"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).

Monday, February 29, 2016

Beyond Boswell's Tendentious Pamphleteering

Well do I remember the controversy in the mid-90s when a handsome young historian at some school or other started putting it about that Christians, especially in the East, had been hiding for centuries some ritual that he claimed was a proto-marriage liturgy for same-sex couples. The "mainstream" media, with their usual dreary lack of imagination and empty-headed cheerleading, pounced on this, of course, and spread this nonsense far and wide, tarting it up with pity because this "revolutionary" finding was authored by a man who would not enjoy the results, dying of AIDS in the same year as his book appeared. I read first the book and then, with great relish, one take-down after another in scholarly journals by serious historians and theologians (Robin Darling Young among them) who showed  that John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe had tendentiously ginned up a case for pre-determined conclusions, and made the evidence fit those conclusions because today's politics seemed to demand doing so. It was my first awareness of the uses and abuses of history by Christians.

Now we have a serious Byzantinist examining this evidence anew in her just-released book: Claudia Rapp, Brother-Making in Late Antiquity and Byzantium: Monks, Laymen, and Christian Ritual (Oxford UP, 2016), 368pp. 

About this book we are told:
Among medieval Christian societies, Byzantium is unique in preserving an ecclesiastical ritual of adelphopoiesis, which pronounces two men, not related by birth, as brothers for life. It has its origin as a spiritual blessing in the monastic world of late antiquity, and it becomes a popular social networking strategy among lay people from the ninth century onwards, even finding application in recent times. Located at the intersection of religion and society, brother-making exemplifies how social practice can become ritualized and subsequently subjected to attempts of ecclesiastical and legal control.

Controversially, adelphopoiesis was at the center of a modern debate about the existence of same-sex unions in medieval Europe. This book, the first ever comprehensive history of this unique feature of Byzantine life, argues persuasively that the ecclesiastical ritual to bless a relationship between two men bears no resemblance to marriage. Wide-ranging in its use of sources, from a complete census of the manuscripts containing the ritual of adelphopoiesis to the literature and archaeology of early monasticism, and from the works of hagiographers, historiographers, and legal experts in Byzantium to comparative material in the Latin West and the Slavic world, Brother-Making in Late Antiquity and Byzantium examines the fascinating religious and social features of the ritual, shedding light on little known aspects of Byzantine society.

Friday, February 26, 2016

New Publication from the Pope!

Catholics have grown weary of papal speeches and interviews, whether on airlines or in other fora. The endless yammering has turned even the most caricatured ultramontane fantasies or the most outrageous Protestant polemics about "papolatry" into reality: the pope as oracle, ceaselessly pontificating on matters large and small, well beyond his brief and far exceeding any authority he has, and thereby causing far more confusion than clarity. 

How much better the example of the other pope, the one whose use of the title, according to some historians, pre-dates that of the Roman bishop's adoption of it. I refer, of course, to the Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria, successor to St. Mark.

Perfectly timed for this Lenten season is a book about repentance hot off the presses from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, which has just put into my hands: †Pope Shenouda III, The Life of Repentance and Purity, 2nd. Eng. ed., trans. H.G. Bishop Suriel (SVS Press, 2016), 322pp.

