A Gregorian Bestiary: Human Nature as Fallen and Redeemed in Gregory the Great’s Moralia

Gregory’s anthropology and his Christology are underscored by interiority and exteriority. Rodrigue Bélanger proposed that Gregory’s concepts of interiority and exteriority (first noted by Aubin and applied by Dagens to Gregory’s spirituality) may have broader application to Gregory’s theology. This paper examines this thesis by demonstrating the way Gregory’s animal images in the Moralia make use of this complex dance of interiority and exteriority. Christ’s mediatorial role between God and humanity bridges the gap of interiority and exteriority making possible the movement of humanity from a fallen exteriority to interiority. At the incarnation the Word (logos) became flesh (sarx) and in that one instant what is interior (the Word) becomes exterior (flesh) so that humanity, lost in its own exteriority, can both see and apply the benefits of the interior life. A discussion of interiority and exteriority is one that must take place within the context of salvation history but to do so requires the transgression of boundaries and an osmotic interplay between the body and the spirit in the human person. Gregory’s description of this movement requires images and language that may be understood spiritually as well as physically. The bestiary of animal images employed by Gregory in the Moralia provides a unique inroad to these concepts of interiority and exteriority.

The contemporary discussion of the liminality of the human body have demonstrated that the fringes or boundaries created by such images serve as a means of inclusion and exclusion. Such discussions define the norm while at the same time demonstrating the possible. Gregory’s beastly images used to describe Christ and humanity inform his Christology and his anthropology. Christ’s move from interiority to exteriority in the incarnation points the way back to interiority for humans who were made monstrous by the fall.

The liminal and permeable aspects of the division between the body and spirit are clearly demonstrated in Gregory. Through such fleshly stuff the spirit shines forth. Images and rhetorical devices most appropriate to the materiality of humanity cannot be separated from the ultimate spiritual character of the human person. Thus, the beastly images employed by Gregory in reference to humanity serve a binary function that culminates in a spiritual and theological understanding of the human person as a unified whole. The images employed inform Gregory’s operative theology of all that it means to be a human person fashioned from the stuff of this earth but created in the image of God. In this way Gregory penetrates the barrier between the body and spirit and employs numerous beastly images to limn his understanding of the human person.

Given the purpose of the Moralia it is not surprising that these beastly images speak of human nature and redemption in ways common to the language of contemplation and the spiritual life. Gregory’s use of such imagery in the Moralia justifies Belanger’s assertion that interiority and exteriority should be applied more broadly to Gregory’s theological thought and not just to his spirituality.

4 thoughts on “A Gregorian Bestiary: Human Nature as Fallen and Redeemed in Gregory the Great’s Moralia”

  1. Beauty (Christ) and the beast (Christ)
    The use of scholarship, viz. Belanger’s interiority and exteriority elements, is good. It shows a deep research familiarity with Gregory. The Moralia is underrated, the beastly metaphor is original, and the thesis is extensive. This proposal is Hester’s reentry into society activities after years of administration, so his presentation optimism would be predictably enthusiastic.

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  2. Moralia
    I appreciate scholarship on the Moralia and the proposal is well written, but dense – I am not sure how this will translate to the spoken context. But overall this proposal has strong potential and is tied to scholarship.

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