"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, December 27, 2010

A Tribute to an Eastern Christian Bibliophile

I have always taken off my skoufia to the Archpriest Robert Anderson, an Eastern Christian bibliophile on a scale unrivaled by anyone else I know. His library was enormous, taking up the entire basement of his house, and everyone who knew him considered him a walking encyclopedia and polyglot. If he didn't know something, or hadn't read at least six books on an Eastern theological, historical, linguistic, or cultural topic, then it was truly obscure!

He died suddenly last night in Staten Island. I had been close friends with him for nearly a decade, and wrote what lies below in tribute. (A longer version will be published elsewhere.)

It was a fiercely hot and humid day. We were trapped on a ghastly bus driving back at dusk from Lviv to our camp in Rovesnyk. The bus kept overheating and every ten minutes the driver had to stop, get out, pour some water into the engine, and wait for it to cool off. Then he would start up again, careening recklessly down too-narrow roads at break-neck pace while we all braced ourselves for what we were sure was our imminent arrival before the “awesome tribunal of Christ.” On board this rattling trap of death were all the teachers and students of the English Summer School of the Lviv Theological Academy—as it was then called in 2001.

I had gone to Ukraine with Fr. Roman Galadza to teach English that summer to students of the LTA—precursor to today’s Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU). There I met someone who would change my life: the Archpriest Robert Anderson, known to everyone as the incomparable Fr. Bob. In one of those strange twists of life, I had to go half-way around the world to meet him even though we both lived but a few hours from each other in Ontario.

A year after returning from Ukraine, I found myself at the Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa as a doctoral student, and my friendship with Fr. Bob took off.

He lived in a charming little house on Chémin de la Montagne, enabling him to refer to himself sometimes as a mountain hermit. We had many long and wonderful conversations in that house, many meals, and much laughter. I would get to know that house intimately over the years as I not only visited regularly but looked after it every summer when he returned to Ukraine as spiritual director of UCU’s English Summer School. One summer, in fact, I got there in the nick of time as the pump on his well had exploded and begun to flood the basement. This was a problem in itself, but it was very nearly an unimaginable catastrophe because all of Fr. Bob’s many, many, many books were kept in his basement—probably because if they had been on the main floor, it would have collapsed under the weight! Fortunately we were able to get the water stopped before the books were damaged.

Fr. Bob, ordained in the Holy Land in 1972 at the hands of the late Melkite Archbishop Joseph Raya of blessed memory, spent the last two decades in and around Ottawa. In 2005 in Ottawa I asked him to put together a brief CV so that I could introduce him. This is what he sent me:

Archpriest Robert Anderson has served as pastor since 1973 of Ukrainian Greek Catholic parishes in Wilton, North Dakota; Chatham, Ontario and, since 1990, in Kingston, Ontario. He holds a B.A. in French language and literature from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City with several diplômes from the Institut Catholique in Paris, a B.Ed. from the University of Toronto, and a Masters degree in Oriental Christian Theology from Maryknoll Seminary. A teacher  for over three decades in Catholic schools in the Bronx (New York), Chatham and Ottawa, he taught all grades from 5 through 13. He taught French, various religion courses and world religions in English as well as in French immersion programs. Fr. Robert retired from teaching in June 2004 and now continues to dedicate his time to his parish, evangelization in the Eastern Churches and as one of the dukhovnyks at Holy Spirit Seminary in Ottawa. He has been spiritual director of the English Summer School of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv for the past six years.

I left Ottawa in July 2007, but Fr. Bob and I talked regularly on the phone, exchanged e-mails almost daily, and saw each other whenever we could. His normal practice, after celebrating Christmas liturgy at his parish in Kingston, was to travel to his sister's in New York for the holidays. He was there again this year when, suddenly, on Sunday December 26, 2010, he collapsed and died.

