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Fed to Perfection: Mother's Milk, Roman Family Values, and the Transformation of the Soul in Gregory of Nyssa


Prompted by Michel Foucault's observation that “salvation is first of all essentially subsistence,” this essay explores Gregory of Nyssa's discussion of Christian spiritual formation as a kind of salvific and transformative feeding of infants. This article argues that the prominent role of nourishment—and specifically breast milk—in Gregory's theory of progressive Christian perfection reflects broader Roman era family values concerning the power of breast feeding in the proper development of a child. With particular attention to Gregory's Encomium for Saint Basil, the Life of Moses, and his Homilies on the Song of Songs, this article demonstrates that references to the power of nourishment are no “mere metaphor” but rather represent an intensification of the prominent belief in antiquity that human nature can be altered according to the food a person eats. As such, Gregory employs the female body and its putatively maternal function as a regulatory symbol for Christian identity-formation. Mother's milk is thus offered as a mechanism for preserving and transmitting the ideal form of the Christian community that Gregory found embodied in the ambiguously gendered characters of the Song of Songs. True Christians, in Gregory's account, are identified by the milk on which they were fed and, in turn, the nurturing care they offer to others.

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1 Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977–1978 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 126–127.

2 τῷ γὰρ εἴδει τῆς τροφῆς συνδιατίθεται πάντως καὶ τὸ τρεφόμενον (Cant. Homily 15). I refer throughout to the recent edition by Richard A. Norris, Jr., Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs, Writings from the Greco-Roman World 13 (Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), 468.9-10; henceforth “WGRW” with volume, page, and line numbers provided in parentheses. The Greek text found there is the same as that in Langerbeck's 1960 edition for Brill's Gregorii Nysseni Opera series. Norris provides page references to Langerbeck's edition to the right of the Greek on each page. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

3 Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Hermeneia (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1975), 71–72.

4 As Margaret Mitchell has persuasively argued, the various categories Paul used to describe Christian identity in 1 Corinthians 3 became a problem that the Apostle bequeathed to later Christian exegetes. Mitchell provides an excellent summary of this problem: “[The Apostle Paul was] not providing a hermeneutical map, but offering a provocative diagnosis, meant to prod the Corinthians by an insulting label flung out to change their behavior. Given that this is his rhetorical aim, Paul must certainly leave open the possibility for hermeneutical change and growth, even as in ‘systematic’ terms there appears to be an ontological fixity. The lack of precise fit can be seen in the sheer mathematical difficulty with mapping the duality mature/childish onto the triad spiritual/psychical/fleshly. And the reasons Paul gives or implies for theses statuses are at least theoretically different: one is spiritual by endowment (‘but we received the Spirit which is from God’), but fleshly or psychical by nature, a condition subject to change either by spirit-infusion or by proper maturation. Furthermore, the literal-allegorical template is doubly confusing here, in terms of the reality Paul describes and the words he chooses to do it: are all three properly ‘real’ states, or is the spiritual person no longer (allegorically? Literally?) also a person of flesh?” See Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul, the Corinthians, and the Birth of Christian Hermeneutics (New York: Cambridge University, 2010), 43.

5 For metaphor or the symbolic power of language in this sense, see especially Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1999); and Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc J. D. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1992). Bourdieu develops his theory of language as “conjuncture” in response to linguistic theories that isolate the meaning of individual human speech from the social world in which it becomes intelligible and acquires its power. He explains, “Linguistic relations are always relations of symbolic power through which relations of force between the speakers and their respective groups are actualized in a transfigured form. Consequently, it is impossible to elucidate any act of communication within the compass of linguistic analysis alone. Even the simplest linguistic exchange brings into play a complex and ramifying web of historical power relations between the speaker, endowed with specific social authority, and an audience, which recognizes this authority to varying degrees, as well as between the groups to which they respectively belong” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, Invitation, 142–143).

6 Burrus, Begotten Not Made: Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, 2000), 5–6.

7 Jouanna, “Does Galen Have a Programme for Intellectuals and the Faculties of the Intellect?” in Galen and the World of Knowledge, ed. Christopher Gill et al. (New York: Cambridge University, 2009), 196–197.

8 Quod animi mores corporis temperamenta sequantur 9, Claudii Galeni Opera Omnia 4, ed. C. G. Kühn [repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1964–1965], 808; trans. Peter Singer, Galen: Selected Works, Oxford World Classics [New York: Oxford University, 1997], 169): ὥστε σωφρονήσαντες [καὶ] νῦν γοῦν οἱ δυσχεραίνοντες, <ὅτι> τροφὴ δύναται τοὺς μὲν <σωφρονεστέρους, τοὺς δ’ ἀκολαστοτέρους ἐργάζεσθαι καὶ τοὺς μὲν> ἐγκρατεστέρους, τοὺς δ’ ἀκρατεστέρους καὶ θαρσαλέους καὶ δειλοὺς ἡμέρους τε καὶ πρᾴους ἐριστικούς τε καὶ φιλονείκους, ἡκέτωσαν πρός με μαθησόμενοι, τίνα μὲν ἐσθίειν αὐτοὺς χρή, τίνα δὲ πίνειν. εἴς τε γὰρ τὴν ἠθικὴν φιλοσοφίαν ὀνήσονται μέγιστα καὶ πρὸς ταύτῃ κατὰ τὰς τοῦ λογιστικοῦ δυνάμεις ἐπιδώσουσιν εἰς ἀρετὴν συνετώτεροι καὶ μνημονικώτεροι γενόμενοι.

