"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).


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dorothy Day and the Church of Our Time (I)

Is it a violation of the supposed spirit of Lenten humility to draw attention to one's latest publication? Regardless, here it is: a volume I co-edited along with my colleague and friend Lance Richey, based on the conference held last May here at the University of Saint Francis on the life and work of Dorothy Day: Dorothy Day and the Church: Past, Present, and Future (Solidarity Hall Press, 2016), 434pp.

Lance and I, along with many others, helped to organize a fantastic group of speakers from France, Canada, and across these United States. We were happy that most of them agreed to publish their papers after the conference. 

This is a rich collection, and the size of it makes the price very affordable indeed. I will have more to say about the contents in the days ahead, but let me here note what a pleasure it was to work with Solidarity Hall Press, a relatively young publisher with a fantastic crew, especially its publisher Elias Crim; and then with the book designer, Paul Bowman of New York, who did a lovely job on cover, art, and layout. Solidarity Hall has already published one book of significance, and their unique model positions them very well indeed for further publishing and other ventures.

Here is the standard blurb about the book, with more details to follow:
From the introduction by Lance Richey: “The University of Saint Francis and Our Sunday Visitor sponsored the conference ‘Dorothy Day and the Church: Past, Present and Future’ in Fort Wayne on May 13–15, 2015. In planning it, we kept in mind (not without some trepidation) Dorothy’s own complaint on academic conferences in her April 1966 On Pilgrimage column: ‘That is the trouble with such conferences. There are too many workshops, too many meetings, so many speakers, making the sessions too long.’ The enthusiastic response we received to our announcement threatened to make her warning only too prescient. More than 120 attendees, scholars and workers, gathered together to celebrate both her remarkable life and enduring legacy for the Church. This volume gathers together most of the papers and homilies given at this conference, offering a breadth and depth of material which will benefit both casual and scholarly readers, and both students and practitioners of her experiment in gospel living.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Church of Smyrna

On my bedside table for bedtime reading is a book I have started but not yet finished: Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City. It is a fascinating if deeply depressing book documenting the destruction not only in the post-war period but also as the Greco-Turkish wars wound down and the Ottoman Empire gave way to the rise of modern Turkey.

Along comes a more recent book to look at Smyrna, but in the ancient period: The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community (Peter Lang, 2015), 402pp.

Part of Lang's Patrologia series, this book, the publisher tells us,
deals with the theology of the Church of Smyrna from its foundation up to the Council of Nicaea in 325. The author provides a critical historical evaluation of the documentary sources and certain aspects particularly deserving of discussion. He makes a meticulous study of the history of the city, its gods and institutions, the set-up of the Jewish and Christian communities and the response of the latter to the imperial cult. Finally, he undertakes a detailed analysis both of the reception of the Hebrew Scriptures and the apostolic traditions, as well as examining the gradual historical process of the shaping of orthodoxy and the identity of the community in the light of the organisation of its ecclesial ministries, its sacramental life and the cult of its martyrs.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Lost World of Byzantium

Interest in all things Byzantine remains as high as ever, as I have noted on here many times.

A book published late last year continues this trend and deepens our knowledge: Jonathan Harris, The Lost World of Byzantium (Yale UP, 2015), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
For more than a millennium, the Byzantine Empire presided over the juncture between East and West, as well as the transition from the classical to the modern world. Jonathan Harris, a leading scholar of Byzantium, eschews the usual run-through of emperors and battles and instead recounts the empire’s extraordinary history by focusing each chronological chapter on an archetypal figure, family, place, or event.

Harris’s action-packed introduction presents a civilization rich in contrasts, combining orthodox Christianity with paganism, and classical Greek learning with Roman power. Frequently assailed by numerous armies—including those of Islam—Byzantium nonetheless survived and even flourished by dint of its somewhat unorthodox foreign policy and its sumptuous art and architecture, which helped to embed a deep sense of Byzantine identity in its people.

Enormously engaging and utilizing a wealth of sources to cover all major aspects of the empire’s social, political, military, religious, cultural, and artistic history, Harris’s study illuminates the very heart of Byzantine civilization and explores its remarkable and lasting influence on its neighbors and on the modern world.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Fast Approaches

Great Lent in the West is very early this year, beginning tonight for Byzantine Christians on the new calendar--about as early as it can be--and in the East, or at least those parts of it using the Julian paschalion, it is very late, about as late as it can be.

I refer you here to my attempt to think through some of the questions that arise when one discusses fasting. 

My exasperation, and my hope, about solving the calendar question is fully on display here.

Regardless of which calendar you are on, I direct you here to some suggested books for Lent.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Mind of Christ and a Psychoanalytic Mind (I)

Continuing with some further thoughts on Christianity and psychoanalysis (see here and here for recent thoughts; and here and here for earlier reflections), let us pause to ask ourselves: What does it mean when St. Paul says that Christians should "put on the mind of Christ?" if one's mind is not functioning or flourishing as well as it could? Does one simply muddle along and hope that "divine grace, which heals infirmities and replenishes that which is lacking" (as the Byzantine prayer of ordination begins) will do so? Or does one seek out human help? And if so, from whom, and to what end? Should it be mere alleviation of symptoms, or eradication of the presenting issue? Or does there need to be a more far-reaching and "structural" transformation so that one may indeed fully "let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus"?

For some Christians, the prospect of broad or far-reaching psychic change raises so many and such fearful questions and concerns that it remains a step untaken, which is a pity. But for those who--while acknowledging that modern psychology may have a different anthropology or moral philosophy than Christianity does--nonetheless can see their way towards benefiting from what is good in modern psychology, then they open themselves up to a lot of potential healing, which can only be regarded as a God-given gift.

Modern psychology has of course developed greatly since Freud's death in London in 1939, with new schools and "techniques" developing since the 1950s, leading many people, from the 1960s until quite recently, ready to proclaim the death of psychoanalysis. But I find it fascinating how there seems to be increasing evidence of the efficacy of psychoanalysis over more modern forms of therapy, as noted in this fascinating article. As the author notes--rightly, in my view--the chief advantage and long-term benefit of psychoanalysis is that it "may restructure the personality in a lasting way, rather than simply helping people manage their moods."

