"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).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Islam Destroying Eastern Christianity

This news report is not at all news to those who follow these things, which, alas, is not many of us. It discusses the release of a new study on the decline of Eastern Christianity under the Islamism increasingly rampant across the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere.

The full report may be read here in a PDF, and I commend it to your interest.

One of the people quoted in the article is Anthony O'Mahony of Heythrop College in London, which regularly hosts conferences on Eastern Christianity and on its relations with Islam. O'Mahony, as I've noted before, is the author or editor of numerous important books on these matters, including two with Emma Loosley:  

Eastern Christianity in the Modern Middle East and  

Christian Responses to Islam: Muslim-Christian Relations in the Modern World. 

In addition, he has edited, with John Flannery, of The Catholic Church in the Contemporary Middle East: Studies for the Synod for the Middle East.

The author of the report, Rupert Shortt, has recently published a book entitled Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack (Rider, 2012).

About this book the publisher tells us:
On October 29, 2005, three Indonesian schoolgirls were beheaded as they walked to school – targeted because they were Christians. Like them, many other church members around the world face violence or discrimination for their faith. Why is this religious persecution so widely ignored?

In Christianophobia, Rupert Shortt investigates the shocking treatment of Christians on several continents, revealing that they are oppressed in significantly greater numbers than members of any other faith. The extent of official collusion is also exposed. Even governments that have promised to protect religious minorities routinely break their pledges, with life-shattering consequences.

Young Christians don’t easily become radicalized but tend to resist non-violently or keep a low profile. This has enabled politicians and the media to play down a problem of huge dimensions.

Shortt demonstrates how freedom of belief is the canary in the mine for liberty in general. Published at a time when the fundamental importance of faith on the world stage is at last being recognized, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in people's right to religious freedom, no matter where, or among whom, they live.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Essays on Eastern Liturgy

The Duke liturgical scholar Teresa Berger this week published a collection of essays with at least four focused on Eastern liturgy: Liturgy in Migration: From the Upper Room to Cyberspace (Liturgical Press, 2012), 200pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Liturgy migrates. That is, liturgical practices, forms, and materials have migrated and continue to migrate across geographic, ethnic, ecclesial, and chronological boundaries. Liturgy in Migration offers the contributions of scholars who took part in the Yale Institute of Sacred Music's 2011 international liturgy conference on this topic. Presenters explored the nature of liturgical migrations and flows, their patterns, directions, and characteristics. Such migrations are always wrapped in their social and cultural contexts. With this in mind, these essays recalibrate, for the twenty-first century, older work on liturgical inculturation. They allow readers to better understand contemporary liturgical flows in the light of important and fascinating migrations of the past.

Mary Farag's chapter is entitled "A Shared Prayer over Water in the Eastern Christian Traditions," which is a theme attracting a lot of attention lately, not least in my friend Nick Denysenko's new book The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition. I interviewed Denysenko here.

Kostis Kourelis and Vasileios Marinis author the chapter "An Immigrant Liturgy: Greek Orthodox Worship and Architecture in America."

Anne McGowan writes about "Eastern Christian Insights and Western Liturgical Reforms: Travelers, Texts, and Liturgical Luggage."

Finally, Kaye Kaufman Shelemay writes about Sounding the Challenges of Forced Migration: Musical Lessons from the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Diaspora."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Paul Evdokimov on Women

Paul Evdokimov remains one of the most interesting figures to come out of postwar Orthodoxy in France--a rich time with many rich thinkers, as I noted before. His book on marriage, The Sacrament of Love, remains to my mind the most theologically satisfying of any work in contemporary theology. But his theological anthropology, as those who have read Woman and the Salvation of the World know, remains problematic. According to at least three scholars I know who have studied and written about Evdokimov, he did not want this last book of his published, fearing it was unfinished and still needing work; but it was published posthumously anyway. 

We have, then, for some time needed a critical appreciation and evaluation of Evdokimov on these questions, and now it seems we have it in a new book from a Romanian scholar: Simona Sabou, Trading Silence for Words of Praise: The Status of Woman in Eastern Orthodoxy as Reflected in the Works of Paul Evdokimov (Lambert Academic, 2012), 224pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This work offers an analysis of Russian theologian Paul Evdokimov's view in regard to the position of woman in Orthodox theology. He starts from the doctrine of imago Dei, which requires a discussion of Evdokimov's view of God, emphasizing the importance given to personhood within Orthodox theology, and arguing that the concept of the monarchy of the Father on the one hand undermines our understanding of personhood itself, and on the other hand leaves room for hierarchical and subordinationist structures. On marriage, he distinguishes between monasticism and marriage, and while he presupposes monasticism to be a threat to the status of marriage and that a low status of marriage, in turn, is a threat to the status of woman, he fails to address either of these. Ultimately, it is argued that Evdokimov's particular attempts to both praise woman and deny any inferiority when compared with man are undermined by his wider Orthodox tradition, where personhood is not fully established, where monasticism has a higher status than marriage, where woman is to be mother without any parallel requirement for man, and where woman is not allowed an equal ministerial status with man.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Camille Paglia on Art

I started reading Camille Paglia fresh out of high-school twenty years ago now, finding her polemical style a bracing corrective to much of the otherwise tiresome journalism and academic writing I was then reading. Her thoughts on Christianity, atheism, feminism, and art in this interview are worth your time.

She makes mention of a new book she's just published with an Eastern Christian angle to it: Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (Pantheon, 2012), 202pp.

Her fifth chapter is on St. John Chrysostom, and her twenty-fifth chapter is on Andy Warhol, who was an Eastern (Byzantine) Catholic. Along the way, she mentions briefly Byzantine iconography and iconoclasm.

The publisher further tells us about this book:
From the best-selling author of Sexual Personae and Break, Blow, Burn and one of our most acclaimed cultural critics, here is an enthralling journey through Western art’s defining moments, from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’s volcano planet duel in Revenge of the Sith.

