"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Evelyn Waugh: A Brief Note About Another Biography

I have previously paid fulsome tribute to Evelyn Waugh on here and elsewhere. At the time I noted the forthcoming publication of another biography, which has since appeared and I have since read: Philip Eade, Evelyn Waugh: a Life Revisited.

I have read it, and after doing so found my judgment unaltered: Douglas Lane Patey's 1998 The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography is far, far and away the superior--indeed superlative--biography of Waugh. Patey's book is not only a scholarly analysis of Waugh's life and work, but it is the most theologically informed and intelligent biography every written of Waugh. Indeed, I would say that it's very high and elegant theological literacy sets the standard for other biographies of Christian writers.

Eade's book, by contrast, pays scant attention to theology, and overall breaks very little new ground. His groundbreaking is extremely workmanlike, without great flourish or insight. So there is nothing wrong, per se, with the book--only that it is superfluous. What few new letters he has purportedly seen he manages, strangely, to render in a very flat and bloodless way, leaving the book teetering on the one social sin Waugh himself regarded as unforgivable: to be a bore.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Problems with Eastern Christian Nationalism or: Can Patriotism Be a Virtue?

This article, about the intersection of Orthodoxy in North America (especially that practiced by converts, whom Fr. D.O. Herbel discusses in his excellent book; cf. Amy Slagle's similarly excellent The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity) with new "nationalist" movements of the "far-right" or "alt-right" variety, has sparked some comment, part of a broadening commentary on the apparent resurgence of "nationalist" or other movements as part of, and apparently leading up to, the Brexit vote in HM's United Kingdom, and to the Trump election in Her Majesty's erstwhile American colonies.

As I have often remarked on here over the years, and elsewhere as well, nationalism and Eastern Christianity go hand in glove: this is so well known among scholars of the Christian East as to have acquired the status of a commonplace stretching back at least 200 years.

But more recently we have in fact been seeing an upsurge in such nationalism in Russia and elsewhere over the last decade and more, attracting wider attention--as in the linked article--from more than just scholars of the Christian East. But what does this all mean? Is it nationalism of the pure laine variety, or is it a mixture of multiple issues? What, if any, is the difference between nationalism and patriotism--or are they largely synonymous today? (I strongly suspect the latter, for reasons presently to be discussed.) Can we lump Brexit and Trump together? Is Russian Orthodox nationalism a prototype of all Orthodox nationalisms? Are Orthodox converts or other Eastern Christians in the United States proposing a racist nationalism, an economic nationalism, a hybrid of these two along with other issues?

Clearly these are all complicated matters requiring a good deal of careful thought beyond sloganeering, shaming, and silencing-- those tedious techniques by which too many people today attempt to abort important if uncomfortable debates about, inter alia, sexuality, immigration, Catholic canon law about divorce and remarriage, Islam, so-called nationalist or fascist movements, etc.

I will not for a moment pretend to have answers here, but I do want to suggest a few books and essays that have helped me continue to think through some of these questions; and then I want to suggest a few lines of inquiry that I think need to be taken up anew today. I hope to do some of this myself in the new year based, inter alia, upon a re-reading of Erich Fromm's landmark Escape from Freedom.

(Parenthetically, I would also, before going farther, want to strongly insist on bringing in another psychoanalytically informed social critic, Vamik Volkan, whose work I only discovered this fall and continue to find fascinating and compelling. I will say more about him and the nationalist question, on which he has written several things, in another post.)

For now, let us look to sort out some questions about patriotism and nationalism with the help of Alasdair MacIntyre.

As in many things, my early instincts upon entering a discussion are to return to what the great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has written, for he has a singular ability to render difficult questions pellucid. And so, 20 years after working on an MA thesis about him, I went back to read his essay "Is Patriotism a Virtue?" He begins helpfully by clarifying the nature of patriotism, noting how, in the American experiment, the old virtues of patriotism are covertly taken up in a new fashion and merged incoherently with the supposedly disinterested rationalism of liberalism and its bureaucratic apparatus in the modern state, creating the odd hybrid of what we could call modern nationalism.

And such nationalism has been witheringly scorned by MacIntyre. I have very often, on here and elsewhere, had occasion to quote MacIntyre's acid dismissal (in an essay discussing the politics of Irish poetry) of that "dangerous and unmanageable institution," the modern nation-state which pretends to be value-neutral except when its covert values invite/require you to die for it, a request/demand MacIntyre says is like being asked to die "for the telephone company."

And I have often thought of his rather witty essay, "The American Idea," on the bicentennial of the American founding, in which he talked about how, in some ways, everyone is an American today--whether living in Montreal, Mumbai, Montevideo, Munich, or Melbourne; and how, further, anti-Americanism is itself both American but also universal. So questions of nationalism, patriotism, and liberalism in late modernity are not nearly as clear as those coining the labels today would have us believe. Clearly more is at work, in most cases, than straight-up revanchist desires for some "pure" and protected "homeland" deracinated of all except my chosen tribe. At once we are entering a nexus of concerns--immigration, Islam, economics, etc. One must proceed carefully.

