"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 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.

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