America’s premier intellectual provocateur returns to the subject that brought her fame, the great themes of Western art. Passionately argued, brilliantly written, and filled with Paglia’s trademark audacity, Glittering Images takes us on a tour through more than two dozen seminal images, some famous and some obscure or unknown—paintings, sculptures, architectural styles, performance pieces, and digital art that have defined and transformed our visual world. She combines close analysis with background information that situates each artist and image within its historical context—from the stone idols of the Cyclades to an elegant French rococo interior to Jackson Pollock’s abstract Green Silver to Renée Cox’s daring performance piece Chillin’ with Liberty. And in a stunning conclusion, she declares that the avant-garde tradition is dead and that digital pioneer George Lucas is the world’s greatest living artist. Written with energy, erudition, and wit, Glittering Images is destined to change the way we think about our high-tech visual environment.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Muslims and Christians in Anatolia

The more we learn about Orthodox-Muslim relations, the more obvious the messiness of history becomes. The encounters between Eastern Christians and Muslims, from the seventh century onward, very often do not fit into the received nostrums of either side. But sometimes those "myths" of the past are, in fact, grounded in the truth. A new book shows us one such case: Nicholas Doumanis, Before the Nation: Muslim-Christian Coexistence and its Destruction in Late-Ottoman Anatolia (Oxford UP, 2012), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
It is common for survivors of ethnic cleansing and even genocide to speak nostalgically about earlier times of intercommunal harmony and brotherhood. After being driven from their Anatolian homelands, Greek Orthodox refugees insisted that they 'lived well with the Turks', and yearned for the days when they worked and drank coffee together, participated in each other's festivals, and even prayed to the same saints. Historians have never showed serious regard to these memories, given the refugees had fled from horrific 'ethnic' violence that appeared to reflect deep-seated and pre-existing animosities. Refugee nostalgia seemed pure fantasy; perhaps contrived to lessen the pain and humiliations of displacement.

Before the Nation argues that there is more than a grain of truth to these nostalgic traditions. It points to the fact that intercommunality, a mode of everyday living based on the accommodation of cultural difference, was a normal and stabilizing feature of multi-ethnic societies. Refugee memory and other ethnographic sources provide ample illustration of the beliefs and practices associated with intercommunal living, which local Muslims and Christian communities likened to a common moral environment.

Drawing largely from an oral archive containing interviews with over 5000 refugees, Nicholas Doumanis examines the mentalities, cosmologies, and value systems as they relate to cultures of coexistence. He furthermore rejects the commonplace assumption that the empire was destroyed by intercommunal hatreds. Doumanis emphasizes the role of state-perpetrated political violence which aimed to create ethnically homogenous spaces, and which went some way in transforming these Anatolians into Greeks and Turks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Evil of Money-Lending

As the interminable opéra bouffe drags on in Washington over the "debt ceiling" and "fiscal cliff," a new book lands on my desk from the publisher quite unexpectedly: Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era (Pickwick Publications, 2012), xiii+207pp.

The author, who has written reviews for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies recently, is a visiting professor at the Pacific Lutheran University. About her book the publisher tells us: 
The purpose of They Who Give from Evil is to consider the financial and salvific implications of usury on the community and the individual soul as it is addressed within the sermons of a selection of early Christian Greek authors, in the historical context of the fourth century Roman Empire. Although focusing on two Greek texts, St. Basil's Homily on Psalm Fourteen and Against Those Who Practice Usury by St. Gregory of Nyssa, Ihssen is able to shed fascinating insight on Roman life and illustrate the rich social justice theologies of the patristic world.
I look forward to seeing this book discussed further in the new year, and also to interviewing the author.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Created in the Image of God

The Catholic University of America Press recently sent me their catalogue for 2013, and there are numerous books in it that I look forward to seeing in print, including a collection edited by Thomas Albert Howard, Imago Dei: Human Dignity in Ecumenical Perspective (CUA Press, July 2013), 144pp.

Eastern Christians will be pleased to note that this collection includes an Orthodox perspective from one of Orthodoxy's leading theologians today, John Behr of St. Vladimir's Seminary. 

About this book the publisher tells us:
What does it mean when we speak of human dignity? What challenges does human dignity confront in our culture today? What is the relationship between contemporary understandings of human dignity and the ancient Christian doctrine of imago Dei, the view that human beings are created in "the image and likeness of God"? This book pursues these and related questions in the form of an ecumenical "trialogue" by leading scholars from the three major Christian traditions: John Behr from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Russell Hittinger from the Catholic, and C. Ben Mitchell from the Protestant tradition. The book is the first of its kind to foster an ecumenical conversation around teachings of imago Dei and present-day understandings of human dignity. The three chapter-essays, the editor's introduction, and the afterword by Lutheran theologian Gilbert Meilaender draw from a wide array of sources, including Scripture, patristic works, ancients creeds, medieval and Thomistic writings, papal encyclicals, Protestant confessional statements, the works of modern theologians, and more.
Imago Dei will serve as an indispensable resource for those wishing to deepen their grasp of the theological bases for Christian views of human dignity, as well as for those who believe that Christ's words "that they be one" (John 17:21) remain a theological imperative today. The combination of ethical inquiry and ecumenical collaboration makes this timely book a unique and compelling contribution to present-day Christian thought.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ephraim the Poet

The mitred archpriest Roman Galadza, who presided at our crowning in marriage in 2003, told us "Beware what saints you name your kids after as they have a habit of taking on some of the characteristics of their patrons, often without knowing it." I have evidence of that in my own son Ephraim, who, quite on his own and without any prompting from me, has started composing theological poetry. It's not (yet) on the calibre of Ephraim the Syrian's poems and hymns, or the other great theological poet, Dante, but for an eight-year-old boy it's not too shabby.

