"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, July 29, 2016

How Foul the Flatulence of Heretics?

For some reason or other, the role of the body, and of particular senses, continue to come in for scholarly study in the last many years, perhaps because of the groundbreaking work of Peter Brown from 1988,The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity.

A decade ago now, the Orthodox scholar Susan Ashbrook Harvey gave us her well-regarded study Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination, released in paperback last summer.

Now, just released this month, we have Mary Thurlkill's new book, Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam (Studies in Body and Religion)

About this book we are told:

Medieval scholars and cultural historians have recently turned their attention to the question of “smells” and what olfactory sensations reveal about society in general and holiness in particular. Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam contributes to that conversation, explaining how early Christians and Muslims linked the “sweet smell of sanctity” with ideals of the body and sexuality; created boundaries and sacred space; and imagined their emerging communal identity. Most importantly, scent—itself transgressive and difficult to control—signaled transition and transformation between categories of meaning.
Christian and Islamic authors distinguished their own fragrant ethical and theological ideals against the stench of oppositional heresy and moral depravity. Orthodox Christians ridiculed their ‘stinking’ Arian neighbors, and Muslims denounced the ‘reeking’ corruption of Umayyad and Abbasid decadence. Through the mouths of saints and prophets, patriarchal authors labeled perfumed women as existential threats to vulnerable men and consigned them to enclosed, private space for their protection as well as society’s. At the same time, theologians praised both men and women who purified and transformed their bodies into aromatic offerings to God. Both Christian and Muslim pilgrims venerated sainted men and women with perfumed offerings at tombstones; indeed, Christians and Muslims often worshipped together, honoring common heroes such as Abraham, Moses, and Jonah.
Sacred Scents begins by surveying aroma’s quotidian functions in Roman and pre-Islamic cultural milieus within homes, temples, poetry, kitchens, and medicines. Existing scholarship tends to frame ‘scent’ as something available only to the wealthy or elite; however, perfumes, spices, and incense wafted through the lives of most early Christians and Muslims. It ends by examining both traditions’ views of Paradise, identified as the archetypal Garden and source of all perfumes and sweet smells. Both Christian and Islamic texts explain Adam and Eve’s profound grief at losing access to these heavenly aromas and celebrate God’s mercy in allowing earthly remembrances. Sacred scent thus prompts humanity’s grief for what was lost and the yearning for paradisiacal transformation still to come.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Epiphanius of Cyprus

July must be the month for books about Epiphanius of Cyprus. This month, from the University of California Press, we have Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity by Andrew S. Jacobs (352pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia on Cyprus from 367 to 403 C.E., was incredibly influential in the last decades of the fourth century. Whereas his major surviving text (the Panarion, an encyclopedia of heresies) is studied for lost sources, Epiphanius himself is often dismissed as an anti-intellectual eccentric, a marginal figure of late antiquity. In this book, Andrew Jacobs moves Epiphanius from the margin back toward the center and proposes we view major cultural themes of late antiquity in a new light altogether. Through an examination of the key cultural concepts of celebrity, conversion, discipline, scripture, and salvation, Jacobs shifts our understanding of "late antiquity" from a transformational period open to new ideas and peoples toward a Christian Empire that posited a troubling, but ever-present, "otherness" at the center of its cultural production.
A year ago at this time, we had Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World by Young Richard Kim (U Michigan Press, 2015), 296pp.

About this study we are told:
Epiphanius of Cyprus offers the first complete biography in English of Epiphanius, lead bishop of Cyprus in the late fourth century CE and author of the Panarion, a massive encyclopedia of heresies. Imagining himself a defender of orthodoxy, he became an active heresy-hunter, involving himself in the most significant theological and ecclesiastical debates of his day.
Young Richard Kim studies the bishop as a historical person and a self-constructed persona, as mediated within the pages of the Panarion. Kim’s “micro-readings” of the Panarion present a close look at autobiographical anecdotes, situated in historical contexts, that profoundly shaped both Epiphanius’ character and how he wanted his readers to perceive him. “Macro-readings” examine portions of the Panarion that reflected how Epiphanius imagined his world, characterized by an orthodoxy that had existed since Creation and was preserved through the generations. In the final chapter, Kim considers Epiphanius’ life after the publication of the Panarion and how he spent years “living” the pages of his heresiology.
Kim brings a more balanced perspective to a controversial figure, recognizing shortcomings but also understanding them in light of Epiphanius’ own world. The bishop appears not as a buffoon, but as someone who knew how to use the power of the rhetoric of orthodoxy to augment his own authority. Quintessentially late antique, he embodied the contentious transition from the classical past to the medieval and Byzantine worlds.
This book will be of broad interest to students and scholars of ancient history, classics, and religious studies.
And then half-way between these two books, in January of this year, the Society of Biblical Literature published Frank Williams, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I (Sects 146).

About this work, we are told:
Epiphanius, monastic founder and bishop of Salamis on Cyprus for almost forty years of the fourth century, threw heart and soul into the controversies of the time and produced the Panario or Medicine Chest, a historical encyclopedia of sects and heresies and their refutations. Book I deals with material that is also found in Nag Hammadi, other Gnostic writings, and in such patristic authors as Irenaeus and Hippolytus. Students of Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism, patrologists, historians of religion, church historians, and Judaism have found this translation useful.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In the Beginning Was the Beginning of Genesis

For those of you who read books on a Kindle, it is worth noting that a Kindle edition of a book by Andrew Louth, one of the leading Orthodox scholars of our time, was issued earlier this year, some fifteen years after it appeared in print: Genesis 1-11 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture).

About this book the publisher tells us:

The rich tapestry of the creation narrative in the early chapters of Genesis proved irresistible to the thoughtful, reflective minds of the church fathers. Within them they found the beginning threads from which to weave a theology of creation, fall and redemption. Following their mentor, the apostle Paul, they explored the profound significance of Adam as a type of Christ, the second Adam. The six days of creation proved especially attractive among the fathers as a subject for commentary, with Basil the Great and Ambrose producing well-known Hexaemerons. Similarly, Augustine devoted portions of five works to the first chapter of Genesis. As in previous volumes within the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, the range of comment contained in Genesis 1--11 spans from the first century to the eighth, from East to West, and from Greek and Latin speakers to Syriac. Especially helpful in this volume is editor Andrew Louth's supply of Septuagintal alternative readings to the Masoretic text, which are often necessary to understanding the fathers' flow of thought. Genesis 1--11 opens up a treasure house of ancient wisdom--allowing these faithful witnesses, some appearing here in English translation for the first time, to speak with eloquence and intellectual acumen to the church today.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Eastern Christian Suffering in the Violent Decline of the Ottoman Empire

I've just had a chance to finish Eugene Rogan's splendid study, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (Basic Books, 2015), 512pp.