That notion of a re-structured mind comes out in a very interesting book written by the analyst Fred Busch, Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind: A psychoanalytic method and theory (Routledge, 2013). Busch writes in a low-key manner with a refreshing lack of ideological rigidity, jargon, or hubris. He intercalates passages from well-known literary works with short case-studies from his own practice to illustrate what he means. This is a rewarding book that pays re-reading. As the publisher tells us about it:
Bringing a fresh contemporary Freudian view to a number of current issues in psychoanalysis, this book is about a psychoanalytic method that has been evolved by Fred Busch over the past 40 years called Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind. It is based on the essential curative process basic to most psychoanalytic theories - the need for a shift in the patient's relationship with their own mind. Busch shows that with the development of a psychoanalytic mind the patient can acquire the capacity to shift the inevitability of action to the possibility of reflection.
Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind is derived from an increasing clarification of how the mind works that has led to certain paradigm changes in the psychoanalytic method. While the methods of understanding the human condition have evolved since Freud, the means of bringing this understanding to patients in a way that is meaningful have not always followed. Throughout, Fred Busch illustrates that while the analyst's expertise is crucial to the process, the analyst's stance, rather than mainly being an expert in the content of the patient's mind, is primarily one of helping the patient to find his own mind.
Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind will appeal to psychoanalysts and psychotherapists interested in learning a theory and technique where psychoanalytic meaning and meaningfulness are integrated. It will enable professionals to work differently and more successfully with their patients.
In later installments, I hope to give further thoughts on two other books I'm making my way through now: Donald Spence's fascinating if controverted Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis,which, I think, has potential for Christians struggling to think through our collective ecclesial memories of the past, especially traumatic memories (e.g., Greek Christians and the Fourth Crusade).

The other book is a new collection I have started: Earl D. Bland and Brad D. Strawn, eds., Christianity & Psychoanalysis: A New Conversation (IVP Academic, 2014). I shall have more to say about it anon.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Church in the Making

In the year when at long last Orthodoxy is set to hold its much-anticipated 'great and holy synod,' discussions of conciliarity, synodality, and ecclesiology are very much in the air as I have noted on here and elsewhere.

Those who have read widely in contemporary ecclesiology will be long familiar with the on-going struggle to think through the implications of such pious nostrums as "the Church is an icon of the Trinity," a notion to which many give lip-service but do not always consider in any serious detail. One such book does, as I noted on here several years ago, is Radu Bordeianu's splendid study, Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology. I interviewed him here about the book.

Another book has just been released that also takes up obvious Trinitarian themes in ecclesiology: Nikolaos Loudovikos, Church in the Making: An Apophatic Ecclesiology of Consubtantiality (SVS Press, 2015), 296pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Over the past fifty years, Orthodox theologies of ecclesiology have been revoling around competing schools of ecclesiology one universal, the other eucharistic. Father Loudovikos, in this masterful interconnected series of studies, moves beyond this dialectic by exploring the very mode of the Church s existence.
In the end, it is the profound theological insights of St Maximus the Confessor that propel Father Loudovikos beyond the familiar borders of ecclesiology and into a new way of understanding the Church s self that is indissolubly linked to the human person and his participation in the divine Love that is God.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Byzantine and Islamic North Africa

We live, happily, in a boom time for scholars concerned with early Christian-Muslim interactions and relations. I have documented many of these recent books on here over the years, and there are many more set for release this year, as we shall presently see, including this collection in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia series from Harvard University Press: Susan T. Stevens and Jonathan Conant, eds., North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam (2016, 328pp.).

About this book we are told:
The profound economic and strategic significance of the province of “Africa” made the Maghreb highly contested in the Byzantine period—by the Roman (Byzantine) empire, Berber kingdoms, and eventually also Muslim Arabs—as each group sought to gain, control, and exploit the region to its own advantage. Scholars have typically taken the failure of the Byzantine endeavor in Africa as a foregone conclusion. North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam reassesses this pessimistic vision both by examining those elements of Romano-African identity that provided continuity in a period of remarkable transition, and by seeking to understand the transformations in African society in the context of the larger post-Roman Mediterranean. Chapters in this book address topics including the legacy of Vandal rule in Africa, historiography and literature, art and architectural history, the archaeology of cities and their rural hinterlands, the economy, the family, theology, the cult of saints, Berbers, and the Islamic conquest, in an effort to consider the ways in which the imperial legacy was re-interpreted, re-imagined, and put to new uses in Byzantine and early Islamic Africa.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity (III): the Fifth Century's Cautions and Caveats

In two previous installments discussing The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity, edited by Geoffrey Dunn of the Australian Catholic University, we noted some of the historiographical challenges such a book as this both poses and must also itself wrestle with; and then we discussed very briefly some of the fascinating insights of the fourth century, especially those pertaining to Pope Siricius, in whose letters (decretals) scholars increasingly detect the move from being merely bishop of Rome to a more universal primate or pope in a Petrine vein.

Now, let us turn our attention to the fifth century. The editor leads off this section with his chapter, "Innocent I and the First Synod of Toledo." Once again the interactions between the Spanish church and Roman bishop come in for close examination.

But quite apart from the particular conclusions Dunn reaches, I want to underscore the important hermeneutical and historiographical challenges this chapter itself gives witness to by its drawing of different conclusions after examining the same evidence as the two authors in the immediately previous section treating Roman-Spanish interactions, especially in Siricius's letters. Those earlier authors, discussed in my second part of this review essay, found evidence of a universalizing tendency and the beginnings of some kind of papal primacy extending beyond the Latin Church, or at the very least beyond Western Europe; but Dunn looks at the evidence and says that the interactions show a certain pre-eminence is being claimed by the Roman bishops, but only in juridical-appellate terms--not, that is, in either legislative or executive terms.

