"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).

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On the Repose of Juliana Schmemann

More than 33 years after the death of the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann, his wife Juliana has also departed this life.

Herself a published author of two short works, one reflecting on her marriage to the great man, My Journey with Father Alexander, she would also author The Joy to Serve.

Additionally, her role in selectively editing the The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983 has been noted by Orthodox scholars such as Michael Plekon who, several years ago in reviewing the longer, fuller, and more "controversial" French edition of the journals pleaded for a fuller translation into English so that we could get a better picture of Schmemann without worrying about whether some of his acerbic comments and sharp asides would somehow diminish the man.

But now is not the time for those questions, as we pray for the repose of her soul, pray for consolation for her family and many friends, and pray the Lord to make her memory eternal.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Romanos the Melodist on the Mother of God

I have not read much about Romanos the Melodist in quite some time, so when I recently received the University of Pennsylvania Press catalogue and spied this in it, my interest was piqued: Thomas Arentzen, The Virgin in Song: Mary and the Poetry of Romanos the Melodist (U Penn Press, 2017), 304pp.

About this book, set for April release, we are told:
According to legend, the Virgin appeared one Christmas Eve to an artless young man standing in one of Constantinople's most famous Marian shrines. She offered him a scroll of papyrus with the injunction that he swallow it, and following the Virgin's command, he did so. Immediately his voice turned sweet and gentle as he spontaneously intoned his hymn "The Virgin today gives birth." So was born the career of Romanos the Melodist (ca. 485-560), one of the greatest liturgical poets of Byzantium, author of at least sixty long hymns, or kontakia, that were chanted during the night vigils preceding major feasts and festivals.
In The Virgin in Song, Thomas Arentzen explores the characterization of Mary in these kontakia and the ways in which the kontakia echoed the cult of the Virgin. He focuses on three key moments in her story as marked in the liturgical calendar: her encounter with Gabriel in the Annunciation, her child's birth at Christmas, and the death of her son during Good Friday. Consistently, Arentzen contends, Romanos counters expectations by shifting emphasis away from Christ himself to focus on Mary—as the subject of the erotic gaze, as a breastfeeding figure of abundance and fertility, and finally as an authoritatively vocal woman who conveys the secrets of her son and the joys of the resurrection.
Through his hymns, Romanos inspired an affective relationship between Mary and his audience, bringing the human and the holy into dialogue. By plumbing her emotional depths, the poet traces her process of understanding as she apprehends the mysteries that she embodies. By giving her a powerful voice, he grants subjectivity to a maiden who becomes a mediator. Romanos shaped a figure, Arentzen argues, who related intimately with her flock in a formative period of Christian orthodoxy.

Friday, January 27, 2017

If She Was Silent, Why are Her Followers So Gruesomely Garrulous?

As we move further into 2017, we must be prepared for a likely avalanche of apocalyptic emoting about Fatima as the centenary of that concatenation draws near. Already pestilential agitators are seeking to use the anniversary year as a pretext for what, more than six years ago, I called "Marian Mischief Making." Let us have no more of that. They have no arguments for sane or serious people, and they would do nothing but harm.

Among the many things that could be said about the supposed goings on at Fatima, perhaps the first point is contextual: war (and the rumour of war, and the aftermath of war) brings out an hysterical-apocalyptical complex in just about everybody. This point is abundantly illustrated in a book I have previously noted on here: Philip Jenkins' The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.

Jenkins, a widely published and respected historian, makes two points in this book that would be equally shocking to most Christians today: the first pertains to the gung-ho enthusiasm for the war, and the bloodthirsty language one heard from pulpits of every tradition (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim) and in every country, each insistent that God was blessing their side and going to smite their enemies. Libido dominandi was the order of the day, not the soft pacifism on the cheap one so often finds on the lips of prelates, preachers, and people today.

The second was equally ecumenical: everybody was claiming visions of some sort--French atheists in foxholes claiming visions of their dead comrades in arms; Russian Orthodox peasants claiming divine visions; staid German Lutherans and English Anglicans got in on the act with their own supposed apparitions; and even Muslims were also claiming to have had visions! So the Roman Catholic visions that supposedly manifested themselves at Fatima were entirely unsurprising and just one of many during the Great War. All these others quickly faded.