Speaking of the great Syrian theologian, we saw, late this summer, publication of another collection of that genius of the Syriac tradition: Hymns and Homilies of St. Ephraim the Syrian (2012; 388pp).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Born at Nisibis, then under Roman rule, early in the fourth century; died June, 373. The name of his father is unknown, but he was a pagan and a priest of the goddess Abnil or Abizal. His mother was a native of Amid. Ephraem was instructed in the Christian mysteries by St. James, the famous Bishop of Nisibis, and was baptized at the age of eighteen (or twenty-eight). Thenceforth he became more intimate with the holy bishop, who availed himself of the services of Ephraem to renew the moral life of the citizens of Nisibis, especially during the sieges of 338, 346, and 350. One of his biographers relates that on a certain occasion he cursed from the city walls the Persian hosts, whereupon a cloud of flies and mosquitoes settled on the army of Sapor II and compelled it to withdraw. The adventurous campaign of Julian the Apostate, which for a time menaced Persia, ended, as is well known, in disaster, and his successor, Jovianus, was only too happy to rescue from annihilation some remnant of the great army which his predecessor had led across the Euphrates. To accomplish even so much the emperor had to sign a disadvantageous treaty, by the terms of which Rome lost the Eastern provinces conquered at the end of the third century; among the cities retroceded to Persia was Nisibis (363). To escape the cruel persecution that was then raging in Persia, most of the Christian population abandoned Nisibis en masse. Ephraem went with his people, and settled first at Beit-Garbaya, then at Amid, finally at Edessa, the capital of Osrhoene, where he spent the remaining ten years of his life, a hermit remarkable for his severe asceticism. Nevertheless he took an interest in all matters that closely concerned the population of Edessa. Several ancient writers say that he was a deacon; as such he could well have been authorized to preach in public. At this time some ten heretical sects were active in Edessa; Ephraem contended vigorously with all of them, notably with the disciples of the illustrious philosopher Bardesanes. To this period belongs nearly all his literary work; apart from some poems composed at Nisibis, the rest of his writings-sermons, hymns, exegetical treatises-date from his sojourn at Edessa. It is not improbable that he is one of the chief founders of the theological "School of the Persians", so called because its first students and original masters were Persian Christian refugees of 363. At his death St. Ephraem was borne without pomp to the cemetery "of the foreigners". The Armenian monks of the monastery of St. Sergius at Edessa claim to possess his body.
Other books on or by Ephraim, including the charming one of my friend Bill Mills, were noted here, here, and here. A good overview of his thinking may be found in Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem (Cistercian, 1992).

Monday, December 17, 2012

On Christian Mysticisms

As I have noted before, Wiley-Blackwell continues to bring out a helpful series of "Companions," and has just released a new one that has ample representation of Eastern Orthodox thought, both in chapters from contemporary Orthodox authors and in chapters treating various Eastern traditions, including the Syriac: Julia A. Lamm, ed.,The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism (2012), 672pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism brings together a team of leading international scholars to explore the origins, evolution, and contemporary debates relating to Christian mystics, texts, and the movements they inspired.The volume brings together a team of distinguished scholars who provide a rich synthesis of historical figures and texts, important themes in mysticism (for example, aesthetics, gender, scripture, heresy), and theoretical perspectives, such as neuroscience, literary criticism, inter-religious dialogue in relation to Christian mysticism. The result is a compelling and engaging volume drawing on the best of recent cutting-edge scholarship, and providing insights into an ancient but important Christian tradition.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Theologizing in the Presence of Burning Children

It was, I remember clearly, June 1989 when, as a teenager, I came across the deeply arresting statement of Rabbi Irving Greenberg which I never forgot: "No statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children." That statement--originally made in the context of reflecting on the Holocaust--returned to mind this weekend in the wake of the ineffable horrors in Newtown, Connecticut (a scant 30 minutes from where my wife grew up, and her family still live).

Understandably the desire for some kind of explanation is strong, but I think that too many Christians say too much, and usually of highly questionable, if not outright heretical, value when trying to explain what is rightly called the mysterium iniquitatis. One of my earliest theological mentors, Stanley Hauerwas, is right, I think, to call for Christians to resist the urge to somehow rationalize evil as "part of God's will" or something "Providence intends" for some yet-unknown "greater purpose." In his early but still very important book Naming the Silences Hauerwas begins with the death of a child, an act that, more than any other, renders the world almost unintelligible and unbearable as I know from having watched my parents bury two of their children--two of my sisters. Having gone through that, nothing makes me incandescent with rage faster than listening to some pious dolt try to claim that "it's all part of God's plan" or "it's all for the best." God plans for people to suffer cancer and die horrible deaths while still young, leaving three small children under ten without their mother? God somehow had a hand in the massacre of innocents in Connecticut this week where He'll soon perform some kind of conjuring trick to pull "good" from this manifest evil so that we can all be reassured that a classroom of innocent first-graders did not die in vain? God was at work in the Holocaust, or any other evil we can think of? If that's the case then, like Ivan Karamazov, I should straightaway hand in my ticket to the Kingdom of God and have nothing to do with it or Him--for such a God could only be counted as repulsive. Rather than make such claims in the name of such a God, Christians would do well, as Hauerwas counsels, to observe a period of silence in which grief and rage--so prevalent in the Psalms and so unreservedly expressed there--can emerge and be expressed without pious treacle being poured on them in a misguided attempt to offer some kind of metaphysical "help."

The other person who has written intelligibly on evil--that is to say, who has recognized that it cannot be rationalized away, and any attempt to claim it is part of God's plan is monstrous--is the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, some of whose thoughts may be read here. Hart's longer reflection on what used to be called "theodicy" may be found in his book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?
In both Hart and Hauerwas, we are reminded of the book of Job, and the fact that Job never gets complete or entirely satisfactory answers to the problem of evil. Job never received "closure," that most fatuous and fraudulent of modern notions. Like the apostles in the garden of Gethsemane hours before evil was visited upon another child, Son of the Father, Innocent of innocents, who was to be bound, tortured, and executed, we must "stay here and watch awhile" before daring, if ever, to open our mouths.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Orthodox Readings of Aquinas

Recently I drew attention to a just-released book from Oxford University Press authored by Marcus Plested: Orthodox Readings of Aquinas (Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology).