In previous years when he was there we would invite him to my in-laws just across the border in Connecticut for drinks and dinner. My in-laws, who grew up in the Bronx, loved hosting Fr. Bob, not least for his endless supply of fascinatingly “useless trivia” (as he would put it) about New York City and environs. My sons—including Aidan, whom Fr. Bob baptized in Ottawa on Theophany in 2007—were endlessly fascinated with what he called his “big rug” (i.e., long beard) and always loved to see him, as did we all.

And now he is gone. When I received the stunning news, my thoughts turned back to the eloquent homily of Joseph Ratzinger from June 1988 at the funeral of his friend Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Mourning and consolation touch one another at the death of a believer. We mourn him because he is no longer among us. Never again shall we be able to hold a conversation with him, never again obtain his advice. We shall need him so often, but shall seek for him in vain. But there is also consolation in this sorrow: his life has taught us how to believe.

Indeed Fr. Bob taught me how to believe, impressing on me in a singular way the fact that, as he always put it, “Christianity is a way to survive death.”

Those of us who are academics are often in danger of over-complicating things, but Fr. Bob, a master teacher with a New Yorker’s impatience for obfuscation and nonsense (he would have used a different word: bullsh**t), always got right to the heart of the matter: Christ has destroyed death and His followers can live forever. Now, when I try to explain to my students the wonderful, if maddeningly complex, world of Eastern Christianity, I am able to say that if they don’t remember the date of the Union of Brest, or the number of the sacraments, or the name of a particular icon, they must at least remember the one simple, beautiful truth at the heart of all Christianity, Western and Eastern: Christos Anesti!

And the rest is silence.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Petrine Ministry and Christian Unity

Earlier I had mentioned a forthcoming Eerdmans publication on the papacy. I have now just received and read 

James Puglisi, ed., How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? (Grand Rapids, MI, 2010), x+369pp.

James Puglisi is director of the Centro Pro Unione in Rome, and editor of a previous collection on the same topic. Fully one-third of that earlier (1999) collection (4 chapters out of 12) was written by Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox theologians who gathered in Rome with other theologians in a symposium in response to Ut Unum Sint, about which you will all want to read my book.

This present book, by contrast, has only one Eastern contribution from Met. John Zizioulas, whose article repeats, in many places verbatim, his earlier essay in Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church. Zizioulas would make many of the same points again in an article at another symposium in Rome in 2003 whose articles were published in 2005 under Walter Cardinal Kasper's editorship.

In both those places, and again here, Zizioulas makes his ringing declaration, with which I have always wholeheartedly agreed, that "the primacy of the bishop of Rome has to be theologically justified or else can be ignored altogether" (177).

Earlier in the present article, Zizioulas does, however, go a bit beyond his previous two articles on the topic, here introducing a newly self-critical note in at least two places. First, he gently chides some of his fellow Orthodox (he names Afanassieff and Meyendorff) for claiming that

the local church comes first, both historically and theologically, and it is only in a secondary way, if at all (Afanassieff would not allow even for that, at least until the time of St. Cyprian), that we can speak of the church universal. My own personal view has always been different, and it was so because I have always believed that the nature of the Eucharist points to the simultaneity of locality and universality in ecclesiology (172).
Second, while reiterating his belief that synodality and primacy can only ever exist together, and neither can function, nor even be coherent, without the other, he notes that "there can be no church without a synod--this is a principle followed carefully by the Orthodox Church, albeit not always in a satisfactory way" (173). A little later he cautions Orthodox against having too great an enthusiasm for the 15th-century Western conciliarist movement. Such Orthodox, Zizioulas suggests, "think that synodality is an alternative to the papal primacy. Such views would imply that there is an incompatibility between primacy and conciliarity, which, as we shall see, is by no means true" (173).

Moving beyond Zizioulas to look at the rest of the book, one notes that this present collection incorporates the proceedings of two ecumenical conferences in 2003 and 2004 at the International Bridgettine Centre of Farfa in Serbia.  The book differs from the earlier two collections in several ways. First, its clear focus, as just noted, is not on the East but on the West, and on Lutheranism in particular. I'd estimate that more than half of the articles in here are written by and for Lutherans. (I say "estimate" because there are several minor irritants with this book, including the fact that none of the many chapters are numbered; there is no index, which is inexcusable in the computer age; and we have no notes whatsoever on the many contributors, most of whose names are not well known at all.)

