"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, February 18, 2019

On the History of Sobornost (the Journal)

A new book by the Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols is always worth paying attention to. He is easily in the top tier of serious and worthwhile Roman Catholic theologians today, but what sets him apart still further is his life-long scholarly study of the Christian East in a number of books (on, e.g., Maximus the Confessor, or Vladimir Lossky, or Rome's relationship to the Eastern Churches, inter alia), a discussion usually marked by careful, sober assessment untainted by either polemics or romanticism.

All those hallmarks look to be present in his newest book, an historical study of a journal I have read for many years, but always with an inchoate sense that there was something a bit peculiar about it, that its internal tensions were rather volatile, and that it could not quite figure out who it was or what it was attempting to do. Nichols has turned his skills to telling this history of engagement-cum-conflict in Alban and Sergius: The Story of a Journal (Gracewing, 2018), 528pp.

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
In the last century the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius gave to Russian Orthodoxy an opportunity, in a sustained encounter with the Christian West, to speak with a voice never heard as powerfully before in the western world, and from the date of its foundation in 1928, the Journal of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, later Sobornost, sought to strike a good balance between Western and Eastern contributions to Christian thought. It provided an ecumenical encounter principally between the exiled Orthodox intelligentsia of the Russian diaspora and the Catholic party of the Church of England, but also on occasion with Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestants.
In this fascinating account of the work and mission of Sobornost, Aidan Nichols shows how this was to change significantly as the Western tradition began to be seen as taking too many wrong turnings to be a reliable guide for Christian theology at large, and he divides this study into two parts: the first forty years of the journal as a time of encounter more or less on equal terms, and the last fifty years where the meeting of East and West would be increasingly on the East's terms--and, in another striking development, this meant the Greek East rather than the Russian. This process of transformation was only gradual, but by the start of the twenty-first century, Sobornost was fast becoming, especially through its mediation of modern Greek philosophy, theology and spirituality, as well as the more traditional discipline of Byzantine studies, a largely monophonic voice for Orthodoxy in the West. This was a far cry from its origins, even if that voice was also much needed in an often disoriented English, European and North American Christianity. Throughout its history, Sobornost has been invaluable for Western readers in the provision of information about the Eastern Churches, and especially the Byzantine or Chalcedonian Orthodox--always the more important part of both Fellowship and journal. A definitive role for the present and for the future, as they both celebrate their 90th anniversary.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bless Me Father for I Have Lost My Faith....in My Parish?

Though I was privileged to read it in draft form, I was still excited last night to find in my mailbox a copy of Bill Mills' new book, Losing My Religion: A Memoir of Faith and Finding (Resource Publications-Wipf and Stock, 2019), 170pp.

It comes, rightly and justly, bearing a slew of impressive blurbs:

"William Mills has given us a true story told truthfully, a story of a faith lost and found, a story of the church at its best and worst, a story of a priest who persisted in his vocation in spite of everything. Service to the Body of Christ, the church, is not for the faint of heart and yet, in the end, there are blessings" (Will Willimon, United Methodist Bishop, retired, and Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry, Duke Divinity School).

 "William Mills has gone honest and intimate with us in telling his story of the travail of ministry. His drama of mean-spirited betrayal in the congregation and the late unexpected reassurance of support replicates our best story of crucifixion and resurrection" (Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary).

 "William Mills' memoir is a beautifully crafted, honest, wise, and insightful book. It stands in the very best tradition of spirituality--a writer and text that can speak to the real condition of the soul, and the day-to-day struggle that many have with belief. . . Honest and wise books on religious resilience are often hard to find. But this is one of those rare gems, and I commend it for anyone who knows how long our spiritual journey can be" (Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford).

"The Church speaks a lot about truth but isn't so good at honesty. Here is a priest who has learned the cost of this and who, with courage and imagination, encourages us to join him and to say it as it is. We clergy often know the words of religion but miss the music. William Mills calls us back to the vocation of trying to tune our lives to the harmonies of the eternal but only by recognizing emotional and factual truth and in pursuit of justice. Enjoy it and feel yourself defrost" (Mark Oakley, Dean, St. John's College, Cambridge).

 "Losing My Religion is the brave, tender, furious account of how William Mills is lifted, brought low, broken, healed, and made whole. As books about religious life go, it is among the wisest and most honest I've ever read. This book should keep company on your shelf with the better works of J.F. Powers, Larry Woiwode, and Thomas Merton" (Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk: Stories).

"The memoir is entitled Losing My Religion, but it is a testament to all that can be gained by remaining true to one's moral compass, staying honest and authentic, seeking to learn lessons in each of life's challenges. This is a passionate, compelling book, full of meaning"  (Judy Goldman, author, Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap).

So you don't just have to take my word that this is a delightful book, and I'm glad to have the handsome finished edition in my hands to read it again and savor its humility, humor, and candor about the difficult life of parish ministry today. I will write more about it in the coming days, and arrange to interview him (as I have done in the past on here), but for now just wanted to note that if you count clergy among your family and friends, if you are yourself a pastor, or if you know someone contemplating seminary and parish ministry, then you must get this book into their hands.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bombs Away!

It has, for two decades now, often been remarked upon that the Russian Orthodox Church has gone hand-in-hand with the military adventures of Putin--whether in Syria, the invasion of Ukraine, the invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or other parts of the former Soviet Union. (In this it repeats in different fashion the role it played in another context--that of the "great patriotic war" of 1941-45.) But that relationship has not been systematically studied in English in the way it is in this forthcoming book: Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy by Dmitry Adamsky (Stanford UP, 2019), 376pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
A nuclear priesthood has arisen in Russia. From portable churches to the consecration of weapons systems, the Russian Orthodox Church has been integrated into every facet of the armed forces to become a vital part of Russian national security, politics, and identity. This extraordinary intertwining of church and military is nowhere more visible than in the nuclear weapons community, where the priesthood has penetrated all levels of command and the Church has positioned itself as a guardian of the state's nuclear potential. Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy considers how, since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the Church has worked its way into the nuclear forces, the most significant wing of one of the world's most powerful military organizations.
Dmitry Adamsky describes how the Orthodox faith has merged with Russian national identity as the Church continues to expand its influence on foreign and domestic politics. The Church both legitimizes and influences Moscow's assertive national security strategy in the twenty-first century. This book sheds light on the role of faith in modern militaries and highlights the implications of this phenomenon for international security. Ultimately, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy interrogates the implications of the confluence of religion and security for other members of the nuclear club, beyond Russia.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Orthodox Material Culture

Like most things, the study of Eastern Orthodox aesthetics, anthropology, and material culture lags behind similar treatments given to Western communities. But an important new study looks to fill the gap to some degree: Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven by Timothy Carroll (Routledge, 2018), 201 pp,

