Many animals survive by blending in with their surroundings. We fail to notice the evidence that they leave—their tracks, their droppings, their stockpiles—and often our eyes pass right over their bodies too. Even the raccoons, crows, hawks, rats, cats, and sparrows adapted to environments dominated by humans barely catch our attention. We seem to notice animals most when we run from the wearying cycles of “civilized” life to “get back to” or “get in touch with” nature.
The situation is not all that different if we turn to the texts of Late Antiquity. Apart from encyclopedic handbooks like the Physiologus (c. 2nd century), animals are ubiquitous, but rarely caught out in the open, at the center of the reader’s visual field. Nevertheless, ancient texts bear a surprisingly expansive ecology. Animals are everywhere, especially when we grapple with how they conceal themselves under assumptions and camouflage themselves in examples, or are constrained by their authors, becoming creatures chained to restrictive rhetorical functions. These textual animals join the crowd of ancient bodies we risk losing to their own perpetual representation. While we may mourn the lack of sustained attention by scholars to animals, the animals are still there—are just about everywhere—for those who train themselves to see. Gregory of Nazianzus says as much, “The moon gives the beasts fearless speech [parrhesia]; the sun rouses the human for work.” One must listen by the light of the moon to hear the beasts, but they have been there all along.
What uses might the unfolding, rangy, interdisciplinary field of animal studies have for the study of Late Antiquity? A number of recent books exemplify the fruitfulness of the connection: Patricia Cox Miller’s In the Eye of the Animal: Zoological Imagination in Ancient Christianity, Mira Beth Wasserman’s Jews, Gentiles, and Other Animals: The Talmud after the Humanities, and Beth Berkowitz’s Animals and Animality in the Babylonian Talmud. My recently released book, Inner Animalities: Theology and the End of the Human, ventures another possibility. The book calls attention to oft-unnoticed animals and draws out contradictions in the textual ecology of late antique Christianity.
At the heart of the book lies an unresolved tension in the conceptual relationship between animals and human beings that derives from a historically relentless, if mostly unreflective, habit. Manifest commonalities and bonds between humans and other animals are always subject to the assumption of a deeper categorical difference: human beings are one kind of creature while all other animals—taken together from whales to worms—are another, lesser, kind. Anthropological exceptionalism is the assumption that nonhuman animals are fundamentally different and less important than human beings. This assumption is bedrock for political theory, ethics, medicine, philosophy, and theology in Western traditions. As such, anthropological exceptionalism pervades contemporary thought no less than ancient, though it takes different contours in different contexts.
Late antique Christian writings likewise tend to regulate creaturely relations according to the rule of anthropological exceptionalism. The ecology of these texts portrays animals sharing some common capacity or lack against which humanity emerges by contrast. Animals are all, collectively, named alogos, so that humanity may be cast as logikos (discursive, rational). Elsewhere, animals are represented as ravenous and servile so that humans may be cultured and free. Nor is derogatory comparison the only technique by which animal subordination emphasizes human uniqueness. Some authors, in order to highlight human depravity and alienation, require that animals are pious and contemplative workers of God’s will. In a recurring hagiographical trope (see the “Life of Thecla,” Jerome’s “Life of Paul,” or the Apophthegmata Patrum for examples) animals recognize true human holiness while the cities burn with depraved mockery of asceticism. Yet even as these discerning animals are used to shame less-discerning humans, they are simultaneously excluded from anything other than a second-rate holiness reserved for mere beasts.
This textual ecology becomes particularly interesting where anthropological exceptionalism begins to break down in the very texts which also rely on it. The categorical distinction between humanity and animality is a wall prone to crumble on either side of the border it marks. Ideology strains to outpace and contain experience, which constantly threatens to falsify it. Accordingly, even as authors insist that all animals share or lack a particular quality, counter-examples and exceptions bubble up in their own zoological encounters. In Oration 28, for example, Gregory of Nazianzus insists that all animals, being irrational, are insensitive to spiritual matters. Still, he goes on to note that spiders and bees are better geometers than Euclid, since they embody divine design in their hives and webs. Perhaps intuiting the contortions that he has just performed, Gregory exclaims, “Marvel at the intelligence of unthinking creatures!” Such an exclamation only raises new questions about the relations between intelligence, instinct, animal agency, and divine guidance—questions that Gregory’s oration cannot quite answer on its own terms. Gregory (disjointedly) uses the instinctual immediacy of spiders and bees to God’s wisdom as a model for perfect (human) ascetic contemplation, while simultaneously denying that animals could ever have a bond with God more substantial than humans.
