"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).


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Sophiology Man

The English Dominican Aidan Nichols long ago emerged as one of the most serious Latin interlocutors with and scholars of the Christian East. More than thirty years ago now, he began this exploration with his Theology in the Russian Diaspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas'ev (1893-1966), drawing on a figure who even today still retains great power and promise and relevance, especially in the area of ecclesiology. I drew on Afanasiev extensively in my book last year, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.

That is not to say that all of Nichols' works have been problem-free. His first edition of Rome and the Eastern Churches was a mess, riddled with errors of all sorts. But the second edition was a welcome new version free of the problems of the original.

Nichols is certainly prolific, and here I have noted just a fraction of his books on Eastern themes and figures. He has yet another book out this year on a figure who continues to haunt many Western theologians and ecumenists: Aidan Nichols, The Sophiology Man. The Work of Vladimir Solov'ëv (Gracewing, 2020), 178pp.

About this new book we are told:
This book is an introduction to the personality and thought of the founder of Russian sophiology, the philosophy and theology of 'wisdom', Vladimir Sergeevich Solov'ëv. Seen as the single most important philosopher Russia has as yet produced, there has been an explosion of interest in, and writing about, Solov'ëv since the ending of Soviet period constraints in the later 1980s. From the closing years of the twentieth century there has also been an unexpected outbreak of 'philo-sophiology' in the West, to which his philosophical endeavours are highly relevant.
 After an early 'theosophical' stage where his interests were concentrated on an 'integral' or 'holistic' grasp of the true, and a middle 'theocratic' period when his mind was concentrated on how to achieve, for Christendom and global society, the common good, Solov'ëv moved into a late 'theurgical' phase dominated by such themes as nature, art and love (though the good and the true were not forgotten). These topics could perhaps be summed up as anterooms of the third of the great 'transcendentals' of Christian Scholasticism: namely, the beautiful. Solov'ëv did not leave behind a fully coherent body of reflection on the 'Lady' Wisdom celebrated in such sapiential books of the Old Testament as Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon--the 'Sophia' that gives 'sophiology' its name--but Aidan Nichols helps to make his sophianic doctrine, drawn from sources that were a mixture of Christian and Jewish, both traditional and esoteric, intelligible to the reader. He also gives an account of Solov'ëv as an early 'ecumenist', concerned with the reunion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches - and indeed with the reunion of Christians all round. At the end of his life, his many-sided intellectual, ecclesiastical, political, moral, and aesthetic enterprise metamorphosed into the belief that only divine intervention, in the form of the Parousia of Christ, will ever resolve the myopia, lethargy, folly and other evils of homo sapiens on this planet. Among those evils he identified one attempted 'final solution' --a globalist utopia organized without reference to the incarnate God. It is perhaps his most pertinent word to people today.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Acts of Nicaea II

Hard to believe just a couple short weeks ago Byzantine Christians were celebrating the Sunday of Orthodoxy with its thunderous commemoration of the triumph of icons and defeat of iconoclasts. That seems another lifetime now, or perhaps several.

What exactly was this "triumph?" What was iconoclasm, and its response at the seventh ecumenical council of Nicaea in 787? A new paperback edition of a book first published in 2018 will remind us of what was decided and dogmatized: The Acts of the Second Council of Nicaea (787), trans. with commentary by Richard Price (Liverpool University Press, 2020), 752pp.

I've heard of some academic presses in England suspending publication pending the conclusion of this pandemic, but I don't know if Liverpool University Press is one of them. They list a release date of next week for this book, part of their ongoing and valuable series, Translated Texts for Historians.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Second Council of Nicaea (787) decreed that religious images were to set up in churches and venerated. It thereby established the cult of icons as a central element in the piety of the Orthodox churches, as it has remained ever since. In the West its decrees received a new emphasis in the Counter-Reformation, in the defence of the role of art in religion. It is a text of prime importance for the iconoclast controversy of eighth-century Byzantium, one of the most explored and contested topics in Byzantine history. But it has also a more general significance - in the history of culture and the history of art. This edition offers the first translation that is based on the new critical edition of this text in the Acta Conciliorum Oecumenicorum series, and the first full commentary of this work that has ever been written. It will be of interest to a wide range of readers from a variety of disciplines.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Theology in Africa

With chapters on Ethiopian Orthodoxy and many other topics and traditions, the Routledge Handbook of African Theology, ed., Elias Kifon Bongmba (Routledge, 2020), 584pp., set for release in June of this year, looks to be rich indeed.

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Theology has a rich tradition across the African continent, and has taken myriad directions since Christianity first arrived on its shores. This handbook charts both historical developments and contemporary issues in the formation and application of theologies across the member countries of the African Union.
Written by a panel of expert international contributors, chapters firstly cover the various methodologies needed to carry out such a survey. Various theological movements and themes are then discussed, as well as Biblical and doctrinal issues pertinent to African theology. Subjects addressed include:
Orality and theology
Indigenous religions and theology
Patristics
Pentecostalism
Liberation theology
Black theology
Social justice
Sexuality and theology
Environmental theology
Christology
Eschatology
The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament  
The Routledge Handbook of African Theology is an authoritative and comprehensive survey of the theological landscape of Africa. As such, it will be a hugely useful volume to any scholar interested in African religious dynamics, as well as academics of Theology or Biblical Studies in an African context.

Monday, March 23, 2020

John Jillions on God's Guidance in the World

What a time to have a book appear about divine guidance! The endless, and on the whole very depressing, debates among Catholic and Orthodox Christians I have been watching, especially over whether the sacraments--the Eucharist especially--have some kind of magical properties given by God to "protect" people from pandemic have been almost entirely unedifying to behold. I'm already bracing myself for people to next start in on the apocalyptic claims, purporting to divine providential purpose in this pandemic. Years ago now one of my professors once said to me that in his view the three most theologically abused words were, and are, "Divine Providence wills...."

Along comes the calm, cool scholarship of Fr John Jillions in this moment. So I am doubly glad to be able to post this interview now about his new book, Divine Guidance: Lessons for Today from the World of Early Christianity. (I should, as the wretched lawyers say, "declare interest" here: he was on my doctoral jury, and I have long considered him a friend whom I respect greatly.)


AD: Tell us about your background. 

JJ: I was born in Montreal, and after leaving Canada in 1963 I and my brother and three sisters grew up in Southern California, Connecticut, and New Jersey. My mother’s side is Russian—my great-grandfather was a priest in Kishinev (now in Moldova)—and Orthodox parishes were part of our life from the start. My father was born in London and although he gave up the Church of England as a conscientious objector at the age of 12 he never objected to my mother taking us to church (in fact, he thought it would be unfair to leave us on our own to decide our faith later if we’d never been given the opportunity to experience it.) I never intended to be a priest, but a crisis while I was in the middle of my college years, at McGill University, led me to experience the mercy of God in a way that has never left me. And that took me to seminary and eventually ordination as a deacon and priest.

When I first told my Russian grandmother that I would be going to St Vladimir’s Seminary she said immediately—and quite prophetically—“you will have an interesting life.” Indeed it has been that. Married to Denise Melligon in 1979, we have three grown sons, and two grandchildren.

We have had opportunities to serve the Church in many different ways: Parishes in Australia, New Jersey, Cambridge (UK), Ottawa and now Bridgeport, Connecticut. Studies in Thessaloniki and then Cambridge, where we were involved in founding the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Teaching in Ottawa with the Sheptytsky Institute at Saint Paul University and later as an adjunct at St Vladimir’s Seminary and Fordham University. And for seven years (2011-2018) I had the privilege of serving as Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America at a difficult time in its history.

AD: What led to the writing of Divine Guidance: Lessons for Today from the World of Early Christianity? 

JJ: I’ve been interested in how people perceive God’s direction in their life from the earliest years I was a priest serving in Australia in the mid-80s.  How do they discern for themselves that it is God’s voice and not a delusion? It is striking how pervasive across cultures and history is this experience of perceived divine guidance.

The Old and New Testaments are of course packed with such encounters. So this was the obvious topic for me when in 1994 I started a PhD in New Testament at the University of Thessaloniki, under the supervision of Prof. Petros Vassiliadis. I did most of the research at Tyndale House Library in Cambridge, where Dr Bruce Winter served as my co-director. He helped place the broad questions I had about divine guidance into the focused context of Paul’s Corinth where there was such a mix of Jews and Gentiles. The dissertation was finished in 2002, but I think subsequent pastoral and life experience have helped fill out the book and make it useful for a wider audience.

