"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, October 31, 2013

The Orthodox Liturgy

For my students coming to the Byzantine liturgical tradition with no prior background, I have them start by reading a book by the Oxford scholar Hugh Wybrew that has been in print for a quarter-century now. That book was just re-issued this summer in a handsome new reprinting: The Orthodox Liturgy: The Development of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite (SPCK, 2013), 208pp.

About this book we are told:
Western observers never fail to be awestruck at the celebration of the liturgy in an Orthodox church. Hugh Wybrew's authoritative yet highly readable account traces the fascinating story of the Orthodox liturgy from its origins in the first century to the present day, conveying a lively and memorable sense of what it would have felt like to be among the worshippers.
"We have long needed such an introduction. Clear yet detailed, sympathetic yet not uncritical, The Orthodox Liturgy will be of great value to Christian, whether western or eastern"-- Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Imperial Geographies

As my students know only too well, I am forever banging on about the importance of understanding geography before you can understand things like the encounter between Eastern Christians and Muslims. Thus we spend a good deal of time looking at maps, ancient and modern, and watching borders, countries, and populations shift. The geography of Constantinople is in itself a fascinating study: the capital of one empire that resisted the advances of another empire for more than 700 years, thanks in no small part to its geographic location which conveyed supreme advantages on the defenders and made the job of invaders fiendishly difficult.

A new book will take a look at those two empires: Sahar Bazzaz et al, eds., Imperial Geographies in Byzantine and Ottoman Space Center for Hellenic Studies, 2013), 282pp.

About this book we are told:

Imperial Geographies in Byzantine and Ottoman Space opens new and insightful vistas on the nexus between empire and geography. The volume redirects attention from the Atlantic to the space of the eastern Mediterranean shaped by two empires of remarkable duration and territorial extent, the Byzantine and the Ottoman. The essays offer a diachronic and comparative account that spans the medieval and early modern periods and reaches into the nineteenth century. Methodologically rich, the essays combine historical, literary, and theoretical perspectives. Through texts as diverse as court records and chancery manuals, imperial treatises and fictional works, travel literature and theatrical adaptations, the essays explore ways in which the production of geographical knowledge supported imperial authority or revealed its precarious mastery of geography.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Whom to Kill....

Though, for the moment, the threat--absurd, useless, and repugnant as it was--to attack Syria seems to have abated for the time being, the questions raised by that prospect--as well as other recent US military endeavors in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere--are major questions of lasting significance. They are not new questions as Christians have grappled with them from the beginning. One answer to them has already been suggested by Stanley Hauerwas, who used to keep on his door at Duke a poster which read: "A Modest Proposal for Peace: Let the Christians of the World Agree That They Will Not Kill Each Other."

Last year Ron Sider put together a collection of texts from various early Christian and patristic sources on the uses of violence. Sider seems to be one of those evangelicals who, in the last three decades, has, to some extent, "discovered" the Christian East, as this collection suggests: The Early Church on Killing: a Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment (Baker Academic, 2012), 224pp.

About this book we are told:
Noted theologian Ron Sider lets the testimony of the early church speak in the first of a three-volume series on biblical peacemaking. This volume offers a thorough, comprehensive treatment on topics of perennial concern--war, abortion, and capital punishment--providing English translations for all extant data directly relevant to the treatment of these issues by the early church until Constantine. Primarily, it draws data from early church writings, but other evidence, such as archaeological finds and Roman writings, is included. The book contains brief introductions to every Christian writer cited and explanatory notes on many specific texts. The Early Church on Killing will be a helpful text in courses on ethics, theology, and church history.

We are also given the table of contents: 
Part 1: Christian Writers before Constantine
1. Didache
2. The Epistle of Barnabas
3. First Clement
4. Second Clement
5. Apocalypse of Peter
6. Justin Martyr
7. Tatian
8. Irenaeus
9. Athenagoras
10. Clement of Alexandria
11. Tertullian
12. Minucius Felix
13. Didascalia apostolorum
14. Julius Africanus
15. Origen
16. St. Cyprian
17. Gregory Thaumaturgus
18. Dionysius of Alexandria
19. Archelaus
20. Adamantius, Dialogue on the True Faith
21. Arnobius of Sicca
22. Lactantius
Part 2: Church Orders and Synods
23. Apostolic Tradition
24. Three Later Church Orders
25. Synod of Arles
Part 3: Miscellaneous Items
26. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas
27. Paul of Samosata
28. The Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena
Part 4: Other Evidence of Christian Soldiers before Constantine
29. "The Thundering Legion"
30. A Third Century Christian Prayer Hall Near a Military Camp
31. Epitaphs
32. Military Martyrs
33. Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History
34. An Early Christian Kingdom?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Byzantine Liturgical Manuscripts

The Byzantine liturgist Peter Galadza has said more than once that in many respects the study of all things Eastern, including Eastern liturgics, is at least a century behind comparable Western scholarship. I do wonder, though, if perhaps things have moved rather more quickly in the move to catch up given the avalanche of books pouring forth in the last two decades covering everything from iconography to history, culture, and liturgics. In this latter category, we have a new collection to be released at month's end: Gerard Rouwhorst et al, eds., A Catalogue of Byzantine Manuscripts in Their Liturgical Context: Challenges and Perspectives. Collected Papers (Brepols, 2013, 350pp).

About this book we are told:
The world of Byzantine manuscripts is fascinating but also confusing. Although they play an important part in modern studies on the history of Christian liturgy and on the textual history of the Bible, a clear overview of the vast amount of these manuscripts in their many different forms is lacking. A new approach in their cataloguing is called for. The present volume brings together a number of specialists in the field of Byzantine, liturgical and Biblical studies with the aim to develop a new methodology for codicological research of the Byzantine manuscripts, taking seriously the original environment of the integral codices in the monasteries and the churches in which they were manufactured and functioned.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Uses and Abuses of History by Christians

I've previously noted the lamentable tendency on the part of some Christians to use "history" as a weapon to prove the superiority of their own positions or confessions, and to smite others as "heretics." This occurs with some regularity on the part of some Eastern Christians attacking "the West" or "the Latins" but it is by no means a disease exclusive to the East. In fact, I have seen an uptick of this kind of mentality since Pope Francis was elected. Some self-appointed Roman Catholic "traditionalists" are now trying him on their blogs as they march forth "evidence" from history--in the form of quotes from previous popes--to show he is a borderline if not outright "heretic." These "charges" have all the sophistication of proof-texting, of course, and once more illustrate the need for some guidelines on how, and how not, to handle historical texts. Along comes a welcome new book to help in this endeavor: John Fea, Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013), ix+182pp.

