Dis/robing for the Divine: Virtue as a Means and an ‘End’ to Union with God

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Beginning with Paul's epistles, the Christian tradition has used the language of clothing oneself in virtue as a metaphor for spirituality. Whether donning armor against evil or a gown for a holy wedding, the wearing of virtue symbolizes spiritual growth and maturation. To be fully clothed is to be clothed in Christ. While some theologians see this as the pinnacle of the spiritual life, others like the Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207-1282 CE) view it as a penultimate and perhaps even problematic. For Mechthild true union with the divine necessitates disrobing - the taking off of virtue - so as nothing remains between the soul and God. Here virtue is helpful until it is not. This talk will trace the development of the metaphor of dis/robing in the Christian tradition and bring it into conversation with the Hindu Vaishnava tradition centered on the Bhagavata Purana. Through a comparative theological reflection, we will examine how Krishna's encounters with the gopis of Vrindavan - particularly his stealing of their clothes - may help illuminate a Christian reflection on wearing and not wearing virtue. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, what might a radical reconsideration of virtue mean for moving away from ego-centeredness and towards Other/others-centeredness. This a movement away from proper and decent towards right and just.


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