About this book, now in a second issue from the late pope (who died in 2012), the publisher tells us:
The Life of Repentance and Purity provides readers with a comprehensive overview of the practice of repentance and purity, essential aspects of Christian life. Pope Shenouda III draws on Scripture, the Church Fathers, his own experience of desert monasticism, and his experience as a shepherd to millions of Christians to provide a practical understanding of how to live a life of continually turning to God.
My advice to you, instead of saying, I promise you that I will repent, O Lord, say to the Lord: Restore me, and I will return (Jeremiah 31:18). Ask for repentance as a good gift from him, for he himself promised this, saying: I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you (Ezekiel 36.26). 
The Coptic Studies Series at St Vladimir s Seminary Press was conceived with a two-fold purpose: to increase the accessibility of the many treasures of Coptic Orthodox Christianity to a wider English-speaking audience; and to cross-pollinate the spiritual minds of Coptic Orthodox Christians and their Eastern Orthodox brethren with the knowledge of a common faith in the incarnate Word of God who is the true source of all wisdom and knowledge.
I am delighted at both this book, and also this new Coptic Studies Series from SVS Press. I am delighted because I have an abiding affection for the Copts thanks to my friendship with Iman Nashed, through whom I was first introduced to the writings of Pope Shenouda in the mid 90s, and to the Coptic tradition in Canada, at whose flagship parish of St. Mark's in Scarborough I gave lectures over the years. The Copts in Egypt have suffered enormously over the years at the hands of Muslims in Egypt but all the while have been a faithful witness to the gospel. In addition, they are second to nobody in the number and rigor of their fasting days each year. They are a model to us all.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Marriage: Law and Sacrament

Given the on-going turmoil in the Catholic Church over the disciplines of marriage, divorce, re-marriage, and annulments, as well as the potential for turmoil at the upcoming 'great and holy synod' of Orthodoxy, whose agenda includes the topic of marriage, this forthcoming study may be of wide interest: Philip Reynolds, How Marriage Became One of the Sacraments: The Sacramental Theology of Marriage from its Medieval Origins to the Council of Trent (Cambridge UP, 2016), 1077pp.

About this hefty tome the publisher tells us:
Among the contributions of the medieval church to western culture was the idea that marriage was one of the seven sacraments, which defined the role of married folk in the church. Although it had ancient roots, this new way of regarding marriage raised many problems, to which scholastic theologians applied all their ingenuity. By the late Middle Ages, the doctrine was fully established in Christian thought and practice but not yet as dogma. In the sixteenth century, with the entire Catholic teaching on marriage and celibacy and its associated law and jurisdiction under attack by the Protestant reformers, the Council of Trent defined the doctrine as a dogma of faith for the first time but made major changes to it. Rather than focusing on a particular aspect of intellectual and institutional developments, this book examines them in depth and in detail from their ancient precedents to the Council of Trent.
We are also given the table of contents:

 1. Marriage as a sacrament
Part I. Augustine:
2. Marriage in Augustine's writings
3. Bonum prolis, bonum fidei: the utility of marriage
4. Bonum sacramenti: the sanctity and insolubility of marriage
Part II. Getting Married: Consent, Betrothal, and Consummation:
5. Betrothal and consent
6. Consummation
7. From competing theories to common doctrine in the twelfth century
Part III. The Twelfth Century: Origins and Early Development of the Sacramental Theology of Marriage:
8. Introduction to the sentential literature on marriage
9. The theology of marriage in the Sententiae
10. Hugh of Saint-Victor
11. The early doctrine of marriage as one of the sacraments
Part IV. The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: Development of the Classical Doctrine:
12. Marriage as union
13. Scholastic sexual ethics
14. Marriage as a sacrament
15. The question of grace
16. Human contract and divine sacrament
Part V. The Council of Trent:
17. On the eve of the General Council
18. The Sacrament of marriage at Bologna and Trent
19. Clandestine marriage: Bologna, 1547
20. Clandestine marriage: Trent, 1563.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Fathers on the Scriptures

