"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 2, 2022

Senses and Perceptions of Things Divine

I well remember the moment (or do I? how reliable are senses and memories anyway?) at the turn of the century when we started seeing books devoted to exploring the role of the senses in Christian experience. Since then we have had books on smell and scent, on sight and visual culture, on hearing and listening, and other things besides. 

This year two more will be introduced into this category, their authors no strangers to long-time readers of this wee blog. The first is an edited international scholarly collection, Perceiving Things Divine: Towards a Constructive Account of Spiritual Perception, eds. Frederick D. Aquino and Paul L. Gavrilyuk (Oxford University Press, 6 March 2022), 272pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:

Sensory language is commonly used to describe human encounters with the divine. Scripture, for example, employs perceptual language like 'taste and see that the Lord is good', 'hear the word of the Lord', and promises that 'the pure in heart will see God'. Such statements seem to point to certain features of human cognition that make perception-like contact with divine things possible. But how precisely should these statements be construed? Can the elusive notion of 'spiritual perception' survive rigorous theological and philosophical scrutiny and receive a constructive articulation?

Perceiving Things Divine seeks to make philosophical and theological sense of spiritual perception. Reflecting the results of the second phase of the Spiritual Perception Project, this volume argues for the possibility of spiritual perception. It also seeks to make progress towards a constructive account of the different aspects of spiritual perception while exploring its intersection with various theological and philosophical themes, such as biblical interpretation, aesthetics, liturgy, race, ecology, eschatology, and the hiddenness of God. The interdisciplinary scope of the volume draws on the resources of value theory, philosophy of perception, epistemology, philosophy of art, psychology, systematic theology, and theological aesthetics.

The volume also draws attention to how spiritual perception may be affected by such distortions as pornographic sensibility and racial prejudice. Since perceiving spiritually involves the whole person, the volume proposes that spiritual perception could be purified by ascetic discipline, healed by contemplative practices, trained in the process of spiritual direction and the pursuit of virtue, transformed by the immersion in the sacramental life, and healed by opening the self to the operation of divine grace.

You will note here an impressive cast of contributors, including Sarah Coakley and Catherine Pickstock (who was going to be my doctoral director at Cambridge when I was admitted in 1999 before turning them down).  

The next book is Hearing the Scriptures: Liturgical Exegesis of the Old Testament in Byzantine Orthodox Hymnography by Eugen J. Pentiuc (Oxford UP, 2021), 456pp. 

About this book we are told:

Throughout the ages, interpreters of the Christian scriptures have been wonderfully creative in seeking to understand and bring out the wonders of these ancient writings. That creativity has often been overlooked by recent scholarship, concentrated as it is in the so-called critical period. In this study, Eugen J. Pentiuc illuminates the remarkable way in which the Byzantine hymnographers (liturgists) expressed their understanding of the Old Testament in their compositions, an interpretive process that he terms "liturgical exegesis."

In authorship and methodology, patristic exegesis and liturgical exegesis are closely related. Patristic exegesis, however, is primarily linear and sequential, proceeding verse by verse, while liturgical exegesis offers a more imaginative and eclectic mode of interpretation, ranging over various parts of the Bible. In this respect, says Pentiuc, liturgical exegesis resembles cubist art. To illuminate the multi-faceted creativity of liturgical exegesis, Pentiuc has chosen the vast and rich hymnography of Byzantine Orthodox Holy Week as a case study, offering a detailed lexical, biblical, and theological analysis of selected hymns. His analysis reveals the many different and imaginative ways in which creative liturgists incorporated and interpreted scriptural material in these hymns.

By drawing attention to the way in which the bible is used by Byzantine hymnographers in the living Orthodox tradition, Hearing the Scriptures makes a ground-breaking contribution to the history of the reception of the scriptures.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...