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Body and DesireGregory of Nyssa's Ascetical Theology$
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Raphael A. Cadenhead

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780520297968

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520297968.001.0001

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Male and Female

Male and Female

Diachronic Exchanges

(p.138) 8 Male and Female
Body and Desire

Raphael A. Cadenhead

University of California Press

Chapter 8 highlights a new development in Gregory’s thinking: his immersion in the Song of Songs, with its descriptions of the virgin bride longing for her bridegroom, which allows him to view the cultivation of the imago Dei as more than just a mixture of male and female virtues (as in the middle period). He now argues that the soul’s shifting identifications with male and female characteristics take place in a particular order during the course of spiritual ascent. This diachronic progression begins with the life of vice and passion (identified as “womanish”), which is replaced, through ascetical discipline, by the virtuous (“manly”) life and then finally superseded by the soul’s identification with the passionate Virgin Bride of Christ. The second part of the chapter seeks to address the following question: how is Gregory able to insist that there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus on the basis of Galatians 3:28 while also using gendered imagery to describe the transformations of spiritual ascent? By examining the ever-increasing intimacy between the bride and the bridegroom, it becomes clear that the soul’s erotic relationship with Christ results in the spiritual undoing of “male” and “female” for Gregory in the late phase of his literary career.

Keywords:   Song of Songs, bride, bridegroom, participation, deification, gender, spiritual ascent

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