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


Monday, July 4, 2022

On Maximus the Confessor

I do apologize for the silence on here the last few weeks. I was busy running my annual iconography camp and that is an exhausting period in late June. As ever for those interested in such things, I always recommend Jeana Visel's book, copies of which I give to my students every year. 

But if, in my absence, you were parched for news of forthcoming Eastern Christian publications, then you may more than slake your thirst now with the imminent advent of the first book by one of the most gifted, profound, and promising theological scholars of his generation: Jordan Daniel Wood, The Whole Mystery of Christ: Creation as Incarnation in Maximus Confessor (University of Notre Dame Press, October 2022), 390pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

A thoroughgoing examination of Maximus Confessor’s singular theological vision through the prism of Christ’s cosmic and historical Incarnation.

Jordan Daniel Wood changes the trajectory of patristic scholarship with this comprehensive historical and systematic study of one of the most creative and profound thinkers of the patristic era: Maximus Confessor (560–662 CE). His panoramic vantage on Maximus’s thought emulates the theological depth of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Cosmic Liturgy while also serving as a corrective to that classic text.

Maximus's theological vision may be summed up in his enigmatic assertion that “[t]he Word of God, very God, wills always and in all things to actualize the mystery of his Incarnation.” The Whole Mystery of Christ sets out to explicate this claim. Attentive to the various contexts in which Maximus thought and wrote―including the wisdom of earlier church fathers, conciliar developments in Christological and Trinitarian doctrine, monastic and ascetic ways of life, and prominent contemporary philosophical traditions―the book explores the relations between God’s act of creation and the Word’s historical Incarnation, between the analogy of being and Christology, and between history and the Fall, in addition to treating such topics as grace, deification, theological predication, and the ontology of nature versus personhood. Perhaps uniquely among Christian thinkers, Wood argues, Maximus envisions creatio ex nihilo as creatio ex Deo in the event of the Word’s kenosis: the mystery of Christ is the revealed identity of the Word’s historical and cosmic Incarnation. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of patristics, historical theology, systematic theology, and Byzantine studies.

I have known Jordan somewhat in a personal capacity, and when the book is published in the fall, I fondly look forward to discussing it with him in an interview on here. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Russian Orthodoxy in American Culture Wars

I confess that the "culture wars" engrossing (truly the apt word in so many ways) so-called American Christianity, already so swollen on reactionary politics and its various authoritarian fetishes, are things for which I have no patience left. But reading good scholarly analysis of the same, and seeing the connections between reactionary politics in America and Russia will make for very fascinating reading indeed when, later this year, the following book is released: The Moralist International: Russia in the Global Culture Wars  by Kristina Stoeckland Dmitry Uzlaner (Fordham University Press, December 2022), 208pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The Moralist International analyzes the role of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state in the global culture wars over gender- and reproductive rights and religious freedom. It shows how the Russian Orthodox Church in the last thirty years first acquired knowledge about the dynamics, issues, and strategies of Western Christian Right groups; how the Moscow Patriarchate has shaped its traditionalist agenda accordingly; and how the close alliance between church and state has turned Russia into a norm entrepreneur for international moral conservativism. Including detailed case-studies of the World Congress of Families, anti-abortion activism and the global homeschooling movement, the book identifies the key factors, causes and actors of this process. Kristina Stoeckl and Dmitry Uzlaner then develop the concept of conservative aggiornamento to describe Russian traditionalism as the result of conservative religious modernization and the globalization of Christian social conservatism.

The Moralist International continues a line of research on the globalization of the culture wars that challenges the widespread perception that it is only progressive actors who use the international human rights regime to achieve their goals by demonstrating that conservative actors do the same. The book offers a new, original perspective that firmly embeds the conservative turn of post-Soviet Russia in the transnational dynamics of the global culture wars.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Life of Bishoi in Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic

I have long watched the history and development of the Coptic tradition with great affection and interest. Tim Vivian, editor of this new book, is well known for his work in this area and in patristics more generally. I published some of his work in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies over the years. He and his co-workers have just released The Life of Bishoi: The Greek, Arabic, Syriac, and Ethiopic Lives, eds. Tim Vivian and Maged S.A. Mikhail.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Four translations of major accounts of the life of the fourth-century Egyptian desert father St. Bishoi, in one volume

Saint Bishoi of Scetis (d. ca. 417) enjoys tremendous popularity throughout the Christian east, particularly among the Copts. He lived during a remarkable era in which a litany of larger-than-life monastics lived and interacted with one another. Even then, Bishoi stood out as the founder of one of the four great monasteries of Scetis (Wadi al-Natrun): those of Macarius, John the Little, Bishoi, and the Baramus. Yet in spite of Bishoi’s prominence, the various recensions of his hagio-biography have received sporadic, scattered attention.

The Life of Bishoi joins other Lives of eminent monastics of early-Egyptian monasticism: the Lives of Antony, Daniel, John the Little, Macarius, Paphnutius, Shenoute, and Syncletica. These Lives are vital for what they tell us about monastic politeia (way of life), spirituality, and theology, both of the early monastics and of those who later wrote, translated, and revised the Lives. They appeared first in Greek and Coptic, and later generations translated and revised them into Syriac, Arabic and Ge‘ez (Ethiopic).

