"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, October 31, 2016

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

When I was still in Ottawa more than a decade ago, I had a friend who was beginning his doctoral dissertation on Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, about whom, until that time, little scholarly work had been written in a systematic style--which should not surprise us given that the popular archbishop was far from being a systematic thinker himself. That did not, however, prevent such books of his as Beginning to Pray and Living Prayer from becoming hugely popular, and remaining in print decades after they were first published.

In the last decade, we have seen a number of works emerge about him, including the collection edited by Gillian Crow, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: Essential Writings.

Crow is herself the author of a biographical study, This Holy Man: Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony.

At the end of this year, it seems we shall finally have a serious scholarly biography: Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: A Life by Avril Pyman (Lutterworth, 2016), 288pp.

Pyman is a well known scholar of Russian realities, and author of previous studies including A History of Russian Symbolism and the author, moreover, of what is perhaps the definitive biography of Pavel Florensky: Pavel Florensky: a Quiet Genius. 

Amazon describes this forthcoming book as
A biography of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, based on published and unpublished materials, interviews with surviving contemporaries and the author’s own experience as a pupil of Russian émigrés, of life in the Soviet Union and of the Russian Patriarchal Church in London.
The publisher, Lutterworth, gives us further details:

Andrei Bloom (1914–2003) better known as Anthony Bloom, or Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, led an extraordinary life. He was an individual who sought to be in touch with his God yet in solidarity with and responsibility for a tragically disconnected society; a man of God who "knew the world". From the difficulties of Russian émigré life that conditioned him as "a monk without a monastery", through the trials and suffering of war and revolution, to his calling as Priest and Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, he moved between many changing landscapes, striving always to take his bearings in prayer and contemplation.
In spite of the collapse of their whole way of life, his parents brought him up to be a generous and courteous friend to those around him. As a surgeon and doctor in German-occupied France, he would provide treatment to those in need irrespective of ethnic or ideological affiliation. In his character, joy in the good and the beautiful was compounded with ardor and tragic depths. This biography explores how Metropolitan Anthony sought the mind of Christ to cultivate and control his own loving heart and occasionally harsh exigence. 
Avril Pyman draws on a mosaic of available evidence to offer deeper insight into the life and times of a remarkable spiritual teacher, charismatic speaker and priest whose cosmopolitan background, character and experience of science and medicine made a unique and significant contribution to Orthodox Christian thought and practice throughout the world.
We are also given the table of contents:

List of Illustrations
1. From Prince to Pauper: Origins and Childhood, 1914–1922
2. Alienation and Revelation: Growing up in Exile, 1922–1929
3. Conflicting Vocations: The Formation of a Monk "in the World", 1928–1937
4. Surgeon in the French Army and Monk in the Surgery, 1937–1949
5. Priesthood, Move to London, Ministry in the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, 1949–1957
6. Fame in a Divided World, 1957–1963
7. The International Arena, 1963–1974
8. The Consolidation of the Second Diocese of Sourozh, 1974–1989
9. Mission to Russia and New Problems in England, 1983–2003
10. Agony
Glossary of Proper Names
Index of Proper Names

At this link you can read excerpts from two chapters.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Adventure of Marriage

I have previously noted the fascinating figure of Julia Kristeva, the French philosopher and psychoanalyst of Bulgarian Orthodox background. I have also mentioned my longstanding reading of biographies, autobiographies, diaries, and memoirs. So this forthcoming book looks like it will satisfy on both fronts, and thus I look forward to the December release of Kristeva's latest book, co-authored with her husband: Marriage as a Fine Art.

The publisher gives us excerpts from the co-authors, and then the blurb:
"We found so much to say, to share, to learn.... For it wasn't just the Marquis de Sade profile and the sporty thighs-and-calves that seduced me. It was even more, perhaps, or certainly just as much, the speed at which you used to read, and still do."—Julia Kristeva
"We're married, Julia and I, that's a fact, but we each have our own personalities, our own name, activities, and freedom. Love is the full recognition of the other in their otherness. If this other is very close to you, as in this case, it seems to me that what's at stake is harmony within difference. The difference between men and women is irreducible; there's no possibility of fusion."—Philippe Sollers
Marriage as a Fine Art is an enchanting series of exchanges in which Julia Kristeva and Philippe Sollers, married for fifty years, speak candidly about their love. Though they live separately, Kristeva and Sollers are fully committed to each other. Their bond is intellectual and psychological, passionate and mundane. They share everything when together, and lose themselves in their interests when apart. Their marriage is art, rich with history and meaning, idiosyncratic, and dynamic in its expression.
Yet it is also as common as they come. Kristeva and Sollers have lived through the same challenges, peaks, and lulls as all married couples do. With humor and honesty, they elaborate on these moments, turning marriage's familiar aspects into exceptional examples of relating, struggling, transcending, and being. Marriage as a Fine Art is a rare chance to know these intellectuals—and marriage—more intimately.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Raphael Lemkin and the Origins of "Genocide"

I noted its appearance in 2013, but only recently had a chance to read it myself. It is an odd book in some ways, reflecting an odd life too abruptly ended after enduring what I could only regard has terribly shabby treatment. That life is portrayed in this book: Totally Unofficial: The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin, Donna-Lee Frieze, ed., (Yale UP, 2013), 328pp.