It is a very cogently written study that begins in the late 19th century, but is of course largely concentrated on the First World War, though with considerable attention paid to the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

Parts of the book revisit well-trod territory for those who have some background in the history of the Great War--e.g., the chapter on the Allied attempt to invade by the Dardanelles and the related Gallipoli campaigns in 1915.

Parts of the book also show the great (and relatively underwhelming and only partially successful) attempts made by the Young Turks and their German patrons to arouse Muslim hatred against the Entente Powers by repeated calls for jihad, a term with which, alas, we have only become ever more familiar in the last hundred years. In the case of British India, this campaign produced almost no uprisings, so loyal were Indian subjects to the king-emperor George V. In most other places, it aroused only minimal attention for a variety of reasons. In all places, it seems, it was recognized by Arabs, Turks, Germans, and Brits alike as a political tool to be trotted out when convenient and retired when necessary. It does not seem to have had quite the same purchase as it does today in the hands of some (e.g., ISIS). Once again one sees the ease with which all parties--Muslim and non-Muslim alike--are able to use Islamic terminology, concepts, and practices as ideological tools in the service of empires and would-be nation-states.

The chapters on the Arab Revolt, which began 100 years ago this past June, are very interesting to watch the intrigue between Britain and the Hashemite tribes of Arabia. This gives rise to plots between Arabs and Brits against the Ottoman Turks; between Arabs and the Turks against the British; between the British and the French (e.g., the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement) against the Arabs; and then between the British, French, and Russians against the Turks and possibly with the Arabs onside, but clearly in a dependent role. Fascinating too is the sudden creation of a "king" in the Arab world in the person of Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, who gave himself the regal title and status. Most monarchies tend to be shabby (if disguised) ramshackle affairs of sordid origins, but this one is especially déshabillé.

There is also a very well done chapter on the Armenian Genocide which also gives considerable attention to the slaughter of the Assyrian Christians at the same time--to say nothing of the campaign to drive the Greeks out of western Anatolia. For those who want to understand the genocide in its wider context, this book does a very good job. But for those who want the genocide summed up without reading any number of the many lengthy studies of it, this book's chapter does a good job in conveying the details succinctly without sparing the reader some of the details of the horrors faced--horrors that stagger one to this very day.

Rogan's treatment of the slaughter of Armenian Christians draws considerably on a first-hand eye-witness report, Armenian Golgothaone of the first ever written, by Grigoris Balakian, an Armenian priest who barely survived, and who was forced to witness the genocide in all its manifold horrors

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bartholomew's Authorized Biography

I confess that I am not indifferent to the author of this forthcoming biography of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew insofar as John Chryssavgis asked me last year to write a chapter for a book that he edited and has just appeared in print, about which more soonest. He has always been very gracious to me over the years in a number of other capacities. He is the author of numerous other well-received books, and if the forthcoming biography (set for release early October) is at his usual standards, it will be a major accomplishment indeed. Thus I greatly look forward to reading John Chryssavgis, Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary (Thomas Nelson, 2016), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Orthodox Church, that great beacon of the East, now boasts 300 million members worldwide. In one of the most remarkable tenures of the patriarchate it has been more than twenty-five years since Bartholomew first accepted this ministerial position, which is considered “first among equals” of all Orthodox leaders around the world. He is viewed by many to be a strong, humble leader who is well-loved across a wide variety of political and religious boundaries.
With unfettered access to church files, Bartholomew’s personal notes, and the patriarch himself, author John Chryssavgis has woven together a picture of a man who has longed to serve God, the Church, and the world his entire life. Through personal and institutional challenges, Bartholomew continues to strive toward unity within the Orthodox community and build bridge to others. It is a task that can be as daunting as it is important. This book removes the veil that some may have placed upon this joyful man of God who is anything but mysterious, as evidenced by the heartfelt contributions to the book from world dignitaries, influencers, and religious leaders:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Marcus Plested on East-West Estrangement

Marcus Plested's splendid study, Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, which I discussed here, and whom I interviewed here, came back to mind tonight as a friend sent me a link to a lecture that Plested gave on East-West estrangement, and the role of Aquinas and Palamas, this May in Moscow:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From Pontus to Vienna: Evagrius and Freud

Going, as I was, to Vienna in early June, I ordered two books to read. The first, discussed here, was Peter Gay's lovely and winsome biography of Mozart. As I noted, Vienna has hosted many giants of Western culture, and Mozart was certainly among them.

More recently, it was also home, until the last 18 months of his life, of Freud, whose legacy and influence in giving rise to psychoanalysis remain towering after having been increasingly discounted since the latter part of the 20th century. I made a point of visiting that home of his, Bergasse 19, when I was in Vienna last month, and you can see a few pictures I took and read a few thoughts here. (For further thoughts about possible uses of psychoanalytic thought for Eastern Christians, see here and here. For possible uses of psychoanalytic categories in spiritual direction, see here.)

The second book I took with me, and finally recently finished, was George Makari, Revolution in Mind: the Creation of Psychoanalysis (Harper, 2008), 624pp.

It is a fascinating, carefully written study that avoids the rather polemical tone and exaggerations of, e.g., Phyllis Grosskurth's 1991 book The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis

Makari, the director of Cornell's Institute for the History of Psychiatry, lays out a wide cast of characters--not just Jung and Freud, but, inter alia, Adler, Abraham, Reich, Horney, Rank, Klein, and Anna Freud, these last two engaged in a long-running and rather hostile debate about children and psychoanalysis that only grew worse when Anna accompanied her father in 1938 as they fled the Nazis and wound up in London, where Freud was to die in 1939 and where Klein, according to Makari, had long been accustomed to seeing herself as the queen of psychoanalysis there.