I've just finished this rather short book, and it has much to commend it. Fea writes with a commendable style that is cogent and accessible. He sets out what historians do and do not do, and why, reviewing also various historiographical schools (historicists, Whigs, Annales, etc.) and their approaches to some of the complicated tasks involved in writing good history. His first three chapters in particular are clear in setting out the discipline of history, and it is significant that that word (discipline) occurs repeatedly. Fea is not averse to drawing the connection more explicitly at the end of the book, having previously suggested that good history writing is akin to a spiritual discipline, to askesis, insofar as it involves a great deal of humility and self-effacement. The emphasis on humility is another common theme throughout, as Fea stresses the provisional nature of history writing, and the fact that while some may scorn the very idea of "revisionism," history cannot avoid it, and in itself there is nothing wrong with revising one's views as one grows, it is to be hoped, in deeper insight, stripped free of past biases and prejudices and able to see even a little less "through a glass darkly."

Fea has a handy checklist of things he tries to get his students--mostly evangelical Christians at Messiah College--to appreciate about historiography: the five Cs. Historians must always be aware of "change over time, context, causality, contingency, and complexity" (6). They must approach each of these with humility, aware of the limits of trying to understand the past and the strangeness of it and the difficulties of doing so. Indeed, he goes so far as to talk about the "impossibility" of doing history, the "paradox" of the historian's calling: nothing can ever be told with complete finality or objectivity, or in an absolutely comprehensive and comprehending manner, but this does not mean that nothing can ever be told. Fea steers a clear path between an impossible pan-optic, omniscient "objectivism" on the one hand, and a hopeless and useless "subjectivism" on the other.

Fea also lists some of the common problems in approaching history: anachronism, romanticism, moralism, and narcissism (whereby we see ourselves especially in the heroes of the past, or imagine that we would have made the right decision at some crucial historical juncture--resisting the Nazis, say, or not shouting "Crucify Him" before Pontius Pilate). Again and again he stresses the need to approach history with humility and also with empathy for its characters in all their complexity. (This clarion call--to humility, to empathy, and to awareness of complexity--is one I wish more "traditionalists" in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy would take to heart. It is one I stress to my students. Caricature, demonization, and reductionism--"All the West's errors stem from Augustine/Aquinas/Anselm/filioque" or "everyone since Pius XII has been a charlatan and heretic and anti-pope!"--cannot be recognized as serious history.)

What sets Fea's book apart from other similar recent texts, it seems, is not only his chapters on whether there is such a thing as "Providential History" (he thinks it's possible in theory, but so fraught with problems and dangers that in practice it's virtually impossible) but also his important discussion on something some so-called secular historians miss or fail to consider: the role of human sin in human affairs and human history. I could not agree more. Again and again I return to Chesterton's famous aphorism: original sin is the one, perhaps the only, Christian dogma capable of easy and regular empirical verification. A failure to consider it seriously can only result in heavily distorted and unreliable history--to say nothing of theological anthropology and other disciplines. You need not subscribe to a Christian soteriology to believe in the power and relevance of sin and evil in determining and distorting human affairs. (As I noted this time last year, the "atheist Jewish" psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton believes in a metaphysic of evil.)

Fea mentions a couple of trips to speak at churches across the country, addressing the question of his previous book, Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. He notes the frustration of audiences that want a clear yes/no answer to that question, and are unprepared to understand how such a question to an historian cannot get that kind of answer readily or justly. Even more interesting to me was how often he gets very large audiences at large evangelical churches to discuss the notion of "Christian history." It would be very heartening to have such robust discussions at Catholic and Orthodox churches--and very necessary, too. For, as I have noted before (following David Bentley Hart and others) too much of the cause of East-West division flows from shoddy history. For that reason, Fea's book is very much to be commended to Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and to all who are interested in understanding that the past is not just or even "a foreign country."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dhimmis in the West

I have noted on here previously the question of dhimmitude which has so often entangled so many Eastern Christians following the Islamic conquest of their lands. A new study, just released, expands our understanding of this crucial, and often misunderstood, legal arrangement, this time in the West rather than the East: Maribel Fierro and John Tolan, eds., The Legal Status of Dimmis in the Islamic West (Second/Eighth-Ninth/Fifteenth Centuries) (Brepols, 2013), 370pp.

About this book we are told:
The studies brought together in this volume provide an important contribution to the history of ḏimmī-s in the medieval dār al-islām, and more generally to the legal history of religious minorities in medieval societies. The central question addressed is the legal status accorded to ḏimmī-s (Jews and Christians) in the Muslim law in the medieval Muslim west (the Maghreb and Muslim Spain).  The scholars whose work is brought together in these pages have dealt with a rich and complex variety of legal sources. Many of the texts are from the Mālikī legal tradition; they include fiqh, fatwā-s, ḥisba manuals. These texts function as the building blocks of the legal framework in which jurists and rulers of Maghrebi and Peninsular societies worked.  The very richness and complexity of these texts, as well as the variety of responses that they solicited, refute the textbook idea of a monolithic ḏimmī system, supposedly based on the Pact of ‘Umar, applied throughout the Muslim world.  In fact when one looks closely at the early legal texts or chronicles from both the Mashreq and the Maghreb, there is little evidence for a standard, uniform ḏimmī system, but rather a wide variety of local adaptations.  The articles in this volume provide numerous examples of the richness and complexity of interreligious relations in Medieval Islam and the reactions of jurists to those relations.
Another and related study has recently been published in paperback form: Joseph Montville, ed., History as Prelude: Muslims and Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean (Lexington Books, 2013), 208pp.