AD: “Divine guidance” sounds rather anodyne in the abstract, suggesting the perhaps leisurely seeking of a bit of advice on some private choice or other, but your introduction opens with some harrowing realizations of how public, and how violent, many of those quests and claims are. Have humans—especially Christian humans—always been so conflicted over the seeking, and finding, of what God wants us to do?  

Yes, and rightfully so. It is all too easy for any of us to be deluded. And it’s all the worse if we are so confident in our delusion that others follow, often to disastrous consequences for themselves and others. We need a degree of skepticism when someone says, “God told me…” Especially if their “guidance” is out of step with everything else we know from the scriptures, saints and life in the Church.

This is one reason I deeply appreciate the very cautious Jewish approach to God’s guidance. That isn’t to say that everything unusual is suspect. The scriptures and lives of saints are full of inspired people doing extraordinary and even weird things. But a sense of natural inspiration, direction and communion with God in our daily life ought to be the norm, as the Psalms repeatedly demonstrate.  “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Ps. 25:4-5).

AD: Your introduction sets the scene for us, noting you will largely focus on Pauline literature and communities in a wider and comparative Greco-Roman context. What influenced those choices for you? Why Paul’s writings and not, say, John’s? 

We simply know a lot more about Paul, his writings, their historical context and Corinth than we do about any other single community or writer in the New Testament.  But it would be a useful next step to compare and contrast the approaches to divine guidance elsewhere in the New Testament and throughout the later history of the Church (and in other religious faiths as well).

AD: Drawing on insights from Raymond Brown, Veselin Kesich, Andrew Louth, and others, you note how much modern biblical scholarship is “largely shaped by anti-supernatural biases.” Some of this, you go on to suggest, is shaped in turn by the Reformation and then the Enlightenment. In a time when Christians are moving past Reformation polemics, and philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre have shown how Enlightenment notions of “rationality” and “religion without the bounds of reason alone” smuggle in all sorts of problematic practices and claims, are we living in a time when we can give renewed, un-ironic attention to the multitude of stories in Scripture of people seeking, and finding, divine guidance qua divine? 

Yes, thankfully. Communion with God is the main point of the scriptures. Why not take seriously the multitude of encounters with God recounted in the Bible? Even love of neighbor is ultimately meant to bring us to deeper love of God. As Evelyn Underhill told the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1930, “God is the interesting thing about religion."

AD: Your first chapter tells us the importance of using both literary and archeological sources. What is the significance of both, but perhaps especially the latter? 

Ancient literary sources can be read as the record of elites, and thus skew the picture of popular belief at any given time. Archaeology helps broaden the picture and also date it more accurately.  This is especially important in a setting like first century Corinth where the Roman influence distinguished it significantly from its ancient Greek history.  On the other hand, archaeological evidence of a particular religious practice doesn’t tell you what people thought of it. This is why literary sources are crucial. Reading the literary sources alongside the archeological helps give a much more accurate and balanced view of the mix of attitudes in circulation.

AD: Between your chapter on Homer, Virgil, and Horace, and your first chapter on Paul, there is well over a hundred pages of detailed study of many other Roman, Greek, and Jewish writers. Clearly the ancients and so-called pagans had a lot to say on the topic. Are there certain common themes or methods across this vast body of literature that early Christians picked up and used with some regularity? 

The most common theme is shared skepticism about pagan religion—labeled superstition—and its practices. And the second broad theme is the pursuit of truth, virtue, courage, and fearlessness in the face of deprivation, suffering and death. Seneca, for example, was much admired by early Christians, to the point that many believed that Paul and Seneca had a lively correspondence (they both died around the same time, as victims of Nero). But we can’t exaggerate this common ground. Christian devotion to Jesus Christ was viewed as sheer stubbornness that deserved punishment. So Marcus Aurelius could wax philosophical as a learned Stoic but at the same time be brutal in persecuting Christians.

AD: You note an important tension in Paul’s Corinthian letters: a “reticence to use guidance language” (p.190) but also a firm conviction that God does offer guidance precisely through the Cross and through “weakness” (p.201). Tell us a bit more what you mean by this.  

Paul stays clear of the words “guidance” and “guide” even though they are frequently found in the Psalms. I argue that this is because these words later became so intertwined with pagan notions. But this does not at all mean that Paul abandoned the sense of God teaching and leading His people through many and various ways. These include the Holy Scriptures, the tradition of prayer and worship, elders and the church’s communal wisdom. But where the Jewish community was centered on the Torah and the tradition of its interpretation, Paul and the early church were centered on Christ and His Cross and Resurrection. It was Paul’s special genius to see the self-emptying weakness of God on the Cross as the heart of the new guidance He was offering to all.

AD: Can it be said that if God does speak and offer guidance in cruciform ways drawing on what is weak and foolish, this may in fact be salutary to warn us off overly powerful gurus as well as our own overweening pride in thinking we are smart enough, strong enough, saintly enough to always know what God wants? 

True. But that uncertainty should not stop us from trying to be followers of Christ and doing good as best we can with whatever information and faults we have. I’m always struck by the paradoxical combination of humility and boldness in Paul and the saints. Also, as Fr Paul Tarazi teaches, God’s will is not a complete mystery: “After all, He has given us a book of 1,500 pages!”  The paradox is that Christians seeking to follow the crucified Christ may come to very different conclusions about what to do in practice. But as I heard Fr Thomas Hopko once say, even diametrically opposite forms of action can be “of God” if what motivates them both is love of God and desire to serve our neighbor. 

AD: The psychoanalyst in me read your section on “uncertain guidance” in ch. 13 with especial attention. There you note that Paul does not in fact rely “on signs of prosperity” but often instead on weakness and opposition. What other “counter-cultural” lessons, as it were, does Paul offer us in trying to find methods for seeking, and verifying claims of, divine guidance? 

Paul is not naturally counter-cultural. His entire pre-Christian experience is in the opposite direction, as an upholder of conservative cultural and religious norms. This is why he found the Christian movement so wrong and offensive. Everything changed with his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Henceforward, the single lens through which he looked at life and decision-making became Christ. As he told the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). That was and remains the primary counter-cultural lesson we can learn from Paul in filtering whatever claims to divine guidance come our way.

AD: At the very end of your last chapter, you briefly work in Lev Gillet and also Kallistos Ware. Tell us a bit more about their experience and relevance to your study. 

Their experience, as recounted in the book, is of interest because it took place in the context of an academic study at Oxford University on religious experience. The Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, which is now based at the University of Wales, was collecting thousands of accounts of religious experience in the 1970s. As a way of reflecting on all this material interviewed a number of scholars, theologians and pastors about how they understand this persistent phenomenon.

Interviewed separately, Fr Lev Gillet and Fr Kallistos Ware (as he was then) gave very similar criteria for evaluating such experiences. They said it must be repeated. It can be short and authoritative, or come through gradual “infiltration by God.” It can be tested by asking others who understand your problem to pray for a solution and to ask for guidance, and see whether the answers converge. But the most definitive criterion is to pay attention to the feelings and actions that the experience produces. “Does this guidance create in you sorrow, bitterness, hatred? Or does it create in you joy and love for God and other people? Judge the tree according to its fruit.”

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and who especially should read it. 

I have a number of simultaneous conversations in mind with this book, and Paul’s first century world has much to contribute to each. The first is with biblical scholars who have been hesitant to enter sympathetically into the first century’s community of discourse, in which rational and mystical are intertwined. The second is with Christians and others who feel their own experience of God has not been taken seriously. The third is with those who are looking for how the early church understood and evaluated divine guidance, in the hope of better understanding their own experience today. The fourth is with “nones and dones” who retain a sense of wistfulness about spirituality and God but are disappointed and/or skeptical about institutional church life.  Paul said, “our knowledge is imperfect” (1 Cor 13:9): the fifth conversation is with traditionalists who have been reluctant to see change in interpretation of divine guidance as a continuous thread in the history of thought and of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Austerity Reading

All week, as this new reality continues to settle in upon us, I have been regularly thinking of my Glaswegian grandparents living through the Second World War in an area around the River Clyde ("Red Clyde") that was regularly targeted by the Luftwaffe (because it was the largest scene of shipbuilding in the British Empire at the time). The war is, at best, a very imperfect analogy because we are not being shot at or bombed day and night. Nor are we living--yet--with really severe austerity.