I had a chance to read it before sending it out to an expert Thomist for review. It is a splendid book, and I very warmly encourage all who are interested in these matters to get a copy and appreciate the many riches of this detailed, well researched, and very cogently written study which overturns so much rubbish about "Thomism" and "scholasticism" that ignorant apologists for the East have often proffered without bestirring themselves to inquire into such tiresome matters as actual texts or historical facts. Equally, though, it overturns a lot of other rubbish about the glories of Palamism, and how Palamas is the counterpoint to that very bad man Aquinas. Both perspectives, as Plested shows, are uniquely creations of late modernity and not at all reflective of either figure or their near-contemporaries. Thomas was far more gracious towards, far more open to, and far more deeply immersed in, Greek thought, than he is usually given credit for, and much the same could be said about Palamas's immersion in Latin theology.

This is, then, a wholly welcome book if for no other reason than it clears away a lot of the tiresome and tendentious detritus blocking the way towards a discussion of real and serious issues (e.g., the papacy) in the search for East-West rapprochement. We need to get past the bad, and often deliberate, historical distortions of each other in order to deal with reality. We are greatly indebted to Plested for helping us to do this with the one figure who (as I noted earlier), arguably more than any other (though Augustine and Anselm are close contenders), is often held up as being somehow the perfect exemplar of everything that is wrong with the West and everything that blocks unity with the East. What a weary roadshow that has become, and its complete demolition in Plested's hands is a greatly cheering development.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

David Fagerberg on Liturgical Asceticism

As I noted previously, David Fagerberg of Notre Dame has written one of the best books around introducing us to the topic of liturgical theology, and drawing extensively on Orthodoxy's most beloved practitioner of it, Alexander Schmemann. Now he has another one coming out in the spring of 2013: On Liturgical Asceticism (CUA Press, March 2013),  272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Drawing on the Eastern Orthodox tradition of asceticism and integrating it with recent Western thought on liturgy, David W. Fagerberg examines the interaction between the two and presents a powerful argument that asceticism is necessary for understanding liturgy as the foundation of theology. Asceticism may have been perfected in the sands of the desert, but it is demanded of every theologian and, indeed, every Christian. It grants the capacity for pondering liturgy and sharing the life of Christ. Fagerberg brings to light asceticism's essential importance in liturgical theology.

Fagerberg's earlier work, Theologia Prima, understood liturgy as the foundation of theology. To that framework, he now adds the relevance of asceticism. Asceticism was understood to overcome the passions by cooperating with grace. It detailed how to train the life of grace and produce what the ancient church called a theologian. Fagerberg carries the wisdom of the earliest centuries forward. He develops a new framework called liturgical asceticism that combines discipline with sharing the life of Christ.
One of Orthodoxy's most respected theologians today has this praise for the book:
The idea of liturgical theology has become popular during the past few decades, wresting liturgy from the liturgiologists and testing what the church teaches against how the church prays liturgically. In this powerful and original book, David Fagerberg takes this development a stage further. By exploring Christian asceticism, mostly using Orthodox sources, he introduces another dimension, essential if liturgical theology is to be fully assimilated in the lives of Christians. -- Andrew Louth, professor emeritus of patristic and Byzantine studies, Durham University

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bulgarian and Romanian Scholars in the OCA

I attended a splendid ordination at the OCA parish of St. Nicholas yesterday, and there saw a considerable number of her theologians gathered, including my friend Fr. Radu Bordeianu, whom I interviewed here, and whose magnificent book, as I noted before, remains the most important work published in ecclesiology so far this century: Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology

The ordinand, Fr. Silviu Bunta, is a scholar teaching at the University of Dayton, specializing in Jewish-Eastern Christian mysticism and biblical and apocalyptic literature. This was the focus of his doctoral dissertation at Marquette, under his Doktorvater and the bishop who just ordained him, Alexander Golitzin. As a scholar who taught at Marquette until being elevated to the episcopate last year, Golitzin has published several books: The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos (St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1995), 311pp.  (Another recent book on Mt. Athos was noted here, where I also interviewed the author.)

Bishop Alexander is also the translator of On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 1: The Church and the Last Things and the second volume: On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 2: On Virtue and Christian Life. 
Both of these books were published in the Popular Patristics series of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, some of whose other offerings were noted here, here, and here.

Golitzin has also published on that most mysterious of characters, Dionysius: Et Introibo Ad Altare Dei: The Mystagogy of Dionysius Areopagita, with Special Reference to Its Predecessors in the Eastern Christian Tradition (1994). Other works on Dionysius have been noted here.

Finally, Bishop Alexander was one of the editors of The A to Z of the Orthodox Church,which was republished in 2010.

When it came time for communion, there was a Romanian triumvirate distributing the holy mysteries: Frs. Radu and Silviu, along with their friend and compatriot, Fr. Bogdan Bucur, author of Angelomorphic Pneumatology (Brill, 2009), 238pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book discusses the occurrence of angelic imagery in early Christian discourse about the Holy Spirit. Taking as its entry-point Clement of Alexandria’s less explored writings, Excerpta ex Theodoto, Eclogae propheticae, and Adumbrationes, it shows that Clement’s angelomorphic pneumatology occurs in tandem with spirit christology, within a theological framework still characterized by a binitarian orientation. This complex theological articulation, supported by the exegesis of specific biblical passages (Zech 4: 10; Isa 11 : 2-3; Matt 18:10), reworks Jewish and Christian traditions about the seven first-created angels, and constitutes a relatively widespread phenomenon in early Christianity. Evidence to support this claim is presented in the course of separate studies of Revelation, the Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, and Aphrahat.
Bucur is also author of the article "From Jewish Apocalypticism to Orthodox Mysticism" in that wonderful new collection edited by Augustine Casiday, The Orthodox Christian World, which I started reviewing in detail here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Books for Christmas

Around the world, thousands of children and others are excitedly getting ready for tomorrow's great feast celebrating one of the most beloved figures in any and every Christian sanctoral, viz., Nicholas of Myra, the great and greatly generous bishop of what is now the southern Turkish coast, noted as much for his generosity to the poor as for his hostility towards Arius at the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325. A new book looks at him and his legacy: Adam C. English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Baylor University Press, 2012), 246pp. About this book we are told:
With his rosy cheeks and matching red suit--and ever-present elf and reindeer companions--Santa Claus may be the most identifiable of fantastical characters. But what do we really know of jolly old Saint Nicholas, "patron saint" of Christmastime? Ask about the human behind the suit, and the tale we know so well quickly fades into myth and folklore.

