"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, March 7, 2018

Assumptionists as Byzantinists

Since doing some field research with a graduate student of mine back in 2013, when we visited the remnants of the Byzantine Franciscans in Sybertsville, PA and their lovely neighbors the Byzantine Carmelite sisters in Sugarloaf, PA, I have become acutely aware of how badly Eastern Catholics fail at writing our own history, including that of such unique communities as these two. The Byzantine Franciscans are but a tiny shell of what they once were though they still maintain an absolutely lovely church and campus. The Byzantine Carmelite sisters, by contrast, had a goodly number of young vocations when I was there and seem to have a fairly stable and promising future. Their chapel is stunning, and their singing very unique and beautiful.

I maintain only the fondest recollections of their dynamic and wonderful founder and mother-superior, a no-nonsense Irish Catholic from New York who "discovered" the Christian East in the 1950s and felt it was her life's work and call to help Catholics know the East, love the East, and be reconciled with the East. Hers is a fascinating history, and I strongly encouraged her to write both her own history and that of the community she founded, but she was reluctant to do so, having so many other pressing projects. 

All this is but a preface to note a new book whose publication I cheered because it helps fill in some of the many holes in Eastern Catholic historiography: L'apport des Assomptionnistes français aux études byzantines : une approche critique (Peeters, 2017), 536pp.

I studied and wrote about the activities of a few of the Assumptionists and their role in Ukraine and Russia when Peter Galadza and I were working on Unité en division : Les lettres de Lev Gillet, Un moine de l'Eglise d'Orient à Andrei Cheptytsky, 1921-1929. It was, at times, hard going trying to find out much about some of these figures. So I am, as I say, happy to see this new edited collection about which the publisher tells us the following:
Membres d'une congrégation catholique fondée en France en 1845, les Assomptionnistes n'avaient pas initialement vocation à devenir des byzantinistes. Lorsqu'à la faveur de l'installation d'une petite communauté à Constantinople en 1895, certains d'eux ont entrepris des recherches sur l'Orient orthodoxe, ils ne pensaient probablement pas faire école ni marquer la byzantinologie d'une empreinte spécifique. Pourtant leurs travaux, poursuivis durant plus d'un siècle, ont stimulé et nourri ceux de beaucoup de spécialistes. Comprendre comment ils ont abordé leur objet d'étude - l'Église byzantine -, selon quelles directions de recherche et en mettant en valeur quel type de résultats, permet de repenser aujourd'hui certaines des orientations qu'ils ont données à la discipline. Les études réunies dans cet ouvrage collectif analysent dans une perspective critique les méthodes et les choix scientifiques de ces religieux catholiques, mais aussi leurs préjugés en tant que spécialistes d'une confession qu'ils qualifiaient eux-mêmes de «dissidente», alors qu'ils étaient animés, au moins à l'origine, par une perspective prosélyte. Les contributions de ce volume entrecroisent l'histoire des intellectuels catholiques au 20e siècle et l'historiographie byzantine, afin d'éclairer ces relations entre engagement confessionnel et science, souvent fécondes, mais parfois peut-être aussi contradictoires, et afin d'esquisser un bilan de l'oeuvre scientifique des Assomptionnistes de l'Institut français d'études byzantines.
For those who do not read French, the table of contents, available here, shows that there are a handful of articles in English, including one by Daniel Galadza, author of the recent monograph I noted here.

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