Nevertheless, when they listened to Neville Chamberlain on the wireless in 1939 declaring war, they must have had a similar sense of horror at the unfolding uncertainty before them, as we do now, and the dread of not knowing how it would all play out, or when it would end.

If you do suddenly find yourself with a lot of time on your hands, and are interested in wartime Britain, then let me recommend to you the three volumes authored by David Kynaston, beginning with Austerity Britain 1945-1951, which I discussed in some detail here. Until reading it, I had not realized that rationing got much worse only after the war, thanks in part to the immediate withdrawal in the summer of 1945 of American financial aid.

And yet, this was also the period in which the Labour government came to power and led in part by Aneurin Bevan, introduced the National Health Service. I discussed here a fascinating study of Bevan's "socialism."

Here I discussed a new and utterly riveting biography of Bevan's chief, Clement Attlee.

The picture of unrelenting privation improves somewhat in the second volume, Family Britain 1951-1957.

One of the many fascinating things he unearths here is the complexity of views on, and practice of, Christianity in Britain. The idea, which I heard often growing up, that the 1950s were a time of unvarnished church growth and vigorous and enthusiastic practice of the faith is not nearly so clear in what Kynaston writes.

It's also very clear that the much-discussed turmoil and change almost always associated with the late 1960s was clearly already at work in subterranean social tumult in Britain a good decade earlier.

Kynaston's genius is to write these big books, amassing huge amounts of evidence from then-new Gallup and World Observation and other surveys of mass opinion, but to maintain a lively and cogent narrative throughout, never lagging or losing focus amidst so many numbers. They are almost compulsively re-readable books.

The third, which I'm soon to begin, is Modernity Britain 1957-1962. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The late 1950s and early 1960s was a period in its own right-neither the stultifying early to midfifties nor the liberating mid- to late-sixties-and an action-packed, dramatic time in which the contours of modern Britain started to take shape.
These were the “never had it so good” years, in which mass affluence began to change, fundamentally, the tastes and even the character of the working class; when films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and TV soaps like Coronation Street and Z Cars at last brought that class to the center of the national frame; when Britain gave up its empire; when economic decline relative to France and Germany became the staple of political discourse; when “youth” emerged as a fully fledged cultural force; when the Notting Hill riots made race and immigration an inescapable reality; when a new breed of meritocrats came through; and when the Lady Chatterley trial, followed by the Profumo scandal, at last signaled the end of Victorian morality.
David Kynaston argues that a deep and irresistible modernity zeitgeist was at work, in these and many other ways, and he reveals as never before how that spirit of the age unfolded, with consequences that still affect us today.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Russian Orthodox Nationalism in the Gorbachev Years

It is hard for me to believe that we are coming on the thirtieth anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Gorbachev years. But here we--almost--are. A book released in January of this year looks at a perennial theme in Eastern Christianity: the role of nationalism during a unique period. Sophie Kotzer, Russian Orthodoxy, Nationalism and the Soviet State during the Gorbachev Years, 1985-1991  (Routledge, 2020), 188pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book examines how the Russian Orthodox Church developed during the period of Gorbachev’s rule in the Soviet Union, a period characterised by perestroika (reform) and glasnost (openness). It charts how official Soviet policy towards religion in general and the Russian Orthodox Church changed, with the Church enjoying significantly improved status. It also discusses, however, how the improved relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the state, and the Patriarchate’s support for Soviet foreign policy goals, its close alignment with Russian nationalism and its role as a guardian of the Soviet Union’s borders were not seen in a positive light by dissidents and by many ordinary believers, who were disappointed by the church’s failure in respect of its social mission, including education and charitable activities.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Eleven Aphorisms On "Over-Reacting" and Fetishizing "Balance"

Is there anything lazier than accusing someone of "over-reacting?" That is a failure of imagination at the best of times, but now during this pandemic even more problematic. Or is it?

Herewith are eleven "aphorisms" on the ideas of "balance" and "over-reacting" from the sometime child therapist and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, easily the most prolific, provocative, and interesting psychoanalyst writing today. All his books are worth your time.

(For some other aphorisms from Phillips that I put together, see here. For notes on Phillips' biography of Freud, see here. On the problem of distinguishing between terrorists and experts, see here. On his excellent book Unforbidden Pleasures, see here. For extended thoughts on Missing Out, see here.)

Here are some aphorisms I put together from On Balance:

Phillips begins by noting that (1)"When we talk about many of the things that matter most to us...we soon lose our so-called balanced views....Indeed, the sign that something does matter to us is that we lose our steadiness."

He rightly cautions--and this pandemic is surely the clearest example of this we are ever likely to see--that (2)"There are situations in which it is more dangerous to keep your balance than to lose it." 

For the toilet-paper collectors and other hoarders: (3) "Consumer capitalism has taught us to be phobic of frustration."

And yet: (4) "Our reaction to other people's excesses is an important clue to something vital about ourselves." 

And perhaps hoarders can be understood after all: (5) "Excesses of appetite are self-cures for feelings of helplessness." 

These "excesses" are also highly valuable for they offer us clues, pathways into our unconscious mind: (6) "Our excesses are the best clues we have to our own poverty; and our best way of concealing it from ourselves."

From what perspective dare we judge others as excessive? Do we really have the capacity for such vision, Phillips asks: (7) "There is something God-like about describing someone's behaviour as excessive."

God, in fact, as Freud famously showed in Future of an Illusion, is one onto whom we endlessly project all sorts of desires, not least to be rescued from a capricious world of "nature" that seems sometimes (as now) to want to kill us: (8) "We have delegated to a figure called God all the excesses we find most troubling in ourselves, which broadly speaking are our excessive love for ourselves and others, and our excessive punitiveness." 

Is it our sense of helplessness that leads us to blame others rather than questioning ourselves? Phillips thinks so: (9) "We are more inclined to blame the world for letting us down than to notice just how unrealistic our desires are." 

A common theme across many of Phillips' books (10): "We can't bear the complexity of our own minds, with their competing needs and desires and beliefs and feelings." Instead, we would rather be "'the emperor of one idea'" (Wallace Stevens).

God forbid that we should see this pandemic require armed force to restrain us and maintain social order, but that is far from outside the realm of the possible, including in people who might regard themselves as entirely rational, modern, scientific, secular, and not at all "religious" (11) "People become violent, lose their civility, when something that is fundamental to them is felt to be under threat....We are all fundamentalists about something."

Theology, Politics, Psychoanalysis, and the Post-Modern University (I)

Daniel Burston is a scholar at Duquesne whose fascinating work lies at the intersection of psychology and other disciplines.

Several years ago I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing his excellent biography A Forgotten Freudian: the Passion of Karl Stern. Stern, as I said in my review, was a fascinating figure whose eclipse seems to have come about in part by going in the opposite direction of all the major trends of the 20th century. A Jewish convert to Catholicism in increasingly secular Quebec, he was also a clinician formed in part by Freudian ideas as North American psychiatry was moving away from the great Viennese master.

Now Stern has a new book out, and it deserves attention for many reasons I shall discuss: Psychoanalysis, Politics and the Postmodern University (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), 184pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Critical theory draws on Marxism, psychoanalysis, postmodern and poststructuralist theorists. Marxism and psychoanalysis are rooted in the Enlightenment project, while postmodernism and poststructuralism are more indebted to Nietzsche, whose philosophy is rooted in anti-Enlightenment ideas and ideals. Marxism and psychoanalysis contributed mightily to our understanding of fascism and authoritarianism, but were distorted and disfigured by authoritarian tendencies and practices in turn. This book, written for clinicians and social scientists, explores these overarching themes, focusing on the reception of Freud in America, the authoritarian personality and American politics, Lacan’s “return to Freud,” Jordan Peterson and the Crisis of the Liberal Arts, and the anti-psychiatry movement. 
I've started it, and the first chapter on authority is especially what caught my attention when I learned of the book's forthcoming publication last fall. I'll say more about it on here in the coming days.

Friday, March 13, 2020

On "Socialism," Christian and Otherwise

I'm working on a paper on sadomasochism and the abuses of power in the Church in light of the sex abuse crisis to be published in England. That has given me an opportunity to go back and re-read Erich Fromm, the 40th anniversary of whose death we are marking this very month in fact.

I drew on Fromm to a limited degree in my Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. But since publishing that book almost exactly a year ago now, I have read more of Fromm and thought more about the problems of obedience and disobedience in the Church.

