"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, July 17, 2019

Thomas Berry: A Biography

When, in the latter part of the 1980s, I was first learning about ecological issues and the Church's possible role in them, I came across the name of the Catholic priest and theologian Thomas Berry, whose writings on ecological stewardship long seem to have predated comparable writings on the same themes by, e.g., the bishops of either old or new Rome, or other Catholic and Orthodox figures generally.

Now Berry is the subject of a full-length biography I look forward to reading: Thomas Berry: A Biography by Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim, and Andrew Angyal (Columbia University Press, 2019), 360pp.

Thomas Berry (1914–2009) was one of the twentieth century’s most prescient and profound thinkers. As a cultural historian, he sought a broader perspective on humanity’s relationship to the earth in order to respond to the ecological and social challenges of our times. This first biography of Berry illuminates his remarkable vision and its continuing relevance for achieving transformative social change and environmental renewal.
Berry began his studies in Western history and religions and then expanded to include Asian and indigenous religions, which he taught at Fordham University, Barnard College, and Columbia University. Drawing on his explorations of history, he came to see the evolutionary process as a story that could help restore the continuity of humans with the natural world. Berry urged humans to recognize their place on a planet with complex ecosystems in a vast, evolving universe. He sought to replace the modern alienation from nature with a sense of intimacy and responsibility. Berry called for new forms of ecological education, law, and spirituality, as well as the creation of resilient agricultural systems, bioregions, and ecocities. At a time of growing environmental crisis, this biography shows the ongoing significance of Berry’s conception of human interdependence with the earth as part of the unfolding journey of the universe.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A History of Eastern Monasticism

Too much of monastic history and practice is traduced today by people who seem to feel (as the useful phrase has it) they can magic up a solution to problems in Church and world alike. Careful study of monastic history, theology, and structures, as well as attendance upon the broader problems of historiography and the relationship between history and theology, is one way to avoid some of these traps. A recent book by a well-respected author will assist in this: The I.B. Tauris History of Monasticism:The Eastern Tradition by John Binns (I.B. Tauris, 2018), 336pp.

Binns is the author of, inter alia, the recent study, The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia as well as Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ: The Monasteries of Palestine 314-631.

About this new book on monasticism, the publisher tells us the following:

For all its rich history in the Latin lands, Christian monasticism began in the east; and it is from the third-century Egyptian wilderness that the wellsprings of monastic culture and spirituality can most directly be sourced. This essential companion to the corresponding I.B.Tauris volume on the western tradition thus begins with St Anthony, the 'Father of Monks', who retreated with his disciples into the scorched Eastern Desert. Anthony inspired the former Roman conscript Pachomius (292-348 CE) to establish a monastery for men and women and devise a formal rule. Such community monasticism then brought cells of hermits together into a federalised structure where property was held in common under an abbot or abbess.
John Binns shows how the Orthodox community of Mount Athos and the western Rule of St Benedict were alike strongly influenced by the austerity and sanctity that began with the original Desert Fathers and also by the organisational efforts of Pachomius. This vivid, authoritative account traces the four main branches of eastern Christianity, up to and beyond the Great Schism of 1054.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Oxford Handbook of Early Biblical Interpretation

With chapters by Orthodox scholars such as John Behr, Peter Bouteneff, and Mary Cunningham, as well as many other riches, this is yet another Oxford handbook that no serious library will want to be without: The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation, eds., Paul M. Blowers and Peter W Martens (Oxford UP, July 2018), 784pp.

About this hefty collection the publisher tells us this:
The Bible was the essence of virtually every aspect of the life of the early churches. The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation explores a wide array of themes related to the reception, canonization, interpretation, uses, and legacies of the Bible in early Christianity. Each section contains overviews and cutting-edge scholarship that expands understanding of the field. 
Part One examines the material text transmitted, translated, and invested with authority, and the very conceptualization of sacred Scripture as God's word for the church. Part Two looks at the culture and disciplines or science of interpretation in representative exegetical traditions. Part Three addresses the diverse literary and non-literary modes of interpretation, while Part Four canvasses the communal background and foreground of early Christian interpretation, where the Bible was paramount in shaping normative Christian identity. Part Five assesses the determinative role of the Bible in major developments and theological controversies in the life of the churches. Part Six returns to interpretation proper and samples how certain abiding motifs from within scriptural revelation were treated by major Christian expositors.
The overall history of biblical interpretation has itself now become the subject of a growing scholarship and the final part skilllfully examines how early Christian exegesis was retrieved and critically evaluated in later periods of church history. Taken together, the chapters provide nuanced paths of introduction for students and scholars from a wide spectrum of academic fields, including classics, biblical studies, the general history of interpretation, the social and cultural history of late ancient and early medieval Christianity, historical theology, and systematic and contextual theology. Readers will be oriented to the major resources for, and issues in, the critical study of early Christian biblical interpretation.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Incarnate Maternal Bodies

I briefly met the author of this new book when I was in Romania in January for the inaugural IOTA conference. Carrie Frederick Frost was and perhaps still is one of the officers of the International Orthodox Theological Association as well as the author of Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East (Paulist Press, 2019), 144pp. About the book the publisher tells us this:

In Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East, Carrie Frederick Frost places Orthodox Christian sources on motherhood icons, hymns, and prayers into conversation with each other. In so doing, she brings an anchored vision of motherhood to the twenty-first century especially the embodied experience of motherhood.
Along the way, Frost addresses practices of the Church that have neglected mother s bodies, offering a insight for others who also choose to live within truth-bearing but flawed traditions. Whether female or male, whether mothers or not, whether mothers adoptive or biological we each make our appearance in the cosmos through a maternal body; our mother s body gives us our own body. In these bodies we live our lives and find our way into the next. From the unexpected and fresh vantage point of the maternal body, Frost offers new ways of understanding our incarnate experience as humans and better cultivating a relationship with our Creator.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Iconography and Western Christianity

