First Advisor

Susan C. Karant-Nunn

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History




Spiritual life -- Christianity



Physical Description

1 online resource, (85 p.)


Since its origins, Christianity has been pervaded by a large array of images in which the spiritual realities are symbolized as food. Such images may be not only verbal, but visual or expressed in actions. These images can be seen as expressions of a spiritual nourishment metaphor; I apply here the meaning of "metaphor" proposed by the linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson: a metaphor is a concept that structures ideas and actions as well as language. This thesis establishes the spiritual nourishment metaphor as a philosophical concept and begins to explore its history within Christianity.

The spiritual nourishment metaphor initially came to Christianity through the Hebrew tradition. I analyze the Jewish Letter of Aristeas, the early Christian Epistle of Barnabas, and selected writings of Augustine to study the development of an enacted expression of the metaphor, the spiritual practice of rumination. The function of rumination, to facilitate the understanding of the Scriptures, made it a force for group cohesion in early Christian communities. In Christian monasticism it became an important method for approaching union with God.

Augustine's textual uses of the spiritual nourishment metaphor show that its use would have been reinforced within Christianity by the existence in Latin of common word roots that convey both food-related and idea-related meanings. Ancient Hebrew and medieval Cistercian uses of the metaphor suggest that when a substance necessary for human survival (here, food) is in short supply, its symbolic use communicates that what is symbolized (here, the spiritual realities) is highly important to the culture.

The spiritual nourishment metaphor is a central element of Christian spirituality. The Eucharist is its supreme exemplar; the variety among exemplars of the metaphor suggests that it represents a convergence of expressions from varied origins.


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