And carefully MacIntyre does proceed, noting at the outset that while many people may divide patriotism neatly into either a virtue or a vice, depending on their politics, matters are not so neat and tidy. MacIntyre says that patriotism needs to be distinguished from attitudes too often too easily assimilated into it, starting with a sort of political romanticism in which my nation is the bearer of some transcendent ideal--whether of "liberty and justice for all" or "peace, order, and good government" or liberté, égalité, fraternité. This group was active in Germany in prosecuting the Great War, seeing it as a fight for Kultur, a point MacIntyre has shown with some rather startling detail in his book Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-1922. This group is more interested in fighting and protecting the ideal wherever it may be found, and thus is not so attached to the particularities of place. Writing in the late 80s, MacIntyre gives a further example here of American notions of resisting communism and fighting for "freedom" not just in America or the North American continent, but worldwide.

Today, I think we could say that part of the Russky mir notions emanating out of Russia, and discussed in a variety of places, including the article linked to above, arise out of this concern to spread a transcendent ideal regardless of geography. (Putin has made it very clear that borders are an irrelevancy to him in many respects, as Crimea clearly shows.) In this regard, I would say that such movements are ironically branded as "traditionalist" or "nationalist" when in fact they are entirely too modern and unique creatures of late modernity, seeing that their understanding of morality is transcendent of time and place.

Equally too we could say that American imperialist attempts to foist decadent bourgeois sexual morality (LGBT rights, etc.) on other countries around the world are a form of colonialism masquerading as transcendent idealistic liberalism dressed in its familiar outfit of basic "rights," a notion whose historicity, at least, MacIntyre has scorned in After Virtue and elsewhere.

The patriot, MacIntyre says, is usually tied to a particular place, country, and/or people. But here too we must notice that patriotism is not usually mindless boosterism for a place or people simply because they are my own. Rather, it often involves an awareness that these particular people and this place are both my own and also the bearers of some praiseworthy virtues. To the liberalism of modernity, MacIntyre notes, this cannot but appear as a vice precisely because and insofar as it is not transcendent and "inclusive" of all people, but tied to and "priviliges" a particular people and thus offers prima facie evidence of racism, nationalism, xenophobia, etc., etc.

In the end--in a move familiar to readers of MacIntyre--he clearly demonstrates that liberalism and patriotism are in some ways mirror images of each other, and both have crucial, likely fatal, weaknesses that neither is able to overcome. (As he elsewhere says, in modernity we are all liberals: some are liberal liberals, some are radical liberals, and some are conservative liberals.) What is the alternative? Here MacIntyre ends his essay, saying a bit too breezily that that is a problem for another time. But since writing this essay, patriotism has not been a prominent theme in his more recent writings. Whether he returns to the issue in his newest book is not clear to me, not yet having had a chance to read Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative. But I look forward to doing so.

Here, instead, let me turn to other sources, beginning with a new book by the English scholar Nigel Biggar, that suggests an alternative. Biggar, a Regius Professor of pastoral and moral theology in the University of Oxford, has recently penned a short essay, Between Kin and Cosmopolis: An Ethic of the Nation (Cascade, 2014), 126pp.

As I said elsewhere in my review, the virtue of this book lies in its offering some useful but by no means exhaustive reflections that recognize not just the problems, but also the promise and even the positive aspects, of the modern nation-state. This is a discerning, careful treatment.

It is also a very English, very Anglican book--but in the best senses of both--with a suggestive, if not entirely convincing, case being made for how England manages to be both liberal-universalist, welcoming (as it has since the war) vast numbers of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and elsewhere; and also at the same time not entirely bereft of a certain nationalism-patriotism that conserves its own venerable and long-standing traditions as seen in, e.g., the state Church of England and her rituals for coronations, royal weddings, prime ministerial funerals, national days of thanksgiving for the monarch's succession, or national days of mourning on, e.g., 9/11.

Biggar, strikingly, argues that a vaguely Christian state like the United Kingdom is better able to safeguard the values of modern liberalism than liberalism itself is. This vague form of Christian establishmentarianism also serves to remind people that nations and nationalism are poor substitutes for a transcendent metaphysic. This vague form of cultural Christianity  is preferable to a “triumphal secularism” (44) often promoted today by “illiberal barbarians inside the gates” (35).

Biggar's book doesn't answer all the problems raised by MacIntyre; nor does it really treat the ugly side of nationalism as it has been a stranglehold on Orthodox Churches in, e.g., Russia. But it is a helpful place nonetheless to try to find some common ground between equally unrealistic alternatives of a deracinated and impossible liberalism-from-nowhere, and a xenophobic crew of the Iron Guard in Romania or the Black Hundredists in Russia.

I have written too much already, so let me close with just a few other books that may interest those who want to understand Eastern Christianity and nationalism better.

There are useful essays or chapters in such studies as James Hopkins's 2009 book The Bulgarian Orthodox Church: A Socio-Historical Analysis of the Evolving Relationship Between Church, Nation, and State in Bulgaria.

I would also refer the reader to the edited collection, containing both commentary and primary texts: The Teachings of Modern Orthodox Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature. (Additionally, see here and here for a couple of other notices about much more general studies.)

But perhaps the most promising place to begin would be with a book I have discussed on here several times already: Lucian Leustean, ed., Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe (Fordham UP, 2014).

This book is a collection of scholarly essays, each of which is illuminating in its own way. But what is especially valuable about this book is the introductory chapter, which cogently sets forth an overview of forms and causes of nationalism and various scholarly theories and treatments of it, and is therefore itself worth the price of the book.

After that, the book devotes chapters to Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the sunset of the Ottoman Empire and its millet system. The details unearthed considerably complicate conventional portraits about ethno-phyletism, the role of the French Revolution, and much else besides. This is a deeply fascinating book that has been smoothly edited. Anybody with any interest in the vexed question of Orthodoxy and nationalism--as well as the wider religio-political history of southeastern Europe over the last 150 years--cannot be without this book.

