"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, September 30, 2016

Popes, Dictators, and Money

When it was published nearly a decade ago now, I read with utter fascination, not a little horror, and occasional laughter John Pollard's study Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950. Published by Cambridge University Press, the same university where he is a professor of history, the book showed, inter alia, the rather complicated relationship popes have had to their own finances and those of the Holy See--to say nothing of the sometimes complicated tangles popes worked themselves into when Vatican holdings were considered in light of Catholic social teaching about, e.g., usury, the dangers of greed, and the obligation to care for the poor. But the achievement of Pollard's study was not to issue in some sanctimonious screed about the solemn necessity of selling Michelangelo's frescoes to finance a soup kitchen; nor did it result in a gauzy hagiography of how every penny is piously proffered to widows and orphans. Instead, it was a judicious piece of scholarship noted for its sobriety and its ability to avoid these pitfalls.

If money is messy and complicated, how much more so were the relations between the papacy, the Vatican, and the dictators of Europe in the first half of the last century. These come in for Pollard's expert scrutiny in a paperback version, released in June, of his 2014 book: The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 (Oxford UP, 2016), 556pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 examines the most momentous years in papal history. Popes Benedict Xv (1914-1922), Pius Xi (1922-1939), and Pius Xii (1939-1958) faced the challenges of two world wars and the Cold War, and threats posed by totalitarian dictatorships like Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, and Communism in Russia and China. The wars imposed enormous strains upon the unity of Catholics and the hostility of the totalitarian regimes to Catholicism lead to the Church facing persecution and martyrdom on a scale similar to that experienced under the Roman Empire and following the French Revolution. 
At the same time, these were years of growth, development, and success for the papacy. Benedict healed the wounds left by the 'modernist' witch hunt of his predecessor and re-established the papacy as an influence in international affairs through his peace diplomacy during the First World War. Pius Xi resolved the 'Roman Question' with Italy and put papal finances on a sounder footing. He also helped reconcile the Catholic Church and science by establishing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and took the first steps to move the Church away from entrenched anti-Semitism. Pius Xi continued his predecessor's policy of the 'indigenisation' of the missionary churches in preparation for de-colonisation. Pius Xii fully embraced the media and other means of publicity, and with his infallible promulgation of the Assumption in 1950, he took papal absolutism and centralism to such heights that he has been called the 'last real pope'. Ironically, he also prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


After a sustained publishing boom of books about icons, we seem to have been in a bit of a lull for the last 3-5 years. But along comes a new little book, released just this month, to revive interest: Faith Riccio, Icons: The Essential Collection (Paraclete Press, 2016), 128pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This lovely little gift book about approaching and praying with icons everyday has over 60 full color images of Sr. Faith's icons, each paired with a scripture and an inspirational word. Experience how these beautiful icons help us live a good life, what they have to offer, what they did for Sr. Faith, and what they can do for you. Icons are an invitation to go beyond our world; to take a moment to look as through a window into heaven. The space they create gives us a wonderful and open access to reach out toward God and know him deeply in a new way. They are meant to enrich our spiritual lives. They were created to touch and form us and have an ability to soothe and confront where necessary. They provide a place to gather our wandering attention and direct it toward God.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Powerful Papal Palliums

Well do I recall the flurry of commentary in 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI unveiled a new style of papal pallium that many commentators took to be an overt sign of openness to the East. The longer tail-end of his pallium (left) draped down in such a way and at such length as to suggest, in the eyes of some, a desire to resemble the Byzantine omophorion at right. Whether that was his intent or not, and whether or not it did advance East-West relations, the longer style was short-lived and he was soon back to a shorter style, which his successor in the Roman bishopric has maintained.

This may all seem like an extreme example of inside baseball, but the vestment itself has far-flung ecclesiological (and so ecumenical) implications. We are, and have been for nearly two decades, in a period of sustained study of past papal practices to see how and where the papacy drove East and West apart, and how and where earlier models of papal ministry may be useful today in bringing East and West back together (a process on which I have had a few things to say).

In that context, a new study set for release next month will take its place in shedding welcome light on the power and ecclesiological meaning of the pallium: Bonds of Wool: The Pallium and Papal Power in the Middle Ages by Steven A. Schoenig SJ (CUA Press, 2016), 544pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the pallium the medieval papacy created a mechanism of control over the far-flung bishops of the Latin church, a prerogative by which the popes shared honor and power with local prelates―and simultaneously wielded power over them. Contributing to the sway and oversight of the Roman church, this vestment became part of the machinery of centralization that helped produce the high medieval papal monarchy.
The pallium was effective because it was a gift with strings attached. This band of white wool encircling the shoulders had been a papal insigne and liturgical vestment since late antiquity. It grew in prominence when the popes began to bestow it regularly on other bishops as a mark of distinction and a sign of their bond to the Roman church. Bonds of Wool analyzes how, through adroit manipulation, this gift came to function as an instrument of papal influence. It explores an abundant array of evidence from diverse genres―including chronicles and letters, saints' lives and canonical collections, polemical treatises and liturgical commentaries, and hundreds of papal privileges―stretching from the eighth century to the thirteenth and representing nearly every region of Western Europe. These sources reveal that the papal conferral of the pallium was an occasion for intervening in local churches throughout the West and a means of examining, approving, and even disciplining key bishops, who were eventually required to request the pallium from Rome.
The history of the pallium provides an enlightening window on medieval culture. Through it one can perceive how medieval society expressed beliefs and relationships through artifacts and customs, and one can retrieve the aims and attitudes underlying medieval rituals and symbols. Following the story of this simple material object sheds light on some of the ways medieval people structured their society, exercised authority, and communicated ideas and values.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Eternal Memory to Jonathan Riley-Smith, Doyen of Crusades Scholars

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of the doyen of Crusades historians and scholars, Jonathan Riley-Smith of the University of Cambridge (into whose doctoral program I was admitted in 2000, before ultimately turning them down). Shortly before his appointment before the awesome tribunal of Christ, he penned this sagacious and moving reflection on the process of dying, which I commend to your attention. Until reading it, I was not aware of his being a Catholic, nor the depth of his faith.