Freud and many of the people in the book spent most of their time in Vienna, though as things developed, Berlin, Zurich, and later London, New York, and other American cities came to prominence; indeed, after the war, the Germanic centres of psychoanalysis were virtually wiped out, leaving the American institutes and analysts to assume a position of dominance (and to use that dominance to force upon the IPA positions that Freud himself disagreed with--especially the question of so-called lay analysis). But while it was still king, Vienna was a place of great intrigue, according to Makari; and having wandered some of the streets he describes, and seen some of the places he mentions--the University of Vienna as well as Bergasse 19--I found the book that much more haunting.

I was, moreover, struck by two things in the book. First, once again, Freud emerges at least somewhat better than he often has (something I noticed earlier this year in reading his correspondence with Pfister) in later portrayals. Though he has been rightly criticized for many things, he was not quite as hard-core and doctrinaire as some of his followers were. He could indeed stubbornly cling to his ideas when they were increasingly debunked, but eventually he could change.

And that is the second take-away from this book: even those who--such as many of Freud's early followers, including Jung and Rank--most readily brandish the label of "scientific endeavor," who most earnestly denounce others for unscientific adventures, who most adamantly insist they are doing nothing but science according to the strictest academic canons, readily, quickly, blindly collapse into unbending and unscientific ideology, lacking any kind of epistemic humility or even basic self-awareness it seems. They then go on ideological crusades against their enemies.

Such crusades, alas, are not a phenomenon limited to psychoanalysis at its founding, nor to others since then--climate science, say. They affect and infect all human disciplines and endeavors, it seems, including theology which can just as easily be reduced to an ideology in the hands of some. It is a salutary reminder that good scholarship is a profoundly ascetic exercise, requiring, as Evagrius showed, discipline of the logismoi, the passions, especially pride and vainglory, and what Augustine so memorably called libido dominandi.

Monday, July 18, 2016

David Rieff and the Duty to Forget (III)

Let us turn, finally, to such brief considerations of forgiveness in conjunction with forgetting as we find in David Rieff's In Praise of Forgetting (part II here; and part I here).

As we recall, Rieff (and other recent authors, including Manuel Cruz) says that forgetting:

        • is more mature
        • is more likely to bring peace
        • is no more likely to ensure repetition of a traumatic, violent event than enforced remembrance is to prevent it

If all this is so, then it would seem that a fortiori forgiveness will do likewise, and perhaps do so with better results than forgetting alone. But Rieff does not attend to forgiveness as much as he does to forgetting. Nonetheless, he does end his important and stimulating book with a few lapidary suggestions.

As with his emphasis on forgetting, Rieff is a socio-political pragmatist with regard to forgiveness. Noting that few people are more uncontrollable or more dangerous than "a social group that believes itself to be a victim" (117), he argues that such "victims," whose collective memory has most likely been ginned up or exaggerated in key aspects, must learn to forget those episodes and, more important, the resentment that they engender. In this regard, Rieff's book could equally be titled "in praise of letting go of resentment" insofar as resentment often spurs victims to become perpetrators themselves. If they can let go of resentment and attempt something like forgiveness, then the cycle of vengeance can be broken--or, rather, quoting Borges, "'forgetting is the only vengeance and the only forgiveness'" (145).

That is, of course, rather weak tea. Christians would have a much stronger, more robust theology of forgiveness based on its divine example and dominical mandate.

As I continue to think with and through Rieff, Cruz, Ricoeur, Vivian, Volf, and others on these questions, I have in mind two test cases: the Union of Brest-Pseudosobor of Lviv trajectory in Russian-Catholic relations and imaginings; and then the Crusades. I shall have more to say about both later.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Michael Plekon on the Uncommon Prayers We Pray

It is one of the great delights of my life that I have known Michael Plekon for a decade now, and continue to benefit from his friendship and counsel, to say nothing of his books. I have in the past written in his honour and also interviewed him about previous books, any and all of which are more than worth your time--both the ones he has written himself, and the many others he has edited or translated.

Two weeks ago the publisher sent me advanced page proofs of his forthcoming book, set for release on 15 September 2016: Uncommon Prayer. Prayer in Everyday Experience (UND Press, 280pp.). Amazon will let you pre-order a copy now and ship it upon release; but in case you forget I'll try to post a reminder of the book's release two months hence.

I asked Fr. Michael for an interview about this book, and here are his thoughts:

AD: In the few years since our last interview on here, discussing your Saints as They Really Are, what have you been up to? How did you get from that book to the present one, Uncommon Prayer, and what if any threads link them?

MP: Saints as They Really Are was the last in a trilogy of books about holy women and men in our time, how they pursued a life in and with God. I started out with persons of faith from the Eastern Church in Living Icons, but wanted to expand horizons. Thus those profiled and listened to in Hidden Holiness and Saints are ecumenically diverse, some even at odds with the institutional church. Given the conflict at the recent Pentecost Pan-Orthodox gathering in Crete over whether non-Orthodox Christian communities could even be called "churches," whether they were in any way Christian, bearers of the Spirit, the commitment to authentic and ecclesial ecumenical perspectives is all the more necessary! There is no reason, within the church's tradition, to doubt the faith of, say, a Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day, a Rowan Williams or Michael Ramsay any more than a Mother Maria Skobtsova or Alexander Men, an Alexander Schmemann or Nicholas Afanasiev or Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

I mention not only Western Christians here but some of those associated with the "Paris School" and the "religious Renaissance" among the Russians, as Nicholas Zernov called it in the early 20th century. I do so because even these faithful Eastern Church figures have been called into question as "innovationists" or even "heretics" by some Orthodox traditionalists. Listening to these "ecclesial beings" or "people of the church," as Paul Evdokimov called them, it is clear that in both East and West, such women and men were attending to the "signs of the times." They were trying to bring the church into encounter with political revolutions and those fleeing them into exile, a destructive economic Depression, the rise of fascism and two horrendous world wars, followed by a cold war and buildup of nuclear arms.

Contrary to what one might suspect, the processions of these persons of faith was anything but a march of fearful, introverted believers. Rather, those already passed into the kingdom, as well as those still with us, despite their marked differences in vision, nonetheless converged in many ways. They celebrated the life of Christ lived out in the details of everyday life. Rather than condemn secular institutions, they remembered the preaching and enacting of the Gospel in the church's earliest years. They also connected the Gospel with peacemaking, with the fight for human/civil rights and social justice more broadly.