None of these studies treats, of course, the problem with which we began: the apparent attraction of a tiny handful of "nationalist" converts to Orthodoxy in North America. But let us end by noting that converts to Orthodoxy are extremely few in numbers, as Orthodoxy itself remains such a tiny part of the American "religious" landscape that it regularly fails to appear in polls, surveys, and other studies. So this is not a huge movement at all, and still needs further study. I would hope that such study would--following MacIntyre--make a serious attempt to put into question not just such converts, or the Orthodoxy in question, but indeed to put into question the whole enterprise of an incoherent liberalism and its telephone companies masquerading as impartial nation-states of transcendent values to which any rational individual should give assent after having severed all ties to kith and kin.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gentrification in the City of Man

One of the clear and strong themes in the recent collection to which I contributed, and on which I have commented previously, The Church Has Left the Building: Faith, Parish, and Ministry in the Twenty-First Century is that of the changing economics of our time, and the frequency with which such changes have left many large urban churches facing closure or having already closed because of people moving across the country regularly in search of employment. So parishes are changing and have changed, just as cities and their economies have changed and are changing, and this has occasioned no small commentary from Christians.

But what reflection has been done on the changing nature of the city as such? Apart from the doctoral dissertation of the Greek Orthodox scholar Timothy Patitsas, linking liturgy and Jane Jacobs, I know of no recent or substantial Eastern Christian reflection on cities and their changing nature.

But if parish life has been changing dramatically for decades now, so too have cities, this latter process often going under the heading of "gentrification," describing the apparent return to once hollowed-out urban centres. Alas, some of what has passed under this banner has been merely the triumph of toffs and hirsute hipsters hawking their overpriced mocha-chinos and designer hotdogs out of re-purposed steel mills or foreclosed brownstones, driving up prices of real estate and doing nothing to address poverty or the lack of affordable housing. But gentrification need not result in such bourgeois triumphs as a new collection, set for release next year, suggests: J.J. Schlictman et al, Gentrifier (University of Toronto Press, 2017), 216pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
As urban job prospects change to reflect a more ‘creative’ economy and the desire for a particular form of ‘urban living’ continues to grow, so too does the migration of young people to cities. Gentrification and gentrifiers are often understood as ‘dirty’ words, ideas discussed at a veiled distance. Gentrifiers, in particular, are usually a ‘they.’
Gentrifier demystifies the idea of gentrification by opening a conversation that links the theoretical and the grassroots, spanning the literature of urban sociology, geography, planning, policy, and more. Along with established research, new analytical tools, and contemporary anecdotes, John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill place their personal experiences as urbanists, academics, parents, and spouses at the centre of analysis. They expose raw conversations usually reserved for the privacy of people’s intimate social networks in order to complicate our understanding of the individual decisions behind urban living and the displacement of low-income residents. The authors’ accounts of living in New York City, San Diego, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Providence link economic, political, and sociocultural factors to challenge the readers’ current understanding of gentrification and their own roles within their neighbourhoods. A foreword by Peter Marcuse opens the volume.
I have long maintained an amateur's interest in questions of urban development since a professor very unexpectedly assigned the reading of Jane Jacobs in an undergraduate ethics course twenty years ago. Her first and most celebrated work, The Life and Death of Great American Cities is one that often comes back to mind as I am wandering around cities and neighborhoods, whose layout and design I find fascinating.

I tried to read several of her other works, including Cities and the Wealth of the Nations as well as Dark Age Aheadbut in both cases I admit she lost me in the details of economics; neither book had the grand narrative thrust of her first book.

Jacobs has recently been the subject of two biographies, reviews of which I have read in several places. Robert Kanigel's Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs was released by Knopf this past September.

Earlier this year, Peter Laurence's Becoming Jane Jacobs was published in January. I hope to have a chance to read one or both as time allows.

I did, some time ago, read a third biography of Jacobs, written by Alice Sparberg Alexiou and published in 2006 as Jane Jacobs: Urban Visionary. It was moderately interesting.

Given this much attention, it is almost inevitable that certain revisionists and critics would push back, as Peter Moskowitz did last spring here and as Adam Gopnik did somewhat in the New Yorker. It is clear, then, that just as the future of city churches continues to come in for much debate, so too will the future of those cities themselves.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Studies of Ukraine

