"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, April 20, 2018

Christos Yannaras

There are certain names, by the force of their prose and the number of their books, which cannot be overlooked today, and Christos Yannaras is certainly in that category. I have used his books in classes for more than a decade now, and read some others. In the former category I have regularly assigned his Freedom of Morality.

That book seems emblematic of Yannaras in some ways--blustery and sprawling, desperately in need of an editor, prone to wild exaggerations and polemical tangents (especially about tiresome Orthodox bugbears such as "scholasticism" and "pietism"), and not a little bit idealistic. Still it contains some crucial insights well worth thinking about in depth.

It is a facile temptation, devoutly to be avoided, to write Yannaras off as one more anti-Western Orthodox crank, of whom there seem to be not a few today. But Yannaras can indulge in those kinds of polemics (perhaps nowhere at greater length than in Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age) and still be worth your time because--unlike almost all other anti-Western Orthodox--he regularly turns the criticism back on Orthodoxy itself in welcome ways, as he does in this book in particular. This capacity for self-criticism, as I noted here, became obvious and welcome in 2011 when he gave a commencement address at Holy Cross in Brookline denouncing Orthodox zealots with their individualism, their idolization, their fundamentalism, and their fanaticism masquerading as Orthodox but in fact deeply modern and deeply Western.

Among his other books which I have read, and in some cases reviewed elsewhere, I'd draw attention to The Enigma of Evil. I'm not entirely convinced by its arguments, but again it raises some good questions (in between the usual shots at the West).

And I am just about to begin reading his Against Religion: the Alienation of the Ecclesial Event. It promises to be of interest in my own current work on Freud and theology, some of it discussed here where Yannaras's ideas on psychoanalysis (especially its Lacanian variant) were also noted and welcomed. In his essay on Lacan, Yannaras is a model of open learning, of "despoiling the Egyptians" that the Fathers so often practiced and recommended--but which few on-line apologists today seem to do.

There are many other books that could be mentioned, but the point of this entry is to draw your attention to a new book, and a forthcoming one later this year.

The new book is Metaphysics as a Personal Adventure, trans. Norman Russell (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2017), 212pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Christos Yannaras is a philosopher, theologian, and political thinker widely regarded as one of the most important Orthodox thinkers of the twentieth century. He sees theology along with philosophy not as an academic enterprise, but as a serious approach to reality in all the dimensions vital to life today. A controversial figure, he castigates much of what passes for Christianity in the East as well as in the West, calling it a religionization of faith. In this book he responds to searching questions concerning his work, setting his thinking as a whole in an integrated vision of knowledge, truth, relationship, and salvation.
And then, set for release in August of this year is a forthcoming study: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture By Andreas Andreopoulos (Routledge, 2018), 243pp.

About this forthcoming work Routledge tells us the following:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics. With contributions from established and new scholars this collection considers the four main strands of Yannaras’ work - philosophy, theology, ethics and culture - and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields. Christos Yannaras provides a foreword.

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