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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Levant

As I noted earlier, the Eastern Christians who inhabit parts of what we used to call "the Levant" often live quite different lives from those near them in Egypt or Syria. Now comes a new book to look at the origins, geography, and urban nature of the area: Philip Mansel, Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean (Yale U Press, 2011), 470pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Levant is a book of cities. It describes three former centers of great wealth, pleasure, and freedom—Smyrna, Alexandria, and Beirut—cities of the Levant region along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. In these key ports at the crossroads of East and West, against all expectations, cosmopolitanism and nationalism flourished simultaneously. People freely switched identities and languages, released from the prisons of religion and nationality. Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived and worshipped as neighbors.

Distinguished historian Philip Mansel is the first to recount the colorful, contradictory histories of Smyrna, Alexandria, and Beirut in the modern age. He begins in the early days of the French alliance with the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century and continues through the cities' mid-twentieth-century fates: Smyrna burned; Alexandria Egyptianized; Beirut lacerated by civil war.
Mansel looks back to discern what these remarkable Levantine cities were like, how they differed from other cities, why they shone forth as cultural beacons. He also embarks on a quest: to discover whether, as often claimed, these cities were truly cosmopolitan, possessing the elixir of coexistence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews for which the world yearns. Or, below the glittering surface, were they volcanoes waiting to erupt, as the catastrophes of the twentieth century suggest? In the pages of the past, Mansel finds important messages for the fractured world of today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Holy Relics

Shortly after reading further stories on the astonishing news that more than three million Russians have come to venerate the sash/belt/cincture of the Theotokos--a relic whose veneration is already being said to have worked dozens of miracles--I received in the mail a book I briefly mentioned a while back: Sergius Bulgakov, Relics and Miracles: Two Theological Essays, trans. Boris Jakim (Eerdmans, 2011), xii+116pp.

This slender volume contains two essays by Bulgakov, who died in 1944. The first is on relics, the second on miracles. "On Holy Relics" was, Jakim tells us, written in 1918 just as the Bolshevik campaign of destruction of relics and icons was heating up. Bulgakov is neither shy nor retiring in blasting the Bolshevik barbarians whose "God-hating cynicism and blasphemy...does not have any precedents in the history of Christianity. The fury of the God-haters and the spirit of the Antichrist are fully evident in their savage profanation." Lest we miss his fury after this opening, he goes on to refer to the "satanical gangsters in the Kremlin" who seek to destroy not merely relics but, of course, the faith of believers, especially simple but pious peasants.

But before going any further in mounting a defense of relics--and their often attendant miracles--Bulgakov notes that "believers must pose anew the following questions: what exactly are holy relics, and what are the content and meaning of the dogma of the veneration of holy relics?" This is an important question because as he says next, belief in relics has never been defined "at any of the ecumenical councils. It has not been the object of any special deliberation." So Bulgakov sets out to answer just these questions, along the way realizing that part of his task will be to come up with what, at the other end of his century and in a Western context will be called, by another Slav, a "theology of the body." For relics, of course, are often bodily remnants of a Christian who gave up his life in martyrdom or heroic sanctity, and so relics are a reminder of the central truth of Christianity: the resurrection of Christ in the flesh. As Bulgakov shows, the "cultured despisers" (or in the Bolshevik case, the uncouth and uncultured despisers) of Christianity disdain relics because ultimately they disdain such a messily embodied faith in which the body dies but ultimately will be resurrected.

Disdain of, or at the very least acute discomfort around, the body has a long history, and today we are by no means exempt from it. Nearly fifty year ago, Jessica Mitford published her scathing exposé, The American Way of Death Revisited, mounting in prose a critique that the great Evelyn Waugh had two years earlier done in a fictional satire in The Loved One. She acutely observed North American squeamishness about acknowledging death. The clearest evidence of this is in the language: one does not die but “passes away”; the dead person is “the loved one”; the funeral is a “celebration of life.” And corpses (“the remains”) are plied with makeup and all sorts of horrid chemicals—carcinogenic chemicals, no less—in order to look “life-like.”

How much healthier, I think, is the custom of the Greek Orthodox villagers whom Juliet du Boulay describes in her haunting and lovely book, which I mentioned earlier. In Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village, based on anthropological research in which she lived for several years in Greece, du Boulay describes how the dead are tended at home: the body is prepared and clothed, often in an indigenous white garment understood to have baptismal and nuptial overtones, by family at home, where it remains until time for the funeral and
burial. Family and friends keep vigil, carry the body to the funeral, and then to be buried following what (as I have argued elsewhere) I regard as one of the most healthful and spiritually-psychologically helpful rites, that of the Last Kiss (seen here, starting at the 1:25 minute mark from the funeral of the late Russian Patriarch Alexy II).

After two or three years, in keeping with fairly widespread Greek practice even today, the bones are removed by the family from the grave, washed, and placed in an ossuary. This tending to the bones, as well as the whole process of grieving and burial, never allows the villagers to forget the central place of death, and the fate which awaits us all. There is nothing squeamish or disdainful here, and we could learn a great deal from that.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quo Vadis Aegyptus?

As I have noted before, the situation facing Egypt's Coptic Christians in their country continues to be very grim indeed. The so-called Arab Spring has not given way to much hope for the Copts, but we must pray that the situation turns for the better for these most long-suffering of persecuted Christians.