About this book we are told:
This collection of essays by seven highly respected scholars is a straightforward narrative of real world—intellectual, commercial, spiritual, philosophical, scientific, aesthetic—creative engagement among Jews, Muslims, and some Christians in daily life in Spain and around the Mediterranean. History as Prelude is a major contribution to the Israeli-Arab peace process because it undermines—in fact, blows away—the efforts of propagandists who serve governments or political movements to negate the reality of the Arab-Jewish relationship in the medieval Mediterranean. The contributors, in unassuming, well-researched scholarship have erected a wall protecting historical reality from distortion, providing irrefutable—and often delightful—examples of creative coexistence.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

If It's "Inexpressible" How Did You Manage to Write a Book about It?

I've previously mentioned a number of recent books looking at Ps-Dionysius. Two more join that pile, both taking a more "philosophical" approach at least as that term is defined by the (post-?) modern academy. First is Melanie Walton, Expressing the Inexpressible in Lyotard and Pseudo-Dionysius: Bearing Witness as Spiritual Exercise (Lexington Books, 2013), 326pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The event happens. To it, you bear witness; to it, you are commanded to testify; and yet, by the command and by the event, you are unable to speak. Testimony demands the witness to demonstrate her knowledge—that knowledge that she must have by the fact of being a witness to something. And, yet, this something exceeds the possibility of its grasp by any manner that could yield its expression amenable to verification. One example is the Holocaust survivor silenced by the odious logic of the historical revisionist who forbids the living to evidence death camps. The horror of the example is not just the difficulty of actually undoing such a foul bind that masks hatred with sophistic flourish; it is the realization that the bind’s power is fueled by the true inexpressibility of the Holocaust itself. A second example is the religious faithful called to testify to that superessentiality who supremely exceeds every capacity to know Him. While heterogeneous in time, place, and philosophical situation, the contemporary French father of postmodernism, Jean-François Lyotard, and the late antique, presumably Syrian father of Neoplatonist Christian mysticism, Pseudo-Dionysius, both do justice to their witnesses by endeavoring under this weight of impossibility to express the inexpressible. Lyotard rigorously analyzes every aspect of the differend and explores a plethora of attempts to lift the silence, and finds each to fail. Pseudo-Dionysius founds a radical, stuttering method of speaking and unspeaking the names of God to give forth this inconceivable testimony. Expressing the Inexpressible undertakes a critical reading of each individually and then brings their distinct methods to bear on their shared problem of that which resists its articulation. Their conjunction finds its voice in a reading of silence and eros as forging a new idiom by which the witness may do the impossible: express the inexpressible. 
The second, shorter book was published a little earlier: Michael Craig Rhodes, Mystery in Philosophy: An Invocation of Pseudo-Dionysius (Lexington, 2012), 142pp.

About this book we are told:
Typically, mystery does not receive much attention in philosophy. Although Heidegger and other key philosophers have made a place for mystery in philosophy, many find such philosophizing suspect and unconvincing. As a general rule, contemporary philosophers have taken a different approach, and, thus, there has been very little discussion of mystery in philosophy. As a study of mystery in philosophy, this book is therefore somewhat unique. Moreover, it is also distinctive in the way it approaches the subject, tuning to an unpopular figure—Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500)—in contemporary philosophy in effort to make connections between that form of thought and various claims and indications of mystery. Thus, the book is unconventional in terms of both its subject matter and its methodology.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Patmos and the Apocalypse

Though the Book of Revelation features seldom in Byzantine liturgics, the other Johannine texts are read regularly. A new book fills a lacuna in the study of John and the geographical context which shaped his most controversial book: Ian Boxall, Patmos in the Reception History of the Apocalypse (Oxford, 2013), 272pp + 8 colour plates.

About this book we are told:
  • First systematic study of Patmos in the reception history of the Apocalypse
  • Wide-ranging approach to reception history, embracing sermons, hymns, liturgical texts, poetry, and travel books as well as commentaries
  • Includes popular and marginal as well as mainstream and magisterial interpreters
  • Contains a chapter on the interpretation of Patmos in visual art accompanied by colour illustrations
  • Explores the wider implications of reception history for critical biblical scholarship
This monograph explores the significance accorded to John's island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9) within the wider reception history of the Apocalypse. In contrast to the relatively scant attention paid to John's island in modern commentaries, this reception-historical survey reveals both the greater prominence accorded to Patmos by earlier interpreters, and the richer diversity of readings the text has provoked. These include interest in the physical character of Patmos and its significance as an island; the date and reason for John's sojourn there; attempts to locate Patmos in a geography which is sometimes more mythical than literal; the meaning of the name 'Patmos' in the context of a biblical book which treats other place-names symbolically. This diversity is supported by a close reading of Rev. 1:9, which highlights the extent to which even its literal sense is highly ambiguous.

Ian Boxall brings together for the first time in a coherent narrative a wide range of interpretations of Patmos, reflecting different chronological periods, cultural contexts, and Christian traditions. Boxall understands biblical interpretation broadly, to include interpretations in biographical traditions about John, sermons, liturgy, and visual art as well as biblical commentaries.He also considers popular and marginal readings alongside magisterial and centrist ones, and draws analogies between similar hermeneutical strategies across the centuries. In the final chapter Boxall explores the wider implications of his study for biblical scholarship, advocating an approach which encourages use of the imagination and reader participation, and which works with a broader concept of 'meaning' than traditional historical criticism.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Second Crusade

I have not infrequently bemoaned the tendentious way in which the Crusades are often handled, especially at the popular level. But we are, slowly but surely, seeing a steady stream of solid studies over the last several years by reputable scholars, as I have frequently noted on here. Set for December release is another book that will shed further light: J.T. Roche and J.M. Jensen, eds., The Second Crusade: Holy War on the Periphery of Latin Christendom (Brepols, 2013), 300pp.

About this book we are told:
A seminal article published by Giles Constable in 1953 focused on the genesis and expansion in scope of the Second Crusade with particular attention to what has become known as the Syrian campaign. His central thesis maintained that by the spring of 1147 the Church “viewed and planned” the Second Crusade a general Christian offensive against the Baltic pagan Wends and the Muslims of the Iberian Peninsula and the Holy Land. His work remains extremely influential and provides the framework for the recent major works published on this extraordinary mid twelfth-century phenomenon. This volume aims to readdress scholarly predilections for concentrating on the venture in the Holy Land and for narrowly focusing on the accepted targets of the crusade. It aims instead to place established, contentious, and new events and concepts associated with the enterprise in a wider ideological, chronological, geopolitical, and geographical context.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Coptic Christian Heritage

Available now in the UK and in December here in the US is a new book by the Coptic scholar Lois Farag which is as timely as ever given the on-going focus on Egypt and the continued suffering of her people, especially her Coptic Christians: Lois M. Farag, ed., The Coptic Christian Heritage: History, Faith and Culture (Routledge, 2013), 296pp.