This definitive volume contains the first English translation of the Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic Lives of Bishoi, each translation accompanied by an introduction that focuses on certain aspects of the source text. It also has the first transcription and English translation of an important early Greek text. The General Introduction provides rich context about the texts and textual traditions in the various languages, and thoroughly revises our knowledge about the Syriac tradition, the translation of the Syriac text here now consequently providing what is the best translation in any modern language.

CONTRIBUTORS

Tim Vivian, California State University, Bakersfield

Maged S.A. Mikhail, California State University, Fullerton

Rowan Allen Greer III (1935–2014), an Episcopal priest and Walter H. Gray Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School, was author of Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church and Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present.

Robert Kitchen is a retired minister of the United Church of Canada, living in Regina, Saskatchewan. He read for the D.Phil. (Oxford) in Syriac Language and Literature and has taught Syriac studies in Sweden and Austria.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Powerful Paintings in Late Antique Christianity

As I have noted on here over the years, and in public lectures about iconoclasm and iconographic history, all artwork is political, and some of it powerful enough to provoke, or at least accompany, political change. As James Noyes first remarked, iconoclasm is always a herald to political change.

This month sees the release of a new book that reminds us of the power of pictures: Late Antique Portraits and Early Christian Icons: The Power of the Painted Gaze by Andrew Paterson (Routledge, June 2022), 212pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book focuses on the earliest surviving Christian icons, dated to the sixth and seventh centuries, which bear many resemblances to three other well-established genres of 'sacred portrait' also produced during late antiquity, namely Roman imperial portraiture, Graeco-Egyptian funerary portraiture and panel paintings depicting non-Christian deities.

Andrew Paterson addresses two fundamental questions about devotional portraiture - both Christian and non-Christian - in the late antique period. Firstly, how did artists visualise and construct these images of divine or sanctified figures? And secondly, how did their intended viewers look at, respond to, and even interact with these images? Paterson argues that a key factor of many of these portrait images is the emphasis given to the depicted gaze, which invites an intensified form of personal encounter with the portrait's subject.

The book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, theology, religion and classical studies.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Divine Inspiration in Byzantium

As noted earlier in the week, interest in all aspects of Byzantine art and its history remains high. Late next month another scholarly work will deepen our understanding: Divine Inspiration in Byzantium: Notions of Authenticity in Art and Theology by Karin Krause (Cambridge UP, July 2022), 350pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:

In this volume, Karin Krause examines conceptions of divine inspiration and authenticity in the religious literature and visual arts of Byzantium. During antiquity and the medieval era, “inspiration” encompassed a range of ideas regarding the divine contribution to the creation of holy texts, icons, and other material objects by human beings. Krause traces the origins of the notion of divine inspiration in the Jewish and polytheistic cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds and their reception in Byzantine religious culture. Exploring how conceptions of authenticity are employed in Eastern Orthodox Christianity to claim religious authority, she analyzes texts in a range of genres, as well as images in different media, including manuscript illumination, icons, and mosaics. Her interdisciplinary study demonstrates the pivotal role that claims to the divine inspiration of religious literature and art played in the construction of Byzantine cultural identity.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Byzantine and Russian Icons

Interest in Byzantine iconography has seemed to remain constant for a decade and more now. Later this year we will have a new book form a docent at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, which I visited and greatly enjoyed several years ago now: Visible Image of the Invisible God: A Guide to Russian and Byzantine Icons by Dennis J. Sardella (October 2022), 192pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

A comprehensive and beautifully illustrated guide to Russian icons — the "beating heart of the Christian East" 

Religious icons have been at the spiritual heart of the Christian East for nearly two thousand years. Their mysterious, peaceful quality and almost magnetic power can stop us in our tracks and draw our gaze, without us even knowing why. The sophisticated composition and symbolism of icons emphasize that their subjects are inhabitants of another, transcendent, world. They are not simply the art of the Christian East, but the expression and pulse of its spirituality. And on a personal level for many Christians of all backgrounds, icons are not only objects of admiration, but a deep wellspring of meditation, reflection, and veneration. 

A docent at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts, for many years, Dennis J. Sardella now offers an inviting guide to the most famous icons in the collection. This vibrantly illustrated book will:  

• Introduce you to icons and instill a desire for a deeper appreciation of them 

• Teach you about their origin, their historical evolution, their complex symbolic language, and their role in the spiritual and liturgical life of the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic 

• Answer your questions about when and where the first icons were created 

• Show the physical and spiritual steps in their creation 

• Explain the different types of icons, the symbolism that is key to deciphering them, as well as their role in Eastern Christian spirituality and liturgy. 

Those who are knowledgeable about Russian icons and Byzantine icons, as well as newcomers, will find Visible Image of the Invisible God to be a treasured resource. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Ps-Denys the Areopagite Unmasked at Oxford!