One book in particular, a short little book published in 1981 after Fromm's death, is useful not only for these themes but for other reasons. That book is On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying "No" to Power.

I commend it to your attention for all of the above, but also because the last chapter contains some welcome clarifications on what is and is not meant by what Fromm calls "humanistic socialism." The very mention of such phrases and their cognates functions talismanically for too many so-called American Christians, from whom reliably and inexorably one can expect a very great lot of incorrigible stupidity, irrelevant and adolescent deflection, and general fatuousness in discussing these matters.

Fromm cuts through all that nonsense as when he says, e.g.,the aim of socialism "is...the full development of each [as] the condition for the full development of all." Socialism refuses to allow people to be seen or treated as means: "from this it follows that nobody must personally be subject to anyone because he owns capital." Moreover "the supreme principle of socialism is that man takes precedence over things, life over property, and hence work over capital; that power follows creation, and not possession."

Importantly, socialism is against idolatry: "it fights every kind of worship of State, nation, or class."

Perhaps the most important part to stress right now to overcome American fatuities and self-congratulatory nonsense about how "free" this country is and how "socialism" is supposedly the antithesis of such freedom is the following: "Humanistic socialism stands for freedom. It stands for freedom from fear, want, oppression, and violence. But freedom is not only *from* but also freedom *to*; freedom to participate actively and responsibly in all decisions concerning the citizen, freedom to develop the individual's human potential to the fullest possible degree."

There is nothing here in Fromm--nothing--that Catholic Christians, of whom I am one, could disagree with. What this looks like when translated into policy prescriptions remains, of course, to be established. But the unthinking "Christian" opposition to socialism so-called in this country is unsustainable and absurd.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Oxford Handbook of Mystical Theology

Oxford University Press continues to publish its eminently useful collections of leading scholars in various "handbooks," including one released late last year:The Oxford Handbook of Mystical Theology, eds.Edward Howells and Mark A. McIntosh (Oxford UP, 2019), 720pp.

With chapters from leading scholars of the Christian East, including Andrew Louth, Brandon Gallaher, Luke Dysinger, Aristotle Papanikolaou, Rowan Williams and others, this is once again an impressive collection you will not want to be without (though if the price gives you pause, OUP very often brings about a paperback edition a year or two later at much more affordable prices).

About this hefty collection the publisher tells us this:
The Oxford Handbook of Mystical Theology provides a guide to the mystical element of Christianity as a theological phenomenon. It differs not only from psychological and anthropological studies of mysticism, but from other theological studies, such as more practical or pastorally-oriented works that examine the patterns of spiritual progress and offer counsel for deeper understanding and spiritual development. It also differs from more explicitly historical studies tracing the theological and philosophical contexts and ideas of various key figures and schools, as well as from literary studies of the linguistic tropes and expressive forms in mystical texts. None of these perspectives is absent, but the method here is more deliberately theological, working from within the fundamental interests of Christian mystical writers to the articulation of those interests in distinctively theological forms, in order, finally, to permit a critical theological engagement with them for today.
Divided into four parts, the first section introduces the approach to mystical theology and offers a historical overview. Part two attends to the concrete context of sources and practices of mystical theology. Part three moves to the fundamental conceptualities of mystical thought. The final section ends with the central contributions of mystical teaching to theology and metaphysics. Students and scholars with a variety of interests will find different pathways through the Handbook.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Gregory Palamas and Islam

The fact that yesterday, on the Gregorian paschalion, was the second Sunday of Lent when Gregory Palamas is commemorated, and this coming Sunday the same feast of the same figure for those on the Julian paschalion, means that the father of hesychasm will be on a lot of minds this week. What better time to draw your attention to a book set for release next month by the widely respected scholar and theological translator Norman Russell, Gregory Palamas: The Hesychast Controversy and the Debate with Islam (Liverpool University Press, April 2020), 544pp.

Published as part of the Translated Texts for Byzantinists series of LUP, this collection, the publisher tells us, offers

--the first English translation of a dozen key texts by or relating to Gregory Palamas;
--fascinating first-hand accounts of fourteenth-century Christian debates with Muslim scholars;
--first English translation of all the Synodal Tomoi issued in defence of the hesychasts;
--detailed exposition of the historical context of a theological controversy that is still alive today.
Gregory Palamas, a monk of Mount Athos and metropolitan of Thessalonike from 1347 to 1357, was a leading fourteenth-century Byzantine intellectual. He was the chief spokesman for the hesychasts in the controversy bearing that name, which began when a charge of heresy was laid against him in 1340 and ended with his proclamation as a saint in 1368. Although excellent English translations of some of Palamas' theological writings are available, very few texts relating to his historical role have yet been translated. This book contains the first English translation of the contemporary Life of Palamas by Philotheos Kokkinos, which is our principal source of biographical information on him. Also translated into English for the first time are the Synodal Tomoi from 1341 to 1368, which chart the progress of the hesychast controversy from the viewpoint of the victors, together with the corpus of material relating to Palamas' year of captivity among the Turks, which offers a unique insight into conditions for Christians and Muslims in the early Ottoman emirate. The translations, all of which are based on critical texts, are preceded by introductions which set Palamas in his historical context and propose some changes to the conventional chronology of his life.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Orthodox Readings of Augustine

Few things move me to mockery faster, or awaken a deeper sense of scorn, than those ignorant ravings proffered by people who, without the slightest facility in Latin or the least evidence of any ability to read primary sources and critical editions, nonetheless purport to subject us to their grand theories about how all errors of Latin Christianity may be found in what I call the A Team of Latin Christians: Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. Which of us has not been subject to some bore holding forth about Augustine's doctrine of original sin, or Anselm's atonement theory, or just about anything in Aquinas as the paradigmatic figure of that wicked movement of "scholasticism"?

That is why that this book, now well over a decade old, is so important to have in a newly reissued form. Both at time of its original publication, and again today, this is such a welcome and important volume, a landmark really, showing significant progress not just in East-West rapprochement but also in the crucial question of how our historiography sometimes keeps us apart as we continue to tell tales about each other's saints and traditions rather than studying them together. If you missed it in 2008 when it first appeared, do not make that mistake again now but be sure to get your copy of this scholary collection newly reissued with a smart Coptic icon on the cover: Orthodox Readings of Augustine, eds. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George E. Demacopoulos (New York: Fordham University Press, 2020), 314pp.

When the original was published, we asked the now-deceased Augustine scholar and sometime Augustinian priest J. Kevin Coyle to review it for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, which he did in glowing terms.

About this newly reissued collection the publisher tells us this:
Orthodox Readings of Augustine examines the theological engagement with the preeminent Latin theologian Augustine of Hippo in the Orthodox context. Augustine was not widely read in the East until many centuries after his death. However, following his re-introduction in the thirteenth century, the Latin Church Father served as an ecumenical figure, offering Latin and Byzantine theologians a thinker with whom they could bridge linguistic, cultural, and confessional divides.
Contributors: Lewis Ayres, John Behr, David Bradshaw, Brian E. Daley, George E. Demacopoulos, Elizabeth Fisher, Reinhard Flogaus, Carol Harrison, David Bentley Hart, Joseph T. Lienhard, Andrew Louth, Jean-Luc Marion, Aristotle Papanikolaou, and David Tracy

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Deification Through the Cross

The topic of deification/divinization/theosis has been "hot" for well over 15 years by this point, with new books appearing almost every year. I have documented and discussed many of them on here in the past decade. Late this year we shall have another book by a prominent and important scholar, an author whom I have interviewed on here before, whose voice as a Melkite priest within the contemporary academy is a rare and important one: Khaled Anatolios, Deification through the Cross: An Eastern Christian Theology of Salvation (Eerdmans, November 2020), 500pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
It is commonly claimed that Western Christianity teaches salvation as deliverance from sin through Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, while Eastern Christianity teaches salvation as deliverance from death—and as deification—through Christ’s incarnation. But is it really true that there is no normative, unified doctrine of salvation to be found in Scripture and tradition?
Theologian Khaled Anatolios, deeply grounded in both East and West, here expounds a soteriology that speaks deeply to all Christians. He argues that both Western and Eastern perspectives are needed, and especially that Eastern theology and liturgy, contrary to Western misperceptions, hold cross, resurrection, and glorification together in an exemplary way. Anatolios uses the phrase “doxological contrition” to suggest that the truth of salvation is found both in Jesus’s perfect glorification of God and in his representative repentance for humanity’s sinful rejection of its original calling to participate in the life of the Holy Trinity.
Deification through the Cross is a salutary rebuttal of the postmodern fragmentation that assumes no single, normative soteriology can apply globally. Anatolios systematically expounds an integrated soteriology, which he then puts into dialogue with various perspectives, including liberation theology, Girardian theory, and penal substitution. All who seek to understand and teach “the joy of our salvation” will find indispensable help in this magisterial retrieval of an often-misunderstood doctrine.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Russian Orthodox Images in the 19th-Century West