A new book has just been published by Yale University Press that may shed some light on recent history of Egypt, and more recent events: Tarek Osman, Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak (Yale UP, 2011), 304pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:

Famous until the 1950s for its religious pluralism and extraordinary cultural heritage, Egypt is now seen as an increasingly repressive and divided land, home of the Muslim Brotherhood and an opaque regime headed by the aging President Mubarak.
In this immensely readable and thoroughly researched book, Tarek Osman explores what has happened to the biggest Arab nation since President Nasser took control of the country in 1954. He examines Egypt’s central role in the development of the two crucial movements of the period, Arab nationalism and radical Islam; the increasingly contentious relationship between Muslims and Christians; and perhaps most important of all, the rift between the cosmopolitan elite and the mass of the undereducated and underemployed population, more than half of whom are aged under thirty. This is an essential guide to one of the Middle East’s most important but least understood states.
Chapter 5, "Egyptian Christians" looks to be of especial interest, but the whole book treats a crucial area of our time, and will be expertly reviewed in 2012 in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, to which you may subscribe here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Minorities in the Middle East

The plight of Christians in the Middle East remains very grim indeed. Most have been driven out or forced to flee while too many who have remained often end up being slaughtered, a plight that garners very little attention even in our hyper-connected 24-hour news cycles. Now a new book comes along to help us understand these Christians and others: Anh Nga Longva and Anne Sofie Roald, eds., Religious Minorities in the Middle East: Domination, Self-empowerment, Accommodation (Social, Economic and Political Studies of the Middle East) (Brill, 2011), x+370pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The relationship between religious majorities and minorities in the Middle East is often construed as one of domination versus powerlessness. While this may indeed be the case, to claim that this is only or always so is to give a simplified picture of a complex reality. Such a description lays emphasis on the challenges faced by the minorities, while overlooking their astonishing ability to mobilize internal and external resources to meet these challenges. Through the study of strategies of domination, resilience, and accommodation among both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, this volume throws into relief the inherently dynamic character of a relationship which is increasingly influenced by global events and global connections.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Books for Christmas: Some Recommendations

I am not infrequently asked by colleagues, students, and friends to recommend books in certain areas. I thought I would reproduce here some of those recommendations for those of you who are unsure what to get the Eastern Christian bibliophile on your list for Christmas. This is not, of course, anything like a comprehensive list and I'm sure everyone will immediately think of fifty titles I should have mentioned and a few that I should not but perhaps this will be helpful to some. (Feel free to add other titles in the comments.) I've divided the list into several categories.

Reference Books:
2011 was a happy year in this category with the publication of the two-volume Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity under John McGuckin's editorship. I discussed the encyclopedia extensively in a series of posts you may read here. See also the recent paperback publication of the Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity under Ken Parry's editorship.

Introductory Texts:
McGuckin is also the author of another recent Wiley-Blackwell publication, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. This is a serious, detailed study, ideal for those who already have some background and familiarity with Orthodox Christianity. Those needing such familiarity and background would do well to first read Kallistos Ware's classic The Orthodox Church or the book I use in my introductory classes on Eastern Christianity, David Bell, Orthodoxy: Evolving Tradition.

I have used in several classes this wonderful work by him who is regularly introduced as the greatest Greek theologian writing today, John Zizioulas: his Lectures in Christian Dogmatics is a distillation of much of his thought over the course of his lifetime, and this book makes that thought accessible in four chapters. For those wanting to break into reading Zizioulas, this is the place to start. He made his name, of course, in what is his most famous work, widely cited in Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox ecclesiology and anthropology: Being as Communion. But there are other works since that one was first published in English in 1985, including the recent collection The One and the Many: Studies on God, Man, the Church, and the World Today.

In addition to Zizioulas, John Behr's two-volume work The Way to Nicaea (The Formation of Christian Theology) is a significant work.

Covering some of the same territory, but in a significantly different way, is the new book by Khaled Anatolios (whom I interviewed here): Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine.

2011 has been a banner year in an already long cycle of renewed interest in Trinitarian theology. I drew attention to several new books here and here, but of these I am most impressed by, and have adopted for one of my courses, the collection edited by Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering, The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity. Levering is also the author of a fantastic study on ecclesial matters that I reviewed in detail here.

Also not to be missed here is the work in English translation by Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian Experience and Vision in the Biblical and Patristic Tradition, a really substantial one-volume treatment by an Orthodox theologian.

Eastern Christianity makes the frequent claim to be the "Church of the Fathers." For those new to them, John McGuckin has written the handy Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. In a review in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies a few years ago, he highly praised the English translation of Patrology: The Eastern Fathers from the Council of Chalcedon to John of Damascus under Angelo di Berardino's editorship. Norman Russell's The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition is a welcome contribution and good overview

as is his other volume on the same topic, Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis. Michael Christensen and Jeffrey Wittung's edited collection, Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions brings together a number of scholars to show that theosis or deification/divinization is no longer limited to Orthodox theology but has been appropriated and studied by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Social Issues:
Under the editorship of Susan R. Holman, Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History) brings us a rich collection of scholarly articles treating various aspects in the earliest centuries of the Church.
In their welcome "Popular Patristics" series, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press has recently published On Social Justice: St. Basil the Great (C. Paul Schroeder, trans.).