I was startled yesterday to receive in the mail the latest catalogue from Fortress Press containing news of a forthcoming publication by a promising young scholar killed almost exactly a year ago. This collection which Matthew Baker co-edited with Mark Mourachian is a fitting posthumous memorial to the former: What is the Bible?: The Patristic Doctrine of Scripture (Fortress, 2016), 224pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The patristic doctrine of Scripture is an understudied topic. Recent scholars, however, have shown considerable interest in patristic exegetical strategies and methods—from rhetoric and typology, to theory and method; far less attention, though, has been paid to the early Christian understanding of the nature of Scripture itself. This volume explores the patristic vision of the Bible—the understanding of Scripture as the word of life and salvation, the theological, liturgical, and ascetical practice of reading—and is anchored by keynote essays from Fr. John McGuckin, Paul Blowers, and Michael Legaspi.
The purpose is to reopen a consideration of the doctrine of Scripture for contemporary theology, rooted in the tradition of the Church Fathers (Greek, Latin, and Oriental), an endeavor inspired by the theological vision of the twentieth century's foremost Orthodox Christian theologian, Fr. Georges Florovsky. Our interest is not in mere description of historical uses of Scripture or interpretive methods, but rather in the very nature of Scripture itself and its place within the whole economy of creation, revelation, and salvation.
The publisher also gives us the table of contents, and we see here a considerable number of highly respected Orthodox scholars contributing chapters:

1. The Exegetical Metaphysic of Origen of Alexandria—J. A. McGuckin
2. A “Doctrine of Scripture” from the Eastern Orthodox Tradition—Oliver Herbel
3. “He Has Clothed Himself in Our Language—Matthew Baker
4. John Chrysostom on the Nature of Revelation and Task of Exegesis—Bradley Nassif
5. Barsanuphius, John, and Dorotheos on Scripture: Voices from the Desert in Sixth-Century Gaza—Alexis Torrance
6. The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ as “Saturated Phenomenon”—Paul M. Blowers
7. Scripture as Divine Mystery—Brock Bingaman
8. The Bible as Heilsgeschichte—Nikolaos Asproulis
9. The Gospel According to St. Justin the New—Vladimir Cvetkovic
10. Reality and Biblical Interpretation—John Taylor Carr
11. Merely Academic—Michael C. Legaspi

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who Has Authority Over Christian Art?

I was discussing iconoclasm in the West, especially in the Latin Church following Vatican II, with some of my students this week, noting with them that iconoclasm is always a prelude to a new politics, and is always bound up with questions of power. That latter question comes in for new examination in a collection just released, with chapters on evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy: L.F. Gearon, Religious Authority and the Arts: Conversations in Political Theology (Peter Lang, 2015), 286pp.

About this book we are told:
The transcripted conversations that represent the substance of this volume are the result of a research project funded by the United Kingdom’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. The product of nearly three years of interviews conducted with senior religious figures from a diversity of religious traditions, this book represents a physical and political-theological journey around England – from metropolitan capital through provincial cities and rural hinterlands, from rural episcopal palaces to industrial estates, from London mansion houses to remote mountain monastery – and provides a snapshot of how religious leaders and authority figures respond to contemporary issues of freedom of expression. Religious Authority and the Arts has a substantial introduction that situates the conversations within a theological, political, and cultural framework.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Gleaming Silver Lights

Boris Jakim has emerged as the single-most prolific translator of East-Slavic theology today, having translated many of Sergius Bulgakov's books for Eerdmans over the last decade and more, including Relics and Miracles: Two Theological Essays, The Lamb of God (Bulgakov's Christology), The Comforter (Bulgakov's pneumatology), and a lovely collection of Bulgakov's theological orations, Churchly Joy: Orthodox Devotions for the Church Year

Jakim has also been involved in translating other prominent figures, including the great writer Dostoevsky's The Insulted and Injured as well as his Notes from the House of the Dead.

Additionally, other well-known Slavophiles have entered into English through Jakim, including Pavel Florensky's The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters and S.L. Frank's The Meaning of Life as well as his Light Shineth In Darkness: An Essay In Christian Ethics And Social Philosophy.

Late last year, Jakim complied and translated a new collection: The Brightest Lights of the Silver Age: Essays on Russian Religious Thinkers (Semantron Press, 2015), 244pp.