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
Although much has been written on the making of art objects as a means of engaging in creative productions of the self (most famously Alfred Gell’s work), there has been very little written on Orthodox Christianity and its use of material within religious self-formation. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is renowned for its artistry and the aesthetics of its worship being an integral part of devout practice. Yet this is an area with little ethnographic exploration available and even scarcer ethnographic attention given to the material culture of Eastern Christianity outside the traditional ‘homelands’ of the greater Levant and Eastern Europe.
Drawing from and building upon Gell’s work, Carroll explores the uses and purposes of material culture in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Antiochian Orthodox parish in London, Carroll focuses on a study of ecclesiastical fabric but places this within the wider context of Orthodox material ecology in Britain. This ethnographic exploration leads to discussion on the role of materials in the construction of religious identity, material understandings of religion, and pathways of pilgrimatic engagement and religious movement across Europe.
In a religious tradition characterised by repetition and continuity, but also as sensuously tactile, this book argues that material objects are necessary for the continual production of Orthodox Christians as art-like subjects. It is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on the anthropology of material culture and art and the anthropology of religion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

A History of Mt. Athos

I have over the years noted a number of books and videos, as well as TV shows, about Mt. Athos, a place that continues to enchant or at least attract a good deal of Western attention. Another study, from a major academic press, joins this collection: A History of the Athonite Commonwealth: The Spiritual and Cultural Diaspora of Mount Athos by Graham Speake (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 308pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book examines the part played by monks of Mount Athos in the diffusion of Orthodox monasticism throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. It focuses on the lives of outstanding holy men in the history of Orthodoxy who have been drawn to the Mountain, have absorbed the spirit of its wisdom and its prayer, and have returned to the outside world, inspired to spread the results of their labours and learning. In a remarkable demonstration of what may be termed 'soft power' in action, these men have carried the image of Athos to all corners of the Balkan peninsula, to Ukraine, to the very far north of Russia, across Siberia and the Bering Strait into North America, and most recently (when traditional routes were closed to them by the curtain of communism) to the West. Their dynamic witness is the greatest gift of Athos to a world thirsting for spiritual guidance.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Short Note on Freud's Historiographical Mistakes

The philosopher Jonathan Lear of the University of Chicago is also a practicing psychoanalyst. He has written a number of books in and about both disciplines. The second edition of his Freud is an especially lucid treatment, judiciously sifting what is good and what must be abandoned in Freud's thought. It would make a very useful introductory textbook in, say, an undergraduate course.

His final chapter in that book is devoted to the late period of Freud when he turned his attention to the Future of an Illusion, a book, as I've often noted, Freud himself denounced almost as soon as it was published as "my worst book!" Lear's assessment of Freud in this book and other works is very helpful. He begins by noting--as others have--that Freud very much wanted to situate himself as an Enlightenment rationalist par excellence, and as a successor to Darwin. Such desires led him to some serious mistakes in writing about "religion." As Lear puts it with great clarity:
in the name of analyzing the fantasy underlying religious belief, Freud participated in his own fantasy of inevitable historical progress, which included secularization as a hallmark of that progress. There is reason to think that this closed down Freud's curiosity: he was disposed to see religious commitment as historically retrogressive. If he could find a kernel of wishfulness in that commitment that was sufficient; it was as though there was nothing more to look for. As a result, Freud blinded himself to the possible complexity of religious belief (204). 
This very much accords with my own read of Future. It is insufficiently curious, ideologically pre-determined, and in some ways also very lazy: he never bothers to move beyond sweeping and sophomoric generalizations to investigate the depth and details of what he denounces too facilely. He also represents Christianity in particular as nothing more than a cult of the "primal murder" of the father by the son, a notion that is laughable on its face as a few seconds reading the New Testament will reveal.

As Lear puts it, Freud fails to do to his own analysis what he readily applies elsewhere. But he also makes historiographical mistakes--though, admittedly, these were not uncommon at the turn of the century, when for some time many thinkers had been predicting massive and unrelenting secularization so that, by century's end, "religion" would largely have disappeared. We now know what a crock those predictions were and are. (MacIntyre's 1967 lectures on this are still useful.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often

As I have often noted, Newman is alone among 19th-century Catholic figures to be translated into Greek for study by his Orthodox contemporaries. His Oxford patristic formation, especially in the Alexandrian Fathers, made and makes him a most attractive feature as C.S. Dessain decades ago noted, and as Benjamin King more recently has shown.

Now comes a new book that looks to be very interesting for fleshing out some of Newman's ecclesiological thought. I have often quoted him in discussions with Orthodox over Vatican I and the role of papal definitions of dogma. But we have not really had a systematic treatment of his views until now: To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often: The Development of John Henry Newman's Ecclesiological Outlook, 1845–1877 by Ryan J. Marr (Fortress Academic, 2018), 234pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This study approaches John Henry Newman’s writings on the church from a fresh perspective by examining the development of Newman’s ecclesiological outlook over time. It demonstrates that it can be misleading to refer to Newman’s “Catholic ecclesiology” (singular), because such an approach gives the impression that Newman maintained a stable ecclesiological perspective during his Roman Catholic period. In reality, Newman’s outlook on the church underwent significant developments over the last four decades of his life. As a result of various events in his life, including the Rambler affair and his experience of the First Vatican Council, Newman slowly developed an ecclesiological outlook that counterbalanced the authority of the pope and bishops with a robust account of the role of theologians and the lay faithful in the reception and transmission of church doctrine. Whether consciously or not, Newman left his ecclesiological writings open for further development on the part of theologians who would follow after him.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Modern Orthodox Theology

In thinking back on my experience last month in Iasi at the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, the scriptural verse in the sub-title of a forthcoming book did come to mind. There have been many new developments within Orthodox theology in the last three decades, and some of them will be covered in Paul Ladouceur, Modern Orthodox Theology: Behold I Make All Things New (T&T Clark, 2019), 544pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Modern Orthodox theology represents a continuity of the Eastern Christian theological tradition stretching back to the early Church and especially to the Ancient Fathers of the Church. This volume considers the full range of modern Orthodox theology.
The first chapters of the book offer a chronological study of the development of modern Orthodox theology, beginning with a survey of Orthodox theology from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the early 19th century. Ladouceur then focuses on theology in imperial Russia, the Russian religious renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century, and the origins and nature of neopatristic theology, as well as the new theology in Greece, Romania and Serbia. Subsequent chapters examine specific major themes:
The restoration of patristic thought in Orthodox theology
God and Creation
Divine-humanity and the theology of the person
Ecclesiology and ecumenical theology
The 'Christification' of life
The 'Name-of-God' quarrel
Women in the Orthodox church
The volume concludes with assessments of major approaches of modern Orthodox theology and reflections on the current status and future of Orthodox theology.

The publisher also gives us this table of contents:

Table of contents
Foreword and Acknowledgments
1. Prolegomena to Modern Orthodox Theology
2. Theological Encounters with the West: Orthodox Theology from the Fifteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century
3. Theology in Imperial Russia
4. The Russian Religious Renaissance
5. The Origins and Nature of Neopatristic Theology
6. Theology Old and New in Greece
7. Theology in Romania
8. Tradition and the Restoration of Patristic Thought
9. God and Creation
10. Divine-Humanity, Personhood and Human Rights
11. The Church of Christ
12. Ecumenical Theology and Religious Diversity
13. The Christification of Life
14. Social and Political Theology
15. Onomatodoxy: The Name-of-God Conflict
16. The Ordination of Women
17. Light and Shadows in Modern Orthodox Theology
18. The Living Tradition of Orthodox Theology
19. Bibliography

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Barbara Crostini and Ines Murzaku on Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy

It is always a pleasure to be able to interview Ines Murzaku, as I have a few times now, most recently here. Today we are joined by her co-editor, Barbara Crostini, as both of them talk about their recent publication, Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: the Life of Neilos in Context (Routledge, 2017).