As the flashpoint of the encounter between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic worlds, Ukraine--so the popular impression often runs--very often lives up to its very name of "borderland," that is, to a place of never-ending conflict. But several new and forthcoming studies challenge this perception from a variety of angles. The first and most wide-ranging of these is a collection edited by Giovanna Brogi Bercoff, Marko Pavlyshyn, and Serhii Plokhy: Ukraine and Europe: Cultural Encounters and Negotiations (University of Toronto Press, 2017), 496pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Ukraine and Europe challenges the popular perception of Ukraine as a country torn between Europe and the east. Twenty-two scholars from Europe, North America, and Australia explore the complexities of Ukraine’s relationship with Europe and its role the continent’s historical and cultural development.
Encompassing literary studies, history, linguistics, and art history, the essays in this volume illuminate the interethnic, interlingual, intercultural, and international relationships that Ukraine has participated in. The volume is divided chronologically into three parts: the early modern era, the 19th and 20th century, and the Soviet/post-Soviet period. Ukraine in Europe offers new and innovative interpretations of historical and cultural moments while establishing a historical perspective for the pro-European sentiments that have arisen in Ukraine following the Euromaidan protests.
The second, just released this month, is a collection that reminds us of the deep if messy roots of a very particular encounter: that between Christians and Jews in Ukraine, which has often been controverted though there is considerable evidence that it was also much better in parts of Ukraine than in other parts of Europe from the 19th century through to the First World War. A just-released study, from the widely respected historian Paul Robert Magocsi (author of many studies of the "Carpathian peoples," as it were--Rusyns, Ukrainians, and Galicians) together with Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, sheds fresh light on the complexities of these relations: Jews and Ukrainians: A Millennium of Co-Existence (University of Toronto Press, 2016), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
There is much that ordinary Ukrainians do not know about Jews and that ordinary Jews do not know about Ukrainians. As a result, those Jews and Ukrainians who may care about their respective ancestral heritages usually view each other through distorted stereotypes, misperceptions, and biases. This book sheds new light on highly controversial moments of Ukrainian-Jewish relations and argues that the historical experience in Ukraine not only divided ethnic Ukrainians and Jews but also brought them together.
The story of Jews and Ukrainians is presented in an impartial manner through twelve thematic chapters. Among the themes discussed are geography, history, economic life, traditional culture, religion, language and publications, literature and theater, architecture and art, music, the diaspora, and contemporary Ukraine. The book’s easy-to-read narrative is enhanced by 335 full-color illustrations, 29 maps, and several text inserts that explain specific phenomena or address controversial issues. Jews and Ukrainians provides a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating land of Ukraine and two of its most historically significant peoples.
The University of Toronto Press, the largest academic press in Canada, maintains a lively list of books devoted to Ukrainian studies in part because the Ukrainian immigration into Canada over the last dozen decades or more has been very large indeed, and there are a number of endowed chairs in Ukrainian history and culture at several Canadian universities. So the U of T Press is also issuing, in addition to the above, four other new studies, including Rhonda Hinther's study, Perogies and Politics: Canada's Ukrainian Left 1891-1991 (U of T Press, 2017), 304pp.

In this continued centenary period of the First World War (I write this on the 100th anniversary of the death of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef), a forthcoming study looks at Ukraine's role in the conclusion of that conflict: Borislav Chernev, Twilight of Empire: The Brest-Litovsk Conference and the Remaking of East-Central Europe, 1917–1918 (U of T Press, 2017), 304pp.
Twilight of Empire is the first book in English to examine the Brest-Litovsk Peace Conference during the later stages of World War I with the use of extensive archival sources. Two separate peace treaties were signed at Brest-Litovsk – the first between the Central Powers and Ukraine and the second between the Central Powers and Bolshevik Russia.
Borislav Chernev, through an insightful and in-depth analysis of primary sources and archival material, argues that although its duration was short lived, the Brest-Litovsk settlement significantly affected the post-Imperial transformation of East Central Europe. The conference became a focal point for the interrelated processes of peacemaking, revolution, imperial collapse, and nation-state creation in the multi-ethnic, entangled spaces of East Central Europe. Chernev’s analysis expands beyond the traditional focus on the German-Russian relationship, paying special attention to the policies of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. The transformations initiated by the Brest-Litovsk conferences ushered in the twilight of empire as the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, and Ottoman Empires all shared the fate of their Romanov counterpart at the end of World War I.
Finally, two further forthcoming studies both look at the aftermath of the Great War and the rise of the Soviet Union: first, Zbigniew Wojnowski, The Near Abroad: Socialist Eastern Europe and Soviet Patriotism in Ukraine, 1956-1985 (U of T Press, 2017), 304pp.

And second: Beau Monde on Empire’s Edge: State and Stage in Soviet Ukraine 1st Edition by Mayhill Fowler (U of T, 2017), 264pp.

The East Roman Collapse and Islamic Conquest

As I have noted many times, including in a recent discussion about new books on Muslims and Christians in Syria, the history of those initial encounters remains quite complex, as does the process by which, gradually and haltingly, each began to define itself vis-á-vis the other. There is still much about this history and those encounters that we are learning, and a recent study sheds further light here: Olof Heilo, Eastern Rome and the Rise of Islam: History and Prophecy (Routledge, 2015), 162pp.

About this book we are told:
The emergence of Islam in the seventh century AD still polarises scholars who seek to separate religious truth from the historical reality with which it is associated. However, history and prophecy are not solely defined by positive evidence or apocalyptic truth, but by human subjects, who consider them to convey distinct messages and in turn make these messages meaningful to others. These messages are mutually interdependent, and analysed together provide new insights into history.
It is by way of this concept that Olof Heilo presents the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire as a key to understanding the rise of Islam; two historical processes often perceived as distinct from one another. Eastern Rome and the Rise of Islam highlights significant convergences between Early Islam and the Late Ancient world. It suggests that Islam’s rise is a feature of a common process during which tensions between imperial ambitions and apocalyptic beliefs in Europe and the Middle East cut straight across today’s theological and political definitions. The conquests of Islam, the emergence of the caliphate, and the transformation of the Roman and Christian world are approached from both prophetic anticipations in the Ancient and Late Ancient world, and from the Medieval and Modern receptions of history. In the shadow of their narratives it becomes possible to trace the outline of a shared history of Christianity and Islam. The "Dark Ages" thus emerge not merely as a tale of sound and fury, but as an era of openness, diversity and unexpected possibilities.
Approaching the rise of Islam as a historical phenomenon, this book opens new perspectives in the study of early religion and philosophy, as well as providing a valuable resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies.