9 Nurses and other child-minders were common figures in the Roman social landscape and are attested on epitaphs and inscriptions. On this, see Keith R. Bradley, “Wet-nursing at Rome: A Study in Social Relations,” in The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives, ed. Beryl Rawson (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1986), 222. Many hypotheses have been put forth regarding the decision to use a wet-nurse. Some have suggested that breastfeeding was domestic task that was viewed as beneath the honor of a Roman matron (cf. Bradley, “Wet-Nursing at Rome,” 216) or that the high mortality rate of the infant (or the mother during labor) may have prompted a period of separation (cf. Bradley, Discovering the Roman Family: Studies in Roman Social History [New York: Oxford University, 1991], 51–61 or Garnsey, ”Child Rearing in Ancient Italy,” in The Family in Italy: From Antiquity to the Present, ed. David Kertzer and Richard Saller (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 1991], 61). Malnourishment would have also been a significant concern and the presence of nurses would have ensured a more sufficient food supply for infants (see Keith Bradley, “The Roman Child in Sickness and in Health,” in Roman Family in the Empire: Rome, Italy, and Beyond, ed. George Michele [New York: Oxford University, 2005], 80). For more on malnourishment, especially among children, see Peter Garnsey, Food and Society in Classical Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University, 1999), 43–61. In general, it can be concluded that nutrices (and their milk) were viewed as a strategic means for coping with the vulnerability of children.

10 NA 12.1.9 (ed. J. C. Rolfe, Attic Nights, volume 2, Loeb Classical Library (hereafter LCL) 200 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1927], 354): consueti atque cogniti sanguinis alimonia privare.

11 NA 12.1.14 (LCL 200:356): Quamobrem non frustra creditum est, sicut valeat ad fingendas corporis atque animi similitudines vis et natura seminis, non secus ad eandem rem lactis quoque ingenia et proprietates valere.

12 NA 12.1.17-18 (LCL 200:356-358): . . . et spiritum ducere in animum atque in corpus suum.

13 This essay is drawn from a chapter in a larger project that analyzes early Christian appeals to the power of nourishment and breast milk in light of the broader Roman imperial era discourse of human formation. This section, in particular, distills a large opening chapter that provides a more extensive treatment of what I call the Roman era “discourse of formation.”

14 Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1961), 86.

15 For more on Gregory's understanding of “progressive perfection,” see Robb-Dover Kristina, “Gregory of Nyssa's ‘Perpetual Progress,’Theology Today 65 (2008): 213225; Bernard Pottier, S.J., “Introduction,” in Grégoire de Nysse: Homélies sur le Cantique des cantiques, Donner Raison 23, trans. Adelin Rousseau, O.C.S.O. (Bruxelles: Editions Lessius, 2008); J. Warren Smith, Passion and Paradise: Human and Divine Emotion in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa (New York: Crossroad, 2004); Blowers Paul M., “Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Concept of ‘Perpetual Progress,’Vigiliae Christianae 46 (1992): 151171; Mareitte Canevet, Grégoire de Nysse et l'herméneutique biblique: Études des rapports entre de langage et la connaisance de Dieu, Série antiquité 99 (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1983), 253–254; Everett Ferguson, “Progress in Perfection: Gregory of Nyssa's Vita Moysis,” Studia Patristica XIV (Leuven: Peeters, 1976): 307–314; Ronald E. Heine, Perfection in the Virtuous Life: A Study in the Relationship between Edification and Polemical Theology in Gregory of Nyssa's De Vita Moysis, Patristic Monograph Series 2 (Cambridge, Mass.: Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, 1975); J. Fontaine and C. Kannengieser, eds., Epektasis: Mélanges patristiques offerts au Cardinal J. Daniélou (Paris: Beauchesne, 1972); Jean Daniélou, Platonisme et théologie mystique: Doctrine spirituelle de Saint Grégoire de Nysse, Theologie 2, rev. ed. (Aubier: Editions Montaigne, 1954).

16 Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia, 87. Jean Daniélou offered a similar, though less drastic, conclusion: “[Bodily nourishment] is like the brick mason's mold that fills up and empties again, and its capacity never increases; there is simply a constant passing through. Spiritual nourishment, on the other hand, increases the capacity of the soul that receives it; all of it can be assimilated, and nothing lost. Hence in the spiritual order the soul can grow perpetually; always filled to capacity, it can always receive more.” See Daniélou, “Introduction,” in From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings, ed. Herbert Musurillo (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961), 63.

17 See for example, Tim Parkin, “The Demography of Infancy and Early Childhood in the Ancient World,” in The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World, ed. Judith Evans Grubbs and Tim Parkin (New York: Oxford University, 2013), 50–57; Janet McWilliam, “The Socialization of Roman Children,” in Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education, 264–285; Patricia Salzman-Mitchell, “Tenderness or Taboo: Images of Breast-Feeding Mothers in Greek and Latin Literature” in Mothering and Motherhood, ed. Lauren Hackworth Petersen and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell (Austin: University of Texas, 2012), 141–164; Véronique Dasen, “Childbirth and Infancy in Greek and Roman Antiquity,” in A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds, ed. Beryl Rawson (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2011), 307–310; Peter Garnsey, Cities, Peasants, and Food in Classical Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University, 1998); Peter Garnsey, “Child Rearing in Ancient Italy” in The Family in Italy: From Antiquity to the Present, ed. David Kertzer and Richard Saller (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 1991), 48–65; Valerie Fildes, Wet-Nursing: A History from Antiquity to the Present (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1988); Joshel Sandra R., “Nurturing the Master's Child: Slavery and the Roman Child-Nurse,” Signs 12, no. 1 (Autumn 1986): 322; Beryl Rawson, “Children in the Roman Familia,” in The Family in The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives, ed. Beryl Rawson (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1986), 170–200; Bradley Keith R., “Sexual Regulations in Wet-Nursing Contracts from Roman Egypt,” Klio 62 (1980): 321325.

18 For texts that moralize and prescribe child-rearing practices—and specifically breastfeeding—see especially Tacitus, Dialogue on Oratory 28 (ed. M. Hutton et al, Tacitus, 1: Agricola, Germanica, Dialogus, LCL 35 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1914], 306; Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory 1.1.2-5 (ed. H. E. Butler, The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian, LCL 124 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University], 64–66); Ps. Plutarch, On the Education of Children 1-3 (ed. Frank Cole Babbitt, Plutarch: Moralia, vol. 1, LCL 197 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1927], 4–16).