As I have noted on here from the beginning, Western interest in Byzantine iconography has been growing for at least two decades now. One of the best books to introduce the area to Latin Catholics is Jeana Visel's Icons in the Western Church, which I am using later this week with some high-school students coming to the University of Saint Francis for almost a week in which they will learn about the history and theology of images, interact with university faculty from across all disciplines, and then paint their own icons with the help, and under the guidance, of Lorie Herbel, who has done this now three years in a row, and is just a wonderful teacher.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Magical Episcopal Thinking

Catholic apologists make much hay insisting that faith is not magic, and is compatible with reason. Catholics frequently talk about their own intellectual tradition as something very considerable, demonstrating a long tradition of thinking about big questions in a rigorous and serious way. And yet, when it comes to the ongoing abuse of sex, money, and power in the Church today, the default for virtually all bishops, and most others, is to magic up some spiritualized solution that will in fact solve nothing: just pray and fast more, little children! (The other, equally fatuous, approach is to scapegoat: if only we didn't have all these gays, or this "heretical" pope, or these bad bishops, or these "lavender mafias" then everything would be grand.)

There is no serious reasoning here. It is partial, ideological, and blind. One can cite, week after week, examples of this magical "thinking," this infantile exercise in wish fulfillment exactly as Freud demonstrated. It comes from those who identify as liberal, progressive, conservative, and traditional--and just about everyone in-between. This time it comes from Phoenix, whose bishop published his weekly column, ostensibly offering practical solutions for people to overcome these crises. While claiming that "problems and crises must not be over-spiritualized," he does exactly that by mindlessly rehearsing all the same old procedures in place for years now which have not prevented the crisis, and then by even more mindlessly exhorting people to just somehow believe more! believe harder! have stronger faith!

What is absent, of course, is any admission of what bishops should do, both immediately and by way of long-term reform. Instead, it's the usual pious guff designed to deflect from their own culpable wickedness and to inflict guilt on the people of God in the usually pathological way we have come to expect from hierarchs. (The Spanish Jesuit psychoanalyst Carlos Dominguez-Morano is the absolute best person here for diagnosing these psychopathological dynamics masquerading as piety.)

Thus the Latin ordinary of Phoenix claims: "Scandals are the manifestation of a crisis of faith. Therefore, scandals will be healed by strong faith, spiritual courage and heroic confidence in our Lord." This, as I argued here, is a tendentious and obvious twisting of the very meaning of "scandal," which today only means one thing: bad PR for the bishop.

And as I argued in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, drawing on Dominguez-Morano and others, the fetish for "spiritualized" solutions reflects a crypto-monophysite ecclesiology which will only continue to harm the Church.

Rather than indulging in this nonsense, what is needed is to begin to talk about power, about structures, and about the unhistorical and theologically unjustifiable monopoly on power held by hierarchs and clerics in the Church today.

My book, taking with deadly seriousness the Church's teaching on original sin, is guided by one adamantine principle: nobody, at any point and for any reason, in any organization--the Church or otherwise--should ever have a monopoly on power. The lure of libido dominandi (original sin's chief and perennially tempting manifestation) is too great, and ordination does nothing to lessen it (another form of magical thinking). The reforms we must begin to put in place in the Church today must ensure going forward that nobody ever again has a monopoly on decision-making power--whether over the appointment of parish clergy, the diocesan budget, or any other major matter.

Laics, clerics, and hierarchs must learn to hold each other accountable. Absent this, the abuse crisis will continue sine die.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Iconoclasm is Always a Prelude to a New Politics

In a time when Confederate monuments are being torn down, other colonial and imperial figures erased from university campuses, and now a mural in San Francisco being covered up, I pause only to note an invaluable book by James Noyes that many years ago laid out with pellucid cogency this rule: whenever iconoclasm breaks out, it is always a prelude to a new politics. 

Unlike many books treating iconoclasm, which often confine themselves to the so-called Byzantine outbreaks of the eighth-ninth centuries, Noyes' book, The Politics of Iconoclasm: Religion, Violence, and the Culture of Image Breaking in Christianity and Islam, takes a wide and fascinating approach, showing the outbreak of image smashing in a variety of Christian and Muslim contexts ancient and modern, and also in 20th-century politics in Germany and Russia, inter alia. These latter outbreaks were tied directly to the rise of revolutionary politics in and after 1917 in Russia, and the rise of Nazism after 1933 in Germany. Both destroyed old images and art and replaced it with that of their own devising for obviously political purposes.

The same is no less true today whenever the demand is made for historical memorials or other art forms to be effaced, erased, removed, or destroyed. For some people perhaps more than others, "we suffer from our reminiscences," as Freud famously said.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books 41/12 (20 June 2019)

Say what many will about Freud, he seems, relative to Jung and Lacan, to have been a far more faithful husband and far less destructive father. Indeed, I would put that more strongly, based on reading, inter alia, Paul Roazen's invaluable books: Freud seems to have had a very charming domestic life as a rather conservative member of the upper middle-classes of Vienna. Lunch times were, many reported, including Oskar Pfister, a warm, languid opportunity to indulge in unhurried and wide-ranging conversation about all manner of topics without embarrassment. All the hoary ideas of him as some kind of sexually libertarian revolutionary find no support in how he lived his life.

Not so Lacan. I've tried off and on to read him over the years, but never with any success. What little I have read of and about him has consistently made him sound like an over-rated wanker who mistook obscurity for profundity, and recondite jargon and graphics for any serious or concrete insight.