It is, I think, a compelling testimony to his scholarship that in treating the Catholic Church's role in the Crusades he never once comes off as an apologist for his faith, of whose adoption you would not get any hints from reading him. He was a scholar of the old school, content to let the evidence take him where it did without imposing an ideological agenda upon it. In this regard, he avoided the temptation of what another great historian, Robert Taft, calls "confessional propaganda" offered in the place of genuine history.

I have relied on Riley-Smith's books in my classes for years, including as recently as this summer when I taught a course on ISIS and the Crusades, looking at the historiographical issues involved in the former's abuse of the latter to justify attacks on everybody from Japan to France and the United States.

For this latter purpose, I had my students read Riley-Smith's short but accessible work The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Its power, especially in the era of ISIS, comes from the fact that he shows, calmly and clearly, how little Muslims cared about the Crusades--indeed, how very little they had even heard of the Crusades--until the turn of the last century when fatuous would-be Christians like the doltish Kaiser Wilhelm II started talking them up again carelessly in an effort to promote a more Christian martial spirit.

Unapologetic as I am about the use of maps to understand history and religious traditions, I have also found Riley-Smith's The Atlas of the Crusades to be enormously valuable. So too, but more widely, is his The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades.

Part of Riley-Smith's early research was the recognition that there were multiple forms of "Crusading," and multiple institutions involved, including military orders such as the Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St. John, first treated by him decades ago, and now in an updated Kindle version.

Before the Crusades were enacted, they first had to be thought, and part of Riley-Smith's early research that was especially valuable was his investigation into what the Cruaders themselves thought they were doing. These researches are especially important still today because they go a very long distance towards debunking the slanderous nonsense that Christians sat about thinking up bloodthirsty schemes by which--proto-colonialists or neo-imperialists that they were--they could steal land and life from poor besotted Muslims and Jews. Thus The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading goes a considerable distance into the minds of those doing the Crusading, and those involved on the peripheries of those, such as various popes.

Riley-Smith authored comprehensive surveys of the Crusades, and updated them regularly, as with his 2015 The Crusades: A History: Third Edition.

But he was also the author of many scholarly articles on individual aspects of the Cruades, and for those with access to such journals you will find many riches. To give just a taste: his 1980 article in History: The Journal of the Historical Association, gives us a perhaps characteristic approach: "Crusading as an Act of Love." The very title runs so profoundly counter to the usual portrayal of the Crusades but it was Riley-Smith's genuinely magisterial achievement serenely to disregard current fashions and nasty political orthodoxies and instead try to bring the past to life on its own terms, so far as possible, and let us get into the mind of those whose efforts we so facilely slander even before we have understood them.

Thus it was Riley-Smith's achievement (and later others) to show us that, indeed, the Crusaders--some of them--saw their actions as manifesting love for their own souls (Crusades as acts of penance), for their persecuted Eastern Christian brethren (Crusades as acts of liberation), and even in some cases for the Muslims who had to be brought to Christ (Crusades as acts of evangelization and conversion).

May his labors of scholarly love continue to bear fruit in the years ahead, and may Jonathan Riley-Smith's memory be eternal!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Primacy and Synodality in Orthodoxy and Catholicism

It is happy news indeed that the recent meeting in Chieti of the official international Orthodox-Catholic dialogue has produced a common statement on primacy and synodality. The text has not been released yet to my knowledge, but this article is the best one I've seen to date about the dialogue, document, and next steps.

I have, of course, had not a few things to say on the topic myself in Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, which sought, inter alia, to offer a way to synthesize synodality and primacy in ways that Orthodoxy and Catholicism alike could both accept. I am gratified indeed that all the reviews in reputable journals have been favorable, especially those from my Orthodox interlocutors.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Socialist Churches in Petrograd

More than a decade ago we published in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, a groundbreaking article based on archival research in Russia of the socialist views of clergy in the twilight of the Romanov era. The author showed just how many parish clergy in particular were far more socialist in their views that has often been alleged by those who portray the Church as a monolithic agent of reaction and conservative bourgeoisie hanging on to their privileged positions.

A book set for release next month takes us further into exploring this time and these political views: Catriona Kelly, Socialist Churches: Radical Secularization and the Preservation of the Past in Petrograd and Leningrad, 1918–1988  (Northern Illinois University Press, 2016), 440pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In Russia, legislation on the separation of church and state in early 1918 marginalized religious faith and raised pressing questions about what was to be done with church buildings. While associated with suspect beliefs, they were also regarded as structures with potential practical uses, and some were considered works of art. This engaging study draws on religious anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and history to explore the fate of these “socialist churches,” showing how attitudes and practices related to them were shaped both by laws on the preservation of monuments and anti-religious measures. Advocates of preservation, while sincere in their desire to save the buildings, were indifferent, if not hostile, to their religious purpose. Believers, on the other hand, regarded preservation laws as irritants, except when they provided leverage for use of the buildings by church communities. The situation was eased by the growing rapprochement of the Orthodox Church and Soviet state organizations after 1943, but not fully resolved until the Soviet Union fell apart.
Based on abundant archival documentation, Catriona Kelly’s powerful narrative portrays the human tragedies and compromises, but also the remarkable achievements, of those who fought to preserve these important buildings over the course of seven decades of state atheism. Socialist Churches will appeal to specialists, students, and general readers interested in church history, the history of architecture, and Russian art, history, and cultural studies.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Michael Plekon's Uncommon Prayers--and Ours, Too

In July I interviewed Michael Plekon about his forthcoming book Uncommon Prayer: Prayer in Everyday Experience. You may read that here. I also noted that I would post a reminder when the book was finally published in September, as it now has been.

Consider yourself reminded to go and buy a copy! While you're at it, check out some of his other books (or books devoted to him), all of which will be well worth your time.