19 Likewise, see the extensive discussion about criteria for selecting a wet nurse in book 2 of Soranus's Gynecology (Gyn. 2.18.4 in ed. Johannes Ilberg, Sorani: Gynaeciorum Libri IV, Corpus Medicorum Graecorum 4 [Leipzig: Teubner, 1926], 65 and the translation in Owsei Temkin, Soranus’ Gynecology [Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University, 1956], 89–90.)

20 The nurture and formation of infants was also a focal point of the strict laws enacted by Augustus Caesar to reform Roman marital practices. A free man in Augustus's Rome was one who fulfilled his duty to the Empire primarily through overseeing the nurture and growth of the children within his familia. We see a clear example of this in a speech delivered by Augustus before the Senate that construes fatherhood and childrearing as the primary area in which an elite male demonstrates his pietas (see Cassius Dio's Roman History 56.3.3-5). On Roman “family values,” see also the work of Richard Saller, especially “Family Values in Ancient Rome,” Fathom Archive, Digital Archive, The University of Chicago Library,; and Familia, Domus, and the Roman Conception of the Family,” Phoenix 38, no. 4 (Winter 1984): 336355.

21 In the larger project from which this essay is drawn, I examine how the discourse of formation—and specifically the power attributed to breastfeeding—that was so prevalent in Roman family values operates in a variety of early Christian authors including Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine.

22 This is best articulated in On the Soul and Resurrection, where Gregory explicitly describes how the soul permeates all the elements of the body without diminishing in its own integrity. See especially the translation in Catherine P. Roth, On the Soul and Resurrection, Popular Patristics 12 (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary, 1992), 47–48. Gregory's description of humanity as a mixture of intellectual and corporeal natures is strikingly similar to Galen's argument in The Soul's Dependence on the Body.

23 Ep. 37 (ed. Roy J. Deferrari, Basil: The Letters, volume 1, LCL 190 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1926], 192–195).

24 Ep. 37 (LCL 190:192–194): Σύντροφον δὲ τῆς θρεψαμένης με υἱὸν τοῦτον ἔχω ἕνα.

25 Ep. 37 (LCL 190:194): τὸν οἶκον ἐν ᾧ ἀνετράφην and τῆς οἰκίας ᾗ ἐνετράφην.

26 Ep. 37 (LCL 190:194): ὡς ἐμοὶ τῆς τροφῆς τὴν χορηγίαν.

27 In The Education of Children 3, Ps. Plutarch observes that “feeding together results in a bond of goodwill” (ed. Frank Cole Babbitt, Plutarch: Moralia, volume 1, LCL 197 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1927], 15): ἡ συντροφία γὰρ ὣσπερ ἐπιτόνιον ἐστι τῆς εὐνοίας.

28 Bas. 24 in Sr. James Aloysius Stein, Encomium of Saint Gregory Bishop of Nyssa on his Brother Saint Basil, The Catholic University of America Patristic Studies 17 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1928), 50.

29 Bas. 24-25 (Stein, Encomium, 55-57). For a classic example of encomiastic conventions, see Plato's Menexenus 237A-B in which the speaker proceeds from the subject's noble birth (εὐγένεια), to their nurture and training (τροφή καὶ παιδεία), and concludes with the issue of their deeds (τῶν ἔργων πρᾶξις). In the Encomium, Gregory has opted only to narrate the last of these even though he, of all people, would have been capable of a full encomium for his brother. See Plato's Menexenus 237 A-B (ed. R. G. Bury, Plato, volume 9, LCL 234 [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1929], 340–343).

30 Bas. 16 (Stein, Encomium, 34): τεκμήριον δὲ ὅτι οὐχὶ τῶν ὁμοφύλων τις αὐτῷ σιτοποιήσας τὴν τροφὴν παρεθήκατο, ἀλλ’ ἀγγελικῆς παρασκευῆς ἐνεφορήθη.

31 Bas. 16 (Stein, Encomium, 34): μέτρον τῆς τροφῆς ὁ λογισμὸς.

32 Bas. 20 (Stein, Encomium, 40-42): ἄρχουσά τις τῶν Αἰγυπτίων εἰσποιησαμένη τὸν Μωϋσέα παιδεύει τὴν ἐγχώριον παίδευσιν, οὐκ ἀποστάντα τοῦ μητρῴου μαζοῦ ἕως ἔδει τὴν πρώτην ἡλικίαν τῇ τοιαύτῃ τροφῇ τιθηνήσασθαι. τοῦτο καὶ τῷ διδασκάλῳ μαρτυρεῖ ἡ ἀλήθεια. ἀνατρεφόμενος γὰρ ὑπὸ τῆς ἔξω σοφίας ἀεὶ τοῦ μαζοῦ τῆς Ἐκκλησίας εἴχετο, τοῖς ἐντεῦθεν διδάγμασι τὴν ψυχὴν αὔξων καὶ ἁδρυνόμενος.

33 I will return to this point below.

34 The Encomium is usually dated to 380 (Stein, Encomium, xxxi) or 381 (Lucas Francisco Mateo-Seco and Giulio Maspero, eds., The Brill Dictionary of Gregory of Nyssa, Vigiliae Christianae Supplements 99 [Leiden: Brill, 2010], 93). Gregory's Life of Moses, despite some difficulty, is usually dated to the final period of his literary output in the early 390s (see either Mateo-Seco and Maspero, Dictionary of Gregory of Nyssa, 788 or Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, “Introduction” in Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses [Mahwah, N.Y.: Paulist, 1978], 1). This was also the period in which Gregory produced his Homilies on the Song of Songs.

