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Do Angels Eat? and Other Questions in Early Medieval Science

5:00pm - 7:30pm / Thursday 19th March 2020 / Venue: Seminar Room 4 Rendall Building
Type: Lecture / Category: Research / Series: Liverpool Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
  • Admission: This is a free event
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Liverpool Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Institute of Irish Studies co-hosted Seminar.

The Venerable Bede (c.673–735) is one of the most important, influential and prolific of all early medieval writers. One issue that Bede returned to again and again—and which serves as a representative illustration of his approach to such questions—was that of angels eating. Though discussions of angelic digestion may seem ridiculous today, they were tied to important and fundamental questions about the nature of matter and the operation of the cosmos. They demonstrate that early medieval thinkers—though starting from assumptions that we no longer recognise as axiomatic—were more than capable of thinking rationally about the natural world and its laws.

According to Scripture, angels sometimes ate human food when visiting the patriarchs—yet this type of activity clashed with widely shared assumptions about the refined nature of angelic bodies, which surely could not stoop to partaking in such a corporeal process as digestion. In attempting to settle this issue, Bede would tweak, amend and reshape received tradition, eventually arriving at a creative compromise that would remain influential for many centuries to come.