As I have frequently noted, of the publishing of books on icons there is no end. Everybody is in on it today: secular, academic, and religious presses from Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox backgrounds. Here are just a few from several areas. For recent studies in an East-Slavic context, see here. See also this book for how icons fared in Soviet hands. For a good overview
of the technique of icon painting, see here. For a general overview of the history of icons and their veneration, see here for a re-issue of a work by the pre-eminent historian Jaroslav Pelikan. For icons in Byzantium see here. For a charming overview of the earliest icons in the pre-iconoclast period, and also proto-Coptic iconography, see the lovely little book I review here. For the Protestant on your list, interested in but theologically uneasy about icons, see here and here. But also see here for a very well done book that links images of Christ with their biblical texts, often side-by-side on facing pages. For a handsome coffee table book on East-West connections in icons, see here. Finally, for iconoclasm, see here for several recommended texts.

I would be amiss of course if I did not mention my own recent book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

But there are many other books in the area very much deserving attention, including the splendid Radu Bordeianu, Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology which I mentioned earlier this week and will be discussing at length in the coming weeks. There is--once more--John Zizioulas's Being as Communion, noted above. See also Nicholas Afanasiev's superb and hugely influential study The Church of the Holy Spirit.

Oxford University Press recently reissued Joan Hussey's classic work The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, about which you may read here. General historical overviews of Orthodoxy in a broad context may be had in the McGuckin and Ware volumes noted above under Introductory Texts. For North America, the United States in particular, see John Erickson's Orthodox Christians in America: A Short History.

Sacraments and Liturgy:

For liturgy and sacraments, there is nobody better to start with than, of course, Alexander Schmemann in his For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. His book on the Eucharist should also be consulted (as should Zizioulas's latest book on the topic), along with his other titles, especially Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism. For marriage, there is no finer book than Paul Evdokimov's The Sacrament of Love. (See here for a discussion of many of Evdokimov's other works.)

If Schmemann is the person to start with for liturgy, then for liturgical history there is, of course, really one name that towers above all others: Robert Taft. Start with his early, short, "popular" book, The Byzantine Rite: A Short History. Of his many other books, see especially his Beyond East and West: Problems in Liturgical Understanding. It is a collection of essays, and, alas, rather hard to come by now, but contains many riches. See also Taft's more recent book that begins a movement in a different direction for liturgical history today: Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It. This book is useful--as all Taft's works are--in debunking many fallacious or romantic notions some may have about the patristic period.

Oxford's Hugh Wybrew has also written an excellent one-volume treatment in The Orthodox Liturgy: The Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. For more specialized liturgical topics, especially in the new year as we move out of the Christmas season and into Great Lent, see the highly acclaimed recent work of S. Alexopoulos, The Presanctified Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite: A Comparative Analysis of its Origins, Evolution, and Structural Components. For a less specialized and much more accessible study, see Schmemann's Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, a wonderfully lyrical and deeply moving little book that I re-read every Lent. In it I find Schmemann at his best, expounding on the "bright sadness" that attends that beautiful time of askesis. Another recent study not to be missed is Thomas Pott's recently translated Byzantine Liturgical Reform: A Study of Liturgical Change in the Byzantine Tradition. Finally, for a good overview of liturgics in general, both East and West, see the Orthodox biblicist Edith Humphrey (whom I interviewed here) and her Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven.

Where are Eastern Christians and their traditions and institutions to be found, and in what numbers? That is not always an easy question to answer, but Alexi Krindatch's recent Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches, discussed here, is a good start. See also several recent scholarly studies, broadly treating "geographical" and related questions, including that of Christopher Johnson (whom I interviewed here): Globalization of Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer: Contesting Contemplation. Juliet Du Boulay's Cosmos, Life and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village, as I noted here, is a wholly unique book, deeply moving in all sorts of ways. While also looking at Greece--so much in the news today because of its financial problems--see this welcome study on her Orthodox Church. Finally, Mount Athos was in the news this year after a 60 Minutes documentary (on which see below). I noted also a new book on the holy mountain, a very unique book, by Veronica della Dora (whom I interviewed here), Imagining Mount Athos: Visions of a Holy Place, from Homer to World War II.

"Spirituality" is all the rage today, often a vacuous catch-all label for narcissism and self-indulgence by those too fat and lazy to get out of bed on Sunday, to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, or to train their minds beyond the "banality of pseudo-self-awareness" (Christopher Lasch) in order sentire cum Ecclesia. A new book this year attempts to take us to the heart of Eastern Christian spirituality: Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality. Older works, invaluable for any serious library, include Tomas Špidlik's two volumes, Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook and Prayer: The Spirituality Of The Christian East (Vol.2). Also not to be missed is the collection by Olivier Clément, Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from Patristic Era with Commentary. (I note some other important works by Clément here.) Finally, see the several books by Bill Mills (whom I interview here), discussed here and especially here for his lovely book on Ephraim the Syrian's famous Lenten prayer.

Orthodox-Muslim Relations:
Islam continues to dominate the headlines of our day, and can be expected to remain a topic of great interest and concern for some time to come. Few today know, however, that trying to understand Islam, and examine its relations with non-Muslims, has a 1400-year history, begun precisely by Eastern Christians. Relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims remain very difficult in most places, but not all (Russia being a key example here), as I noted in the first part of an on-going series that began with Lebanon, continued on to a Greek context, paused to look at one inadequate recent analysis, and most recently focused on the Syriac churches encountering Islam. There have been dialogues between the traditions over the years, as David Bertaina's new book shows. (I interview Bertaina here.)