35 In Vit Moys. 1.2-3, Gregory explicitly states that the treatise was written to provide “counsel in the perfect life” (ὑποθήκην εἰς τὸν τέλειον βίον) in response to a request from an acquaintance for an essay on that topic. Citations are from Daniélou, Grégoire de Nysse. La vie de Moïse, 3rd ed., Sources Chrétiennes 1 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1968), 44–326 for ease of correspondence between the section numbers found also in the English version of Malherbe and Ferguson.

36 Vit Moys. 1.5 (SC 1:3; trans., CWS, 30). See Heine, Perfection in the Virtuous Life, 60: “Continual transformation to the better, while being movement, is nevertheless real stability for it does not involve a falling and slipping backward. The latter, which is also movement, is unstable, for lacking progress it is a continual alternation between good and bad.” In addition, Gregory uses the verb χωρέω to discuss the unceasing motion and forward progress that perfects human nature: Vit Moys. 1.10 (SC 1:4; trans., CWS, 31): ὅσον ἂν ἔνδον τοῦ ζητουμένου χωρήσωμεν· τάχα γὰρ τὸ οὕτως ἔχειν, ὡς ἀεὶ ἐθέλειν ἐν τῷ καλῷ τὸ πλέον ἔχειν, ἡ τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως τελειότης ἐστί.

37 Mos. 1.17 (LCL 289:285): ἐπινοίᾳ θεοῦ τοῦ τὰς πρώτας τροφὰς τῷ παιδὶ γνησίας εὐτρεπίζοντος.

38 The work of Mary Rose D'Angelo has helpfully illuminated Philo's engagement with Roman family values. See, for example, “Gender and Geopolitics in Philo of Alexandria: Jewish Piety and Imperial Family Values,” in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses, ed. Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 63–88.

39 For more on Gregory and Philo, see Albert C. Geljon, Philonic Exegesis in Gregory of Nyssa's De Vita Moysis, Brown Judaic Studies 333, Studia Philonica Monographs 5 (Providence, R.I.: Brown University, 2002).

40 Vit Moys. 1.17 (SC 1:8; trans., CWS, 33): ὀφθεὶς δὲ μετὰ τῆς ἐπιφαινομένης αὐτῷ χάριτος. In her description of the “divine sage” character type, Patricia Cox observes: “The idea that the greatness of the man must have been already evident in the child was a popular biographical convention” (see Cox, Biography in Late Antiquity: A Quest for the Holy Man, Transformation of the Classical Heritage 5 [Berkeley: University of California, 1983], 22). The source of the sage's nurture and nourishment as an infant was a prominent strategy for demonstrating the divine character of the person in question from childhood.

41 Vit Moys. 1.17 (SC 1:8; trans., CWS, 33): ἀποστραφεὶς δὲ φυσικῶς τὴν ἀλλόφυλον θηλήν, ἐπινοίᾳ τινὶ τῶν πρὸς γένους οἰκείων ἀνατραφῆναι τῷ μητρῴῳ μαζῷ.

42 Gregory follows Philo's terminology (using ἐπινοία) in describing how Moses came back to his own mother. For Gregory, it was through family members. For Philo, however, it was ordained by God.

43 Vit. Moys. 1.18 (SC 1:8-9; trans., CWS, 34): Ἐκβὰς δὲ ἤδη τὴν ἡλικίαν τῶν παίδων, ἐν βασιλικῇ τῇ τροφῇ καὶ παιδευθεὶς τὴν ἔξωθεν παίδευσιν . . . ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὴν κατὰ φύσιν ἐπανελθεῖν πάλιν καὶ τοῖς ὁμοφύλοις ἐγκαταμιχθῆναι. While I think a case can be made for the translation of “pagan learning” offered by Malherbe and Ferguson (on the grounds that this is the sense Gregory will give it in the second section of the Life of Moses), I nonetheless maintain that the translation “culture of foreigners” is more appropriate insofar as it clarifies the symmetrical structure between kin and foreigners so crucial for the force of Gregory's framing at the opening of his historical interpretation. Gregory applies the boundaries of belonging and otherness to the sources of Moses’ nourishment as much as to the content of his education. In fact, nourishment and education are folded together into a single process of formation.

44 Literally, “mixed back into his kin” (τοῖς ὁμοφύλοις ἐγκαταμιχθῆναι).

45 I follow Rebecca Krawiec here, who has aptly noted that “Gregory does not present the asceticized household as in conflict with itself, but rather as a new coexistence of ‘family’ and family.” This blending of literal (or biological) family with rhetorical family had already been taking place in the expanding web of social relations found in the Roman household of the early Empire. So the slippage between “family” and family in Christian discourse can be understood as a further development of the ways in which ancient kinship bonds were flexible enough to be transferred to non-biological relationships while retaining the same rhetorical force. See Krawiec, “From the Womb of the Church: Monastic Families,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 301. For the link between “real” and “rhetorical” families in early Christianity, see especially Jacobs Andrew and Krawiec Rebecca, “Father Knows Best? Christian Families in the Age of Asceticism,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 261262.

46 Vit. Moys. 2.1 (SC 1:32; trans., CWS, 55): Πῶς οὖν τὴν συντυχικὴν τοῦ ἀνδρὸς γέννησιν ἐκ προαιρέσεως ἡμεῖς μιμησόμεθα;

47 Vit. Moys. 2.3 (SC 1:32; trans., CWS, 56).

48 Vit. Moys. 2.6 (SC 1:33; trans., CWS, 56): ταῖς καθηκούσαις τροφαῖς τιθηνήσασθαι.

49 Vit. Moys. 2.5 (SC 1:33; trans., CWS, 56): ἐκ τῆς ἱστορία . . . διακαλύπτοι τὸ αἴνιγμα.

50 Vit. Moys. 2.12 (SC 1:35; trans., CWS, 56): φύσις μήτηρ.

51 Vit. Moys. 2.12 (SC 1:35; trans., CWS, 56): ὅπερ μοι δοκεῖ διδάσκειν, εἰ τοῖς ἔξωθεν λόγοις καθομιλοίημεν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τῆς παιδεύσεως, μὴ χωρίζεσθαι τοῦ ὑποτρέφοντος ἡμᾶς τῆς Ἐκκλησίας γάλακτος. Τοῦτο δ’ ἂν εἴη τὰ νόμιμά τε καὶ τὰ ἔθη τῆς Ἐκκλησίας, οἷς τρέφεται ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ ἁδρύνεται.

