"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, June 30, 2011

Discussing the Papacy

Last week at the Orientale Lumen conference, a welcome discussion ensued over parts of my book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

I said then that I welcomed this on-going discussion. For those who have read the book and would like to discuss it, I have--in case you have not noticed--placed, at the top of the main page, a separate page where discussion on the book can continue.

Some places have already begun to do so, and I am happy to see this.

Staniloae's Dogmatics: Volume III

Several scholars have suggested that the premier Romanian Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century was and remains Dumitru Staniloae, author of many books on a variety of topics. Slowly his multi-volume dogmatics has been making its way into English translation, and Holy Cross Press, just last month, has brought out the third volume:

Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3, The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, ed. Ioan Ionita and Patr. Daniel  (Holy Cross Press, 2011),182pp.

In his preface, the well-known theologian Andrew Louth tells us about this book:

"In this, the third volume of The Experience of God, Fr. Dumitru Staniloae's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (the third half-volume of the Romanian original), we find his treatment of Christology, of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. At first sight, it seems a very traditional treatment - biblical witness of both the Old and New Testaments, the patristic witness, the theology of the Incarnation, and then a treatment of Christ's work as Prophet, Priest, and King - but the traditional structure...disguises an account of Christ that, though certainly deeply traditional and Orthodox, is challening and even revolutionary in its approach."

I look forward to seeing this reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sage of Sinai

Christians today, seeking guidance from the desert, have more opportunities to access the Desert Fathers and Mothers than at any time thanks to the many books published just in English and just in the last decade. Brepols continues the offerings with a new book:  J.A. Munitiz, ed. and trans., Anastasios of Sinai: Questions and Answers (Brepols, 2011), 264pp.

 About this book the publisher tells us:
The Questions and Answers, presented here for the first time in an English version, form a surprising text. Although put together some thirteen centuries ago (c. 700 A.D.), in what was then a territory newly overrun by Moslem invaders, they retain an astonishing topicality: many of the questions asked at that time by people who had problems with religious beliefs and practices are still being asked today. Anastasios, the person who tried to help people with his replies was linked to the isolated desert monastery of Sinai, founded near the tip of the Arabian peninsula by the great Justinian, probably for strategic defensive reasons as well as out of religious piety. Such a mixture of politics and religion is easy to appreciate today. Anastasios himself does not seem to have lived in any ivory-tower. He toured what is now Egypt and Palestine, preaching and taking part in the religious discussions dividing Christians. His numerous contacts were probably the source of the queries that reached him, and with his obvious delight in writing, he gladly penned replies that are models of pastoral moderation and good sense. The themes that surface have much to do with everyday life: trying to please God while living in a world where family obligations and business interests often leave one perplexed. In the historical background are the Moslems creating very harsh conditions for many Christians, while in the cultural background are the ways of thought that dominated medical and scientific thinking: the four elements that work as instruments of God; the biblical texts that have to be interpreted with common sense; the political and ecclesiastical institutions that need to be respected but not idolized. The danger with such a translation is that it may blur the profound differences that separate us from those who asked the questions then. But on the other hand many will discover with pleasure the common humanity that allows us to listen today with sympathy and understanding to such far-off voices. The source text of this volume appeared in Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca as Anastasius Sinaita - Quaestiones et responsiones (CCSG 59). References to the corresponding pages of the Corpus Christianorum edition are provided in the margins of this translation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Orthodoxy and Islam

Last week on the train to Washington I read Habib Malik, Islamism and the Future of the Christians of the Middle East (Hoover Institute Press, 2010), 66pp.

I was just now working on a review of it, lamenting the dearth of good books examining relations between Orthodox Christians and Muslims when I got word of an exciting and interesting conference to be held in August on those very relations.

I will post a review soon, but in the meantime, I commend to your attention the upcoming conference ''Orthodoxy and Islam: Crisis and Opportunity," further details of which are available here at the OCA's website.

Jaroslav Pelikan on Icons

I am delighted to learn that Princeton University Press is bringing out in the autumn of this year a paperback version of Jaroslav Pelikan's

Imago Dei: The Byzantine Apologia for Icons (PUP, 2011), 224pp.