I have met the author of this forthcoming book several times at conferences over the years, and she is a lovely human being whose papers are always deeply fascinating, as this forthcoming book of hers very much also seems to be. I'm hoping we can arrange an interview about her forthcoming book: Heather Bailey, The Public Image of Eastern Orthodoxy: France and Russia, 1848–1870 (Northern Illinois University Press, June 2020,) 312pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:
Focusing on the period between the revolutions of 1848-1849 and the First Vatican Council (1869-1870), The Public Image of Eastern Orthodoxy explores the circumstances under which westerners, concerned about the fate of the papacy, the Ottoman Empire, Poland, and Russian imperial power, began to conflate the Russian Orthodox Church with the state and to portray the Church as the political tool of despotic tsars.
As Heather L. Bailey demonstrates, in response to this reductionist view, Russian Orthodox publicists launched a public relations campaign in the West, especially in France, in the 1850s and 1860s. The linchpin of their campaign was the building of the impressive Saint Alexander Nevsky Church in Paris, consecrated in 1861. Bailey posits that, as the embodiment of the belief that Russia had a great historical purpose inextricably tied to Orthodoxy, the Paris church both reflected and contributed to the rise of religious nationalism in Russia that followed the Crimean War. At the same time, the confrontation with westerners' negative ideas about the Eastern Church fueled a reformist spirit in Russia while contributing to a better understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy in the West.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Shaun Blanchard on Jansenism, Pistoia, and Catholic Historiography

It's always a delight to talk to new authors about their works, but in the hands of Shaun Blanchard we have a new book (some fuller thoughts on which are here) that contains multiple delights for those interested, inter alia, in the papacy, Catholic reform, early-modern Italian history, Vatican II, synodality, the synod of Pistoia, historiography, and of course the various beliefs we group under the heading of "Jansenism." As is my custom, I e-mailed him some questions about The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II: Jansenism and Catholic Reform. Here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background

AB: I was born in a smallish town outside of Chapel Hill, NC. My parents are very devout Christians and always encouraged me to pursue my love of history. I had a great experience as an undergrad at UNC and spent a good bit of time in Ireland and England. That led me to pursue a masters in theology at Oxford, where the Sorting Hat fortuitously placed me at Blackfriars (the Dominican House). This was the most important time of my life – I really delved into Catholic history and theology (especially Vatican II and its reception), learned how to do a bit of research, and met my wife, a beautiful Australian literary scholar and creative writer.

After getting married, Ann-Marie and I both did PhDs in Milwaukee, where I worked under Ulrich Lehner and Fr. Joe Mueller SJ. After graduation, we were fortunate enough to both find faculty positions at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge, LA (“FranU”, formerly Our Lady of the Lake College). So I’ve spent most of my life in the South and Midwest, with about three years overseas. I’m a rugby fan (former player) but my real love is college football – I’m a diehard UNC football fan, which has led to a deepened sensitivity to the problem of Theodicy. Since getting married I’ve become a weird cat person too.

AD: What led to the writing of The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II: Jansenism and the Struggle for Catholic Reform?

SB: I was initially going to write a dissertation on post-conciliar reception and debates about Vatican II. But after taking a couple of historical theology seminars – American Catholicism with Pat Carey and Enlightenment and Catholicism with Ulrich Lehner – I started reading as much as I could about the “roots” of Vatican II.

Lehner, an authority on the Catholic Enlightenment, was thrilled that I had heard of and cared about stuff like late Jansenism and Auctorem fidei. He really encouraged me and showed me such a project was not only possible but needed. Since I had virtually daily access to one of the leading scholars of early modern Catholicism and Catholic Enlightenment, I really felt I could do such a project and do it well.

Fr. Joe Mueller was always someone I looked up to, so I then approached him about an independent study on Vatican II and asked him if he would co-direct my dissertation, especially to guide me in reading Congar and Vatican II scholarship, with the aim of framing my discussion of “true and false reform.” It was in Fr. Joe’s independent study that I wrote an essay on “the Ghost of Pistoia” at Vatican II that Theological Studies published, so that gave me a sense I was onto something.

Thankfully, Lehner and Fr. Mueller were enthused about a bigger project along these lines. The basic starting point was that the common narratives of the roots of Vatican II are too simplistic, and they need to be pushed back beyond Newman or even the Tübingen School to include these internecine and sometimes unsavory eighteenth century debates. Once I realized how much I could do just on the Pistoians, I cut out some other planned material (more on Muratori circles, English “Cisalpinism”, John Carroll). Getting the Smith Family Fellowship allowed me to go to England, Trier, Florence, and the Vatican Archives. In Italy, I zeroed in so much on Ricci and his circle that the result is 135,000 words, but could easily have been 200,000 (that is, I am told, how a lot of these projects go).

AD: Am I right in thinking that “Jansenism” is one of those contemporary ciphers or bogeymen often invoked but rarely historically contextualized and understood? Do you despair that it now only ever functions as a “bizarrely resilient term of abuse in Catholic discourse” (p.304)? Is it more helpful, as you do (p.197), for us to speak of “Jansenisms” instead? 

To the first two questions: yes, absolutely. No early modernists speak this way about “Jansenism” – it’s always systematic theologians or clergy or historians whose expertise is in other periods. Probably the most persistent myth is this crazy idea that “Jansenism” ruined the Church in Ireland, or Quebec, or America, even though no historians of Irish or American Catholicism claim this (because there no facts that support this idea!). We Catholics seem to have the particular inclination to need to identify some sort of “ism” to blame for our problems (Jansenism, clericalism, modernism, etc.) rather than our own repeated personal and institutional sins and failures. It allows us to externalize our shame and our problems – kind of a “no true Scotsman” type reflex. We see this happening in the far more serious territory of the abuse crisis – “it’s really about progressives and their tolerance of homosexuality,” or “it’s really about conservatives and their clericalism.”

I have had so many amusing and frustrating conversations with people who just know what Jansenism is and really don’t want to hear anything to the contrary. One elderly progressive priest insisted to me that French and Irish “Jansenist” priests had imported maximalist Marian devotion (!) and a preoccupation with clerical authority and divine judgment to America. This “Jansenism” flourished in the 1950s, but thankfully Vatican II swept it away! Sometimes the more conservative Catholics will say – repeating some very poor online articles – that Cardinal Kasper or Pope Francis are bringing back “Jansenism” because they don’t think God “really grants grace to overcome sin” or some nonsense like that. Tom O’Connor at Maynooth – foremost expert on Irish Jansenism (as in, actual Jansenism of the seventeenth century) – warned me that the struggle was futile, so I really shouldn’t get bent out of shape about it.

While some people are open to hearing that the history is much more complicated, those who invoke the term polemically usually are not really interested in historical fact, just in slamming their opponents with a purportedly heretical “ism.” It allows them to bash some contemporary phenomena or explain it in a way that doesn’t challenge their preconceived notions. It’s lazy and also reveals a certain insecurity, even childishness. I guess if I’m being more understanding, the longevity of the term owes a lot to functioning as a stand-in for “rigorist” (kind of like the inexact use of “Puritan” in Protestant circles) and to some extent that is understandable.

So yes, we should speak of “Jansenisms” and we should distinguish between different stages of a pluriform / multivalent “movement” – if we can even call it that. Sometimes what the term is really describing, even in the early modern period, is just a tendency or a set of sympathies (Italian scholars are often careful to note a lot of “Jansenists” were really filogiansenisti who opposed the Jesuits and were Augustinians or moral rigorists). But more often than not people should just say “joylessness” or “rigorism” since that is almost always what they want to denounce, and no one group has ever had a monopoly on those things.

