"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, August 29, 2016

Passion and Compassion in Early Christianity

When it first appeared in 2008, I read with great interest Susan Wessel's fascinating and important study, Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome. Among other things, it sheds important light on Leo's role in the Council of Chalcedon, including its famous controverted 28th canon about patriarchal jurisdictions and so-called Roman pre-eminence. Wessel's considerable achievement was to show that Leo--pace later Eastern fears--was not engaged in a campaign of self-aggrandizement at the expense of the East. In fact, both Rome and Constantinople misunderstood the motives and actions of each other when, in fact, it seems they were both concerned about maintaining ecclesial affairs in their own spheres "decently and in good order," without trying to one-up each other.

Now we have another book from Wessel, published just this summer: Passion and Compassion in Early Christianity (Cambridge University Press, 2016), 290pp.

The publisher, who has made this book available both in print and in a Kindle format, tells us the following about the book:
This book examines how the early Christian elite articulated and cultivated the affective dimensions of compassion in a Roman world that promoted emotional tranquillity as the path to human flourishing. Drawing upon a wide range of early Christians from both east and west, Wessel situates each author in the broader cultural and intellectual context. The reader is introduced to the diverse conditions in which Christians felt and were urged to feel compassion in exemplary ways, and in which warnings were sounded against the possibilities for distortion and exploitation. Wessel argues that the early Christians developed literary methods and rhetorical techniques to bring about appropriate emotional responses to human suffering. Their success in this regard marks the beginning of affective compassion as a Christian virtue. Comparison with early modern and contemporary philosophers and ethicists further demonstrates the intrinsic worth of the early Christian understanding of compassion.
We are also given the table of contents here and an excerpt here.

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