Subtle Embodiments: Imagining the Holy in Late Antiquity*

Patricia Cox Miller

in Apophatic Bodies

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780823230815
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235087 | DOI:

Series: Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquia

Subtle Embodiments: Imagining the Holy in Late Antiquity*

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This book suggests that the phrase “apophatic bodies” disrupts the conventional binary of transcendence and materiality. In this chapter, this disruption is examined by focusing on ancient Christian representations of the bodies of the saints. In so doing, it addresses a particular problematic in late ancient Christianity that developed in the course of the burgeoning of the cult of the saints in the fourth and fifth centuries. In the light of such images, the chapter argues that late ancient hagiography accomplished the transformation of the literal body into a deeper truth. Holy bodies like Saint Thecla's are epiphanies of transfiguration that occupy a signifying space between transcendence and immanence; and just as they avoid idolizing the material, so they also deconstruct naive or insipid notions of spiritual presence in the world. Theophanic and human at the same time, the subtle embodiments of late ancient hagiography were supremely indirect, and in that indirectness lies their unsaying, their sidestepping; in short, these subtle embodiments are the hagiographical version of apophasis.

Keywords: apophatic bodies; materiality; Christianity; saints; ancient hagiography; holy bodies; Saint Thecla; transcendence; immanence; subtle embodiments

Chapter.  5491 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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