About this book we are told that it
offers a comprehensive introduction to the heritage of Coptic Christians. The contributors combine academic expertise with intimate and practical knowledge of the Coptic Orthodox Church and Coptic heritage. The chapters explore historical, cultural, literary and material aspects, including: the history of Christianity in Egypt, from the pre-Christian era to the modern day; Coptic religious culture: theology, monasticism, spirituality, liturgy and music; the Coptic language, linguistic expressions of the Coptic heritage and literary production in Greek, Coptic and Arabi; .material culture and artistic expression of the Copts: from icons, mosaics and frescos to manuscript illuminations, woodwork and textiles.
We are also given the table of contents and contributors:
Introduction | Part One: Coptic Christian History | 1. The Pre-Christian Period: Changing Times and Cultural Endurance | 2. The Early Christian Period (42-642): The Spread and Defence of the Christian Faith under Roman Rule | 3. The Early Islamic Period (642-1517): From the Arab Conquest through Mamluk Rule | 4. The Ottoman Period (1517-1798): Beyond Persecution or Tolerance | 5. The Pre-Modern Period (1798-1952): The Age of Coptic Citizenship and Reform | 6. The Modern Period (1952-2011): An Era of Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs
Part Two: Coptic Religious Culture | 7. Theology: Defending Orthodoxy | 8. Monasticism: Living Scripture and Theological Orthodoxy | 9. Spirituality: In God’s Presence | 10. Liturgy: Heaven on Earth | 11. Music: Performing Coptic Expressive Culture
Part Three: Coptic Literary Culture | 12. Coptic Language: The Link to Ancient Egyptian | 13. The Greek Literature of the Copts: Innovative and Formative Era | 14. Coptic Literature: Copts Writing in their Own Tongue | 15. Coptic Arabic Literature: When Arabic Became the Language of the Saints
Part Four: Coptic Material Culture | 16. Art: A Multifaceted Artistic Heritage
Contributors: Mariam F. Ayad, Maged S. A. Mikhail, Febe Armanios, Maged Hanna, Saad Michael Saad, John Paul Abdelsayed, Carolyn M. Ramzy, Hany N. Takla, Samuel Moawad, Gawdat Gabra

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thinking Theologically about Animals

Several weeks ago in one of my classes, I got into quite a discussion with several of my students about whether animals have souls. I, of course, do not believe that they do, and this, until quite recently, would have been a quite unremarkable statement of orthodox Christian anthropology: people have souls; animals do not. But several students were outraged that their beloved dead pets might not see them in heaven. A new collection of essays may shed some light here, and features at least one chapter (no. 9) dealing with major Eastern Christian figures: Celia Deane-Drummond et al, eds., Animals as Religious Subjects: Transdisciplinary Perspectives (T&T Clark, 2013), 336pp.

About this book we are told:

This book examines one of the most pressing cultural concerns that surfaced in the last decade - the question of the place and significance of the animal. This collection of essays represents the outcome of various conversations regarding the animal studies and shows multidisciplinarity at its very best, namely, a rigorous approach within one discipline in conversation with others around a common theme. The contributors discuss the most relevant disciplines regarding this conversation, namely: philosophy, anthropology, religious studies, theology, history of religions, archaeology and cultural studies. The first section, Thinking about Animals, explores philosophical, anthropological and religious perspectives, raising general questions about the human perception of animals and its crucial cultural significance. The second section explores the intriguing topic of the way animals have been used historically as religious symbols and in religious rituals. The third section re-examines some Christian theological and biblical approaches to animals in the light of current concerns. The final section extends the implications of traditional views about other animals to more specific ethical theories and practices.
We are also given the table of contents: 

Introduction - Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough
Part One: Animals as Subjects of Religious Thought
1. ‘Ask now the beasts and they shall teach thee’ - Stephen R. L. Clark
2. Walking with Dragons: An Anthropological Excursion on the Wild Side - Tim Ingold
3. The Study of Religion after the Animal - Aaron Gross
Part Two: Animals as Subjects of Religious Symbolism
4. Hedgehog Skin and Golden Calf: Animals as Symbols for Paganism in Medieval German Literature - Sabine Obermaier
5. The Daemonic Insect: Mantis religiosa - Adam Dodd
6. Benevolent Bulls and Baleful Buffalos: Male Bovines versus the ‘Holy Cow’ in Hinduism - Xenia Zeiler
7. From Sacrifices to Symbols: Animals in Late Antiquity and Early Christianity - Ingvild Salid Gilhus
Part Three: Animals as Subjects of Theological Inquiry
8. Butterflies Dwell Betwixt and Between: Non-Human Animals, Theology, and Dwelling in Place - Forrest Clingerman
9. ‘Marvel at the Intelligence of Unthinking Creatures!’: Contemplative Animals in Gregory of Nazianzus and Evagrius of Pontus - Eric Daryl Meyer
10. Putting Animals in Their Place: On the Theological Classification of Animals - David Clough
Part Four: Animals as Subjects of Religious Ethics
11. ‘Your Wives, Your Children, and Your Livestock’: Domesticated Beings as Religious Objects in the Book of Deuteronomy - Raymond F. Person, Jr.
12. Transgenic Animals and Ethics: Recognizing an Appropriate Dignity - Robert Song
13. Other Animals as Persons? – A Roman Catholic Inquiry - Charles Camosy
Index of Scriptural References
Index of Subjects
Index of Names

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Byzantine Art and Literature

Interest in all things Byzantine, as I have often remarked on here, continues unabated with major publishers on both sides of the Atlantic continuing to bring out a slew of books just in English. A recent contribution comes from Henry Maguire,  Nectar and Illusion: Nature in Byzantine Art and Literature (Oxford UP, 2012), Pp. xx, 198.