He does not improve after reading the most recent London Review of Books, where we find L.O. Rowlands' review of A Father: Puzzle, written by Sibylle Lacan and translated by A.N. West (MIT Press, 2019), 92pp., This odd memoir of sorts makes Lacan appear by now completely unattractive. It seems impossible to understand his relationship to her other than a lifelong sadistic dangling of interest, affection, and attention that was quickly retracted, slowly driving her mad. He eventually recommended she go into analysis, but then ended up sleeping with his daughter's analyst. In the end, Sibylle killed herself.

Andrew Preston has a long and fascinating review of Michael Cotey-Morgan's new book The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2018), 424pp. The negotiations dragged on for so long and were so complicated, requiring the presence of so many people, that they ended up moving from Helsinki, judged to have inadequate and insufficient facilities for all the delegations, to Geneva. Precisely because of their complexity and length, most governments in the West and Soviet bloc alike seem to have taken their eyes off the ball, and misjudged what ought to have been top priorities for each vis-a-vis the other. In the end, it is suggested that both sides underestimated the consequences of several of the agreements, and that doing so would prove costly to the Soviets in ways they never expected.

Along the way there are amusing anecdotes, not least about the chef de mission for France. His government, like apparently all the others, lost interest in the endlessly complicated discussions, and apparently begged for far fewer documents to be sent home regularly. So he devised an ingenious method for making things work: at the end of the week, he would send, each Friday, a list of questions for further instruction back to Paris. Then he got on a plane from Geneva, flew to Paris, went into his office Monday morning, answered all his own questions with fresh instructions on how to proceed, and returned to Geneva!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Paris 1919: Centenary of the Versailles Treaty

I was reminded that yesterday was the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which of course brought the First World War to an end. But unlike other anniversaries connected to this war and others, few people seem to be marking this anniversary, largely because the Treaty has been widely thought too punitive of Germany and thus to have played an overlarge role in the Second World War.

In any event, if you are at all interested in the negotiations that led to that treaty, ending a war in which millions of Eastern Christians were slaughtered (Armenians, Pontic Greeks, Syriac and Assyrian Christians, inter alia, in 1915--to say nothing of the violence done to Greek Christians in the postwar forced migrations after 1923), then permit me again to recommend to you one of my favourite books about the entire war and its aftermath, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. It is brilliantly written, hilariously funny in parts, and deeply revealing of the characters of such as Wilson, Lloyd George, Poincaré and others of the second tier, including the leadership of Romania and Greece. It's always an enjoyable re-read.

Friday, June 28, 2019

More Gifts from Madonna House

Twice in as many weeks the lovely people of Madonna House have gifted me with books. I noted here receiving a copy of a biography of their founder. Now in the mail Fr Bob Wild has sent me copies of two of his recent books: first, A Catholic Reading Guide to Universalism,treating mostly contemporary Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox sources. Published in 2015 by Resource Publications, the book clocks in at 194pp. About it the publisher tells us this:

This reading guide to some of the philosophical and theological literature on universalism offers practical help in providing informed material on a topic that is often treated in a superficial and unenlightened manner. The reader may be surprised to learn that universalism was the predominant belief in the early centuries, and that it has always been present in the Christian tradition. Spurred on by von Balthasar's book, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Robert Wild's guide provides current studies that support Von Balthasar's arguments that universalism is a legitimate hope for the Christian.

The second book, released a year later, treats of a related theme: A Catholic Reading Guide to Conditional Immortality: The Third Alternative to Hell and Universalism (Resource Publications), 218pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Like many other people, the long tradition about hell has been a source of serious confusion and distress for me. Over the past six years or so I was relieved to discover two other alternatives that are also part of the Christian tradition, though less prominent--universalism and the subject of the present book, conditional immortality. Universalism--that everyone would eventually be saved--did not, in the final analysis, seem to really come to grips with the overwhelming scriptural testimony that some kind of radical fateful decision is possible to people. Conditional immortality--that people who absolutely refuse God's plan for them will be taken out of existence--seems to me the best scriptural understanding of what the Lord meant by "losing one's soul"--not everlasting punishment but the withdrawal of existence. This book is an attempt to explain this theological theory. It is not presented as a definite dogma or teaching of the church, but as one of the possible results of a persistent and irrevocable decision against God.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Episcopal Elites and "Lay Involvement" in the Abuse Crisis

Perhaps some day the concept of "lay involvement" in ecclesial governance will not be treated as though it were a rare strand of plague needing special handling by men in hazmat suits trying their best to contain this contagion as much as possible. Certainly the grudging acknowledgement of "lay involvement" by the American bishops earlier this month is evidence of this, as is the fact that the motu proprio of the pope in May, which I discussed here, finding it insultingly inadequate (to put it mildly), has no "lay involvement" at all but fatuously continues to rely on bishops to police each other. It is clear that the involvement of laics--a term much to be preferred for all the reasons Nicholas Afanasiev gave--is feared by churchmen today not for any remotely theological, still less doctrinal, reasons, but merely because of prejudice, class snobbery, and a fear of loss of status.

As Claudia Rapp, Peter Brown, and others have shown, bishops have increasingly since the fourth century been part of the elites of empire and other societies in which they found themselves--and that is still true today. It is of course the nature of elites that they are exclusive and seek to police the boundaries of whom they permit to enter and whom they exclude. And elites with a monopoly on power are all the more fierce in protecting the same, as bishops undeniably have and do, especially if there is also money on the line--and as the recent news out of West Virginia makes clear, there is cash flowing about freely from one oleaginous hand to another. The episcopal sense of entitlement and privilege remains unabated even at this late hour. Who among us wouldn't fear the loss of constantly eating in the best restaurants, drinking the finest single malt, and having fresh flowers delivered every day--on someone else's dime?