Why Fatima did not fade but took off raises all sorts of questions:
  1. How is it that she who silently pondered in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19) the staggering Incarnation via her womb would suddenly become garrulous 19 centuries later in predicting the depredations of Russia? Why then, and why Russia? Why not 1914 in attempting to avert war? Or why not later, in predicting the rise of Hitler? (Cf. q. 4 below.)
  2. How can such a focus on Russia be seen and interpreted in anything other than the context of geopolitics at the time, in which context one must include Western hostility to Bolshevism, longstanding hysteria (recently revived in our own day) about Russia (even to the extent that two ostensibly Christian powers--England and France--would side with a Muslim empire against her in the Crimean war), and Catholic hostility to "schismatic" Orthodoxy, above all in Russia
  3. How could she who is portrayed so often iconographically as the hodegetria, the pointer of the way to Christ, suddenly develop a taste for narcissistic and repetitive demands for devotion to be pointed to herself and, especially--bizarrely--her "Immaculate Heart"? Devotionally this seems very close to fetishism.
  4. How, if Fatima did indeed consist of "prophetic" messages foretelling future disasters, was a Jewish woman apparently so anxious about as-yet unseen Russian dangers, but would see and say nothing about the impending Shoah
  5. How can we not see Fatima in any other context than that of the mounting personality cult surrounding the papacy, so amply documented by eminent historians such as Eamon Duffy (himself a Catholic) and Owen Chadwick? How, that is, can 1917 be interpreted without recourse to the 1854 definition of Pius IX, the 1870 definition of papal infallibility, and continuing on through other so-called apparitions from the 19th century? Can the papal-centric rhetoric in Fatima (and all the hysteria surrounding the supposed "third secret") be interpreted without regard for this novel ecclesiology of which it is a part? 
  6. How much damage to its own credibility did the papacy inflict on itself by tendentiously dragging Fatima through the 20th century, dangling prospects of the revelation of the "third secret," before dashing all that to the ground in the year 2000 with a conveniently retroactive rubbishing of the whole thing: 
Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.  
If this is all that Fatima is--just a convenient reminder to pray, fast, do penance, and convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ--then it is of course entirely unobjectionable. But in too many hands for too long it was turned into a spectacle, almost a fetish, and wrapped up in a gauze of apocalypticism. Let 2017 pass without any more commentary. It edifies nobody.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Unforbidden Pleasures and Desires: Despoiling Psychoanalytic Egyptians and Englishmen

I've previously discussed a book, Missing Out, by the prolific English scholar and psychoanalyst Adam Philips. It is a book that has remained with me for many months now, provoking a good deal of thought, and (always a sign a book has sparked real interest in an academic) I am keenly trying to gin up ways to work it into one or more of my courses.

As I continue to make my way through several of his recent publications, I am struck, as I was when reading Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, that his more recent book, Unforbidden Pleasures: Rethinking Authority, Power, and Vitality (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2016), similarly, but equally unwittingly, presents rich theological possibilities, especially if one thinks about these matters, as I do, in a rather Evagrian spirit.

Herewith the publisher's blurb, and then some further thoughts of mine:

Much has been written of the forbidden pleasures. But what of the "unforbidden" pleasures?
Unforbidden Pleasures is the singular new book from Adam Phillips, the author of Missing Out, Going Sane, and On Balance. Here, with his signature insight and erudition, Phillips takes Oscar Wilde as a springboard for a deep dive into the meanings and importance of the unforbidden, from the fall of our "first parents," Adam and Eve, to the work of the great psychoanalytic thinkers.
Forbidden pleasures, he argues, are the ones we tend to think about, yet when you look into it, it is probable that we get as much pleasure, if not more, from unforbidden pleasures than from those that are taboo. And we may have underestimated just how restricted our restrictiveness, in thrall to the forbidden and its rules, may make us. An ambitious book that speaks to the precariousness of modern life, Unforbidden Pleasures explores the philosophical, psychological, and social dynamics that govern human desire and shape our everyday reality.
Philips, it is clear, thinks some theology suspect--Christian, but also, in our day, particularly Islamic--because of its inordinately large role (at least its perceived role) as a source of most of what is forbidden. In that regard, he would seem to play to type at least as many Christians assume whenever they might pause for a second to entertain psychoanalysis at all--if they do. Such people assume (based, almost invariably, on twisted and partial fourth-hand accounts of  the later Freud, who was not as interesting or worthwhile as the earlier Freud, at least when it comes to cultural matters) that all psychoanalysis (if not all psychology) is hostile to theology.

Not so, as I have tried to show on here repeatedly. Indeed, there have been recent and commendable moves precisely to re-think the entire relationship between psychoanalysis and theology, and in serious hands a very good case can be made that each has much to offer the other, and indeed, as some have argued, psychoanalysis finds consummation (to use a Pickstockian term) in theology.

Philips should not for a moment be dismissed as just one more cultured analytic despiser of theology. He is far too literate and supple a thinker for that, and what he says, and the manner in which he says it, clearly indicate that he is not some ham-fisted ideologue or fanatic. Indeed, to state the matter positively, his thought clearly offers, it seems to me, many rich opportunities (as I showed with his earlier book Missing Out) for Christians to "despoil" the Egyptians and rediscover a good deal of wisdom.

Rather, he is interested in the uses and abuses of theology (and many other things besides--family, culture, and our own selves) to bind us with commands and dictates that clearly forbid many things. As he puts it, "this book is about whether the unforbidden pleasures have something more to tell us, or at least something else to tell us, about pleasure than the forbidden ones. Were this to be true, a lot of things that we have taken very seriously would seem less serious. The tyranny of the forbidden is not that it forbids, but that it tells us what we want--to do the forbidden thing. The unforbidden gives no orders" (160).

It is not the forbidding that he necessarily objects to but the fact that such acts, when used or thought of wrongly, especially in the hands of those trying to control others, can ultimately prove to be not just unhelpful but unhealthful and indeed downright destructive. Here--though he does not quote Paul--the letter to the Galatians is apt: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (5:1). What Philips would suggest is that most of us are all too willing to be yoked and enslaved, most often and most acutely by our own internal censors and controllers--what Freud called the super-ego.