About this book we are told:
Nature and Illusion is the first extended treatment of the portrayal of nature in Byzantine art and literature. In this richly illustrated study, Henry Maguire shows how the Byzantines embraced terrestrial creation in the decoration of their churches during the fifth to seventh centuries but then adopted a much more cautious attitude toward the depiction of animals and plants in the middle ages, after the iconoclastic dispute of the eighth and ninth centuries. In the medieval period, the art of Byzantine churches became more anthropocentric and less accepting of natural images. The danger that the latter might be put to idolatrous use created a constant state of tension between worldliness, represented by nature, and otherworldliness, represented by the portrait icons of the saints. The book discusses the role of iconoclasm in affecting this fundamental change in Byzantine art, as both sides in the controversy accused the other of "worshipping the creature rather than the Creator." An important theme is the asymmetrical relationship between Byzantine art and literature with respect to the portrayal of nature. A series of vivid texts described seasons, landscapes, gardens, and animals, but these were more sparingly illustrated in medieval art. Maguire concludes by discussing the abstraction of nature in the form of marble floors and revetments and with a consideration of the role of architectural backgrounds in medieval Byzantine art. Throughout Nature and Illusion, medieval Byzantine art is compared with that of Western Europe, where different conceptions of religious imagery allowed a closer engagement with nature.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Female Transvestite Monks Rock the Eastern Christian World: Details at 11!

You'd think I was merely trolling for traffic with a title like that, but believe it or not a new book by a reputable publisher treats this very topic. Coming out in November by Crystal Lynn Lubinski is Removing Masculine Layers to Reveal a Holy Womanhood: The Female Transvestite Monks of Late Antique Eastern Christianity (Brepols, 2013), 250pp.

About this book we are told:
Female monks have been discussed within the spheres of socio-history, theology, and literary analysis, but no comprehensive study has focused on their historical and gendered context until now. This book reexamines their hagiographies to reveal that female protagonists possess a holy womanhood regardless of having layers of masculinity applied to their characters. Each masculine layer is scrutinized to explore its purpose in the plots and the plausible motivations for the utilization of transvestite figures in religious literature. Hagiographers had no intention of transforming their religious protagonists into anything but determined, holy women who are forced to act drastically in order to sustain ascetic dreams begun while mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. Through an intertextual method, masculinity and literary themes work to contextualize praise for a holy womanhood within an acceptable gendered language, which seems to support a belief in the spiritual potential of women. This book highlights the potential for complex irony to develop around a female transvestite, which supplies religious tales with intrigue and interest, an ability to instruct/chastise mixed audiences, and a potential to portray the reversal inherent in the human drama of salvation.
Those who know Eastern Christian monasticism, both ancient and modern, will know this is not as weird as it sounds. There are examples of this kind of "cross-dressing" as recently as in St. Xenia of Petersburg as I have noted elsewhere on here. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Middle Byzantine Historians and Texts

Set for release next month is the second in a series of books from one of North America's leading Byzantine historians: Warren Treadgold, The Middle Byzantine Historians (Palgrave, 2013), 600pp.

About this book we are told:
The Middle Byzantine Historians, which continues the same author's Early Byzantine Historians, is the first book to analyze the lives and works of every significant Byzantine historian from the seventh to the thirteenth century. Written for general readers as well as professional scholars, it describes forty-three historians who usually knew their emperors personally. Besides obscure but intriguing figures like the exiled Sergius Confessor, father of the Patriarch Photius, and the embittered monk Nicetas the Paphlagonian, author of a Secret History that denounced Photius, the historians include the authors of three of the world's greatest histories: the courtier Michael Psellus, who depicts the flawed personalities of the fourteen emperors and empresses of his time, Princess Anna Comnena, who makes a spirited defense of her father Alexius I, and Nicetas Choniates, a provincial who rose to head the whole Byzantine bureaucracy and told the story of his empire's decline from great power to destruction by the Fourth Crusade.

Also from the same period is a recent collection edited by R. J. H. Jenkins: Commentary on the De Administrando Imperio (Dumbarton Oaks Texts, 2012), 234pp.

About this book we are told:
The De Administrando Imperio, compiled by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in the tenth century, is one of the most important historical documents surviving from the middle Byzantine period, containing a wide variety of information on foreign relations and internal administration. The critical text of the De Administrando Imperio, edited by Gyula Moravcsik and translated by R. J. H.
Jenkins (Dumbarton Oaks Texts), is now joined by the commentary, written in 1962 by a team of eminent scholars led by Jenkins. Long out of print, the Jenkins commentary remains the most thorough and authoritative study of this significant medieval text, and it is now republished as a companion volume to the critical text and translation. In addition to extensive commentary on the historical, geographical, and philological nuances of the Greek text, this volume contains a bibliography, map, indexes, and genealogical charts.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Hermeneutics, History, and Historiography

As I noted recently, the problems of history remain, to my mind, among the greatest of the problems bedeviling East-West relations. I continue to think that many problems today in both Catholic and Orthodox circles, and in relations between them, are caused, in significant measure, by an ignorance of history as well as not infrequent distortions of it resulting from a lack of clear historiographical "guidelines" for attempting to tell that history in all its enormous complexity and messiness. This is also true, as I have often noted, in reference to Christian-Muslim history, especially that of the Crusades and in contemporary Orthodox-Muslim relations, on which I recently published a paper and about which I have a book coming out next year. Previously I have discussed some of these problems in reference to ecclesiological history, and, earlier, I made note of Francis Oakley's deeply disturbing discussion of how conciliar history and authority has been treated in the West since at least Constance. As Oakley puts it, the Latin Church has been successful in engaging in “a quite startling instance of institutional (and institutionally sponsored) forgetting” (2) about the teachings of the Council of Constance (1414–18). More recently Denis O'Brien has put the matter very nicely: the Catholic Church has a "strong sense of tradition and no sense of history."(Some of these thoughts were prompted by recently watching the Orthodox historian Sr. Vassa Larin here in an interesting presentation on the history of Byzantine liturgy)

Coming out early next year are several books that may help shed light on these problems. The first of these is David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country - Revisited, 2nd. rev. ed (Cambridge UP, 2014), 720pp.