Complicating matters in the "Catholic imaginary," as I call it in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico, 2019), is the role pseudo-memories play of certain high-profile examples of "lay involvement" in the Church--e.g., Henry VIII vs. Thomas More and the pope; or Henry IV and Gregory VII at Canossa; or Napoleon and Pius VII. These linger on today unconsciously to safeguard the future from any "lay involvement." As Adam Phillips says, "memories always have a certain future in mind." The Catholic, and certainly papal, imaginary since the nineteenth century has designed its power structures precisely with these paranoid pseudo-memories of power-mad tyrants in mind. But we have, thankfully, no German and French emperors or English kings to contend with today, and thus none of these are therefore remotely germane. These convenient bogeymen cannot be allowed to prevent the people of God from playing their rightful part in the careful ways I outline in the book.

Those proposals are not, as some ignorant fool who has not read the book claimed on Twitter, a proposal to make the Catholic Church Anglican--a specious suggestion I dealt with here. Precisely what the book does is to take what is good and useful in both Anglican and Armenian (and other Eastern Orthodox) structures and reconfigure them in a Catholic context. Nobody, least of all I, thinks having no serious primate with real power--as bedevils both Anglicanism and Orthodoxy--is a solution to anything.

Nor are these proposals modern. It is pathetic to see how even hierarchs (actually, it's not pathetic: nothing about these men surprises me any more) are totally ignorant of their own history, and thus scrambling after various "oversight boards" and "metropolitan models" that have all the substance and seriousness of diagrams doodled on the back of one of their cocktail napkins at the Waldorf Astoria. There is no need, dear leaders, to invent things from scratch: look at your own history and tradition to rediscover the role of synods at every level of the Church. If you need a reminder of what they are and how they function, then see Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed.

Monday, June 24, 2019

On the Life of Catherine Doherty

Last week, when I was at the Orientale Lumen conference in Washington, DC, I was approached by a lovely woman, Echo Lewis, whom I did not know, but who introduced herself as being from Madonna House, which I visited in 2004 and of which I remain a big fan. She very graciously gave me a copy of her biography of Madonna House founder: Victorious Exile by Echo Lewis (Madonna House Publications, 2013), 205pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Katya Kolyschkine, who came to be known in the West as Catherine de Hueck Doherty, lived a life of adventure, peril, persecution and exile from her native Russia. The darkness of poverty and near despair closed in on Katya; but propelled by a love so great nothing could overpower it, she proved victorious in her quest to show the face of that love to thousands of others. In doing so, Katya set a spark of pre-Revolutionary Holy Russia aflame in the Western world.

Friday, June 21, 2019

On Reforming Diocesan Boundaries and Structures

I was at the twenty-third Orientale Lumen conference in Washington this past week. Capably organized as ever by the indefatigable and ever-generous Jack Figel, its sessions were moderated this year by my friend Will Cohen, author of The Concept of Sister Churches in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Since Vatican II.

Fascinating papers were given by several people, including Anastacia Wooden, whose work on Afanasiev I noted here; by Hyacinthe Destivelle, whose book The Moscow Council has been widely read; and by my friend and co-editor Daniel Galadza, author of Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem, which is, he tells us, coming out in December in a much more affordable paperback edition.

I too gave a paper--this year's theme was on the old notion of "One Bishop to One City?"--and I drew on my new book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, in which my last chapter talks about restructuring dioceses, especially in the Latin Church, so that they are no longer huge corporations with archbishops, junior vice-presidents called "auxiliary bishops," and massive, dehumanized bureaucracy spending millions to hide abuse and abusers--and to hide the slush fund abusive bishops use for booze, flowers, and rent-boys.

It was, as ever, a good conference even if for many people today this whole ecumenical venture seems increasingly ignored by the vast majority of Christians. In my experience, dating back to 1991 in Australia, it has always been that way, alas.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books 41/10 (23 May 2019)

If there's a theme to this issue of the London Review of Books it is surely historical materialism and its ghosts, for lack of a better phrase. A case in point is a review of Brett Christophers, The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain (Verso, 2018), 394pp. The review discusses Christophers' evidence of how much land has been sold off, and so cheaply and with so few requirements or regulations, in the last several decades in the United Kingdom, whose government has deliberately kept poor, vague, or non-existent records of much of this transformation. One result of this is that it has jacked up housing prices by an enormous margin ("on average--that is, for all kinds of housing--land now accounts for 70% of a house's sale price. In the 1930s it was 2 per cent").

Jacqueline Rose has a long essay, "One Long Scream," that makes for very harrowing reading indeed. She has done some very interesting work in a number of areas, including the intersection of psychoanalysis, politics, and trauma. She also notes one of the few psychoanalysts in South Africa today, Mark Solms, whose work has gained international attention

Her essay looks back over the last quarter-century in South Africa, discussing a number of works, including My Father Died for This by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata.

As an Anglican coming of age in the 1980s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a hero to me from a great distance. I followed the move from apartheid to freedom with great interest, and later on I would review the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in great detail for how it handled some truly vexed questions about memories of the past and their possible healing.

But I have not followed events closely since the turn of the century, blithely assuming that progress was being made much more quickly and comprehensively than Rose shows it actually is. The tortured state of progress is illustrated in part by Rose discussing various presentations and evaluations of the life of Winnie Mandela, including, most recently, The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela (2018).

Clair Wills next reviews Eamonn McCann, War and an Irish Town (Haymarket, 2018), 330pp. This is a reissue of a book McCann first published in the 1970s. It shows the enormous complexity of the issues in the latter half of the twentieth century and how the politics was often shifting.

