works of Gregory of Tours // Drevneishie gosudarstva Vostochnoi Evropy (The Earliest States of Eastern Europe). 2022: The Role of Religion in the Formation of Socio-Cultural Practices and Ideas / Editors of the volume Е.V. Litovskikh, Е.А. Melnikova. Мoscow: GAUGN-Press, 2022. S. 16–42.


DOI: 10.32608/1560-1382-2022-43-16-42


The article is dedicated to the reconstruction of vision of Jesus Christ’s kinship ties in the historical and hagiographic narratives, as well as in the books of the miracles written by Gregory of Tours, one of the most famous and renowned writers of the early Middle Ages. We made an attempt to analyze the terminology used to depict the family ties of God the Son, namely, to establish which words were used to designate his “earthly” and “heavenly” relatives. We found out that to describe kinship within the “earthly” family, Gregory of Tours tried to avoid using kinship terms, while depicting the relationship of Jesus with his God the Father, in the overwhelming majority of cases, he used only them. Voluntarily or not, this led to transferring the ideas of the relationship between “earthly” fathers and sons, such as the lower and subordinate position of the latter in relation to the former, on the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Thus, the use of kinship terms influenced the interpretation of Holy Scripture and led to the emergence of heresies such as Arianism, the falsity of which Gregory of Tours denounced in his writings. The bishop of Tours emphasized that in case of God the Father and God the Son kinship terms indicate only the way the relationship was established, not the order of their origin or their essence. Reconstruction of the images and roles of the relatives in the life of Jesus as shown in Gregory of Tours’ works demonstrated that the members of his “earthly” family did not actually participate in his life. His mother appeared next to him only at the moments of his birth and death. Mary is depicted not as a mother, but as a saint, passive during her life, but performing miracles after death. Christ’s half-brother Jacob is his faithful disciple and follower, but does not behave as a relative. Thus, although Jesus in Gregory of Tours’ works had relatives, he was actually deprived of his family. Moreover, the article tries to establish how the views on the relationship between relatives current in Merovingian Gaul in the 6th century influenced bishop of Tours’ perception of Christ’s kinship ties. In particular we learned that Christ’s “earthly” family did not fully correspond to the views of either “ordinary” (a woman had a child in marriage, but not her husband’s child), or “ideal” (the marriage was “immaculate,” but a child was born in it) marriage, dominating in the Frankish society of the 6th  century. All these considerations could prevent Gregory of Tours from using stories from Jesus Christ’s “family” life (if he knew them) for didactic purposes as a standard of behavior for Christians. Gregory of Tours’ polemics with heretics was analyzed in order to identify to what extent his ideas about Christ’s family relations were shared by his contemporaries. The later probably had some suspicions about the divinity of God the Son, since in his narratives the bishop of Tours constantly proclaimed the equality of God the Father and God the Son and emphasized the integrity of the Virgin Mary, which she preserved both after conception and after the birth of Christ. In addition, our aim was to identify the genre features of the depiction of Jesus’ family ties in the various narratives of the bishop of Tours. It was found out that the narratives of miracles and saints’ lives probably being intended by their author, first of all, for Catholics who already firmly believed in the equality of God the Father and God the Son didn’t contain detailed descriptions of author’s views on God the Father and God the Son relationships while the “History of the Franks” likely aimed to a wider audience, including the Arians or people who still doubted the Catholic Church’s doctrine of the Trinity was supplied with persuading arguments from Scripture on the matter.

kinship, God the Father, God the Son, Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, the early Middle Ages

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