About this book we are told:
The past remains essential - and inescapable. A quarter-century after the publication of his classic account of man's attitudes to his past, David Lowenthal revisits how we celebrate, expunge, contest and domesticate the past to serve present needs. He shows how nostalgia and heritage now pervade every facet of public and popular culture. History embraces nature and the cosmos as well as humanity. The past is seen and touched and tasted and smelt as well as heard and read about. Empathy, re-enactment, memory and commemoration overwhelm traditional history. A unified past once certified by experts and reliant on written texts has become a fragmented, contested history forged by us all. New insights into history and memory, bias and objectivity, artefacts and monuments, identity and authenticity, and remorse and contrition, make this book once again the essential guide to the past that we inherit, reshape and bequeath to the future.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian

One of the deleterious developments in Western Christianity over the last several decades has been the promiscuous way in which the word "theology" and cognates is thrown about: we have a theology of sports, a theology of sex, a theology of this, that, and fifty other things, all of them unutterably banal. The East, by contrast, is far more restrictive in its use of this language: as is well known, only three figures have officially received the title "theologian" in the East: St. John the evangelist; St. Gregory (Nazianzus); and then the third figure whose life is treated in a new translation of an old vita: Niketas Stethatos, The Life of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library), trans. Richard P.H. Greenfield (Harvard UP, 2013), 448pp.

About this book we are told:
Today the Byzantine mystic, writer, and monastic leader Symeon the New Theologian (ca. 949 to 1022 AD) is considered a saint by the Orthodox Church and revered as one of its most influential spiritual thinkers. But in his own time a cloud of controversy surrounded him and the suspicion of heresy tainted his reputation long afterward.
The Life was written more than thirty years after Symeon’s death by his disciple and apologist the theologian Niketas Stethatos, who also edited all of Symeon’s spiritual writings. An unusually valuable piece of Byzantine hagiography, it not only presents compelling descriptions of Symeon’s visions, mystical inspiration, and role as a monastic founder, but also provides vivid glimpses into the often bitter and unpleasantly conflicted politics of monasticism and the construction of sanctity and orthodoxy at the zenith of the medieval Byzantine Empire. Although the many volumes of Symeon’s spiritual writings are now readily available in English, the present translation makes the Life accessible to English readers for the first time. It is based on an authoritative edition of the Greek.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The First Ukrainian Catholic Bishop in Canada

The history of Eastern Christianity in Canada, and even more widely the history of the socioeconomic development of the prairie provinces (and much of the rest of the country), is inseparable from the immigration to those parts of Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians from the tsarist empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of the largest groups to come to Canada to take advantage of its promise of free land were those we today call Ukrainians, most of whom were in fact Galicians. (My favorite book about Galicia remains that edited by Christopher Hann and Paul Robert Magocsi, Galicia: A Multicultured Land.) The old Habsburg province of Galicia was the stronghold of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, and many who came to Canada were thus Eastern/Byzantine Catholics. In time their numbers would swell to such an extent that petitions were made to the primate, Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky, for a bishop, and in time that bishop, Nykyta Budka, would be sent. His would not be an uneventful life either in Canada or back in the Soviet Union, where he was eventually martyred.

A new book by the church historian and priest Athanasius McVay, whom I interviewed previously about his work on the Holodomor in Ukraine, tells Budka's story:

The author has more details about this forthcoming book on his blog, and you may read that here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Those Sexually Conflicted Romans

A visitor from another planet today would be forgiven for thinking that Catholic and Orthodox Christians (and others, too) must be monsters for their denial of the so-called right to so-called same-sex marriage. This absurd issue, which twenty years ago would scarcely have been entertained by anyone as a serious proposition, is today routinely used in the media as proof of the retrograde nature of Christian sexual ethics--all those poor gays and lesbians being picked on by the big bad old Church. What a tiresome lot of claptrap this all is. And how things have changed! As Kyle Harper's new book From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Harvard UP, 2013), 316pp. makes clear, there was a time when Christians were excoriated in the opposite direction--for being far too willing to grant dignity to people previously treated as sexual slaves.

About this book we are told:
When Rome was at its height, an emperor’s male beloved, victim of an untimely death, would be worshiped around the empire as a god. In this same society, the routine sexual exploitation of poor and enslaved women was abetted by public institutions. Four centuries later, a Roman emperor commanded the mutilation of men caught in same-sex affairs, even as he affirmed the moral dignity of women without any civic claim to honor. The gradual transformation of the Roman world from polytheistic to Christian marks one of the most sweeping ideological changes of premodern history. At the center of it all was sex. Exploring sources in literature, philosophy, and art, Kyle Harper examines the rise of Christianity as a turning point in the history of sexuality and helps us see how the roots of modern sexuality are grounded in an ancient religious revolution.

While Roman sexual culture was frankly and freely erotic, it was not completely unmoored from constraint. Offending against sexual morality was cause for shame, experienced through social condemnation. The rise of Christianity fundamentally changed the ethics of sexual behavior. In matters of morality, divine judgment transcended that of mere mortals, and shame—a social concept—gave way to the theological notion of sin. This transformed understanding led to Christianity’s explicit prohibitions of homosexuality, extramarital love, and prostitution. Most profound, however, was the emergence of the idea of free will in Christian dogma, which made all human action, including sexual behavior, accountable to the spiritual, not the physical, world.

Monday, October 7, 2013

David Bentley Hart on God

David Bentley Hart occupies a rather unique place in North American Orthodox thought. I always enjoy reading him for the simple reason that he's usually too smart to indulge in any romanticism or triumphalism, and usually frank enough to allow for Orthodox self-criticism. His latest book was just published: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale University Press, 2013), 376pp.

About this book we are told:
Despite the recent ferocious public debate about belief, the concept most central to the discussion—God—frequently remains vaguely and obscurely described. Are those engaged in these arguments even talking about the same thing? In a wide-ranging response to this confusion, esteemed scholar David Bentley Hart pursues a clarification of how the word “God” functions in the world’s great theistic faiths.

Ranging broadly across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, Hart explores how these great intellectual traditions treat humanity’s knowledge of the divine mysteries. Constructing his argument around three principal metaphysical “moments”—being, consciousness, and bliss—the author demonstrates an essential continuity between our fundamental experience of reality and the ultimate reality to which that experience inevitably points.