The essay has really forced me to start reading in Irish history. Previously I confess that my Scottish and English grandparents have left me with a residue of snobbery about the Irish, and a very strong pride about British imperialism. But I am increasingly recognizing that both were grossly unjust.

Sudhir Hazareesingh next reviews Herrick Chapman's France's Long Reconstruction: In Search of the Modern Republic (Harvard UP, 2018). It only reinforces my desire to read more about de Gaulle, who seems by all accounts to have been a maddeningly complicated man.

Poor Charles Darwin. Rosemary Hill reviews the latest volume (26) of his Correspondence. It seems the fate of all revolutionary men that they are bombarded with letters, and Darwin, we are told, is no less the case. But apparently with extraordinary patience and effort, he responded to nearly all his letters personally.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Hermites and Anchorites

Among some Christians of both East and West, there is a tendency to romanticize both monasticism and the Middle Ages. Such romanticism will find it hard to survive this new book, Hermits and Anchorites in England 1200-1550, ed. E.A. Jones (Manchester University Press, 2019), 248pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This source book offers a comprehensive treatment of solitary religious lives in England in the late Middle Ages. It covers both enclosed recluses (anchorites) and free-wandering hermits, and explores the relationship between them. Although there has been a recent surge of interest in the solitary vocations, especially anchorites, this has focused almost exclusively on a small number of examples. The field is in need of reinvigoration, and this book provides it. Featuring translated extracts from a wide range of Latin, Middle English and Old French sources, as well as a scholarly introduction and commentary from one of the foremost experts in the field, Hermits and anchorites in England is an invaluable resource for students and lecturers alike.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Horrors in the Annals of Psychiatry

In the late 1990s, when I was living with other grad students in the magnificent Somerset House in Ottawa, one of my house-mates was in medical school. I've never forgotten something he said with reference to chemotherapy: in a hundred years time, he argued, people will look back on what is today cutting-edge treatment of cancer and be utterly horrified by the barbarity of it all. Chemotherapy, he said, is in many ways a terribly destructive way to treat cancer, but in some cases it's all we've got.

The same thing could equally be said about psychiatry. I continue to read the lives of psychoanalysts in the United Kingdom, and recently finished R.D. Laing's Wisdom, Madness and Folly: The Making of a Psychiatrist. Laing seems to have been no moral exemplar, at least in his family life, and some of his ideas are rather farouche. But his basic sense of humanity and decency, and his willingness to buck the consensus (e.g., against putting so-called schizophrenics into insulin-induced comas from which not all of them returned alive) of the time in favour of trying to reach people written off by the medical establishment, must be counted unto him as righteousness.

Wisdom, Madness, and Folly is a short but harrowing set of memoirs especially of immediate post-war psychiatry in Glasgow and beyond. It is, among other things, a reminder that so-called scientists are as much herd animals as anybody else, and "scientific consensus" often comes at the expense of science properly so called, one of whose most crucial practices must surely remain that of verifying, and if necessary falsifying, conclusions taken for granted. Otherwise we end up doing horrible things to people we have written off as "unreachable" or "unworthy."

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Pope and the Professor in Paperback

I'm pleased to see a very affordable edition of a book I discussed in three parts is now available from Oxford University Press: The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age by Thomas Albert Howard (Oxford UP, 2019), 368pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Pope and the Professor tells the captivating story of the German Catholic theologian and historian Ignaz von Dollinger (1799-1890), who fiercely opposed the teaching of Papal Infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), convened by Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878), among the most controversial popes in the history of the papacy. Dollinger's thought, his opposition to the Council, his high-profile excommunication in 1871, and the international sensation that this action caused offer a fascinating window into the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century. Thomas Albert Howard examines Dollinger's post-conciliar activities, including pioneering work in ecumenism and inspiring the "Old Catholic" movement in Central Europe. Set against the backdrop of Italian and German national unification, and the rise of anticlericalism and ultramontanism after the French Revolution, The Pope and the Professor is at once an endeavor of historical and theological inquiry. It provides nuanced historical contextualization of the events, topics, and personalities, while also raising abiding questions about the often fraught relationship between individual conscience and scholarly credentials, on the one hand, and church authority and tradition, on the other.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Obsessive-Compulsive Ottoman Disorder

Well do I recall reading biographies of David Lloyd George, as well as histories of the Great War and its aftermath, and hearing again how much George loathed the Ottomans and how, if nothing else came of the conflict, he wanted to ensure their empire was smashed after the war. Even sympathetic commentators and biographers regarded this as an "obsession" on George's part, but it was apparently an obsession shared by many others, as we shall soon see. Set for release early next month is what looks to be a fascinating work exploring how we construct images of "enemies" and how we view and write history in the light of current politics: Noel Malcolm, Useful EnemiesIslam and The Ottoman Empire in Western Political Thought, 1450-1750 (Oxford University Press, 2019), 512pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
From the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the eighteenth century, many Western European writers viewed the Ottoman Empire with almost obsessive interest. Typically they reacted to it with fear and distrust; and such feelings were reinforced by the deep hostility of Western Christendom towards Islam. Yet there was also much curiosity about the social and political system on which the huge power of the sultans was based. In the sixteenth century, especially, when Ottoman territorial expansion was rapid and Ottoman institutions seemed particularly robust, there was even open admiration.
In this path-breaking book Noel Malcolm ranges through these vital centuries of East-West interaction, studying all the ways in which thinkers in the West interpreted the Ottoman Empire as a political phenomenon - and Islam as a political religion. Useful Enemies shows how the concept of 'oriental despotism' began as an attempt to turn the tables on a very positive analysis of Ottoman state power, and how, as it developed, it interacted with Western debates about monarchy and government. Noel Malcolm also shows how a negative portrayal of Islam as a religion devised for political purposes was assimilated by radical writers, who extended the criticism to all religions, including Christianity itself.
Examining the works of many famous thinkers (including Machiavelli, Bodin, and Montesquieu) and many less well-known ones, Useful Enemies illuminates the long-term development of Western ideas about the Ottomans, and about Islam. Noel Malcolm shows how these ideas became intertwined with internal Western debates about power, religion, society, and war. Discussions of Islam and the Ottoman Empire were thus bound up with mainstream thinking in the West on a wide range of important topics. These Eastern enemies were not just there to be denounced. They were there to be made use of, in arguments which contributed significantly to the development of Western political thought.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Aphoristic Flirt Adam Phillips