But what if the freedom we conceive of is based on a mistaken understanding? What if, that is, we conceive of freedom as "doing what is forbidden without consequence"--what Paul and the tradition after him would call licentiousness, which is neither free nor freeing? What if we conceive of freedom as being liberated to "follow your bliss" or "indulge your passions"? Evagrius and the tradition developing after him (which, I would suggest, was psychoanalytic avant la lettre) would say that following your passions is not freedom but enslavement. True freedom comes from being uncontrolled by such desires. Again, Phillips does not pursue these questions in precisely this theological vein, but such questions are very strongly suggested by his deeply suggestive writing; and I like to think that were he and Evagrius to enter into a discussion, they would find much in common.

Phillips does, however, openly explore theology at least a little bit when, e.g., at the start of his chapter "Against Self-Criticism," he begins thus:
Jacques Lacan famously remarked that there must surely be something ironic about Christ's injunction to love thy neighbor as thyself because people actually hate themselves.
Who among us has not wondered precisely the same thing? In reading this, I was immediately put in mind of Paul Evdokimov's lyrical book, Sacrament of Love, where he talks about marriage in this staggering vein: "In order to be loved by the other, one must renounce oneself completely. It is a deep and unceasing ascetic practice.” Learning to love oneself, in other words, is not at all self-evident or easy, and it is the achievement of Phillips' book to ask why that is so.

He specializes, in fact, in asking questions, making suggestions, dropping both, and then repeatedly circling back on them. Phillips' very diffuse and circuitous style are greatly on display in this book, which requires a good bit of patience to extract some of his really important questions and suggestions. In this regard, his style strongly reminds me of a passage from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited: "Up, down, and round the argument circled and swooped like a gull, now out to sea, out of sight, cloud-bound, among irrelevances and repetitions, now right on the patch where the offal floated." Here, I suspect, we see the real result of his work as an analyst, which with most patients rarely proceeds straightforwadly and directly. Rather, as Freud famously put it, much of the really hard work in an analysis comes from "remembering, repeating, and [only then] working through."

Given such a style, it would be facile to glance at any given passage and assume that Phillips is advocating some kind of anarchist approach to life--let nothing be forbidden or controlled! But that would be to misunderstand him (I think!). It is not that certain things are, or should be forbidden: Phillips does not object, per se, to forbidding some things. But he asks: what if we have this forbidden-unforbidden relationship rather backwards? What if we spend too much time lamenting what is apparently forbidden--so much time, in fact, desiring what is, or seems to be, forbidden that we fail to realize that much, perhaps most, of our satisfaction and joy in life comes from what is unforbidden?

Additional important questions abound: why do we spend so much time and effort on self-criticism "and then we turn this ferocious, unrelenting self-criticism into an unforbidden pleasure" (83). In other words, why do we not forbid such ferocious self-criticism, instead of allowing it such lavish free reign in our lives? Why not forbid that?

Our self-criticism comes from our superego, Phillips suggests, revisiting a classic part of the Freudian tripartite model of the mind. And why do we allow the superego such a reign and role when it is "remarkably narrow-minded" and "relentlessly repetitive"? Our superegos are the worst sort of guests we would either never invite or else flee from the presence of at a party--complete bores whose views never change, and are expressed in the most tedious and strident terms.

Part of what psychoanalysis may be able to assist people with--and so, mutatis mutandis, good spiritual direction, as I suggested here might also be able to offer--is helping the analysand, who is "suffering now from the self-cure of his organized symptoms," be able to "recover an appetite to speak with greater freedom." That sounds rather undemanding and perhaps even banal, but for many people it is precisely that greater inner freedom which can make all the difference.

Finally, I take Phillips to be useful in reminding all of us that what we often deride as daily drudgery--getting up to do our duty, which is not forbidden--is, for most of us most of the time, the greater, if greatly overlooked, source of most of our satisfaction in life. We spend too much time imagining the greatness of fulfilling our forbidden desires--of longing for an imagined life where all our forbidden desires are fulfilled, and Missing Out on the life we have.

The problem, moreover, is--to put it in explicitly spiritual terms--not only that we downplay or deride our daily life as drudgery denying us our forbidden desires: the problem is that this attitude and approach overlooks the station to which most of us have been appointed for our divinization and sanctification.

Here Phillips--who at one point goes on an interesting aside about what unique factors English analysts have contributed to the analytic tradition, riven as it often is by ideological factions which the British Independent School, inter alia, managed to largely circumvent (in, e.g., such analysts as Nina Coltart)--puts me in mind of the most famous Englishman of the 19th century, John Henry Newman.