The original, published in 1990 when Pelikan was still alive (he died in 2006), is being reprinted here with a new foreword from the noted Byzantinst Judith Herrin, whose Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire I reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

About this book, Princeton University Press tells us:
In 726 the Byzantine emperor, Leo III, issued an edict that all religious images in the empire were to be destroyed, a directive that was later endorsed by a synod of the Church in 753 under his son, Constantine V. If the policy of Iconoclasm had succeeded, the entire history of Christian art--and of the Christian church, at least in the East--would have been altered.
Iconoclasm was defeated--by Byzantine politics, by popular revolts, by monastic piety, and, most fundamentally of all, by theology, just as it had been theology that the opponents of images had used to justify their actions. Analyzing an intriguing chapter in the history of ideas, the renowned scholar Jaroslav Pelikan shows how a faith that began by attacking the worship of images ended first in permitting and then in commanding it.
Pelikan charts the theological defense of icons during the Iconoclastic controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries, whose high point came in A.D. 787, when the Second Council of Nicaea restored the cult of images in the church. He demonstrates how the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation eventually provided the basic rationale for images: because the invisible God had become human and therefore personally visible in Jesus Christ, it became permissible to make images of that Image. And because not only the human nature of Christ, but that of his Mother had been transformed by the Incarnation, she, too, could be "iconized," together with all the other saints and angels. The iconographic "text" of the book is provided by one of the very few surviving icons from the period before Iconoclasm, the Egyptian tapestry Icon of the Virgin now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Other icons serve to illustrate the theological argument, just as the theological argument serves to explain the icons.
In a new foreword, Judith Herrin discusses the enduring importance of the book, provides a brief biography of Pelikan, and discusses how later scholars have built on his work.
 I look forward to seeing this reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christianity in Asia

I read a slightly cynical academic not long ago who said that one way to ensure you never ran out of things to talk about or publish on was immediately to "pluralize" everything. We have a new book from Wiley Blackwell and their series "Guides to Global Christianity" that has adopted this increasingly common trend of pluralizing phenomena today: Peter C. Phan, ed., Christianities in Asia (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 288pp.

The publisher provides us with this description of the books contents, saying it:
  • Offers detailed coverage of the growth of Christianity within South Asia; among the thousands of islands comprising Southeast Asia; and across countries whose Christian origins were historically linked, including Vietnam, Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea
  • Brings together a truly international team of contributors, many of whom are natives of the countries they are writing about
  • Considers the Middle Eastern countries whose Christian roots are deepest, yet have turbulent histories and uncertain futures
  • Explores the ways in which Christians in Asian countries have received and transformed Christianity into their local or indigenous religion
  • Shows Christianity to be a vibrant contemporary movement in many Asian countries, despite its comparatively minority status in these regions
There are of course Eastern Christians scattered throughout all of the countries reviewed by this volume, but it seems that the twelfth and final chapter, by the Coptic nun and scholar Lois Farag, "The Middle East," is where we find the most explicit and direct examination of Arab Christians as well as the Syriac, Assyrian, Maronite, and Armenian Churches.

I look forward to seeing this reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Authorial Interview: A. E. Siecienski on The Filioque

Continuing with our interviews of authors of recent books, today we present A. Edward Siecienski, author of The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) (OUP, 2010), 368pp. ), a book that our expert reviewer, the Orthodox historian Robert Haddad of Smith College, in his review in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 52 (Spring 2011), called a "tour de force."

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy is the first complete English language history of the filioque written in over a century. Beginning with the biblical texts and ending with recent agreements on the place and meaning of the filioque, this book traces the history of the doctrine and the controversy that has surrounded it. From the Greek and Latin fathers, the ninth-century debates, the Councils of Lyons and Ferrara-Florence, to the twentieth- and twenty-first century-theologians and dialogues that have come closer than ever to solving this thorny problem, Edward Siecienski explores the strange and fascinating history behind one of the greatest ecumenical rifts in Christendom.
I interviewed the author about his book and here are his thoughts.