About this book we are told:

The great Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev set for himself the task of revealing to the western world the distinctive elements of Russian philosophy: its existential nature, eschatologism, religious anarchism, and preoccupation with the idea of Divine Humanity. In the present collection of essays (the first volume of Berdyaev’s essays ever to appear in English translation), he attempts to define “the new religious consciousness” as it emerged in Russia in the first decade of the 20th century. Berdyaev, like Merezhkovsky and Blok (among others), believed that the dawn of the new century would bring an end to the old atheistic and positivistic world-view and the beginning of a new era of the spirit. The other essays treat such figures as Tolstoy, Solovyov, Rozanov, Bely, Florensky, and Bulgakov--all of them giants of Russian religious thought.

“Nikolai Berdyaev’s essays, like his longer works, are always insightful, penetrating, passionate, committed--expressions of the whole person. They are as intensely alive now as when they were first written. In them Berdyaev enters into genuine dialogue with his fellow thinkers from the great period of Russian religious philosophy. We are indebted to Boris Jakim for the excellence of both the selection and the translation.”--RICHARD PEVEAR, translator of War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov
“Nikolai Berdyaev managed to play two roles in the Russian religious renaissance of the twentieth century. He was a passionate participant in the movement, but also one of its astute critics. His genius in both roles is on full display in this collection of essays assembled and beautifully translated by Boris Jakim. Berdyaev’s portraits of his peers provide us with a concise, colorful, and deep-thinking compendium of all the main themes that occupied the Russian religious thinkers of his generation--the last generation to come of age in Russia before the Revolution of 1917. With the centennial of that great upheaval at hand, we can see more clearly than ever the relevance of revisiting religious-philosophical debates which, far from being over, retain their freshness as vehicles for thinking not just about the future of Russia but about the spiritual challenges facing the modern world.”--PAUL VALLIERE, author of Modern Russian Theology.
“Nikolai Berdyaev, the existentialist Russian philosopher of freedom and creativity, in this collection of selected essays on key figures representative of Russia’s Silver Age, is unabashed in both his praise and criticism of them. Lyrical is his style, his analyses are no less cogent and cutting at times. The translator, Boris Jakim, has taken careful pains in his effort to bring out the best in Berdyaev’s literary and social criticism as he discusses the thought of such notables as Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Lev Tolstoy, Vladimir Solovyov, Vasily Rozanov, Lev Shestov, Alexander Blok, Pavel Florensky, and Sergius Bulgakov, along with a penetrating essay on theosophy and anthroposophy in Russia.”--ROBERT F. SLESINSKI, author of Pavel Florensky: A Metaphysics of Love

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Oldest Church in the World

Michael Peppard's new book, The World's Oldest Church: Bible, Art, and Ritual at Dura-Europos, Syria (Synkrisis) (Yale UP, 2016), 344pp. has just been published.

Given the ongoing conflicts in the region, and the recent and ongoing iconoclastic vandalism of ISIS when it comes to ancient Christian sites, this book could not be more timely in recording Christian history in a region where it is fast being extirpated and destroyed.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Michael Peppard provides a historical and theological reassessment of the oldest Christian building ever discovered, the third-century house-church at Dura-Europos. Contrary to commonly held assumptions about Christian initiation, Peppard contends that rituals here did not primarily embody notions of death and resurrection. Rather, he portrays the motifs of the church’s wall paintings as those of empowerment, healing, marriage, and incarnation, while boldly reidentifying the figure of a woman formerly believed to be a repentant sinner as the Virgin Mary. This richly illustrated volume is a breakthrough work that enhances our understanding of early Christianity at the nexus of Bible, art, and ritual.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Early Christian Devotion to the Mother of God