In one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons from his Anglican days, he compared the man who overlooks his own life and thinks, to be worthy of God, he must do as an apostle did (Newman was preaching on St. Bartholomew's day). But Newman gently but firmly rebukes this line of thinking in a way that is, I think, greatly in line with the spirit of Phillips, if not the letter:
To rise up, and go through the same duties, and then to rest again, day after day,—to pass week after week, beginning with God's service on Sunday, and then to our worldly tasks,—so to continue till year follows year, and we gradually get old,—an unvaried life like this is apt to seem unprofitable to us when we dwell upon the thought of it. Many indeed there are, who do not think at all;—but live in their round of employments, without care about God and religion, driven on by the natural course of things in a dull irrational way like the beasts that perish. But when a man begins to feel he has a soul, and a work to do, and a reward to be gained, greater or less, according as he improves the talents committed to him, then he is naturally tempted to be anxious from his very wish to be saved, and he says, "What must I do to please God?" And sometimes he is led to think he ought to be useful on a large scale, and goes out of his line of life, that he may be doing something worth doing, as he considers it. Here we have the history of St. Bartholomew and the other Apostles to recall us to ourselves, and to assure us that we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to Him, if improved duly.
Newman clearly recognized, here and elsewhere, that the better part in life consists not in wasting time fantasizing about "forbidden" desires, but in the unforbidden pleasure, indeed eternal joy, of following the Lord daily and quietly, and in so doing discovering that true freedom for which we have been sent free. To the extent that Adam Phillips, in Unforbidden Pleasures: Rethinking Authority, Power, and Vitality, helps us appreciate this, all of us, Christian and otherwise, are once again in his considerable debt.

(Stay tuned for future thoughts on Phillips On Balance as well as his Side Effects.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Alasdair MacIntyre on Ethics Amidst the Conflicts of Modernity

One cannot do any sort of serious philosophy or theology today without attending to the context in which we live, a context that nobody has done more, in the realm of moral philosophy, to analyze than the greatest moral philosopher of our time, Alasdair MacIntyre. A new book by him--who is now well into his 80s--is therefore a signal event of capital importance. Just released at the end of the year is his Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative (Cambridge University Press, 2016), 322pp.

MacIntyre has often been quoted, but too often those quoting him the most, or most often, have read him too little, as I have demonstrated and others too--most especially on the questions of conflict between monastic communities and Christian churches (variously understood) and the modern nation-state. MacIntyre is a careful thinker, and part of thinking with MacIntyre means taking the time to read him carefully, and to think about the implications of what he says. I wrote an MA thesis on him almost 20 years ago, and one of the many admirable things I found about him was how often he was willing to say "I know this requires more work" or "I thank my critics for pressing me to think more deeply about...." His genuine openness to recognizing what needs more work, or correction, or even outright retraction is refreshing to see today, and rarer than one might think among contemporary academics.

About this newest book of his the publisher tells us:
Alasdair MacIntyre explores some central philosophical, political and moral claims of modernity and argues that a proper understanding of human goods requires a rejection of these claims. In a wide-ranging discussion, he considers how normative and evaluative judgments are to be understood, how desire and practical reasoning are to be characterized, what it is to have adequate self-knowledge, and what part narrative plays in our understanding of human lives. He asks, further, what it would be to understand the modern condition from a neo-Aristotelian or Thomistic perspective, and argues that Thomistic Aristotelianism, informed by Marx's insights, provides us with resources for constructing a contemporary politics and ethics which both enable and require us to act against modernity from within modernity. This rich and important book builds on and advances MacIntyre's thinking in ethics and moral philosophy, and will be of great interest to readers in both fields.
And we are given the table of contents:

1. Desires, goods, and 'good', the philosophical issues
2. Theory, practice, and their social contexts
3. Morality and modernity
4. Neo-Aristotelian ethics and politics developed in contemporary Thomistic terms: issues of relevance and rational justification
5. Four narratives
I wrote to Prof. MacIntyre to see if he would be willing for me to drive up to South Bend to interview him about this book, but he wrote a gracious and kind letter in response saying that some time ago he took the position to refuse all further interviews. There have, in fact, been at least three over the years I have read to great profit, but I had hoped to add to those interviews by talking about his forthcoming book.  Alas, it is not to be. (I do not for a moment begrudge MacIntyre, now well into his 80's, for husbanding his energies selectively, as I should also do at that stage--especially when confronted with letters from provincial academics one does not know!)

For those few who do not know his work, MacIntyre really burst onto the scene with his 1981 book After Virtue, updated in 1984 and released in a third edition in 2006. This is arguably his best known and most widely read book whose ringing peroration has inspired some people with a notion of a "Benedict option" for Christians of our time, though MacIntyre himself greatly regrets that line, and it has other problems I documented here. In addition, such "option" talk is not nearly as new as some seem to think. Jonathan Wilson, e.g., already wrote along these lines in his 1997 book Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: Lessons for the Church from MacIntyre's After Virtue

Many Christians have found MacIntyre's work very useful in a variety of projects--e.g., ecclesiology, moral theology of course, and much else besides. His work has been ecumenically engaged by Christians of all traditions, though Eastern engagement, as with many things, has tended to lag behind Protestant and Catholic engagement for several reasons.

Perhaps none has engaged MacIntyre more, nor forced other Christians to do so theologically, than Stanley Hauerwas, beginning with his collection of 1981, Revisions: Changing Perspectives in Moral Philosophy. Pick up almost any book by Hauerwas and you can expect to find him telling you how much he is indebted to MacIntyre.

The 1981 publication of After Virtue was MacIntyre's first full-length book in a long time. Part of its success, I maintain, lies in its style: it is an extended narrative of "how we got here." It is not the usual horrid, turgid, incomprehensible analytic philosophy one (despairingly) finds in parts of 20th century academic philosophy. Instead, it tells a story of how philosophical developments have led us to the emotivism of our time. Ranging widely from Aristotle to Aquinas, from Kant, Hume, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche to Gewirth, Anscombe, and Davidson, MacIntyre shows the dead-ends to which we have come in our moral, social, and political lives by being trapped by emotivism.