Friday, November 25, 2016

2016: A Look Back, With Christmas Recommendations

As I've done on here for previous years, so let me now offer a look back at some of the significant books of 2016 in case you are looking for Christmas gift ideas for the bibliophile in either your own soul or your family and friends. My list from 2015 is here, the one for 2014 here, and the one for 2013, with links to years before that, is here.

None of these lists, it should go without saying, is anything like exhaustive. The rate at which new publications pour forth each year is little short of diluvial, and this blog is just a small canal containing and trying to observe, and sometimes comment on, only some of that enormous outflow. You are welcome to paddle around here until your heart's content, navigating via the tags and labels on the side, reviewing past years' lists, or whatever method suits your fancy.

Let us begin with a study of Christmas itself, and our sometimes complicated relationship to this season, reactions to which among Christians and others vary from robust rejoicing to puritanical sloganeering about "Jesus is the reason for the season": Christmas as Religion: the Relationship between Sacred and Secular by Christopher Deacy (Oxford UP, 2016), 256pp.

Ecclesiology and Ecumenism:

Let's start with everybody's favourite topic in the Orthodox world--ecclesiology and ecumenism. (All together now: "Ecumenism is the pan-heresy!") 2016 was, of course, the year of the long-expected "Great and Holy Council," which finally met in Crete in June.

A new collection, looking at some of the past councils considered ecumenical, was released just before Crete. That was noted here, along with an interview of its editor.

I had begun the year looking at whether Crete would be held, and noting some other books on past councils I often recommend to my students. See some of those recommendations here.

In preparation for Crete, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a book edited by a man singularly involved in Crete, John Chryssavgis. That two-volume collection was published this year by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press as Primacy in the Church. I gave the details of it here.

Evangelical and Orthodox missionary co-operation came in for study in a new book noted here.

A rarely attempted philosophical engagement with the Christology of the ecumenical councils was noted here.

My dear friend, the Orthodox theologian Will Cohen, published his important and very learned study, The Concept of ""Sister Churches"" in Catholic-Orthodox Relations since Vatican II. If you go here, you can read my interview with him about his fascinating life and new book.

In the Catholic world recently, discussions of synodal and papal authority have really been "hotted up" in the aftermath of the two synods on the family and the resulting post-synodal exhortation published by the pope of Rome. That document, in turn, has spawned renewed interest in questions of papal authority and infallibility, which I treated here with a very long discussion of many books from Catholic and Orthodox authors alike.

Inspired by re-reading Adrian Fortescue's bracing polemics on the papacy, and drawing on such as Sergius Bulgakov, I noted some thoughts here on the vexed question of why Pope Pius IX felt entitled to go ahead with a unilateral dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception.

I also noted here some early thoughts on the forthcoming publication of what is sure to be a landmark work by A. Edward Siecienski, The Papacy and the Orthodox (Oxford UP, 2017), 528pp. Though official publication is listed as early February, you can order an advance copy now on Amazon.

On the Remembering and Forgetting of (Crusades and Other) History:

2016 will go down as the year in which the widely respected doyen of Crusades scholars, Jonathan Riley-Smith of the University of Cambridge, died. I posted a partial necrology here, discussing some of his many influential books and articles, any and all of which are more than worth your time and should be required reading by everyone before ever again opening a discussion about these most controverted of events.

For a recent study on Arab views of the Crusades, see this book.

For a note on the 25th anniversary edition of a landmark book that has done much to shape discussions of the uses and abuses of the past, go here to read more about David Lowenthal's The Past is a Foreign Country.

For more than a year now, I have been working on the historiographical problem of the Crusades, especially as it appears in ISIS propaganda. I noted a new collection here that treats these issues somewhat. Edited by Megan Cassidy-Welch, Remembering the Crusades and Crusading (Routledge, 2016) is one of several such recent studies to focus on the complex problems of historical "memory."

Much of what I am especially interested in when it comes to the Crusades is the nakedly political and highly tendentious process by which we "remember" but also and especially the untapped potential of deliberate "forgetting."  On this latter topic, 2016 has been an especially rich year, and I discussed many studies on here, beginning with David Rieff's very valuable essay, In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies. This provocative and stimulating study occasioned a series of reflections, beginning here.

Another book of similar size, thrust, and importance is Manuel Cruz, On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History. I discussed it here in some detail, and then used it as the basis elsewhere for an essay reflecting on the Cretan council and Orthodoxy's problems with history.

I have noted numerous other studies on forgetting, including those discussed here; another, arising out of a post-revolutionary French context, here; and then discussed still others here and here.

On the temptation to "invent" and "imagine" a useful liturgical past, see this important collection.

Byzantine History:

Though often derided as having produced little that is culturally useful, you should go here for a recent book on the intellectual methods and influences of 12th-century Byzantium across Europe.

On the transformations of Egypt from a Byzantine to Islamic nature, see here.

For other similar transformations across the rest of North Africa, see this study.

For the always-shifting line between sanity and sanctity, as in the holy fools of Byzantium, see here. For the holy fools in cinema, see here.

For mosaics in Middle Byzantium, go here.
For a Byzantine monastic office, see the new book noted here.

Ottoman History:

I noted the changing role of the Sultan in the late Ottoman period here.

