"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).

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Coptic Papacy

With the great turmoil in Egypt since late 2010, and the death in March of this year of Pope Shenouda III, the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria, attention has been focused on that Church and its struggle to survive in Egypt. A new pope has not been selected yet, and the Coptic Church has historically had some of the most interesting, and widely participatory, methods for choosing her popes, as I note in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

For several years now, we have been treated to new volumes in a trilogy treating the history of the Coptic papacy. The first volume, by Stephen J. Davis, came out in 2005: The Early Coptic Papacy: The Egyptian Church and Its Leadership in Late Antiquity. This was followed in 2010 by Mark Swanson's  The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt: The Popes of Egypt: A History of the Coptic Church and Its Patriarchs Volume 2

The third volume, co-authored by Magdi Guirguis and Nelly van Doorn-Harder, was recently released: The Emergence of the Modern Coptic Papacy: The Popes of Egypt: A History of the Coptic Church and Its Patriarchs, Volume 3 (American University of Cairo Press, 2011), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This third and final volume of The Popes of Egypt spans the five centuries from the arrival of the Ottomans in 1517 to the present era. Hardly any scholarly work has been written about the Copts during the Ottoman period. Using court, financial, and building records, as well as archives from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate and monasteries, Magdi Guirguis has reconstructed the authority of the popes and the organization of the Coptic community during this time. He reveals that the popes held complete authority over their flock at the beginning of the Ottoman rule, deciding over questions ranging from marriage and concubines to civil disputes. As the fortunes of Coptic notables rose, they gradually took over the pope’s role and it was not until the time of Muhammad Ali that the popes regained their former authority. With the dawning of the modern era in the nineteenth century, the leadership style of the Coptic popes necessarily changed drastically, as Egypt’s social, political, and religious landscape underwent dramatic changes, the Coptic Church experienced a virtual renaissance, and expanded from a local to a global institution. In the second part of the book, Nelly van Doorn-Harder addresses the political, religious, and cultural issues faced by the patriarchs that led the Coptic community into the twenty-first century. 

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