In this regard, Dunn's conclusions echo--as he very briefly acknowledges--what seems to have been the view of the council or synod of Serdica (Sardica) (modern Sofia in Bulgaria) in 343, which argued in favor--it would seem--of Rome functioning as a court of appeal that would not make the final decisions, but hear regional appeals, and then find other regional actors to re-try a case or to consider an appeal at the regional level.

Serdica has recently come in for renewed scholarly attention, not least in Hamilton Hess's The Early Development of Canon Law and the Council of Serdica and in Christopher Stephens's volume, Canon Law and Episcopal Authority: The Canons of Antioch and Serdica.

I think the enormously important and valuable lesson to draw from Dunn's chapter, and the other two chapters, as well as from the rest of The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity (to be discussed in future parts), must be this: one must approach history with great humility and caution, aware that trying to draw definitive and binding conclusions admitting of no difference on the basis of conflicting, ambiguous, and incomplete briefs is a dangerous and likely foolish thing to do. History can be instructive but not normative, as Taft famously said.

Dunn and the two preceding authors, all looking at the same evidence, draw conclusions that differ in some important respects. All three, in my judgment, have made perfectly plausible cases, with judicious reasoning and careful display of the evidence, for why they have interpreted matters as they have. In doing so, they have reminded us once again why an appeal to the past will not solve the problems of the present. Catholic apologists fondly imagining the first millennium gives copious and unambiguous evidence of a Vatican I-like primacy will be discombobulated by this as much as Orthodox polemicists dismissing the very concept of Roman primacy as a perfidious power-grab by the Latins.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Primacy in the Church (I)

I was greatly delighted, almost exactly a year ago, to get a call from John Chryssavgis, archdeacon to the Ecumenical Throne and a well published scholar in his own right, asking me to be part of this two-volume collection he was editing on the theme of primacy in the Church. I was flattered to be sharing the page with such august company as the metropolitans of Pergamon and Diokleia, scholars such as Brian Daley and Christiaan Kappes, and my friend Nick Denysenko, inter alia.

The first volume has just come out from St. Vladimir's Seminary PressPrimacy in the Church: The Office of Primate and the Authority of Councils (Volume 1). The details are below.

A second volume will follow, and that volume will include my own essay--an update, as it were, on Dvornik's Byzantium and the Roman Primacy that looks in part at the fate of the principles of accommodation and apostolicity in the twenty-first century.

But for now, look at the riches in the first volume. Both volumes will be absolute must-haves for any library, public or private, that is serious about its collections in ecclesiology, Orthodoxy, and ecumenism.

The publisher tells us the following about volume I:
PRIMACY IN THE CHURCH is a careful and critical selection of historical and theological essays, canonical and liturgical articles, as well as contemporary and contextual reflections on what is arguably the most significant and sensitive issue in both inter-Orthodox debate and inter-Christian dialogue—namely, the authority of the primate and the role of councils in the thought and tradition of the Church.
Volume One examines the development and application of a theology of primacy and synodality through the centuries. Volume Two explores how such a theology can inform contemporary ecclesiology and reconcile current practices. Chryssavgis draws together original contributions from prominent scholars today, complemented by formative selections from theologians in the recent past, as well as relevant ecumenical documents.
The publisher also gives us the contents of the first volume:

Foreword, Metropolitan Kallistos [Ware] of Diokleia

Introduction, John Chryssavgis

The Meaning and Exercise of “Primacies of Honor” in the Early Church, Brian E. Daley,SJ

The Apostolic Tradition: Historical and Theological Principles, John Chryssavgis

St Irenaeus of Lyons and the Church of Rome, John Behr

Primacy, Collegiality, and the People of God, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia

Mark of Ephesus, the Council of Florence, and the Roman Papacy, Christiaan Kappes

The Ethical Reality of Councils: An Anglican Perspective, Paul Valliere

Primacy and the Holy Trinity: Ecclesiology and Theology in Dialogue, John Panteleimon Manoussakis

A Liturgical Theology of Primacy in Orthodoxy, Nicholas Denysenko

Primacy and Eucharist: Recent Catholic Perspectives, Paul McPartlan

Primacy in Orthodox Theology: Past and Present, Metropolitan Maximos [Vgenopoulos] of Selyvria

Primacy in the Thought of John [Zizioulas], Metropolitan of Pergamon, Aristotle Papanikolaou

Primacy in the Thought of Stylianos [Harkianakis],Archbishop of Australia, Philip Kariatlis

Primacy, Ecclesiology, and Nationalism, Metropolitan John [Zizioulas] of Pergamon

Primacy and Synodality: An Essay Review of Contemporary Theological Literature, Nikolaos Asproulis

The Petrine Office: An Orthodox Commentary, Paul Evdokimov

The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology, Alexander Schmemann

The Primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate: Developments since the Nineteenth Century,
Metropolitan Maximos [Christopoulos] of Sardis

The Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Twentieth Century, John Meyendorff

Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity, and Authority:The Ravenna Document

Position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the Problem of Primacy in the Universal Church.


The volume has also attracted some high-octane praise:

"This is an important two-volume work on the issue of primacy in the Church. The subject is significant, and has attracted attention resulting in the publication of numerous studies produced in many countries and in different languages. The relevant bibliography is enormous. The present work constitutes a selection of articles and short studies, and offers a very helpful picture of the various aspects, questions, and problems related to the central topic.

The contributors to the two volumes are well-known theologians who have dealt with the issue extensively. The editor and contributor of four articles, Fr John Chryssavgis, is to be commended and congratulated because he managed—cooperating with St Vladimir’s Seminary Press—to place at the disposal of Church authorities and theologians a valuable resource on a crucial issue."