For an answer to the ISIS-inspired questions Which Caliph? Whose Caliphate, see here.

For a new study of a little-known genocide committed at the very end of the Ottoman Empire, that against Assyrian Christians, see here.

For a new study of the attempted recovery of Armenia after the 1915 genocide against them by the Ottoman Empire, see this new study.

See my review here of Eugene Rogan's splendid and deeply fascinating book The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East.

The fate of converts and apostates in the late Ottoman period was examined in this new study.

Greek Orthodox musical culture in late Ottoman Istanbul was studied in a book noted here.

The Ottomans, of course, were not the only empire to fall as a result of the Great War. So too did the Habsburgs, whose history has been told in a new study noted here.


Though Christians, both East and West, have for a long time been not entirely unjustly wary of certain strands of psychoanalytic thought, there is much within this broad tradition worthy of respect and engagement. For several reasons, this was the year that I returned to a re-engagement with psychoanalytic thought, which I had studied in the 1990s as an undergraduate psychology student who came very close to undertaking analytic training himself.

So this year I began a multi-part series this year "The Mind of Christ and a Psychoanalytic Mind," noting several books along the way, including this one by Peter Tyler, one of several recent studies attempting to reconsider the sometimes fraught relationship between theology and psychoanalysis.

But my multi-part series was really inspired by Fred Busch's fascinating and deeply suggestive book, Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind: A Psychoanalytic Method and Theory. I spent some time suggesting ways in which this approach might be useful to spiritual directors.

Another, rather less successful, collection of essays on theology and psychoanalysis was reviewed here.

The late Donald Spence wrote a disturbing study on the relationship, and often antagonism, between what he called historical truth and narrative truth. I briefly discussed it here.

I spent a little bit of time here discussing a new book examining the healing power of ritual, which Christians have of course long known, but psychotherapists have too little recognized--until now.

For more on the uses of psychoanalytic categories for treating fundamentalism, apocalypticism, and religiously inspired violence, as with ISIS (discussed above), see this recent collection here, noting especially the fascinating work of Vamik Volkan, including his Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride To Ethnic Terrorism

I am going to continue to read more of Volkam in 2017, and use him in a new class I am teaching this spring. In particular, his pioneering work on the ideas of "chosen trauma" and "chosen glory" goes a long ways to helping understand parts of Eastern Christian history (e.g., Serbian relations with Islam after the infamous Battle of Kosovo) as well as contemporary ISIS uses and abuses of "Crusades" history.

There are, I am finding, certain books one perhaps rather insouciantly picks up, not expecting much, only to find that they stay with one a very long time, weaving in and out of one's thinking in a variety of ways and on a variety of topics. One such book for me this year was the deeply fascinating and provocative book by the English literary scholar and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived LifeI very much warmly commend this book to you; it has wisdom for us all.

I attempted to suggest, in an Evagrian spirit, that much of what Philips advocates could easily be understood in apophatic categories common to Evagrius, Ps-Dionysius, and much of the Eastern tradition as a whole.  This book has continued to haunt me this year, and I fully expect to be drawing on it in a variety of ways, and towards a variety of ends, in the years ahead--much as I have done with Erich Fromm (see below), whom I first read in the 1990s.
Door to Freud's Office
(author's photo)

For further thoughts on the widespread influence of psychoanalysis, see some thoughts here based on reading I did in preparation for a trip I took to Vienna, which included a pilgrimage to the famous Bergasse 19, home of our father among the saints Prof. Dr. S. Freud.

For a new autobiographical memoir by Julia Kristeva on her marriage, go here. Early in the year I wrote a rather diffuse essay on Kristeva, the European refugee crisis, Orthodox nationalism, and psychoanalysis. You can check that out here.

On the value of returning to books one read in one's 20s, see here for some brief thoughts on returning to the hugely influential Erich Fromm, including a new biography about him.


On biographers, biographies, and the challenges faced by the former in writing the latter, I noted some overarching thoughts here.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh has been studied in a new biography, which I noted here along with some comments on earlier studies of the man.

Alexander Men has been studied in a new biography noted here.

2016 was the 50th anniversary of the death of the greatest Catholic novelist of the last century, Evelyn Waugh. I discussed his biography, and his life's work, in several places, including here and with greater detail here. See here for some reflections on his mocking of certain Eastern Christian pieties around the emperor Constantine in his hilarious novel Helena

John Chryssavgis, mentioned above in reference to the Cretan council, is the author of an authorized biography of the Ecumenical Patriarch, noted here.

Going as I was in the spring to Vienna, I determined to read more about some of its most illustrious erstwhile residents, and so I noted here the lovely, lyrical, accessible biography of Mozart written by the great historian Peter Gay.

The Christian thinker of our time who has arguably done more than anybody to shape discussion about Christianity in the public square, especially an American public square, is the late priest Richard John Neuhaus, who has found a worthy biographer indeed in the splendid Randy Boyagoda, Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public SquareI posted a long review of the book here.

Islamic Encounters with Eastern Christians:

Arabic conquests of historically Christian lands were noted here.

Two important new books on Syriac Christian encounters with Islam were noted here.


These remain a topic of perennial interest and fascination on the part of many, not just Eastern Christians. I noted two new books this year here and here.

I also noted a new interdisciplinary study here on images of deification.

And the theme of deification/divinization/theosis came up in an interview with Carl Olson, one of the editors of a wholly welcome and important new collection on this theme in a Catholic context, where it has sat uneasily for far too long. For that interview go here.