In particular, I interviewed him in 2012 about Saints As They Really Are: Voices of Holiness in Our Time.

In an interview from 2011, we discussed some of his other earlier books, including Hidden Holiness as well as Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.

He is also the editor of numerous works, including those by Afanasiev, Evdokimov, and others--don't forget the splendid biography of Elisabeth Behr-Siegel!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lying on the Couch of Unknowing: Apophatic Psychoanalysis (II)

Last week, I noted that the British psychoanalyst and literary scholar Adam Philips is a prolific fellow. I first came upon him recently in reading reviews (e.g, here, and especially here, which coheres with some of the ideological strains of the early psychoanalytic movement I discussed here) of his 2014 book, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, which is on my list to read.

One of the common themes of his work is the path not taken, the life not lived, and what one makes of that. Thus, e.g., his 1998 book On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life and then his more recent work, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.

This latter book is an odd creation in some ways, and its oddness is well captured by this reviewer. Nevertheless, as I said last week, there is a great deal of wisdom in this book and its "apophatic" proposals, which I want to discuss here.

The appropriate place to begin is with Phillips flatly declaring, early in the book, that "reality matters because it is the only thing that can satisfy us" (25). This will get developed in the rest of the book's realist, anti-fantasist stance in which Phillips clearly comes out against spending time imagining what could have been--what sort of life we could have had, or worse, could yet have if we but overcome our limitations and frustrations. In this regard, as in much else in the book, Phillips puts me in mind of nothing so much as the counsel against the logismoi we find in Evagrius and the tradition following from him--the warnings against vainglory, against idle speculation, against imagining the future, or fantasizing about communion with God, and so on.

For to give ourselves over to such disordered fantasizing, to wondering after would-be satisfactions in some imaginary future, is to open ourselves to an endless frustration with our life, which is itself an enormous problem insofar as "frustration may be the thing that we are least able to let ourselves feel"(27); and again: "There is nothing more opaque about ourselves than our frustrations" (28).

Frustrations, if allowed--as Evagrius recognized long before Freud came along--to take root in our mind can become, as Phillips nicely puts it, "intractable because their satisfaction is too exactly imagined" (32) and as a result "there can only be unrealistic wanting" (33). What is the answer to this?

Here Phillips makes what I might call his "apophatic" turn, that is his turn to not knowing or, as he frequently puts it, to not "getting it," to letting go of the desire, one might say, to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. ("Omniscience... is the enemy, the saboteur, of satisfaction" [134].) Here he counsels and encourages us down an unexpected and unusual path: "We need...to know something about what we don't get" (33).

This, of course, immediately raises practical if not moral problems: "But how...would you teach someone to not get it?....Teaching them how not to conform without trying not to conform?" (48-49). As we teach others about the importance of not always "getting it" we need to see the benefit of doing so, asking ourselves and others: "In which area of our lives does not knowing, not getting it, give us more life rather than more deadness?" (80). In other words, rather than being despondent in our frustrations, why do we not see what we can learn from them?

Not surprisingly, Phillips does not give us many answers to his own questions. But he does repeatedly suggest that we need--in our relationships, including clinical relationships between analyst and analysand--to recognize what he calls "the unknowledges" not as bad things but as freeing things: in Phillips' conception--which is not without controversy in the psychoanalytic world--psychoanalysis is an exercise in learning how not to get it and not be bothered by that: to acquire an "understanding to the limits of understanding" and to "make sense of our lives in order to be free not to have to make sense" (63). Whether in psychoanalysis, textual analysis, or much else besides, he sides with Žižek's warning against "'the attitude of overinterpretation'" (70).

It is not hard, of course, to see Christian applications of this. It is not hard, it seems to me, for Christians with a robust mystical tradition, as one finds in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, to be capable at least of understanding this, if not putting it into practice. It is not hard, that is to say, for people of faith to recognize what they do not know and graciously to accept their not knowing and to be reconciled to their remaining in a cloud of unknowing without frustration. (Such a state, I would stress, is not an excuse for anti-intellectualism or willful obscurantism justified by some fatuous appeal to "the holy fathers" or "the Bible.") In the famous words of Newman:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene--one step enough for me.

This is nowhere more important, Phillips counsels, than sex: "When it comes to sexuality, we don't get it....It means that when it comes to sex we are not going to get it. We may have inklings about it....We can know the facts of life, but nothing else. We may, as we say, have sex, but we won't get it" (77). And again: "What psychoanalysts mostly know about sex is the strange ineffectuality of so much of their knowledge" (79).

I have to confess to finding this enormously refreshing, not only insofar as it breaks with what is often (unfairly, in my view) characterized as the Freudian--and more generally psychoanalytic--view of sex, which purports to be certain of its orthodoxies about sex and ostensibly seems to have little doubt about what it knows; but also and perhaps especially with Christians who claim to know--or certainly to talk as if they know--far more about sex than seems either possible or desirable. This is perhaps especially true of those who inflict on us their ghastly pop psychology or their unrelievedly tedious "theology of the body."

In discussions of communion with God, and communion with one's lover, there is, I would suggest, far too much talk from people with far too little to say. It is better to pass over both in silence, recognizing what we do not know, and likely will never know, and not being frustrated by that. To those always grasping, always talking, whether about God, sex, or (worse) both, I am so often and so sorely tempted to respond with Clement Atlee's famous response to the voluble and excitable Harold Laski: "A period of silence from you would be most welcome." Perhaps this desire for silence about such matters is what long ago attracted me to St. Philip Neri who famously said, when pressed for details about his inner communion with God, "secretum meum mihi." 

Adam Phillips makes two further points worth dwelling on, including that the quest for certainty, the quest to overcome our frustrations as manifested in perverse fantasies, are forms of erotic hatred motivated by hostility and a desire to convert childhood traumas into adult triumphs (164): the "quest for certainty in certain areas of our lives is a quest for revenge" (146). We seek revenge for not getting it, whether getting it is a simple joke, parental attention and affection, or sex from some high-school paramour. We seek revenge in the perverse as a result of not getting it, and vainly try to content ourselves with something less than love: "Freud has exposed our avoidance of love as an avoidance of satisfaction" (168).