It seems to be the fate of some men that their enormously important contributions to intellectual history and human civilization are not recognized until after their deaths, when our ability to repay debts to them is obviated. Such was the case with Lemkin, to whom Eastern Christians--notably beginning with the Armenians in 1915, but including also Assyrian Christians (also in 1915), Ukrainians (1932-33 in the Holodomor), and others--owe a very great deal indeed. Beginning with the Armenians, they and other Eastern Christians have been on the front-lines of some of the worst mass atrocities of the last century. But it was only in the aftermath of the Holocaust that the term "genocide" was coined, and the story of how that came to be is told in part by the man who came up with that term in this newly published autobiography:

About this book we are told:
Among the greatest intellectual heroes of modern times, Raphael Lemkin lived an extraordinary life of struggle and hardship, yet altered international law and redefined the world’s understanding of group rights. He invented the concept and word “genocide” and propelled the idea into international legal status. An uncommonly creative pioneer in ethical thought, he twice was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.   Although Lemkin died alone and in poverty, he left behind a model for a life of activism, a legacy of major contributions to international law, and—not least—an unpublished autobiography. Presented here for the first time is his own account of his life, from his boyhood on a small farm in Poland with his Jewish parents, to his perilous escape from Nazi Europe, through his arrival in the United States and rise to influence as an academic, thinker, and revered lawyer of international criminal law.

About this book, Yale psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, author perhaps most famously of The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing And The Psychology Of Genocide (whose own autobiography I discussed here) has this to say:
We have studied much about the mentality of those who perpetrate genocide but know little about that of the man who named the crime and did most to combat it. Raphael Lemkin was one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century. In this stirring memoir Lemkin tells us how he combined his experiences as a Polish-Jewish survivor of the Nazis, a legal scholar, and a passionate defender of human rights to articulate a concept that has been all too crucial in our time. Doing that required him to undergo a profound extension of his personal identity that could enable him to apply his ethical imagination to the entire human species. Donna-Lee Frieze has performed a remarkable scholarly task in rescuing a manuscript that might otherwise have been lost, and in meticulously preparing it for a wide reading audience. We encounter a man who, whatever his vulnerabilities and defeats, persists doggedly, courageously, and at considerable personal cost, in a lifelong mission to give international legal status to resisting the most extreme expression of human evil. The entire story is strangely hopeful.
And Peter Balakian, author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response has this to say:
Totally Unofficial is a unique and compelling memoir of the twentieth century. Lemkin’s blend of narrative strategies gives voice, shape, and scope to his remarkable life and large achievement—an achievement that has come to define something essential about our age and the urgency of human rights. In writing about his tireless lifelong efforts to make genocide a crime in international law, Lemkin shows us a rich and textured world, from his flight from Nazi occupied Poland, through northern Europe, the Soviet Union and Japan to the United States, and then to corridors of international political process in Paris, Geneva, and at the U.N. This is essential reading. Donna Frieze has done a remarkable job unearthing it from the archives and bringing it to the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Churches Leaving Buildings (I)

I've previously noted the advent of this new collection, The Church Has Left the Building: Faith, Parish, and Ministry in the 21st Centurybut it was only last night that I actually got my own copy and could see all its riches for myself, none of which were known to me previously. Now I will of course be accused of bias insofar as I have a chapter in this book edited by, inter alia, my friend Michael Plekon; but in fact I did not know of the other chapters, and read none of them in advance, nor had a hand in them. Thus any "bias" is quite limited, and I have no vested financial interest in the sales of this book; my comments about it, therefore, are not self-interested in any real way.

I will say at once that this is a short collection whose brevity belies its riches. I have only read about a third of it, but so far each essay is a gem (except, perhaps, for my own....). Part of the radiance of this collection comes from its limpid honesty.

In an era quite nearly drowning under a surfeit of depressing demographic data purporting to demonstrate clear evidence of Christian decline, and drowning even more under a flood of superficial if not vacuous "solutions" and "options" purporting to show us how to arrest that decline, it is very refreshing to read people here admit, simply, honestly, and without fanfare, that we do not have a lot of answers at present, not least because some of the questions are new and have barely been asked, let alone pondered for a sufficient time. In short, this is not another "quick-fix" type book, or a handbook on how to turn your dwindling parish of 25 lukewarm people into a mega-church of 10,000 zealots between now and Christmas--thank God.

The contributors are an incredibly diverse lot--some known to me (indeed, some are dear friends of mine), others not. I will offer further comments in future installments, but for the time being let me say that whether you are in the academy or the church contemplating the future of Christian life and practice, especially on this continent, then this book will offer you a great group of companions with whom to ask searching and sometimes searing questions about the place all Christians--Eastern and Western--are in, and the future we all face.


Monday, October 24, 2016

He Who Suffers Shall Be Saved

The Orthodox and Catholic scholars, Nonna Verna Harrison and David Hunter, respectively, have edited what looks to be a very rich collection treating the perennially difficult problem of suffering in the world: part of the Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History, this collection, Suffering and Evil in Early Christian Thought (Baker Academic, 2016), 288pp. is set to be published next month.