Author Interviews:

In addition to the interviews noted above, I would also draw your attention to three others I was happily able to do this year, beginning with my dear friend Michael Plekon, discussing his new book Uncommon Prayer: Prayer in Everyday Experience. You may read the interview here.

I was also very happy to be able to interview my prolific friend Nick Denysenko about his latest book on Orthodoxy and liturgical reforms. That interview is here.

Finally, Amir Azarvan put together a collection entitled Re-Introducing Christianity: An Eastern Apologia for a Western Audience. I interviewed him here about that.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Papal Infallibility and Authority (Updated)

More than four years ago, on a now-defunct blog, I was asked for some recommendations on books about papal infallibility, a topic so often grossly misunderstood even (perhaps especially) by Catholics themselves--most hilariously in the oafish character Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited. (Brideshead is, of course, the best-known novel of Evelyn Waugh, but here and here I discuss his other works in considerable detail.)

More recently, within the past few months, I have been repeatedly approached on Facebook and elsewhere by people asking for books about these matters. These requests are occurring in the context of heated discussions getting recently hotter over papal authority and the magisterial status of Amoris Laetitia, and the notion being bandied about rather carelessly of an errant pope being publicly corrected by some cardinals for what they regard as errors in that document. In such a context, it seems opportune to revisit some thoughts first posted on here in 2011, but with updates. Now is the time, perhaps more than ever before in Catholic history, to be extremely clear about the limits of papal authority, as I argued just over a year ago. (For more general thoughts on synodal authority, see here and here.) Now is the time, moreover, to be equally clear about appeals to "history" and to questions of historical "development," whether of doctrine or pastoral practice.

Just before getting into that, however, let me, as a footnote as it were, offer here a notice of a book I read almost 20 years ago, and found enormously valuable: The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning, by the philosophers Albert R. Jonsen and Stephen Toulmin. Some have suggested that what is happening in, and as a result of, Amoris Laetitia may be something of a revival of casuistry in Catholic moral theology, which Jonsen and Toulmin suggested was often unfairly criticized and unhelpfully thrown out by the twentieth century. In rubbishing casuistry, they suggest (and Stanley Hauerwas has echoed this), Catholic tradition lost some valuable tools for dealing with complex issues in, e.g., modern bioethics.

To the task at hand: A book that offers very sobering judgments in all three areas--historiography, development, and papal authority--is Francis Oakley's deeply disturbing The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church 1300-1870 (Oxford, 2008). This was the last time of open, and multiple, schisms in the Western Church over papal authority, and this massive crisis was resolved only by the controverted Council of Constance asserting itself over the three rival claimants to the papal throne and ultimately not just "correcting" them but in fact dismissing them all and proceeding with someone new, viz., Martin V.

In Oakley's judgment, which I share, Catholic tradition has never adequately dealt with this, and papal historiography especially so. The too-tidy narrative, and chronological list of popes one finds in, e.g., the Annuario Pontificio, conveniently trace all modern popes to Martin V, and rubbish the others as "anti-popes," which is bad enough, but it is the shameful way that Constance is treated, with its infamous decree Haec Sancta being so selectively treated, that must give one pause, as I argued here at some length.

Part of what Oakley shows is that the theories of papal infallibility and authority which triumphed at Vatican I were not the only ones on offer. Though often misunderstood, papal infallibility, as Vatican I claimed, is actually a very simple, very narrowly defined, "negative" charism not nearly so opposed to other Christian traditions, especially in the East, as some may think. See, e.g., the book by the Greek Orthodox hierarch and theologian, Stylianos Harkianakis, The Infallibility of the Church in Orthodox Theology (St. Andrew's Orthodox Press) (ATF Press, 2008). I reviewed the book for an academic journal in Europe (the newly revived One in Christ) and there remarked that this was a strange book whose publication more than a half-century after it first appeared in Greek as a doctoral dissertation was not explained. The author's foreword acknowledges this question, but offers an unconvincing rationale for ignoring decades of far-reaching scholarship: “the theme as such would not allow any serious alterations, at least in terms of Orthodox Ecclesiology.”

I grant the author’s point that not much recent work on Orthodox understandings of infallibility has been done; but so much work has been done on Orthodox ecclesiology (not least by the author’s compatriot, John Zizioulas—to say nothing of Christos Yannaras, and many, many others, some of whom are discussed here) that readers should know that this section of Harkianakis’s book is very outdated. The twentieth century was widely recognized as the "century of the Church" or the "century of ecclesiology," and this was true in Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic circles so that to ignore fifty and more years of ecclesiological development is a massive omission.

Where the book is truly outdated is from the fourth chapter onward, but leaving that aside, let me stress that the first three chapters are still very valuable, offering as they do a lucid understanding of Orthodox understandings of the infallibility of the Church, defined thus: “that attribute of the Church which, by the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, safeguards the faith entrusted to it from all error, and at the same time rightly teaches the word of truth.” In his extensive reflections on infallibility, Harkianakis presents very little if anything that a Catholic, properly understanding what Pastor Aeternus says and means, could or should object to. 

Harkianakis's argues that infallibility “refers only to matters of faith and morality” (as Catholics would unhesitatingly agree), it only “covers these articles of teaching in themselves…but not the concrete form in which they appear” (as Catholics would agree), and it is “first and foremost understood negatively” (as Catholics would again readily agree), merely keeping doctrinal pronouncements free from error.

