Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2018

Publication Title

Studies in Late Antiquity




In Paedagogus 1.6.28, Clement describes baptism through the metaphor of a cataract surgery that enables the percipient to see God. In antiquity, cataract surgery was neither a common nor a safe procedure, which raises the question: why does Clement use such an unlikely metaphor for baptism? In this article, I demonstrate that this medical metaphor of cataract surgery enabled Clement to blur the line between the physical and the spiritual. The visual component of the metaphor allowed Clement to draw from Epicurean sensory perception and epistemology, which understood objects to emit tiny films that entered the eye of the body, with repeated contact leading to concept formation, in order to describe how the eye of the soul could see God once it has been transformed through baptism. For Clement, it is only through baptism that the cataract can be removed, thereby providing the baptized Christian with deified eyes to see God. In addition to having her cataract removed, according to Clement, the nature of the baptized Christian's vision changes from intromission to extramission, from receiving films to emitting a visual ray back to the divine. I further argue that the medical component of the metaphor allows Clement to describe the baptized Christian as fundamentally different from the rest of humanity and as part of an elite group that has undergone this uncommon and dangerous cataract surgery. Through these two aspects of his metaphor, Clement describes and defines Christians in terms of their medically modified eyes that enable them to see and to know God.






Author Posting. Published as Cain, Emily R. "Medically Modified Eyes: A Baptismal Cataract Surgery in Clement of Alexandria." Studies in Late Antiquity, vol. 2, no. 4, 2018 by Regents of the University of California.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.