Freshly released last week from the world's oldest and most prestigious academic press is The Oxford Handbook of Dionysius the Areopagite, eds. Mark Edwards, Dimitrios Pallis, and Georgios Steiris (Oxford UP, 2022), 752pp. It concerns the life and work of one of the oldest and most mysterious figures in antique Christianity. The publisher further tells us this:

This Handbook contains forty essays by an international team of experts on the antecedents, the content, and the reception of the Dionysian corpus, a body of writings falsely ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, a convert of St Paul, but actually written about 500 AD. The first section contains discussions of the genesis of the corpus, its Christian antecedents, and its Neoplatonic influences. In the second section, studies on the Syriac reception, the relation of the Syriac to the original Greek, and the editing of the Greek by John of Scythopolis are followed by contributions on the use of the corpus in such Byzantine authors as Maximus the Confessor, John of Damascus, Theodore the Studite, Niketas Stethatos, Gregory Palamas, and Gemistus Pletho. In the third section attention turns to the Western tradition, represented first by the translators John Scotus Eriugena, John Sarracenus, and Robert Grosseteste and then by such readers as the Victorines, the early Franciscans, Albert the Great, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Dante, the English mystics, Nicholas of Cusa, and Marsilio Ficino. The contributors to the final section survey the effect on Western readers of Lorenzo Valla's proof of the inauthenticity of the corpus and the subsequent exposure of its dependence on Proclus by Koch and Stiglmayr. The authors studied in this section include Erasmus, Luther and his followers, Vladimir Lossky, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Jacques Derrida, as well as modern thinkers of the Greek Church. Essays on Dionysius as a mystic and a political theologian conclude the volume.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Relishing Rather than Rubbishing Byzance avant Byzance

The older I get the more I realize that too much Christian hagiography, and more generally treatment of pre-Christian history, in whatever context, traffics in tendentiousness and gives much evidence of focusing on chosen traumas and chosen glories, to use Vamik Volkan's invaluable language. Too often Christian renderings of history likes to posit a sharp before-and-after break, rubbishing everything before a designated date as "pagan" or "heathen" and portraying the coming of Christianity as unmitigated "enlightenment."

A forthcoming book rather complicates such tales and dynamics: Between the Pagan Past and Christian Present in Byzantine Visual Culture: Statues in Constantinople, 4th-13th Centuries CE by Paroma Chatterjee  (Cambridge University Press, 2022, 350pp.)

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Up to its pillage by the Crusaders in 1204, Constantinople teemed with magnificent statues of emperors, pagan gods, and mythical beasts. Yet the significance of this wealth of public sculpture has hardly been acknowledged beyond late antiquity. In this book, Paroma Chatterjee offers a new perspective on the topic, arguing that pagan statues were an integral part of Byzantine visual culture. Examining the evidence in patriographies, chronicles, novels, and epigrams, she demonstrates that the statues were admired for three specific qualities - longevity, mimesis, and prophecy; attributes that rendered them outside of imperial control and endowed them with an enduring charisma sometimes rivaling that of holy icons. Chatterjee's  interpretations refine our conceptions of imperial imagery, the Hippodrome, the Macedonian Renaissance, a corpus of secular objects, and Orthodox icons. Her book offers novel insights into Iconoclasm and proposes a more truncated trajectory of the holy icon in medieval Orthodoxy than has been previously acknowledged.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Byzantine Art and Architecture

I have to think that one trick of maintaining a profitable press in these days is to slap the word "Byzantine" on something. Books with that in their title always seem to sell well, and there is no shortage in books so titled, which steadily appear in bunches year after year. 

Along comes another international scholarly collection with some very prominent scholars in it whose names will be familiar to readers of this blog if they reward themselves with a copy of The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Art and Architecture, ed. Ellen C. Schwartz (Oxford UP, Dec. 2021), 784pp. 

About this impressive collection the publisher tells us this:

Byzantine art has been an underappreciated field, often treated as an adjunct to the arts of the medieval West, if considered at all. In illustrating the richness and diversity of art in the Byzantine world, this handbook will help establish the subject as a distinct field worthy of serious inquiry.

Essays consider Byzantine art as art made in the eastern Mediterranean world, including the Balkans, Russia, the Near East and north Africa, between the years 330 and 1453. Much of this art was made for religious purposes, created to enhance and beautify the Orthodox liturgy and worship space, as well as to serve in a royal or domestic context. Discussions in this volume will consider both aspects of this artistic creation, across a wide swath of geography and a long span of time.

The volume marries older, object-based considerations of themes and monuments which form the backbone of art history, to considerations drawing on many different methodologies-sociology, semiotics, anthropology, archaeology, reception theory, deconstruction theory, and so on-in an up-to-date synthesis of scholarship on Byzantine art and architecture. The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Art and Architecture is a comprehensive overview of a particularly rich field of study, offering a window into the world of this fascinating and beautiful period of art.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia and Africa

It always cheers the heart to see that increasingly scholars studying disciplines they label "politics" realize that things labelled "religion" (etc.) are by no means separable from the study of the former. In that light, the Routledge Handbook of the Horn of Africa, ed. Jean-Nicolas Bach (February 2022, 784pp.) has an entire section exploring Islam and Christianity in Africa, with a particular focus on Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, about which I wrote only this week. 

About this collection the publisher further tells us this: 

The Routledge Handbook of the Horn of Africa provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary survey of contemporary research related to the Horn of Africa.

Situated at the junction of the Sahel-Saharan strip and the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa is growing in global importance, due to demographic growth and the strategic importance of the Suez Canal. Divided into sections on authoritarianism and resistance, religion and politics, migration, economic integration, the military and regimes and liberation, the contributors provide up-to-date, authoritative knowledge on the region in light of contemporary strategic concerns. The handbook investigates how political, economic and security innovations have been implemented, sometimes with violence, by use of force, or by negotiation; including ‘ethnic federalism’ in Ethiopia, independence in Eritrea and South Sudan, integration of the traditional authorities in the (neo)patrimonial administrations, Somalian Islamic Courts, the Sudanese Islamist regime, people’s movements, multilateral operations and the construction of an architecture for regional peace and security.