~His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

"The theology of the Church has in the last few decades become once again an area of real interest and creativity, as our attention has been drawn back to the role of the sacramental Body of Christ in our human liberation into divine communion. Yet when it comes to the details of inter-confessional dialogue, the temptation is still strong to revert to familiar and comfortable positions, with—among other things—an assumption that historic polarizations over primacy and collegiality are fixed and given quantities. These excellent essays insist on going deeper. They do not pretend to resolve the issues that still divide Christians, issues over the charism of the Petrine office or the limits of sacramental fellowship or the authority of the episcopate; instead, they represent a clear and searching exploration of fundamental matters starting from first principles. We need more reflection of this quality. This book will be a major resource for all who believe that the ecumenical encounter is still a powerfully energizing context for theological thought."

~Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College (Cambridge University) and former Archbishop of Canterbury

"I have eagerly looked forward to such a publication on primacy and synodality in the Church, which is the central issue between the Eastern and Western Church. These two volumes include research from a broad range of leading theologians, predominantly Orthodox and Catholic, on the present state of such discussions. I have long been convinced that there can be reconciliation between East and West if the question of primacy is properly redefined and resolved, primarily on the Roman side: on the one hand, not solely as an authoritarian primacy of jurisdiction and, on the other hand, not simply as an ineffective primacy of honor, but primarily as an inspirational and mediatory pastoral primacy at the service of the whole contemporary ecumenical Church. In the recent past, John XXIII exemplified such a primacy; and today, the same could be expected of Pope Francis. His fraternal encounters with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew are a promising step forward in addressing these vital issues."

~Hans Küng, Professor Emeritus of Ecumenical Theology at the University of Tübingen

The Crusades and Art

Those of us who listen to the rhetoric emanating out of ISIS will have heard their ritualistic invocation of "the Crusaders" and been amazed at the fatuous anachronism involved in using that epithet to describe modern Western nation-states, including the United Kingdom and United States whose motives--whatever they are--have nothing to do with advancing Christianity at the expense of Islam. Anyone--Muslim or especially Christian--who thinks that is simply delusional.

Perhaps more than any other phenomenon in Western history, the Crusades are, as I have often noted on here over the years, the most consistently, tendentiously, and deliberately distorted and misunderstood of all controversial struggles. Books continue to examine the Crusades from many angles. A new book does likewise, moving into a relatively understudied area: art history and the Crusades: Elizabeth Lapina et al, eds., The Crusades and Visual Culture (Ashgate, 2016), 288pp.

About this scholarly collection, we are told:
The crusades, whether realized or merely planned, had a profound impact on medieval and early modern societies. Numerous scholars in the fields of history and literature have explored the influence of crusading ideas, values, aspirations and anxieties in both the Latin States and Europe. However, there have been few studies dedicated to investigating how the crusading movement influenced and was reflected in medieval visual cultures. Written by scholars from around the world working in the domains of art history and history, the essays in this volume examine the ways in which ideas of crusading were realized in a broad variety of media (including manuscripts, cartography, sculpture, mural paintings, and metalwork). Arguing implicitly for recognition of the conceptual frameworks of crusades that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries, the volume explores the pervasive influence and diverse expression of the crusading movement from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries.
The publisher also gives us the table of contents:

Introduction, Elizabeth Lapina, April Jehan Morris, Susanna A. Throop, and Laura J. Whatley; The Frankish icon: art and devotion in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Lisa Mahoney; The role and meanings of the image of St. Peter in the crusader sculpture of Nazareth: a new reading, Gil Fishhof; The vision of the cross and the Crusades in England before 1189, John Munns; A constellation of Crusade: the Resafa heraldry cup and the aspirations of Raoul I, Lord of Coucy, Richard A. Leson; Pictorial and sculptural commemoration of returning or departing crusaders, Nurith Kenaan-Kedar; ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem…’: King Phillip the Fair, Saint George, and Crusade, Esther Dehoux; The Crusaders’ Holy Land in maps, P.D.A. Harvey; The Crusader loss of Jerusalem in the eyes of a 13th-century virtual pilgrim, Cathleen A. Fleck; Looking back: the Westminster Psalter, the added drawings, and the idea of ‘retrospective Crusade’, Debra Higgs Strickland; The visual vernacular: illustrating Jean de Vignay’s ‘Crusade’ translations, Maureen Quigley; Crusading responses to the Turkish threat in visual culture, 1453-1519, Norman Housley; Reframing the Crusade in the Piccolomini Library: Pinturicchio’s ‘standing Turk’ in Siena Cathedral, 1502-1508, Nora S. Lambert; Select bibliography of secondary literature, Index.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Before and after Mohammad

The more we read about the origins of Islam, the less we can say we know with adamantine certainty. The historiographical issues surrounding its origins have been well known to scholars for some time and include things like the late dating of many texts, the fact that the earliest records are either unavailable or else notoriously unreliable because of their tendentious and triumphalist agendas, and the unwillingness to admit just how much Islam borrowed from surrounding cultures. A recent publication continues to help us understand this process of borrowing: Garth Fowden, Before and After Muhammad: The First Millennium Refocused (Princeton UP, 2015), 248pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

Islam emerged amid flourishing Christian and Jewish cultures, yet students of Antiquity and the Middle Ages mostly ignore it. Despite intensive study of late Antiquity over the last fifty years, even generous definitions of this period have reached only the eighth century, whereas Islam did not mature sufficiently to compare with Christianity or rabbinic Judaism until the tenth century. Before and After Muhammad suggests a new way of thinking about the historical relationship between the scriptural monotheisms, integrating Islam into European and West Asian history.
Garth Fowden identifies the whole of the First Millennium--from Augustus and Christ to the formation of a recognizably Islamic worldview by the time of the philosopher Avicenna--as the proper chronological unit of analysis for understanding the emergence and maturation of the three monotheistic faiths across Eurasia. Fowden proposes not just a chronological expansion of late Antiquity but also an eastward shift in the geographical frame to embrace Iran.

In Before and After Muhammad, Fowden looks at Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alongside other important developments in Greek philosophy and Roman law, to reveal how the First Millennium was bound together by diverse exegetical traditions that nurtured communities and often stimulated each other.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If I Light Origen on Fire, What Happens to His Spirit?