About it the publisher provides these details:
What did the early church teach about the problem of suffering and evil in the world? In this volume, distinguished historians and theologians explore a range of ancient Christian responses to this perennial problem. The ecumenical team of contributors includes John Behr, Gary Anderson, Brian Daley, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, among others. This is the fourth volume in Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History, a partnership between Baker Academic and the Pappas Patristic Institute of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. The series is a deliberate outreach by the Orthodox community to Protestant and Catholic seminarians, pastors, and theologians.

Friday, October 21, 2016

In Praise of Oubliance

It was some 20 years ago, through a combination of reading Alasdair MacIntyre and William Cavanaugh, that I came to realize how much the structures of modernity are hidden from us, how much the liberalism of modern nation-states disguises itself as a neutral mechanism for the pursuit of competing visions of the good life--if, indeed, there even is such a thing as a good life, on which liberalism purports to take no position, though of course it does. Liberalism created, or certainly made more acute and problematic, the categories of "secular" and "sacred" and in so doing pretended to the former state while also privatizing and attempting to control the latter. Thus the ringing declaration of John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason"Once, there was no 'secular'."

In light of Milbank, Cavanaugh, and MacIntyre, it became obvious to me that the idea of "religion" is also a modern construct designed, in part, to try to domesticate and control transcendence, and also to disguise the theological claims made by "secularists." Cavanaugh's article "A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House: the Wars of Religion and the Rise of the State" was pivotal here in pulling the mask off and showing that the post-Reformation "religious" conflicts that devastated parts of Europe were, in fact, much more properly considered as the bloody birth of the nation-state. He would develop this argument in much greater detail in his extremely valuable 2009 book The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. 

I mention all this to sketch the context for considering a new book by Andrea Frisch, Forgetting Differences: Tragedy, Historiography, and the French Wars of Religion (Edinburgh, 2015), 208pp.

About this book we are told:
This study argues that the political and legislative process of forgetting internal differences, undertaken in France after the civil wars of the sixteenth century, leads to subtle yet fundamental shifts in the broader conception of the relationship between readers or spectators on the one hand, and the matter of history, on the other. These shifts, occasioned by the desire for communal reconciliation and generally associated with an increasingly modern sensibility, will nonetheless prove useful to the ideologies of cultural and political absolutism.
By juxtaposing representations of the French civil war past as they appear (and frequently overlap) in historiography and tragedy from 1550-1630, Andrea Frisch tracks changes in the ways in which history and tragedy sought to 'move' readers throughout the period of the wars and in their wake. The book shows that a shift from a politically (and martially) active reading of the past to a primarily affective one follows the imperative, so clear and urgent at the turn of the seventeenth century, to put an end to violent conflict. The emotions that neoclassical tragedy and absolutist historiography sought to elicit were intended above all to be shared, and thus a medium via which political and religious differences could be downplayed or forgotten. The book aims to illuminate some of the ways in which the experience of the wars of religion, as registered in tragedy and historiography, contributed to a restructuring of the ever-vital relationship between emotion and politics, and thereby to historicize the very concept of 'esmouvoir'.
The book begins by asking what difference the Edict of Nantes made to French historiography and history more generally--what, that is, was different after the edict called for the deliberate "forgetting" of the events that had taken place up to the start of Henri IV's reign: depuis le commencement du mois de mars mil cinq cens quatre vingtz cinq jusques à nostre avenement à la couronne. Thus the edict begins what Frisch calls a politics and a policy of oubliance, calling for a deliberate forgetting of the previous Catholic-Protestant conflict, which is to be regarded as estaincte et assoupie, comme de chose non advenue.

The author notes that the effect of a policy of oubliance was "overwhelmingly negative" on French theatre, literature, and other areas. She notes, further, that there were differences in how oubliance was understood theologically by Catholics and Calvinists.

From here much of her book becomes very narrowly focused on the effects of this policy in French theatre and literature. But to my mind there is room to consider the utility of something like a new edict of Nantes today in such seemingly intractable conflicts of Eastern Christian historical memory as the Union of Brest and the Pseudo-Sobor of Lviv of 1946, about which more another time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Majestic City of Constantine

Thomas Madden remains, especially after the death of Jonathan Riley-Smith, one of the most important Crusades scholars in the world today. Madden, an award-winning and widely respected scholar who teaches history at Saint Louis University (where he directs their Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies) is the author of such studies as The New Concise History of the Crusades and Crusades: The llustrated History.

This short essay of his, discussing one of Riley-Smith's books, is invaluable for highlighting the problems discussing "the Crusades" today, a discussion marred by what the psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan calls "time collapse" and group identities built on "chosen traumas."