Please tell us about your biography and background:

AES: I am a native of New Jersey, and attended Georgetown University in Washington DC where I doubled-majored in theology and government.  After graduation in 1990 I attended St. Mary’s Seminary and University, where I received a STB and MDiv in 1995.  After several years teaching at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA I started doctoral studies, earning my PhD in historical theology from Fordham University in 2005.  I worked for 2 years at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania before accepting my current position at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where I am assistant professor of religion.  Although most of my family (including my wife) is Roman Catholic, my 2 children and I are Orthodox.

Tell us why you wrote this book:

AES: When I was writing my doctoral dissertation on Maximus the Confessor’s theology of the filioque and the Council of Florence, I found lots of material about the history of the filioque debates, but not a single one that attempted to put it all together.  There were books about Photius and the Carolingians, the medieval and reunion councils, and even the modern period, but nothing that tried to tell the story from beginning to end.  I said to myself: “That’s my book.”

For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

AES: I did. While I wanted the book to be of use to theologians and those familiar with the issues, my aim was to allow even the non-specialist to grasp what was at stake.  Over the years Catholic and Orthodox Christians have asked me about the filioque and the East-West schism, and perhaps the book was my attempt at giving an answer that was both intellectually satisfying but still interesting. 

What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

AES: For me, like many Orthodox who were raised as Western Christians (Catholic or Protestant) the schism between East and West is not simply a theological dispute – it is an existential problem.  We have families we love, but with whom we don’t have full ecclesial communion.  This is the pain that schism brings, and while some might choose to gloss over differences or ignore them altogether, true communion is only possible when we can profess together the same faith.  My book is merely one scholar’s effort to move that process along.

Were there any surprises you discovered in the writing?

AES: Lots.  The more research I did the more I discovered about the history of the debate and the various participants who, at one time or another, spoke about the filioque.  I’m not just talking about “the big names” like Photius or Aquinas.  I discovered a host of individuals whose contributions to the debate have received scant attention despite their importance.  While some were simply polemicists, most were people genuinely concerned about orthodoxy and believed themselves to be fighting in its defense.

Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

AES: As I mentioned, there wasn’t a complete history of the debate available in English, which was why OUP thought it should be written.  The other thing about the book was the genuine attempt to be objective.  Whether it’s possible or not is itself another debate, but I did try very hard to give a balanced treatment of all the figures involved, East and West.  I must admit a bit of a guilty pleasure as I watched reviewers on-line try to guess my denominational identity.  The fact that it was not apparent made me think that, on some level, I had succeeded.

Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of the book:

AES: Truth matters, and in the debate about the filioque we are dealing with an important theological truth.  At some point East and West could no longer recognize the true faith in the other’s theology of the procession and a schism resulted.  As time went on that schism hardened and the gap separating them became a chasm.  However, in the seventh century there was an individual who offered a genuinely ecumenical way of expressing the faith in a way that both parties could/should accept – Maximus the Confessor.  Maybe now, as relations between Christians have improved, we can utilize his contributions and bring this centuries old debate to a conclusion.  In this sense the book is not offering a “new” solution to the controversy, but rather an old one still capable of working.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Bible in Byzantium

Peeters recently published a Festschrift for Prof. Stephen Gerö of the University of Tübingen: Bibel, Byzanz und Christlicher Orient: Festschrift fur Stephen Gero zum 65. Geburtstag (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta) (Peeters, 2011), xviii+680pp.