He posits two ways out of this: a Nietzschean way or an Aristotelian, here and elsewhere arguing for the superiority of the latter (while also "ransacking," as it were, Nietzsche and others, including Marx, for what may be useful). Anyone who foolishly imagines that a book of moral philosophy written more than a quarter-century ago now must be hopelessly out of date has not been attending to any political discussion in 2016, or for decades before that. It remains as vital and helpful in understanding our world as ever, and I regard the reading of After Virtue as obligatory for anyone today who claims to have a post-secondary education.

Much of his writing before After Virtue was piecemeal and later gathered into such collections as Against the Self-Images Of the Age: Essays on Ideology and Philosophy, first published in 1971. I read this book in the 1990s, when John Spong fancied himself an avant-garde figure but in reality offered tiresome clap-trap too bloated on its own eminence to rise to the level of intellectually serious heresy. Thus I realized that one could easily substitute a figure such as Spong (a real "Dr. Spacely-Trellis, the go-ahead Bishop of Bevindon” if ever there were one!) for those who come in for withering criticism in MacIntyre's book, which included wonderfully acerbic reviews of then-new publications by such Church of England heretics bishops as John Robinson (Honest to God)--to say nothing of others such as Bultman and Tillich, all of whom, MacIntyre suggests, seem engaged in some strange project of concocting a vaguely religious-sounding atheism to comfort bourgeois academics who would have us believe that "what Jesus really meant turns out to have been an anticipation of Martin Heidegger, and when the gospel is demythologized a theistic existentialism is what remains." In the end, such a project is summed up in one of MacIntyre's many memorable perorations: "the creed of the English is that there is no God and that it is wise to pray to him from time to time."

In the 60s and 70s, MacIntyre had published some longer monographs as well, though these are not as well known. Of that period I would argue that A Short History of Ethics remains important, not least in showing MacIntyre's historicizing project and his work very much as an historian of philosophy in particular (which would reach fullest flower in After Virtue), but an intellectual historian in general as well.

Perhaps, for Christians today, his most significant and lasting book from this period remains Secularization and Moral Change, about which I noted a few things here.

After writing After Virtue, MacIntyre recognized just how much further work was to be done in order to demonstrate, verify, and even amend many of his claims in that book. Thus After Virtue has been regarded as the first volume of a trilogy, followed in 1988 by Whose Justice? Which Rationality? This is a longer, denser work than AV, and concentrates in good measure on the so-called Enlightenment in its various forms as well as more recent modern philosophers.

The third volume of the trilogy began its life as the prestigious Gifford Lectures in Scotland, and was published afterwards, in 1990, as Three Rival Inquiries of Moral Inquiry. This, too, is another example of historical "display" by MacIntyre albeit in different form than the two earlier books. Perhaps the two most important chapters here are his justification of pedagogical authority via a reading of St. Augustine, and then his calling for the overhaul of the modern university as an institution, and the modern lecture within it. 

I wrote my MA thesis on MacIntyre in 1997, and so ended with his then-latest book, Three Rival Inquiries, wondering what books we might expect from him next. I had several ideas--as did many others--as to where we thought he needed to go next, but his two books around the turn of the century were, to me at least, considerable surprises. Thus in 1999 we had Dependent Rational Animals and then in 2006 we had Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-1922.

I have written elsewhere several times about the latter book especially. As for the former, Artur Rosman's essay, here, accords well with my own views about this astonishing, under-appreciated book, which I have used in undergraduate ethics classes.

I attended the launch, in 2010 at Notre Dame, of God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition. This came in the aftermath of the Jenkins-Obama debacle at UND, and while he didn't get into the matter directly even when pressed by a questioner, it seemed very clear to me he thought Jenkins guilty of treachery towards the Church and any university that takes itself seriously as Catholic. It was also an occasion to hear from MacIntyre why it took him so long to write After Virtue--why, that is, there was such a long gap between his last book in the early 70s, and the appearance of AV in 1981--and he answered with a disarming shrug, "Because I didn't think I had much to say before then." Would that more academics felt such apophatic restraint as we continue to drown under too many publications!

Since the book launch was about a book devoted in part to the nature of higher, and specifically Catholic higher, education, one questioner asked for MacIntyre's views on whether his conception of the teacher-student relationship was undermined by having students write evaluations of professors each semester. I shall never forget MacIntyre's wildly applauded and bracing answer: "Student evaluations are of the devil. Next question?"

In addition to all the foregoing monographs and collections, some of MacIntyre's most important pieces are also to be found in articles. I still regularly refer people to his very useful essay on epistemological crises, which was reprinted in The Tasks of Philosophy: Volume 1: Selected Essays. In this collection also we have reprinted his essay on first principles, which was published in a very small book after having been given as the Aquinas lecture in 1990 at Marquette.

In addition, Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays Vol. 2 contains an essay I have very often referred to, an essay Eastern Christians in particular would do well to study: "Poetry as Political Philosophy," one of the earliest places where MacIntyre begins to describe and denounce the "dangerous and unmanageable institution" of the modern nation-state in all its pomps and works--which he memorably disdains as no more substantial than the accoutrements of the "telephone company."