In The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, religious historian Adam English tells the true and compelling tale of Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Around the fourth century in what is now Turkey, a boy of humble circumstance became a man revered for his many virtues. Chief among them was dealing generously with his possessions, once lifting an entire family out of poverty with a single--and secret--gift of gold, so legend tells. Yet he was much more than virtuous. As English reveals, Saint Nicholas was of integral influence in events that would significantly impact the history and development of the Christian church, including the Council of Nicaea, the destruction of the temple to Artemis in Myra, and a miraculous rescue of three falsely accused military officers. And Nicholas became the patron saint of children and sailors, merchants and thieves, as well as France, Russia, Greece, and myriad others.

Weaving together the best historical and archaeological evidence available with the folklore and legends handed down through generations, English creates a stunning image of this much venerated Christian saint. With prose as enjoyable as it is informative, he shows why the life--and death--of Nicholas of Myra so radically influenced the formation of Western history and Christian thought, and did so in ways many have never realized.
In several cultures, it is common on this festal day to give gifts to family and friends in honor of, and following the example of, St. Nicholas. In that spirit, here are some suggestions as to books you could give.

In an enormous and detailed post from last year, which you should peruse here, I listed dozens and dozens of books, most published in 2011, in a variety of areas in Eastern Christianity. 2012 has seen no slowing down in the rate of publication of new and largely welcome books, and so there are many new books you should thus consider purchasing through my Amazon links for the Eastern Christian bibliophile / priest /seminarian / student / friend on your lists. Let us consider several areas:

There were several major studies published this year including, most recently, a welcome study of Alexander Schmemann from William Mills, whom I interviewed here. Another major study was that of Nicholas Denysenko (interviewed here), The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition.

Maxwell Johnson of Notre Dame's famed program in liturgics, was honored with a Festschrift whose details are here. Johnson teamed up with his UND colleague Paul Bradshaw to bring out an important collection of essays on the Eucharist noted here.

Yale's Bryan Spinks received a Festschrift whose details are here.

One of the most influential people in liturgics, dead for more than half a century, Anton Baumstark, was finally translated into English this year. I interviewed the translator, Fritz West, here, discussing On the Historical Development of the Liturgy.

A handsome new collection of prayers, edited by John McGuckin (about whom more presently), was noted here.

One especially welcome book was published this year treating a topic only rarely studied in the past: vestments in Byzantium.

There were several books of note published in this area this year, including a study of Gregory of Nyssa from Christopher Beeley noted here. Beeley also edited a collection on parish life and pastoral leadership drawing on the Fathers. The great Jesuit patrologist Brian Daley of Notre Dame, recently honored with the Ratzinger Prize for his scholarship, is the author of numerous patristics studies, discussed here. The world held its collective breath in March when it was announced that a hitherto unknown Greek Father had just been discovered.

There were two collections of diaries published this year that are especially noteworthy, and both of them concern the Second Vatican Council, whose opening fifty years ago in October has occasioned a lot of re-examination. The first were The Second Vatican Council Diaries of Met. Maxim Hermaniuk, C.Ss.R. (1960-1965) which I discussed in detail here

The second truly landmark diaries were, of course, those of the incomparable Yves Congar, which I discussed in great detail here. Congar's book is an invaluable collection not only for its insights into the debates and people at the council, but also for its bracing honesty. My Journal of the Council is a book definitely not to be missed. It will appeal to all kinds of readers on your Christmas list.

If through some monstrous act of omission you failed to notice my own work in ecclesiology, and did not order six thousand copies for your closest friends last Christmas, never fear: the book remains in print and you can atone for your neglect by ordering it at once: Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity. (At risk of immodesty, it has been the object of numerous very laudatory reviews, none more noteworthy than Michael Fahey in North America's leading scholarly revue, Theological Studies.)

Other works of interest this year include Donald Graham on Newman's ecclesiology. A welcome English translation of Boris Bobrinskoy's book The Mystery of the Church appeared this year and was noted here. Another collection of essays surveying ecclesiology widely was brought out by Ashgate this year and noted here. Paul Valliere's important new book Conciliarism was discussed here.

In New York in September at the annual meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, I gave a paper treating the problem of "sovereignty" in Orthodox (and Catholic) ecclesiology, drawing on Joseph de Maistre and Carl Schmitt and Paul Kahn.

OTSA's theme this year was "Orthodoxy and the Political" and another paper was from Aristotle Papanikolaou, whose book on the theme has just been released and whom I hope to interview early in the new year: The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy.

Muslim-Christian Relations:
As events continued to go from bad to worse for Christians in Syria and Egypt especially this year, scholarly attention continues to be paid to the encounters, both historic and current, between Muslims and Eastern Christians. New books trying to understand the notoriously controverted treatment of Jews and Christians under Islamic law were noted here and here.

I interviewed Uriel Simonsohn here about his new book A Common Justice: The Legal Allegiances of Christians and Jews Under Early Islam.

A large book, based on an exhibit at the Met in New York, was published on the topic of Islam and Byzantium; it was noted here.

An examination of the fate of minorities in Muslim societies today was noted here. An examination of relations today was noted here.

Milka Levy-Rubin's crucial discussion of the fate of dhimmis was reviewed in detail here. I also interviewed her about her recent book Non-Muslims in the Early Islamic Empire: From Surrender to Coexistence.

