Saturday, 11 April 2015

Robin Orton: The place of the eucharist in Gregory of Nyssa's soteriology

Gregory's only systematic discussion of the eucharist is in the oratio catechetica (GNO III.IV, 93 ff.). It clearly reflects the idea of the solidarity between Christ's humanity, in particular his body, and ours which lies at the core of Gregory's soteriology.

Our bodies need an antidote to the poison received in Eden, which only the body of Christ can provide. The unconsecrated elements are already ‘in some way' the body of Christ, because bread and wine are necessary for the formation of human bodies, including Christ's. What happens at the consecration is that they are ‘transelemented' by ‘the word of God and prayer'. This is not a transformation of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ, as in later Roman Catholic doctrine. It is rather a divinization of the flesh and blood of Christ which the bread and wine ‘in some way' already are; as Antony Meredith has pointed out, the eucharist mirrors the incarnation as much as it does Jesus' last supper.

The divinized body of Christ is then absorbed into the communicants' solid flesh (the bread) and blood (the wine) through ordinary physiological processes. By conferring incorruptibility on the body, Christ's and then our own, the eucharist looks forward to the body's ultimate resurrection and divinization. As Rowan Williams has pointed out, Gregory is here making ‘a very important affirmation [...] about the Christian destiny of the body, an implicitly strong valuation of the life of the flesh.'

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