Congress Early Christian Mystagogy and the Body Utrecht, the Netherlands, 30 August-1 September 2017




Centre for Patristic Research
Congress Early Christian Mystagogy and the Body 
Utrecht, the Netherlands, 30 August-1 September 2017


Mystagogy is a more or less formal process of initiation by ritual, sacramental and didactic means into a continuously and intimately felt presence of a mystery that is regarded as transforming one’s personal life. In the early Christian period, two older traditions about human physicality influenced the Church’s vision and development of the process of initiation into the Christian faith.

One, deriving from the Bible and from particular strands in Greek philosophy, stressed the positive value of the body, also for the life of the soul. Hence not only did the Church in fact involve it in various rituals, but the future state which every believer was urged to try to deserve was imaged as resurrection and joyous eternal life in a new, glorified body.

The other tradition was the Platonic dualism of soul and body. It tended to speak of the present body and its urges as the image of the old, uninitiated life, and to advise the practice of asceticism as part of the iflght from a physical reality that distracted from the contemplation of the invisible and immaterial divine.
For this emphasis on asceticism, the Fathers also found support in the Apostle Paul’s letters (for instance, 1 Cor. 9). The fact that the body was actually and intimately involved in the initiation process – most obviously in baptism – tended to be regarded as a metaphor.
From the second century on (Polycarp), the dead body of holy men and women also played a role in the Church’s mystagogy. The Eucharist was celebrated over martyrs’ tombs, churches were built over or nearby the tombs, and the saints came to be venerated near the presence of their physical remains.
Later, the latter were experienced as a palpable conduit to divine healing power, and a miraculous cure almost always led to the subject’s conversion. Many stories relating such events figure in sermons by ecclesiastical leaders and they were intended to produce an insight leading to conversion in their listeners.


Scholars are invited to examine the role of the body in these approaches to the divine, in theory and in practice, in individual authors and/or collective contexts from the patristic period, and to reflect on how their findings might be interpreted in the light of modern thinking and practice.

The CPO is happy to announce that keynote lectures will be delivered by (among others): prof. dr. Catherine Coneybeare (Bryn Mawr College) and prof. dr. Danuta Shanzer (University of Vienna). The names of other invited key-note speakers will be published shortly.

Please send a 300-500 words summary of your proposal and a short biography to a.a.m.smeets@uvt.nl.

The deadline is set to March 1, 2017. Notifcation of acceptance is set to March 27, 2017. 

The proceedings of the congress will be published in the LAHR-series (Peeters Publishers, Leuven).



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