Abstract

Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer’s request for daily bread is difficult to place in the history of the petition’s exegesis. Early interpreters—among them Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, Augustine, and Peter Chrysologus—stressed what is often called, in Henri de Lubac’s phrase, a “spiritual interpretation” of the bread as knowledge, the Eucharist, or Christian doctrine. The majority of modern commentators, in contrast, understand the petition to ask for material food. Gregory, however, troubles simple contrasts between ancient and modern and spiritual and material interpretation. In his fourth homily on the dominical prayer, he draws upon Origen’s exegesis, interpretating the bread within a metaphysical framework distinguishing between the perceptible and intelligible, but Gregory understands the bread to be material bread and the necessity of eating to be central to the human creature’s imitation of the impassible and immaterial God. Even more unique than this departure from the spiritual interpretation of the bread is Gregory’s argument that luxury and excess—eating more than the minimum required by the body—are practices not only bad for the soul but harmful and unjust to one’s neighbors. This article takes both these dynamics in turn: first, putting Gregory’s interpretation in relief by comparing it not only to the spiritual interpretation of bread by Origen but also the materialist interpretations offered by Chrysostom and Theodore; and second, bringing to light Gregory’s remarkable deployment of a perceptible/intelligible ontology to argue for the purpose of material sustenance and its importance for a just society.

You do not currently have access to this content.