In the end, Phillips says, there is one final reason to return to Freud for he "invites us to wonder what relationships would be like if we dropped the idea that they had anything to do with indebtedness or obligation" (134). Again, the theological usefulness and application of this should be obvious, for we relate--or we ought to relate--to God not out of any sense of guilty obligation or dread at not paying a debt back to him. We either relate to Him out of love or we are wasting His time and ours.

If, in that relationship, we experience frustrations, then perhaps, if Phillips is on to something--and I certainly believe he is--we ought to attend to those frustrations and see what they can teach us rather than necessarily seeking to solve the frustrations. For--if Job is our guide, inter alia--it seems clear that God is not in the business of always relieving us of our frustrations at not knowing what He is up to. And that is just as it should be.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Will Cohen on Sister Churches

I was delighted to see the appearance of my friend Will Cohen's new book, The Concept of "Sister Churches" in Catholic-Orthodox Relations since Vatican II. He truly is a gentleman and a scholar, and I'm glad to see this important book in print since it offers vital clarifications to both Catholics and Orthodox alike. I sent him some questions for an interview about this book, and here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background

WTC: I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis in a secular Jewish family, studied literature and political science at Brown and lived in New York after college, where in my late twenties I underwent a religious conversion.  Some of the works of Kierkegaard played a key role, but things culminated when I was preparing to teach English at a prep school in northern New Jersey and read Genesis, Exodus, and Matthew’s Gospel for the first time.  After that I began attending a Lutheran (ELCA) Church on the Upper West Side and was baptized.

Within a couple of years, I felt the need of a stiffer drink, so to speak, and wound up in an Anglican Catholic context through a former professor of mine whose husband was a bishop in that communion.  He invited me to study for holy orders and would have sent me to an Anglican Catholic seminary, but as it had recently closed and he had a high regard for Orthodoxy and St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I ended up going there.  I lived and worshipped at St. Vladimir’s for three years as an Anglican Catholic, with no end of ecclesiological questions on my mind from the day I set foot on campus to the day I graduated.

That summer I married my wife, Julie, with ordination plans on hold, and two years later, when I started a doctoral program at Catholic U. in Washington, DC, we entered the Orthodox Church.  After finishing at Catholic U., I joined the Theology and Religious Studies department at the University of Scranton where I have been teaching theology since 2009. We live in Scranton’s Hill Section with our three children Ella, Matthew, and Jonathan.  

AD: What led you to write this book?

WTC: From the beginning of my encounter with Orthodoxy, I have wondered about the nature and depth of the divisions between the Orthodox Church and other Christian communions.  First I wondered if Orthodoxy and Anglo-Catholicism were really so different; then I wrote my Master’s thesis on the division between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families of churches.  But inevitably I became interested in the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.  In a doctoral seminar paper, I had a little section on the phrase “sister churches”, and Fr. Joseph Komonchak, who taught the seminar, said almost in passing that I might consider doing a dissertation on that topic.

I did some research and proposed the idea to Fr. (now Msgr.) Paul McPartlan, my natural choice to direct my dissertation because of his extensive work in ecumenism and sympathetic knowledge of Orthodoxy, and he had some initial and quite reasonable reservations – he worried that the topic might be too diffuse.  However, he agreed, something he perhaps came partly to regret given how much time he wound up devoting to the project to keep it humming along!  The dissertation on sister churches, at any rate, turned into the book Aschendorff has just published, thanks to the interest that Barbara Hallensleben, editor of the Studia Oecumenica Friburgensia monograph series, took in it when she heard of its existence from Fr. John Erickson, my former teacher at St. Vladimir’s and a writer on ecclesiological topics from whom I have learned a great deal.

AD: You secured prefaces from two venerable and important figures. Tell us a bit about that process and why their voices matter.

WTC: Dr. Hallensleben surprised me when she told me she was going to ask Cardinal Kurt Koch to write a preface; I was further surprised when she said he had agreed, though I shouldn’t have been, since she commands such respect and is very persuasive!  I did not communicate with Cardinal Koch directly, though I am very grateful to him for the time he gave to reading and commenting on the book given his immense responsibilities. The focus of the book being what it is – Catholic-Orthodox dialogue – it was obviously of great importance to have a Catholic as well as an Orthodox endorsement if possible, and short of the pope I suppose, there could be no one whose voice resounds with more significance in global Catholicism, and in ecumenical circles generally, than Cardinal Koch.

Ironically perhaps, the preface from Metropolitan Kallistos was the one I had a harder time securing. At a meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA) in summer 2015, where Metropolitan Kallistos had given the keynote address, I got word that there was need for someone to take His Eminence to dinner.  The other officers all had planes to catch, and the responsibility fell to me.  As I sat across from Met. Kallistos during the meal, I gathered my courage and told him I felt I had a certain responsibility given that Providence had brought me to be sitting there with him to ask if he would be willing to read a book I had written on Catholic-Orthodox relations and consider writing a preface for it.  He said I should send him the manuscript, which I did, but from a friend close to him I heard that His Eminence was just too swamped.  He and my friend recommended another Orthodox scholar to approach.  But that scholar couldn't do it either, and for reasons that were so complicated that Met. Kallistos, hearing of it, somehow felt sorry and agreed to write at least a dust-jacket blurb based on selections of the book I had specified he might read.  However, once he started, he didn't stop, he later told me, but read the book straight through and went ahead and wrote a proper preface after all.  I think this was because the topics the book deals with are very close to his heart.  

AD: Ecclesiology and ecumenism were both much controverted at Vatican II, and of course at the recently concluded Gt. and Holy Synod in Crete. I've noted some thoughts on that council elsewhere, but wanted to know what your thoughts were on that council? 