AD: Tell us about your background

Barbara Crostini: As an Italian, I have always been interested in the intersection of Greek and Latin cultures on the peninsula. This combination was ongoing in Southern Italy, and it was also reflected in the Abbey of Grottaferrata near Rome, that celebrated 1000 years from its foundation in 2004. It is important for me to keep such memories alive both from a religious point of view and from a secular one. In both cases, the Greek presence underscores variety and openness to other ways of doing things, such as the liturgy, or simply offers more through its language and literature. We need to keep such openness in today's world.

Ines Murzaku: I am a professor of ecclesiastical history and Director of Catholic Studies Program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. I guess this is a fancier way of saying that I am a Church historian, focusing on Church history and theology—especially Byzantine and Catholic Church history—and how this history has impacted and still impacts modern Church history and the Church’s thinking and theology. I earned a doctorate in Eastern Ecclesiastical History from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and have held visiting positions at the Universities of Bologna and Calabria in Italy and University of Münster in Germany.

I have investigated Church history as this has unfolded on the borders and frontiers of empires, including the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires; in places where the Byzantine East and the Latin West have met but also collided; how the West has reacted; and how the East has influenced Western thinking, including Western theology and ecclesiology. I am fascinated with borders and peripheries, with saints of the peripheries like Italo-Greek saints of southern Italy and with Church history as it has developed in the peripheries. I have done and am still doing a lot of archival work in Italy, Germany, and other countries. Writing Church history from the archives is difficult as many colleagues in the guild will admit, but also rewarding--in hearing the voice of those who in a sense have lost their voice. As Chesterton famously wrote in Orthodoxy, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead. It means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors.”

I am a practicing Byzantine-Greek Catholic with deep reverence for my tradition and think that Byzantine Catholics of Italy and elsewhere are a bridge between East and West and the medieval and premodern Byzantine-Catholic Church in southern Italy can provide some models of dialogue and co-existence for contemporary ecclesiology, theology, and ecumenism. St. Neilos and the Greek Monastery of the Mother of God of Grottaferrata, the Italo-Greeks-Albanians or Arbëresh of Southern Italy and their particular and unique histories of Easterners in the West are very rich and resourceful. A critical and dispassionate exploration of the history, ecclesiology, and theology of these Byzantine realities can be helpful in contemporary ecumenical dialogue between East and West, especially in understanding synodality and how this played out in a local Byzantine Church which was transplanted into a Latin context, as was the case of the Arbëresh or Italo-Albanian Church of Southern Italy – Calabria and Sicily.

AD: When we spoke last August, it was about your newly co-edited and co-translated Life of St Neilos of Rossano. His life is also the focus of this new collection, Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: the Life of Neilos in Context. What has led to such riches pouring forth now on Neilos, as it were? In other words, give us a sense of how your own scholarly labors and that of the fourteen others in this book converged.

Ines Murzaku: I think common scholarly interest and passion for monasticism and the monastic ideal brought us together. Moreover, our work was also a work of “recovery” bringing attention to an almost forgotten monasticism i.e. Italo-Greek monasticism of Southern Italy. These are good enough reasons to bring scholars together, no? Those holy monks must have been praying really hard for this volume to happen!

The broader argument is that monasticism and the ascetic ideal unite. The monk is one who is separated from all and united harmoniously to all. This might appear contradictory at first sight, but what monasticism repudiates is not the world and its citizens, but the mundane, temporary and selfish love which stands in the way of the monk’s spiritual ascent. “In gradual detachment from those worldly things which stand in the way of communion with the Lord, the monk finds the world a place where the beauty of the Creator and the love of the Redeemer are reflected” (John Paul II 1995).

Almost all my book projects began in a monastic setting: at the Greek Monastery of the Mother of God at Grottaferrata. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to research within the monastery’s walls, constantly illumined by the wisdom of the monks. Long, insightful conversations and exchanges with Abbot Emiliano Fabbricatore (who returned to the Lord on the day of the Theophany 2019) to better understand the text in action — as lived by the monks of Grottaferrata — were very frequent. Padre Emiliano’s knowledge of Greek, which he had learned in Greece — a country he loved very deeply until his death — was superb. He understood the nuances of the Greek text, and pointed our attention to minuscule details, something only monks who live the monastic life in community would understand and appreciate. Fr. Emiliano wanted the Life of St. Neilos, Italo-Greek saint of the periphery, and the history of Italo-Greek monasticism, to be read in English, as he once told me when he was accompanying a group of Seton Hall students in a visit to the monastery: “these young people are curious how we monks live, work, study. I guess monasticism has a message to offer. The Life of St. Neilos would probably be a good read for them in things our society has forgotten.”

AD: In your introduction, Barbara, you note that this present volume was explicitly conceived as a companion to the Life. What does this collection offer to those wanting to understand Neilos more deeply?

Barbara Crostini: Undoubtedly, the essays in the volume provide the broader context in which to understand the phenomenon of the Southern Italian saints. The first part of the volume offers essays on the text of the Life that provide insights into specific passages or readings, or even words, in this rich text. The second part opens more broadly to the historic-cultural phenomenon of monasticism in Southern Italy.

AD: The theme of this book is also, of course, monasticism, on which you have published other studies. What are some of the outstanding features of Greek monasticism in southern Italy in this period?

Barbara Crostini: I would say resistance and austerity. Resistance to the ongoing Latinization of their region, through the cultivation of the Greek liturgy and contact with the East. This was always appreciated as a source of complementary wisdom. Austerity was the hallmark of this ascetic streak of monks, often hermits or solitaries, or living in cave-like dwellings in small groups. Their closeness to the natural world and the simple environment of the country was always admired and provides an edge of authenticity to their spiritual outlook.

AD: Some people sometimes assume that monasticism is an irrelevant pursuit of a tiny elite, and monastics of nearly a thousand years ago can have nothing to teach us today. But what lessons do you see in the life of Neilos and those of his brethren more generally?

Ines Murzaku: Probably an innovative and emerging monasticism is in the making in the 21st century, which will meet the spiritual demands of our modern time: a new monk prototype who works in the world and is not of the world; one who does not renounce the secular world but instead sanctifies it; a monk who will persevere and be greater and accomplish greater things than his forefathers. In the age of computers, I-phones, Twitter, Facebook and constant bombardment with information there is a deep need of spirituality, longing, and reflective silence. There is truthfulness and credibility in the monastic message that is attractive to the person who might not have a desire to join the monastery but is in search of authentic spirituality and simplicity. Through silence and prayer, the millennials will be able to control noise and distraction, and establish an intimate relation with God.

AD: Your own chapter in this volume talked about the long-lasting effects of Neilos on Grottaferrata and its identity. Tell us a bit more about those effects and about Grottaferrata’s unique place in the Church today.

Ines Murzaku: Neilos’s desire for Grottaferrata was that it be a meeting place of encounter and preservation i.e., continue in Neilos’s encountering enterprise and preserve and transmit what was left of the Italo-Greek monasticism. Thus, Grottaferrata, following in the founder’s footsteps, re-created her identity, showing a high level of originality and adaptability while building its stabilitas for the monastic community at the gates of the urbe--Rome. Neilos’s pilgrimage and later Grottaferrata’s pilgrimage made the monastic community reach new levels of self-understanding and self-knowledge while showing a high level of adaptability to new conditions.