52 See especially Vit. Moys. 2.238–39 (SC 1:108-9; trans., CWS, 116) for Gregory's discussion of epektasis at the conclusion of the Life. When viewed in relation to his discussion of how material food changes to suit the capacities of the one eating, epektasis takes on a new dimension of meaning in which certain kinds of noetic food instigate the intellectual expansion and the stretching ever-outward toward the divine by people of varying capacities.

53 Gregory is standing squarely within Origen's exegetical method regarding the Song of Songs, while nevertheless utilizing that method toward his own ends. Indeed, the result of Gregory's work on the Song is, despite debts to Origen, wholly his own. This is especially true regarding the theme of nourishment. For more discussion of the relationship between Origen and Gregory on this text's history of interpretation, see Elizabeth A. Clark, “Origen, the Jews, and the Song of Songs,” in Perspectives on the Song of Songs, ed. Anselm C. Hagerdorn (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2011), 274–293; Mark W. Elliot, The Song of Songs and Christology in the Early Church, Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity 7 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000); Andrew Louth, “Eros and Mysticism: Early Christian Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” in Jung and the Monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, ed. Joel Ryce-Menuhin (New York: Routledge, 1994), 241–254; Norris R. A., “The Soul Takes Flight: Gregory of Nyssa and the Song of Songs,” Anglican Theological Review 80, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 517532.

54 Cant. Preface (WGRW 13:2.9-10): οὐχ ὡς σοί τι χρησιμεύσων εἰς τὸ σὸν ἦθος.

55 Cant. Preface (WGRW 13:2): ἀλλ’ ἐφ’ ᾧτε τοῖς σαρκωδεστέροις χειραγωγίαν τινὰ γενέσθαι πρὸς τὴν πνευματικήν τε καὶ ἄϋλον τῆς ψυχῆς κατάστασιν.

56 ἀκατέργαστος; literally, undigested and indigestible.

57 On the need to purify Solomon's text for “more carnal” Christians, see especially Jacobs Andrew S., “Solomon's Salacious Song: Foucault's Author Function and the Early Christian Interpretation of the Canticum Canticorum,” Medieval Encounters 4 (1998), 23: “Reading and interpreting powerful texts is a way of wielding power, and the particular power wielded by Origen and Gregory was that of defining the true Christian subject. Describing the nature of the true ‘author’ was for them a means of constructing not only the true ‘meaning,’ but also the true ‘reader,’ and of erecting cultural boundaries essential to the articulation of early Christian identity.”

58 It is worth noting that the Homilies were first delivered as a Lenten sermon series. But these were later revised and expanded before Gregory sent them to Olympias.

59 Gregory's Homilies on the Song of Songs has received increasing attention from scholars, and the recent publication of a new English edition by the late Richard Norris will surely expand this interest. And while the themes of pedagogy, eros, and spiritual transformation have all received scholarly comment, Gregory's emphasis on nourishment throughout has not. For scholarship on the Homilies, see Hans Boersma, Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa: An Anagogical Approach (New York: Oxford University, 2013); Boersma Hans, “Saving Bodies: Anagogical Transposition in St. Gregory of Nyssa's Commentary on the Song of Songs,” Ex Auditu 26 (2010): 168200; Lawson Richard T. III, “Gregory of Nyssa's Homilies on the Song of Songs: Is the Erotic Left Behind?Sewanee Theological Review 54, no. 1 (Christmas 2010): 2940; Laird “Martin, “The Fountain of His Lips: Desire and Divine Union in Gregory if Nyssa's Homilies on the Song of Songs,” Spiritus 7 (2007): 4057; Martin Laird, Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge, and Divine Presence (New York: Oxford University, 2004); Laird Martin, “Under Solomon's Tutelage: The Education of Desire in the Homilies on the Song of Songs,” Modern Theology 18, no. 4 (October 2002): 507525; Andrew S. Jacobs, “Solomon's Salacious Song”; Norris R. A., “The Soul Takes Flight: Gregory of Nyssa and the Song of Songs,” Anglican Theological Review 80, no. 4 (Fall 1998): 517532; Franz Dunzl, Braut und Bräutigam: Die Auslegung des Canticum durch Gregor von Nyssa, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Biblischen Exegese 32 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1993); Verna E. F. Harrison, “A Gender Reversal in Gregory of Nyssa's First Homily on the Song of Songs,” Studia Patristica 27 (Leuven: Peeters, 1991): 34–38; Heine Ronald E., “Gregory of Nyssa's Apology for Allegory,” Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984): 360370; Cahill J.B., “Date and Setting of Nyssa's Commentary on Song of Songs,” Journal of Theological Studies 32, no. 1 (April 1981): 447460.

60 In the prologue to Origen's Commentary on the Song of Songs, the Greeks are said to have derived their entire curriculum of education from Solomon. See also Heine, Gregory of Nyssa's Treatise on the Inscriptions of the Psalms: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (New York: Oxford University, 1995), 75. Heine observes that Gregory's Homilies begin “by speaking of the soul already ‘united to God’” whereas his treatise on the Psalms “embraces the whole spectrum of those seeking God.” This is not quite right. The later homilies do address the more advanced. But the prologue and the first two homilies are offered as a remedial course to the more fleshy people in the audience who must be properly fed on the text's larger purpose before they can access its deeper, more substantial meaning.