Madden is a wide-ranging scholar, and in addition to his several studies on the Crusades, he has also authored other works dealing with cities that have had a huge influence on the fortunes of Eastern Christianity, including Venice: a New History and Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice

He has, next month, a new book coming out that remains at the centre of the Eastern Christian imaginary (to borrow Charles Taylor's phrase). I look forward to reading:Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World (Viking, 2016), 400pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
For more than two millennia Istanbul has stood at the crossroads of the world, perched at the very tip of Europe, gazing across the shores of Asia. The history of this city--known as Byzantium, then Constantinople, now Istanbul--is at once glorious, outsized, and astounding. Founded by the Greeks, its location blessed it as a center for trade but also made it a target of every empire in history, from Alexander the Great and his Macedonian Empire to the Romans and later the Ottomans. At its most spectacular Emperor Constantine I re-founded the city as New Rome, the capital of the eastern Roman empire, and dramatically expanded the city, filling it with artistic treasures, and adorning the streets with opulent palaces. Around it all Constantine built new walls, truly impregnable, that preserved power, wealth, and withstood any aggressor--walls that still stand for tourists to visit.
      From its ancient past to the present, we meet the city through its ordinary citizens--the Jews, Muslims, Italians, Greeks, and Russians who used the famous baths and walked the bazaars--and the rulers who built it up and then destroyed it, including Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who christened the city "Istanbul" in 1930. Thomas F. Madden's entertaining narrative brings to life the city we see today, including the rich splendor of the churches and monasteries that spread throughout the city.
     Istanbul draws on a lifetime of study and the latest scholarship, transporting readers to a city of unparalleled importance and majesty that holds the key to understanding modern civilization. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, "If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital."

Monday, October 17, 2016

From Byzantine to Islamic Egypt

First released in hardcover in 2014, and then this past May in paperback, Maged Mikhail's From Byzantine to Islamic Egypt: Religion, Identity and Politics after the Arab Conquest joins a series of other recent publications (discussed here and here) examining what happened to Christian populations after the conquest of Islam in the early seventh century.

As with Penn and Hoyland, Mikhail's book begins by noting that when Arab Muslims encountered residents of Egypt, what began in that encounter was not the complete replacement of one culture by another, but the great co-mingling of many ideas and practices. Thus he also issues a correction and caution against seeing the year 641 as some kind of radical break.

He begins by noting important issues with texts and their interpretation. In some ways, there are problems of abundance. In others, as is well known, there are problems of scarcity and unreliability among Arabic texts. With these latter, the biggest problem is the length of the period in which they circulated orally, subject to all manner of revision and emendation. You can only imagine what that does to the reliability of the tales retailed thereby.

But Christian texts are not without their own problems. Focusing on the well-known History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Mikhail notes the textual variants in the two main recensions of that key document for so much of Alexandrian ecclesiastical history.

All this pales, he suggests, in the light of the massive doctrinal controversies that so marred Egypt, the frontline of the fight between Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians. Anything and everything has been touched and tarred by this, and the fact that the Coptic Church emerged as a non-Chalcedonian church has been used to explain all kinds of things, no matter how far-fetched. Here a good deal of the influence is still felt by W.H.C. Frend's study from 1972, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement.

It is now exceedingly difficult, Mikhail says, to see which, if any, of the Coptic Christians in Egypt believed in the comical and amateurish notion of "monophysitism" that has come down to us as a belief in a "single divine nature." It was, in other words, a heresy held by nobody. Rather, Coptic Christians were concerned that Chalcedon was suspectible of a "Nestorian" interpretation, and to guard against this they preferred the well-known Cyrillian formula "of two natures" rather than Chalcedon's "in two natures."

As a result of getting this clear, Mikhail says we must now reject the idea that the "monophysites" suffered from an "intrinsic inability to resist Islamic theology." To be sure, the intrusion of Islam did eventually force greater co-operation among the various Christian groups in Egypt, but it was a much longer and messier process than many imagined. And here, too, he also debunks the slanderous nonsense that the Copts, hating their "Byzantine" "overlords" turned around to "welcome" the Islamic invaders. This lie has been debunked again and again, and it comes in for fresh demolition here in a book marked by careful sifting of the evidence (the notes and bibliography run to well over 100pp) and very much worth your time if you have any interest in Coptic, Egyptian, Islamic, Arabic, and doctrinal history.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What's Behind the ISIS Mindset?

As I've noted previously, I am engaged in a project of examining ISIS propaganda and its uses and abuses of "memories" of "the Crusades." As I've been engaged in this, I came across the work of the historian and psychoanalyst Charles Strozier, editor of this recent collection, The Fundamentalist Mindset: Psychological Perspectives on Religion, Violence, and History (Oxford UP, 2010), 296pp., which contains a number of essays of note.

I began with an essay by Farhad Khosrokhavar, a French scholar whose work has focused especially on Iranian and other contemporary Islamic contexts. His essay in the present work, "The Psychology of the Global Jihadists" is especially useful, not least for showing profound differences between Christians and Muslims on the questions of "fundamentalism" and its relationship to violence.

He begins with two factors in the psychology of jihadists: the desire for revenge against perceived (and sometimes actual) slights or attacks by the West; and a desire, equally Western in nature, to be a "star" or "celebrity." Undergirding both of these is a sense of resentment and loathing.

He further notes three other factors: internalized humiliation and an attempt to reverse this in a disproportionate manner; victimization; and "narcissistic recognition" through global media (141). I find it striking how he notices parallels between a totalized Islamic psychology of victimization at the hands of the West, and a totalized "othering" of Islam in the eyes of the West. We are closer, and more similar, than either wishes to admit.

