"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).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Patriarchal Beastiary

With the depressing if tediously predictable news that recent Orthodox discussions at Chambésy have bogged down over patriarchal protocol and precedent (the so-called diptychs of all things: some things never change), with the ongoing turmoil in the Orthodox Church of America centred on its primate, with the election of a new Maronite patriarch, and with the election of the new (earthly) head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, whom most refer to as a "patriarch" though the title, canonically, is "major archbishop" (a Vatican invention in the 1960s to spare delicate Russian feelings), there has been a lot of discussion in the news lately about heads of Eastern Churches. What is a primate? patriarch? metropolitan? catholicos? Herewith a brief bibliographical note about anglophone sources for understanding these figures.

There is, in fact, no one comprehensive and reliable study of how Eastern Churches are governed. Studies such as Michael Burgess, The Eastern Orthodox Churches: Concise Histories with Chronological Checklists of Their Primates are, as I have shown elsewhere, rather significantly flawed in many respects so as to preclude unconditional recommendation. Nicholas Ferencz's fascinating book American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism is really excellent, but it treats exclusively American parochial and diocesan realities.

There are some historical treatments of certain patriarchs in certain periods. Thus, for example, we have Daniel Benjamin's The Patriarchs of the Church of the East. An outdated history is also given us by Arthur John Maclean's The Catholicos of the East and his people: Being the impressions of five years' work in the "Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian mission," an account of ... Northern Persia (known also as Nestorians).The most accurate and current treatment comes, in part, in Christoph Baumer's The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity.

For Antioch, we have John Mason Neale's old History of the Holy Eastern Church: The Patriarchate of Antioch: Together with Memoirs of the Patriarchs of Antioch / by Constantius ; translated from the Greek ; and three appendices. We also have a treatment of the Melkite patriarchs: History of the Melkite Patriarchates: (Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem), from the Sixth Century Monophysite Schism Until the Present (1910). Both of these, of course, are now very dated. One forthcoming work from Gorgias Press is Patriarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Nineteenth Century.

Among Eastern Catholic treatments, the best is Francis Marini's The Power of the Patriarch: Patriarchal Jurisdiction on the Verge of the Third Millennium.  But see also the works of another Maronite, the Chorbishop John Faris: The Eastern Catholic Churches: Constitution and Governance: According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Important too in this context is Jobe Abbass, Apostolic See in the New Eastern Code of Canon Law.

Two other books are in categories by themselves: the massive, wonderfully and lavishly illustrated The Splendour of Orthodoxy: Two Thousand Years of History, Monuments and Art (v. 1 and v. 2). This two volume set, as I said elsewhere, is itself a monument to the bibliographer's art. It is a handsome, large, beautiful book that actually has some limited scholarship on Orthodox ecclesial structures.

The other massive two-volume study is that of Michael Magee, a Roman Catholic theologian: his The Patriarchal Institution in the Church: Ecclesiological Perspectives in the Light of the Second Vatican Council is an extremely detailed and hugely important study that seems to have attracted little attention since Herder and Herder brought it out in 2006. I drew heavily on it in my own work:  

Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

And it is, if I may be forgiven for saying so, my own work that alone (to date) provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of Orthodox ecclesiology and governance (among many other things). I treat patriarchal governance at length in this book, setting it alongside papal governance in the Roman Church to try and find a way forward through the impasse that the papal office poses.

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