Yale University Press just sent me their latest catalogue, and in it we find several new and forthcoming works of interest, not least the Orthodox scholar Stephen Shoemaker's Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion (Yale UP, July 2016), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
For the first time a noted historian of Christianity explores the full story of the emergence and development of the Marian cult in the early Christian centuries. The means by which Mary, mother of Jesus, came to prominence have long remained strangely overlooked despite, or perhaps because of, her centrality in Christian devotion. Gathering together fresh information from often neglected sources, including early liturgical texts and Dormition and Assumption apocrypha, Stephen Shoemaker reveals that Marian devotion played a far more vital role in the development of early Christian belief and practice than has been previously recognized, finding evidence that dates back to the latter half of the second century. Through extensive research, the author is able to provide a fascinating background to the hitherto inexplicable “explosion” of Marian devotion that historians and theologians have pondered for decades, offering a wide-ranging study that challenges many conventional beliefs surrounding the subject of Mary, Mother of God.
Shoemaker is the author of several important works, including  The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam, about which I interviewed him here.

Shoemaker has also turned his hand to Mariology in other recent studies, including The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption,which appeared in 2006 in the prestigious scholarly Early Christian Studies series from Oxford University Press.

Additionally, he is the translator of Maximus the Confessor's work The Life of the Virgin,which was also published by Yale in 2012. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dorothy Day and the Church of Our Time (I)

Is it a violation of the supposed spirit of Lenten humility to draw attention to one's latest publication? Regardless, here it is: a volume I co-edited along with my colleague and friend Lance Richey, based on the conference held last May here at the University of Saint Francis on the life and work of Dorothy Day: Dorothy Day and the Church: Past, Present, and Future (Solidarity Hall Press, 2016), 434pp.

Lance and I, along with many others, helped to organize a fantastic group of speakers from France, Canada, and across these United States. We were happy that most of them agreed to publish their papers after the conference. 

This is a rich collection, and the size of it makes the price very affordable indeed. I will have more to say about the contents in the days ahead, but let me here note what a pleasure it was to work with Solidarity Hall Press, a relatively young publisher with a fantastic crew, especially its publisher Elias Crim; and then with the book designer, Paul Bowman of New York, who did a lovely job on cover, art, and layout. Solidarity Hall has already published one book of significance, and their unique model positions them very well indeed for further publishing and other ventures.

Here is the standard blurb about the book, with more details to follow:
From the introduction by Lance Richey: “The University of Saint Francis and Our Sunday Visitor sponsored the conference ‘Dorothy Day and the Church: Past, Present and Future’ in Fort Wayne on May 13–15, 2015. In planning it, we kept in mind (not without some trepidation) Dorothy’s own complaint on academic conferences in her April 1966 On Pilgrimage column: ‘That is the trouble with such conferences. There are too many workshops, too many meetings, so many speakers, making the sessions too long.’ The enthusiastic response we received to our announcement threatened to make her warning only too prescient. More than 120 attendees, scholars and workers, gathered together to celebrate both her remarkable life and enduring legacy for the Church. This volume gathers together most of the papers and homilies given at this conference, offering a breadth and depth of material which will benefit both casual and scholarly readers, and both students and practitioners of her experiment in gospel living.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Church of Smyrna

On my bedside table for bedtime reading is a book I have started but not yet finished: Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City. It is a fascinating if deeply depressing book documenting the destruction not only in the post-war period but also as the Greco-Turkish wars wound down and the Ottoman Empire gave way to the rise of modern Turkey.

Along comes a more recent book to look at Smyrna, but in the ancient period: The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community (Peter Lang, 2015), 402pp.

Part of Lang's Patrologia series, this book, the publisher tells us,
deals with the theology of the Church of Smyrna from its foundation up to the Council of Nicaea in 325. The author provides a critical historical evaluation of the documentary sources and certain aspects particularly deserving of discussion. He makes a meticulous study of the history of the city, its gods and institutions, the set-up of the Jewish and Christian communities and the response of the latter to the imperial cult. Finally, he undertakes a detailed analysis both of the reception of the Hebrew Scriptures and the apostolic traditions, as well as examining the gradual historical process of the shaping of orthodoxy and the identity of the community in the light of the organisation of its ecclesial ministries, its sacramental life and the cult of its martyrs.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Lost World of Byzantium

Interest in all things Byzantine remains as high as ever, as I have noted on here many times.

