Publication Date

Winter 12-2018

Journal

Studies in Late Antiquity

Volume

2

Issue

4

First Page

512

Last Page

541

Department

Religious Studies

Abstract

Humankind, for Gregory of Nyssa, was poisoned through a primordial act of eating the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. As a result, the toxin of sin and death has been blended into the body and soul of each person, dispersing itself throughout the component parts of their nature. If eating and drinking initiated the spiritual and physical degradation of humanity, Gregory argues, then it must also be through eating and drinking—namely, through the Eucharist—that humanity will be healed. This article proposes that Gregory's instruction on the Eucharist in his Catechetical Oration should be understood as more than merely a metaphorical flourish, more than a clever use of medical imagery at the service of a sacramental theology. Rather, his use of technical medical terminology and concepts about dietetics and pharmacology are an example of medical knowledge being applied within the embodied practices of a particular Christian ritual. That is, when read in light of the crucial medical concept of krasis—in which health and disease are identified as a delicate blending of hot, cold, wet, and dry—we are better able to discern how Gregory's discussion of ritualized bread-eating functions as a medical intervention into the diseased and dying nature of humanity. In his discussion of food's power to reconfigure the four fundamental qualities of human physiology, Gregory presents the Eucharistic bread as part of a dietary regimen, a method for blending Christ's healing and life-giving power into bodies that are currently bent toward death. In this way, the bread is offered as a singularly potent antidote for sicknesses afflicting body and soul alike.

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