Accessibly written, this handbook is an essential read for scholars, students and policy professionals interested in the contemporary politics in the Horn of Africa.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Italian Barbarism in Abyssinia

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are noteworthy and unique for many things, not least their vibrant iconography on which I commented here. Theirs remains the largest Christian church in all of Africa. 

There are other reasons--sorrowful and disgusting--that they stand out, not least for being subject to a quasi-genocide by other Christians less than a century ago. A recent edition of the London Review of Books contains a review that discusses some of the horrifying and infuriating details of atrocities committed against Ethiopian Orthodox Christians by Italian Roman Catholics. Much of the former's sacred vessels and art were stolen by the latter, their monastic sites destroyed, and many thousands of Ethiopian Christians were outright murdered by the latter during Mussolini's colonial adventures in Africa nearly a century ago now. 

The details recounted in this new book would lend themselves to being compiled in a much larger volume of shame someone should write, Roman Sins Against Eastern Christians. Earlier shameful stories about Jesuit intrigues against Ethiopian Orthodox Christians would fill part of this proposed volume, but they would pale in comparison to the stories told in Holy War: The Untold Story of Catholic Italy's Crusade Against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church by Ian Campbell (Hurst, 2021), 336pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

In 1935, Fascist Italy invaded the sovereign state of Ethiopia--a war of conquest that triggered a chain of events culminating in the Second World War. In this stunning and highly original tale of two Churches, historian Ian Campbell brings a whole new perspective to the story, revealing that bishops of the Italian Catholic Church facilitated the invasion by sanctifying it as a crusade against the world's second-oldest national Church. Cardinals and archbishops rallied the support of Catholic Italy for Il Duce's invading armies by denouncing Ethiopian Christians as heretics and schismatics and announcing that the onslaught was an assignment from God.

Campbell marshals evidence from three decades of research to expose the martyrdom of thousands of clergy of the venerable Ethiopian Church, the burning and looting of hundreds of Ethiopia's ancient monasteries and churches, and the instigation and arming of a jihad against Ethiopian Christendom, the likes of which had not been seen since the Middle Ages.

Finally, Holy War traces how, after Italy's surrender to the Allies, the horrors of this pogrom were swept under the carpet of history, and the leading culprits put on the road to sainthood.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Changes in Eastern European Christianity Since 1980

This book won't be out until December, and it's a Festschrift--the mileage of which always varies--but still it looks both interesting in itself and also to be one of a series of books released in the last year or so on the interactions of secular-spiritual liberal-conservative dynamics in churches: Liberals, Conservatives, and Mavericks: On Christian Churches of Eastern Europe since 1980. A Festschrift for Sabrina P. Ramet, eds. Frank Cibulka and Zachary T. Irwin (Central European University Press, 2022), 370pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

No Church is monolithic―this is the preliminary premise of this volume on the public place of religion in a representative number of post-communist countries. The studies confirm that within any religious organization we can expect to find fissures, factions, theological or ideological quarrels, and perhaps even competing interest groups, such as missionary workers, regular clergy versus secular clergy, and sometimes even competing ecclesiastical hierarchies. The main focus of the book rests on the divisions arising within select Christian Churches, as they confront the processes of secularization and atheization. The coverage area includes Russia and the Ukraine, East-Central Europe and South-Eastern Europe. Some chapters focus on individual clergy who challenge the mainstream of their given Church either from a more liberal or from a more conservative perspective, while others deal with the divisive forces impacting the religious organizations.

This festschrift to honor Sabrina Ramet's seminal contribution to the study of religion in the politics of the communist and post-communist world, brings together several generations of scholars from a variety of countries, both those well established in their fields of study as well as young promising academics.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Ottoman Beginnings

Ottoman imperial history remains utterly fascinating to me, though my interests tend to focus on the sunset of empire rather than, as with this book set for release next week, its origins and early life. But about that latter phase we will soon be learning a lot more thank to The Beginnings of the Ottoman Empire by Clive Foss  (Oxford University Press, 2022), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The Ottoman Empire ruled the near East, dominated the Mediterranean, and terrorized Europe for centuries. However, its origins are obscure. The Beginnings of the Ottoman Empire illuminates the founding of the Empire, drawing on Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and Latin sources as well as coins, buildings, and topographic evidence. Clive Foss takes the reader through the rugged homeland of Osman, the founder of the Ottomans, placing his achievement in the context of his more powerful neighbours, most notably the once mighty Byzantine Empire, then in the terminal stages of its decline. Foss then charts the progress of Osman's son Orhan, until the fateful moment in 1354 when his forces crossed into Europe and began their spectacular conquests.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Symeon Atop His Pillar in Late Antique Antioch