I interviewed Andrew Sharp here discussing his important and welcome new book Orthodox Christians and Islam in the Postmodern Age.

Coptic Studies: Given the tumultous year in Egypt it is not surprising that there were several books of note published in this area this year. Those were noted here, here, here, here, and here.

Reference Works:
Augustine Casiday edited a large and welcome new collection: The Orthodox Christian World (Routledge Worlds). I began a discussion of it here, and look forward to featuring an interview with the editor soon. 


Jean-Claude Larchet, author of a number of important recent works in Orthodox theology, has recently had translated and published in English his Life After Death, which I noted here

One of the most unusual books I've read in a while, from Mark and Elizabeth Barma, A Christian Ending was reviewed in detail here, and the authors interviewed here.

Islamic Origins:

It is a welcome development at long last to have some more serious and searching scholarly scrutiny paid to the origins of Islam and some of the rather historically dodgy claims made about Mohammad and Islamic origins. Two recent books were noted: Stephen Shoemaker, The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam. I interviewed the author here. The other book was from Gabriel Said Reynolds, noted here

East-Slavic Realities:

The Russian Church, as the largest Orthodox church in the world and as part of one of the world's most powerful countries, continues to attract considerable attention. A new book by one of her leading theologians, Hilarion Alfeyev, was noted here. And a book by her patriarch was translated into English and recently published.

Isaiah Gruber discussed the famous "time of troubles" in Russian Church history in his new book, Orthodox Russia in Crisis: Church and Nation in the Time of Troubles and in an interview I did with him here.

The reign of Peter the Great was subject to new scholarly scrutiny here.

A book examining her most famous monastery under communism was published this year. Written by Scott Kenworthy, The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825 is, as I noted here, a splendid work.

The excellent historian Serhii Plokhy published a new book this year on an important battle in Russian history.

A treatment of the question of authority in the Russian Church (which I also discuss in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity) was reviewed in detail here.

A book examining the fate of the Church after the collapse of communism was noted here.

Problematic claims in Ukrainian and Russian historiography were noted here and here.


One of the most rewarding books published this year was from my friend Michael Plekon, whom I interviewed here: Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time. That interview goes into a great many other books besides his so you'll want to check them out as well.

Other books in this area included one on Byzantine relics and hagiography.

Having recently given a paper on the phenomenon of holy fools, I was especially interested in a new book published about them: Holy Foolishness in Russia: New Perspectives, one of whose editors, Svitlana Kobets, I was pleased to interview here.

Interest in the Crusades remains high if the number of new books is any indication. Whether the Crusades will be better understood remains to be seen but books such as this one, this one, this one, and especially this one, should help.

I interviewed Tim Kelleher about his short and winsome DVD The Creed: What Christians Profess, and Why It Ought to Matter.
nd I also interviewed the astonishingly prolific John McGuckin about his many new books, and about the DVD he helped bring out: Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer.

Canon Law:
Robert Taft famously called canon law the "bad side of the good news." 2012 saw the publication of at least two new studies in this area, noted here; and see also here.


2012 has seen no considerable slackening of the rate of publication of books about icons and related aspects. Of especial note was at least one study showing that Islam's relation to and understanding of images is not as straightforward as we might believe in the last several years after numerous puerile, but deadly, outbreaks of Islamic iconoclasm. 
A new translation of Bulgakov on icons was noted here.

A new book on Cypriot art and architecture was discussed here

A welcome new book on Coptic iconography, still under-studied relative to its Byzantine counterparts, was noted here.

A Kindle edition of Gabriel Bunge's book about Rublev's Trinity was noted here

Aidan Hart, a noted iconographer, was interviewed here about his recent books.  

One welcome new development in 2012 is the number of articles and books exploring Orthodox understandings of "science" broadly conceived. Several books were published, as noted here, here, and one here treating science in the Fathers. Of especial note is the collection  Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church, edited by Daniel Buxhoeveden and Gayle Woloschak, whom I interviewed here

Who Does He Think He Is?

Catholic University of America Press sent me their catalogue last week, and there are many interesting entries in it, not the least of which is this book forthcoming in the spring of 2013: Paul McPartlan,  A Service of Love: Papal Primacy, the Eucharist, and Church Unity (Catholic University of America Press, 2014), 120pp. About this book the publisher tells us:

A crucial topic in Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue is the nature and exercise of universal primacy in the church. In 1995, Pope John Paul II expressed the hope that pastors and theologians of both churches might seek ways in which the papal ministry could accomplish "a service of love recognized by all concerned" (Ut Unum Sint). In this short and penetrating study, Paul McPartlan, a member of the international Roman Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, presents a proposal, carefully argued both historically and theologically, for a primacy exercising a service of love in a reconciled church, West and East.

McPartlan builds on the substantial foundation already laid in the dialogue for an understanding of the church in terms of the Eucharist. Eucharistic ecclesiology has been one of the most remarkable developments in the theological renewal of recent decades. Drawing particularly on scriptural and patristic teaching, it offers a highly promising framework for resolving this most sensitive and difficult of issues -- recognizing the bishop of Rome as the focal point and servant of the Eucharistic communion among bishops. Vatican II directed that those working for reconciliation between Catholics and Orthodox pay close attention to the relationships that pertained between the Eastern churches and the see of Rome before the split of 1054. McPartlan seeks to do just that, notably incorporating the teaching of the council on the role of the papacy to craft a proposal that may commend itself to Catholics and to Orthodox.