If you randomly started reading Adam Phillips and knew nothing of his background, I have to think it would soon become apparent that he is a psychoanalyst, which conclusion you would arrive at--tentatively, of course--after seeing how his style is circuitous, diffuse, self-questioning, suggestive and assertive in about equal measure, and very reminiscent of the wide-ranging meanderings of the mind. If--apart from, perhaps, his study of D.W. Winnicott--you read virtually any of his many books, you will find that one way to characterize them is as collections of aphorisms surrounded by acres of prose. Because they bear remembering and quoting, I wanted to write some of them down here in no particular order. I gravitate towards the ones I think rich with theological promise as well as those of what seems to me acute clinical insight and applicability.

From On Flirtation: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life, a book written in part to offer "psychoanalysis with a light touch," to allow analyst and analysand--and general readers--to realize that analysis should be about pleasure and enjoying ourselves (with a reference to Nina Coltart's singular and splendid book Slouching Towards Bethlehem).

On Idolatry:

"It is one of the advantages of flirtation that it can protect us from idolatry....Flirtation keeps things in play."

"All idols, by disarming pertinent forms of criticism, distracted their worshippers from more problematic but interesting desires."

"Psychoanalysis has always been a religion in which you are not allowed to believe in God."
"Dreams are accidents of desire."

"It is a fundamentally useful Freudian insight that we are never coincident with--the same as--the images we have of ourselves."

For the "Theology of the Body" Crowd:

"We have made a fetish of sexual difference....Our categories are themselves ghosts or ghost-writers and not the reassuring commodities which we...pretend they are."

"There is an erotics of uncertainty so the fear of relinquishing the idea of difference may be the fear of the death of desire."

"Thinking of the sexes as making each other whole is grounds for murder."

"Our theoretical habits, like our erotic habits, are the revenge of the past upon the future."
On the Virtues and Nature of Forgetting:

"People come for psychoanalytic treatment because they are remembering in a way that does not free them to forget."

"It has been the value of forgetting that psychoanalysis after Freud has most often repressed."

"It is only when two people forget themselves in each other's presence that they can recognize each other."

On D.W. Winnicott, British Psychoanalysis, and Narrative Theology/Philosophy:

"In Winnicott's work, it could be argued, psychoanalysis was incorporated into a Christian empiricist tradition.....Psychoanalysis becomes a new theology of mothering."

"Freud...put the implied narratives of a life, sanctioned by a Christian cosmology, in question."

"A successful psychoanalysis...makes memory possible but with a specific end in view--the patient's recovery."

"The patient has to refuse himself the conventional satisfactions of narrative....Psychoanalysis enables the patient to tolerate anti-narrative."

"Psychoanalysis as a theory and a therapy unavoidably promotes and institutionalizes the idea of an exemplary life." 

"Psychoanalysis is a professionalized social practice." (Would Alasdair MacIntyre agree?)
"Psychoanalytic practice is always hearsay."

On Psychoanalytic Methods and Results:

"Free association itself is the psychic act of relinquishing, as far as possible, one's slavish devotion to internal censors."

Quoting Sandor Ferenczi, "'The patient is not cured by free-associating: he is cured when he can free associate'."

"The radical nature of Freud's project is clear if one imagines what it would be like to live in a world in which everyone was able--had the capacity--to free-associate, to say whatever happened to come into their mind at any given moment."

"If a person ends up speaking psychoanalysis then the treatment has failed and must be called indoctrination."

"Psychoanalysis has always been about what it means to get bogged down in traditions."

"Psychoanalysis has, fortunately, had all its boundaries blurred...and it has now spilled into all sorts of other areas--religion, history, philosophy, politics, anthropology among others--with which it has much in common."

"Guilt...is a fundamental obstacle to psychoanalytic cure; the patient desperately needs his symptoms as a punishment."

"In psychoanalytic treatment it takes two to make a life-story."


"It would be particularly interesting for those who love psychoanalysis to tell us their misgivings about it all." (This is something I shall certainly do at some point!)

"It is not clear why so many of our notions of accountability--and often intelligibility--depend so exclusively on a capacity for blame."

"In our repetitions we seem to be staying away from the future, keeping it at bay."

"The best and worst of psychoanalytic theory always verges on the mystical."

"A good life entails the tolerance and enjoyment of inner complexity....There is no final resolution here" (commenting on Christopher Bollas' Being a Character).

"Psychoanalysis does not have to be an omnivorous interpreting machine, or another colonial adventure. At its best, it is a way of keeping the questions of childhood alive."