When a young boy more than a decade ago my oldest son was fascinated with the concept that a man could live atop a pillar. So I have always kept an eye out for new studies on the paradigmatic example of such living, who is treated in a new book by Lucy Parker, Symeon Stylites the Younger and Late Antique Antioch: From Hagiography to History (Oxford University Press, October 2022), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Symeon Stylites the Younger and Late Antique Antioch: From Hagiography to History is a study of the authority of the holy man and its limits in times of crisis. Lucy Parker investigates the tensions that emerged when increasingly ambitious claims about the powers of holy men came into conflict with undeniable evidence of their failures, and explores how holy men and their supporters responded to this. The work takes as its central figure Symeon Stylites the Younger (c.521-592), who, from his vantage point on a column on a mountain close to Antioch, witnessed a period of exceptional turbulence in the local area, which, in the sixth century, experienced plague, earthquakes, and Persian invasion. Through an examination of Symeon's own writings, as well as his hagiographic biography, it reveals that the stylite was a divisive figure who played upon social tensions and upon culturally sensitive areas such as paganism to carve out a role for himself as prophet and spiritual authority in the face of considerable opposition. It sets Symeon's life and cult in the context of Antioch and eastern Roman society, offering a new perspective on the state of the empire in the period before the rise of Islam. It argues that hagiography is an exceptionally rich source for the historian, offering insights into debates and tensions which reached to the heart of Christianity.

Friday, May 6, 2022

On Gaining Incomprehensible Certainty, Ambivalently

The Christian East has abounded in images, and celebrates them annually on more than one occasion. But what is an icon exactly? What does it mean to see? How can we see some things and yet be blind to others? Can some see what others regard as beyond sight, beyond materiality itself? Can one see spiritual realities? Can God be seen?

These and other questions are taken up in a thick new tome coming out next month: Thomas Pfau, Incomprehensible Certainty: Metaphysics and Hermeneutics of the Image (University of Notre Dame Press, June 2022), 811pp. 

About this book the publisher crows thus:

Thomas Pfau’s study of images and visual experience is a tour de force linking Platonic metaphysics to modern phenomenology and probing literary, philosophical, and theological accounts of visual experience from Plato to Rilke.

Incomprehensible Certainty presents a sustained reflection on the nature of images and the phenomenology of visual experience. Taking the “image” (eikōn) as the essential medium of art and literature and as foundational for the intuitive ways in which we make contact with our “lifeworld,” Thomas Pfau draws in equal measure on Platonic metaphysics and modern phenomenology to advance a series of interlocking claims. First, Pfau shows that, beginning with Plato’s later dialogues, being and appearance came to be understood as ontologically distinct from (but no longer opposed to) one another. Second, in contrast to the idol that is typically gazed at and visually consumed as an object of desire, this study positions the image as a medium whose intrinsic abundance and excess reveal to us its metaphysical function—namely, as the visible analogue of an invisible, numinous reality. Finally, the interpretations unfolded in this book (from Plato, Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, John Damascene via Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Julian of Norwich, and Nicholas of Cusa to modern writers and artists such as Goethe, Ruskin, Turner, Hopkins, Cézanne, and Rilke) affirm the essential complementarity of image and word, visual intuition and hermeneutic practice, in theology, philosophy, and literature. Like Pfau’s previous book Minding the Modern, Incomprehensible Certainty is a major work. With over fifty illustrations, the book will interest students and scholars of philosophy, theology, literature, and art history.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Narrating Martyrdom

The hardback having been out for nearly two years, a more affordable paperback version is coming later this year of Anne P. Alwis, Narrating Martyrdom: Rewriting Late-Antique Virgin Martyrs in Byzantium (Liverpool University Press, Sept. 2022), 224pp. 

Part of that excellent series, Translated Texts for Byzantinists, this book, the publisher tells us, 

reconceives the rewriting of Byzantine hagiography between the eighth and fourteenth centuries as a skilful initiative in communication and creative freedom, and as a form of authorship. Three men - Makarios (late C13th-C14th), a monk; Constantine Akropolites (d.c.1324), a statesman; and an Anonymous educated wordsmith (c. C9th - each opted to rewrite the martyrdom of a female virgin saint who suffered and died centuries earlier. Their adaptations, respectively, were of St. Ia of Persia (modern-day Iran), St. Horaiozele of Constantinople, and St. Tatiana of Rome. Ia is described as a victim of the persecutions of the Persian Shahanshah, Shapur II (309-79 C.E), Horaiozele was allegedly a disciple of St Andrew and killed anachronistically under the emperor Decius (249-51 C.E), and Tatiana, we are told, was a deaconess, martyred during the reign of emperor Alexander Severus (222-35 C.E). Makarios, Akropolites, and the Anonymous knowingly tailored their compositions to influence an audience and to foster their individual interests. The implications arising from these studies are far-reaching: this monograph considers the agency of the hagiographer, the instrumental use of the authorial persona and its impact on the audience, and hagiography as a layered discourse. The book also provides the first translations and commentaries of the martyrdoms of these virgin martyrs.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Oxford Handbook of Origen

In the dozen years this wee blog has been going, there has never been a year, I don't think, without one or more significant publications devoted to Origen appearing. So 2022 will be no different in that regard as we see the publication later this month of The Oxford Handbook of Origen, eds. Ronald E. Heine and Karen Jo Torjesen (Oxford UP, 2022), 624pp.

This hefty collection includes numerous prominent scholars including, among the Orthodox, John McGuckin and and Andrew Louth.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This interrogation of Origen's legacy for the 21st Century returns to old questions built upon each other over eighteen centuries of Origen scholarship-problems of translation and transmission, positioning Origen in the histories of philosophy, theology, and orthodoxy, and defining his philological and exegetical programmes. The essays probe the more reliable sources for Origen's thought by those who received his legacy and built on it. They focus on understanding how Origen's legacy was adopted, transformed and transmitted looking at key figures from the fourth century through the Reformation. A section on modern contributions to the understanding of Origen embraces the foundational contributions of Huet, the twentieth century movement to rehabilitate Origen from his status as a heterodox teacher, and finally, the identification in 2012 of twenty-nine anonymous homilies on the Psalms in a codex in Munich as homilies of Origen.