As I have shown on here many times over the years, interest in Origen of Alexandra has remained very high, perhaps higher than any other Alexandrian father certainly, and many other patristic figures besides. Late this year, a collection first published nearly eight decades ago will be released in a newly re-translated edition with an updated scholarly apparatus: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Robert J. Daly, ed., Spirit and Fire: A Thematic Anthology of The Writings of Origen (T&T Clark, 2016),464pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Originally published in German in 1938, this highly acclaimed volume presents more than one thousand selections from the various extant writings of Origen, the great Alexandrian theologian. Robert J. Daly, S.J., has re-translated the majority of these texts from the original Greek and Latin, added the scriptural references in the translated texts and an index, and included updated bibliographical information.
This volume comprises thoughts of one of the greatest of ancient theologians as seen through the eyes of an almost equally prolific successor in the same central Christian enterprise. The book remains a great resource for anyone interested in patristic theology, early Christian mysticism, and early interpretation of Scripture. This Cornerstones edition has a new introduction written by Robert J. Daly, S.J.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Christianity in Korea

Though little known today, there is evidence that Eastern Christians once made it as far as the Korean peninsula in the first millennium before largely disappearing across far Eastern and Central Asia as the Assyrian Church of the East (inter alia), once a vastly sprawling body all down the Silk Road, was gradually rolled up and its communities lost thanks to Tamerlane and others.

A recent study looks at Christianity in Korea today, and acknowledges the considerable role played by Eastern Orthodox Christians there in the modern period: Sebastian C.H. Kim and Kristeen Kim, A History of Korean Christianity (Cambridge UP), 373pp.

About this book we are told:
With a third of South Koreans now identifying themselves as Christian, Christian churches play an increasingly prominent role in the social and political events of the Korean peninsula. Sebastian Kim and Kirsteen Kim's comprehensive and timely history of different Christian denominations in Korea includes surveys of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions as well as new church movements. They examine the Korean Christian diaspora and missionary movements from South Korea and also give cutting-edge insights into North Korea. This book, the first recent one-volume history and analysis of Korean Christianity in English, highlights the challenges faced by the Christian churches in view of Korea's distinctive and multireligious cultural heritage, South Korea's rapid rise in global economic power and the precarious state of North Korea, which threatens global peace. This History will be an important resource for all students of world Christianity, Korean studies and mission studies.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Russian-Engineered Conflict in Ukraine

As we enter further into 2016, we enter into the third year of sustained violence against Ukraine on the part of Russia. It is easy to lose sight of this conflict with ISIS and Syria eating up so much headline space. A recent book helps us to understand not just what has happened, but why: Serhy Yekelchyk, The Conflict in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford UP, 2015), 208pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
When guns began firing again in Europe, why was it Ukraine that became the battlefield? Conventional wisdom dictates that Ukraine's current crisis can be traced to the linguistic differences and divided political loyalties that have long fractured the country. However this theory only obscures the true significance of Ukraine's recent civic revolution and the conflict's crucial international dimension. The 2013-14 Ukrainian revolution presented authoritarian powers in Russia with both a democratic and a geopolitical challenge. President Vladimir Putin reacted aggressively by annexing the Crimea and sponsoring the war in eastern Ukraine; and Russia's actions subsequently prompted Western sanctions and growing international tensions reminiscent of the Cold War. Though the media portrays the situation as an ethnic conflict, an internal Ukrainian affair, it is in reality reflective of a global discord, stemming from differing views on state power, civil society, and democracy.
The Crisis in Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know explores Ukraine's contemporary conflict and complicated history of ethnic identity, and it does do so by weaving questions of the country's fraught relations with its former imperial master, Russia, throughout the narrative. In denying Ukraine's existence as a separate nation, Putin has adopted a stance similar to that of the last Russian tsars, who banned the Ukrainian language in print and on stage. Ukraine emerged as a nation-state as a result of the imperial collapse in 1917, but it was subsequently absorbed into the USSR. When the former Soviet republics became independent states in 1991, the Ukrainian authorities sought to assert their country's national distinctiveness, but they failed to reform the economy or eradicate corruption. As Serhy Yekelchyk explains, for the last 150 years recognition of Ukraine as a separate nation has been a litmus test of Russian democracy, and the Russian threat to Ukraine will remain in place for as long as the Putinist regime is in power. In this concise and penetrating book, Yekelchyk describes the current crisis in Ukraine, the country's ethnic composition, and the Ukrainian national identity. He takes readers through the history of Ukraine's emergence as a sovereign nation, the after-effects of communism, the Orange Revolution, the EuroMaidan, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the war in the Donbas, and the West's attempts at peace making. The Crisis in Ukraine is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the forces that have shaped contemporary politics in this increasingly important part of Europe.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Councils of the Orthodox Churches

Some publishers have the luck of timing on their sides. In this year leading up (one hopes!) to the much-promised and much-delayed "great and holy synod" of Orthodoxy, we will see published in April a hefty edited collection, part of the Corpus Christianorum Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Generaliumque Decreta (CCCOGD 4) series from Brepols Press: Alberto Melloni, ed.,The Councils of the Orthodox Churches in the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Era (approx. 900 pp.).

About this volume the publisher tells us:
This volume comprises the critical edition – sometimes the very first critical edition – of the Councils of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, namely those sharing the professoin of faith defined in the first seven Ecumenical Councils (COGD 1). Among them one may find the Protodeutera (861), the Council of Constantinople of 879, the Tomos Unionis (920), the Local Synods of Constantinople against the Syro-Jacobites (1030) and against John Italos (1082), the Council on ‘My Father is greater than me’ (1166), on the Filioque (1285) and on Palamas (1341-1351), the Synod of 1484, annulling the so-called union of Florence (COGD 2), the Synods about Lucaris, the Panorthodox Synods of Jerusalem (1672) and Constantinople (1872), the Local Synods of Constantinople (1691 and 1755), and additional materials, like the Patriarchal decision of annullment of the Excommunications between Rome and Constantinople (paralleled in COGD 3).