Monday, June 3, 2019

Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

I confess to not having heard of the author of this new book, but any time the words "Orthodoxy and Ecumenism" are used together, I always pay attention both out of serious and longstanding interest, and also because that combination amusingly causes certain heads to explode. But more seriously, with this book in particular, it comes with serious endorsements from Rowan Williams (who kindly and recently endorsed my new book), and with an endorsement from the former OCA chancellor, John Jillions (who was on the jury for what became my first book). So I look forward to reading Orthodoxy and Ecumenism: Towards an Active Metanoia by Razvan Porumb (Hachette Paris, 2019), 284pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the relationship between the Orthodox tradition and the ecumenical practice of engagement with other Christian traditions. This relationship has for a long time been compromised by an underlying tension, as the Orthodox have chosen to participate in ecumenical encounters while – often at the same time – denouncing the ecumenical movement as deficient and illegitimate. The author perceives this relationship to be even more inconsistent since the core of Orthodoxy as professed by the Orthodox is precisely that of re-establishing the unity and catholicity of the Church of Christ. This vision informs Orthodox identity as essentially a Church of exploration, of engagement and dialogue, a Church committed to drive all other traditions, but also itself back to the «right» primordial faith. The book exposes the risk of Orthodox theology turning into an oppositional picture of Orthodoxy as necessarily opposed to a heterodox antipode, rather than being the continuous dynamic reality of the living Church of Christ. The author proposes the rediscovery of a set of paradigms in an ethos of humble, active metanoia that would enable a more plenary ecumenical operation for the Orthodox as well as a renewed awareness of their own spirituality.
And about this book, Williams had this to say: 
This is a sensitive, erudite and original essay on Orthodox attitudes to ecumenism. It deals very thoroughly with many of the contemporary anxieties expressed by the Orthodox about ecumenical involvement and offers a fresh and very rich theological perspective, deeply rooted in recent Eastern Christian thought (not least the theology of the great Fr Dumitru Staniloae), opening up new possibilities for understanding ecumenical dialogue without relativising or sacrificing fundamental commitments. It is a welcome and creative contribution to both ecumenical and Orthodox theology (The Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, Magdalene College, Cambridge University, Former Archbishop of Canterbury).
And Jillions offered this assessment: 
This is an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to better understand - from the inside - Orthodox theological tensions around ecumenism. But the book moves well beyond old stalemates. Razvan Porumb proposes that all Churches see themselves as part of a engaged with each other in all their diversity and journeying together on a transformational path toward theosis. A refreshing and hopeful vision of what the movement toward Christian unity could be (The Very Revd Dr John A. Jillions, St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Former Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America).

Friday, May 31, 2019

God and Christ in Irenaeus

Books about Irenaeus have continued steadily to emerge over the last two decades, and I have tried to keep abreast of them on here. In February, we had another: God and Christ in Irenaeus by Anthony Briggman (Oxford UP, 2019), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
For too long certain scholars have been content to portray Irenaeus of Lyons as a well-meaning churchman but incompetent theologian. By offering a careful reading of Irenaeus' polemical and constructive arguments, God and Christ in Irenaeus contradicts these claims by showing that he was highly educated, trained in the rhetorical arts, aware of general philosophical positions, and able to use both rhetorical and philosophical theories and methods in his argumentation. Moreover, the theological account laid down by his pen was original and sophisticated, supremely so for one of the second century.
In contrast to readings that minimize the metaphysical dimension of Irenaeus' theology, Anthony Briggman establishes as pillars of Irenaeus' polemical argumentation and constructive theology his conception of the divine being as infinite and simple, the reciprocal immanence of the Word-Son and God the Father, divine generation, the union of the divine Word-Son and human nature in the person of Christ, and the revelatory activity of the infinite and incomprehensible Word-Son, amongst other features of his theology. Briggman offers a fundamentally new understanding of Irenaeus and his thought.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Muslims in Putin's Russia

In my courses on Eastern Christian-Muslim relations, perhaps the most fascinating case-study we examine is that of Russia, which presents a very different picture not just from the Arab world, but even from Muslims in other parts of Europe. A recently reprinted book sketches out that picture for us in further detail: Muslims in Putin's Russia: Discourse on Identity, Politics, and Security by Simona E. Merati (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 256pp.

This book, the publisher tells us,

offers a novel interpretation of Russian contemporary discourse on Islam and its influence on Russian state policies. It shifts the analytical perspective from the discussion about Russia's Islam as a potential security threat to a more comprehensive view of the relationships of Muslims with Russia as a state and a civilization. The work demonstrates how many Muslims increasingly express a sense of belonging to Russia and are increasingly willing to contribute to state building processes.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Theologies of Retrieval

In July 2017 I attended a fascinating conference at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, where I gave a paper on the ecumenical uses of forgetting, a topic I have been thinking about for the past three years or so, not least in connection with books by David Rieff, Bradford Vivian, and others, some of them discussed here.

While at the conference, Darren Sarisky noted that a hardback edition of his collection had just been published. Now, this week, we have a more affordable paperback edition of Theologies of Retrieval: An Exploration and Appraisal (T&T Clark, 2019), 268pp.

About this book we are told the following:
One of the most significant trends in academic theology today, which emerges within Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox points of view, is the growing interest in theologies of retrieval. This mode of thinking puts a special stress upon subjecting classic theological texts to a close reading, with a view toward using the resources that they provide to understand and address contemporary theological issues.
This volume offers an understanding of what theologies of retrieval are, what their rationale is, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The contributions provided by a distinguished team of theologians answer the important questions that existing work has raised, expand on suggestions that have not yet been fully developed, summarize ideas to highlight themes that are relevant to the topics of this volume, and air new critiques that will spur further debate.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

AngloArabia

If, like me, you have long wondered (i) how and why North American and British governments all maintain that the Saudis are our "closest ally" and no horrors--executing gays and journalists, denying women drivers' licenses, treating their Philippine domestics like dirt, and of course permitting no churches anywhere in their bogus kingdom--they brazenly and constantly commit in full view of the world can dislodge them from such exalted status and (ii) why this status persists when the US, Canada, and the UK are virtually energy-independent and no longer reliant on Middle Eastern oil in any significant degree, then Tom Stevenson's essay in the 9 May 2019 issue of the London Review of Books makes for fascinating reading. It is a review essay discussing David Wearing's new book AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain (Polity, 2018), 275pp.