AD: Among certain French historians, of course, it is not uncommon to speak of the longue durée surrounding pivotal events, but you open your preface by really stretching that out, arguing that a work of Lodovico Muratori from 1747 is key to understanding the ressourcement movement and the Second Vatican Council. Give us a sense of Muratori and the significance of his work. 

Reading Muratori’s brilliant Della regolata devozione dei cristiani (1747) was a huge turning point for me. Here you have an eighteenth-century Italian priest – a massively influential intellectual who was close to the reigning pope – arguing for a liturgical and devotional reform that looks awfully close to what the twentieth century ressourcement circles wanted. Muratori’s works were translated into every major European language and were sometimes mandatory reading for parish priests in the eighteenth century. He was hugely influential especially in Vienna and in other Habsburg lands like Tuscany. English speakers knew him and appreciated him too. And Muratori was not the only one who thought like this. Cardinal Tomasi (1649–1713), liturgical scholar and Theatine, was recognized as a forerunner of Vatican II in the press release for his canonization by John Paul II.

But I need to be clear – when I say Muratori was a forerunner of Vatican II I am not saying that his work was used explicitly in the drafting of Sacrosanctum Concilium or anything like that. Muratori’s influence on Vatican II, I would argue, was very real, but it is also much more subtle and very different from saying Newman’s fingerprints are all over Dei verbum 8 (a fact that my friend Andrew Meszaros proved). While some of the council fathers, especially those interested in the Liturgical Movement, were certainly aware of Muratori’s groundbreaking liturgical scholarship, I point to Muratori first and foremost as someone doing liturgical, biblical, and patristic ressourcement over 200 years before Vatican II. When I say he is a forerunner of the Council I mean that his methodology and his conclusions anticipated Vatican II. However, it is additionally true that his liturgical scholarship was still in use and being cited in the twentieth century, so perhaps that fact is more direct.

AD: You note that your initial explorations into the Synod of Pistoia revealed how much it anticipated reforms at Vatican II. At the same time you note the fathers of Vatican II were haunted by a “ghost” connected to the condemnations of Pistoia. How in the end did the council negotiate this uncomfortable tension? 

Yes, this was really fascinating and I went through the Vatican II Acta very carefully trying to figure this out, because it was (by necessity) a very subtle undertaking, because no bishop in the 1960s wanted to point to these renegade Jansenists as a positive source for anything. I wrote an article about this (the “Ghost of Pistoia”) that was then expanded upon in chapter six of the book. I think in summation I would say that the “majority” council fathers negotiated this tension very deftly regarding ecclesiology. Certain members of the conciliar minority, especially Bishop Luigi Carli of Segni, evoked Auctorem fidei, the papal condemnation of Pistoia, a number of times to try to block ideas like episcopal collegiality, or weaken any notions they saw subtracting from or obscuring a strictly monarchical view of the papacy.

There were a couple interventions where council fathers pushed back against this that are worth looking at. One is by Bishop Enrico Nicodemo (whom I discuss on pages 276–80) and the other, which goes into great detail on Pistoia, is by the Chilean Cardinal Silva Henriquez (288–94). In every case, majority-position council fathers sought to uphold Vatican I while also trying to re-situate the pope-episcopate relationship as something collegial and, frankly, more biblical and patristic. Some did use quite charged language that could be seen as anti-ultramontane, like the Archbishop of Freiburg, Hermann Schäufele, who spoke of restoring “original rights” to the bishops. I find it profoundly unlikely that this learned German was unaware that this echoed language consistently used by Febronians, Jansenists, and Gallicans. I am confident his opponents noticed this as well.

Indeed, the conservative “minority” might have had the last laugh, since Congar reports that certain fathers privately raising “the spectre of Pistoia” to Pope Paul VI is what finally convinced him to approve the appendix to Lumen gentium, the Nota praevia explicativa, which frustrated so many in the majority, including young Josef Ratzinger.

AD: Is not the use made of Pistoia at Vatican II all the more remarkable given, as you document, that its ecclesiology in particular was so roundly condemned in 1870 at Vatican I? Given that condemnation, but also and equally given that Vatican II nonetheless makes use of Pistoia, are not the fathers of the council themselves offering us a proleptic model for interpretation? In drawing on Pistoia are they themselves illustrating for us, as you say, that “the council is neither in complete continuity with preconciliar Catholic thought and practice nor in essential discontinuity with it” (p.4)? If that is so, have we perhaps spent too much time arguing about continuity and discontinuity, when it is manifestly both? 

I think the council fathers do indeed offer a proleptic model for interpretation (a great phrase, by the way), especially the ones I cited in the answer to question #5. I hope the thesis of my book pushes such an interpretation further.

Of course, the council fathers were very careful to never explicitly “draw on Pistoia” as a positive source, but unmistakably the parallels were there and many of them knew it. John O’Malley rightly called the development of doctrine one of the most important “issues-under-the-issues” at the Council. With the guidance of periti like Congar and Ratzinger, the bishops were clearly starting to more confidently assert that development in arenas such as the liturgy, ecclesiology, and religious liberty was not only possible but desirable and even necessary.

To set up continuity and discontinuity as some kind of binary is, I agree, unhelpful and manifestly wrong. Sophisticated interpreters of Vatican II have always known this, but unfortunately I think certain progressive interpreters pushed a revolutionary narrative, while certain conservatives twisted Ratzinger’s words about continuity and rupture. The result of the latter was a kind of minimizing or even erasure of Vatican II in which nothing really happened. I think O’Malley and David Schultenover, among other people, were right to point this out and bemoan it.

Something did happen and some things did change. Much of the progressive revolutionary narrative seems to have died out (or rather attached itself to new hopes and new standards), but this erasure narrative is alive and well, at the highest levels, and we see it in certain clergy and theologians who pay lip service to “ambiguous” documents like Nostra Aetate and Dignitatis Humanae but in practice teach against them. To use a rather absurd example at the diocesan level (not my current diocese, by the way), a priest who told some young students that Muslims worship a demon and they could be possessed if they read portions of the Koran for their high school world religions class was confronted with Nostra Aetate. He replied simply that it was a pastoral document and thus not binding in any way, but only “advice.” So one needn’t wander into schismatic communities to get these “erasure” perspectives. The latent anti-Semitism exposed by recent discussion of the Mortara incident reveals many people have either rejected or not really received Nostra Aetate (or decades of postconciliar magisterial teaching and Catholic social thought, for that matter).

Soon after Ratzinger was elected pope, in Christmas 2005, he gave a fantastic address to the College of Cardinals in which he clarified and deepened his perspective on Vatican II, continuity, discontinuity, and the nature of reform. I talk about this at length in my book. Ratzinger does not insist on a rigid and static “hermeneutic of continuity” in which, for example, we should try to verbally square discrete theses in Dignitatis Humanae with the numerous relevant encyclicals of the past. This is to do what biblical fundamentalists do with scripture, and Ratzinger clearly doesn’t believe this is a valid way to think about Vatican II or reform.

What he proposes is a “hermeneutic of reform” which encompasses “continuity and discontinuity” but “on different levels.” Dignitatis humanae (and the last 55 years of magisterial teaching) is clearly, manifestly, and obviously discontinuous with some past teaching documents on some questions. And yet, Ratzinger argues, our new understanding of religious liberty is continuous with a deeper tradition of the early church and – although the “J” word is often conspicuously absent from such discussions – with the example and witness of Jesus Christ. The people who just can’t accept religious liberty and claim, ludicrously, that the true teaching of the Church still allows for violent coercion up to and including death for “heretics” (including, one presumes, Protestants!) really need to re-read this address.

AD: The Pistoian synod of 1786 is, you quote Luciano Tempestini as saying, one of the “most stimulating theological events between Trent and Vatican II.” At the same time, you note that the acts of the synod were “unmistakably Jansenistic in outlook.” Was it the perceived taint of Jansenism that led to their papal condemnation, or was the papal reaction made more neuralgic because some proposed reforms (“pseudo-democratic Richerist elements” [p.137]) touched on how the papacy and episcopacy were conceived and to be exercised? 

The funny thing about this is that the ultramontane movement, which was really born in this era (1780s and 90s) can, like the more radical Jansenists, look really unhinged and paranoid in their polemic. They perceived a vast conspiracy of forces allied against the Church and the papacy. While they were wrong about some major points (connection to Protestantism, connection to atheism) they were absolutely not wrong that there were multiple forces converging against the papacy (as it understood itself), the Jesuits, and many other things that ultramontane Catholics held dear. So when the opponents of the Pistoians saw a Gallican-Febronian-Jansenist-Richerist-Erastian hydra, they were actually right that all of these intellectual tendencies had found a home in Tuscany and in Ricci’s network of friends and collaborators, and that the Pistoian Synod was the most clear and dangerous institutional expression of this coalition of sorts.