So as it usually is, "one thing leads to another" for me. The books about persons of faith and their experiences of looking for God and trying to live with God in daily life led me to prayer, I supposed the language of faith, the heart of spirituality. I think many are turning away from making a hard distinction between being "religious" and being "spiritual." Jesuit Roger Haight's new book on this, Spiritual and Religious: Explorations for Seekers, (Orbis, 2016) goes a long way toward getting back to inherent connections, commonalities, a lot of shared space, thinking and action.

This is exactly where Uncommon Prayer came to be. I very much wanted to look at how prayer is lived out after services are ended, after the scriptures and prayerbooks are closed--there in our daily round of existence. So I went back to some persons of faith I had written about before, such as Evdokimov, who wrote specifically on "becoming what you pray," also Dorothy Day and Maria Skobtsova, who refused to pit love of God against that of the neighbor--rather seeing the two as inseparable.

I also consulted Sara Miles and Barbara Brown Taylor, really fine writers on the experience of living what you believe, and Richard Rohr, Sara Coakley and Rowan Williams, who were explicit in describing the very personal aspects of prayer. But I also went, for the first time, to poets Mary Oliver, Christian Wiman, Mary Karr, but also Heather Havrilesky, who has done memoirs, criticism, and advice-columns!

And, wanting to share some of the rich experience with which I have been gifted, I take the reader into the maybe surprising liturgical work of food prep--the “liturgies” and community built up in parish pirogi making, baking of Easter breads and other pastries and the food fairs, post-funeral repasts and weekly coffee hours. After so many years in parish ministry, I wanted to share how there really is a “liturgy after the liturgy,” not only that of the “8th sacrament,” the coffee hour, but all those other adventures in food prep and eating that are at the core of my parish’s strong sense of community.

AD: Yes, I remember only too well how stuffed I was after a BBQ and picnic at St. Gregory's one Sunday two or three summers ago! I was also amazed at the gracious hospitality extended to me, a stranger. What a parish you have! 

MP: I also did some digging into my own prayer life, excavating what lies behind a now tattered, soiled prayerlist that is at least 30 years old. This list opened up both my learning to do pastoral ministry years ago, but more importantly how both forgetting and remembering are core elements of prayer and our lived prayer. I was also led to reflect on the experience of prayer in my “day job,” in the classrooms of a large, secular, public university of great ethnic and religious diversity. This is where I have worked for the past 40 years, and hopefully it can serve as a point of departure for readers to consider their own workplaces and homes and neighborhood as locations of prayer.

AD: As a former Anglican, I hear your title and immediately think of it as a riff on Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer. What was your intent in speaking of "uncommon" prayer? 

I explain this title and yes, as you suspect, I did want to suggest that just as much as we need and depend on the “common prayer” of the church, of the community here and over time, that prayer of course is never restricted to the liturgical services and books, that is, to the formal contexts. If St Paul says we should pray always and everywhere, then let’s have a look at how this appears in practice. I also think what is implied here is that we all too often imprison ourselves in the “formal” language and forms of prayer, not knowing we are doing that. And often the consequence is that we are tormented by how little we pray outside the church building and the prayers we recite or read from the books. That, in my own personal experience and in my pastoral experience, is simply NOT true! We pray a lot, in many other circumstances and locations. But often do not think of what we are saying, feeling, and doing as prayer.

AD: Your introduction notes the tendency of moderns to see religious practices such as prayer as more or less private hobbies, undertaken outside of a communal context. Do you have any thoughts on what can be done to overcome this tendency towards splitting off, towards privatizing and individualizing the faith and its practices?

We all know the old line of Tertullian, is it, about “a Christian alone is no Christian.” But it is no longer the case that the community of the local church, the parish, doubles as the same community of the village, the same community of local industry, work, factories, mines, mills. We are so much more diverse in just about everything, from language to culture to political perspective.

Robert Putnam would say we have lost community. But Nancy Ammermann would say, no, just look more closely. There are all kinds of ways we bridge our individuality to others, so many ways in which connect beyond ourselves. I think it’s silly to dismiss how we do this electronically, through social media and email and all the resources online. That is an enormous marketplace, a very real public square.  Think of the capacity we have to access books, images of paintings, pieces of music. But we also are drawn more to each other—concerts, sporting events, really an array of gatherings. And we continue to see urban areas growing in population.

All this said, our community life is NOT what it was even a generation or so ago. While some communities of faith and language and ethnicity continue as enclaves, the community of homogeneity and similarity has given way as we intermarry and move. As I see it, our faith and our prayer life is portable, adaptable. We are able, especially in America, to sing, pray, collect and distribute food and clothing with diverse others. We don’t need to question their faith; in practice we do not, but cooperate. This is the proverbial “other side” of what often appears to be an isolated, hyper-individualist culture. Putnam and Campbell in American Grace found this ability to work with others in the research they studied. I see that while there are more “religious nones,” who do not join a congregation, there are many people who try to live out what they believe, whether that takes identifiable religious/spiritual forms.

AD: I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the importance of forgetting in Christian memory, and so I was struck by your introduction's noting the importance of "the experience of God's absence, God's silence" (p.7), when it often feels to people like they have been forgotten by God. Why is it important not to gloss over these experiences, these kinds of prayers? What can be learned from them?

First of all, the experiences of seeming to be forgotten by God, of God’s silence and absence are among the most frequent, the most common we have—and not just us in the 21st century but, I think, universally, and across time. The scriptures are replete with expression of just such forgetting, absence, silence, distance, especially the Hebrew Bible, and in particular, the Psalms.

Likely those who regularly pray the psalms, like monastics and others in religious communities, have been the most aware of the forgetting/absence/silence as only one side of the reality of life with God. Julian of Norwich, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Alexander Men, and more recently, Christian Wiman, Richard Rohr, Barbara Brown Taylor—these are just a few who give powerful expression to the experience of this kind of alienation from God. So, yes, as you say, this experience of silence and absence, of being forgotten, should be essential to our prayer language. Paul Evdokimov’s essay on God’s “foolish” or absurd love for us is subtitled as being linked to the “mystery of God’s silence” in contemporary spiritual experience.

AD: You note you are drawing on a wide array of people from diverse traditions. Are there any links between the English Anglicans, American Roman Catholics, and Franco-Russian Orthodox (inter alia) you draw on? Did you find common experiences of prayer across these lines?