Thoroughly dismissing such blatant misconceptions as the deists' concept of God, as well as the fundamentalist view of the Bible as an objective historical record, Hart provides a welcome antidote to simplistic manifestoes. In doing so, he plumbs the depths of humanity’s experience of the world as powerful evidence for the reality of God and captures the beauty and poetry of traditional reflection upon the divine.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Culture of "Heresy"

It has been fashionable in academic circles for decades to sneer at the concept of heresy and to always put that term and its cognates in scare quotes, seeing heresy merely as some crude will-to-power over political enemies. When confronted with this, I always think of a 1932 essay by the great English writer Evelyn Waugh denouncing the fashion for refusing to condemn anything: "there are still things worth fighting against."

Equally fashionable, however, particularly in so-called traditionalist circles, is the condemnation of anyone and everyone as "heretical" who does not hew to your own sanctimonious ideology masquerading as theology, Church history, "holy Tradition," etc. These people are constantly cherry-picking what they like, ignoring what they don't, and turning everything into "confessional propaganda" (Taft) and "soteriological exclusivism" (Hryniewicz) with which to bludgeon everyone else.

And then there is the third group which I often find among my students, who know nothing about Dogmengeschichte and who therefore assume that doctrine and creeds are not terribly important, and certainly not worth fighting over (they are utterly baffled, and not a little disdainful, when reading about conflict at and after ecumenical councils, especially Chalcedon). Creeds, they assume, must merely have "fallen from heaven one year during Good Friday luncheon" (to use another Waugh line from his uproarious historical novel Helena).

All three groups err--the first by neglect, the second by excess, the third by ignorance. The first group ignores the very real danger, as Richard Weaver famously put it, that Ideas Have Consequences. To have erred in defining the nature of Christ or some other matter could potentially have been fatal to the whole Christian enterprise. But fatal for human relations, and certainly for Christian unity, is the impulse to damn people whose positions you scarcely understand, whom you tendentiously and self-righteously caricature and anathematize in hysterical-polemical modes that may prove, upon sober reconsideration, to have been grossly misleading. That, surely, is what many Eastern Christians have done with Chalcedon. We have spent hundreds of years condemning each other in our hymnody and hagiography when careful examination by competent scholars today has revealed that much of the split was based on linguistic misapprehension and misunderstanding, as Kenneth Yossa's indispensable book Common Heritage, Divided Communion: The Declines and Advances of Inter-Orthodox Relations from Chalcedon to Chambésy makes clear (as I noted here).

These thoughts were brought to mind in two ways: first in reading the newly translated  Icons and the Name of God by Sergius Bulgakov (whom some, of course, infamously rushed to condemn as heretic early in the 20th century). I'm giving a lecture next year with a colleague (a specialist in Western Renaissance religious art, especially in Italy) on iconoclasms East and West and thus was led to read Bulgakov, who carefully lays out the arguments of the iconoclasts and rightly notes that they were a lot more intellectually sophisticated and theologically compelling than we often give them credit for. The same can and has been said about the so-called Arians in the Nicene period, whose arguments, as Khaled Anatolios's splendid book makes clear, were far from the hoary stereotypes Byzantine hymnody conjures up--even if they were, indeed, still wrong. (To be clear: I do believe, in fact, that heresy exists, and needs to be condemned, but the nature of the condemnation must proceed very carefully and usually only after a long period of very careful and painstaking consideration once passions have cooled so that we do not end up boxing ourselves in with condemnations that we later realize were based not on what someone actually said but on what their enemies (or, worse, their so-called friends!) tendentiously and maliciously claimed they said. As Evagrius, Origen, Augustine, and Bulgakov, inter alia, can tell you, that's a sure-fire way to slander someone and in so doing, no glory is brought to the Truth Himself. Such "condemnations," moreover, are not the province of individual apologists or bloggers, but of the Church herself only through her conciliar organs. Such condemnations, finally, must always be presented graciously in merciful and medicinal terms with a view to bringing the wayward back, not to shunning them forever. Why people who gleefully engage in such shunning and shrill condemnations think theirs a productive strategy is a great mystery to me. Such antics only serve to poison relations, drive people in the opposite direction, and ensure that no reconciliation takes place. Surely 1600 years after Chalcedon, the breech still not completely healed, we realize that?)

I was, in the second instance, put in mind of these thoughts upon receipt of a new book published at the end of September: Andrew P. Roach and James R. Simpson, eds., Heresy and the Making of European Culture: Medieval and Modern Perspectives (Ashgate, 2013), 440pp.