Equally important has been the investigation of Origen's historical, cultural, and intellectual context. These studies track the processes of appropriation, assimilation and transformation in the formation and transmission of Origen's legacy. Origen worked at interpreting Scripture throughout his life. There are essays addressing general issues of hermeneutics and his treatment of groups of books from the Biblical canon in commentaries and homilies. Key points of his theology are also addressed in essays that give attention to the fluid environment in which Origen developed his theology. These essays open important paths for students of Origen in the 21st century.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Plested on Sophiology

If you don't know the works of Marcus Plested, you need to remedy that immediately. I've interviewed him on here and discussed some of his other landmark works. 

Coming out the end of June is his latest book, Wisdom in Christian Tradition:The Patristic Roots of Modern Russian Sophiology (Oxford University Press, 2022), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Following a survey of the biblical and classical background, Wisdom in Christian Tradition offers a detailed exploration of the theme of wisdom in patristic, Byzantine, and medieval theology, up to and including Gregory Palamas and Thomas Aquinas in Greek East and Latin West, respectively. Three principal levels of Christian wisdom discourse are distinguished: wisdom as human attainment, wisdom as divine gift, and wisdom as an attribute or quality of God. This journey through Wisdom in Christian Tradition is undertaken in conversation with modern Russian Sophiology, one of the most popular and widely discussed theological movements of our time. Sophiology is characterized by the idea of a primal pre-principle of divineâhuman unity (âSophiaâ) manifest in both uncreated and created forms and constituting the very foundation of all that is. Sophiology is a complex phenomenon with multiple sources and inspirations, very much including the Church Fathers. Indeed, fidelity to patristic tradition was to become an ever-increasing feature of its self-understanding and self-articulation, above all in the work of its greatest exponent, Fr Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944). This âunmodern turnâ (as it is here christened) to patristic sources has, however, long been fiercely contested. This book is the first to evaluate thoroughly the nature and substance of Sophiologyâs claim to patristic continuity. The final chapter offers a radical re-thinking of Sophiology in line with patristic tradition. This constructive proposal maintains Sophiologyâs most distinctive insights and most pertinent applications while divesting it of some its more problematic elements.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Christianity and Ecology

I have watched, even in my own short lifetime, how Christian theology has recovered a sense of the ecological and its importance. In 1991 at the World Council of Churches assembly in Canberra, the theme of "justice, peace, and the integrity of creation" was already everywhere in discussion, and that has only continued over the last thirty years, with each of the last three popes contributing to a 'thicker' eco-theology if one may use that not entirely satisfactory phrase. Other thinkers have also played large parts here.

On the Orthodox side, the Ecumenical Patriarch has long been dubbed the "green patriarch" for his advocacy of a fully recovered Christian stewardship of "this fragile earth, our island home," to borrow a Canadian Anglican euchological phrase. Orthodox theologians have made signal contributions to this discussion. 

And now we have a new book that gathers together much of the best of Christian scholarship: The Oxford Handbook of the Bible and Ecology, eds. Hilary Marlow and Mark Harris (Oxford UP, 2022), 496pp. About this collection the publisher tells us this:

Environmental issues are an ever-increasing focus of public discourse and have proved concerning to religious groups as well as society more widely. Among biblical scholars, criticism of the Judeo-Christian tradition for its part in the worsening crisis has led to a small but growing field of study on ecology and the Bible. This volume in the Oxford Handbook series makes a significant contribution to this burgeoning interest in ecological hermeneutics, incorporating the best of international scholarship on ecology and the Bible. The Handbook comprises 30 individual essays on a wide range of relevant topics by established and emerging scholars. Arranged in four sections, the volume begins with a historical overview before tackling some key methodological issues. The second, substantial, section comprises thirteen essays offering detailed exegesis from an ecological perspective of selected biblical books. This is followed by a section exploring broader thematic topics such as the Imago Dei and stewardship. Finally, the volume concludes with a number of essays on contemporary perspectives and applications, including political and ethical considerations.

The editors Hilary Marlow and Mark Harris have drawn on their experience in Hebrew Bible and New Testament respectively to bring together a diverse and engaging collection of essays on a subject of immense relevance. Its accessible style, comprehensive scope, and range of material means that the volume is a valuable resource, not only to students and scholars of the Bible but also to religious leaders and practitioners.


Friday, April 22, 2022

Greek Evil Eyes

Not a week ago were my students insistently asking me everything I knew about the role of the evil eye in Greek Orthodox culture. I am now in the happy position of being myself able to learn more about this, and refer them to learn more from a forthcoming book: Orthodox Christianity, New Age Spirituality and Vernacular Religion: The Evil Eye in Greece by Eugenia Roussou  (Bloomsbury, October 2022), 216pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

This anthropological work thoroughly illustrates the novel synthesis of Christian religion and New Age spirituality in Greece. It challenges the single-faith approach that traditionally ties southern European countries to Christianity and focuses on how processes of globalization influence and transform vernacular religiosity.