Auto/Biographical Studies:
While the publication of The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983 was a welcome event, they are not the full diaries, as Michael Plekon (whom I interviewed here about his own scholarship) noted in his review of the much longer and more complete French version of the diaries. Other biographical studies of note here include Andrew Blane's Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual & Orthodox Churchman. Two biographies not to be missed are those of Lev Gillet and especially that of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel. For shorter biographical treatments of these two, along with many others, see Michael Plekon's Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.

Audiovisual Materials:
If you feel like doing more than reading over the Christmas holidays, several DVDs have emerged recently, including a fascinating look into northern Russian monasticism in Ostrov (The Island).

Also released this year are two programs tied to books noted above on the Jesus prayer and Mt. Athos respectively:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oxford Handbook of the Trinity

I have noted before the increasing number of books treating Triadology or Trinitarian theology. Today Oxford University Press has just put into my hands one such that I have very happily adopted for my courses: Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering, eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (Oxford UP, 2011), xvi+632pp.

This is an extremely impressive collection, not least because of its comprehensiveness. In 43 chapters an array of leading Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars treat Trinitarian theology under seven sections: Scripture, Patristics, the Medievals, the Reformation to the Twentieth Century, Trinitarian Dogmatics, the Trinity and Christian Life, and Dialogues. The arrangement looks brilliant, and the variety of areas covered really leaves one wanting for nothing. The only challenge will be figuring out how to use all these riches in one semester!

I will have further comments on this the deeper I get into the book, but given the past publication record of both Emery and Matthew Levering, whose recent book on ecclesial hierarchy I reviewed in detail here, we have every reason to expect this book to be a superlative collection indeed.

Eastern Canon Law

Though Robert Taft has called canon law the "bad side of the good news," it does have a role to play. Recent studies of Eastern canon law have included Panteleimon Rodopoulos, An Overview of Orthodox Canon Law, ed. George Dion Dragas (ORI, 2007); Patrick Viscuso, Orthodox Canon Law: A Casebook for Study: Second Edition (Holy Cross Press, 2011); Lewis Patsavos, Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons (Holy Cross Press, 2007); and other books mentioned previously.

Now two new studies have just been released. The first, from the Pontificio Consiglio Dei Testi Legislativi, Il Codice Delle Chiese Orientali, was published in August by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana and brings together papers given at a symposium hosted by the Pontificio Istituto Orientale last year on the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. About Il Codice, the publisher tells us very briefly:
La Storia, le Legislazioni particolari e le Prospettive Ecumeniche Atti del convegno di studio tenutosi nel XX anniversario della promulgazione del Codice dei Canoni delle Chiese Orientali Sala San Pio X Roma 8-9 ottobre 2010.
Forthcoming from Ashgate is another study that takes a comparative approach to Western (especially Anglican) canon law, and Eastern Orthodox law: Will Adam, Legal Flexibility and the Mission of the Church (Ashgate, 264pp).

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Legal scholars and authorities generally agree that the law should be obeyed and should apply equally to all those subject to it, without favour or discrimination. Yet it is possible to see that in any legal system there will be situations when strict application of the law will produce undesirable results, such as injustice or other consequences not intended by the law as framed. In such circumstances the law may be changed but there may be broad policy reasons not to do so. The allied concepts of dispensation and economy grew up in the western and eastern traditions of the Christian church as mechanisms whereby an individual or a class of people could, by authority, be excused from obligations under a particular law in particular circumstances without that law being changed.

This book uncovers and explores this neglected area of church life and law. Will Adam argues that dispensing power and authority exist in various guises in the systems of different churches. Codified and understood in Roman Catholic and Orthodox canon law, this arouses suspicion in the Church of England and in English law in general. The book demonstrates that legal flexibility can bebe found in English law and is integral to the law of the Church, to enable the Church today better to to fulfil its mission in the world.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Radu Bordeianu on Dumitru Staniloae

In a variety of journals over the past several years, I have reviewed well over a dozen recent books in ecclesiology, all but one or two of them deeply dissatisfying. But now I have just finished a tremendously rewarding book: Radu Bordeianu has written what is easily the most intellectually stimulating and theologically satisfying book in ecclesiology written so far this century: Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology (T&T Clark, 2011), 240pp. I only wish this book had been released a few months ago because then I could have had my graduate students read it this semester.

Part of the T&T Clark's "Ecumenical Investigations" series, to which I drew attention earlier, this book began as Bordeianu's doctoral dissertation under the Jesuit theologian Michael Fahey when he was still at Marquette. But unlike many dissertations that make the transition to book, this one is not a plodding Teutonic treatise but a very cogently written book that moves smartly along making a wonderfully lucid case for seeing Staniloae an extremely important, if hitherto generally unknown, voice in the debates over ecclesiology in which the "positions" of Nicholas Afanasiev and John Zizioulas have thus far dominated Orthodox debate, and heavily influenced other Christians as well.