About this book we are told:
Scholars and analysts seeking to illuminate the extraordinary creativity and innovation evident in European medieval cultures and their afterlives have thus far neglected the important role of religious heresy. The papers collected here - reflecting the disciplines of history, literature, theology, philosophy, economics and law - examine the intellectual and social investments characteristic of both deliberate religious dissent such as the Cathars of Languedoc, the Balkan Bogomils, the Hussites of Bohemia and those who knowingly or unknowingly bent or broke the rules, creating their own 'unofficial orthodoxies'. Attempts to understand, police and eradicate all these, through methods such as the Inquisition, required no less ingenuity. The ambivalent dynamic evident in the tensions between coercion and dissent is still recognisable and productive in the world today. 
We are given the table of contents and note that the first article is by one of Orthodoxy's leading theologians in the anglophone world and the rest of the volume does not ignore Orthodoxy either:
Introduction, Andrew P. Roach and James R. Simpson; Part I The Wheat and The Tares: The rebaptism of heretics in the Orthodox canonical tradition, Kallistos Ware; Heresy and political legitimacy in Al-Andalus, Maribel Fierro; The burning of heretical books, Alexander Murray; Lombard religiosities reconsidered: ‘Arianism’, syncretism and the transition to Catholic Christianity, Marilyn Dunn. Part II Inventing Heresies: Perceptions of heresy in historiographical and hagiographical sources of Aquitaine and the Loire Valley during the high Middle Ages, Julien Bellabre; The Bogomils’ folk heritage: false friend or neglected source?, Maja Angelovska-Panova and Andrew P. Roach. Part III Approaching Literary and Narrative Sources: Why God keeps sending his angels: domestic disturbance and Joseph’s doubts about Mary in Chester and York, Judith R. Anderson; Vernacular poetry and the spiritual Franciscans of the Languedoc: the poems of Ramon de Cornet, Catherine Léglu; Heretic Hussites: Oswald von Wolkenstein’s ‘Song of Hell’ (‘Durch Toren Weis’), Sieglinde Hartmann; Dogging Cornwall’s ‘secret freaks’: Béroul on the limits of European orthodoxy, James R. Simpson. Part IV Law and the Inquisition: ‘Heresy’ in Quercy in the 1240s: authorities and audiences, Claire Taylor; Heresy, orthodoxy and the interaction between canon and civil law in Theodore Balsamon’s commentaries, Peter Petkoff; Fighting clergy, church councils and the contexts of law: the cutting edge of orthodoxy or the ambiguous limits of legitimacy?, Daniel Gerrard; ‘Famosus est et satis publicum’: factionalism and the limits of doctrine in the case against Meister Eckhart, Alessandra Beccarisi; The Inquisition in medieval Bohemia: national and international contexts, Eva Doležalová; Clerical illegitimacy in the diocese of Sodor: exception or rule in the late medieval Church?, Sarah Thomas. Part V Heresy, Place and Community: Learning by doing: coping with Inquisitors in medieval Languedoc, James Given; Travels and studies of Stephen of Siwnik (c. 685-735): re-defining Armenian orthodoxy under Islamic rule, Igor Dorfmann-Lazarev; Catharism and heresy in Milan, Faye Taylor; Church reform and witch-hunting in the diocese of Lausanne: the example of Bishop George of Saluzzo, Georg Modestin. Part VI Distant Mirrors: Heresies, Orthodoxies and Modernities: Between medieval and modern beholding: Heidegger, Deleuze and the Duns Scotus affair, Philip Tonner; Heresy and its afterlives in Communist-era Poland, John M. Bates; Not just price: scholastic economic theology and fair trade, Robert I. Mochrie; Index.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Holy Fools in the West: the Case of Evelyn Waugh Considered

Back in the spring I noted the impending publication of a collection of essays to which I contributed a chapter on the common East-Roman and later East-Slavic hagiographic topos of the holy fool or iurodivy. Well the publisher has just alerted me that the book is in print and I should be receiving my copy soon. Which means, of course, that you will all want to be sure to place orders for yourself, your local public, parish, and university libraries, and 39501 of your closest friends. Details are as follows: Marc di Paolo, ed., Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna: Faith, Heresy, and Politics in Cultural Studies (Scarecrow, 2013), 232pp.

About this book we are told by the publisher:
During the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church went through a period of liberal reform under the stewardship of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. Successive popes sharply reversed course, enforcing conservative ideological values and silencing progressive voices in the Church. Consequently, those Catholics who had embraced the spirit of Vatican II were left feeling adrift and betrayed. In Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna, scholars of literature, film, religion, history, and sociology delve into this conflict–and historically similar ones–through the examination of narratives by and about rebellious Catholics. Essays in Unruly Catholics explore how renowned Catholic literary figures Dante Alighieri, Oscar Wilde, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Gerard Manley Hopkins dealt with the disparities between their personal beliefs and the Church’s official teachings. Contributors also suggest how controversial entertainers such as Madonna, Kevin Smith, Michael Moore, and Stephen Colbert practice forms of Catholicism perhaps worthy of respect. Most pointedly, Unruly Catholics addresses the recent sex abuse scandals considers the possibility that the Church might be reformed from within, and presents three iconic figures –Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and C.S. Lewis – as models of compassionate and reformist Christianity.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Arabic Trinitarianism?

It's a bit of a commonplace that Islam and Christianity sharply differ on the question of the Trinity. But as with most commonplaces, it obscures some important details. A book published this summer takes us into the world of Early Arabic Christian Contributions to Trinitarian Theology (Fortress Press, 2013), 160pp.
Authored by Thomas Ricks, the volume is a revision of his doctoral dissertation under the great Sidney Griffith. About this book the publisher tells us:
The doctrine of the Trinity is the keystone of Christian faith and teaching, yet most of the secondary accounts on the development of this crucial doctrine do not extend beyond Nicaea and pay scant attention to vital cultural traffic. In this volume, the author examines the exposition of the doctrine of the Trinity in a set of texts from key Arabic Christian thinkers from the eighth and ninth centuries and demonstrates that fresh thinking of this cornerstone doctrine occurred in the new context of a regnant Islamic culture; in this context, Christian theologians discovered the salience of the Nicene doctrine while engaging a new religious partner. The author provides an overlooked angle on the history of Trinitarian theology and brings attention to several profound Christian figures rarely found in Western accounts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Invention of Peter

Ever since I read Susan Wessell's utterly fascinating study Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome (Brill, 2008), which I discuss in some detail here, I've been keenly interested in the ways in which papal historiography functions, not least in the hands of popes and their apologists. For that reason, then, I'm greatly looking forward to reading George Demacopoulos' recent study,The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 288pp.

About this book we are told:
On the first anniversary of his election to the papacy, Leo the Great stood before the assembly of bishops convening in Rome and forcefully asserted his privileged position as the heir of Peter the Apostle. This declaration marked the beginning of a powerful tradition: the Bishop of Rome would henceforth leverage the cult of St. Peter, and the popular association of St. Peter with the city itself, to his advantage. In The Invention of Peter, George E. Demacopoulos examines this Petrine discourse, revealing how the link between the historic Peter and the Roman Church strengthened, shifted, and evolved during the papacies of two of the most creative and dynamic popes of late antiquity, ultimately shaping medieval Christianity as we now know it.

By emphasizing the ways in which this rhetoric of apostolic privilege was employed, extended, transformed, or resisted between the reigns of Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Demacopoulos offers an alternate account of papal history that challenges the dominant narrative of an inevitable and unbroken rise in papal power from late antiquity through the Middle Ages. He unpacks escalating claims to ecclesiastical authority, demonstrating how this rhetoric, which almost always invokes a link to St. Peter, does not necessarily represent actual power or prestige but instead reflects moments of papal anxiety and weakness. Through its nuanced examination of an array of episcopal activity—diplomatic, pastoral, political, and administrative—The Invention of Peter offers a new perspective on the emergence of papal authority and illuminates the influence that Petrine discourse exerted on the survival and exceptional status of the Bishop of Rome.
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