Based on long-term anthropological fieldwork in Greece, this book demonstrates how the popular belief in the 'evil eye' produces a creative affinity between religion and spirituality in everyday practice. The author analyses a variety of significant research themes, including lived and vernacular religion, alternative spirituality and healing, ritual performance and religious material culture.

The book offers an innovative social scientific interpretation of contemporary religiosity, while engaging with a multiplicity of theoretical, analytic and empirical directions. It contributes to current key debates in social sciences with regard to globalization and secularization, religious pluralism, contemporary spirituality and the New Age movement, gender, power and the body, health, illness and alternative therapeutic systems, senses, perception and the supernatural, the spiritual marketplace, creativity and the individualization of religion in a multicultural world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Orthodoxy and Politics

With so much attention justifiably focused on the complete surrender of Russian Orthodoxy to Russian nationalism and its wars of aggression, including against Ukraine, now is a good time to draw attention to a number of recent resources giving wider critical analysis, including Tobias Koellner's Orthodox Religion and Politics in Contemporary Eastern Europe: On Multiple Secularisms and Entanglements (Routledge, 2020), 274pp.

This book explores the relationship between Orthodox religion and politics in Eastern Europe, Russia and Georgia. It demonstrates how as these societies undergo substantial transformation Orthodox religion can be both a limiting and an enabling factor, how the relationship between religion and politics is complex, and how the spheres of religion and politics complement, reinforce, influence, and sometimes contradict each other. Considering a range of thematic issues, with examples from a wide range of countries with significant Orthodox religious groups, and setting the present situation in its full historical context the book provides a rich picture of a subject which has been too often oversimplified.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Utter Fatuousness of All Nationalisms

Why is anyone a nationalist in any context, at any point, and in and for any nation-state ("that most dangerous and unmanageable of institutions" in MacIntyre's memorable words)? Is it a lack of education? An insularity that refuses to travel to, study, and engage other cultures which results in an othering and blindness so that I do not see how their struggles are like my nation's, and their supposed glories like unto mine as well?

I am hard-pressed to think of anything stupider or more pointless--or more destructive insofar as nationalism is often a key motivator of war. Anyone with a passing familiarity with historiography, narrative theory, psychoanalysis, and much else immediately can see how often nationalism is shot through with tendentious tales of "chosen triumph" and "chosen glory." Even the more plausible tales are invariably embroidered with all kinds of fantasies and illusions and therefore utterly unreliable.

Nationalisms, then, are sinister forces most of the time. The rest of the time they are merely banal. MacIntyre was right to denounce the idea of dying for the nation-state as equivalent to being asked to die for the telephone company. 

It is, of course, a staple within Eastern Christian discourse that nationalism has been a besetting sin of many Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches for centuries. This has long had ample demonstration by scholars with reference to Greece and Southeastern Europe, as well as the East-Slavic countries. But it had, and has, its greatest demonstration this year with the war Russia is waging against Ukraine. This monstrous evil has been lauded and blessed at every turn by the patriarch of Moscow to his everlasting shame. He will surely have to account before the dread tribunal of Christ for wickedly whoring himself out to Putin. 

But Eastern Christians, in a perverse ecumenism, now have their communion joined by fellow nationalist communicants from, of all places, America. (The Man for All Seasons line comes unbidden to mind here, amended slightly: "Why...it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...but for America!")

These so-called Christian nationalists in America have come in for study in a brand new book by a sociologist whose work I discovered some months back: Samuel Perry. He's doing first-rate scholarship in the sociology of religion and deserves wide attention. His book Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants is a fascinating and sympathetic treatment of what happens when evangelical cultures meet pornography and how they try to co-opt clinical terms to describe their experience. Perry and others have pushed back on this, suggesting that "addiction" is not the right conceptualization to describe what he calls "moral incongruence." I may have more to say about this elsewhere and later. 

But for now I want to draw your attention to his newest book co-authored with Philip Gorski, The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy (Oxford University Press, April 2022), 176pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Most Americans were shocked by the violence they witnessed at the nation's Capital on January 6th, 2021. And many were bewildered by the images displayed by the insurrectionists: a wooden cross and wooden gallows; "Jesus saves" and "Don't Tread on Me;" Christian flags and Confederate Flags; even a prayer in Jesus' name after storming the Senate chamber. Where some saw a confusing jumble, Philip S. Gorski and Samuel L. Perry saw a familiar ideology: white Christian nationalism.

In this short primer, Gorski and Perry explain what white Christian nationalism is and is not; when it first emerged and how it has changed; where it's headed and why it threatens democracy. Tracing the development of this ideology over the course of three centuries―and especially its influence over the last three decades―they show how, throughout American history, white Christian nationalism has animated the oppression, exclusion, and even extermination of minority groups while securing privilege for white Protestants. It enables white Christian Americans to demand "sacrifice" from others in the name of religion and nation, while defending their "rights" in the names of "liberty" and "property."

White Christian nationalism motivates the anti-democratic, authoritarian, and violent impulses on display in our current political moment. The future of American democracy, Gorski and Perry argue, will depend on whether a broad spectrum of Americans―stretching from democratic socialists to classical liberals―can unite in a popular front to combat the threat to liberal democracy posed by white Christian nationalism.