AD: Having now published two books in one year on Neilos, what will 2019 bring? What projects are you at work on now?

Ines Murzaku: I am taking a little break from Neilos but not from the monastic ideal and asceticism. I am currently writing a book focusing on St. Mother Teresa entitled: Mother Teresa: The Saint of the Peripheries Who Became Catholicism’s Center Piece which will be published by Paulist Press in 2019. However, I find much of St. Neilos in St. Mother Teresa, their monastic ideal and love of Christ and the neighbor is the same. I am always impressed how relevant monasticism is for us moderns and millennials: for we who are thirsty for authenticity – well, monasticism has it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (I)

During very long flights to Romania earlier this month, with long times in between and thus a lot of sitting around, I very happily whiled away the hours by starting Cynthia Haven's lovely new biography,  Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (Michigan State UP, 2018), 346pp.

I will say more about it after I finish it, but for now wanted to commend it to those of you who are interested not just in his extraordinary life and work, but also in the history of southern France (especially Avignon) and in the history of academic changes and conflicts in the United States. A cast of well-known characters crosses the page, including not least Lacan and Derrida.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Cyprus Under the British

Cyprus seems to be coming in for some recent scrutiny, as a recent book, noted only last month, bears on parts of its history. Now another new book treats its more recent history: Christos Ioannides, Cyprus under British Colonial Rule: Culture, Politics, and the Movement toward Union with Greece, 1878–1954 (Lexington Books, 2019), 340pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This is a unique book that combines a political narrative with poetry to examine the role of culture and the fusion of religion and politics during the struggle against colonialism. The context is Britain’s geopolitical interests in the Middle East. The author utilizes a vital cultural source echoing the authentic voice of the people, Cypriot folk poems, which has remained virtually unknown to the English reader until now. Translated into English, they are interwoven into the book’s narrative to reflect the yearning for social justice and the political sentiments of the vast majority of the population, the peasants, in a rural society. Lawrence Durrell’s literary masterpiece, Bitter Lemons, his politico-cultural chronicle on British-ruled Cyprus, is also discussed critically.
The Greek Orthodox Church led the anti-colonial movement revolving around union with Greece. Through his intimate knowledge of Greek Orthodox practices, the author elucidates how religious customs and rituals were intertwined with the nationalist ideology to lead to political mobilization. In the process, culture, with its religious underpinnings, shaped politics. This dynamic has been the case from the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa, to Eurasia and South East Asia. Prime examples are the Iranian revolution and the more recent Arab Spring, both of which caught the West by surprise. In Cyprus, the British, with their sense of superiority, remained alien to the local culture and discounted popular sentiment. The two rebellions that ensued caught Britain totally by surprise. This is a valuable case study on the convergence of religion and politics. Academics, students and non-specialists will find a captivating narrative on Britain’s colonial encounter in an idyllic but strategic island in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Lemkos and Orthodoxy

One of the especially fascinating groups of Eastern Christians, who seem to fall between so many larger imperial and nationalist projects and configurations, is the Lemkos, newly treated in a book by Stefan Dudra, Lemko Identity and the Orthodox Church (Carpathian Institute, 2018), 150pp.

The publisher gives us this brief blurb:

The Lemko Region of the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe has been inhabited by East Slavic people for centuries. For nearly as long, it has been the arena of intense ethnopolitical competition. This collection of sketches illuminates how Lemkos’ reaction to competing nationalist pressures led them to an identity centered on Eastern Orthodox Christianity.



Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Coptic Martyrs

I reviewed here a recent book on the theology of martyrdom and some of its ecclesiological and ecumenical questions. Now another book, set for release next month, treats the same Coptic martyrs in Egypt, but in a very different way: Moses Mosebach, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs (Plough Publishing, 2019), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Behind a gruesome ISIS beheading video lies the untold story of the men in orange and the faith community that formed these unlikely modern-day saints and heroes. In a carefully choreographed propaganda video released in February 2015, ISIS militants behead twenty-one orange-clad Christian men on a Libyan beach.
In the West, daily reports of new atrocities may have displaced the memory of this particularly vile event. But not in the world from which the murdered came. All but one were young Coptic Christian migrant workers from Egypt. Acclaimed literary writer Martin Mosebach traveled to the Egyptian village of El-Aour to meet their families and better understand the faith and culture that shaped such conviction.
He finds himself welcomed into simple concrete homes through which swallows dart. Portraits of Jesus and Mary hang on the walls along with roughhewn shrines to now-famous loved ones. Mosebach is amazed time and again as, surrounded by children and goats, the bereaved replay the cruel propaganda video on an iPad. There is never any talk of revenge, but only the pride of having a martyr in the family, a saint in heaven. “The 21” appear on icons crowned like kings, celebrated even as their community grieves. A skeptical Westerner, Mosebach finds himself a stranger in this world in which everything is the reflection or fulfillment of biblical events, and facing persecution with courage is part of daily life.
In twenty-one symbolic chapters, each preceded by a picture, Mosebach offers a travelogue of his encounter with a foreign culture and a church that has preserved the faith and liturgy of early Christianity – the “Church of the Martyrs.” As a religious minority in Muslim Egypt, the Copts find themselves caught in a clash of civilizations. This book, then, is also an account of the spiritual life of an Arab country stretched between extremism and pluralism, between a rich biblical past and the shopping centers of New Cairo.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Testament of the Lord

More and more I think much of Christian conflict and division turns on readings of history, which is why psychoanalysts such as Vamik Volkan, often mentioned on here, are so indispensable in raising the question: are we really talking history, or are we constructing narratives of "chosen trauma" or "chosen glory" to stand in for historical scholarship, which is almost invariably messy, complex, and difficult to do well?

Among perennial areas where these kinds of debates erupt is in early Christian worship and morality, and this is as true of the East as it is of the West--perhaps even more so in the latter. A newly translated work will only further intensify these debates: The Testament of the Lord: Worship & Discipline in the Early Church, transl Alistair Stewart (SVS Press, 2018), 170pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The Testament of the Lord is one of several ancient “Church Order” texts. Written in the first four centuries of the Church, they direct Christian conduct and morality, ecclesiastical organization and discipline, and the Church’s worship and liturgical life. Beginning with an apocalyptic section in which the risen Lord himself addresses the reader, The Testament then describes the building of a church, the mode of appointment for clergy and monastics, and the conduct of daily prayers and of other liturgical services.
The text is newly translated from the extant Syriac (with an eye to Ethiopic manuscripts), and the introduction makes the case for a fourth century Cappadocian redactor who gave the work its present shape, though much of its material goes back at least to the third century. Those who are interested in early Church Orders will also find the Didache and St Hippolytus’ On the Apostolic Tradition in the Popular Patristics Series (PPS 41 and 54).

Friday, January 18, 2019

In Praise of Afanasiev

I was in Iasi, Romania last week for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association. I was both an official ecumenical observer and also a panelist giving a paper on papal primacy.