Second, many (but not all) the articles are more substantial than earlier articles insofar as we have clearly moved beyond generalities and pleasantries. Now instead of airily putting forth a list of fantasies of the "Wouldn't it be nice if the pope immolated himself after restoring Christian unity, ending poverty, and ensuring world peace with free fuzzy bunnies for all the children thrown in?" variety, we have articles looking at very particular aspects of the papacy, in its history, theology, and current practice. These articles do not shy away from very particular issues which are discussed with very great, and critical, detail in some cases.

There are several familiar arguments made here by several familiar figures, including Walter Kasper, who résumés his four hermeneutical principles he has previously outlined in several places.

Hervé Legrand, whose importantly critical arguments here have been made elsewhere,  goes farther than he has done previously. One of the many commendable things about Legrand is the fact he consistently begins with self-criticism, noting what the Catholic Church must do to gain or strengthen its ecumenical credibility with other Christians. In this article he zeroes in on the bloated eminence of the Roman Curia in the last several decades, arguing that

Vatican II's intention, as everyone knows, had been to highlight the role of the episcopate and to reduce the weight of the Roman Curia. Not only has this objective not been reached, but on the contrary, the Roman Curia has experienced unprecedented expansion: the number of bishops in a position of responsibility has quadrupled, growing from fewer than twenty (cardinals included, under Pius XII) to more than eighty today....Its staff has more than doubled. It is no wonder that the Curia has turned into some kind of universal decision-maker and that at the same time collegiality, subsidiarity, and legitimate diversities regress (319).
A little later, Legrand offers a startling statistic, based on the 2004 Annuario Pontificio, that "43 percent of Catholic bishops (17 percent of whom only are bishops emeritus) are not actually at the head of a diocese" (322) but instead running curial offices or doing other things. If, Legrand concludes, Catholics are serious about reforming the papacy for it to again be an instrument of unity, then the Curia's "reorganization is the most urgent contribution that we, Catholics, can make. Vatican II had foreseen the task. But it is currently neglected" (330).

Joseph Komonchak's "What Ecclesiology for the Petrine Ministry" begins by asking how it is that the overwhelming majority of people today have the image of the Catholic Church "as a vast multinational religious corporation with central headquarters in Rome, branch offices in large cities, and retail shops, called parishes, dispensing spiritual goods. On this view, the pope is seen as the CEO of the firm" (145). Like Legrand, and like Congar before them both, Komonchak also questions "the great growth of central Roman authority....what Yves Congar callled 'the incredible inflation' of the papal teaching office" (146).

Both Legrand and Komonchak illustrate a long-standing fear of the East, summed up in that old line "It's not the pope we fear but the pope's helpers!" These remain critical issues, already addressed more than a decade ago by Archbishop John Quinn and, before him, by the late Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk, often called the "father of collegiality."

Two other important chapters here bear mentioning. Both are by the historian Hermann Pottmeyer. He treats the papacy, especially since Vatican I, with his usual fairness and balance, noting how many of its developments, which we today might regard as problematic, were laudable attempts, in their context, to meet real crises in the Church of their day: "What was rational in certain situations, because it served the good of the church effectively, became counterproductive" (106). Today we need to see what aspects of the papacy are in fact counterproductive, and so "it is incumbent on the Catholic Church itself to give its Petrine ministry a convincing form to make it possible for other Christians to share this experience" of unity (106). Later on Pottmeyer rebukes those anti-Catholic apologists and polemicists who treat Vatican I as some kind of grandiose papal power-grab, arguing that "it was not a lust for power on the part of the popes that led to the two dogmas of the primacy and the infallibility of the pope, but the very real threat to the church, its unity, and its autonomy vis-à-vis the state, and the fact that the faith was in danger" (115). Pottmeyer rightly and hopefully concludes that, understood properly, Vatican I "is not the insuperable obstacle to the unity of Christians that it has long been considered to be" (123).