61 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:14 and 26).

62 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:14 and 26).

63 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:22).

64 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:18). On this theme, see Holman Susan R., “Molded as Wax: Formation and Feeding of the Ancient Newborn.Helios 24 (1997): 7795. Holman aptly notes how ancient authors widely utilized the images of wax and the food of infancy as “formative tools—[which] similarly evoke the deliberate physical formation of a good social or spiritual character” (81). The malleable quality of the infant extended to both body and soul.

65 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:30): μεταποιηθῆναι τῇ φύσει διὰ τῆς τοῦ κυρίου μαθητείας πρὸς τὸ θειότερον.

66 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:32): τὸ μηκέτι ἄνθρωπος εἶναι μηδὲ σαρκὶ καὶ αἵματι συμμεμιγμένην τὴν φύσιν ἔχειν.

67 Gregory even dismisses debates about what such a method of reading should be called—anagogical? tropological? allegorical?—and argues instead that it is only the effect of reading that matters, not the method. See Cant. Preface (WGRW 13:2–4).

68 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13:34): καθάρσιον γάρ ἐστι ῥύπου παντὸς τοῦτο τὸ φίλημα.

69 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13:34): ἡ δὲ κεκαθαρμένη ψυχὴ μηδεμιᾶς σαρκώδους λέπρας ἐπιπροσθούσης βλέπει τὸν τῶν ἀγαθῶν θησαυρόν. ὄνομα δέ ἐστι τῷ θησαυρῷ ἡ καρδία, ἀφ’ ἧς ἐστι τοῖς μαζοῖς ἡ χορηγία τοῦ θείου γάλακτος, ᾧ τρέφεται ἡ ψυχὴ κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως ἐφελκομένη τὴν χάριν. διὰ τοῦτό φησιν ὅτι Ἀγαθοὶ μαστοί σου ὑπὲρ οἶνον, ἐκ τῆς τοπικῆς θέσεως διὰ τῶν μαζῶν τὴν καρδίαν ὑποσημαίνουσα. πάντως δὲ καρδίαν μὲν τὴν κεκρυμμένην τε καὶ ἀπόρρητον τῆς θεότητος δύναμιν νοῶν τις οὐχ ἁμαρτήσεται. μαζοὺς δὲ τὰς ἀγαθὰς τῆς θείας δυνάμεως ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐνεργείας εἰκότως ἄν τις ὑπονοήσειε, δι’ ὧν τιθηνεῖται τὴν ἑκάστου ζωὴν ὁ θεὸς κατάλληλον ἑκάστῳ τῶν δεχομένων τὴν τροφὴν χαριζόμενος.

70 The work of Michel Barnes has unpacked the complexity and nuance of this theme in Gregory's writing. See The Power of God: DYNAMIS in Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1998). For more on this, see also fn19 in Norris, Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:35); Lewis Ayres, “On Not Three People: The Fundamental Themes of Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology as seen in To Ablabius: On Not Three Gods,” in Rethinking Gregory of Nyssa, ed. Sarah Coakley (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004); Verna E. F. Harrison, Grace and Human Freedom according to St. Gregory of Nyssa, Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 30 (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1992), 44–55.

71 Origen also emphasizes the nourishment provided by the bridegroom's breasts throughout Book 1 of his Commentary on the Song of Songs, though it is less developed than Gregory what we find in Gregory. Whereas Origen largely uses food to construct categories of identity for different kinds of Christians, for Gregory the emphasis is on food's transformative power and how this aids an individual's progress toward perfection.

72 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:36.2–3): ἀναλογία γάρ τίς ἐστιν ἐν τοῖς ψυχικοῖς ἐνεργήμασι πρὸς τὰ τοῦ σώματος αἰσθητήρια.

73 Cant. Hom. 1 (WGRW 13:36.21): ἐκ γὰρ τῶν μαστῶν τὸ γάλα φέρεται· νηπίων δέ

ἐστι τὸ γάλα τροφή.

74 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13:36.17–20).

75 See, for example, Norris, “The Soul Takes Flight,” 526; Harrison, “A Gender Reversal,” 37; Laird, Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith, 152.

76 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13.40.15–16).

77 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13.42.5). The verb used here to describe the growth of the maidens is ἐπεκτείνω. They are stretched and expanded so that they might be reformed into the likeness of the bride.

78 As I have argued throughout, infancy and maternity functioned in the ancient world as prominent and anxiously regulated sites for the work of cultural construction, wherein the values and concerns of particular social groups were worked out by regulating the bodies and behaviors of women and children. While infants were largely viewed as plastic and malleable by nature, Gregory's positive framing of infancy as a state of dispassionate potential is not totally consistent with broader Greco-Roman theories of childhood and education in which children are described as unruly and irrational. If anything, the plasticity of the infant soul tended to be viewed as a fundamentally precarious state in which the child is too readily shaped by bad behaviors of others. See, for example, Ps. Plutarch, The Education of Children.

79 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13:42.9): ἡ τελειοτέρα ψυχὴ. On the bride's perfection, see R. A. Norris, “The Soul Takes Flight,” 530: “Origen occasionally describes the Bride of the Song as ‘perfect,’ taking her to represent the mature Christian, but Gregory, with Paul's words in mind, invariably refuses this epithet and characterizes the Bride rather as ‘more perfect’; for in a sense, as he understands it, the proper Christian is always immature, since the goal is precisely never to arrive but always to respond to the ‘upward call of God.’” Norris is correct that Origen speaks of perfection in more emphatic terms than Gregory. However, I see no example in which the “more perfect” bride is characterized as nevertheless immature.

80 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13:42–44.25–1): τὴν πρώτην διὰ τοῦ κατὰ στόμα γενέσθαι τοῦ λόγου τῶν ἀγαθῶν πληρωθεῖσαν καὶ τῶν κεκρυμμένων μυστηρίων ἀξιωθεῖσαν.