Moreover, his "Toleration and the Goods of Conflict" remains an important cautionary warning for Christians seeking to build communities of any sort today.

In sum, picking up any book of MacIntyre's will give you a lifelong supply not just of "things to think about" but a whole new way of thinking about thinking, of imagining the world we live in today--a new epistemology inextricably tied up with a new politics containing a new moral philosophy. Thus there are, to use one of his better known phrases, goods internal to the practices of reading. Tolle, lege. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The New Crusaders

My interest in the historiography surrounding the Crusades has been discussed on here several times over the years. While doing further reading of an article by the great and recently deceased doyen of Crusades scholars, Jonathan Riley-Smith, he mentioned a book I had not come across before, a book which amplifies some of his own work on the pivotal nature of the 19th century as a period in which imperial and colonial politics profoundly shaped modern mythologies about, and bogus "memories" of, the Crusades.

That book is Elizabeth Siberry, The New Crusaders: Images of the Crusades in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. Originally published in hardcover in 2000 by Routledge, it was, just this past November, republished in a paperback version.

About this fascinating, lucidly written, and compelling study, which I very much commend to your reading, the publisher tells us the following:
This is the first comprehensive study of the use, abuse and development of the crusade image in popular and high culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing upon a diverse range of sources, mainly from the British Isles, but with parallels from Western Europe and North America, the author shows the different approaches to the history of the crusading movement and crusade images taken by the historian, composer, artist and author.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Path of Christianity

I just received the 2017 catalogue for InterVarsity Academic Press, and among its many offerings is a massive book set for release in late spring by a prolific and respected Orthodox priest and academic, John McGuckin, The Path of Christianity: the First Thousand Years (IVP, 2017), 1280pp. Many of McGuckin's previous books and chapters have been noted on here, and I interviewed him in 2012 about some of them.

About this book the publisher tells us:
John Anthony McGuckin, one of the world's leading scholars of ancient Christianity, has synthesized a lifetime of work to produce the most comprehensive and accessible history of the Christian movement during its first thousand years. The Path of Christianity takes readers on a journey from the period immediately after the composition of the Gospels, through the building of the earliest Christian structures in polity and doctrine, to the dawning of the medieval Christian establishment. McGuckin explores Eastern and Western developments simultaneously, covering grand intellectual movements and local affairs in both epic scope and fine detail.
The Path of Christianity is divided into two parts of twelve chapters each. Part one treats the first millennium of Christianity in linear sequence, from the second to the eleventh centuries. In addition to covering key theologians and conciliar decisions, McGuckin surveys topics like Christian persecution, early monasticism, the global scope of ancient Christianity, and the formation of Christian liturgy. Part two examines key themes and ideas, including biblical interpretation, war and violence, hymnography, the role of women, attitudes to wealth, and early Christian views about slavery and sexuality. McGuckin gives the reader a sense of the real condition of early Christian life, not simply what the literate few had to say. Written for student and scholar alike, The Path of Christianity is a lively, readable, and masterful account of ancient Christian history, destined to be the standard for years to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Syrian Refugees and Their Traumas

While reading this article about the plight of Syria, and of her refugee crisis, I thought of a new book to which I was recently alerted by the author, the psychoanalyst and scholar Vamik Volkan, whose very useful work I have previously discussed on here. The latest book of his is Immigrants and Refugees: Trauma, Perennial Mourning, Prejudice, and Border Psychology (Karnac Books, 2017), 144pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
There are political, economic, legal, medical, cultural and religious aspects of the present refugee crisis in Europe. Difficulties in border crossings, settlement programs, life-saving issues and security measures present themselves immediately. The refugee crisis also needs to be examined from a psychological view point. Changes in the 21st Century are occurring at an unprecedented pace and scale. Globalization, incredible advances in communication technology, fast travel, recourse limitations, terrorist activities and now the refugee crisis in Europe make psychoanalytic investigation of the Other a major necessity.
In Part I, case examples illustrate the impact of traumatic experiences, age-factors, large-group identity issues, and trans-generational transmissions. The meanings of the newcomers’ utilization of linking objects and linking phenomena are explored. Part II focuses on the host countries. A detailed description of the evolution of prejudice, especially collective prejudice, against the Other is provided. Also, the psychology of borders is presented. The importance of psychoanalysts’ experiences in examining societal and political matters and their search for ways to communicate their findings to other mental health workers, educators, professionals dealing with refugee crises, and the public in general, are addressed throughout the book.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Papacy and the Orthodox

Are you as excited as I am? For Amazon lists a release date of this coming Thursday for A. Edward Siecienski's important and welcome new study, which I've previously mentioned: The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (Oxford UP, 2017), 724pp.

I've already contacted the author and he's agreed to an interview, so once I have my copy in hand I'll be able to send him some questions and then give you the fruits of our conversation. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Retired Pope on His Life and Death

When his last book-length interview came out in 2010, I discussed the thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI in great detail here. Of course, at the time, none of us knew he would retire in 2013, an event that I found both disappointing but also tremendously heartening and useful in dealing a significant blow to the papaolatry which has, alas, only increased exponentially under his voluble successor, leading one, as Adrian Fortescue put it, to long for a pope who never speaks except when making an infallible utterance. Alas, we have not been blessed with such apophatic silence since 2013, notwithstanding my repeated calls for people to ignore the man.