About the book, the publisher tells us:
Bibel, Byzanz und Christlicher Orient ist eine Festschrift zum 65. Geburtstag von Prof. Dr. Stephen Gerö, emiritierter Inhaber der Professur für das Fach "Sprachen und Kulturen des Christlichen Orients" an der Universität Tübingen. Die Festschrift vereinigt 36 wissenschaftliche Beiträge von Kollegen und Schülern des Jubilars, die unter den Themenkomplexen "Frühes Christentum", "Ägypten und Nubien", "Syrisches Christentum", "Armenien, Georgien und Zentralasien", "Byzanz" und "Arabische Welt" zusammengefasst werden. Die Spannweite der Themen reicht von der Soziologie des Neuen Testaments bis zur Stadtentwicklung Aleppos im 19. Jahrhundert und spiegelt damit das reiche Interessenspektrum des Gefeierten. Den thematischen Schwerpunkt der Beiträge bildet jedoch die Kirchen- und Christentumsgeschichte des Nahen Ostens unter Einschluß der angrenzenden Gebiete in Byzanz, Nubien und Zentralasien. Dem wissenschaftlichen Teil beigegeben ist eine vollständige Bibliographie von Stephen Gerö, sowie ein Vorwort der Herausgeber mit einer biographischen Skizze seines persönlichen und wissenschaftlichen Lebensweges.
This is in fact a bilingual book, with a large and impressive cast of academics writing in both English and German, as the table of contents reveals.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In Honour of Andrew Louth

There are Eastern Christian scholars of a certain stature whose publications one can never fail to read. Andrew Louth certainly and easily falls into that category. Even when he was an Anglican he wrote important books, beginning with Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology. He has also done important work on Maximus the Confessor as well as Denys the Areopagite and the wider mystical-patristic tradition--as well as church history in general. Also not to be forgotten is his important book on the one sometimes called the last of the Greek Fathers: St John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology.

Given this prolific output--to say nothing of books he has edited or contributed to--it is meet and right that other scholars have found it their bounden duty to offer a Festschrift in Louth's honour. Thus, forthcoming from Brepols in July of this year is A. Andreopoulos, A. Casiday, C. Harrison, eds., Meditations of the Heart: The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice: Essays in Honour of Andrew Louth (Brepols, 2011), c. xii+320pp.

This collection amasses a large number of very prominent Orthodox and patristic scholars to pay their respects to one from whom we have all learned much. (Louth has written reviews for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies over the last few years.)

About this book, the publisher provides the following overview and then table of contents:
The Psalms are one of the most important biblical texts in Patristic exegesis, commentary, preaching, liturgical practice and theological reflection. Their language and imagery  is all-pervasive; they were not only interpreted by the fathers but a good deal of Patristic exegetical practice actually evolved from engagement with them; they directly informed Christological and Ecclesiological reflection; were central to early monasticism; inspired early Christian poetry and provided material for liturgical chant, prayers, hymns and penitential or doxological expression.
This volume of essays on the Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice is offered with profound gratitude, admiration and respect by colleagues and friends of Professor Andrew Louth FBA, to honour his long and immensely distinguished career as priest, teacher and prolific author in almost every aspect of Greek and Latin Patristics.
Table of Contents:
John Behr – Foreword
Richard Price – The Voice of Christ in the Psalms
Rowan Williams – Christological Exegesis of Psalm 45
Sarah Coakley – On the Fearfulness of Forgiveness: Psalm 130:4 & Its Theological Implications
Kallistos Ware – ‘Forgive Us...As we Forgive’: Forgiveness in the Psalms & the Lord’s Prayer
Adam G. Cooper – Sex and Transmission of Sin: Patristic Exegesis of Psalm 50:5 (LXX)
John A. McGuckin – Origen’s Use of the Psalms in the Treatise On First Principles
Mihail Neamtu – Psalmody, Confession and Temporality
Robert Hayward – Saint Jerome, Jewish Learning, and the Symbolism of the Number Eight
Gillian Clark – Psallite sapienter: Augustine on Psalmody
Pauline Allen & Bronwen Neil – Discourses on the Poor in the Psalms: Augustine’s Ennarationes in Psalmos
Carol Harrison – Enchanting the Soul: The Music of the Psalms
Augustine Casiday – ‘The sweetest music that falls upon the ear’: translating and interpreting the Psalter in Christian Andalucia
Norman Russell – The ‘Gods’ of Psalm 81(82) in the Hesychast Debates
Carolinne White – Allegory and Rhetoric in Erasmus’ Expositions on the Psalms
Dimitri Conomos – Elder Aimilianos on the Psalter and the Revival of Melodious Psalmody at Simonopetra
I look forward to having this book reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2012.