Divided into three sections and eight chapters, this book begins by making the case for an "ecumenical ecclesiology" in the first two chapters, and for seeing Staniloae in those terms. In the second section (chapters 3-5), Bordeianu argues that for the Church to be "Filled With the Trinity" (as the section is titled), it has to understand its relationship to each Person of the Trinity. Especially in chapter 3, "Adoptive Children of the Father: the Relationship between the Father and the Church," the author argues that Staniloae, more than almost any other ecclesiologist of our time, asks the question about the Father's role in the Church's self-understanding. Much ecclesiology either focuses on Christ or the Spirit: it is extremely rare for ecclesiological reflection to focus on the Father, making this chapter all the more welcome. The third and final part, "Communion Ecclesiology," contains some practical outworkings of the deeply Trinitarian ecclesiology from part two, the heart of the book. In this third and final section, we find reflection on the role of the priesthood, the relationship between the local and universal Church, and several suggestions for ways toward full eucharistic communion between Catholics and Orthodox.

There is so much richness in Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology to return to again and again that I am continuing to mull it over for some time before putting together a long, coherent review. But in the meantime, I wanted to draw your attention to this volume and insist that that if you are at all interested in ecclesiology (to say nothing of Dumitru Staniloae) then you simply must buy this book.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Earth-Shaking Popes

I am of course fascinated by the papacy, and have had a few things to say about it in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity. Others, especially historians, have long been fascinated by the papacy as well. Of the writing of books about the papacy there is no end. Of contemporary historians of the papacy, as I have remarked before, very few are as reliable as Eamon Duffy, especially in his really quite splendid Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, 3rd ed. (Yale Nota Bene, 2006). In that book, Duffy accomplishes the near-impossible: to write a history of the papacy in one volume that is faithful both to the best of historical scholarship and to the Church of which he is a part. He has a deft hand and maintains the balance promised in his title, seeing the popes neither as uniformly saintly nor uniformly wicked but as human beings, some of whom were indeed saints while others were not, and still others positively iniquitous (The Borgias being the current favored example of the latter).

Now Duffy, who made his mark early on as a really important historian of the English Reformation and its fall-out (see his very critically acclaimed The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 as well as his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor and Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570) has turned his hand again to the papacy in a new book published only last week: Ten Popes Who Shook the World (Yale University Press, 2011), 166pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Catholic popes have been powerful spiritual leaders for nearly two millennia, but their influence is not confined exclusively to Church matters. Many popes have played a central role in the history of Europe and the wider world, not only shouldering the spiritual burdens of their office but also contending with the political crises of their times. In an acclaimed series of BBC radio broadcasts, Eamon Duffy enthralled listeners with vivid stories of the ten popes he judges "the most influential in history." With this book, readers may now also enjoy Duffy's portraits of ten exceptional men who shook the world.
The book begins with St. Peter, the Rock upon whom the Catholic Church was built, and follows with Leo the Great (fifth century), Gregory the Great (sixth century), Gregory VII (eleventh century), Innocent III (thirteenth century), Paul III (sixteenth century), and Pius IX (nineteenth century). Among twentieth-century popes, Duffy examines the lives and contributions of Pius XII, who was elected on the eve of the Second World War, the kindly John XXIII, who captured the world's imagination, and John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. Each of these ten, Duffy shows, was an extraordinary individual who helped shape the world we know today.
I look forward to reading this and reviewing it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not Clerical Celibacy Again....

There are, it seems, certain debates that are bound to recur like clockwork, and their very recurrence, it seems to me, is a sign of deep and abiding insecurity on the part of those who insist on repeatedly bringing this topic up and repeatedly (but never successfully) trying to prove the superiority and supposed historicity or "apostolicity" of a celibate priesthood. The debate in the Latin Church over priestly celibacy seems to be precisely such a debate.

According to this recent article by the always fascinating, and usually very reliable, Sandro Magister, that debate is again heating up in no small part due to the new book, Preti celibi e preti sposata: Due carisimi della Chiesa cattolica, by Basilio Petrà, whose article on the topic Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies published in an edited translation in 2009.

There Petrà was the first to show in English in a serious study certain egregious developments being pushed by some in the Latin Church (especially those influenced by Opus Dei) towards a view that "celibacy is based on the very ontological meaning of ordination. Theologically speaking, this means that ordination objectively demands the state of celibacy." As he goes on to say, "in this view, there is no theological reason for the married...priesthood. Only its historical existence is acknowledged because in Latin circles the principles expounded by Christian Cochini [Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy], Alfons Stickler [The Case for Clerical Celibacy: Its Historical Development and Theological Foundations], and Roman Cholij [Clerical Celibacy in East and West] were accepted without leaving any room for the true theological value of a married clergy." (Cholij, I have it on good authority, has since retracted his views.) These books, among others, were very skillfully reviewed and critiqued by the late historian and patrologist J. Kevin Coyle in a long review essay, "Recent Views on the Origins of Clerical Celibacy: a Review of the Literature from 1980-1991," Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 34 (1993): 480-531. After a lengthy discussion, Coyle concludes thus:
the apostolic origins of clerical continence/celibacy are therefore far from proven. Indeed, in their attempts Cochini and his supporters may have achieved the opposite objective, by showing that a historical demonstration of celibacy's validity is a fruitless quest.....The arguments for maintaining mandatory clerical celibacy will, then, have to be sought elsewhere than in an "apostolic tradition."
What makes Petrà's article so important, in my estimation, is that he very skillfully--but without polemics or histrionics--goes on to show how this very recent Latin development (about an "ontological" meaning of celibacy) is so riddled with internal contradictions as to collapse in on itself. He takes recent papal and other Roman utterances, as well as documents like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and shows that this theology of celibacy as an ontological condition of priesthood, if taken seriously and pressed to its logical conclusions, ends up, however inadvertently, making a complete pig's breakfast of contemporary Latin theology of marriage and the family.