Among the many important emphases of Vatican II, the notion of degrees of unity and communion was certainly one of the most fruitful.  It managed to avoid two ecclesiological dangers -- on the one hand a relativism that makes no distinction between lesser and greater degrees of real unity, and on the other a facile triumphalism that sees unity as simply all or nothing.  According to Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio, the Church of Christ is truly present and operative outside the Catholic Church, yet not fully -- this is the paradox that the Council's phrase "subsists in" sought to express. Exactly what it means for a communion to be truly but not fully church, as Vatican II said of the Orthodox communion, obviously requires a lot of unpacking.  But as a starting point for reflection it is a very promising and dynamic way of construing the Great Schism -- as having terribly damaged, but not altogether destroyed, relations among the local churches of East and West.

A vocal contingent within Orthodoxy has wished to draw from the doctrine of the oneness of the Church the conclusion that there can be no reciprocal or mutual relations of ecclesial significance between the Orthodox Church and any other, including the Catholic Church.  There were analogous Roman Catholic ecclesiological hardliners at Vatican II, of course, whose unsubtle vision lost out to the more profound and paradoxical vision that Vatican II finally promulgated.

At the Orthodox Council in Crete this past June, a battle was waged over the word "church" and whether it can be applied by the Orthodox to non-Orthodox communions.  His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, among others, refused to relinquish this term, and the official text on "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World" retains it in reference to non-Orthodox.  In fact, Orthodox tradition is replete with instances in which other, separated communions are named "churches" -- the term is applied to non-Orthodox bodies in all kinds of writings by Orthodox theologians and official ecclesiastical texts -- so the hardliners who were wanting to get rid of the term would have been innovating, quite remarkably, had they gotten their way. It's unfortunate that they have managed to convince many of their followers that denying all ecclesial reality to every communion outside of Orthodoxy is somehow the traditional thing. I'm hopeful, though, that the authority of the recent council can serve as a bulwark against their misguided efforts.  

AD: You note at the outset that the term "sister churches" came roaring onto the scene in the early 60s, and enjoyed prominent and frequent usage until the turn of the century when it seems to have, as Waclaw Hryniewicz put it, to have fallen into disgrace. What led to such a fate?

On the Catholic side, there were some pendulum swings going on.  What Catholic advocates of the term "sister churches" were saying in the 60s and 70s was the Catholic Church should be able to affirm the ecclesial reality and value of the Orthodox Church even though the latter exists outside of full communion with the bishop of Rome. This was a needed corrective of an earlier Catholic ecclesiology that had generally confined itself to designating the Orthodox as schismatics, and had closed itself off in some measure from the rich inheritance of the Eastern Christian tradition.  As part of the same trajectory, "sister churches" advocates spoke of the importance of the local church, in order that a more conciliar, less centralized ecclesiological vision might be rediscovered in Catholicism.

Then in the 80s and 90s, there was some push-back from more conservative Catholic ecclesiologists who worried that Catholic advocates of "sister churches" language and conciliarity were losing sight of the significance of Roman primacy and were making the universal church secondary to the local. In pushing back, these conservative Catholic ecclesiologists -- Adriano Garuti was the most influential -- pushed too far, in my view, and seemed merely to revert to the earlier imbalance that "sister churches" advocates had wanted to redress.  Garuti even wished to question in what sense the Orthodox could really be called "church", and hence "sister church".

But he and others like him were correct, I believe, in at least reintroducing the principle of primacy as one of essential ecclesiological importance.  Some of Garuti's less than balanced vision found its way into the "Note on the Expression 'Sister Churches'" issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 2000 -- after which official Catholic usage of the term "sister churches" virtually disappeared -- but in general, documents of the CDF have resolutely affirmed the true ecclesial reality of Orthodoxy. Today, I think it is possible to hold primacy and conciliarity together, the unicity of the church and the reality of "sister churches".  Pope Francis has used the expression "sister churches" again in relation to the Orthodox, and so have other Catholic officials.

In the Orthodox world, the situation has been different.  On an official level, the term has never fallen out of favor.  We should recall that historically and traditionally, Orthodox have always wanted Rome to be and behave as a sister church, rather than only the mater et magistra of all the others, and that Rome's coming to be able to learn and receive from others in reciprocal relationship in the course of the 20th century -- as reflected in such a text as Orientale Lumen by John Paul II, but also in Rome's very willingness to speak of herself as a sister church -- has been reason to rejoice from a traditional Orthodox point of view.  However, reactionary Orthodox hardliners, losing sight of all this, have merely expressed outrage that Orthodox officials would ever use the term "church" to speak of the "papist heretics," etc.  These are the same people who object to the text promulgated at the Council in Crete because it affirms Orthodoxy's ecumenical involvement and the use of the word "church" to speak of non-Orthodox.
AD: You argue that the term needs to continue to be used so as to avoid "certain ecclesiological imbalances" towards which both Catholicism and Orthodoxy each incline in different ways. Unpack that phrase a bit for us--which imbalances?

The imbalance to which Catholic ecclesiology is prone is toward what Hermann Pottmeyer has aptly described as a "two-tiered" ecclesiology rather than a "three-tiered".  In a two-tiered ecclesiology, the only churches of which one ever speaks are the universal church and the local church (i.e. the diocese) -- there is nothing of any ecclesial significance in between. Hence there is only the pope and all the bishops as representatives of their local dioceses.

In a three-tiered ecclesiology, though, there are also regional structures of authority, e.g. patriarchates. As Pottmeyer and others, such as Hervé Legrand, have pointed out, the latter ecclesiology is much more in accord with Orthodoxy.  In fact the expression "sister churches" as it has been used over the centuries in the Christian East has almost always referred to relations among or between patriarchal churches. So in one of its most important and characteristic meanings, the phrase "sister churches" might help Catholic ecclesiology retrieve the middle tier, the patriarchal structure.  This of course is something you have eloquently advocated for in your own book, Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy.