Yes, there are some direct, documentable connections, say between Rowan Williams and Thomas Merton and the “Paris School” figures of Bulgakov, Mother Maria Skobtsova, Paul Evdokimov and Vladimir Lossky, also between Richard Rohr and Merton, perhaps his primary inspiration, but also between him and Julian of Norwich from centuries back. But even when there were no traceable connections, there are nevertheless strong similarities in perception and vision. A few colleagues and friends have noticed that so many of the figures to whom I listen, writers but also activists, in this book and the two before it, are women. I have found a preponderance of women writers doing good memoirs. I also think that when you look at the ecclesial backgrounds, it is not surprising there are so many Anglicans, then Catholics, and finally Orthodox--not a lot of Baptists or Evangelicals. Somehow, I think it must be the importance of the historical liturgies and with them, the important places of Mary and the saints, as well as monastic practices that fire such fascinating writing.

AD: Several times you mention that for at least some of the authors you draw on, prayer may be conceived as mindfulness or attentiveness to what one is doing as one goes about the day. Is it just me, or has such a discipline of attentiveness become vastly more difficult in this age of constantly beeping, endlessly updating text messages, social media, and other technical distractions? Is prayer of any type fighting a losing battle with our cellphones and tablets?

Our “devices” can be disruptive, interferences with real conversation, preventing presence to each other, substitutes even for actual encounter. Now I am neither a technomaniac nor a technophobe. I am immensely grateful for what the internet, what social media can allow me to see, access, even store and come back to later on. But I recall that even the desert mothers and fathers of the 3rd-8th centuries, in the stark desert landscape, with few texts or other distractions, were well aware of minds drifting, of boredom, depression, anxiety, temptation of very powerful sorts and more.

But mindfulness is a goal at which we can always aim. In Thomas Merton’s journals and some of his letters, one can chart his struggle to acquire greater mindfulness, more awareness of the presence of God at every moment. Merton, probably more than anyone else, restored the contemplative spirit and life to not just monastic but more general, even universal practice. I would note, too, there was not much Buddhist or Sufi about his doing so—he still has critics who react badly to his openness to Asian and Eastern religious traditions.

AD: You include wonderful selections from the "prayers of the poets." But--unless I'm wrong--apart from Dante, Ephraim the Syrian, and St. Gregory Nazianzus, all long dead, modern Christians tend to pray in prose (and unless they have the genius of a Cranmer or Chrysostom, often rather banal and prolix prose!). What is it about poetry that may be unsettling for some? And yet what gifts does it offer? 

Yes, much of our formal praying is in prose, though we surely sing a great deal and listen to a great deal of lyrical, poetic material from hymnwriters and the scriptures. Perhaps the poets I listen to in Uncommon Prayer, especially Mary Oliver, Christian Wiman and Mary Karr produce poetry that is more prosaic—simple, but precise, free verse and continuous form. What I find distinctive is the power of even short lines with only a few syllables—particularly true of Oliver and Wiman—that carry enormous weight in emotion and reflection. But in addition to these more technical points, what strikes me is the ability, especially of these here poets, but also of other writers I listen to, to sense so strongly the divine in most ordinary, inconsequential details of a field, a dog cavorting across a beach, a brief encounter with a neighbor or clerk. Again, the lesson here being the experience of God and of communion outside the accustomed confines of nave and prayerbook.

AD: I loved your chapter on the community and communion discovered when making perogies! For that made me feel far less crazy in reflecting back on an intense and memorable experience of communion and community I had at an Anglican parish in Ottawa washing dishes long into the night after a potluck one Maundy Thursday evening. Do we tend to gloss over such experiences too easily, seeing them as too ordinary, too banal, and thus inconceivable places for theophany?

Only because we compartmentalize our lives do we somehow think, this is “religious,” this is “secular.” The scriptures don’t know such segregation, nor does the liturgy. Things are of God or not. And most things are of God. Now as I say that, I can hear someone in my parish insist to me that, of course pirogi making, baking, and the big December Food Fair are fine, but what we’re really here for is what goes on upstairs, i.e. in the nave of the church, the liturgy. And I can also hear myself retorting that of course, the Eucharist is the center of everything, communion with Christ and each other, but it is only an hour and some minutes most weeks. What about all the rest of the days? Years ago when I was in formation in the Carmelites, the texts and the teachers made this point, the same as in Benedict’s Rule. The kitchen pots and pans are as sacred as the communion vessels. Cleaning a room was not inferior to chanting a psalm or reading a chapter of the gospels. But when I look at church and diocesan websites, it’s clear that vested clergy, services, and icons trump soup kitchens and clothing pantries.

AD: Having finished Uncommon Prayer, what are you at work on now?

Oh, as I said, one thing for me always leads to another. Going back to some familiar figures as well as on to ones I had not yet examined, in Uncommon Prayer, prompted me to do likewise in yet another book, The World as Sacrament: Ecumenical Paths towards a Worldly Spirituality that Liturgical Press will publish in spring 2017.

I was struck, as I returned to figures I had written about, even translated some years ago, how fresh and powerful they still sounded to me, though I found myself looking for different things from them. And I was struck by their unanimous stress that faith be put into action, that the world be “churched,” that is, become the arena for love, mercy, and forgiveness. With some this was obvious—Maria Skobtsova, Paul Evdokimov, Dorothy Day, and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

But it was less apparent though real with the likes of Alexander Men, Lev Gillet, and Nicholas Afanasiev. From review of the proposal and sample chapters, Liturgical Press staff suggested I create an ecumenical selection of writers to consult, adding to these Eastern Church authors a comparable number from the West. Thus joining the gathering were Merton, Barbara Brown Taylor, Richard Rohr, Kathleen Norris, Joan Chittister and Marilynne Robinson.

Robinson’s trilogy of Gilead, Home and Lila became a very beautiful way, through fiction, of looking at grace, suffering, hope and mercy at work in the lives of a number of Midwesterners back in the 1950s. These are really parables retold in not too distant American heartland settings, with characters that have become unforgettable to readers. It was particularly helpful to have Robinson’s voice, imbued with the Reformed tradition, Calvin in particular, to listen to. The Franciscan and Benedictine and Anglican streams also came through with the inclusion of Rohr, Chittister, Norris, and Taylor.