A book published late last year continues this trend and deepens our knowledge: Jonathan Harris, The Lost World of Byzantium (Yale UP, 2015), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
For more than a millennium, the Byzantine Empire presided over the juncture between East and West, as well as the transition from the classical to the modern world. Jonathan Harris, a leading scholar of Byzantium, eschews the usual run-through of emperors and battles and instead recounts the empire’s extraordinary history by focusing each chronological chapter on an archetypal figure, family, place, or event.

Harris’s action-packed introduction presents a civilization rich in contrasts, combining orthodox Christianity with paganism, and classical Greek learning with Roman power. Frequently assailed by numerous armies—including those of Islam—Byzantium nonetheless survived and even flourished by dint of its somewhat unorthodox foreign policy and its sumptuous art and architecture, which helped to embed a deep sense of Byzantine identity in its people.

Enormously engaging and utilizing a wealth of sources to cover all major aspects of the empire’s social, political, military, religious, cultural, and artistic history, Harris’s study illuminates the very heart of Byzantine civilization and explores its remarkable and lasting influence on its neighbors and on the modern world.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Fast Approaches

Great Lent in the West is very early this year, beginning tonight for Byzantine Christians on the new calendar--about as early as it can be--and in the East, or at least those parts of it using the Julian paschalion, it is very late, about as late as it can be.

I refer you here to my attempt to think through some of the questions that arise when one discusses fasting. 

My exasperation, and my hope, about solving the calendar question is fully on display here.

Regardless of which calendar you are on, I direct you here to some suggested books for Lent.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Mind of Christ and a Psychoanalytic Mind (I)

Continuing with some further thoughts on Christianity and psychoanalysis (see here and here for recent thoughts; and here and here for earlier reflections), let us pause to ask ourselves: What does it mean when St. Paul says that Christians should "put on the mind of Christ?" if one's mind is not functioning or flourishing as well as it could? Does one simply muddle along and hope that "divine grace, which heals infirmities and replenishes that which is lacking" (as the Byzantine prayer of ordination begins) will do so? Or does one seek out human help? And if so, from whom, and to what end? Should it be mere alleviation of symptoms, or eradication of the presenting issue? Or does there need to be a more far-reaching and "structural" transformation so that one may indeed fully "let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus"?

For some Christians, the prospect of broad or far-reaching psychic change raises so many and such fearful questions and concerns that it remains a step untaken, which is a pity. But for those who--while acknowledging that modern psychology may have a different anthropology or moral philosophy than Christianity does--nonetheless can see their way towards benefiting from what is good in modern psychology, then they open themselves up to a lot of potential healing, which can only be regarded as a God-given gift.

Modern psychology has of course developed greatly since Freud's death in London in 1939, with new schools and "techniques" developing since the 1950s, leading many people, from the 1960s until quite recently, ready to proclaim the death of psychoanalysis. But I find it fascinating how there seems to be increasing evidence of the efficacy of psychoanalysis over more modern forms of therapy, as noted in this fascinating article. As the author notes--rightly, in my view--the chief advantage and long-term benefit of psychoanalysis is that it "may restructure the personality in a lasting way, rather than simply helping people manage their moods."