Among many interesting sessions and papers, one impressed me more than the rest: a paper given by a newly minted scholar, Anastacia Wooden, on the legacy of Nicholas Afanasiev.

It was a superlative piece of scholarship, and clearly marks Wooden down now as the Afanasiev expert in the world. What made her paper simultaneously fascinating and depressing was her careful documentation of how shabbily Afanasiev has been treated by Catholic (esp. Aidan Nichols) and Orthodox (esp. John Zizioulas) theologians alike, who, at best, pay him the briefest lip service before going on to criticize him (typically for things he did not say, while ignoring the things he did say) or else ignore him. Apart from such shabby treatment by these two, he is apparently generally ignored. I found this astonishing because, in my naivete, I had assumed that everyone recognized Afanasiev as one of the great men of postwar ecclesiology and therefore blithely imagined he was widely and appreciatively read. Apparently not.

Nonetheless, do not let that stop you, dear discerning reader, from reading Afanasiev. The easiest place to begin is with his Church of the Holy Spirit. I drew on that in several of my writings, including, most recently, this essay.

An introduction to him may be found in the chapter on his life written by Michael Plekon in Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.

Other works in English include the three essays found in the collection edited again by Plekon, Tradition Alive: On the Church and the Christian Life in Our Time

There is much that remains untranslated and unpublished, and I strongly encouraged Wooden to remedy these lacunae as soon as possible. We have every reason to expect many good things from her, and I shall endeavor to keep you apprised of them.

God Does Not Need Your Outrage

I count it one of the great gifts of Providence that Andriy Chirovsky, a mitred Ukrainian Catholic priest and scholar who founded the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, became my Doktorvater. I don’t use that word just because academics are supposed to throw around pretentious German terms to impress others, but because it describes, in a real and lasting way, the relationship he had to me: a real father in God concerned that my work not just be about academic attainment, advancement, and glory; but that it serve the Church and not my own vainglory.
He made it very clear to me from our first class together in the spring of 1997 that anyone studying God—which is what theology aspires to do—is on very dangerous territory and must proceed with the greatest reserve. The dangers of idolatry are all around us, and so too are the dangers of pride and presumption, any one of which can blind us and bind us to our own downfall. “Keep yourself low to the ground,” he used to advise—if only, he continued with characteristic wry humour, so that you don’t have to far to fall when you trip yourself up or your enemies try to knock you down! 

More than that, there is another gift I received from him, and that was an introduction to Evagrius of Pontus, on whom, happily, an explosion of research has been published since the turn of the century as seen in books by, inter alia, Luke DysingerGabriel Bunge, Jeremy Driscoll, and other scholars, including those to be found in this important collection.

We also have many translations published of, e.g., Ad Monachos and other works.

George Tsakiridis's book Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts is interesting for its attempts to link Evagrius with some aspects of modern psychology.

Since I first learned of Evagrius, I find myself quoting from his On Prayer every semester when classes start: “if you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” That is a reminder, of course, that unlettered peasants in the fields who pray while they rake potatoes can be far holier and closer to God than those of us with advanced degrees but a sterile prayer life. It is a reminder--to put it in a Pauline idiom--not to be puffed up with knowledge. 

It should not, however, be taken as license for anti-intellectualism, which I see some Catholic and Orthodox Christians do with some regularity. Evagrius is, as it were, the patron saint of those traduced by seemingly pious anti-intellectual mobs who think the Church of Christ should be turned into some self-created purity cult. A hugely influential figure of the fourth century, he had an enormous impact on the foundation of monasticism and much else, including what we would call moral theology: what the West knows as the seven capital or deadly sins is a condensed derivative version of the eight logismoi or “disordered thoughts” first schematized and very vividly described by Evagrius (who, himself, got parts of his scheme from various places, not all of them Christian it seems). 

Evagrius was later denounced by certain enemies who left a vague impression that he had stumbled into “Origenism” (another dubious construction) and was thus tainted with a soupçon d'hétérodoxie (to borrow Marc Froidefont’s phrase). Recent research, above all by Augustine Casiday in his Reconstructing the Theology of Evagrius Ponticus: Beyond Heresy, has finally laid all this to rest. (I interviewed Casiday here.)

The hostile and unjust treatment of Origen and Evagrius is instructive, for though it happened in the first half of the first millennium, it happens still today. We can see it on many websites and read about it with some regularity. People get mobbed by social media and various websites for their supposed deviation from whatever the orthodox line is supposed to be. (This latest outrage for Latin Catholics is apparently the reading of a book in an English class at some school in Steubenville, Ohio. For Eastern Catholics and Orthodox, the latest supposed outrage was splashed about by some blogger whose entire business model depends on a steady supply of such things.)

This manufacturing of outrage is completely unattractive when anybody does it, but doubly so when Christians do so, whether outwardly against "the world" or by inwardly turning on each other, jacking up the outrage while fancying themselves to be defending “holy mother Church” or protesting against some “blasphemy” in, say, a movie or commercial. I wish all such people clearly understood this: God does not need your outrage, or your brittle and shrill “defense” of Him, or His Mother, or the angels and saints. He does not need, nor does He want, your anger. (Neither do the rest of us most assuredly.) He is unmoved by all this, and you should be, too. Worse, your anger is an anti-icon: the image you reveal is not an image of God. Your outrage accomplishes nothing good, but in fact does you (and quite possibly others) great harm.

Any time a TV show, movie, website, book, or person “offends” you by what it says about God, you need to be impassible in the face of it. That is not some pious bit of badly disguised sanctimony from me. (Heaven—and Google—know that I’ve dished out my share of polemics and outrage over the years, though the older I get the less I find that attractive and the more I regret having done it in the past.) It comes from Evagrius.

For Evagrius, impassibility (being, that is, without the disordered and destructive passions that drive the logismoi) is the highest and most perfect of all the spiritual states to attain. It is also the most difficult. When, last year, I finally had a chance—after quoting him piecemeal for nearly two decades—to teach a full course on Evagrius, it was a wonderfully bracing experience for Evagrius does not mess around, but writes with a vividness and a bluntness that is very refreshing. He helpfully overturns many of our covert assumptions about what the “worst” vices are. He must, therefore, come as quite a shock to those American Christians, at any rate, who assume, falsely, that the worst vices have to do with sex. When such Christians find what they think are sexual sins in others—even fictional ones in books they have not read—their outrage is predictable, tiresome, and wholly counter-productive. Evagrius foresaw all this with his usual clinical precision. 

But we are often deceived as to the causes of our anger. Evagrius has keen insights into how we deceive ourselves, and his methods for dealing with such deceptions are, as I have argued elsewhere, psychoanalytic avant la lettre. (As the eminent historian Peter Brown nicely put it, “the lonely cells of the recluses of Egypt have been revealed, by the archaeologist, to have been well-furnished consulting rooms.”) As Freud would realize only much later (and then--as Madelon Sprengnether's new book, Mourning Freud makes clear--only incompletely), there is an intimate connection between anger and unresolved grief and mourning; there is also often a connection to thwarted desire, some of it quite often sadistic or masochistic in nature. 