Somewhere in winter of 2017 Cascade Books should be publishing “The Church Has Left the Building”: Faith, Parish and Ministry in the 21st Century, to which I contributed an essay, a collection of reflections I gathered and edited from an ecumenical group of laity and clergy on pastoral ministry, the parish and faith today. There are particularly personal and powerful reflections in this collection, one I have been trying to bring to light for several years now and finally am, with a great sense of relief and hope. No matter the demographic changes that are shrinking, reshaping the local churches, the church as communion and community endures. And I have to say this is the focus of the book I am hoping to write in the next year or so.

After 31 August 2017, I will be retired from the City University of New York, almost to the day of my starting teaching there 40 years ago, on 1 September 1977. I intend to keep writing, and giving retreats and talks as invited, even teaching at the parish level and occasionally in college settings. But Jeanne and I would like to have more time for family and for writing, her painting and pottery and other crafts.

The last several of the book projects I have described here and my own almost 35 years of experience in parish ministry have brought me to think that the principal charism or gift the Spirit is giving to and through the churches now is that of community and communion. As we see ethnic belonging, the tribalism of language disappearing, along with multi-generational presence in a town, a congregation, we see shrinkage, many small parishes simply becoming redundant due to other neighboring duplicates of who they are.

Some clergy friends, working in the Hudson valley where I live, have shared their on-going efforts to sustain parish communities, but not without sometimes painful closings of individual congregations, mergers and rebirths, reinventions. For me, as at once a sociologist of religion, theologian and pastor, there is a lot to mine here. Another colleague, interviewed here, Nicholas Denysenko, had likewise been exploring how religious identity is fed, shaped by liturgy and prayer—this another example of trying to make sense of the profound changes the churches are undergoing now and in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yearbook for Orthodox Churches

I came into my office today to find a surprise from a publisher of a book I didn't even know was in the works. In its size, red colour, typeface, and organization, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Vatican yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, though this new book is about one-third the size of the Annuario. But it fills the same function, offering contact information for, and background information on, Orthodox bishops, dioceses, and institutions around the world, including both Byzantine and Oriental Orthodox churches.

Compiled by the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, Orthodoxia 2016-2017 (Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2016, vi+404pp.) is just the sort of thing you need to have to hand to find out what graduate degrees the Greek Orthodox bishop of Buenos Aires holds, or what the e-mail address is for the Armenian Apostolic primate in Sydney, Australia.

To read the preface of this volume, and learn a little bit more about its genesis and contents, go here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Byzantine Monastic Office

Of all the Eastern liturgical traditions, the Byzantine of course continues to command the greatest scholarly attention in part because it has the greatest number of faithful today--to say nothing of its historical-political prominence as the ritual tradition of empire. Scholarly attention has long focused heavily on the history of the Byzantine eucharistic liturgies, though more recent scholarship has been focusing on funerals, baptismal, and other rites, including monastic offices as in this book set for release later this month: Jeffrey C. Anderson, A Byzantine Monastic Office, A.D. 1105 (Catholic University of America Press, 2016), 368pp.

About this book we are told:
This book centers on a Greek text that was likely compiled in Constantinople, in 1105, for use in one of the monasteries located there. The book consists of a liturgical psalter, containing the fixed structure (the ordinary) in both the Greek original and in English translation, as well as a description of the hours themselves. The extensive commentary explains the development of the divine office, and the particular history of the translated manuscript, while brief notes clarify and explain, in a way suitable for non-liturgists, the more-technical aspects of the divine office.
Based on a single dated manuscript, the book presents the first, full example of the daily structure of monastic hours as they were celebrated at a time when services had reached a degree of maturity. The book, by presenting the ordinary of the office, compliments recent work on the propers of the office, and thus helps to complete our picture of the medieval monastic office in Byzantium.

Monday, July 11, 2016

David Rieff on the Duty to Forget (II)

As I noted previously, among its several virtues, David Rieff's new and important book, In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies, forces us to overcome any romantic or idealistic claims that enforced historical remembrance of certain, especially traumatic, events, in itself makes the world a better place.

The notion of collective memory comes in for unrelenting criticism from Rieff, and in my view this is wholly justified. He disputes flatly the idea that there is such a thing as collective memory as genuine memory of actual events which the collective itself experienced directly. (This is a problem I have long wondered about in all the papal calls for the "healing of memories," especially among and between Christians. How can the "memories" of, say, the entire Greek Orthodox Church be healed apart from healing each person one at a time if, that is, they have such "memories" in the first place--rather than having "acquired" them as part of their national identity kits?) This is indeed Rieff's point also: collective "memory" is an instrumentalist notion packaged into national identities and political ideologies; as such it is tendentious, narcissistic, unambiguous, unequivocal, and one-dimensional. It privileges power over truth; it does not scruple over historical accuracy, or acknowledge any ambiguity. This is what makes collective memory so useful to politicians and convincing in the hands of nationalist ideologues, and precisely what makes it so dangerous also.

Instead of an almost unquestioning insistence on remembrance, whose utility is assumed but almost never demonstrated, Rieff spends considerable time arguing that certain memories for a time may be useful in trying to prod people to repentance and reconciliation, but these cases will likely be short-lived and can only be determined on a case-by-base basis. There is, then, no room for blanket insistence on wide-spread collective remembrance by everyone forever.

Equally Rieff is not a one-sided polemicist in the other direction, insisting on blanket and widespread forgetting. He recognizes that remembering may have its place, and may be of limited use to some people.

Its utility, however, is in fact likely to be highly limited, and time-bound. Wide-spread insistence on collective remembrance has little if any demonstrable track record in making the world a better place. Collective remembrance in and of itself gives us no clues, no tools, no guidelines, as to how to prevent a future recurrence of, say, a genocide or other traumatic or violent event.

What might work better, then? Here Rieff turns to both forgiveness and especially forgetting. According to Rieff, both have considerable virtues and both have advantages that collective remembrance does not.

Forgetting, says Rieff:
  • is more mature
  • is more likely to bring peace
  • is no more likely to ensure repetition of a traumatic, violence event than enforced remembrance is to prevent it

We insist (and legally so in some cases--e.g., France's Gayssot Act and later legislation mandating memory and criminalizing denial of, e.g., the Holocaust) on a "duty to remember," notes Rieff before asking: Why not a duty to forget? Would that not be socially useful also?

