Saturday, 11 April 2015

Nathan Howard: Sacred Spectacle in the Lives of Gorgonia and Macrina

The hagiographic biographies of Gorgonia and Macrina invite the hearer and reader into the intimate lives of two aristocratic Christian women. Both authors, respectively Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, create audience access to the most private moments of their sisters. The inner sanctum of an elite family, particularly its women, was normally highly restricted. Yet in both of these cases, the writers graphically recount grave suffering in their siblings. Such descriptions of personal experiences might otherwise suggest elements of voyeurism. But as bishops with sacred authority, Nazianzen and Nyssen transformed the spectacle of agony into an occasion of spiritual participation. The ailing bodies, where the material and the divine converged, became numinous sites of a holy meeting-place where faith transcended affliction.  Recalling the vitae of pre-Constantinian martyrs, the lives of Gorgonia and Macrina served as a medium for lay Christians to encounter a piety that closed the distance between the temporal and the eternal, the common and the sublime. The shame of human misery thus was re-oriented to a celebration of sanctified bliss. 

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