While many have seen the equation between Macrina and Socrates drawn in the Treatise on the Soul and the Resurrection as Gregory of Nyssa's attempt to honor his sister, a closer look at Gregory's attitude about the relative power of Christianity at the end of the fourth century suggests the opposite: that the character of Macrina lends validity to Socrates and, by extension, to non-Christian intellectual traditions. In this article, I argue that the Treatise is part of a larger project of cultural reclamation enacted by some Christians near the end of the fourth century. The educational reforms of the emperor Julian had instituted a public discourse of evaluation by which one's reading material indicated one's religious identity; after Julian, some Christians adopted this idea, yet in reverse, arguing that reading traditional literature was out of the question for Christians, as it would signal a non-Christian religious commitment. Gregory's Treatise on the Soul and the Resurrection was an effort to walk back the effects of that discourse and to return Christian pedagogy, philosophy, and cultural evaluation to a stance of ambivalence regarding Greek literature.
Ellen Muehlberger is an Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies and History at the University of Michigan.
Parts of this essay were presented at the Violence and Representations of Violence among Jews and Christians section of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Greater Michigan Ancient Christianity Society, and at the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History. I appreciate the guidance of those audiences as well as that of Bradley Storin, Kathryn Babayan, Mira Balberg, James J. O'Donnell, Ronald Suny, Steven Weitzman, and the anonymous reviewer for Church History.