But as Pottmeyer and many others have also observed, Orthodoxy, in the second millennium, has also been prone to a two-tiered ecclesiology, only with the missing tier in Orthodoxy's case being the one at the top that could serve as a locus of unity for all the patriarchates. We have seen what a struggle there continues to be in Orthodoxy over this question of a universal primate in the efforts to convene the global council that has just taken place and in the ongoing questions about its legitimacy and authority given the absence at Crete of some of the patriarchal or autocephalous churches.  The most perceptive and historically attuned Orthodox theologians have, I believe, always recognized the legitimate place of primacy -- not just at the local and patriarchal levels but also at the universal level in the life of the Church.

Yet the arch-opponents of the use of "sister church" language by Orthodox to refer to Rome object to its usage in this way because they believe that Rome can never be understood by Orthodox to be church at all until Rome gives up her "pretensions" to universal primacy.  So they see authentic "sister churches" as antithetical to Roman primacy.  This is not, as I've been saying, a monolithic Orthodox view -- Metropolitan John Zizioulas and others argue strongly against it -- but it is a powerful temptation in Orthodox ecclesiology.  At any rate, Orthodox recognition of Rome as a "sister church" is indirectly, I would say, a recognition that Rome's self-understanding of her own primacy is not all wrong and all bad, as Orthodox opponents of "sister churches" language applied to Rome believe that it is.

AD: You also note that in a situation where Orthodoxy and Catholicism are not in full communion the term "sister churches" has a certain "paradoxical character" which cannot be maintained indefinitely. Tell us a bit more about what you meant by that.

Sister churches are meant to be in full sacramental communion. Something I try to get at in my book is that the East-West schism wasn't so much something that happened as something that was and still is in process of happening, so that how we think about it and act in regard to it today contributes to the historically unfolding meaning of what the schism will finally have turned out to be:  perhaps, in the end, a full break between what were once two portions of the one undivided church, but perhaps, instead, a temporary and less than complete break between two portions whose communion and unity, although long obscured, was never totally lost after all.

When I suggest in the book that Orthodox and Catholic churches can't comfortably go on and on calling each other sister churches forever, what I mean is that they can't do that unless there is a dynamic movement toward unity in truth and love, which would culminate in full sacramental unity.  The ongoing schism is what makes "sister churches" between Catholics and Orthodox paradoxical.  But the less than complete nature of that ongoing schism, and in fact the possibility and real hope of its healing, is what makes "sister churches" between them meaningful.  Still, it will retain a certain paradoxical character until the moment when unity is reestablished on a sound, true basis.    

AD: Your fifth chapter quotes Orthodox voices critical of the term "sister churches." Those criticisms seemed to pick up steam this year surrounding the council on Crete. Is there a central concern or principle to these criticisms or are they largely motivated by fear of the other?

I believe that critics of the term have been troubled by legitimate concerns. Metropolitan Kallistos, in the preface to my book, acknowledges his own hesitancy to use "sister churches" to speak of relations between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.  The principle at stake is the unity of the Church.  However, I try to show that divisions between parties or local churches have broken out at any number of times in history and then been overcome, without either side being seen in retrospect as having ceased, during the temporary separation, to be church.  Right now, the Patriarchate of Antioch is not in communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  Is one or the other of these Patriarchates necessarily no longer church?  Or is it that we anticipate that their being in less than full communion today will prove to have been a temporary matter.  With regard to the Great Schism, a thousand years is a longer stretch of time, no question, but perhaps the principle is still not essentially different:  one can choose whether to see a given separation, of however long, as either an irreversible fait accompli or as still susceptible to healing.

AD: As you know, the Catholic world has just come through an extended period of commemorating the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, which did so much to advance not just the concept of "sister churches" but also to deepen Orthodox-Catholic relations. Over the next half-century, what work remains to be done in your estimation so that these sisters can indeed be one around the Lord's table?

WTC: We started hearing some years ago that we had entered an "ecumenical winter", and it's true that by the 80s and 90s some of the early hopes of the post-conciliar era had faded.  But there are many hopeful signs today with regard to Catholic-Orthodox relations.  One of them that stands out to me is that increasing numbers of serious, ecclesially grounded Orthodox scholars are interested in overcoming a defensive anti-Western mentality and are confident enough in their Orthodox faith that they can affirm, more freely than many Orthodox theologians of a generation or two ago, whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely in the writings and witness of non-Orthodox Christians, perhaps especially Catholics.

More can be done, I think, to tell the story of how the Catholic Church came in the course of the twentieth century to open itself courageously and humbly to the gifts of the Christian East, and thereby to encourage the Orthodox Church also to adopt an increasingly receptive posture, which is always marked by discernment.  The Orthodox still doubt whether it is possible to learn and receive from the Catholic West without losing themselves and their authentic faith, without falling into a "western captivity," but this is slowly changing.    

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book and tell us who especially would benefit from reading it.

I like how Metropolitan Kallistos puts it in his preface when, after quoting Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras who said that the "miracle of reunion" between Catholics and Orthodox would be a miracle within history, His Eminence suggests that "[o]ur task is to remove the human obstacles that hinder the working of this divine miracle."  I hope that my book will be among those that truly help clear away the kinds of misconceptions that have hindered progress toward the miracle of the schism's genuine healing.

As to the question of readership, ecclesiologists and participants in ecumenical dialogue will probably be most apt to find the book's material directly relevant to their own work.  But with globalism and pluralism being such prevalent features of today's world, virtually every thinking Christian is effectively involved in ecumenical dialogue in some sense, merely by virtue of being frequently in contact with Christians of communions separated from his or her own.  When professing belief in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, it must occur to him or her that there is a question of what this means in view of the divisions among churches.  Anyone who has wondered about such a basic question as this might find the book to be of interest.    

AD: Having finished the book, what projects are you at work on now?