Stevenson begins by showing that the policy of the UK and later the US since the interwar period has been to maintain such a close relationship as a means of controlling much of the rest of the world that is dependent on Saudi and more broadly Middle Eastern oil--China, Japan, and the rest of Asia above all, but also parts of Europe.

Stevenson quote Gordon Merriam of the US State Department in 1945 who plainly admitted that Saudi oilfields were above all a "stupendous source of strategic power," which power the UK and US have exploited to their advantage against the aforementioned others. But there's more.

There is, Stevenson reports, the military codependency which exists between the Saudis (and others) and the US and UK. In fact, many current heads of state in the region (Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar) are graduates of Sandhurst, which is of course the leading English military academy. And all of them buy billions of arms from the US and UK, and never more so than in the last two years. So the Saudis are armed by the West, allowing them to kill over 75,000 people in Yemen. And the UK and US both maintain massive military presence in the region, on land and at sea, all of this reinforcing to the rest of the world that if you want the region's oil you will only get it if this superpower and her mistress ("special relationship" indeed!) let you.

There is also the monetary codependency, and here is where things get really interesting if you believe, as I do thanks to Benjamin Fong's insights (some of them discussed here), that advanced capitalism is not only not a "secular" system of exchange, but a religious cult of far-reaching and almost exclusive psychic control dependent on total and blind faith not in gods but in commodities. Stevenson notes that "around a fifth" of UK current account debts are underwritten by Saudi Arabia.

But for both the US and UK, it is oil that is the new talisman, the new idol, the new gold standard. In 1974, Stevenson reports, when the US abandoned the gold standard, its Treasury secretary was on a secret flight the next day to Saudi Arabia "to secure an agreement that remains to this day the foundation of the dollar's global dominance" (a point documented in David Spiro's 1999 book The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony).

That agreement, Stevenson says, guaranteed Saudi and Gulf security (including against their own people, whose periodic attempts at rebellion are put down by police and military forces trained by the British and using British equipment, and often in the presence of British military attachés) provided that the region's oil sales were used to prop up the dollar. As a result, "a de facto oil standard replaced gold."

Well do I remember the American evangelical picketers outside our worship tent in Canberra in 1991 at the seventh general assembly of the World Council of Churches, denouncing us for "syncretism" and proclaiming the imminent arrival of "one world religion" to do the devil's bidding. But the WCC could not pull that off in 1991, for the US-UK-SA alliance, and through them the rest of the globe, had already shown that being Muslim, as Saudi Arabia is, or Christian as the UK and US try to claim, always inexorably gives way to the one true religion of us all: oil.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Florentine Fate of the Epiclesis

Given the sheer volume of books emerging today, it is hard to maintain excitement for a lot of them, but there are some coming along to which I am greatly looking forward as much for the topic as for the author, and one such book, set for October release, is The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019), 380pp., by Christiaan Kappes, whom I previously interviewed about his groundbreaking and revealing work on the Immaculate Conception. I've been on panels with him, and read some of his other articles, and both he and them are always dynamite, so we have every reason to look forward with delight to this new book.

The council of Ferrara-Florence has not occasioned a lot of recent scholarship, which is curious if it is indeed the last "council of union" between East and West. Cambridge University Press, back in 2011, sent me a republished copy of Joseph Gill's 1959 study, but apart from that I have not seen a lot. So this book will be welcome for more than one reason.

Before reading the publisher's blurb, listen to what one widely respected scholar, no stranger to this blog, says about this forthcoming book:

“In this book Christiaan Kappes lays before the reader the genesis of an important, albeit often neglected, ecumenical stumbling block. Although the filioque, papacy, and azymes are traditionally considered the three great causes of the Catholic-Orthodox split, for many today the epiclesis debate remains a significant unresolved issue dividing the two churches. By detailing the theology, setting, and personalities of the first stage of that debate, along with the translation of relevant texts, Kappes has indeed provided an invaluable service to all liturgists, ecumenists, and interested historians of dogma.” --A. Edward Siecienski, Clement and Helen Pappas Endowed Professor of Byzantine Civilization and Religion, Stockton University.

And from the publisher we learn this:
The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence is the first in-depth investigation into both the Greek and the Latin sides of the debate about the moment of eucharistic transubstantiation at the Council of Florence. Christiaan Kappes examines the life and times of the central figures of the debate, Mark Eugenicus and John Torquemada, and assesses their doctrinal authority. Kappes presents a patristic and Scholastic analysis of Torquemada’s Florentine writings, revealing heretofore-unknown features of the debate and the full background to its treatises. The most important feature of the investigation involves Eugenicus. Kappes investigates his theological method and sources for the first time to give an accurate appraisal of the strength of Mark’s theological positions in the context of his own time and contemporary methods. The investigation into both traditions allows for an informed evaluation of more recent developments in the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in light of these historical sources. Kappes provides a historically contextual and contemporary proposal for solutions to the former impasse in light of the principles rediscovered within Eugenicus’s works. This monograph speaks to contemporary theological debates surrounding transubstantiation and related theological matters, and provides a historical framework to understand these debates. The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence will interest specialists in theology, especially those with a background in and familiarity with the council and related historical themes, and is essential for any ecumenical library.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...