Orientale Lumen Talk

At the Orientale Lumen Conference I talked about the book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.
You can listen to that talk here.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Eternally Whispering City?

"Rome" looms large in the imagination of all Christians, and not just Catholics. Anyone who has read, e.g., Lutheran or Calvinist polemics of the sixteenth century, or Orthodox polemics of our own day, or, for that matter, certain Catholic dissidents today, knows that "Rome" is often a short-hand for what is as often as not said to be a distant, oppressive, dictatorial, and hopelessly retrograde regime of celibates ruining life for the rest of us. (The best response to that tedious nonsense, I think, was that of Walker Percy: "without 'Rome' what you have is California.") "Rome" thus functions as what Charles Taylor calls a "social imaginary." Too often, however, our imagination about Rome is at a considerable remove from the reality as, e.g., John Allen and Thomas Reese have shown.

Now a new book is out to help us peel back the myriad layers that make up the eternal city: R.J.B. Bosworth, Whispering City: Rome and Its Histories (Yale University Press, 2011), 358pp + 38 illustrations.
About this book, the publisher tells us:
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud claimed that Rome must be comprehended as "not a human dwelling place but a mental entity," in which the palaces of the Caesars still stand alongside modern apartment buildings in layers of brick, mortar, and memory. "The observer would need merely to shift the focus of his eyes, perhaps, or change his position, in order to call up a view of either the one or the other."

In this one-of-a-kind book, historian Richard Bosworth accepts Freud's challenge, drawing upon his expertise in Italian pasts to explore the many layers of history found within the Eternal City. Often beginning his analysis with sites and monuments that can still be found in contemporary Rome, Bosworth expands his scope to review how political groups of different eras—the Catholic Church, makers of the Italian nation, Fascists, and "ordinary" Romans (be they citizens, immigrants, or tourists)—read meaning into the city around them. Weaving in the city's quintessential figures (Garibaldi, Pius XII, Mussolini, and Berlusconi) and architectural icons (the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and EUR) with those forgotten or unknown, Bosworth explores the many histories that whisper their rival and competing messages and seek to impose their truth upon the passing crowds. But as this delightful study will reveal, Rome, that magisterial palimpsest, has never accepted a single reading of its historic meaning.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Heresy and Heterodoxy

It has of course been fashionable in some academic circles for some time (everything changes except the avant garde, as the late Richard John Neuhaus used to say) to decry the very categories of "heresy" and "orthodoxy," as often as not saying that the latter is merely a disguised will-to-power over the former. And yet Christians have always felt the need to make sure that what is taught is in fact the truth. For a faith committed to following the One who is Himself described as the "way, the truth, and the life," concern about such questions is not just Nietzsche on the cheap.

Eastern Christians are intimately familiar with the problems of heterodox thought since the majority of heresies, at least in the antique period, were of Eastern provenance. Several recent books have helped us come to a greater appreciation of these issues, and the complexity surrounding them. A recent one comes from the prolific pen of the celebrated evangelical theologian Alister McGrath, author of numerous other works:
One of McGrath's works recently released in paperback is Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth (HarperOne, 2010), 288pp. 
About this book, the publisher tells us:
In recent years the distinction between heresy and orthodoxy has come under fire by those eager to reject the formal boundaries of sanctioned beliefs about God, Jesus, and the church. In a timely corrective to this trend, renowned church historian Alister McGrath argues that the categories of heresy and orthodoxy must be preserved.
Remaining faithful to Jesus's mission and message is still the mandate of the church despite increasingly popular cries that traditional dogma is outdated and restricts individual freedom. Overturning misconceptions throughout the book, McGrath exposes:
  • how many of the heretical beliefs and practices rejected by the church were actually more stringent and oppressive than rival orthodox claims.
  • that many theological alternatives were rejected when the church had no power to enforce one view over another, long before Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
In Heresy, McGrath explains why no heresy has ever been eradicated—rival beliefs only go underground and resurface in different forms. McGrath presents a powerful, compassionate, and deeply attractive orthodoxy that will equip the church to meet the challenge from renewed forms of heresy today.
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