I assigned my students to read Robert Sinkewicz’s Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford, 2006) for its translation of On the Eight Thoughts. There, Sinkewicz notes that “among the individual vices considered by Evagrius, none receives greater attention than anger, for it is this vice that presents the greatest obstacle to the advancement in gnostic life and pure prayer” (my emphasis). Sinkewicz’s translation and accompanying apparatus are long and dense, and require revisiting from time to time. But this claim about the pre-eminence of anger as the “greatest obstacle” has stuck with me as a salutary thorn in my side. 

I have come to think of this claim of Evagrius often, and to counter-pose the move away from anger with a move towards kindness and graciousness. Thus I cannot think of Evagrian warnings except alongside the wise counsel of a short and unjustly neglected little book by the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, On Kindness. Increasingly I realize that when I die, I should much more gladly be thought a kindly fool than an outraged old man. 

“But wait!” some will insist. “Mine is righteous anger, like Jesus with the money-changers! I’m angry at this book/meme/movie/show/Catholic university professor because I’m defending God/Mary/Holy Mother Church!!!” That bogus claim is as pure an example as I’ve ever seen of what psychoanalysis calls “projective identification” in which we project onto God our own outrage and assume He must feel it too. 

But once more the psychoanalysts were anticipated by Evagrius some 1500 years before Freud was even born. And so Evagrius deals handily with this deception, as Sinkewicz notes: “when recommending the use of anger against the demon of fornication, Evagrius warns that the demon of anger may engage strategies similar to the spirit of fornication by instilling images in the mind,” which lead only to more anger disguised by our supposed righteousness. (That is, of course, precisely what has happened in the Steubenville case.) In other words, by reacting to one imagined thing (for that is all we have on-line—our imagination of how horrid some novel must be that we have never read) we fall into another. It is, Evagrius notes, extremely difficult for most of us to direct anger against the other demons and vices without ourselves being consumed by that anger, which he vividly describes as “a plundering of prudence, a destruction of one’s state, a confusion of nature, a form turned savage, a furnace for the heart, an eruption of flames, a law of irascibility, a wrath of insults, a mother of wild beasts, a silent battle, an impediment to prayer.”

By contrast, says Sinkewicz, summing up and quoting Evagrius, a “soul free of anger is a temple of the Holy Spirit; a gentle person is remembered by God; ‘Christ reclines his head on a patient spirit’; and ‘an intellect at peace’ is ‘a shelter for the Holy Trinity’.” In other words, to be free from anger means that one has and practices the virtues of gentleness and patience, which virtues are to be found at “the summit of the spiritual life.” Perhaps if we spent a little less time on Twitter and social media ginning up outrage at the alleged offenses of others, we might have energy left to begin the arduous climb to the top. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Liturgical Devotions in Crusader States

The Crusades remain a topic of perpetual interest, and almost equally perpetual misrepresentation in the hands of many. One area that has been opening up has been the study of ritual and liturgy in the Crusader states, treated by emerging scholars, including Daniel Galadza in his Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem.

Galadza is one of the contributors to a new scholarly collection entitled Liturgy and Devotion in the Crusader States, eds. Iris Shagrir and Cecilia Gaposchkin (Routledge, 2018), 150 pages.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Examining liturgy as historical evidence has, in recent years, developed into a flourishing field of research. The chapters in this volume offer innovative discussion of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem from the perspective of 'liturgy in history'. They demonstrate how the total liturgical experience, which was visual, emotional, motile, olfactory, and aural, can be analysed to understand the messages that liturgy was intended to convey. The chapters reveal how combining narrative sources with liturgical documents can help decode political circumstances and inter-group relations and decipher the core ideals of the community of Outremer. Moreover, understanding the Latins’ liturgical activities in the Holy Land has much to contribute to our understanding of the crusade as an institution, how crusade spirituality was practised on the ground in the Latin East, and how people engaged with the crusading movement.
This volume brings together eight original studies, forwarded by the editors’ introduction, on the liturgy of Jerusalem, spanning the immediate pre-Crusade and Crusade period (11th-13th centuries). It demonstrates the richness of a focus on the liturgy in illuminating the social, religious, and intellectual history of this critical period of ecclesiastical self-assertion, as well as conceptions of the sacred in this time and place.
We are also given the table of contents:

1. Liturgy and devotion in the crusader states: introduction (Iris Shagrir and Cecilia Gaposchkin)

2. The regular canons and the liturgy of the Latin East (Wolf Zöller)

3. The libelli of Lucca, Biblioteca Arcivescovile, MS 5: liturgy from the siege of Acre? (Cara Aspesi)

4. Rewriting the Latin liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre: text, ritual and devotion for 1149 (Sebastián Salvadó)

5. Greek liturgy in crusader Jerusalem: witnesses of liturgical life at the Holy Sepulchre and St Sabas Lavra (Daniel Galadza)

6. Greek Orthodox monasteries in the Holy Land and their liturgies in the period of the crusades (Andrew Jotischky)

7. Processing together, celebrating apart: shared processions in the Latin East (Christopher MacEvitt)

8. Holy Fire and sacral kingship in post-conquest Jerusalem (Jay Rubenstein)

9. Royal inauguration and liturgical culture in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099–1187 (Simon John)

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Beginning of Relics

Christians from the very beginning, being celebrants of an incarnate God, treasured (sometimes controversially) material embodiments of God's salvific activity in the world, including relics of their beloved dead. As one later commentator, St John Damascene, would famously put it,
I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God…. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.
How did the cults around various sets of relics begin? Of what practices did they consist? Were they everywhere practiced? These and other questions will find some answer in a forthcoming book, The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics by Robert Wiśniewski (Oxford University Press, 2019), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Christians have often admired and venerated martyrs who died for their faith, but for long time thought that the bodies of martyrs should remain undisturbed in their graves. Initially, Christian attitude toward the bones of the dead, saint or not, was that of respectful distance. The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics examines how this changed in the mid-fourth century. Robert Wiśniewski investigates how Christians began to believe in power of relics, first, over demons, then over physical diseases and enemies. He considers how they sought to reveal hidden knowledge at the tombs of saints and why they buried the death close to them. An essential element of this new belief was a string conviction that the power of relics was transferred in a physical way and so the following chapters study relics as material objects. Wiśniewski analyses what the contact with relics looked like and how close it was. Did people touch, kiss, or look at the very bones, or just at reliquaries which contained them? When did the custom of dividing relics appear? Finally, the book the book deals with discussions and polemics concerning relics and tries to find out how strong was the opposition which this new phenomenon had to face, both within and outside Christianity on its way relics to become an essential element of the medieval religiosity.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Depth Psychology and Orthodox Theology

My interest in the relationship between Freudian and later analytic psychologies is, I think, rather amply demonstrated on here and elsewhere. I am at work on a long book review, an article, and a book about all this. So I await with keen interest the publication later this year of Pia Sophia Chaudhari's Dynamis of Healing: Patristic Theology and the Psyche in the Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought imprint of Fordham University Press (2019), 234pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

This book explores how traces of the energies and dynamics of Orthodox Christian theology and anthropology may be observed in the clinical work of depth psychology. Looking to theology to express its own religious truths and to psychology to see whether these truth claims show up in healing modalities, the author creatively engages both disciplines in order to highlight the possibilities for healing contained therein. Dynamis of Healing elucidates how theology and psychology are by no means fundamentally at odds with each other but rather can work together in a beautiful and powerful synergia to address both the deepest needs and deepest desires of the human person for healing and flourishing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Persian Christians at the Chinese Court