McPartlan seems to be going over territory I covered in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (UND Press, 2011) though I have never seen my treatment as definitive, and have always been open to others. My whole point has been to find a way for Orthodoxy and Catholicism to renew the communion which already exists between them while each enriches the other as Aidan Nichols callled for in his Christendom Awake: On Re-Energizing the Church in Culture (Eerdmams, 1999).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Donald Graham on Newman's Pneumatology

Earlier I drew attention to a new book by the Canadian scholar Donald Graham: From Eastertide to Ecclesia (Marquette Studies in Theology), a book that looks at the theology, and especially patristic (particularly Alexandrian--i.e., Athanasian) influences on the greatest English theologian of the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman. Another recent work looking at similar influences on Newman was noted here. I asked the author for an interview, and here are his thoughts:

AD: Tell us about your background

Michele and I have been married for 26 years, and we have six children between the ages of 10 and 20.  We make our home in Peterborough, ON.  In terms of my educational background, I hold undergraduate degrees in history (Trent, Peterborough ON) and education (Queen’s, Kingston ON), masters degrees in ministry and theology (MA, Steubenville, OH; MA USMC, Toronto ON; STL Toronto ON) and a PhD in Catholic Studies (Maryvale Institute and the Open University, Birmingham UK).   I have taught at the elementary, secondary and tertiary levels.  Currently, I wear several hats:  I am an adjunct professor of systematic theology at the Institute of Theology of St. Augustine’s Seminary, which is a member of the Toronto School of Theology affiliated with the University of Toronto; I am a faculty member of Sacred Heart, an emerging Catholic College in Peterborough ON; and,  I am also an academic advisor for postgraduate studies at Maryvale Institute and Liverpool-Hope University in the UK.

AD: What led you to write this book?

The short answer is that this book is a reworking of my dissertation. The longer answer is that, for years, I have been, and continue to be, fascinated by the intersection of Christology, pneumatology and ecclesiology.  Though I grew up in a solid Catholic family, and grew to love my faith under the tutelage, and through the example, of my loving Mom and Dad, my catechesis in local Catholic schools was wholly inadequate to questions which arose in my mind and heart about how Christ and the Church were properly ‘related’ and ‘distinguished’.  At some level, my young mind knew, even then, that ecclesiology sits on faulty foundations if it is not fundamentally the outgrowth of Trinitarian theology.  Also, as a young man, the person and power of the Holy Spirit came to the fore in my prayer life and, experientially, I knew the truth of the ‘two hands of the Father’ long before I became a theologian.  A 1983 encounter with  Bl. John Henry Newman during a British history course began a lifelong affair with his thought and theology, which became the place where some answers to my questions about the relationship between Church, Christology and Holy Spirit congealed.

AD: Your introduction begins by quoting Alexander Schmemann and Nikos Nissiotis at Vatican II where they told Yves Congar that any treatment of ecclesiology needed only two chapters: pneumatology, and theological anthropology. Why do you think they said that, and what do you think Newman would have said in response?

It is dangerous to speculate about why another has said something.  I am unsure if these significant Orthodox theologians literally meant ‘just two chapters’.  However, since you have asked me to speculate, I will oblige.  By this remark, I think they intended to put into relief other ecclesiological concerns being raised at the Council, like the pilgrim nature of the Church, the role of the laity, the ecclesial motherhood of the Blessed Virgin, and the meaning of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff in relation to episcopal collegiality.  Over and against such matters, I think that they wished to emphasize the fundamental, enduring, indispensable ecclesial  reality which is effected by the pentecostal dynamism of the person of the Holy Spirit who makes Christ present in his sacred body across time and space:  at once uniting, restoring and elevating men, women and children by divinizing them.  Without this penetrating sense of a pneumatic Church other aspects of ecclesiology experience limitation, distortion, misalignment and alike. This was the message I think Schmemann and Nissiotis were signaling by their remarks.

AD: In your introduction you quote the late C.S. Dessain that Newman was deeply influenced by the Greek Fathers. Tell us about that influence, and which Fathers in particular.
Newman was most influenced by St. Athanasisus and St. Cyril of the Alexandrian tradition. They especially mentored him on understanding how divinity and humanity were reconciled in the person of the eternal Word, on trinitarian personhood, on divine transcendence, divine sympathy and divine philanthropy, the value of reserve and antinomy in speaking of God, and the analogy of faith.  Additionally, and from the same tradition, Newman learned how to ponder the Pauline theme of the role of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.  

The title of the 1962 (two-part) article by Charles Stephen Dessain indicates the penetrating influence of these Fathers upon Newman’s thought:  “Cardinal Newman and the Doctrine of Uncreated Grace.”  In this article, and in his posthumously published Newman's Spiritual Themes, Dessain brought out in an original manner how Newman (in contradistinction to his evangelical contemporaries who overemphasized the doctrine of the atonement) understood the Holy Spirit to apply the merits of Christ’s entire life to the believer, and mystically to reiterate his sacred life in us, and to do so, not in some forensic manner, but by indwelling.  In explicating this sacred theme, Dessain drew widely upon Newman’s corpus, but favoured his Parochial and Plain Sermons and his Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification.   

AD: In your research, have you come across much evidence that Newman was also influenced by Fathers further East--i.e., the Syriac tradition?

No.  What comes to mind in this regard are Newman’s essay on “The Theology of St. Ignatius,” of Antioch in Essays Historical and Critical II, his opening consideration of “The Church of Antioch,” in  The Arians of the Fourth Century and his longish essay on “The Trials of Theodoret” in his Historical Sketches ii.  However, Newman never, to my knowledge appealed to someone like St. Eprahaem, the ‘Lyre of the Holy Spirit’, even in his most pneumatologically intense passages.  I do not think his knowledge of this strain of the patristic tradition ever rivaled his mastery, love and feel for, the Alexandrian tradition. 

AD:  Your third chapter spends some time discussing Newman's understanding of Arianism. How well has that treatment of Arius stood up, do you think, in the wake of scholarship on the Nicene period--from people like John Behr, Khaled Anatolios, and others? 