I have, I must confess, dined out on this debate on many occasions in the last decade, trying (but not very successfully it appears) to help Roman Catholics to understand the complexities of a married priesthood, that is, trying to dissuade them from the highly misleading idea that a married priesthood will be an easy or simple change to the life of the Latin Church today, or that it will somehow magically solve the so-called vocations crisis, much of which I think is artificial, that is, tendentiously manufactured.

In addition to the above sources, there are other books on the topic by Eastern Christians, including the collection edited by Joseph Allen, Vested in Grace: Marriage and Priesthood in the Christian East. Allen caused a controversy to erupt in the early 1990s when, as a married Orthodox priest, he sought to re-marry after his wife had died--in violation of long-standing canons and customs prescribing celibacy for priests in just that situation; failing celibacy, the canonical requirement has been that such priests return to the lay state and are no longer permitted to function as priests. Allen wanted both to re-marry and to remain a parish priest, and found a way to do so--but not without controversy and costs--as he recounts in Widowed Priest.

More recently, Helen Parish has taken a comprehensive and current look at the history of celibacy in her Clerical Celibacy in the West: c.1100-1700 (Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700) (Ashgate, 2010), 304pp. About this book the publisher tells us:
The debate over clerical celibacy and marriage had its origins in the early Christian centuries, and is still very much alive in the modern church. The content and form of controversy have remained remarkably consistent, but each era has selected and shaped the sources that underpin its narrative, and imbued an ancient issue with an immediacy and relevance. The basic question of whether, and why, continence should be demanded of those who serve at the altar has never gone away, but the implications of that question, and of the answers given, have changed with each generation.

In this reassessment of the history of sacerdotal celibacy, Helen Parish examines the emergence and evolution of the celibate priesthood in the Latin church, and the challenges posed to this model of the ministry in the era of the Protestant Reformation. Celibacy was, and is, intensely personal, but also polemical, institutional, and historical. Clerical celibacy acquired theological, moral, and confessional meanings in the writings of its critics and defenders, and its place in the life of the church continues to be defined in relation to broader debates over Scripture, apostolic tradition, ecclesiastical history, and papal authority. Highlighting continuity and change in attitudes to priestly celibacy, Helen Parish reveals that the implications of celibacy and marriage for the priesthood reach deep into the history, traditions, and understanding of the church.

Contents: Introduction – 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven'?: shaping the celibacy debate; 'If there is one faith there must be one tradition': clerical celibacy and marriage in the early Church; 'Preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection'?: celibacy and marriage in East and West; 'A concubine or an unlawful woman': celibacy, marriage, and the Gregorian reform; 'In marriage they will live more piously and honestly': debating clerical celibacy in the pre-Reformation Church; 'The whole world and the devil will laugh': clerical celibacy and married priests in the age of reformation; 'Contrary to the state of their order and the laudable customs of the church': clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church after the Reformation; Conclusion – 'one of the chief ornaments of the Catholic clergy': celibacy in the modern Church; Bibliography; Index.
I greatly look forward to having both the Parish volume, and also the Petrà book, expertly reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies next year.

Sarapion of Thmuis

Australia's Centre for Early Christian Studies has just published a new monograph by the American Orthodox priest and historian Oliver Herbel, Sarapion of Thmuis: Against the Manicheans and Pastoral Letters (Early Christian Studies 14 [Sydney: St. Paul’s Publications, 2011], 144 pp.). About this publication the publisher tells us:
Although St. Anthony the Great, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, and the Desert Fathers have received considerable attention in early Christian studies, St. Sarapion of Thmuis has remained in relative obscurity. This book introduces the thought of this early Egyptian monastic bishop, highlighting the importance of both Sarapion’s biblical hermeneutics and his utilization of Stoic philosophy. It includes an argument for Sarapion’s authorship of the Letter to the Monks as well as translations of Sarapion’s three extant writings: Letter to Bishop Eudoxios, Letter to the Monks, and Against the Manichaeans.

Byzantium and the Arabs

Studies on the encounter between Eastern Christians and Muslims in the aftermath of the Arab conquests in the seventh century continue to emerge--a welcome development. A recent publication from Irfan Shahid continues helpfully to expand what we know about that early encounter: Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 2 (Dumbarton Oaks, 2010), 480pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This fourth and final installment in Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century resumes the previous volume’s discussion of the Ghassanids by examining their economic, social, and cultural history. First, Irfan Shahîd focuses on the economy of the Ghassanids and presents information on various trade routes and fairs. Second, the author reconstructs Ghassanid daily life by discussing topics as varied as music, food, medicine, the role of women, and horse racing. Shahîd concludes the volume with an examination of cultural life, including descriptions of urbanization, Arabic script, chivalry, and poetry. Throughout the volume, the author reveals the history of a fully developed and unique Christian-Arab culture. Shahîd exhaustively describes the society of the Ghassanids, and their contributions to the cultural environment that persisted in Oriens during the sixth century and continued into the period of the Umayyad caliphate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Forthcoming SVS Publications

Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press just sent me their latest catalogue, and in it we find a number of new books, each of which looks fascinating. So far none of them are on-line yet--at least not at Amazon or the website of the press. As they are released, look for further information on here and discussion and reviews of them as well.