81 Cant. Hom 1 (WGRW 13:44.3): ὅτι ὡς σὺ ἀγαπᾶς ὑπὲρ οἶνον τοὺς μαζοὺς τοῦ λόγου, οὕτω καὶ ἡμεῖς σὲ μιμησώμεθα καὶ τοὺς σοὺς μαζούς, δι’ ὧν τοὺς νηπίους ἐν Χριστῷ γάλα ποτίζεις.

82 Cant. Hom 2 (WGRW 13:50.1–2).

83 Cant. Hom 2 (WGRW 13:50.4): τὴν ἐκ τῶν λογικῶν αὐτῆς μαζῶν ἀπορρέουσαν χάριν.

84 Cant. Hom 2 (WGRW 13:50.15–20). Here Gregory draws explicitly on Pauline language of mimesis from Galatians and 1 Corinthians. The bride is a new Paul, offering milk to little ones so that they may grow into her likeness.

85 Cant. Hom 3 (WGRW 13:78.21–25).

86 Cant. Hom 3 (WGRW 13:78.30-80.1): ὅσον ἐκπλῦναι καὶ ἀποκλύσαι τοῦ ῥύπου τῆς σαρκὸς τὴν ἐν τοῖς λεγομένοις διάνοιαν.

87 Cant. Hom 6 (WGRW 13:188.2–6): μεταξὺ τῶν λογικῶν μαζῶν, ὅθεν βρύει τὰ θεῖα διδάγματα.

88 Cant. Hom 6 (WGRW 13:199.5–16): οὕτω καὶ ἐν ταῖς κατὰ τὴν ἀρετὴν προκοπαῖς οὐ πάντοτε τῷ αὐτῷ παραμένουσι χαρακτῆρι οἱ ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν διὰ τῆς τῶν ὑψηλοτέρων ἐπιθυμίας μεταμορφούμενοι.

89 Cant. Hom 7 (WGRW 13:226.25–28): δυνατόν ἐστιν εὑρεῖν ἐν τῷ κοινῷ σώματι τῆς ἐκκλησίας χείλη τε καὶ ὀδόντας καὶ γλῶσσαν, μαζούς τε καὶ κοιλίαν καὶ τράχηλον, ὡς δὲ ὁ Παῦλός φησι καὶ αὐτὰ τὰ δοκοῦντα ἀσχήμονα εἶναι τοῦ σώματος.

90 For example, in response to Song 4:5 (“Your breasts are like two twin fawns”), Gregory offers an anthropological consideration: “There are two human beings to be observed in each person: one is bodily and visible, the other spiritual and imperceptible. Yet the birth of either is always twofold, because they are brought into life together. For the soul does not exist before the body, nor is the body prepared before the soul. Both come into being simultaneously. And the nourishment that is natural to these is purity and fragrance and all such things produced by the virtues” (Cant. Hom 7 [WGRW 13:250.25–30]). The purpose of each body part is derived from this twofold nature and Gregory's discussion of parts’ various functions resonates with medical and social values that were widely applied to the body—especially to the female body—in his day.

91 Cant. Hom 7 (WGRW 13:252.3–13): διὰ τοῦτο τὸν καθ’ ὁμοιότητα τοῦ μεγάλου Παύλου μαζὸν τοῖς νηπίοις γινόμενον καὶ γαλακτοτροφοῦντα τοὺς ἀρτιγενεῖς τῆς ἐκκλησίας δυάδα μαζῶν ἀλλήλοις συγγεννηθέντων τῶν τοῖς νεβροῖς τῆς δορκάδος . . . οὐκ ἐν ἑαυτῷ κατακλείει τὴν χάριν, ἀλλ’ ἐπέχει τοῖς δεομένοις τοῦ λόγου τὴν θηλήν.

92 Cant. Hom 9 (WGRW 13:278.1–3): ἀκούσωμεν δὲ ὡς ἔξω γεγονότες ἤδη σαρκός τε καὶ αἵματος, εἰς δὲ τὴν πνευματικὴν μεταστοιχειωθέντες φύσιν.

93 Cant. Hom 9 (WGRW 13:278.10).

94 Cant. Hom 9 (WGRW 13:278.13–20): τὴν αἰτίαν λέγει τῆς πρὸς τὸ κρεῖττόν τε καὶ τελειότερον τῶν μαζῶν αὐτῆς ἀλλοιώσεως, οἳ οὐκέτι γάλα βρύουσι τὴν τῶν νηπίων τροφήν, ἀλλὰ τὸν ἀκήρατον οἶνον ἐπὶ εὐφροσύνῃ τῶν τελειοτέρων πηγάζουσιν. Gregory's reference to the bride's breasts as “fountains of good doctrine” has a parallel in On the Soul and Resurrection: “The person who is nourished always grows and never ceases from growth. Since the fountains of good things flows unfailingly, the nature of the participants who use all the influx to add to their own magnitude (because nothing of what is received is superfluous or useless) becomes at the same time more capable of attracting the better and more able to contain it. Each adds to the other: the one who is nourished gains greater power from the abundance of good things, and the nourishing supply rises in flood to match the increase of the one who is growing” (trans. Roth, On the Soul and Resurrection, 87).

95 Cant. Hom 9 (WGRW 13:294.9–10).

96 Cant. Hom 14 (WGRW 13:438.21–22): τὸ διανοητικὸν καὶ τὸ λογιστικὸν τῆς ψυχῆς, ᾧ ἐναπέθετο τὰ θεῖα μαθήματα, κοιλίαν προσαγορεύσας.

97 Cant. Hom 15 (WGRW 13:468.9–10): τῷ γὰρ εἴδει τῆς τροφῆς συνδιατίθεται πάντως καὶ τὸ τρεφόμενον.

98 Newman, Historical Sketches, vol. 2 (New York: Longman's, Green, and Co., 1906), 17.

99 Franz Dunzl aptly observed that individual Christian formation, for Gregory, is not an isolated process. Rather, the church is the space in which all are fed together (zusammenzuführen). See Braut und Bräutigam, 243.