In response, let me re-orientate the question slightly to focus upon Khaled Anatolios and his latest work, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine
The opening line of his preface states, “The composition of this book has been animated by a double conviction:  that the development of trinitarian doctrine is key to its meaning, and that the contents of this meaning constitute the entirety of Christian faith" (xv). This is a line which I believe Newman would have affirmed unhesitatingly.  More specifically, when Anatolios speaks of Athanasius:   (i) anticipating Basil’s argument in On the Holy Spirit that the baptismal formula is the primary touchstone for trinitarian reflection (132); or, (ii) noting that the pro nobis of the Son is located in his economic self-abasement, which in turn is grounded in the philanthrōpia of the divine nature rather than in a putative secondary divinity” (121); or, (iii) asserting that the “incarnate Word is conceived as having a double relation to the Spirit; he is giver of the Spirit according to his divinity and receiver of the Spirit in his humanity.  The soteriological yield of this double transaction is that humanity becomes sanctified through its reception of the Spirit, which drives from the incarnate Word’s reception of it” (134), I leap out of my chair as if I were reading passages from Newman--albeit with the cadence and idiom proper to Anatolios.   Still there is a big difference in their approaches.  Whereas Anatolios carefully shifts the positions of what he calls Trinitiarian theologians of the will – Arius, Asterius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Eunomius of Cyzicus (41-79) – to understand their inner logic and relatedness, prior to showing their inadequacy, Newman’s tendency with Arius et al is to associate their erroneous theological positions with improperly disposed spiritual lives, and to advance his view that the Antiochene theological tradition and schools which transmitted it were somewhat predisposed to lead to error.    

To be fair to Newman, he was neither a professional theologian nor a full-time patrologist.  His work in these areas was almost always in medias resArians of the Fourth Century was originally part of a prospective series on councils, starting with Nicaea; but Newman didn’t really get any further in this particular project.  His return to Athanasius, in various moments of his life, deepened his love and knowledge of this great saint.  While I would continue, almost implicitly, to trust Newman’s instinct and conclusions on dogmatic matters, I think it fair to say that on matters of in-depth historical research, there is much in this area where his findings are dated, in need of revision, or significant qualification.  What is amazing, however, is that his work has driven the work of so many others and remains to have a qualified, historical value even today.

AD: Ian Ker's foreword refers to "Newman's Athanasian Christology." What drew Newman to Athanasius in particular? 

Newman was very inspired by the indefatigable Athanasian defense of the truth that the person of the Eternal Word assumed our humanity, in a real, complete, fulsome albeit mysterious manner. Newman held this view at an historical moment when those of a rationalist bent in England and elsewhere (like the John Hick and The Metaphor of God Incarnate crowd in our own day) were denying, undermining, diluting, softening or otherwise obscuring this bedrock Christian proclamation.  He was convinced that Athanasius had made an enduring and, even, providential contribution; I think he saw St. Athanansius very much as a spiritual father, and not simply as an intellectual mentor.

AD: It has often been said that, at least in Western theology until recently, the Holy Spirit was often overlooked. And yet you often speak of Newman's "pneumatic ecclesiology" and "pneumatic Christology." Is he one of the relatively few Western figures not to overlook the Spirit?

Here, a qualified, ‘yes’.  It has become commonplace in the last 20 years to lament the paucity of proper theological consideration of the person, power and presence of the Holy Spirit among western writers and theologians.  Like most commonplaces, the lament contains more truth than one wishes.  However, one should not harden the generalization so that it becomes caricature.  A few counterweights come to mind. Johann Adam Möhler’s first work, Unity in the Church (1825) was shot through with pneumatology; the wonderful modern interpreter of Aquinas, Giles Emery, OP has, in several works, stressed the pneumatological dimension of the Angelic Doctor’s trinitarian thought.  Does he do so in a way that would satisfy an Orthodox interpreter? No.  But does the lament apply to his work? No.  

The pre-World War II work, The Mystical Body of Christ by Emilie Mersch SJ contains a marvelous section on “The Doctrine of the Mystical Body in the Greek Fathers”; Hans Urs von Balthasar’s work contains significant pneumatological swaths, e.g. Explorations in Theology: Spiritus Creator; John G. Arintero, OP has described and explained the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages of the spiritual life very much within the context of deification in his 2 vols., Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church. And, of course, there is Yves Congar’s monumental three vols., I Believe in the Holy Spirit. While these authors are hardly exhaustive or even characteristic, they are not part of a school; their works appear in different decades and the areas of thought cover history, dogma and spiritual theology proper.  In sum, they are suggestive of a western appreciation of pneumatology, pneumatological ecclesiology and the work of the Spirit in the life of Christians.

This having been said, I make a sustained argument in my book that Newman is peculiarly prescient and thoughtful amongst those in the west who do justice to the pneumatological dimension of ecclesia, especially wtih his integration of Greek patristic thought on the birth of the Church in and through the paschal mysteries of passion, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit.  

AD: How do you think Newman's ecclesiology can assist in the recovery of Christian unity today, especially Orthodox-Catholic unity? 

Newman’s ecclesiology can make a contribution:

         1. At times, his theology is doxological; it emerges from a life where there is no artificial divide between one’s life as a theologian involved in a disciplined reflection upon revelation and a liturgical life immersed in the sacred mysteries of Christ; this forceful unity is magnetic and an authentic hallmark of one who thinks with the mind of the Church; it is also a quality which I think many Orthodox look for in a trustworthy guide.

2.   Unity between the Orthodox and Catholics will require an acceptance of some truths which are clearly part of the Great Tradition but which need creative reframing without gutting;  and, which require creative application without skirting. Because Newman’s theology is both patristic and personalist, Catholic but not neo-scholastic; dogmatic and spiritual, I think he can be helpful in providing resources for this recovery.

3.   Newman’s vision of the pneumatic Church, his embrace of divinization, and his drawing upon the Greek Fathers probably make him amenable as a dialogue partner for many Orthodox; as well, he suffered at the hands of Roman superiors but this did not lessen his love of the Church which transcended personal hurts.  Hence theologically and personally, he has something to offer.

AD: Sum up for us what you hoped to accomplish with this book

In a modest way, I wanted others to realize that Newman possesses a fundamental pneumatic ecclesiology upon which rests the rest of his thinking about the Church.  I also wanted others to think about the very nature of the Church afresh in terms of its marvelous sacramental, mystical dimension.
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