I am plugging away at another monograph, with the working title of Communion in an Age of Controversy.  It explores how the church throughout her history has perennially confronted new questions and undergone a process of discernment to make up her mind about them in light of what she has already had revealed to her.  The basic thesis is that a church that already has all the answers, that can never find herself in a condition of not knowing, is not a church alive in history.  Truth is temporal, takes time.  I look at ancient controversies like Arianism and iconoclasm as examples of this.  But the corollary of the thesis is that a church that only has questions, none of which she can ever definitively answer, not even at a ripe moment and after immense reflection and dialogue, is a merely human church and incapable of that unity in faith that is given by God.  So part of what I'm trying to do in the book is to meditate on the trouble we can get into both when we deny the real questions that arise in the life of communion and when we deny the authentic answers to them that do come -- not easily or quickly, but in time.  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Lying on the Couch of Unknowing: Apophatic Psychoanalysis (I)

I recently came across Adam Phillips, a literary scholar in England who is also a practicing psychoanalyst, the two disciplines being very often intertwined in his many books.

I picked up a copy of his recent book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life and have read it with great interest. As I will show in the coming series, there is a very great deal here that could be of benefit to Christians in their spiritual life; and there is a good bit of material here that could be "methodologically" useful to the practice of theology.

The publisher tells us the following about this book:
A transformative book about the lives we wish we had and what they can teach us about who we are. 
All of us lead two parallel lives: the one we are actively living, and the one we feel we should have had or might yet have. As hard as we try to exist in the moment, the unlived life is an inescapable presence, a shadow at our heels. And this itself can become the story of our lives: an elegy to unmet needs and sacrificed desires. We become haunted by the myth of our own potential, of what we have in ourselves to be or to do. And this can make of our lives a perpetual game of falling short.
But what happens if we remove the idea of failure from the equation? With his flair for graceful paradox, the acclaimed psychoanalyst Adam Phillips suggests that if we accept frustration as a way of outlining what we really want, satisfaction suddenly becomes possible. To crave a life without frustration is to crave a life without the potential to identify and accomplish our desires.
In Missing Out, an elegant, compassionate, and absorbing book, Phillips draws deeply on his own clinical experience as well as on the works of Shakespeare and Freud, of D. W. Winnicott and William James, to suggest that frustration, not getting it, and getting away with it are all chapters in our unlived lives―and may be essential to the one fully lived.
It is the sort of book one needs to re-read not only because of Phillips' rather diffuse and somewhat undisciplined style (were I his editor, the book would have been tightened up considerably and therefore likely reduced in length by about a third), but also because of a series of very challenging theses he advances. I will say more about those in the coming days as I continue to reflect on this deeply challenging book whose importance for Christians, I hope to show, is considerable, notwithstanding the fact the author evidences no interest in theology and in fact clearly indicates at one point he does not understand what it is.
The overall, if likely unintentional, thrust of Phillips' book very strongly reminds me of another recent study: David Henderson's Apophatic Elements in the Theory and Practice of Psychoanalysis: Pseudo-Dionysius and C.G. Jung. I shall say more about the "apophatic" proposals of Phillips in the coming days.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Birthday of the Theotokos

Though I'm sure thoughts of the liturgical calendar rarely if ever enter into publisher's timelines, it is nonetheless a felicitous coincidence that just this month, in time for today's feast of the nativity of the Theotokos, an affordable paperback edition of an important book published in 2005 (and very favourably reviewed thereafter in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies), has been made available: Maria Vassilaki, Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium (Routledge, 2016), 416pp.

About this book we are told:
Fully illustrated in colour and black and white, Images of the Mother of God complements the successful exhibition catalogue of the 'Mother of God' exhibition at the Benaki Museum in Athens. It brings together the work of leading international authorities and younger scholars to provide a wide-ranging survey of how the Theotokos was perceived in the Byzantine world. It embraces the disciplines of art historians, archaeologists, traditional and feminist historians, as well as theologians, philologists and social anthropologists. Images of the Mother of God will appeal not just to those interested in Byzantine art and culture, but also to scholars of Western Europe in the Middle Ages who are looking for comparative materials in their own work.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Virtues of Forgetting

As part of a long-term project of thinking about the ecclesiological, ecumenical, and ultimately soteriological implications of forgetting, which I have described in various posts you may view here, I picked up Viktor Mayer-Schönberger's book Delete: the Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. It is a sobering assessment of the problems of a digital era in which people (e.g., Andrew Feldmar) could run into all sorts of problems from employers and governments (inter alia) relying on digitized "memories" of events in our past that, without context, may look (in the eyes of densely stupid bureaucrats, inter alia) sufficiently disqualifying to entering countries or companies alike.

Mayer-Schönberger documents the rise of long-term collective memory through the invention of language, and then books, especially after the invention of the printing press. But nothing has prepared us for the digital revolution in which the sheer quantity of information we can retain is utterly overwhelming, and becoming more so each year as the expense and effort in such retention becomes technically cheaper and easier.

He rightly issues a caution against putting too much faith in digital sources to do the remembering for us if we assume that such sources are incorrupt and will remain incorruptible. Even in an earlier, technically primitive era, it was still possible for the Trotskys of this world and others who had fallen into disfavor with the current regime to be 'erased' from pictures, articles, and entire editions of, say, the Soviet Encyclopedia. And as everyone knows today, it is possible to be constantly editing and deleting things from, e.g., Wikipedia. So digital "memory" can be just as malleable as human memory, though on a far wider and therefore much more dangerous scale.

In the end, the author proposes a number of suggestions, before focusing on in-built expiration dates for most on-line information--Amazon's "suggestions" of additional things we might like to buy, e.g., or cookies from retailers and search engines stored on our browsers. Endless forgetting is not the boon some may glibly assume, and contains real dangers. Mayer-Schönberger rightly reminds us of the virtues to be found in forgetting.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Between Sanity and Sanctity

I remain fascinated by the figures designated "holy fools," as I noted here. While predominant in the East, there are also significant examples--both literary and real--in the West, as I noted here.

