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Raised on Christian MilkFood and the Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity$
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John David Penniman

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780300222760

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300222760.001.0001

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Gregory of Nyssa at the Breast of the Bridegroom

Gregory of Nyssa at the Breast of the Bridegroom

(p.138) Five Gregory of Nyssa at the Breast of the Bridegroom
Raised on Christian Milk

John David Penniman

Yale University Press

This chapter examines the role of nurturance in Gregory of Nyssa’s understanding of the progressive perfection of the soul. Reflecting the social ideology of his time—in which maternity and breastfeeding functioned as indexes for social legitimacy and the transfer of cultural identity—Gregory regularly emphasizes the symbolic power of nourishment in the formation of the soul. Throughout his work, milk is described as a transformative meal, a form of subsistence that is the essence of salvation and the way toward perfection. The chapter begins with a comparison of Gregory’s Encomium on Saint Basil and the Life of Moses in order to demonstrate how these texts emphasize the maternal food given to an infant as the foundation of and guarantor for later intellectual prowess and social position. The chapter turns next to the Homilies on the Song of Songs and the ways in which maternity, infancy, and breastfeeding enable the various transformations of the soul that take place throughout Gregory’s interpretation. For Gregory, the Song of Songs is an itinerary of trophic mutations premised on the assumption that all food contains an essence that perfects the one who eats it.

Keywords:   Gregory of Nyssa, Epektasis, Song of Songs, Macrina, Michel Foucault, Basil of Caesarea, Moses, Milk, Paideia, Bio-power

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