100 Gregory's eclectic depiction of his sister's character has received significant scholarly discussion. See, for example, Muehlberger Ellen, “Salvage: Macrina and the Christian Project of Cultural Reclamation,” Church History 81, no. 2 (June 2012): 273297; Rousseau Philip, “The Pious Household and the Virgin Chorus: Reflections on Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 13, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 165186; Virginia Burrus, “Is Macrina A Woman? Gregory of Nyssa's Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection,” in The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Graham Ward (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004): 249–264; Smith J. Warren, “A Just and Reasonable Grief: The Death and Function of a Holy Woman in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12, no. 1 (Spring 2004): 3760; Rebecca Krawiec, “From the Womb of the Church,” 283–307. Virginia Burrus has offered a convincing analysis of the constantly shifting bonds of kinship that connect Gregory, his sister, and the whole cast of characters that appear in the Life of Macrina: “Macrina is at once the child who never left her mother's womb and all the husband her mother could want, her mother her own nursemaid, and she both her mother's maidservant and her brother's father. Conjunctions, displacements, and reversals of parent-child, husband-wife, and master-slave relations thus accumulate, intensifying and complicating the intimacy that envelops a family now reconfigured as a feminine community of pedagogical formation” (see Burrus, “Gender, Eros, and Pedagogy: Macrina's Pious Household,” in Ascetic Culture: Essays in Honor of Philip Rousseau, ed. Blake Leyerle and Robin Darling Young [Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 2013], 175). The image of Christian formation found in the Homilies on the Song of Songs that I have been presenting replicates this “feminine community of pedagogical formation” with its similar emphasis on shifting relations of kinship in which the mother-child/nurse-infant model serves as foundation.

101 Vit. Mac. 3 (ed. P. Maraval, Grégoire de Nysse. Vie de sainte Macrine, Sources chrétiennes 178 [Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1971], 149): Τρέφεται τοίνυν τὸ παιδίον, οὔσης μὲν αὐτῷ καὶ τιθηνοῦ ἰδίας, τὰ δὲ πολλὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἐν ταῖς χερσὶ ταῖς ἰδίαις τιθηνουμένης.

102 Vit. Mac. 12 (SC 178:182): μικρὰ τῆς θηλῆς αὐτὸν παρὰ τὴν πρώτην γένεσιν μετασχόντα εὐθὺς ἀποσπάσασα τῆς τιθηνουμένης δι’ ἑαυτῆς ἀνατρέφεται καὶ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν ὑψηλοτέραν ἤγαγε παίδευσιν . . . Ἀλλὰ πάντα γενομένη τῷ νέῳ, πατήρ, διδάσκαλος, παιδαγωγός, μήτηρ, ἀγαθοῦ παντὸς σύμβουλος.

103 Vit. Mac. 12 (SC 178:182).

104 Vit. Mac. 26 (SC 178:232). I take this to mean that one group of women under Macrina's care were abandoned infants at the time of their rescue, requiring someone to provide life-saving sustenance and care.

105 Vit. Mac. 22 (SC 178:214): τὸν θεῖον ἐκεῖνον καὶ καθαρὸν ἔρωτα τοῦ ἀοράτου νυμφίου, ὃν ἐγκεκρυμμένον εἶχεν ἐν τοῖς τῆς ψυχῆς ἀπορρήτοις τρεφόμενον.

106 Foucault, Security, 1.

107 Foucault, Security, 126.

108 Foucault, Security, 126–127.

109 In his discussion of Gregory the Wonderworker's oration for Origen, Richard Valantasis highlights Gregory's claim that Origen had “planted a spark” in him. This language, Valantasis notes, has maternal resonances in the medical literature. However, Valantasis prefers the paternal and masculine sense with respect to Gregory and Origen. See Spiritual Guides of the Third Century: A Semiotic Study of the Guide-Disciple Relationship in Christianity, Neoplatonism, Hermetism, and Gnosticism, Harvard Dissertations in Religion 27 (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1991), 28–30. Denise Kimber Buell also traces the language of “Sowing Knowledge” in her excellent study Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1999), 50–68.

110 As Cristina L. H. Traina has recently observed, acknowledging the reality of a maternal eroticism “furnishes a language and a logic for dealing more adequately with the ethics of parent-child relations in general, children's sexuality, and the erotic dimension of, for example, teacher-student . . . relations.” See Traina, Erotic Attunement: Parenthood and the Ethics of Sensuality among Unequals (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011), 4, 45. For a similar critical intervention, see also Noelle Oxenhandler, The Eros of Parenthood: Explorations in Light and Dark (New York: St. Martin's, 2001). I am grateful to Mara Benjamin for her conversation on this issue and for suggesting the relevance of these sources to the current project.

111 Burrus, “Gender, Eros, and Pedagogy,” 168.

112 In a different context, and with different ends in mind, Mary Douglas has commented on how the body and the functions of its parts are used to structure society: “The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious. The body is a complex structure. The functions of its different parts and their relation afford a source of symbol for other complex structures. We cannot possibly interpret ritual concerning excreta, breast milk, saliva and the rest unless we are prepared to see the powers and dangers credited to social structure reproduced in small on the body.” See Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Purity and Taboo (New York: Routledge, 2002), 142.

This essay was first presented at a panel on early Christian exegesis of the Song of Songs at the North American Patristics Society. The author would like to thank Karl Shuve for organizing that session and Andrew Jacobs for chairing it. I am especially grateful to Andrew for commenting on a later draft with characteristic insight and wit. In the final stages of revision, Ben Dunning and Mara Benjamin offered their keen editorial eyes and helped me to scour the essay. Lastly, an anonymous reviewer at Church History raised several crucial considerations for which I am most grateful.

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