It also includes the first publication of five synodika of Orthodoxy: Georgian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Russian and the Greek synodikon with a new edition of the oldest surviving version of the latter (eleventh century), which was the basis for the subsequent translations. Moreover the volume will represent the Conciliar tradition of the Patriarchate of Moscow and of all Russias, including the Stoglav (1551), and the Councils of Moscow of 1666/7 and 1917/8 and more recent Councils of the 21st Century.
Among the editors of the critical editions Hilarion Alfeeev (Moscow), Frederick Lauritzen (Venice), Bernadette Martin Hisard (Paris-Rome), Giovanni Guaita (Moscow), Vassa Kontouma (Paris), Kirill Maksimovič (Moscow), Riccardo Saccenti (Bologna), Michel Stavrou (Paris), Tatijana Subotin Golubović (Belgrade), Anna Maria Totomanova (Sofia). The editorial staff includes Frederick Lauritzen, Georghios Vlantis, Cyril Hovorun, Davide Dainese.

Melloni is no stranger to editing such collections of this. I have on my shelf his invaluable 2005 collection which he co-edited with Silvia Scatena, Synod and Synodality: Theology, History, Canon Law and Ecumenism in New Contact.

That collection was very useful when I was giving no little thought to the questions of synodality and patriarchal structures in the life of the Church, East and West, in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Christian and Muslim Conversions in Late Antiquity

One of the unanswered, and unanswerable, questions in early Christian-Muslim encounters is how many people abandoned Christianity when it was politically or economically feasible for them to do so in order to hitch a ride with a newly ascendant Islam. In many places, such people simply dropped out of sight, and nothing like a mass census of them has ever been possible. At the same time, while conversion out of Islam to something else is officially a capital offense in Islamic law, that does not mean it never happened--though here, too, such conversions were often hidden for obvious reason. This whole process of conversion--how it happened, how many converts there were, and what their motives were--is a complex business indeed.

A volume released last year from Ashgate sheds light on the process of what it means to "convert" to or from Christianity, Islam, and other traditions: Arietta Papaconstantinou, ed., with Neil Mclynn and Daniel Schwartz, Conversion in Late Antiquity: Christianity, Islam, and Beyond (Ashgate, 2015), 396pp.

About this book we are told:
The papers in this volume were presented at a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar held at the University of Oxford in 2009-2010, which sought to investigate side by side the two important movements of conversion that frame late antiquity: to Christianity at its start, and to Islam at the other end. Challenging the opposition between the two stereotypes of Islamic conversion as an intrinsically violent process, and Christian conversion as a fundamentally spiritual one, the papers seek to isolate the behaviours and circumstances that made conversion both such a common and such a contested phenomenon. The spread of Buddhism in Asia in broadly the same period serves as an external comparator that was not caught in the net of the Abrahamic religions. The volume is organised around several themes, reflecting the concerns of the initial project with the articulation between norm and practice, the role of authorities and institutions, and the social and individual fluidity on the ground. Debates, discussions, and the expression of norms and principles about conversion conversion are not rare in societies experiencing religious change, and the first section of the book examines some of the main issues brought up by surviving sources. This is followed by three sections examining different aspects of how those principles were - or were not - put into practice: how conversion was handled by the state, how it was continuously redefined by individual ambivalence and cultural fluidity, and how it was enshrined through different forms of institutionalization. Finally, a topographical coda examines the effects of religious change on the iconic holy city of Jerusalem.

A Coptic Biography

As an inveterate reader of biographies, as well as a scholar of Eastern Christianity with a special fondness for the Coptic Church, I am doubly looking forward to the release of this new study at the end of June: Youssef Boutros Ghali, A Coptic Narrative in Egypt: A Biography of the Boutros-Ghali Family (I.B. Tauris Press, 2016), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
A short walk from the glistening Nile nestled in a dusty Cairo street lies the Coptic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, known locally as the Boutrosiya. If one were to enter through one of the seven doors, walk down the columned central aisle past Venetian mosaics and silk curtains, they would find the tomb of Boutros Pasha Ghali. Resting on two steps of black marble, decorated with colourful crosses, are written his last words: 'God knows that I never did anything that harmed my country'. The first Copt to be awarded the title of Pasha, the career of Boutros Pasha Ghali inextricably linked his family's fate to that of Egypt. From early whispers of independence to the last Mubarak government and the United Nations, the Boutros-Ghali's have not only been a force in the political, cultural and religious life of Egypt, but internationally. This book traces the illustrious history of this family from 1864 to the present day. Through assassinations, wars and elections, it illuminates the events that have shaped Egyptian and Coptic life, revealing the family's crucial role in the creation of modern Egypt and what their legacy may mean for the future of their country.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity (II): the Fourth Century

When we were last met to discuss the very informative and important collection of essays recently published as The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity, I noted some of the historiographical problems which the editor, Geoffrey Dunn, treats in his introduction.

There he also notes that the book is designed to look at papal relations with: (i) his own church; (ii) other bishops; and (iii) civil authorities.

Today, let us cast a glance at some of the insights of the first section, devoted to the fourth century and consisting of three chapters.

In the first chapter, "The Pax Constantiniana and the Roman Episcopate," Glen Thompson reviews the data--which is conflicted in some cases--over the move from private worship in the pre-toleration period to more public worship and the concomitant construction of basilicas and other churches for such worship. Not surprisingly he notes that the rate of attendance and zeal for participation both decline after the legalization of Christianity. Additionally, he notes that while there is some evidence for monarchic episcopate in and for Rome in the fourth century, one should not assume that it was a highly developed, consolidated, centralized structure governing all Christian life in the city--that would assume far too many facts not in evidence.

In Marianne Saghy's "The Bishop of Rome and the Martyrs," we find documentation of the relationship that was forged, especially by Damasus, between Roman martyrs and Roman bishops. The most powerful example of this is of course the cult of devotion to Peter and Paul, who form the only church that could claim a dual apostolic foundation.