While animals break across the boundary of anthropological exceptionalism, humans often fall through from the other side. In addition to remarkable animals, anthropological exceptionalism is disrupted by what I call the problem of human animality. As soon as authors construct norms or ideals for humanity through contrasts with animality, they are left with the problem that animal qualities invariably emerge in human life too. Human commonality with earth’s other creatures runs so deep that any set that includes billions of animal species will, invariably, also include some human beings—and some aspect of every human being. The question mark of creaturely commonality hides behind every assertion of categorical human uniqueness. So, for example, in his “Homilies on the Song of Songs,” Gregory of Nyssa lauds self-control as a uniquely human trait, and accordingly, designates sexual desire, instinct, and relational entanglement as problematic “animal” encroachments on proper human life. Animal encroachments generate management strategies. So, in addition to advocating a totalitarian control of (animal) eroticism, Gregory uses sublimation to underwrite his anthropological exceptionalism when he insists that (proper) erotic desire for God is of a completely different order. Wherever anthropological exceptionalism is underwritten theologically (e.g. as an expression of God’s image or God’s incarnation), human animality attracts a staggering array of ascetic, discursive, and ideological strategies that defend the bond between God and human uniqueness. Human animality is variously disavowed, sacrificed, tamed, silenced, cultivated, and abandoned in the Christian texts of late antiquity—strategies that persist in contemporary theological texts.
Scholars of animal studies unanimously reject anthropological exceptionalism. Much of the conversation in the field has turned on how to reject it and why we ought to do so. In the wake of this literature, I find myself all the more intrigued by the textual ecology of late antique Christianity, since these texts play an outsized role in shaping the shared topography of humanness and animality that we find ourselves inhabiting. Focusing on Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, Inner Animalities proposes that anthropological exceptionalism has always been a fiction requiring constant maintenance, and thus provides an illuminating hermeneutic for reading human-animal interactions in ancient texts. This groundwork enables constructive thought, reading against the grain of anthropological exceptionalism to open up new questions about what variations of humanity and ecology might have emerged if animality were not so rigorously and violently policed. For every thinker constructing a categorical humanity by contrast with animality, one can perhaps trace the outline of other, differently embodied humanities living in greater proximity to fellow creatures.
 See, for example, the way that different animal analogies signal different modes of prayer in Evagrius of Pontus’ “On Thoughts,” the way that Athanasius assumes a difference between humans and other animals as the foundational rationale for God’s incarnation in De incarnatione verbi, or the way that Epiphanius uses proximity to animals to mark the strangeness and depravity of those he regards as heretics.
 Oration 28 (section 30).
 Important texts in animal studies that expose and challenge this assumption include Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. David Wills, ed. Marie Louise Mallet (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008); Kelly Oliver, Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to be Human (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Cary Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).
 Think, for example, Basil’s celebration of human dominion as the capacity to cage lions and capture sharks in his homilies on the human condition.
 For another example, Athenagoras of Athens shores up his materialist conception of bodily resurrection by insisting that human flesh, unlike the flesh of every other creature, cannot be digested and assimilated into the bodies of other creatures. Athenagoras cannot directly deny the animality of human life—we participate in the economy of eating and being eaten—so he undergirds human uniqueness with a faux-naturalist assertion that human flesh is simply of a different, indigestible, kind than all other flesh. The final result is an anthropological exceptionalism firmly written into Athenagoras’ eschatology.
 Matthew Calarco’s book, Thinking through Animals: Identity, Difference, Indistinction, provides a helpful schematic overview of the field, distinguishing three major strategies for describing the relationship between humanity and animality (named in the book’s subtitle).
Eric Daryl Meyer is Gregory Roeben and Susan Raunig Professor of Social Justice and the Human-Animal Relationship and Assistant Professor of Theology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana.