"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, October 31, 2017

The Pope and the Professor (II)

As I noted here, this new book, The Pope and the Professor:Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age, is a splendid and deeply fascinating one both on its own merits but also as a useful text to consider amidst ongoing challenges to and about papal authority in this Franciscan era.

Howard begins from the premise that the "modern age" really begins with the very long 19th century, a century he and others see as running from 1789 to 1914, that is from the Bastille in France to the trenches of France and Flanders during the Great War. This was a period marked, inter alia, by the return of "religion" after many were predicting its demise, not least because of the massively bloody and utterly shattering attack on the Catholic Church unleashed by the French Revolution.

Those predicting secularization during this period because of the collapse of Catholic life and faith gave short shrift to examining actual Catholic practices, then and since. And thus much history of the period is written from a perspective that presupposes the good of ongoing secularization and consequently does not bother to inquire into the details of Catholic debates. This is one of the tasks Howard sets out for himself, remedying the lack of detailed examination of how Catholics themselves actually viewed the world of this long century, and whether they were united in either pro-secularization narratives, or narratives of reaction and revanchism. He attempts to take Catholic arguments seriously on their own terms, refusing to dismiss theological claims merely because they are theological. In so doing he has written an immeasurably stronger book.

It is, in fact, on debates about history, historiography, and "historical mindedness" that so much of this story turns. Much of the conflict between Ignaz von Döllinger, on the one hand, and Pope Pius IX (and his erstwhile court and followers) on the other comes down to the relationship between theology and history and the relativizing the latter was thought to do of the truth-claims of the former. Any such relativizing was heavily disdained by the papal court and hangers-on. Döllinger, by contrast, refused to see how historical evidence could be treated so disdainfully and dismissively, and stood by it (or at least his perception of it) even when it resulted in his excommunication.

Virtually alone of all the controversial Catholic figures of the long 19th century, Döllinger remains excommunicated and unrehabilitated. It is the burden--but only one of several--of Howard's book to examine why this is so, and to show us the uncomfortable challenges of conscience and authority that the German scholar's life still poses for Catholics today. These challenges are especially brought to the fore in chapter 3, treating the immediate ante-conciliar period as well as the First Vatican Council itself and its immediate aftermath. Döllinger refused to submit to its decree on papal primacy and infallibility, and was as a result excommunicated. He refused because as an historian he saw--quite rightly--that the evidence for anyone believing in papal jurisdiction and infallibility as was debated in 1869-70 was virtually non-existent for the entire first millennium and most of the second. He refused, moreover, because he was an ecumenist avant la lettre, and saw that infallibility and universal jurisdiction were not just impossible to ground historically but impossible to justify ecumenically.

The other challenge which Döllinger refused to look away from was that of the motives behind the conciliar definition, a problem I have myself addressed elsewhere. As Howard notes, "to understand how the teaching on infallibility came bursting to the forefront of theological conversations in the late 1860s, one must take into consideration the severe threat that the papacy experienced by forces of Italian unification" (118)--to say nothing of earlier, but still potent, threats from the French Second Empire and the various European revolutions of 1848. In the face of all these threats, "infallibility became not only the desired instrument of a counter-offensive, but also simply the right and proper theological thing to do" (119).

At the same time, however, one must not be so reductive and simplistic as to see this decree as solely the result of and reaction to external threats. As Howard goes on very rightly to insist, "papal infallibility, it merits reiterating, could hardly have succeeded if it did not enjoy broad international support from the lay faithful."  One must, therefore, resist the temptation to see "that infallibility was...cooked up by ultramontane polemicists of the Pope in a time of political crisis; it possessed much deeper sanction in the Catholic intellectual tradition" (122).