In sum, this is an important collection, especially for Western Christians, and we are once more in the debt of Puglisi, and Eerdmans for continuing to make these crucial issues available to us and thereby helping us to continue to ask questions whose answers are necessary if Christians are to have a united future. For, as Francis Oakley plaintively asked at the end of his book on conciliarism, how “can one hope to erect a future capable of enduring, if one persists in trying to do so on the foundation of a past that never truly was?”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"HIV Is God's Blessing"

Jarrett Zizon, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, has just published a book with the provocative title

"HIV is God's Blessing:" Rehabilitating Morality in Neoliberal Russia (University of California Press, 2010), viii+258pp.

This study attempts to examine the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and a society still reeling from the unspeakable moral and spiritual damage of communism. Though the Russian Church has been expanding its infrastructure enormously in the last two decades, there is still a great deal of work to be done in renewing the conscience of a people devastated by the great and greatly numerous lies of the evil empire. One clear example of this is in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV infection in the world, and one of the weakest social systems for dealing with it. Most of the burden therefore falls to the Church. In this book, Zigon takes us into a Church-run treatment center both to see what is being done and also to see what larger questions--of morality, of what constitutes a "normal" life, and who defines it--are raised.

We will be reviewing this book in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Saint Maximus the Confessor

There has been a veritable explosion in studies on Maximus the Confessor over the last fifteen years or so. In 1994, Aidan Nichols published a "bibliographical" book about scholarship on Maximus right before nearly a dozen new books, in English alone, appeared.  In 1995 we had a book on his anthropology. In 1996 we had Andrew Louth's important contribution to the acclaimed, highly welcome, and still ongoing Routledge series on the Fathers. In 2003 we had three significant publications: SVS Press brought out another in their series "Popular Patristics" on Maximus. Also that year we had, at long last, a suitable English translation (by Notre Dame's renowned patrologist and historian Brian Daley, SJ) of a signal work on Maximus by the late Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: Cosmic Liturgy: the Universe According to Maximus the Confessor. Finally in that year we had a collection of important documents shedding new light on Maximus precisely as "confessor" of the faith exiled for refusing--as we might say today--to go along to get along. In 2005, we had Demetrios Bathrellos's excellent The Byzantine Christ on Maximus's Christology. We also had in that year an important and fascinating study on the role of the body in Maximus by the Australian scholar Adam Cooper. In 2007 we had a study on the ideas of union and distinction in Maximus. In 2008 we had, also in the excellent Oxford Early Christian Studies Series, a book on Maximus's cosmology.

Now two more books have recently appeared on the horizon:

Despina Prassas, trans. St. Maximus the Confessor's Questions and Doubts (Northern Illinois U Press, 2009), 234pp.

As I have noted before, Northern Illinois Press has started a new, and highly welcome, imprint on Eastern Christian studies, and this is one of the first books to appear.

In addition to the above, we have, published just last month, the latest study on Maximus with the mouthful of a title:

Nikolaos Loudovikos, A Eucharistic Ontology: Maximus the Confessor's Estachological Ontology of Being as Dialogical Reciprocity, trans. Elizabeth Theokritoff (Holy Cross Press, 2010), 266pp.

Maximus is notoriously difficult to translate and understand, but the above book, notwithstanding its having a title only an academic could love, has been praised by Louth for making Maximus accessible to us again today in a Western context whose philosophical currents the author engages, ending by saying that for Maximus as for all of us the telos of our life consists in eucharistic communion with God.