Monday, April 11, 2022

You Never Know Whom You'll Find in Appalachia

I'm greatly looking forward to reading a book just published last week, and to interviewing its author. That book is Between Heaven and Russia: Religious Conversion and Political Apostasy in Appalachia by Sarah Riccardi-Swartz  (Fordham University Press, April 2022), 288pp. It brings together so many themes of interest and in such a timely manner, too. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

How is religious conversion transforming American democracy? In one corner of Appalachia, a group of American citizens has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church and through it Putin’s New Russia. Historically a minority immigrant faith in the United States, Russian Orthodoxy is attracting Americans who look to Russian religion and politics for answers to Western secularism and the loss of traditional family values in the face of accelerating progressivism. This ethnography highlights an intentional community of converts who are exemplary of much broader networks of Russian Orthodox converts in the United States. These converts sought and found a conservatism more authentic than Christian American Republicanism and a nationalism unburdened by the broken promises of American exceptionalism. Ultimately, both converts and the Church that welcomes them deploy the subversive act of adopting the ideals and faith of a foreign power for larger, transnational political ends.

Offering insights into this rarely considered religious world, including its far-right political roots that nourish the embrace of Putin’s Russia, this ethnography shows how religious conversion is tied to larger issues of social politics, allegiance, (anti)democracy, and citizenship. These conversions offer us a window onto both global politics and foreign affairs, while also allowing us to see how particular U.S. communities are grappling with social transformations in the twenty-first century. With broad implications for our understanding of both conservative Christianity and right-wing politics, as well as contemporary Russian–American relations, this book provides insight in the growing constellations of far-right conservatism. While Russian Orthodox converts are more likely to form the moral minority rather than the moral majority, they are an important gauge for understanding the powerful philosophical shifts occurring in the current political climate in the United States and what they might mean for the future of American values, ideals, and democracy.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Ye Are As Like Unto Gods

David Bentley Hard bids fair to be the most prolific and best-known Eastern Orthodox scholar in the anglophone world today, able to pen whimsical essays and weighty tomes with equal facility while ensuring that many oxen on all sides are gored with obvious glee. His capacity to not merely undermine but blow up bad history, including bad doctrinal history and faulty receptions and appropriations of historical figures (like Anselm or Augustine or Aquinas), is wonderfully ecumenical, and I have no reason to doubt that all these gifts will be on fulgurating display in his new book out this month: You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature (University of Notre Dame Press, April 2022), 158 pp. 

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

In recent years, the theological—and, more specifically, Roman Catholic—question of the supernatural has made an astonishing return from seeming oblivion. David Bentley Hart’s You Are Gods presents a series of meditations on the vexed theological question of the relation of nature and supernature. In its merely controversial aspect, the book is intended most directly as a rejection of a certain Thomistic construal of that relation, as well as an argument in favor of a model of nature and supernature at once more Eastern and patristic, and also more in keeping with the healthier currents of mediaeval and modern Catholic thought. In its more constructive and confessedly radical aspects, the book makes a vigorous case for the all-but-complete eradication of every qualitative, ontological, or logical distinction between the natural and the supernatural in the life of spiritual creatures. It advances a radically monistic vision of Christian metaphysics but does so wholly on the basis of creedal orthodoxy.

Hart, one of the most widely read theologians in America today, presents a bold gesture of resistance to the recent revival of what used to be called “two-tier Thomism,” especially in the Anglophone theological world. In this astute exercise in classical Christian orthodoxy, Hart takes the metaphysics of participation, high Trinitarianism, Christology, and the soteriological language of theosis to their inevitable logical conclusions. You Are Gods will provoke many readers interested in theological metaphysics. The book also offers a vision of Christian thought that draws on traditions (such as Vedanta) from which Christian philosophers and theologians, biblical scholars, and religious studies scholars still have a great deal to learn.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Cyril of Alexandria's Biblical Commentaries

Apologies, dear readers, for the unintended neglect over the last week as the semester enters its most crushing phase and multiple demands on my time converge.

But I am happy to report that IVP Academic sent me their most recent catalogue, and in it are some new books readers will be interested in, including a new volume in their Ancient Christian Texts series: by Cyril of Alexandria, Commentaries on Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Hebrews, trans D.R. Maxwell and J.C. Elowsky  (IVP Academic, March 2022), 176pp. 

About this new translation the publisher tells us this:

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 378–444) was one of the most significant figures in the early church: bishop of the church, defender of orthodoxy, proponent of Alexandrian theology. Indeed, he is probably best known as the supporter of the term Theotokos (God-bearer) with regard to Mary in opposition to Nestorius during the early Christological controversies.

But Cyril viewed himself, first and foremost, as an interpreter of Scripture. In this volume in IVP Academic's Ancient Christian Texts series, Joel Elowsky and David Maxwell offer―for the first time in English―a translation of the surviving Greek and Syriac fragments of Cyril's commentaries on four New Testament epistles: Romans, 1–2 Corinthians, and Hebrews.

Abounding with Cyril's insights regarding these canonical texts and biblical themes such as the triune nature of God, Christ's sacrificial death, and justification, these commentaries are essential tools for understanding Cyril's reading of Holy Scripture.

Ancient Christian Texts is a series of new translations, most of which are here presented in English for the first time. The series provides contemporary readers with the resources they need to study for themselves the key writings of the early church. The texts represented in the series are full-length commentaries or sermon series based on biblical books or extended scriptural passages.

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