Now we have what will surely be, perforce, the Last Testament of the retired pope in another interview with Peter Seewald, who has previously published several earlier interviews going back two decades. (For all my interest in all these interviews, I confess that I am not a fan of the genre.)

I read all of the Ratzinger-Seewald interviews for a variety of reasons, not least to track the trajectory of Ratzinger's ecclesiological thought on questions of papal primacy and patriarchates that I reviewed in detail in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy which, appearing as it did in 2011, featured one of my favourite photos of the then-reigning pope with the current Ecumenical Patriarch.

Turning now to this last interview and final testament, we find it opens with a very characteristic series of self-observations from Ratzinger. Though these may still come as a surprise to some especially dense and incorrigible journalists, they are not a surprise to the rest of us, who have never known Ratzinger to be some kind of arrogant bully or Panzerkardinal. 

I first met Ratzinger briefly at a conference in Rome in 1998, and could immediately see from a brief encounter with him that he was a gentle, shy man and a scholar, not the Savonarola of the S&M fantasies from the typists and excitable tea ladies of the New York Times. Later on I would come to appreciate just how much of an introvert he is, and this becomes very clear in this last testament, with his frequent references to how often he has to seek out silence, and how, accordingly, he made changes to the papal routine so that there could be more silence in his day with fewer people around at, e.g., mealtimes.

His longing to leave Rome, already by the early 1990s, in order to return once more to his scholarship and the writing of books, is well known and has emerged repeatedly in other interviews (Cf. his own Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977.) He was never able to leave, and I think that regardless of what one thinks of the man, and prescinding from any of his particular decisions as pope, one must respect his devotion to duty and his fidelity, loyalty, and long-suffering service to the Church even when he longed to be elsewhere--to be back home in his study.

His devotion reminds me of this powerful speech from Queen Mary to the new Queen Elizabeth II in the surprisingly excellent Netflix series The Crown:

Ratzinger's humility, never in doubt for me, marks the opening of this detailed interview as he is asked a question about whether he misses the trappings, power, and attention of the papacy, to which he responds: "I never accepted 'power' so that I would be in any way strong, but always as a responsibility, as something difficult and burdensome." A little later on he says of himself that "I am an entirely average Christian" and, reflecting on what he would say to the Lord at the time of his immediate post-mortem judgment, "I would plead with him to show leniency towards my wretchedness."

I confess that I did not, in 2005, fully appreciate how much his modesty would afflict his pontificate. Nor did I appreciate the question of his age and fatigue. I did not know that he had suffered a major brain hemorrhage in 1991 which would progressively destroy his sight in his left eye entirely, and affect his right eye, all the while leaving him extremely tired. Repeatedly here he reflects on how his hope, going into, and even during the early stages of, the 2005 conclave that as bishops have to retire at 75 there's no way the cardinals will elect a tired 78-year-old as bishop of a city he had been trying to leave for over a decade, each time told by John Paul II that he was needed in Rome and would not be released back to his book-lined study.

Because of his modesty, fatigue, and also, as it would emerge, his ecclesiology, he did not use the papacy in the way some of us at the time hoped and certainly thought he would. I was a graduate student in 2005 and together with a couple of other fellow students we had our own little ecclesial Committee of Union and Progress in which we fantasized about how many revolutionary changes we would hope to see, beginning with the liturgy. Truth be told, in our youthful zeal, we rather hoped that those Savonarola fantasies might just be true.

Those who have been reading Ratzinger for as long as I have know that the central priority of his life has been liturgy. As pope he made one of the most significant moves in the last 50 years on this question, and as a result deserves great and lasting credit, as I argued here. That 2007 decision, Summorum Pontificum, freed up celebrations of the older form of the Roman Rite. Here, in this last Testament, he says simply that he had to free up the older rite because it was simply absurd for any group of people--a Church or club or whatever--to be told that what they once held as central and sacrosanct was now forbidden. If it could so easily be declared forbidden, then obviously it was never so central and sacrosanct, a notion Ratzinger finds so absurd as to require no comment.

But Ratzinger's focus on the liturgy has always been wider than that. His first sustained attention came in a book from the early 1980s, The Feast of Faith. Longer and more detailed attention came in his 2000 book The Spirit of the Liturgy. This latter book is especially useful for his argument that the West never adequately received the spirit and decisions of Nicaea II, and therefore has never quite gotten iconoclasm out of its system, as seen in periodic outbursts of it, not least in the aftermath of Vatican II.

I confess that there was one brief bit of disappointment and disagreement here, though I understand and to some extent agree with Ratzinger. Pressed by Seewald to do more than just free up the older Roman Rite, but to take active measures to deal with wider, deeper problems in the Latin liturgy, Ratzinger firmly and repeatedly denies that he could or should have done any such thing. Ecclesiologically I agree with him, since the idea that the pope regulates everything, including how Fr. X celebrates Mass in little Parish Y in Village Z, is a monstrous modern myth I hope to live long enough to see destroyed.

