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Early Christian Bodies: Gendered, Suffering, and Political (Peer Reviewed)

When: June 10, 2021, 9:00 am - Thursday

Where: Swang 110

Session 3

Session Abstract

Recent research has drawn attention to the significance of the body and embodiment in early Christian belief and practice. This session explores conceptions of individual and corporate Christian embodiment within four different contexts. In late antique Syria, poetic imagination finds hope for cosmic renewal in certain distinct qualities of femaleness, and also grounds the meaning of the body’s struggle for wholeness in the one-nature Christology that provokes bodily suffering at the hands of Christian empire. Elsewhere, two early authors cast a vision for the proper ordering and redemptive functioning of the Church as body, within the cosmic body politic and earthly empire.


Paper Abstracts

Michelle Weedman, Maryville College, “Mary’s Fertility and the Renewal of all Creation in Ephrem the Syrian”

This paper argues that Ephrem uses Mary’s femaleness not only to describe the ascetical life, but also as a metaphor for understanding how the resurrection sparks the renewal of all creation.  In a number of striking images, Ephrem suggests that Mary’s fertility, by which she gives birth to the Son, becomes the source of renewal of all creation; through her womb, Mary can restore life to a barren creation.  His emphasis on fertility, and his use of female imagery such as the womb, allows Ephrem to explore ways in which “fertility” marks the effects of the Incarnation on creation itself.


Ethan Laster, St Louis University, “The Divine Body and Ascetic Bodies: Theopaschism and Suffering Saints in John of Ephesus”

This paper examines John of Ephesus’s Lives of the Eastern Saints as a case study in how Miaphysite Christological commitments interfaced with notions of ascetic embodiment. It argues that, for John, a titular bishop and central figure in sixth century Miaphysite circles, only the thoroughgoing theopaschism of one-nature Christology gives rise to, and renders meaningful, the ascetic sufferings of the holy men and women of the Eastern Church. In so doing, the paper raises larger questions about how notions of bodily wholeness and sanctity developed out of Christological and ascetic discourses in late antiquity.


Andrew Sutherland, Baylor University, “The Humbly Obedient Elements: An Integrative Reading of 1 Clement 2”

In response to scholarship’s focus on 1 Clem 20’s external influences, this paper argues that the chapter’s cosmology functionally and thematically extends the material on human examples of obedient faith in 1 Clem 9–19. This connection reveals that order in the author’s cosmology is constituted not simply by submission to higher powers (as many have suggested) but by a pattern of humble obedience to God benefitting others, and that such order is good insofar as it contributes to proper ecclesial life. These findings suggest more integrative readings of other passages dealing with order may foster more sensitive interpretations.


Joas Adiprasetya, Jakarta Theological Seminary, “Protreptic Imagination: Oikopoetic Readings of Acts 7 and the Epistle to Diognetus”

While the prophetic imagination challenges those who are in power, the protreptic imagination invites them hospitably to embrace the Christian way of life as an alternative for justice and peace. This paper argues that such a protreptic imagination is best demonstrated through the dialectics between oikos and paroikos (housing and pilgriming; staying and travelling), contributing to the construction of a political ecclesiology under the empire. Stephen’s speech and the Epistle of Diognetus will be read through the lens of oikos-paroikos.  By reading both texts together, the paper proposes a weaving of protreptic and prophetic imaginations in early Christian political ecclesiology.


Trevor Thompson, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Convener

  • Michelle Weedman, Maryville College, “Mary’s Fertility and the Renewal of all Creation in Ephrem the Syrian”
  • Ethan Laster, St. Louis University, “The Divine Body and Ascetic Bodies: Theopaschism and Suffering Saints in John of Ephesus”
  • Andrew Sutherland, Pepperdine University, “The Humbly Obedient Elements: An Integrative Reading of 1 Clement 2”
  • Joas Adiprasetya, Jakarta Theological Seminary, “Protreptic Imagination: Oikopoetic Readings of Acts 7 and the Epistle to Diognetus”

Join us in 2024!

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James Cone with conferee at the CSC in 2017

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Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), delivering the CSC plenary address.

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US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith delivering the CSC plenary address

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David Brooks engaging conferees during breakfast at the CSC

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