This victimization is dangerous precisely in its absoluteness: "absolute victimization...legitimizes the use of absolute violence against 'godless' societies" that reject Islamic beliefs. If you have the slightest doubt about this, read the latest issue of the ISIS propaganda magazine, Dabiq

Victimization leads to jihad, understood in apocalyptic terms, says Khosrokhavar, and this apocalyptic worldview is also abundantly illustrated by picking up any issue of Dabiq. But this is an apocalypse of limited utility: the point of violence is to provoke an apocalyptic counter-violence from the West whose goal is not to inaugurate the end of the world, but to totally transform the West into an idealized vision of Islam: apocalypticism as instrumental, not eschatological, in other words.

The desire to overcome humiliating victimization leads to a "counterhumiliation [which] merges with a politics of death, and thanatos becomes the focal point. The reasons are as much psychological as instrumental" (146). Thus the jihadist searching for martyrdom is searching not just for a counter-humiliation of the West (by killing some of its citizens), but also for a narcissistic triumph over the West, which will guarantee their eternal celebrity by broadcasting their attacks far and wide and keeping their names alive after death. Here Khosrokhavar forces upon us a question I have asked before in the aftermath of ISIS attacks: should we not severely curtail coverage of them, and stop printing the names of the attackers if, as this author claims, "the world media are thus the magic ingredient of the jihadist self-image" (148). Martyrs achieve fame twice over: in Western media, and among fellow Muslims in the umma. 

Khosrokhavar ends with an interesting if often counter-intuitive argument: jijadists are quintessentially modern creatures of secularization. Had Islam not encountered secularization, with the latter's drive towards some kind of radical purity and purgation of all so-called sacred beliefs and practices, but instead remained within its traditional contexts, then such an Islam would not have been forced to adopt a counter-strategy of radical purity and purgation by jihad in which even most other Muslims (to say nothing of Eastern Christians, traditionally tolerated under Islamic dhimmi laws, as I have shown on here repeatedly) are found wanting, and thus also fit for extermination as insufficiently Islamic. Thus the jihadist response to secularization is an equally utopian vision rather than a desire or an effort to rebuild historical Islamic institutions and cultures.

This author's work on humiliation is supplemented by an earlier, shorter chapter co-authored by Bettina Muenster and David Lotto, "The Social Psychology of Humiliation and Revenge," in which they note the burgeoning research by psychoanalysts in the late 20th century. Humiliation forces one to feel helpless at the hands of unjust treatment meted out in public. These three factors lie behind the generation of narcissistic rage leading to revenge. It is possible, they conclude, for revenge to be averted with sincere apologies and a search for forgiveness, but this is by no means guaranteed.

Several authors in this collection draw attention to the work of Vamik Volkan, especially his 1998 book Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride To Ethnic Terrorism, which I have found fascinating even if it was written before the rise of ISIS. Volkan, now retired as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst at the University of Virginia, has, avant la lettre, provided a helpful way of understanding why ISIS has so constantly harped on the Crusades and uses this language incessantly in Dabiq. 

Volkan writes that "I use the term 'chosen trauma' to refer to an event that causes one large group to feel helpless and victimized by another group. A group does not really 'choose' to be victim­ized and subsequently lose self-esteem, but it does 'choose' to psychologize and mythologize—to dwell on—the event  For each generation, the description of the actual event is modified....Once a trauma becomes a chosen trauma, the historical truth about it does not really matter" (my emphasis).

I would apply this to the invocations of the Crusades. Volkan's notion of chose trauma is, to my mind, the best way to date of understanding what is going on by constantly referring to "the Crusades": a chosen trauma useful for buttressing group identity, and useful for creating a totalized mythology about the West and its "crusader armies" of our time.  In doing so, they make it abundantly plain that historical truth is irrelevant.

As I continue to read Volkan, I shall have more to say about his several books.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Henry Chadwick: Unpublished Writings

Last year, when the second of two dynamo brothers died, I paid tribute to the great Anglican historians Owen and Henry Chadwick, several of whose books are absolute landmarks and utterly invaluable. It was Owen who died in the summer of 2015, his brother Henry having predeceased him in 2008. But it is Henry's unpublished writings that we will soon be able to enjoy thanks to an unexpected but welcome collection set to emerge this month: Henry Chadwick, Henry Chadwick: Selected Writings, ed. W.G. Rusch (Eerdmans, 2016), 416pp.

This collection, the publisher says, offers
Rare scholarly insight into the early church — still relevant for the church today

This anthology offers a choice selection of writings by one of the twentieth century’s premier church historians, Sir Henry Chadwick. Many of Chadwick’s considerable contributions to a fuller understanding of the early church were unpublished or not circulated widely during his lifetime, but here they are compiled in a convenient, accessible form.
Reflecting Chadwick’s wide-ranging expertise, this volume contains his essays on a variety of themes pertaining to the early church, including the emerging faith’s relationship to classical culture; the interaction between piety, politics, and theology; councils in the early church; the power of music in the church; and more. As relevant for the study of early Christianity today as when they were first written, Chadwick’s essays remain a valuable resource for better understanding the church both past and present, shedding light on ecumenical problems that still keep Christians visibly divided.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jesus the Hunky Hipster

In an informal contest I have been running for nearly 20 years now, nothing has yet surpassed a picture of Jesus I found in the bookshop of the Montreal Oratory in the 1990s. It must surely be counted the crowning glory of the very stiff competition run for decades in the peasant Catholicism of Quebec, which is so rich in so many splendid examples of kitsch. (In what other part of the world do you find, in the snacks section of your local gas station or grocery store, hosties?)