One of the common recognitions in both East and West is that the line between sanity and sanctity is often blurred. As I heard a priest of the Toronto Oratory once put it about 20 years ago, if the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders were retroactively applied, then at least half the figures in the Roman Martyrology would be dismissed as likely insane by the standards of modern American psychiatry (such as they are). The Orthodox theologian and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware makes a similar point in his essay in The Byzantine Saint. I elaborate on all this and much more in my essay in Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna: Faith, Heresy, and Politics in Cultural Studies.

Now a new study is set for release later this month. Authored by Youval Rotman, Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium: The Ambiguity of Religious Experience will be published by Harvard University Press (272pp.).

About this forthcoming study we are told:
In the Roman and Byzantine Near East, the holy fool emerged in Christianity as a way of describing individuals whose apparent madness allowed them to achieve a higher level of spirituality. Insanity and Sanctity in Byzantium examines how the figure of the mad saint or mystic was used as a means of individual and collective transformation in the period between the birth of Christianity and the rise of Islam. It presents a novel interpretation in revealing the central role that psychology plays in social and historical development.
Early Christians looked to figures who embodied extremes of behavior―like the holy fool, the ascetic, the martyr―to redefine their social, cultural, and mental settings by reading new values in abnormal behavior. Comparing such forms of extreme behavior in early Christian, pagan, and Jewish societies, and drawing on theories of relational psychoanalysis, anthropology, and sociology of religion, Youval Rotman explains how the sanctification of figures of extreme behavior makes their abnormality socially and psychologically functional. The sanctification of abnormal mad behavior created a sphere of ambiguity in the ambit of religious experience for early Christians, which brought about a deep psychological shift, necessary for the transition from Paganism to Christianity.
A developing society leaves porous the border between what is normal and abnormal, between sanity and insanity, in order to use this ambiguity as a means of change. Rotman emphasizes the role of religion in maintaining this ambiguity to effect a social and psychological transformation.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Clement of Alexandria's Moral Psychology

What is it about the great city of Alexandria that so many of its leading Christian intellectuals seem to have never shaken off a certain soupçon of heterodoxy? Whether we're talking Origen, Cyril, or Clement (inter alia--to say nothing of the infamous Arius of course) there remains in the minds of some just a bit of doubt, a bit of unease, as to how sound these men are.

Among them, Clement of Alexandria occupies a pivotal if at times controverted position within early Christianity, as I noted here. Some traditions have canonized him and recognize him as a patristic figure of great authority; others have done neither; still others view him as guilty of  heresy. A new book, set for September release, may shed more light on him: Kathleen Gibbons, The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria: Mosaic Philosophy (Routledge, 2016), 208pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

In The Moral Psychology of Clement of Alexandria, Kathleen Gibbons proposes a new approach to Clement’s moral philosophy and explores how his construction of Christianity’s relationship with Jewishness informed, and was informed by, his philosophical project. As one of the earliest Christian philosophers, Clement’s work has alternatively been treated as important for understanding the history of relations between Christianity and Judaism and between Christianity and pagan philosophy. This study argues that an adequate examination of his significance for the one requires an adequate examination of his significance for the other.
While the ancient claim that the writings of Moses were read by the philosophical schools was found in Jewish, Christian, and pagan authors, Gibbons demonstrates that Clement’s use of this claim shapes not only his justification of his authorial project, but also his philosophical argumentation. In explaining what he took to be the cosmological, metaphysical, and ethical implications of the doctrine that the supreme God is a lawgiver, Clement provided the theoretical justifications for his views on a range of issues that included martyrdom, sexual asceticism, the status of the law of Moses, and the relationship between divine providence and human autonomy. By contextualizing Clement’s discussions of volition against wider Greco-Roman debates about self-determination, it becomes possible to reinterpret the invocation of “free will” in early Christian heresiological discourse as part of a larger dispute about what human autonomy requires.
We are also given the table of contents:

Note on Translations
Chapter 1: The Mosaic Law in early Christianity
Chapter 2: Miming Moses: Clement’s Self-Presentation and the Dependency Theme
Chapter 3: Moses, Statesman and Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Logos of God, the Problem of Evil, and Clement’s Transformation of Providence
Chapter 5: Right Reason and the Gnostic’s Grasp of the Mosaic Law
Chapter 6: Clement’s Idiosyncratic Concept of Autonomy in the Context of Ancient Thought

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Images of Deification

Forthcoming in November is what looks to be a fascinating collection that brings together two very popular and important themes in Eastern thought--iconography and theosis: Visions of God and Ideas on Deification in Patristic Thought, eds. Mark Edwards and Elena Ene D-Vasilescu (Routledge, 2016), 244pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This volume illustrates the complexity and variety of early Christian thought on the subject of the image of God as a theological concept, and the difficulties that arise even in the interpretation of particular authors who gave a cardinal place to the image of God in their expositions of Christian doctrine. The first part illustrates both the presence and the absence of the image of God in the earliest Christian literature; the second examines various studies in deification, both implicit and explicit; the third explores the relation between iconography and the theological notion of the image
We are also given the table of contents:

Part I. What is the image of God?
1. Martyrdom of Polycarp, Markus Vinzent
2. Growing like God: Some thoughts on Irenaeus of Lyons, Mark Edwards

Part II. Image and Eschatology. Deification 
3. ‘Love never fails, not even in death’. Gregory of Nyssa on theôsis, Elena Ene D-Vasilescu
4. Deification in the Alexandrian tradition, Mark Edwards
5. Not so alien and unnatural after all: the role of deification in Augustine’s sermons, Stanley P. Rosenberg
6. Union with and likeness to God: Deification according to Dionysius the Areopagite, Filip Ivanovic
7. Like a glowing sword. St Maximus on deification, Torstein Theodor Tollefsen

Part III. Image of God and Byzantine/Meta-Byzantine Icon 
8. Communion with God and theology of the icon: a study of the Christological iconology of St. John of Damascus, Dimitrios Pallis
9. The vision of God and the deification of man: the visual implications of theôsis, Clemena Antonova

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