"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).

Friday, May 8, 2015

On the 50th Anniversary of Ware's The Orthodox Church

For decades, it seemed that the only reliable, accessible, affordable introduction to Orthodox Christianity available to Anglophone readers was The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware and published by Penguin. And it was a solid book and very useful. When I began in 2008 to teach introductory courses on Eastern Christianity, I used Ware's book. I was later forced to abandon it, when, to my horror, students whined that it "has too much history in it," a claim I find about as intelligible and defensible as saying of the Pacific Ocean "it has too much water in it." But given that most students today don't know even the most recent and elementary history (I can reliably count on fewer than 5% of any given class knowing the dates of either of the two World Wars), still less anything about Christian history, I adopted another text which has worked better for us: David Bell's Orthodoxy: Evolving Tradition.

Today, happily, as I have had frequent occasion to note on here, we live in an era of riches and abundance: introductions to Orthodoxy abound in English, from simple, accessible and affordable paperback's like Bell's through to major encyclopedias and dictionaries as well as handbooks, companions, and other substantial and welcome studies from prominent and widely respected scholars, not all of them Orthodox themselves. 

Later this autumn, the 50th-anniversary edition of Ware's famous text is being published in an anniversary edition: The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity (Penguin, October 2015), 368pp.

About this forthcoming re-issue, we are told by the publisher:
'Orthodoxy claims to be universal . . .' 'Since its first publication fifty years ago, Timothy Ware's book has become established throughout the English-speaking world as the standard introduction to the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy continues to be a subject of enormous interest among western Christians, and the author believes that an understanding of its standpoint is necessary before the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches can be reunited. In this revised and updated edition he explains the Orthodox views on such widely ranging matters as Ecumenical Councils, Sacraments, Free Will, Purgatory, the Papacy and the relation between the different Orthodox Churches.
It will be interesting to see how updated this version is, and how explicit it is about those updates, and whose they are. By that I mean one must look to see whether the updates merely reflect new scholarly developments and discoveries, or whether some of the updates reflect--as some, especially Catholic, critics of this book have long felt--a covert form of "doctrinal development" (or degradation, as the case may be). The infamous test-case here has long been birth control: the first edition of this book in the 1960s noted that it was forbidden in Orthodoxy; but subsequent versions through the 1970s-1990s progressively weakened that view, ending up with what we read in the 1997 edition: "Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was strongly condemned but today a less strict view is coming to prevail....Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question...is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences" (p.296).  

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