My particular award-winner featured a blue-eyed Jesus whose flaxen locks were vigorously flapping about in the breeze as he lunged to catch a football tossed in His direction by some primly dressed children (with starched collars, blue eyes, and the proverbial white picket fence in evidence) in what was made out to be 1950s North America. It was one of those pictures that changed as you rotated the angle at which you held it--I'm sure there must be some kind of technical name for those? At one angle, it was Jesus the football player; at another angle, Jesus was at bat in the ole ballpark. In either case it was screamingly absurd, and reeked of the age-old temptation to recreate the Lord in that generation's image.

But such images and temptations have long been with us, whether good or bad, and for good or ill, as a book, released this year in a Kindle version of a book first published in 2014 in hardcover, documents: Michele Bacci, The Many Faces of Christ: Portraying the Holy in the East and West, 300 to 1300.

As the blurb tells us, the idea of a blonde Jesus is not new:
It is common to think of Jesus of Nazareth’s main physical characteristics as including long, wavy, blondish hair and a short beard. Yet the Holy Scriptures are silent about Christ’s features, and his representations are hardly consistent in early Christian and medieval arts. The wearing of long hair, moreover, is explicitly condemned by St Paul as shameful and effeminate: therefore it is surprising that, notwithstanding the Apostle’s authoritative judgement, the long-haired archetype came to be accepted, as late as the ninth century, as the standard iconography of the Son of God.
In The Many Faces of Christ Michele Bacci examines the complex historical and cultural dynamics underlying the making and final successful establishment of Christ’s image between late antiquity and the early Renaissance. Unlike earlier studies, the process is described against the background of ancient and biblical conceptions of beauty and the physical look as indicators of moral, ascetic or messianic qualities. It takes into account a broad spectrum of both iconographic and textual sources, and also looks at analogous processes in the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Taoist traditions.
This book will be of interest not only to specialists of late antique, Byzantine and medieval studies, but to anybody interested in the historical figure of Jesus and its shifting, controversial conceptions over the course of history.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Church Has Left the Building

I was delighted to be asked by my friend Michael Plekon to contribute an essay to a new collection, The Church Has Left the Building: Faith, Parish, and Ministry in the Twenty-first Century (Wipf and Stock, 2016), 162pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The origin of the phrase "the church has left the building" lies with Elvis. In order to clear halls of his riotous fans after concerts, it was announced that "Elvis has left the building." Here, the expression highlights intense change within the church. Not only does the church change for its own existence, it also does so for the life of the world. The church cannot avoid the many past and future changes of our constantly transforming society, demographic changes long in process. What you have before you is a gathering of first-hand reflections--stories really--from a diverse group of Christians, lay as well as ordained. While each has a distinctive experience of the church in our time, all of them have something to say about the many changes in our society and how these are affecting our faith, the parish, and pastoral work.

I have not received my copy yet to know what else is in it, so I will say more later.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Robert Hoyland on Arabic Conquests

When we were last met together, we were discussing Michael Philip Penn's two recent and highly valuable books. In those he mentions other scholars who came before him in attempting, however incompletely, to make the Syriac encounters with Islam--by far the earliest such encounters, and the ones with the most numerous and most contemporaneous documentation--better known. One of those pioneering scholars was Robert Hoyland, author of the recent study In God's Path: the Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire. Hoping for a longer review later, I post a few notes here about this important book deserving a place in every library concerned with Islamic history and the history of Muslim-Christian relations.

Hoyland begins by noting an unapologetic preference for 7th- and 8th-century texts, which are of course the earliest such records. What makes this approach innovative, but also, for a time, anathema to other scholars, is that these texts are often thought--disdainfully by some--as being largely "Christian" texts.

But this illustrates the central point he's going to make: there is no clear differentiation, in the earliest generations, between Arab Muslims and Syriac Christians; such a separation would come much later, and not be nearly so clear or so sharp as many today imagine. Other scholars have known for quite some time of the existence of these texts, but have avoided using them, leaving us as a result with virtually nothing--certainly nothing reliable--in the first generations of Islam after the Quran. To overcome this caesura, Hoyland is openly recognizing and using what he terms an "overwhelmingly" large number of texts of Christian provenance in Syriac and other non-Arab languages. For obvious reasons most Islamists before this have avoided using them. He's not just using or championing these texts over Islamic ones: he's arguing that the distinction between them is false and misleading.

Hoyland will also challenge a couple of other commonplaces in this book, including the one that sees the Arab advances in the 630s-640s as staggering and relentless in their success. Not quite so fast, he says, in more ways than one: it is better to see these advances over the longer period of  630-740 and to note during that period that there were some setbacks as the Arabs had to learn and adjust to a world so new to them in many ways.

