Thursday, 30 April 2015

Jerzy Kowalczyk: To see with body and to see with mind: corporeal and spiritual cognition in the Dialogues of Gregory the Great

In my paper, I will discuss the relation between the corporeal and spiritual perception as presented in the Dialogues. Gregory's book is exceptionally abundant with references to modes of perception, and gives us insight into the 6th-century debate on the usefulness of senses. I will be particularly interested in exploring the intertwinement between the two dimensions of sight, the eyes of the body and the eyes of the soul, and the Christian interpretation of ancient sensory theories.
A cursory reading of the Dialogues might suggest that for Gregory the difference between seeing corporaliter and spiritualiter is unambiguous. True comprehension is only possible through spiritual eyes; people must sharpen the inner senses and abandon the outer ones in order to see properly.
Yet, a closer look adds to the complexity of the subject. According to Gregory, corporeal eyes are the remnants of Adam's perfect perception, namely the combination of spiritual and corporeal sight. The first man's lost legacy can partially be accessed by the saints who use their bodily eyes to look beyond the physical world. And even the common faithful, bound to corporeal sight corrupted by Adam's sin, are able, by the grace of God, to perceive His signs and miracles.
Thus, I will argue that the corporeal sight may still be useful, according to Gregory, to human salvation. I believe that the closer examination of the attitudes to the both sources of cognition can advance our understanding of accommodation of philosophical tradition concerning senses to Christian spirituality.

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