Dale Van Kley’s most recent book calls this “Reform Catholicism” and it was a fairly cogent phenomenon in the final third of the eighteenth century. It had triumphed, resoundingly, in forcing the pope to suppress the Jesuits in 1773. Had the events set in motion by the French Revolution not paradoxically strengthened the papacy and destroyed “Reform Catholicism” by rewriting the map of Europe and the balance of power in the Church, Catholicism would probably be very, very different today.

That being said, reading through the committee reports in the Vatican archives made it clear that the drafters of Auctorem fidei were mostly concerned with Jansenism, which they saw as by definition infected with Richerism and Protestantism. The political component also loomed large – this was seen as pseudo-democratic, as levelling, as republicanism, and as part of why things had gone so wrong in France. So you are right to suggest a kind of panicked, neuralgic response was the result (the vibe of the committee meetings was “hey, we condemned this already in Huss, Luther, Jansen, Quesne, etc. etc. and one need only look to France to see what an emergency this is!”).

AD: I still insist to my students every semester that we break out the atlases and look at maps for understanding all sorts of religious movements and changes and conflicts as driven in part by “location, location, location.” You allude p.16 to the role of geography, and so I’m wondering: is there a link, in your mind, between the strength of the papal denunciation of Pistoia and the fact this synod was just up the road, as it were, from the Papal States—and not more safely distant in, say, German lands, or across the English Channel, or even the Atlantic? 

You are right to do so with your students, and I really need to incorporate more maps into my church history class. Yes, location as well as personnel made the Pistoia situation particularly dicey. Pius VI and his team of authors make this clear in the preface to Auctorem fidei. The enemy was at the gates. In fact, a lot of the intellectual and theological groundwork for Ricci had been laid at the Archetto meetings in Rome, which was an anti-Jesuit, Augustinian, and philo-Jansenist circle that included some really big names.

Now, popes would certainly have wanted to condemn these tendencies wherever they could find them, but it was one thing to have “French fanatics” spouting off about Gallican liberties (to quote an irritated Cardinal investigating Pistoia) or cold-hearted Anglo-Saxons and Teutons citing the Council of Constance – these things were commonplace. Even though there was a tradition of anti-curialism and “jurisdictionalism” indigenous to Italy that acted as a check on papal power, it was mostly pragmatic. The pope and his friends knew that what was happening in Tuscany was different. Home-grown Italian ideas were being combined with imported Jansenism, Gallicanism, and Febronianism, and to make matters worse, the sovereign protecting and encouraging all this was a bright and energetic young Habsburg. So they were really limited in what they could do. Peter Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, had already made sweeping changes to religious life, expelled the Inquisition, and totally ignored the Index. He kept Jansenist books by his bedside and backed and promoted the Pistoian circle.

As to personnel, Scipione de’Ricci was not some eccentric intellectual in Utrecht; he was scion of an aristocratic Florentine family (the same family as the Dominican counter-reformation saint, Caterina de’Ricci), educated partly in Rome, and the great-nephew of the last Jesuit Superior General, Lorenzo de’Ricci. So this was really embarrassing for the papacy, but condemning the Synod right away in 1786 would have potentially backfired politically. Once Peter Leopold left Tuscany to become Holy Roman Emperor there was a bit more breathing room, and when the French Revolution really began to spread, the papacy decided the risk was worth it and published a condemnation, at least partly to try to stem the spread of Pistoian ideas to Spain. Even then, almost every Catholic government blocked publication of Auctorem fidei initially. So while the papacy was especially threatened locally, they were still thinking transnationally about the problem, because it really was a transnational (and, later, transcontinental) problem.

AD: You note various strands of Jansenism and diverse movements for reform often grouped together and condemned under one heading even though they differed very considerably. To my mind there seems to be at work here the same dynamic one encounters with the Council of Constance and subsequent condemnations of “conciliarism” (treated so fascinatingly by Francis Oakley’s haunting The Conciliarist Tradition, which you cite). Is that a fair historical analogy? Do condemnations of diverse movements—whether conciliarism, ultramontanism, or Jansenism—ultimately prove unhelpfully over-broad? 

Yes absolutely. I started to think of Jansenism, conciliarism, and Gallicanism as similar umbrella terms. The rehabilitation of conciliarism and Gallicanism began many decades ago, and I think one has to be a very narrow and triumphalistic ultramontane to not see what is good and sound in many conciliarist-Gallican ideas and tendencies, and not just ecclesiologically.

Congar spoke of the neo-Gallican bishops at Vatican I as “the vanguard of Vatican II” and I think, historically, that is indisputable. This is not to say they were right about everything, but it is to recognize they brought a lot of good to the table (healing the Great Western Schism, for one!). I roll my eyes when systematicians talk about “the Gallican heresy” and “the conciliarist heresy.” It’s just way too simplistic. I’m sorry, but Bossuet was not a heretic. The fathers at the ecumenical Council of Constance, which asserted strongly conciliarist theses, were not heretics. They were saving the Church during one of our deepest crises, and to speak anachronistically like that is at best misinformed.

I try to follow the same process with Jansenism, putting out the many good and true things they defended, often very courageously and at great personal loss. But I also acknowledge there were crazy Jansenists (maybe literally – some of them seemed sick in the head!). They spiraled into polemic and burned out in bitterness, writing books about the truth being crucified and Jesus Christ under anathema and excommunication to describe their own plight. It is important to recognize that Jansenists had debilitating problems and the Church was right to condemn some of their ideas. Most of all I think they are just a cautionary tale about what happens when one gets isolated, sectarian, and bitter. That tale has some obvious importance for our current ecclesial situation.

Oakley’s book was extremely influential, by the way. It is a masterful narrative. I disagree on a couple details, but I am really indebted to him for having a treatment like that available in English. I considered using his image of an “ideological relay station” but when my project changed it didn’t really fit anymore. But I love that image for conciliarism.

AD: Following on from that, as you examined the papal condemnation, and then the many sources and personages at Pistoia and involved in Jansenism, were there difficulties for you in reconciling the former with the latter? Were the papal condemnations precise, fair-minded, and accurate, or did they tend towards the vague, the abstract, or even the grotesque? 

It’s definitely a challenge. The authors of Auctorem fidei attempted, and succeeded in, presenting a highly authoritarian and papalist view of the Church. Their attitude towards the laity – made clear in the proceedings minutes I read in the Vatican Archives – was often paternalistic and sexist. Of course women will misinterpret scripture and the liturgy, said one cardinal, so the Synod’s plan to encourage Bible reading and translate the Mass was crazy. Women and most lay men should just read prayer books and listen to sermons. On these matters, there’s wiggle room in the condemnations themselves, but it’s hard to square this attitude with our current teaching and practice, which seems much more edifying and evangelical, and much closer to scriptural and patristic attitudes.

That being said, the more enlightened ultramontanes like Cardinal Gerdil made sure Auctorem fidei didn’t suffer from the genuine confusion resulting from the in globo approach of Unigenitus (in which all the condemnations were listed at once and not attached to specific propositions). The most serious condemnations are qualified, thanks to Gerdil, with quatenus innuit (insofar as it intimates) and sic intellecta (thus understood), and this allowed people to subscribe who otherwise wouldn’t have (like Ricci himself), but also genuinely allowed a range of interpretations. I’ll subscribe to almost anything sic intellecta. So a bishop as reform-minded as John Carroll in Baltimore appeared to not have a problem with Auctorem fidei – he uses it a number of times in ecclesiastical controversies – and he clearly believed in de iure religious liberty and the wisdom of a vernacular liturgy. Was he being disingenuous? Maybe. But he was also being a good Jesuit and reading the condemnations with a great deal of elasticity (which, ironically, Ricci the Jansenist was forced ultimately to also do).

At Vatican II, the council fathers were forced to confront the ecclesiological condemnations since they touched on the episcopate, and they were the only censures of “heresy” in Auctorem fidei (8 out of 85 condemnations). They didn’t really go there with liturgy or religious liberty, because with the latter they really had bigger (and more recent) fish to fry.

