"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).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Recommendations 2017

Somewhere or other Churchill reports (or someone around him reported--perhaps Jock Colville's diaries, which I am re-reading just now?) that during the war his nightly ritual consisted of what Catholics might call an examination of conscience: he interrogated himself before going to sleep, he said, to ask what concrete good he had done that day to advance the Allied cause towards victory: "Action this day" was his motto, which he had printed on bright red stickers he used to affix to memos he sent all over the place to a variety of people.

Stock-taking towards the year's end is not a bad exercise on a larger scale, and I find it helpful to look back at what has been read in the preceding months. To that end, and to aid readers in discovering books they may have missed, or books they may wish to order as gifts for friends and family, I offer the following look back at some of the books discussed on here since January. (For Christmas lists from years past, see here, here, here, and here.)

Patristics: This year, I drew attention to a number of new books in Patristics, including a work Against Marcellus. Oxford University Press brought out a Handbook on Maximus in paperback. (Maximus has been a "growth industry" for some time, as a look back here will show.) I also noted new works on Irenaeus, and a Kindle edition of a book published about Climacus 

Ecclesiology: I have not yet read Ashley Purpura's new study on hierarchy and power in Byzantine theologies, but I am very much looking forward to doing so.

On a similar theme, see a new book on Constantine and state power.

I reviewed a new collection devoted to the ecclesiology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a fascinating woman whose life is nicely told in this biography.

I remain haunted by Francis Oakley's study of conciliarism, which I commend to your interest. This year also saw the publication of a new book devoted to other forms of conciliarism.

Liturgy: A few weeks ago I drew attention to the work of the historian Robert Taft, whose life is drawing to a close. At the link you will find discussion of some of the many influential works Taft authored over the last half-century.

Russian Orthodoxy: It has long been obvious to me that the Russian Church enviously copies the Roman Church in not a few areas, including, recently, in racing to up the number of new saints, as you may read in this new book about new Russian saints and memories.

Other works noted this year include one on aseticism at the sunset of the Romanov empire. In the final years of that empire, Russia engaged in a disastrous war with Japan during which the role of the Church was significant but overlooked until now.

But all was not decline: see a new book about Russian Orthodox revivals from the revolution to end of WWII.

In a time of decline and confusion, new notions of national identity began to arise, as Serhii Plokhi's new book, Lost Kingdom, reveals.

This year we saw attention being drawn to two very influential Russian thinkers: to Pavel Florensky's early writings; and to the life of Vladimir Lossky

Russian Revolution: Amidst the avalanche of publications on the centenary of the revolution, I drew brief attention to a biography of Trotsky, noting also other studies of Stalin, and others. One of the poisoned fruits of the revolution has come in for reexamination: the Great Terror revisited. Additionally, see here for some interesting studies of the theological roots of the revolution.

Papal History: T.A. Howard's very fine new book, The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age was discussed in three parts, beginning here. Any Catholic on your Christmas list, any historian, or anyone interested in questions of historiography and authority, as well as intellectual history more generally, will find this a rich study.

There's more than one pope in the world, of course, and the Coptic holder of that title occupies an office with a long and distinguished history, some of which is told in a three-volume series newly available in paperback.

For more on Coptic monastic history, see here.

Historical Memory and Forgetting: These are themes I have been discussing on here for more than two years. This year several new works were noted here. I also mentioned a recent collection devoted to theologies of retrieval.

Spirituality and Sacramentality: The Oxford University Press collection on sacraments, in which I wrote the chapter on orders, is coming out in an affordable paperback. I've taught courses on sacraments for years, and I think I am as unbiased as possible in saying that this really is the best book available for undergraduates and even beginning graduate students.

An interesting new study on the role of artistic askesis was noted here.

The great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann's "lost" work on the liturgy of death was noted here.

Finally, see this new book on the poetry of Romanus the Melodist regarding the Theotokos.

Author Interviews: One of the real delights of running this blog is the ability to interview authors of new works. This year I was able to do four of those, with a reposting (for reasons noted at the link) of an interview previously done with John P. Manoussakis.