As they encountered that world, Hoyland documents just how much it was not in fact totally overturned or remade by the Arabs. Neither did they bring in a dramatically new civilization from Western Arabia so much as remake existing ones, drawing on Christian and other elements to cobble together what, thanks to Hoyland, Penn, and contemporary scholars, we now recognize as a real bricolage. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Vatican II and the Christian East

It was a delight and privilege to be asked, about 18 months ago, by my friend Matthew Levering, to write the chapter on Vatican II and the Christian East, commenting on the former's document about the latter, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. My essay, along with an abundance of other riches, is set to appear next year in Matthew Levering and Matthew Lamb, eds., The Reception of Vatican II (Oxford UP, 2017), 480pp. Consider this a foretaste. I shall have more to say once the book is in print.

Oxford gives us the following details about the book:
This volume is a sequel to Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering's Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition (OUP 2008). That volume led readers on a guided tour of the Second Vatican Council's sixteen conciliar documents, examining each document in light of Church Tradition. But that is only half the story. The meaning of the Second Vatican Council has been fiercely contested since before it was even over, and since its completion has seen a battle for the soul of the Church waged through the interpretation of Council documents. The Reception of Vatican II looks at those same sixteen conciliar documents from the opposite perspective. Paying close attention to reforms and new developments, the essays in this volume show how the Council has been received and interpreted over the course of the more than fifty years since it concluded.
The contributors to this volume represent various schools of thought but are united by a commitment to restoring the view that Vatican II documents should be interpreted and implemented in line with Church Tradition. The central problem facing Catholic theology today, these essays argue, is a misreading of the Council that posits a sharp break with previous Church teaching and calls for a wholesale overhaul of Catholic doctrine. In order to combat this reductive way of interpreting Vatican II, these essays provides a thorough, instructive overview of the debates inspired by the Council and offer a way forward for its ongoing reception of the Council.
The Reception of Vatican II will shed new light on the ongoing legacy of one of the most important religious events of the twentieth century.
We are also given the table of contents:

Part One: The Constitutions
1. Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Sacred Liturgy) - Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B.
2. Lumen Gentium (The Church) - Guy Mansini, O.S.B.
3. Dei Verbum (Divine Revelation) - William M. Wright IV
4. Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) - Thomas Joseph White, O.P.

Part Two: The Decrees
5. Christus Dominus (The Pastoral Office of the Bishops in the Church) - Matthew Levering
6. Presbyterorum Ordinis (The Ministry and Life of Priests) - David Vincent Meconi, S.J.
7. Optatam Totius (The Training of Priests) - Bishop Robert Barron
8. Perfectae Caritatis (The Up-to-Date Renewal of Religious Life) - Sara Butler, M.S.B.T.
9. Apostolicam Actuositatem (The Apostolate of Lay People) - Michele M. Schumacher
10. Ad Gentes (The Church's Missionary Life) - Ralph Martin
11. Unitatis Redintegratio (Ecumenism) - Matthew J. Ramage
12. Orientalium Ecclesiarum (The Eastern Catholic Churches) -Adam A. J. DeVille
13. Inter Mirifica (The Means of Social Communication) - Daniella Zsupan-Jerome

Part Three: The Declarations
14. Dignitatis Humanae (Freedom of Religion) - Nicholas J. Healy, Jr.
15. Gravissimum Educationis (Christian Education) - Paige E. Hochschild
16. Nostra Aetate (The Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) - Gavin D'Costa


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Eastern Orthodox Higher Education

In 2004, I flew to the University of Prince Edward Island to give a lecture at an international conference entitled "Faith, Freedom, and the Academy," which topic I alone addressed from, of course, an Eastern Christian perspective. That talk formed the basis later on for my chapter in the Festschrift for Michael Plekon, which our mutual friend William Mills put together, about which I interviewed him here.

In my original lecture, I noted that debates about faith, freedom, and the academy were in many ways almost exclusively Western debates. I drew on what little had been published about such questions by Orthodox scholars (including Alexander Schmemann), who all noted the same thing, before going on to suggest that Orthodoxy did indeed have much to offer the Western Church's grappling with these questions in the context of Catholic institutions and Ex Corde Ecclesia, about which I have had a few things to say.

It is of interest to me, then, to note, forthcoming in January 2017, a new collection that will go some ways towards extending Orthodoxy's grappling with questions that have long bedeviled other post-secondary Christian institutions of higher education: Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education: Theological, Historical, and Contemporary Reflections, eds. Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides and Elizabeth H. Prodromou (University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 432pp.

About this collection we are told:
Over the last two decades, the American academy has engaged in a wide-ranging discourse on faith and learning, religion and higher education, and Christianity and the academy. Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, have rarely participated in these conversations. The contributors to this volume aim to reverse this trend by offering original insights from Orthodox Christian perspectives that contribute to the ongoing discussion about religion, higher education, and faith and learning in the United States.
The book is divided into two parts. Essays in the first part explore the historical experiences and theological traditions that inform (and sometimes explain) Orthodox approaches to the topic of religion and higher education—in ways that often set them apart from their Protestant and Roman Catholic counterparts. Those in the second part problematize and reflect on Orthodox thought and practice from diverse disciplinary contexts in contemporary higher education. The contributors to this volume offer provocative insights into philosophical questions about the relevance and application of Orthodox ideas in the religious and secular academy, as well as cross-disciplinary treatments of Orthodoxy as an identity marker, pedagogical framework, and teaching and research subject.
“Seldom have so many scholars representing such a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities (even the hard sciences) been brought together to address the important issue of faith and learning through the prism of various aspects of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The fact that all but one of these contributors are themselves Orthodox Christian scholars provides ample proof that most likely representatives of Orthodox Christianity will be active participants in the ongoing debate addressing the crucial question of faith and the academy, or Athens and Jerusalem, to borrow Tertullian’s much abused epigrammatic description of the phenomenon. Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education will be useful to the growing number of classes on Eastern Orthodox history and culture taught in American colleges and universities.” — Theofanis G. Stavrou, University of Minnesota

Monday, October 3, 2016

Michael Philip Penn on the Encounter Between Islam and Syriac Christianity

Twice last year we were blessed with very important books by Michael Philip Penn treating the tremendously significant but insufficiently understood Syriac encounters with early Islam. What follows is not so much a full review as an an aide-mémoire containing some notes on both of them considered singly and together.