December 2011:

We have two new books forthcoming, both in the Popular Patristics series, to which I have drawn attention on several occasions in the past. These new volumes both feature works primarily of Athanasius the Great of Alexandria:

  • St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (a new translation by John Behr) in two formats: English only (112pp.), or English and Greek on facing pages (174pp.).
  • Athanasius and Didymus the Blind, Works on the Spirit, trans. Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, and Lewis Ayres (240pp.).
January 2012:
  • Vladimir Lossky, Seven Days on the Roads of France, trans. Michael Donley (114pp.). This book documents Lossky's experience and reflections in Nazi-occupied France. It sounds fascinating, and it puts me in mind of another recent biography of an Orthodox theologian who lived through the same experience, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel. Lossky, of course, is probably best known for his The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church as well as his In the Image and Likeness of God and the large volume, co-authored with Leonid Ouspensky, The Meaning of Icons.

February 2012:

Constantine Nasr, Anthony Bashir--Metropolitan and Missionary (224pp.). Bashir was instrumental in establishing the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. This book, volume three in the SVS series "Orthodox Profiles," tells his story.

Boris Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Church: a Course in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, trans. Michael Breck (380pp.). Bobrinskoy, author of several works, including The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian Experience and Vision in the Biblical and Patristic Tradition, here turns to the question of ecclesiology. I greatly look forward to reading this, having had a few things to say on ecclesiological matters myself in Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy.

The Legal Status of Jews and Christians in Early Islam

The University of Pennsylvania Press has just put into my hands a new volume that explores an area still not well understood: how, legally, did Jews and Eastern Christians fare under Islamic regimes? Uriel I. Simonsohn, A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews Under Early Islam (U Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 344pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
In A Common Justice Uriel I. Simonsohn examines the legislative response of Christian and Jewish religious elites to the problem posed by the appeal of their coreligionists to judicial authorities outside their communities. Focusing on the late seventh to early eleventh centuries in the region between Iraq in the east and present-day Tunisia in the west, Simonsohn explores the multiplicity of judicial systems that coexisted under early Islam to reveal a complex array of social obligations that connected individuals across confessional boundaries. By examining the incentives for appeal to external judicial institutions on the one hand and the response of minority confessional elites on the other, the study fundamentally alters our conception of the social history of the Near East in the early Islamic period.
Contrary to the prevalent scholarly notion of a rigid social setting strictly demarcated along confessional lines, Simonsohn's comparative study of Christian and Jewish legal behavior under early Muslim rule exposes a considerable degree of fluidity across communal boundaries. This seeming disregard for religious affiliations threatened to undermine the position of traditional religious elites; in response, they acted vigorously to reinforce communal boundaries, censuring recourse to external judicial institutions and even threatening transgressors with excommunication.
Chapter 3 will be of especial interest: "Eastern Christian Judicial Authorities in the Early Islamic Period." Here the author looks at such things as Coptic canon law, the ecclesiastical structures and courts of the Syriac Churches, and Armenian sources, inter alia.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Athanasius McVay: the Holodomor and the Holy See (*)

The famous diabolical sneer attributed to Hitler on the eve of the Holocaust, "Who remembers the Armenians?", uttered a scant quarter-century after the genocide in that country, could equally apply, mutatis mutandis, to Ukrainians under Stalin who, only a half-dozen years before the Final Solution, suffered through what Robert Conquest first called The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine. That horrendous event has only recently begun to attract scholarly attention.

Recently I noted the launch of a new scholarly work treating the Holodomor or terror-famine as seen in the documents of the archives of the Holy See: Athanasius McVay and Lubomyr Luciuk, The Holy See and the Holodomor: Documents from the Vatican Secret Archives on the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Soviet Ukraine. (This topic is also the subject of a symposium at the Huffington Ecumenical Institute in Los Angeles under the capable direction of Nicholas Denysenko.) I asked one of the co-authors of that study, the priest and historian Athanasius McVay (who blogs about some of his scholarship at Annales Ecclesiae Ucrainae), to discuss his work for us.