Related to a duty to forget is the question of forgiveness. Rieff does not give this as much attention, and in our final installment we will look at this in more detail before teasing out some of the implications of all this for both Christian and Muslim "memories" of such as, e.g, the Fourth Crusade.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Hey Jesus! What's the Hold Up?

When the headlines are especially grim, as they so often seem to be, it is hard not to pray plaintively for the Lord to come back right now and end the evils we see all around us, and find within us also. I rather suspect this has been a frequent prayer for at least some Christians since about the year 33 or so.

The fact that the Lord has not yet returned in glory has also been a frequent question for Christians for approximately the same time. We are not exempt from considering the question anew in our own day, aided now by a new collection of scholarly articles from Orthodox (Brandon Gallaher) and other academics: Christopher M. Hays et al, When the Son of Man Didn't Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia (Fortress Press, 2016), 240pp.

About this book we are told:
The delay of the Parousia—the second coming of Christ—has vexed Christians since the final decades of the first century. This volume offers a critical, constructive, and interdisciplinary solution to that dilemma. The argument is grounded in Christian tradition while remaining fully engaged with the critical insights and methodological approaches of twenty-first-century scholars. The authors argue that the deferral of Christ's prophesied return follows logically from the conditional nature of ancient predictive prophecy: Jesus has not come again because God's people have not yet responded sufficiently to Christ's call for holy and godly action. God, in patient mercy, remains committed to cooperating with humans to bring about the consummation of history with Jesus' return.
Collaboratively written by an interdisciplinary and ecumenical team of scholars, the argument draws on expertise in biblical studies, systematics, and historical theology to fuse critical biblical exegesis with a powerful theological paradigm that generates an apophatic and constructive Christian eschatology. The authors, however, have done more than tackle a daunting theological problem: as the group traverses issues from higher criticism through doctrine and into liturgy and ethics, they present an innovative approach for how to do Christian theology in the twenty-first-century academy.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Impossibly Prolific Matthew Levering on the Holy Spirit

That horrible, no-good book-writing devil Matthew Levering (whom I am privileged to call a friend!) has another book out. Can you believe it? I think he's in some mad competition to write 50 books before he turns 50 or something. Or perhaps Pope Frank has ginned up some new enchiridion of indulgences, and for every book Levering publishes 294,000 of his closest family members get out of Purgatory? At the very least, he needs to s  l  o  w   d o w n  because he's making the rest of us look bad.

Set for release in the middle of July is Engaging the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Love and Gift in the Trinity and the Church (Baker Academic, 2016), 448pp.

Here is the publisher's official blurb:
Distinguished theologian Matthew Levering offers a historical examination of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, defending an Augustinian model against various contemporary theological views. A companion piece to Levering's Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation, this work critically engages contemporary and classical doctrines of the Holy Spirit in dialogue with Orthodox and Reformed interlocutors. Levering makes a strong dogmatic case for conceiving of the Holy Spirit as love between Father and Son, given to the people of God as a gift.
In perusing this book, I see that, true to form, it will represent an engagement with the best of scholarship, contemporary and ancient, Catholic and Orthodox. Not only does his third chapter cover that old bugaboo of East-West relations, the filioque, but his sixth chapter deals with the Spirit and the unity of the Church. Along the way, there is wide and generous engagement with such Orthodox theologians as Vladimir Lossky, John Zizioulas, David Bentley Hart, Boris Bobrinskoy, Gregory Palamas, Sergius Bulgakov, and others.

There are few Roman Catholic theologians today of whom I would unhesitatingly say "When he speaks, listen." But Levering is certainly one of those, not because of his own ideas but precisely because, and to the extent that, he is a man of the Church immersed in her tradition out of which he, good householder that he is, brings to offer the world gifts both old and new (cf. Matt. 13:52).

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

David Rieff on the Duty to Forget (I)

As it happened, I was sitting out toward dusk on perhaps the loveliest summer evening so far, finishing the reading of David Rieff's powerful and important book In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies before coming in to the news of the death of Elie Wiesel, whose efforts to ensure perpetual remembrance of the Holocaust come in for critical scrutiny in Rieff's book.

Rieff's book is one of several to have emerged stressing the importance of forgetting--indeed, the moral imperative and duty to forget, at least some conflicts at least some of the time--as I have noted on here in drawing attention to Manuel Cruz's book, inter alia. Though this work--as I noted here--does not deal much with Christian approaches to history and memory, nor to conflicts involving Christians, I have been engaged for some time in thinking with authors such as Rieff to see how useful their work could be to the on-going project of Catholic-Orthodox healing of memories as well as to Christian-Muslim relations in the context of (entirely bogus) "memories" of the "Crusades."

Rieff's book is a subtle, careful work that does indeed make the case for forgetting, but not in a simplistic manner. He recognizes the importance of memory and remembering, but severely puts to the question any notion that collective memory is a coherent and tangible reality instead of a political cipher, a metaphor, and, on balance, a rather dangerous tool of identity always in service of some agenda or other.

Moreover, he asks--as Cruz did--whether and where all this emphasis on remembering has made the world a better place. Did insistence on not forgetting the Armenian genocide of 1915 prevent the Ukrainian terror-famine of 1932-33, the Holocaust of 1939-45, or more recent genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans in the 1990s, and elsewhere? Has insistence on remembering the Holocaust solved the problem of anti-Semitism? Have no Jews anywhere been killed since 1945, or at least 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel in part as a way of saying "Never forget!" and "Never again!" to the Holocaust?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

A Brief Note on the Somme

This month, of course, is the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, the worst military slaughter in British history and perhaps the battle more than anything else that gave the First World War such an air of futility and waste in later assessments. I have on numerous occasions discussed books on here about that war and its myriad implications for Eastern Christians.

Almost a decade ago now, when it first came out, I read with great interest the historian Christopher Duffy, Through German Eyes: The British & the Somme 1916.

Duffy unearthed from Bavarian military archives fascinating and hitherto obscured German views of the British, whom the Germans held in condescending contempt as corrupt and decadent and the “poor little men of a diseased civilization.” Time and again the German interrogators could not believe that they were losing to an army they derided as filled with men of “crooked legs, rickety, alcoholic, degenerate, ill-bred, and poor to the last degree.”