Though Saghy confines herself to the fourth century, it must be noted that in time, of course, the memory of this dual apostolic foundation would fade considerably in the Roman ecclesial imaginary--so much so that more than a quarter-century ago now, William R. Farmer and Roch Kereszty would publish an important aide-mémoirePeter and Paul in the Church of Rome: The Ecumenical Potential of a Forgotten Perspective.

Christian Hornung's chapter, "Siricius and the Rise of the Papacy" rounds out this first section of The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity. She makes a convincing case, by means of analyzing the decretals and letters of Siricius (384-98), that his marks the first papal episcopate, the first papacy insofar as he clearly sees his office as one with the power to legislate for the whole Church. Responding to a letter from a Spanish bishop, Siricius uses the occasion to assert that he is heir to St. Peter; that his response is not just a pastoral letter from a brother bishop but a legal text in the mode of Roman imperial legislation; and that his response is not confined merely to the one Spanish case, but is to be taken as having universal authority in the whole Church.

Siricius comes up again in the next chapter, Alberto Ferreiro's "Pope Siricius and Himerius of Tarragona (385): Provincial Papal Intervention in the Fourth Century." This chapter looks at the same decretal and papacy as Hornung's chapter did, but widens the context and introduces important additional considerations, not least by noting that Siricius's intervention in the Spanish case was part of a series of interventions outside of the Italian peninsula. Siricius had, before the Spanish case, already been intervening in the affairs of the North African church.

Next up: the fifth century.

To be continued. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Muslim-Christian Relations in Ottoman Palestine

I have noted many books over the years about Ottoman history, especially the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the empire. I have also noted the perduring problem of ethno-nationalism as it has afflicted, and still afflicts, not just Eastern Christian groups but Muslim ones as well.

A book set for release later this spring looks at all these questions: Erik Freas, Muslim-Christian Relations in Late-Ottoman Palestine: Where Nationalism and Religion Intersec (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 320pp.

About this book we are told by the publisher:
Numerous factors underlie the dynamic shaping of present-day Muslim-Christian Arab relations as well as the formulation of Arab national identity. In Muslim-Christian Relations in Late-Ottoman Palestine, Erik Freas argues that paramount among these were three developments that transpired in the late-Ottoman period, of which Palestine provides a microcosm. One is that non-Arabic speaking Christian communities began to define identity in nationalistic terms on the basis of faith. Also, with their transformation into politically equal Ottoman citizens, Christians were more intent on taking advantage of their new rights rather than fulfilling civil obligations. Finally, for most Muslim Arabs, the transition from identifying primarily as 'Muslim' to 'Arab' in terms of their broader communal affiliation often entailed little change in how they experienced communal identity in the day-to-day. Taken together, the analysis of these developments provides an in-depth examination of Muslim-Christian Arab relations in Palestine during the nineteenth century as well as the long-term implications of these changes on the manner of Arab national identity's formulation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Notes on Julia Kristeva, Psychoanalysis, Eastern Christianity, and Today's European Refugee Crisis

More than twenty years ago now when I was studying psychology and thinking of training as a psychoanalyst, I came across the name of Julia Kristeva, but never read much beyond a few sentences in some textbook or other purporting to describe briefly who she was and what she was on about.

More recently, however, I have had a chance to dive into her works more deeply as part of some on-going research I'm doing on the uses and abuses of memory in Catholic, Orthodox, and Islamic contexts and inter-relations. So consider this a brief note for those who may be interested in learning more about Kristeva.

Kristeva's book In the Beginning Was Love: Psychoanalysis and Faith shows some familiarity with the Christian East as Kristeva recounts part of her early adolescence in which she tried to see if she could will herself to faith, which she found strangely attractive after spending some time contemplating a Byzantine icon of the Mother of God. (Her interest in Byzantium, perhaps motivated by or connected to her birth in Bulgaria, has generated Murder in Byzantium: A Novel, which I have not read yet.) She describes herself as not successful in trying to have faith, but it didn't leave her bitter or hostile but instead genuinely open to learning what she can about both the particular teachings of Christianity, as well as to the whole phenomenon of faith.

The rest of In the Beginning Was Love is a rather anemic and staccato series of reflections on faith, including two chapters that move systematically through each line of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. She shows herself far more open to the idea of faith, and far less convinced that it simply fulfills some kind of infantile neurosis--a position usually attributed to Freud, though I would also note here that I found a copy of Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis and Faith, Dialogues with the Reverand Oskar Pfister in a wonderful used bookstore in Indianapolis over Christmas, and I have been very impressed with the correspondence, most of which is from Freud's side as many of Pfister's letters have been lost. Freud's tone is consistently extremely gracious and kind, and he here evidences a sincere openness to trying to see faith as something more than a wish fulfillment or neurosis. He is unfailingly polite and modest, and recognizes the hermeneutic limits of psychoanalysis when it comes to metaphysical and theological questions. In fact, I detect in this book something approximating an inchoate desire on the part of Freud to have faith as Pfister has it. (How much faith Pfister himself had remains open to debate. He seems nothing if not an early proponent of what the contemporary sociologist Christian Smith has memorably called moralistic therapeutic deism, which perhaps explain's Freud's attraction to him and subsequent friendship with him.)

Kristeva's other book, which I have just begun, will be of obvious interest to Eastern Christians and our perpetual problem of ethno-nationalism or phyletism: Nations Without Nationalism (Columbia University Press, 1993).

It is striking to me, reading this book in 2016 with the on-going European refugee crisis, just how much relevance it still has after it was first published in French in 1990, and translated into English three years later. She asks such questions as "Will France be able to welcome without too many clashes the flow from the other side of the Mediterranean?" Little did she know a quarter-century ago how that flow would become a flood today into Germany, France, and elsewhere.

She notes, in 1990, the increasing mania then of "discovering one's origins" and then using the founding mythologies of my group or nation as a source not only of personal identity, but also of a collective ideology with which to exclude if not destroy others who are not pure laine, who become objects of hatred that may well be little more than a projection of my internal self-loathing.

