"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).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Paul Evdokimov and Olivier Clement

Francophone Orthodoxy has produced an enormous number of extremely important and influential thinkers over the last century, many of them connected to L'Institut Saint-Serge in Paris. Among the outstanding figures, Paul Evdokimov occupies a unique place.

I drew on his Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty in a course on iconography last year. It is a dense treatise but worthwhile.

His Woman and the Salvation of the World: A Christian Anthropology on the Charisms of Women continues to influence my thinking as I am working on a new book about sexual differentiation in the Christian East.

His Ages of the Spiritual Life as well as In the World, of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader are both wonderful collections, the latter especially diverse, treating everything from eschatology to the Theotokos, the Eucharist, and the Church. Both of these books were edited by Michael Plekon, who provides a brief biographical sketch of Evdokimov in Tradition Alive and a longer study of him in Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church. Plekon continues to do so much to make European Orthodoxy accessible to North American anglophones--not just in his work on Evdokimov, but also on Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Nicholas Afanasiev, and others.

But it is Evdokimov's book on marriage that I return to again and again, regarding it as the most profound treatment I have seen: The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in the Light of the Orthodox Tradition.

His insights into marriage and its sacrifices, and his idea of a universalized and interiorized monasticism, remain very important and are developed in that book with a depth of wisdom I have seen nowhere else--as I have briefly and modestly indicated elsewhere. Consider but one passage:
The wedding rite symbolically summarizes the entire married life. The betrothed have already exchanged rings; they have already been crowned and they partake of the one cup of life. It is only in the evening of life that this cup, symbolic of fullness, will be taken, when the shadow of the crowns will fall upon it... [and] the spaces of the heart that do not exist as of yet... are created by suffering. In order to be loved by the other, one must renounce oneself completely. It is a deep and unceasing ascetic practice. The crowns of the betrothed refer to martyrdom.
In 2007, I put together a summer course at the Sheptytsky Institute devoted to his life and works, almost all of which have, over the years, been translated into English.

One work that was not translated (there are others), but is now available in English thanks to New City Press, is Orthodoxy (New City Press, 2011), 450pp.

As Olivier Clément says in his foreword: 

The appearance in 1965 of Orthodoxy, a masterpiece of synthesis, was a landmark in religious publishing and earned for its author a doctorate of theology from the Institut Saint-Serge in Paris. Paul Evdokimov here circumvents all scholastic theology on the one hand, and the traditional approach of the 'Dogmatic' theologians on the other, to develop an original synthesis of Orthodox theological thinking. Although he constantly quotes the Fathers, he does so creatively, so as not simply to repeat them, but to incarnate their spirit in our own time and for our future. In addition, he enriches Patristic thought by bringing to bear on it the two great movements that have occurred in Eastern Christianity: the theology of the divine energies in the 14th century which enlightened our understanding of the material world and human culture; and the Russian religious philosophy of the first half of the 20th century with its prophetic intuitions, its Pentecostal understanding of the modern world, and its vital eschatology. A theological approach in which the human intelligence progresses by an ascesis of repentance, of the great conversion of the heart, metanoia, is here set forth so as to show, or rather celebrate, the theosis or deification of the whole human person.... An understanding we might call eucharistic, gathering together and clarifying the experience of life in the Church, an understanding inseparable from the golden chain of holiness, including the holiness of intelligence, which the Church venerates in those whom she calls the 'Fathers.' 

Clément, himself the author of very significant texts, has also been brought into English through New City Press:
All three contain much wisdom--as do his others from other publishers. Of course I read with great interest the second of the two, his book on the papacy, and devoted a section of my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity to discussing it.

I'm greatly looking forward to receiving Evdokimov's Orthodoxy, and I will have more to say about it on here when I do.

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