Where Catholics and Orthodox differ is in the manner in which infallibility is demonstrated or invoked. Harkianakis argues that it needs to be more clearly seen as an ecclesiological and pneumatological exercise of the episcopate as a whole and not the prerogative of one man. That is precisely the point that I made in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

It is at this point that Harkianakis argues forcefully that “if at any time the Church were to reject from its life, even for a moment, the idea of the synodical system, it would cease automatically to be a Church.” The synod, according to the author, “constitutes the instrument by which the voice of the Church is declared and is accordingly the instrument of infallibility of the Church.”

This emphasis on the centrality of synodality for the life of the Church has been made repeatedly and with greater force by Zizioulas, especially in his two essays delivered at symposia in Rome in 1997 and 2003 on the papacy. Those essays may be found in James Puglisi, ed., Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church and in Walter Kasper, ed., The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue.

Synodality, as the Catholic world has been discovering for two years now, is messy. But councils are also messy, and what is condemned or accepted at one period may fall into desuetude in another or may come to be more widely accepted. All the panic in parts of the Catholic world just now over last year's synod, and this year's resulting document, seems to me at least partly misplaced, and continued harping on it can serve nobody well, least of all those who regard the exhortation as mistaken. The trick to papal history is, in part, to quietly ignore things and soon enough they will disappear.

Turning to more general studies, for those who are interested: Jean-M. Roger Tillard, The Bishop of Rome remains very influential. Tillard (on whom a recent study has been published: Communion, Diversity and Salvation: The Contribution of Jean-Marie Tillard to Systematic Ecclesiology,) in this book and in others, as well as numerous scholarly articles, stressed that part of the problem with Vatican I is that an inoffensive doctrinal declaration has often been given an offensive interpretation leading to still more offensive practice. As he put it, Pastor Aeternus has often been given an extreme ultramontane interpretation that the fathers of the council themselves clearly rejected. This has led to all kinds of problems, not least for Catholics themselves.

Other studies of note include the attempt by Peter Chirico to see if infallibility can be understood via the categories of modern philosophy: Infallibility: The Crossroads of Doctrine; and Richard Costigan, The Consensus Of The Church And Papal Infallibility: A Study In The Background Of Vatican I.

Francis Sullivan has written several important books treating magisterial authority and infallibility. These are good accessible introductions, including The Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church. See also his Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium.

Other general overviews may be found in the work of Richard Gaillardetz, including By What Authority?: A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful. See also his Teaching With Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium in the Church.

For the historical context of Vatican I, which is crucial to understanding not merely the doctrine but also the council and Pope Pius IX, there are several European historians whose work one must read. Not surprisingly, at least two of them are German Jesuits continuing in their long and venerable history of Dogmengeschichte: Klaus Schatz, Papal Primacy; and Hermann Pottmeyer, Towards a Papacy in Communion: Perspectives from Vatican Councils I & II (Ut Unim Sint); and his Le rôle de la papauté au IIIe millénaire.

The Belgian Gustave Thils' work remains important: Primauté et infaillibilité du pontife romain à Vatican I, et autres études d'ecclésiologie (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium).

Dom Cuthbert Butler's The Vatican Council, 1869-1870. Based on Bishop Ullathorne's Letters is a helpful little book, and reminds one that any serious attempt to understand the council must also attend to biographies and other studies of such hugely important figures and movements as Cardinal Manning, Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger, Cardinal Newman, Bishop Ullathorne, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Lord Acton, W.E. Gladstone, Otto von Bismarck, the Oxford Movement, the Kulturkampf, the fall of the Second French Empire and advent of the Third French Republic, the movement for Italian unification, and not least the Franco-Prussian War whose outbreak caused Vatican I technically to be suspended sine die and never re-convened.

Much of the work of Yves Congar is extremely important, starting in this instance with Eglise et papaute: Regards historiques (Cogitatio fidei).

For an English view from a leading scholar, Owen Chadwick's A History of the Popes 1830-1914 remains utterly invaluable--a dense history lucidly and compellingly written, which I have very often recommended most warmly. (I paid wider tribute to both Chadwick brothers here.)

For a longer and much more critical historical view, see Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility, 1150-1350: A Study on the Concepts of Infallibility, Sovereignty and Tradition in the Middle Ages. Tierney is a major medievalist and his work here and elsewhere is very important--along with that of Francis Oakley, as I have mentioned previously, and Kenneth Pennington.

There are other works that could be mentioned, but this should be enough to get anyone started. Finally, it would be very helpful I think to have further reflection on infallibility picking up the point that the late Tomas Spidlik made in referencing a conversation he had with Romania's greatest theologian of the twentieth century, Dumitru Staniloae:

I went to see a dear Romanian friend of mine, the great Orthodox theologian Staniloe, shortly before his death. He told me he could not understand the infallibility of the Pope.

I then replied: You and I are also infallible. He was amazed at my answer, so I explained: When I say during the Mass: "This is my body ..., this is my blood ..." or when I say: "I absolve you from your sins," these are infallible words and this is also the Pope's infallibility, nothing else.

Then Staniloe said: If infallibility is understood in this way, then it is easier to comprehend. Not only is the Pope infallible when he speaks in the name of the Church, but so is the Mother when she tries to speak of God to her child. The priest is infallible in the sacraments and the Pope is also infallible when he speaks in the name of the great sacrament, of the whole Church.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...