The expansion of Syriac and other Christian traditions into China and far east Asia has long fascinated me; so, too, has its gradual disappearance. Along comes a recently published book to continue to shed light on these great traditions and their expansion and eventual retraction: R. Todd Godwin, Persian Christians at the Chinese Court: The Xi'an Stele and the Early Medieval Church of the East (I.B. Tauris, 2018), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Xi'an Stele, erected in Tang China's capital in 781, describes in both Syriac and Chinese the existence of Christian communities in northern China. While scholars have considered the Stele exclusively in relation to the Chinese cultural and historical context, Todd Godwin demonstrates that it can only be fully understood by reconstructing the complex connections that existed between the Church of the East, Sasanian aristocratic culture, and the Tang Empire (617–907) between the fall of the Sasanian Persian Empire (225–651) and the birth of the Abbasid Caliphate (762–1258).
Through close textual re-analysis of the Stele and by drawing on ancient sources in Syriac, Greek, Arabic, and Chinese, Godwin demonstrates that Tang China (617–907) was a cosmopolitan milieu where multiple religious traditions, namely Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Christianity, formed zones of elite culture. Syriac Christianity in fact remained powerful in Persia throughout the period, and Christianity―not Zoroastrianism―was officially regarded by the Tang government as "The Persian Religion."
Persian Christians at the Chinese Court uncovers the role played by Syriac Christianity in the economic and cultural integration of late Sasanian Iran and China, and is important reading for all scholars of the Church of the East, China, and the Middle East in the medieval period.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Byzantine Constructions of the West

More than five years ago now, I lavished rather a lot of attention on an important and fascinating collection, Orthodox Constructions of the West. It seems that next month we are to have a similar collection albeit one with a tighter focus on a particular period: Byzantium and the West: Perception and Reality (11th-15th c.), eds. Nikolaos Chrissis, Athina Kolia-Dermitzaki, and Angeliki Papageorgiou (Routledge, 2019), 334pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us the following:
The interaction between Byzantium and the Latin West was intimately connected to practically all the major events and developments which shaped the medieval world in the High and Late Middle Ages – for example, the rise of the ‘papal monarchy’, the launch of the Crusades, the expansion of international and longdistance commerce, or the flowering of the Renaissance. This volume explores not only the actual avenues of interaction between the two sides (trade, political and diplomatic contacts, ecclesiastical dialogue, intellectual exchange, armed conflict), but also the image each side had of the other and the way perceptions evolved over this long period in the context of their manifold contact.
Twenty-one stimulating papers offer new insights and original research on numerous aspects of this relationship, pooling the expertise of an international group of scholars working on both sides of the Byzantine-Western ‘divide’, on topics as diverse as identity formation, ideology, court ritual, literary history, military technology and the economy, among others. The particular contribution of the research presented here is the exploration of how cross-cultural relations were shaped by the interplay of the thought-world of the various historical agents and the material circumstances which circumscribed their actions. The volume is primarily aimed at scholars and students interested in the history of Byzantium, the Mediterranean world, and, more widely, intercultural contacts in the Middle Ages.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Guntrip on Schizoids and Christians

In any proper accounting of the relationship between Christianity and psychoanalysis, to which I have contributed piecemeal on here (and elsewhere) over the last three years, Harry S. Guntrip must occupy a significant place. He embodied both traditions, being himself a therapist and also a Congregational minister. From this dual perspective he was able to author such books as his early Psychotherapy and Religion and his later Psychology for Ministers and Social Workers

But Guntrip is perhaps best known for his work on the schizoid type. Others in Britain before and after him--especially Melanie Klein in England, and R.W. Fairbairn (also a practicing Christian) in Scotland--had also done important work on this personality type, all of it in the context of object relations theory whose most important thinker was and remains, of course, D.W. Winnicott. (More recently, Nancy McWilliams' essay is noteworthy for its lucidity and detailed portrait of schizoid types. I think she is quite right in arguing that this type is not a pathology to be corrected, but a phenomenon nonetheless deserving careful consideration.)


An earlier biography of Guntrip, who had the benefit of being analyzed by both Fairbairn and Winnicott,.was published in 1986.

What we have more recently from Trevor Dobbs, himself an analyst and academic, is Faith, Theology, and Psychoanalysis: the Life and Thought of Harry S. Guntrip (Wipf and Stock, 2007). It's a frustrating book because it is a rather poorly edited doctoral dissertation, which genre often and notoriously makes for bad books. This book, to be clear, is not bad but undisciplined: the reader is yanked around from topic to topic with little development and less warning or connection. Nevertheless, it is worth persisting to obtain some of its insights.

The book notes that Freud's Future of an Illusion from 1927 set up an apparent conflict between something called "religion" and the so-called science of psychoanalysis. But not everyone, as I have noted on here many times in the past three years, believes in, let alone perpetuates, this pseudo-conflict. Indeed, some labor in both domains without a problem, and Guntrip was one such.

Another was the Scottish analyst W. R.D. Fairbairn (Guntrip's analyst, along with D.W. Winnicott), who also contributed a great deal to the object-relations school, and had his own acute insights into the schizoid phenomenon. Fairbairn (who died in 1964) is finally getting some overdue attention in several new publications, including this collection and this one.

I recently finished John Sutherland's biography of Fairbairn, who grew up in a rather strict Scottish Protestant household before gravitating later to the richer experiences of Anglican Christianity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Hurry Up Already: Eschatological Ecclesiology and its Problems

If you've been at this ecclesiology and ecumenism business as long as I have (thirty years this spring, since I was a high-school student involved in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, and then in the Canadian Council of Churches and World Council of Churches for many years), you realize how long even little things take, and how far off into the future unity looks. One of the first lessons I learned in the late 1980s was that by then everyone who had been at it since the 1960s saw a significant cooling off; and a little later still, the hopes for full-on Christian unity everywhere by the turn of the millennium were scaled waaaaaay back. (Already in 1991 in Canberra, everyone was using the phrase "ecumenical winter.") By the new millennium we had some people (e.g., Aidan Nichols in his otherwise useful Rome and the Eastern Churches) speaking of unity as an eschatological prospect, which I found very depressing.