These two most recent studies on Maximus will be reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Listening to the Ecumenical Patriarch

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople New-Rome, so often misunderstood by the media, his fellow Orthodox, and other Christians, occupies an historically unique but currently embattled position in the East--not only by the Turks, but also by some other (especially Russian) Orthodox who dispute his authority, which, as I have shown elsewhere, is not in fact entirely clear in history, the canons, or ecclesiology. His little flock in Constantinople today is growing smaller with each passing year, and lives with on-going harassment from the Turkish government--though lately some of that might, perhaps, be lessening just a wee bit. He does not have the audience, or the ability to command attention, that the bishop of old Rome does. In witness of that, one merely needs to consider the enormous furor one interview the bishop of old Rome is able to generate. There has been no such publicity--not even close--to publications by or about the bishop of new Rome.

And yet this new book from Fordham University Press, a collection of the patriarch's writings, very much deserves attention:

Speaking the Truth in Love: Theological and Spiritual Exhortations of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought)

With a foreword from the Archbishop of Canterbury, this book, edited by the prolific John Chryssavgis, promises to give us some "inside information" into the thinking of a man with an enormously complex brief whose every action requires very painstaking consideration, and whose every word is obviously monitored   by Turkish government minders ever zealous to draw attention away from their deplorable record of protecting Christian human rights.

Fr. Bill Mills will review this in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nonsense on Stilts

This is a book so inexorably committed to proving its prejudices correct, and so completely immune to any evidence to the contrary, that only that most fatuous of creatures, an American politician-bureaucrat, could have produced it. Normally such a book would be best passed over in silence but because it has already generated considerable publicity, and because it gives so much attention to Eastern Christianity, critical scrutiny must be paid to  

Graham E. Fuller, A World Without Islam (Little, Brown & Co., 2010), 328pp.

The author embodies something the great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre noted thirty years ago: modernity is the period par excellence when blind "experts" acclaim their own ability to see. Fuller thinks he has seen a great deal of history of the relations between Eastern Christians and Muslims, and of the wider Eastern and Western Christian relationship. But only a tiny portion of this book can be seen as history in any serious sense of the word. This book is, rather, a exercise of fantasy in which the author asks:

if there had never been an Islam, if a Prophet Muhammad had never emerged from the deserts of Arabia, if there had been no saga of the spread of Islam across vast parts of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, wouldn't the relationship between the West and the Middle East today be entirely different? No, I argue, it might actually be quite similar to what we see today (4).
This book, then, is an exercise of the author's imagination ("this book is an argument, not a narrative" and an "hypothetical argument" at that [15; his emphasis]) in which he claims, moreover, that "there are excellent grounds for imagining that Orthodox Christianity today could have served as a religious and ideological springboard for crystallizing the grievances of the Middle East against the West" (12-13). Thus do we see revealed at the outset Fuller's plaidoyer that he will press relentlessly for the rest of the book: Islam is not and never has been the problem, and he defends it in all the usual ways one finds among today's bien-pensants.

There are two major types of problem with this book: factual and methodological. Both are present in such abundance that I fail to see how this book was subjected to any kind of editorial review, least of all by competent scholars. It would be tedious to list all the problems with this book, so I will confine myself to the first eight (of fourteen) chapters, for here we have the author's treatment of Christian history in general, and of Eastern Christianity in particular.

Let us begin with the methodological problems. The first concerns Fuller's methods of research--or, rather, lack thereof. Fuller, who presents himself--on the front and back covers--as some kind of expert (the "former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA, a former senior political scientist at RAND, and a current adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University") insouciantly tells us he couldn't be bothered to do any actual research for his book:

this is a book about ideas and alternative ways of thinking about them. I have not attempted to "prove" or to document an alternative history....The arguments in this book are based on my own thinking...over a very long period of time....I have turned to mainstream reference materials primarily for dates, for refining my memory, and for additional details pertinent to this alternative reading of East-West conflict, which diminishes the centrality of religion per se--as opposed to so many other formative factors in history. In this case, the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia of Islam, and the ever-sharpening online resource Wikipedia have been helpful in establishing some general details of events (p.307). 
This would be unobjectionable if indeed Fuller had confined himself simply to a speculative exercise. Then we could have enjoyed his opéra bouffe--a harmless and amusing means to wile away an afternoon before getting back to the real worldBut Fuller, instead of proffering a little light fantasy, leapt furiously into the fray of history, presenting more than half of his text not as a "what if" but as a "what happened," that is, an ostensibly truthful, factual, accurate retelling of early Christian and later Christian-Muslim history as well as Eastern Christianity in its pre-modern and modern forms. Fuller has, as far as I can tell, no scholarly background in Christianity, least of all Eastern Christianity, nor any serious training as an historian. In fact, I find no evidence whatsoever that he holds a doctorate in any discipline, has ever held a serious academic post, or has ever published in serious scholarly journals or by serious scholarly presses.

His lack of credentials are not, however,  the real issue. In fact, too many people have too much faith in them. (Churchill, who never went to university, wrote very important and influential multi-volume histories of both World War I and II.) If Fuller wants to play at being an historian, then let us pay him the respect of evaluating his work on such terms.

Lesser men, trying to tell an enormously complex bi-millennial history when faced with so many glaring gaps in their knowledge, might, at the very least, have bestirred themselves to read even a few standard scholarly works on Eastern Christianity, Eastern Christian history, early Christian history, Orthodoxy, the Byzantine State and Empire, Christian history, Christian doctrinal debates, the ecumenical councils, the formation of the creeds, the events leading to the East-West schism, the rise and many transformations in the long history of the papacy, Eastern Christianity's encounter with Islam and its resulting diminishment and relegation to dhimmi status, the Crusades and their uses and abuses, and dozens and dozens of similar books on related matters relevant to his thesis, but not Fuller. All he needs is merely to "refine his memory." But how can one refine memories of what one neither knew nor understood in the first place?  

In addition to ignoring enormous bodies of scholarly literature, Fuller insists on seeing everything through an utterly simplistic, reductionistic lens of power. In an age where humanities departments regularly pay obeisance to Nietzsche (however misunderstood) and Foucault (however absurd), this should not surprise us. Thus, for Fuller, "most of what passes for 'religious issues' are not truly about religion at all" (17): "In the end I hope to persuade the reader that the present crisis of East-West relations, or between the West and 'Islam,' has really very little to do with religion and everything to do with political and cultural frictions, interest, rivalries, and clashes" (16). A little later on, he insists that "in the case of the Middle East and its religions, it is not the theology that really represents the source of conflict" (37). Fuller is undoubtedly right to note that there are other factors--political, cultural, geographical, economic--at work in various conflicts, ancient and modern, in the area, but to quarantine theology the way he does, and to refuse to consider theological arguments at all, is grossly irresponsible. He simply refuses to consider  that--as the old saw has it--if you spend an hour discussing politics in the Middle East, you have ipso facto just spent sixty minutes discussing religion. Why should this be so hard to perceive? Why should Fuller work so tirelessly to deny this? Why must he endlessly insist that theological questions--above all Christian theological questions (for Islamic theology, replete with many quotes from the Quran, is always treated respectfully)--are all "arcane" or "unbelievably arcane" (73)? For Fuller, all theological questions are to be seen "strictly as a prerogative of power" (39; his emphasis). This allows him to begin rhyming off a list of jaw-dropping factual errors such as:

  • "church and state in Christianity have been far more closely tied over most of Christian history than was ever the case in Islam" (41; his emphasis). 
    • nobody who had any grasp of Christian history, East or West, would ever say this, but what is truly astonishing is just how vast and deep Fuller's ignorance of Islam is here. As Bernard Lewis (whom Fuller mentions once, only to dismiss him by means of his favorite sneer: "neoconservative") has shown not only in his most recent book but over his lifetime of scholarship, "church and state" are not merely "closely tied" in Islam: they are fused as one
    • the very notion of a separation between church and state is an inherently Christian one coming from no less a figure than Jesus Christ Himself
  • Fuller asserts that with the legalization of Christianity, "doctrine was now to fall directly under state control" (45), allowing the emperors to determine "orthodoxy" or "heresy."
    • While this myth of imperial control has certainly been popular, it was long ago debunked by the historian Francis Dvornik in his "Emperors, Popes, and General Councils," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 6 (1951): 1-23; and more generally in his books on the councils and the papacy. Basing himself on the 1931 study of Constantine by N.H. Baynes, Dvornik showed convincingly that Constantine was not a power-mad despot simply using Christianity to advance his own agenda but a sincerely convicted believer concerned about truth (a notion utterly foreign to Fuller). Dvornik--and others since then--further showed that Constantine, and the other emperors, never had the kind of power to dictate doctrine that many have falsely attributed to them. Caesaropapism, in a word, is bunk.
  • Repeatedly Fuller claims, without, of course, the slightest hint of evidence, that the Christological controversies of the early Church, especially those arising out of Chalcedon, are still "without consensus and still roil the ranks of Christianity" (47). More strongly still he later insists that "debate over Christ's true nature could never, and has never, been fully laid to rest in any kind of Christian consensus" (56). This is just silly. Chalcedon generated considerable consensus from which there has been very little deviation down to the present day. And even the divide occasioned by Chalcedon was never as wide as many imagined and has largely been overcome in our day, leaving almost all Christians on the same page Christologically.
  • Anachronisms abound in this book. E.g., he asserts that the split of 1054 was motivated because "the Orthodox Church also rejected the 'new' Roman concepts of the Immaculate Conception of Mary" (73). That Latin doctrine was not even on the radar, let alone discussed and formally promulgated for another 800 years. 
  • his treatment of Orthodoxy in the Ottoman empire (p.74) totally overlooks the millet system even though there is a Wikipedia entry on it....
  • his treatment of the papacy links that institution's development to early Christological debates, claiming that "the doctrinal struggle over Jesus's nature...lay at the very foundation of the pope's claim to power. If Jesus was solely Divine [sic] in nature, then how could the pope legitimately claim to be the 'vicar of Christ'?" (83). I've written and especially read acres of papal history--silly and serious--and much else on the office, and not even the silliest and most jejune of commentators has ever come close to making a claim this absurd.
  • he claims that "in 2001, Pope John Paul II expressed his sorrow to the Orthodox Church [for the Fourth Crusade] in his first visit to Orthodox territory, in Romania" (106). But the pope went to Romania in 1999. And the papal apology for the harm of the Crusades came in May 2001 in Athens, Greece. This is grade-school stuff. Does Little, Brown no longer employ fact-checkers or copy editors--or anyone capable of calling up the Vatican website to verify a few things?
  • his treatment of the Nikonian reforms in Russia (p.123) shows no understanding whatsoever of the issues involved, which he treats, predictably, as nothing more or other than state politics.
I could go on and on, but let me end with my two favorite side-splitting howlers:
  • "the West allowed musical instruments in the rites of Western churches, supplanting the strict Gregorian plainsong chants of the Eastern rite. In architecture, the West abandoned the traditional domed Orthodox church design--later absorbed into the design of many Muslim mosques--and adopted what was seen in Orthodox eyes to be the seemingly 'harsher and sharper' lines of Gothic architecture" (157; my emphasis). 
    • Is this for real? There are are so many errors here one scarcely knows where to begin....
  • But the absolute best line in the book is the author's claim, in discussing the controversy, since 1991, over Eastern Catholics in Ukraine: this Fuller describes as "the bitter so-called Uniate controversy, still ongoing, between Catholicism and Orthodoxy over who should control the Nestorian and Monophysite [sic] churches in Ukraine and Belorussia" (160; my emphasis). 
This, as Jesuit casuists of the old school used to say, is but the most egregious example of "invincible ignorance." And to think that this is the kind of "expert" "intelligence" the CIA was receiving!  I should consider hiring myself out to them.
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