This was not just Bavarian hubris, nor the infamous preening pride of the Prussian Junker class. Even as educated a woman as the philosopher Edith Stein, to my amazement when I read her reflections the same summer as reading Duffy, would flatly assert that  “I believe I can assert objectively that since Sparta and Rome there has never been as strong a consciousness of being a state as there is in Prussia and the new German Reich. That is why I consider it out of the question that we will now be defeated.”

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Christians in the American Public : Notes on Neuhaus

As a loyal subject of Her Britannic Majesty's Canadian Dominion who is also a permanent resident of these United States of America, I find myself writing between Dominion Day (July 1) and Independence Day (July 4th) in the midst of another election campaign, with more and more Christians reporting a feeling that America is no longer a hospitable place for the faith, and with Eastern Christians in particular still struggling how to relate to the various states in which they find themselves. In such a context, let us consider for a moment how Christians, Eastern and Western, can engage the public square in this country by considering how one very prominent Christian did just that.

I just finished reading the wonderfully written biography by Randy Boyagoda, Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square (Image Books, 2015), 480pp. For those interested in the figure of Neuhaus, or the questions of how one Christian chose to engage the public square and such issues as racial relations in the south, the Vietnam war, the Iraq wars, abortion, and much else, this book will be fascinating. It also contains much on American Lutheranism (in which Neuhaus was a pastor for many years) and American Catholicism (to which Neuhaus converted in 1990 and in which he was ordained a priest in 1991) in the critical years from 1960 until the end of the last decade. It is, finally, a splendid example of how to write a critically intelligent biography of a controversial figure. (In a personal conversation I had last year at Baylor with Robert Louis Wilken, who was Neuhaus's oldest and closest friend for half a century, Wilken told me the biography was simply first-rate not only for its treatment of Neuhaus but also for the accuracy with which it rendered any number of controversial issues, episodes, and personages.)

Neuhaus grew up in the Ottawa Valley in Pembroke, Ontario, the son of a manse, his father being a pastor in Lutheranism's Missouri Synod. He would go on to bounce around the US in Texas and Missouri, inter alia, before spending his entire adult life in New York as a pastor and writer, where he got to know such Orthodox figures at Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He was a life-long registered Democrat and a man of the left in the 60s and 70s, opposing the Vietnam War and marching for Civil Rights, before gradually coming to be thought a "neoconservative" from the 1980s onward. Neuhaus died in New York in January 2009 after a second battle with cancer.

He was the founder of the journal First Things (which published my review of Olivier Clement's book You Are Peter in 2004), which I read first with fascinated horror in the mid-90s, and then with increasing appreciation after that, far less for its politics than for the dashing verve with which Neuhaus wrote. He was a witty, incisive "blogger" avant la blogdom with his "While We're At It" pieces

First Things did, however, begin to get a bit tiresome even before Neuhaus died. You could almost invariably find articles in every issue from a small circle of people (Avery Dulles, George Weigel, Mary Ann Glendon, Michael Novak) whose writings all grew rather predictable. And then, the closer we got to the Iraq war, the more the magazine became a mouthpiece for Weigel and Novak to argue that the war would be just. Boyagoda's biography shows that Neuhaus, behind the scenes, was at least a little bit uncomfortable with this novel argument if not unconvinced.

After Neuhaus died, the magazine's new editor had a dilettantish approach and the magazine's chaotic skittering all over the place made it almost unreadable, and I never again renewed my subscription. That said, Neuhaus was himself never dull, and I still regularly refer to at least one of his essays from that time, "The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy." It is more than a little staggering that, nearly 2 decades after he penned that piece, the forces of intolerance he describes there are even more aggressive and hostile than they were. Consider just one passage:
With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. 
Part of this essay was an extensive commentary on a fascinating book I have discussed on here before: John Shelton Reed's Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism. (Speaking of Anglo-Catholics, permit me to intrude here with an unrelated but delightful set of memoirs by Colin Stephenson, Merrily On High, documenting a type and moment in Anglo-Catholicism that is surely long dead now, alas.)

In his peroration, Neuhaus, writing in 1997, proved to be more influential than he could know in my own move out of Anglicanism and into Catholicism that same year when he wrote:
Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media. The realization grows that orthodoxy and catholicity can be underwritten only by Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Perhaps more than any other single factor, the influence of Anglo-Catholicism among Protestants obscured this reality for a long time. It is a considerable merit of John Shelton Reed’s Glorious Battle that it contributes to our understanding of why movements of catholic restoration, posited against the self-understanding of the communities they would renew, turn into an optional orthodoxy. A century later, an illiberal liberalism, much more unrelenting than the Victorian establishment, will no longer ­tolerate the option. It is very much like a law: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed. 
Obviously Neuhaus could certainly turn a phrase.

In addition to such delightful essays, I did also enjoy other of Neuhaus's books, including his most famous 1984 book, still of great relevance today, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. That book had great timing in that it landed during the Reagan re-election campaign of 1984, and would afterwards be read by and discussed within his White House appreciatively as Boyagoda's biography shows.

In addition, I found even more interesting and stimulating Neuhaus's 1987 book (written while he was still a Lutheran), The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World. There Neuhaus memorably and amusingly spoke of those type of Catholics who "exult in the freedom to submit to authority with wild abandon," referencing, if memory serves, Wilfrid Ward--he of the desire for a papal encyclical every morning at breakfast along with his Times of London. (Speaking of Wards and their descendants, and speaking also of biographies, Frank and Maisie: A Memoir With Parents is a rollicking good read by their son, documenting an hilarious mid-century couple engaged in Catholic apologetics.)

Anyway, back to Neuhaus and the public square: whatever one thinks of his politics and of the increasingly discredited "neoconservative" project with which he was associated (especially its boosterism for the disastrous second Iraq war, which has not just decimated but virtually destroyed ancient Eastern Christian communities all across the region), he did at least try not just to think through what it means to be a Christian engaging the public square of what he called an "incorrigibly, confusedly religious America," but also actively to engage it with vim and vigor. With some, perhaps many, Eastern Christians today pining for lost "symphonias" of Byzantium that never existed, or fatuously idealizing Putin's "Russkiy mir," or calling for confused if not superfluous "Benedict options,"  or perhaps equally romanticizing and idealizing Western liberal democracies, there is still crying need to consider the questions of how the Church ought to relate to "that dangerous and unmanageable institution" (MacIntyre) of the modern state. It is the considerable merit of Boyagoda's charming biography that he reminds us of a figure who did that with great force for many decades.

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