That notion of a re-structured mind comes out in a very interesting book written by the analyst Fred Busch, Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind: A psychoanalytic method and theory (Routledge, 2013). Busch writes in a low-key manner with a refreshing lack of ideological rigidity, jargon, or hubris. He intercalates passages from well-known literary works with short case-studies from his own practice to illustrate what he means. This is a rewarding book that pays re-reading. As the publisher tells us about it:
Bringing a fresh contemporary Freudian view to a number of current issues in psychoanalysis, this book is about a psychoanalytic method that has been evolved by Fred Busch over the past 40 years called Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind. It is based on the essential curative process basic to most psychoanalytic theories - the need for a shift in the patient's relationship with their own mind. Busch shows that with the development of a psychoanalytic mind the patient can acquire the capacity to shift the inevitability of action to the possibility of reflection.
Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind is derived from an increasing clarification of how the mind works that has led to certain paradigm changes in the psychoanalytic method. While the methods of understanding the human condition have evolved since Freud, the means of bringing this understanding to patients in a way that is meaningful have not always followed. Throughout, Fred Busch illustrates that while the analyst's expertise is crucial to the process, the analyst's stance, rather than mainly being an expert in the content of the patient's mind, is primarily one of helping the patient to find his own mind.
Creating a Psychoanalytic Mind will appeal to psychoanalysts and psychotherapists interested in learning a theory and technique where psychoanalytic meaning and meaningfulness are integrated. It will enable professionals to work differently and more successfully with their patients.
In later installments, I hope to give further thoughts on two other books I'm making my way through now: Donald Spence's fascinating if controverted Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis,which, I think, has potential for Christians struggling to think through our collective ecclesial memories of the past, especially traumatic memories (e.g., Greek Christians and the Fourth Crusade).

The other book is a new collection I have started: Earl D. Bland and Brad D. Strawn, eds., Christianity & Psychoanalysis: A New Conversation (IVP Academic, 2014). I shall have more to say about it anon.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Church in the Making

In the year when at long last Orthodoxy is set to hold its much-anticipated 'great and holy synod,' discussions of conciliarity, synodality, and ecclesiology are very much in the air as I have noted on here and elsewhere.

Those who have read widely in contemporary ecclesiology will be long familiar with the on-going struggle to think through the implications of such pious nostrums as "the Church is an icon of the Trinity," a notion to which many give lip-service but do not always consider in any serious detail. One such book does, as I noted on here several years ago, is Radu Bordeianu's splendid study, Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology. I interviewed him here about the book.

Another book has just been released that also takes up obvious Trinitarian themes in ecclesiology: Nikolaos Loudovikos, Church in the Making: An Apophatic Ecclesiology of Consubtantiality (SVS Press, 2015), 296pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Over the past fifty years, Orthodox theologies of ecclesiology have been revoling around competing schools of ecclesiology one universal, the other eucharistic. Father Loudovikos, in this masterful interconnected series of studies, moves beyond this dialectic by exploring the very mode of the Church s existence.
In the end, it is the profound theological insights of St Maximus the Confessor that propel Father Loudovikos beyond the familiar borders of ecclesiology and into a new way of understanding the Church s self that is indissolubly linked to the human person and his participation in the divine Love that is God.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Byzantine and Islamic North Africa

We live, happily, in a boom time for scholars concerned with early Christian-Muslim interactions and relations. I have documented many of these recent books on here over the years, and there are many more set for release this year, as we shall presently see, including this collection in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia series from Harvard University Press: Susan T. Stevens and Jonathan Conant, eds., North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam (2016, 328pp.).

About this book we are told:
The profound economic and strategic significance of the province of “Africa” made the Maghreb highly contested in the Byzantine period—by the Roman (Byzantine) empire, Berber kingdoms, and eventually also Muslim Arabs—as each group sought to gain, control, and exploit the region to its own advantage. Scholars have typically taken the failure of the Byzantine endeavor in Africa as a foregone conclusion. North Africa under Byzantium and Early Islam reassesses this pessimistic vision both by examining those elements of Romano-African identity that provided continuity in a period of remarkable transition, and by seeking to understand the transformations in African society in the context of the larger post-Roman Mediterranean. Chapters in this book address topics including the legacy of Vandal rule in Africa, historiography and literature, art and architectural history, the archaeology of cities and their rural hinterlands, the economy, the family, theology, the cult of saints, Berbers, and the Islamic conquest, in an effort to consider the ways in which the imperial legacy was re-interpreted, re-imagined, and put to new uses in Byzantine and early Islamic Africa.
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