Along comes an affordable paperback edition of a recent book to cheer and buck us up by arguing that all this talk of eschatology can be a dodge for doing more things better right now: Scott MacDougall, More Than Communion: Imagining an Eschatological Ecclesiology (Bloomsbury, 2018), 302pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The dominant contemporary model for ecclesiology (theological views of the church itself) is the ecclesiology of communion. MacDougall argues that communion ecclesiologies are often marked by a problematic theological imagination of the future (eschatology). He argues further that, as a result, our ways of practising and being the church are not as robust as they might otherwise be. Re-imagining the church in the light of God's promised future, then, becomes a critical conceptual and practical task.
MacDougall presents a detailed exploration of what communion ecclesiologies are and some of the problems they raise. He offers two case studies of such theologies by examining how distinguished theologians John Zizioulas and John Milbank understand the church and the future, how these combine in their work, and the conceptual and practical implications of their perspectives. He then offers an alternative theological view and demonstrates the effects that such a shift would have. In doing so, MacDougall offers a proposal for recovering the 'more' to communion and to ecclesiology to help us imagine a church that is not beyond the world (as in Zizioulas) or over against the world (as in Milbank), but in and for the world in love and service. This concept is worked out in conversation with systematic theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Johannes Baptist Metz, and by engaging with a theology of Christian practices currently being developed by practical theologians such as Dorothy C. Bass, Craig Dykstra, and those associated with their ongoing project.
The potential for the church to become an agent of discipleship, love, and service can best be realised when the church anticipates God's promised perfection in the full communion between God and humanity, among human beings, within human persons, and between humanity and the rest of creation.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Justinian: Architect and Emperor

For those following the on-going struggle in Ukraine for an Orthodox church free from neo-imperial control and aggression, and for those interested in on-going ecclesiological and ecumenical searches for greater decentralization in the Church both East and West, a recently published book sheds light on the fact that these issues go back a long way: Stanislaw Turlej, Justiniana Prima: An Underestimated Aspect of Justinian's Church Policy (Jagiellonian University Press, 2018), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The book explores the history of Justiniana Prima, a city built by Emperor Justinian I (527-565) in his birthplace near Niš in present-day Serbia. Previous studies focused on determining the city's location, underestimating the significance of analyzing written sources for the reconstruction of this city's genesis and importance. Using information from Emperor Justinian's Novels XI and CXXXI, as well as Book IV of Procopius of Caesarea's De aedificiis, Stanislaw Turlej endeavors to show that Justiniana Prima's historic significance resulted from granting its Church the status of an archbishopric with its own province in 535, which was independent of Rome. Justinian wanted to introduce profound changes to the ecclesiastical organization based on state law.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

In Search of the Earliest Icons: In Memory of Sr. Wendy Beckett

In honour of her recent passing unto eternal life, I reprint and update slightly the following post from November 2010.

Books about icons continue to pour fourth from a variety of presses, secular and ecclesial; and Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Orbis Books, whose other recent and generally delightful publication about Marian icons I noted previously, has just put into my hands its latest book:

Sister Wendy Beckett, Real Presence: in Search of the Earliest Icons (Orbis, 2010), 138pp.

As I have noted previously, good, reliable studies, in English, of Coptic iconography are not very numerous--especially when compared to the myriad of books on Byzantine icons. Several earlier books exist in French, but these are not accessible to my students; others seem content to downplay or ignore the theological significance of Coptic art precisely as Christian and iconographic. So it is a happy development to have Real Presence devoted to pre-Iconoclastic icons at the famous St. Catherine's of Mount Sinai Monastery. It confines itself to icons largely before the eighth century (her cut-off is AD 726), but it will nonetheless be useful in giving the general reader and undergraduate a very good introduction to pre-Iconoclastic and proto-Coptic iconography.

It will also be useful, I hope, in overcoming some of the "Byzantine snobbery" I've heard from people who condescendingly dismiss Coptic icons as being but "cartoons" compared to the ineffable splendors of Byzantium. Yes, certain developments did not take place in Egypt, and yes Egypt never produced a Rublev or Theophanes, but such criticism of Coptic art ignores, inter alia, the fact that after the 640s Egypt was ruled by an increasingly hostile power, and Islam of course was then and certainly is now deeply iconoclastic. The Byzantines were unmolested for another 800 years and so could continue to develop their iconographical techniques, which they bequeathed to the East-Slavs, who continued to develop them after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.(I should perhaps confess, as is the fashion today, a certain "bias" insofar as the very first icon I was ever given was a beautiful Coptic icon of the Virgin enthroned, which was sent to me while in hospital by the Coptic priest Fr. Marcos A. Marcos, who almost single-handedly did so much to establish a Coptic presence in Canada and the United States. That icon provided much consolation to me during a long convalescence after a city bus tried to kill me, and I have continued to regard it as my favourite of all the Marian icons I have.)

Sr. Wendy notes that "the Egyptian Christ has not the classic stateliness that was to become the norm in the Byzantine Empire. He is stately, but the countenance is long and often thin, much more semitic [sic] in its poignancy" (35). A little later she notes that "many...Coptic images have an intimacy that clutches at the heart-strings" (40) and she illustrates this with an icon of Christ resting his hand on the shoulder of the Abbot Menas (not St. Menas, she says, but a later monk):

 
Sr. Wendy is no stranger to works on Christian art in general, and iconography in particular, having written an earlier volume on Marian icons from Mt. Sinai: Encounters With God: In Quest of Ancient Icons of Mary 

Real Presence has a winsome narrative describing her visits to Mt. Sinai (as well as Rome and Kiev, where some of the monastery's icons may today be found) and experience of its history, its collections, and its monks. Sr. Wendy writes with a commendably simple, accessible style, making this a fine introduction for those with little background in iconography.

She begins with a brief comment on her title "Real Presence," noting its felicitous reminder of the more common connotations of that phrase to denote Christ in the Eucharist. Both icons and the Eucharist, she rightly notes, make Christ accessible to us. Icons are sacramental--though, of course, in different ways than the Eucharist and other sacraments. (One should recall here that the septinarium is a Western achievement dogmatized at Trent, but lacking comparable authority in the East--which means that there is nothing "official" to prevent icons from being considered in sacramental terms equal to and numbered alongside the Eucharist, inter alia.)

After this, she offers an overview of how she came to be aware of these icons, and of their history. She also narrates, again very briefly, the history of St. Catherine's Monastery, the "oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the Christian world" (12), a monastery that "has become the resting-place of some of the oldest Biblical texts in existence and of the extraordinary collection of pre-iconoclastic icons" (13). That collection, she notes earlier, numbers "over three thousand" (2), and is unique in the entire world in preserving so many icons from the "thorough job of destruction" carried out by Emperor Leo III and others (3). As I am forever telling my students, you cannot understand much of history, religious history especially, until you first understand the geography. These icons were saved largely because they were beyond the reach of the imperial agents of destruction, who seem to have been unwilling to enter deep into a country that had been considered "enemy territory" after Chalcedon, and was, by the time of Iconoclasm, increasingly Muslim in nature. Even if the Iconoclastic agents had gotten as far at Mt. Sinai, there is no guarantee they would have gotten their hands on the icons for they would have been confronted with one of Justinian's architectural wonders: a "fortress monastery, one that could resist hostile attacks...built...so superbly that it stands majestically to this day" (11).

Part of the importance of this collection is that it gives us access to "the earliest icons that we actually have...from the sixth century" (13). Sr. Wendy then gives us a tour through many of the most prominent of these icons, which are reproduced in color and black-and-white plates. She offers commentary on their features, most of which is very illuminating, but in a few places it is trickier to see some of what she sees. And she recognizes this at the end, saying that readers should "look at the pictures of the icons and what I have said about them, and decide whether my comments have been of any use to you" (131).

There are three small infelicities in the text: her one-sentence summary of Arianism is very confused (18); she says the first Council of Nicaea was held "in 383" (18) when of course it was 325; and one icon, whose face has been removed, is, she says, of a monk and not a bishop even though the figure has on an omophor--or so it seems from what we can glimpse of what remains of the icon (105-06). Apart from these, however, this is a lovely and important little book, and we can be very grateful Orbis has brought it out in such charming form and for so affordable a price.
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