AD: Tell us a bit more about Pistoia’s bishop, Scipione de’Ricci. It seems his vision and hope for the synod extended beyond Tuscany to cover most of the Italian peninsula and much of the wider church. Was he the Cardinal Marx of his day, if you would—leader of a synodal movement loved and loathed by others around the world? 

Oh my! I could go on and on about Ricci, but I will try to restrain myself. I read thousands of his letters and virtually all of his pamphlets and surviving homilies. My wife, who revels in Baroque piety, was getting worried because she thought he sounded really lame. I hope to write a biography someday. To be really provocative I could call it Scipione de’Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia: A Catholic Luther (a title Ricci would’ve hated but his enemies would’ve loved). Or perhaps subtitle it Portrait of a Fanatic. That would make more sense. Ricci admired Savonarola so much, because both men were, above all, fanatics.

I think the first thing to say is that when we look into the past honestly we see that all of these people are a mixed bag, because we are all a battleground of sin and grace. I greatly admire John Carroll, our first American bishop. He was right on religious liberty and had great liturgical sensibilities. And yet he owned slaves. I admire and read St. Thomas Aquinas, yet it was this gentle man’s lines in the Summa on executing heretics that were so often cited to support such a horrific practice. If we can contextualize their faults (and I think we can and should) we should also contextualize and seek to understand both the good and the bad in a figure like Ricci.

Ricci was a serious, devout Christian who deeply loved his people and really wanted them to experience Jesus in the scriptures and sacraments and go to heaven. His tenderness and his genuine pastoral heart comes across in many letters and homilies. Unfortunately, he was extremely arrogant and totally ruined by polemic. He could be harsh and polarizing man. His fundamental flaw, highlighted by S. J. Miller, was “an utter unwillingness to see any good in those who opposed him.”

Ricci’s story is so tragic. There was a window there were he could have collaborated with good, holy prelates who were open to reform like Cardinal Gioanetti in Bologna and Archbishop Martini in Florence, but he alienated them with his intransigence. He still could have capitalized on a lot of goodwill amongst the priests in his twin diocese, but he confused and angered most of the laity with his abrupt changes and met those who protested him with aloof haughtiness. His pattern of behavior when he was opposed was not one of listening or dialoguing – he tried to silence, bully, or marginalize anyone who disagreed with him. Ricci’s story alone, as a kind of photo negative of the Congarian “true reformer” makes the history of the Synod of Pistoia applicable to our own day in the Church. Congar gets some stuff wrong about Jansenism but I think he is right when he said that Jansenists were wrong not necessarily in believing they had the truth, but in believing no one else had it.

Your reference to Cardinal Marx is really interesting. Yes, in the sense that Ricci really was planning for a Europe-wide (I suppose eventually worldwide) reform of Catholicism through diocesan and then national synods (and in this he was in step with broader Jansenist networks in Utrecht and France), there are parallels with Marx and the current talk of a Synodal Way. Certainly one’s opinion of both men is a fairly reliable litmus test of what one thinks about a variety of issues. But I will resist the temptation to say any more, and to say whether I think Ricci is more like Marx or Burke, Kasper or Schneider!

AD: Your long footnote on p.9 traces out some of the contemporary invocations by so-called traditionalists positing a link between Pistoia and Vatican II, especially with regards to liturgical reform. I confess that I’ve grown extremely tired of these “armchair genealogists” as MacIntyre might call them. They think they have accomplished something significant, perhaps even interesting, by asserting links between two events or personages—but have they? Is their whole point simply to suggest that the condemnation of Pistoian reforms by Pius VI should somehow still apply to comparable reforms at and after Vatican II? 

Evocations of the kind you describe are definitely done to try to discredit Vatican II or at least its implementation. These sloppy geneaologies are almost never done by people who are acquainted with the actual history. Most have just read Denzinger, or seen it cited on Twitter or a blog. I have even seen anti-Francis people who think it is Pius VI condemning the synod of a previous pope, which gives them hope that a future Pope Pius XIII will come and save them from Amoris Laetitia and the Synod on the Amazon!

And yet, the similarities are there and they are undeniable. Someone like Bernard Fellay of SSPX seeing in Lumen Gentium the ghost of early modern opponents of ultramontanism (he traces collegiality to Jansenism and calls it a “timebomb”) is not completely wrong. The council fathers were aware of this, as I show in the book. This is why only looking at discrete theses is not enough – one must have a hermeneutic of change and reform. Ironically, the fact the some so-called “traditionalists” lack this makes them susceptible to the same mistakes their hated “Jansenists” made.

AD: You refer (p. 201, fn. 17) to “the antiquarianism of many late Jansenist appeals to primitive church order and synodality.” Can you clarify what is meant by antiquarianism, both as you use it, and as it shows up as a term of reprobation in papal documents (e.g., Mediator Dei 63-64)? 

Yes, this is an important point. Pius XII slammed the Pistoians for this in Mediator Dei. His words in the passage you cite were a little over the top, and typical of papal polemic against Jansenism, but he had a real point. The Jansenists had vast historical learning but little “sense of history” (if you will) – they lacked the kind of historical consciousness that people like Muratori and, later, Newman, were figuring out. They of course instinctively understood a kind of pragmatic change and development, but they could be rigidly “fixiste” and die on a hill about stupid things. I say on page 254 (note 278) “any theological, disciplinary, or pastoral differences between the past and the present that the Jansenists encountered in their books were simply deficiencies on the part of the present Church.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration but not far off. They would select certain authors (of course Augustine first and foremost) or times and events in church history and then use those loci to too sweepingly discredit the contemporary church.

In True and False Reform Congar got some stuff wrong, in my opinion, about eighteenth-century Catholicism. But on this point about the relationship between past and present he was totally right on, and he wanted to make sure that ressourcement figures in his day and age got this right and didn’t shipwreck their reforms as late Jansenists, Josephinists, and radical Gallicans did. You can’t go back. He was right about this.

Circling around to Pius XII, I think he was preemptively fending off any idea that his own liturgical renewal – which involved restoring old things that had lapsed into disuse, like elements of the Triduum liturgies – was not mistaken for a kind of liturgical archaeology or primitivism. Anyone interested in cautious, sane reform should look into Pius XII. His positive legacy is, I think, underestimated by theologians. Ulrich Lehner has pointed out he is the most frequently cited non-biblical source at Vatican II!

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and tell us who especially would benefit from reading it.

I hope the book is read and enjoyed by anyone interested in early modern Catholicism, Vatican II, Jansenism, or the issues of continuity-discontinuity and true and false reform. I think certain ecclesiological issues that are very much still with us – you highlighted most or all of them in your questions – have an important history that people could learn something about from the book. My fear for the book was that it would suffer from “Goldilocks syndrome”; that is, that it would be perceived as too historical for theology folks, and too theological for historians. But initial feedback has been that this is not the case. I hope that continues.

Finally, I hope it can be comforting to people who feel exhausted and beaten down by all the controversy and mean-spiritedness on display in the Church today. I never thought of the book like this, but a couple Catholic friends who read it said they felt relieved to see that past generations have suffered from polarization, misunderstandings, and genuine crises but the Church and the faith have always endured. I was really touched to hear this.

AD: Having finished The Synod of Pistoia and Vatican II, what projects are you at work on now? 

Ulrich Lehner and I are co-editing an anthology of Catholic Enlightenment texts. This is a really exciting project which will bring Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Mexican, Brazilian, and Italian texts into English for the first time. With the assistance of Glauco Schettini, I translated a 5000-word portion from Muratori’s Della regolata. We also have an amazing selection from a Mexican intellectual arguing in favor of indigenous use of marijuana. So it should be an intriguing selection of texts for undergrad classrooms and for academics interested in Catholic Enlightenment.

Next, my friend Stephen Bullivant and I are co-authoring a book on Vatican II’s for Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series. This is a good chance for me to get out of the 1700s and return to the rapidly growing literature on Vatican II, and I love any chance to work with Stephen, preferably over multiple espressos, fried chicken burgers, and pints of ale.

I also have a number of smaller projects I’m excited about, like chapters in the forthcoming Oxford History of British and Irish Catholicism and the new Cambridge History of the Papacy. This summer I spend time in Ireland, England, Austria, and Italy and will have a chance to do some research and give talks on the book and on the Catholic Enlightenment and Jansenism.

Finally, I must thank you so much for this very stimulating dialogue! The questions really made me think. You highlighted some issues that I hadn’t fully thought through.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...