But at the same time, since a centralized papacy inflicted the widespread and enormously damaging liturgical problems on the Latin Church in 1969, one could make an argument that using that same papacy to make some large-scale reversals of the damaging changes would be entirely in order. But pressed on this repeatedly, Ratzinger is having none of it:
As Prefect you complained about an impoverishment and misuse of the liturgy....Why has so little happened in this area? You certainly had all the authority to do something.
Institutionally and juridically one cannot do much about it at all. What is important is that an inward vision emerges, and that people learn what liturgy is from seeing inwardly....That is why I've just written books.....But one cannot just command that. 
One thinks the Pope has the authority; he can just put his foot down. 
It won't work? 
It won't work, no!
I think, frankly, this is a bit short-sighted and self-serving. The pope could indeed do more, but Ratzinger made the prudential, human, and very defensible decision to lead by example in his own papal celebrations rather than to try to legislate for the entire Latin Church. Given that the Latins routinely ignore liturgical legislation anyway, Ratzinger's insistence that such a strategy would be ineffective is not without a good deal of evidence, alas. Still, fully aware of the paradox and problems of papal power, one would not be entirely unhappy to see sterner measures applied pour encourager les autres.

Ratzinger does not revisit most of the decisions made during his time, except briefly. Given the focus of my 2011 book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, I looked for any final thoughts from him on the vexed handling of the title of Patriarch of the West. But he says nothing. Indeed, of the East he says very little other than to note that he had a good meeting after his election with Met. Kiril of the Russian Church, now that body's patriarch. He also notes how close the Catholic Church is to Orthodoxy unlike to Protestantism, which he sees as very much in a phase of terminal decline.

Seewald is a careful, tenacious interviewer who repeatedly circles back at least thrice to controverted questions to draw Ratzinger out further. But each time Ratzinger is consistent in his answer--whether about the Williamson affair, the theft of documents by the butler, the Regensburg lecture, or other events. Ratzinger sometimes notices where he was too naieve, or not active enough, and there are some decisions he wishes had been handled differently.

But the overall vision is of a man at peace at the end of his life. There are no bitter jabs at people, no acute pangs of regret or longing, no barbed comments, least of all towards his successor, whom he praises on a couple of occasions for being more extroverted, more able to interact with people, and for having more energy and vigor in pursuing reforms, some of which Ratzinger himself started (e.g., with the Vatican Bank).

Perhaps the most consistent, and certainly most moving, theme of the entire book is to be found in Ratzinger's constant references to how close to hand he has found God, the "loving God" as he almost always refers to Him. Whenever some decision or anxiety is near, God is nearer still to guide and strengthen a gracious man who has lived through some of the most pivotal events of the last 90 years in the history of Church and world alike.

As he now prepares, by his own admission, for his death, let us thank God for Joseph Ratzinger's many gifts, and pray God to forgive him whatever "wretchedness" is in need of divine pardon.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Books of 2016 and Beyond

The turn of the civic calendar seems forever to inspire the writing of lists--retrospective and prospective, regretful about the past and resolute about the future.

My own long list, looking back at 2016's books, was posted here in November.

And then a similar, not entirely overlapping, and much shorter, list from me was part of a long series, with many fascinating entries, just published here on Catholic World Report. 

Tolle, lege!

The Cross

The well-respected art historian Robin Jensen has a book coming out in April looking at that most central and recognizable of Christian symbols: The Cross: History, Art, and Controversy (Harvard UP, 2017), 280pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The cross stirs intense feelings among Christians as well as non-Christians. Robin Jensen takes readers on an intellectual and spiritual journey through the two-thousand-year evolution of the cross as an idea and an artifact, illuminating the controversies—along with the forms of devotion—this central symbol of Christianity inspires.
Jesus’s death on the cross posed a dilemma for Saint Paul and the early Church fathers. Crucifixion was a humiliating form of execution reserved for slaves and criminals. How could their messiah and savior have been subjected to such an ignominious death? Wrestling with this paradox, they reimagined the cross as a triumphant expression of Christ’s sacrificial love and miraculous resurrection. Over time, the symbol’s transformation raised myriad doctrinal questions, particularly about the crucifix—the cross with the figure of Christ—and whether it should emphasize Jesus’s suffering or his glorification. How should Jesus’s body be depicted: alive or dead, naked or dressed? Should it be shown at all?
Jensen’s wide-ranging study focuses on the cross in painting and literature, the quest for the “true cross” in Jerusalem, and the symbol’s role in conflicts from the Crusades to wars of colonial conquest. The Cross also reveals how Jews and Muslims viewed the most sacred of all Christian emblems and explains its role in public life in the West today.
We are also given the table of contents:
1. Scandalum Crucis: The Curse of the Cross
2. Signum Crucis: The Sign of the Son of Man
3. Inventio Crucis: Discovery, Dispersion, and Commemoration of the Cross
4. Crux Abscondita: The Late-emerging Crucifix
5. Adoratio Crucis: Monumental Gemmed Crosses and Feasts of the Cross
6. Carmina Crucis: The Cross in Poetry, Legend, and Liturgical Drama
7. Crux Patiens: Medieval Devotion to the Dying Christ
8. Crux Invicta: The Cross and Crucifix in the Reformation Period
9. Crux Perdurans: The Cross in the New World, Islam, and the Modern Era
Further Reading
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...