In our age of ecological crisis, what insights—if any—can we expect to find by looking to our past? Perhaps, suggests Virginia Burrus, early Christianity might yield usable insights. Turning aside from the familiar specter of Christianity's human-centered theology of dominion, Burrus directs our attention to aspects of ancient Christian thought and practice that remain strange and alien. Drawn to excess and transgression, in search of transformation, early Christians creatively reimagined the universe and the human, cultivating relationships with a wide range of other beings—animal, vegetable, and mineral; angelic and demonic; divine and earthly; large and small.
In Ancient Christian Ecopoetics, Burrus facilitates a provocative encounter between early Christian theology and contemporary ecological thought. In the first section, she explores how the mysterious figure of khora, drawn from Plato's Timaeus, haunts Christian and Jewish accounts of a creation envisioned as varyingly monstrous, unstable, and unknowable. In the second section, she explores how hagiographical literature queers notions of nature and places the very category of the human into question, in part by foregrounding the saint's animality, in part by writing the saint into the landscape. The third section considers material objects, as small as portable relics and icons, as large as church and monastery complexes. Ancient Christians considered all of these animate beings, simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, protective and in need of protection, lovable and loving. Viewed through the shifting lenses of an ancient ecopoetics, Burrus demonstrates how humans both loomed large and shrank to invisibility, absorbed in the rapture of a strange and animate ecology.