I interviewed my friend Nick Denysenko  to talk about his book, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, which is a fascinating work very winsomely written.

Cyril Hovorun's new book on ecclesial structures is the best book in ecclesiology to come out in the last five years, and I will be returning to it again in the new year. In the meantime, if you can overlook its dozens of typos, it will be very much worth your time. It deserves a wide audience among Catholics and Orthodox alike.

It is always a real delight to talk to my friend Michael Plekon, as I did again this spring about his new book on sacramentality, which Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox friends will all find edifying. Now that he has retired from more than forty years teaching at CUNY, I hope we can yet expect further books and articles from him, especially of the nature and calibre of Saints as They Really Are, which several of my students have found invaluable.

Finally, I would draw attention to A.E. Siecienski on the papacy. I have not paid nearly enough attention to that book this year, and hope to remedy that soon. In the meantime, it is quite simply a superlative work of history which I most heartily commend to all who are interested.

Social Teachings:
Tempting though it often is for too many bourgeois Christians especially to reduce the tradition to one of puritanism and moral scrupulosity, the social teaching of Christianity remains a stinging rebuke to the world today, and to much of the Church today, too, alas. Several new books remind us of this rebuke, including one on hoarding and saving. See also David Bentley Hart and Alasdair MacIntyre on Christianity and communism. Finally, see this long overdue and very valuable attempt at defining the common good.

Psychoanalysis: Though many continue to proudly to trumpet their illiteracy and ignorance by sneering whenever Freud or psychoanalysis is mentioned, I remain a resolute defender of both, and spent no little time on here this year continuing to engage the tradition Freud founded, as you can see, inter alia, here. Thus I spent a good bit of time on a welcome new book devoted to the pioneering work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, which I reviewed in 3 parts.

I also noted a slender new study trying to look at world conflicts through analytic eyes.

The incomparable Adam Phillips and his apophaticism was discussed on here; see elsewhere my article on him and the Christian East; and see my thoughts on his book about unforbidden pleasures.

One country figured more than just about any others in his patients and imagination: thus it makes sense to welcome a new book on the Russian Freud.

Finally see some writings on Marx and Freud.

Lesser known Eastern Churches: This year, as I noted, we happily saw the publication of a number of new books about the Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia; see also here.

There were also new books about Chaldean Catholics; about Christians in Iraq; and about the Assyrian Church of the East.

Orthodoxy and the Academy: A hefty new collection, featuring a wide variety of articles, all devoted to the status and workings of Orthodox in the academy today was given considerable time on here as the year opened.

Moral theology: Amidst the controversy in the Catholic world occasioned by discussions of marriage and re-marriage, and the controversies more generally swirling around Pope Francis, I took the liberty of drawing attention to a book I first read more than twenty years ago now, which is perhaps even more important than ever in offering--entirely unintentionally--some crucial insights into how this Jesuit pope operates. Thus I commended, and commend, to your attention, Jonsen and Toulmin's book on the history of casuistry.

Once more, I drew attention to Alasdair MacIntyre, but this time to his stunning new book on ethics and desire in modernity.

Byzantium: Interest in all things Byzantine remains high. I noted only a few of the books published under this broad, well, canopy, this year.

When it appears next year, Daniel Galadza's book on liturgical Byzantinization will be a real landmark.

I've spent no little time on the Crusades in the past few years. One new book, devoted to Byzantine history up to the First Crusade was noted here.

See also recent studies about Leontinus of Byzantium; and about Byzantine architecture and aurality.

Finally, see a new book devoted to Byzantium's capital city.

Ottoman History and Eastern Christian Encounters with Islam: Gorgias Press, whose lists of titles devoted to the East are incomparably vast, published a welcome study devoted to Syrians under the Ottomans.

Plagued though we are today by questions of identity, they are not unique to us. A new study detailed such a search for identity in the early Ottoman period.

Turkish denials of Armenian genocide continue, as do studies of the same.

Finally, see this welcome collection on Orthodoxy and Islam in Greece and Turkey.
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