"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).

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Oxford Handbook of Naughty Studies

A decade ago now I was delighted to be asked to contribute to a book that has just been published. I worked dutifully and submitted my chapter by the early 2012 deadline as agreed. And then the wait began.

As a long-time editor myself, I am aware how much we editors are at the mercy of contributors. I have, through long and sometimes unpleasant experience editing many international volumes over the last 19 years developed a rough rule:

c. 75% of contributors will both agree and deliver their materials on time;

c. 10% of contributors will agree and then, with maximal rudeness damning them to a long purgatory, never be heard from again;

c. 15% of contributors will agree, beg for an extension, promise to have it in by the new deadline; beg again; promise again; go silent for a while; and then finally at the very last possible minute after increasingly stern remonstrations from a sorely vexed editor, submit their contribution with excuses of varying, and generally very low, plausibility. It is these latter who can hold up your entire book for years, as I know only too well.

This, I know, from the one remaining editor, is precisely what happened to this just-released Handbook which I received in the mail last week. In fact, so much longer than expected did this book take to finish that the senior of the two original editors has now been dead for over a year. 

This Handbook focuses on a topic at which it has been far too easy to take cheap and ignorant pot-shots for decades now. Indeed one of the words in the title, The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studiesremains a very naughty word that arouses the worst sorts of disordered desires and logismoi in all sorts of unpleasant people. I learned this in 1991 when I went to Australia for the seventh general assembly of the World Council of Churches. There I saw up close that crazy American evangelicals and crazy post-Soviet Orthodox had unwittingly formed their own bilateral partnership as unhappy allies in this new and nasty movement that denounced ecumenism as a "pan-heresy," as the work of the "anti-Christ" that would lead us all to a "one world church" under the domination of the UN or something. It was then, and remains today, utterly tiresome nonsense. 

There is nothing optional about being, as I unapologetically am, a uniate for that is the mandate of the Lord to seek and sustain unity among His followers. Anyone who refuses this mandate, who promotes and exults in division, is demonic. 

About this new collection the publisher tells us this:

The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies is an unparalleled compendium of ecumenical history, information and reflection. With essay contributions by nearly fifty experts in their various fields, and edited by two leading international scholars, the Handbook is a major resource for all who are involved or interested in ecumenical work for reconciliation between Christians and for the unity of the Church. 

Its six main sections consider, respectively, the different phases of the history of the ecumenical movement from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; the ways in which leading Christian churches and traditions, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, and Pentecostal, have engaged with and contributed to the movement; the achievements of ecumenical dialogue in key areas of Christian doctrine, such as Christology and ecclesiology, baptism, Eucharist and ministry, morals and mission, and the issues that remain outstanding; various ecumenical agencies and instruments, such as covenants and dialogues, the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Global Christian Forum; the progress and difficulties of ecumenism in different countries, areas and continents of the world, the UK and the USA, Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, ; and finally two all-important questions are considered by scholars from various traditions: what would Christian unity look like and what is the best method for seeking it? This is a remarkably comprehensive account and assessment of one of the most outstanding features of Christian history, namely the modern ecumenical movement.

In this volume, I am alongside distinguished Orthodox scholars whom I am delighted also to be able to call friends: John Jillions has a chapter (and you really should read his recent book about which I interviewed him here) and so does Radu Bordeianu (whom I interviewed here about his superlative book on ecclesiology, which I have used in ecclesiology courses for nearly a decade now); and the new (to me) Orthodox scholar Tamara Grdzelidze, who has been very prolific in the field of ecumenical studies.

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