Envisioning Islam: Syriac Christians and the Early Muslim World  (U Pennsylvania Press, 2015), by Michael Philip Penn, opens by noting the many problems that we today have in understanding these encounters. First, we tend to interpret them through a prejudicial lens of "class of civilizations," sometimes seeing antagonisms where there are none. Second, we rely too much on Greek and Latin texts when the first encounters took place in neither language, but instead in Syriac, which language retains the largest single body of (largely untranslated) documents about the Muslim-Christian encounter. It is Penn's burden in this book to bring those documents from, as he says, the periphery to the centre of the encounter, changing our understanding of it thereby.

An additional benefit of these documents comes from their contemporaneous nature, recording stories of early Islamic life and so filling in well-known gaps in Arab history, which lags at least a century behind Qur'anic texts and thus contains little that is reliable of the first generation after Mohammad.

Additionally, Penn notes that early Syriac sources record interactions with Muslims that are more positive than we may imagine, though there is no uniformity here, either positive or negative. Instead we have "fuzzy boundaries and categorical ambiguity" (4). We also have an array of texts in different genres, ranging from short marginal notes to lengthy treatises. One thing that becomes clear from this body of literature is that Islam and Syriac Christianity were too entangled for each to see the other as clearly separate and "other." This entanglement was not a temporary blip or short-lived, either, Penn suggests, but remained for several generations after they first met. The differentiation was gradual and messy, and would remain fluid for much longer than most realize.

Additionally, when Islam encounters Christianity in its Syriac forms, it does not encounter a unified Christianity, for we live, of course, in the aftermath of Chalcedon, and Syria was on the frontlines of the Christological divisions. Further contextual divisions occur in the same period as a result of the many conflicts between Byzantium and the Persians.

Penn notes that one of the first books to begin, however incompletely, to draw on Syriac sources was the controversial 1977 study of Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. Since then other scholars--e.g., Barbara Roggema, Gerrit Reinink, Andrew Palmer, and of course Sidney Griffith--have drawn on some Syriac sources or made them available in translation.

But the virtue of this book stems, in part, from its bringing together much of this literature in one place rather than confining it to specialized articles in scholarly journals.

Its additional virtues come from undermining (once more....) the oft-repeated nonsense about how non-Chalcedonian Eastern Christians "welcomed" Muslim invaders to save them from their perfidious "friends" in the "imperial" (Chalcedonian) Church. Others have shown this to be false, but Penn provides perhaps the most comprehensive take-down of this tenacious lie.

Early Syriac treatments of Islam (the earliest treated here dates to the 630s, the latest to the 860s) tended to regard the latter less as a totally extraneous tradition, and more as a strange variant of the former. This would change over time, leaving us with a picture that fits nobody's contemporary narrative. Instead, what we see is a series of "complex, heavily negotiated interactions occurring in a rapidly changing and highly permeable environment." It is important, Penn notes in the conclusion, that this history be much better understood if only to correct commonplaces today that would see Muslim-Christian relations, especially in Syria, condemned to a narrative of endless antagonism and violence based on a partial picture of the past.

Such a picture is best illustrated by viewing some of the various documents Penn draws on, and so it makes sense that last year at the same time he also published just such a collection of source material: When Christians First Met Muslims: A Sourcebook of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam.

This is a collection of 28 texts that vary widely in genre, as well as chronology, context, and "confessional" nature. As such, it offers us a portrait of the Syriac-Muslim encounter that is not neat and does not conform to the two widely available hermeneutics today--that of relentless intolerance, violence, and dhimmitude; or that of hand-holding hippies avant la lettre who lived in endless peace and harmony. The value of such a collection consists not just in upending today's prejudices, but also in making available some of the oldest, most immediate records of the earliest encounters with Islam. In doing so, it helps us escape the hegemony of Western texts, both Byzantine and Latin.

After a brief prologue, this second book's introduction immediately zeroes in on the year 630 as pivotal not just for Muslim-Christian relations, but for the history of the region and so of the world. Penn also focuses briefly on the history of scholarship connected with the region, and with Islam, noting how often it has been shaped by the presuppositions of those scholars coming from the West with their own agendas.

Penn also pays tribute to those earlier scholars who attempted, often piecemeal, to do what he is attempting to do more widely here, including the collection of Andrew Palmer from 1993, The Seventh Century in the West Syrian Chronicles.

Additionally, he mentions Robert Hoyland's Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam

Hoyland is the author of another recent book, In God's Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire, about which more another day.

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