AD: Tell us a bit about your background:
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada to a mother of Ukrainian ancestry. I studied at the Angelicum and Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome, and completed a doctoral dissertation on the relations between the papal diplomats and the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic hierarchy during the struggle for Ukrainian independence (1918-1923). Currently I am completing an historical biography of the first Ukrainian bishop for Canada, Blessed Nykyta Budka (1877-1949), the centenary of whose appointment we will be celebrating in 2012.
In addition to being a church historian and scholar, I am a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest who has, among other assignments, spent the last twelve years transcribing various documents in the Vatican Archives relating to Ukrainian history. At first this research was aimed at the preparation of my doctoral dissertation. Later, I discovered that there was very little research being done on Ukrainian subjects in these archives.
AD: You note some of this research and its findings on your blog, yes?
Yes, and I publish some of it in scholarly journals including, as you know, Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.
AD: What happened after you finished your doctoral program?
After finishing my doctorate in 2008, both Bishop David Motiuk of the Edmonton Eparchy of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and the Bishop Budka Society of Edmonton commissioned me to write an historical biography of Blessed Nykyta Budka in preparation for the centenary of his nomimnation (1912-2012).
While searching the archives for information on Budka, I accidentally discovered documents concerning the Holodomor. I’ve known about the Holodomor since the early 1980’s when Ukrainians across Canada organized various conferences and demonstrations to have this humanitarian tragedy officially recognized by the Canadian Government. In 1984 my hometown erected a monument to the Holodomor directly in front of our City Hall.
AD: "Holodomor" is still not a generally well-known term. What does it describe?
After the 1917 Russian Revolution and creation of the USSR, the Soviet economy was a disaster, especially due to the ideological economic schemes such as the collective farms. Widespread famine was occurring in Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 1920’s. This made the Soviet Union politically weak and fueled the Ukrainian independence movement. Stalin decided to kill two birds with one stone by weakening the Ukrainian ethnic population and also eliminating the prosperous farmer-class known as kulaks. Grain was confiscated at gunpoint and shipped to Russian parts of the Soviet Union that were also experiencing food shortages. The politically motivated famine was directed specifically against Ukrainian ethnics. Estimates range from three to ten million starved to death as a result. The exact number of victims is a matter of lively debate.
The Soviet Union and its successor the Russian Federation have denied that the famine was directed against Ukraine. Political and diplomatic pressure has been exerted on other countries not to disseminate information about the Holodomor and especially not to give it any kind of official recognition. As to the labeling of genocide, the question is complicated. Whatever you want to call the Holodomor, it is vital that it be recognized as a deliberate act directed mainly against the ethnically Ukrainian population of Soviet Ukraine and Russia. Films about the Holodomor have been released. At the time journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones broke the story after visiting Soviet Ukraine.

After the publication of government documents proving the existence of the Holodomor, the publication of our documents, and contemporary news reports by Muggeridge and Jones, it is obvious that the late Walter Duranty’s reports were inaccurate. I don’t know the motivation behind such reports. I understand that some scholars have asked for Duranty’s Pulitzer prize to be posthumously revoked.
For my doctoral dissertation, I sifted through well over ten-thousand folios, mainly from two collections: the Archives of the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (AES) and those of the Apostolic Nunciature of Warsaw. For this particular project, virtually all of the documents are found in the Pro Russia section of the AES. Pro Russia was a Pontifical Commission created by Pius XI to handle all Catholic affairs in the Soviet Union and among Russian émigréés.
AD: I have heard from other scholars that doing research in Rome, and especially the Vatican, is sometimes difficult and that accessing materials is not always easy. What was your experience?
The Archivium Secretum Vaticanum was opened for research to scholars by Pope Leo XIII in 1881. It has been the custom for the Roman Pontiffs to de-classify documents dating from not less than eighty years after the end of a pontificate of one or more of their predecessors. In 1985 John Paul II declassified documents from the pontificates of Pius X and Benedict XV (1903-1922). In 2006 Benedict XVI de-classified those from the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939).
It is a great privilege to be permitted to perform research in such an important collection of archival fonds known collectively as the Vatican Secret Archives. The official name is a bit of a misnomer. Secretum here would be the equivalent to Privy in English. They are the Pope’s archives and, as at any state archives, are private but not secret.
The staff of the Vatican archives is made up of highly competent historians. Researchers have to be recommended by competent academic institutions and even by ecclesiastical authorities in order to gain permission to consult the archival collections. They do not have direct access to the archives themselves but may consult the indices provided and request portions of archival fonds, boxes, envelopes and sometimes even single folios. Consultation of the documents is carefully monitored by the staff in order that no harm comes to them.

AD: It is often assumed that all communications in the Vatican are in Latin, still the "official" language of the Roman Catholic Church. What languages did you encounter in the documentation?
The lingua franca used in Vatican diplomatic correspondence is Italian. Documents to and from secular diplomatic representatives are invariably in French. Only a very few documents are in Latin, often to or from churchmen who did not speak Italian or French. The letters coming from Ukraine were written in Russian. The AES index lists the themes of all the documents contained in that archive, including famine in Russia. "Holodomor" is a Ukrainian term coined later. I spent about two months on-and-off translating the documents as I had other work do on my biography of Bishop Budka.

AD: Were there any surprises as you did your research?
The basic details about the Holodomor were known to me; but many of the details of the famine were new to me, especially how the Apostolic See sought to intervene to make the tragedy know to the world and to alleviate the people's suffering. The Pope learned about the Holodomor from the French Jesuit, Bishop Michel d'Herbigny, who was the president of the Pro Russia Commission. D'Herbigny was receiving letters from the Soviet Union as well as reports from foreign diplomats who had witnessed the situation first hand. D'Herbigny attempted to move mountains in order to convince Pius XI to launch an aid-mission to the Soviet Union, just as he and his predecessor Benedict XV had done in 1921-1923. The emotional Pius XI wept when he received one report and insisted that something must be done. Unfortunately churchmen and diplomats all concurred that no aid would ever reach the people because Soviet authorities were officially denying the existence of a famine that Stalin had deliberately orchestrated. In the end, the Pope was only able to authorize a gift of ten-thousand Italian lire to be forwarded to starving Catholics via German charitable organizations that had contacts in Ukraine.
AD: Sum up the book for us:
The book, currently only in English, is simply one more testimony of the Holodomor from primary and international diplomatic sources.

It is also a contribution to scholarship on the inner workings of the Roman Curia during the pontificate of Pius XI. The book is available from Kashtan Press, Abe Books, and, in Rome, at the Centro Russo Ecumenica (Messaggio dell’Icona) on Borgo Pio.

* Updated at request of the interviewee
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