Like In the Beginning Was Love, Nations Without Nationalism is clearly an essai in that form which French writers use so well but many others find frustrating: not as a finished product tightly wrapped up, but as a somewhat discursive and almost playful place in which the author seeks essayer disparate ideas. Thus after only a few brusque paragraphs contemplating French immigration and struggles, she moves on to consider how America has historically handled questions of immigration and identity; how the United Kingdom did; and how the ancient Greeks did. She then returns to France, noting that "Nowhere is one more a foreigner than in France." Looking towards the year 2000, she predicts that "the matter of Arabian immigration in France" will remain the most pressing problem--a prescient argument indeed seen from today's perspective!

Then, curiously, she suddenly lurches to considering the life and work of St. Paul, noting how his writings challenged the ancient ideas of nation and kinship, giving Christians and the world a new definition: "there is neither Jew nor Greek for all are one in Christ Jesus." Though Christians, as she recognizes, have often failed to live up to this vision of a universal community transcending all our particularities, nonetheless we must "bow, in passing, to Paul's psychological and political sensitivity."

Returning again to France, she sounds what seems an appropriate call for France--and perforce the rest of Europe--to assume a greater confidence in its own ways of life, and a greater willingness to defend those ways of life in the face of Arab-Muslim immigration and the latter's very different cultural mores. How little that call seems to have been heeded in the intervening quarter-century! In this regard she wants a return to what she sees as the ideals of the Revolution: the creation of a pact among sovereign individuals freed from other attachments, including the hateful shackles of nationalistic identity in which I am at war with all those who are not part of my family, clan, and nation. She seems to suggest that such a pact, such an ideal from the Revolution, has commendable Christian origins--though, of course, many Christians, pre-eminently Catholics in France and Western Europe--saw the revolution as nothing more or other than "demonic," as Joseph de Maistre unsparingly put it.

After a brief foray into ancient Jewish laws about foreigners, she then considers--as many others have, perhaps especially Paschalis Kitromilides, not least in his essay "The Legacy of the French Revolution: Orthodoxy and Nationalism" in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 5, Eastern Christianity--the pivotal role played by the French revolution in developing theories of nationalism and the "sovereignty" of the nation-state, theories which have, as I've demonstrated elsewhere, proved to be so pivotal in the rise of not just the modern nation-states of, e.g., Greece, Romania, and Russia, but the concomitant rise in their Orthodox national churches as well.

If time allows, I hope also to read Kristeva's Hannah Arendt. Arendt's famous studies of the banality of evil, and of The Origins of Totalitarianism retain important explanatory power for Eastern Christians--especially in Russia--still struggling to find ways of dealing with the communist past. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

New Studies of Ukrainian Realities

The University of Toronto Press catalogue was waiting for me in my mailbox after the break. It tells us of several books forthcoming in 2016 that will be of interest to Ukrainian and Russian Christians especially, inter alia, and to those trying to understand the history of the current Russian war against Ukraine, and Ukraine's own recent history.

It also drew my attention to a wide-ranging study released last summer: Margarita Balmaceda,  Politics of Energy Dependency: Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania between Domestic Oligarchs and Russian Pressure (U of T Press, 2015),464pp.

The publisher tells us this about the book:
Energy has been an important element in Moscow’s quest to exert power and influence in its surrounding areas both before and after the collapse of the USSR. With their political independence in 1991, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania also became, virtually overnight, separate energy-poor entities heavily dependent on Russia. This increasingly costly dependency – and elites’ scrambling over associated profits – came to crucially affect not only relations with Russia, but the very nature of post-independence state building.

The Politics of Energy Dependency explores why these states were unable to move towards energy diversification. Through extensive field research using previously untapped local-language sources, Margarita M. Balmaceda reveals a complex picture of local elites dealing with the complications of energy dependency and, in the process, affecting the energy security of Europe as a whole.

A must-read for anyone interested in Eastern Europe, Russia, and the politics of natural resources, this book reveals the insights gained by looking at post-Soviet development and international relations issues not only from a Moscow-centered perspective, but from that of individual actors in other states.

Set for release in March is George Liber's study, Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914-1954 (U of T Press, 2016), 416pp.

About this book we are told:
Between 1914 and 1954, the Ukrainian-speaking territories in East Central Europe suffered almost 15 million “excess deaths” as well as numerous large-scale evacuations and forced population transfers. These losses were the devastating consequences of the two world wars, revolutions, famines, genocidal campaigns, and purges that wracked Europe in the first half of the twentieth century and spread new ideas, created new political and economic systems, and crafted new identities.

In Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914–1954, George O. Liber argues that the continuous violence of the world wars and interwar years transformed the Ukrainian-speaking population of East Central Europe into self-conscious Ukrainians. Wars, mass killings, and forced modernization drives made and re-made Ukraine’s boundaries, institutionalized its national identities, and pruned its population according to various state-sponsored political, racial, and social ideologies. In short, the two world wars, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust played critical roles in forming today’s Ukraine.

A landmark study of the terrifying scope and paradoxical consequences of mass violence in Europe’s bloodlands, Liber’s book will transform our understanding of the entangled histories of Ukraine, the USSR, Germany, and East Central Europe in the twentieth century.
Also set for release this year is a collection sure to be of interest to Canada's very considerable Ukrainian community: Lisa Grekul and Lindy Ledohowski, Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home (U of T Press, 2016), 160pp.

About this book we are told:
What does it mean to be Ukrainian in contemporary Canada? The Ukrainian Canadian writers in Unbound challenge the conventions of genre – memoir, fiction, poetry, biography, essay – and the boundaries that separate ethnic and authorial identities and fictional and non-fictional narratives. These intersections become the sites of new, thought-provoking and poignant creative writing by some of Canada’s best-known Ukrainian Canadian authors.

To complement the creative writing, editors Lisa Grekul and Lindy Ledohowski offer an overview of the history of Ukrainian settlement in Canada and an extensive bibliography of Ukrainian Canadian literature in English. Unbound is the first such exploration of Ukrainian Canadian literature and a book that should be on the shelves of Canadian literature fans and those interested in the study of ethnic, postcolonial, and diasporic literature.


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