Monday, October 30, 2017

Orthodox Renewal in Eastern and Southern Europe

It is of course a self-congratulatory staple of some Orthodox apologists that their tradition alone has not changed, while various Catholic and Protestant traditions have changed out of all recognition, becoming ever worse heretics in the process. Needless to say, this is a piece of myth-making that does not enjoy intimate congress with the historical evidence, some of which is newly recorded in a book released this month: Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements in Eastern Europe, eds. Aleksandra Djurić Milovanović and Radmila Radić (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 339pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book explores the changes underwent by the Orthodox Churches of Eastern and Southeastern Europe as they came into contact with modernity. The movements of religious renewal among Orthodox believers appeared almost simultaneously in different areas of Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth and during the first decades of the twentieth century. This volume examines what could be defined as renewal movement in Eastern Orthodox traditions. Some case studies include the God Worshippers in Serbia, religious fraternities in Bulgaria, the Zoe movement in Greece, the evangelical movement among Romanian Orthodox believers known as Oastea Domnului (The Lord’s Army), the Doukhobors in Russia, and the Maliovantsy in Ukraine. This volume provides a new understanding of processes of change in the spiritual landscape of Orthodox Christianity and various influences such as other non-Orthodox traditions, charismatic leaders, new religious practices and rituals.
For those who wish to pursue the questions of how and where Orthodox traditions have changed in the past century, I would also direct you to the fascinating collection I reviewed elsewhere, which has recently been released in a more affordable paperback edition:  Innovation in the Orthodox Christian Tradition?: The Question of Change in Greek Orthodox Thought and Practice, eds. Trine Stauning Willert and Lina Molokotos-Liederman (Routledge, 2017), 298pp.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Pope and the Professor (I)

T.A. Howard's newest book is a magnificent study: The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age (Oxford UP, 2017), 312pp.

I'm about half-way through it, and will have more to say about it later. But it is church history at its best: sustained focus on two key figures--Döllinger and Pius IX--through whom much larger issues are sifted and assessed, not least the massive problems of the Papal States, European revolutions of 1848, and of course the First Vatican Council. In all these areas and more, the book is a fascinating study into the longstanding problem of the relationship between history and theology.

Students of the papacy, of ecclesiology more generally, and of 19th-century intellectual history will not want to miss this book.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On Hoarding and Saving

A forthcoming study puts me in mind of an interview I did with Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen about her book They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era, which treats how the Greek Fathers viewed questions of money, possession, usury, and related social teachings.

This new study, Managing Financial Resources in Late Antiquity: Greek Fathers' Views on Hoarding and Saving, is co-authored by Gerasimos Merianos and George Gotsis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 256pp.

About this book we are told by the publisher:
This book examines the views of Greek Church Fathers on hoarding, saving, and management of economic surplus, and their development primarily in urban centres of the Eastern Mediterranean, from the late first to the fifth century. The study shows how the approaches of Greek Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Isidore of Pelusium, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, to hoarding and saving intertwined with stances toward the moral and social obligations of the wealthy. It also demonstrates how these Fathers responded to conditions and practices in urban economic environments characterized by sharp inequalities. Their attitudes reflect the gradual widening of Christian congregations, but also the consequences of the socio-economic evolution of the late antique Eastern Roman Empire. Among the issues discussed in the book are the justification of wealth, alternatives to hoarding, and the reception of patristic views by contemporaries.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Of Peasants and Spinsters and Old Believers

John Bushnell has just this month published what looks to be a fascinating study into a little known group of Russian Peasant Women Who Refused to MarrySpasovite Old Believers in the 18th-19th Centuries (Indiana University Press, 2017), 400pp. 4 maps, 22 tables.

About this book we are told:
John Bushnell’s analysis of previously unstudied church records and provincial archives reveals surprising marriage patterns in Russian peasant villages in the 18th and 19th centuries. For some villages the rate of unmarried women reached as high as 70 percent. The religious group most closely identified with female peasant marriage aversion was the Old Believer Spasovite covenant, and Bushnell argues that some of these women might have had more agency in the decision to marry than more common peasant tradition ordinarily allowed. Bushnell explores the cataclysmic social and economic impacts these decisions had on the villages, sometimes dragging entire households into poverty and ultimate dissolution. In this act of defiance, this group of socially, politically, and economically subordinated peasants went beyond traditional acts of resistance and reaction.

Monday, October 23, 2017

God, Hierarchy, and Power

The older I get the more I find my younger self's idealization of ecclesial hierarchy not just impossible to understand, but almost a little obscene. I was, to use Richard John Neuhaus's memorable phrase, among those who "exult in the freedom to submit to authority with wild abandon"--and this even in my Anglican days long before the thought of becoming Catholic crossed my mind. By early adolescence I was convinced that hierarchy and apostolicity were the sine qua non of the most sophisticated forms of Christianity, and congregationalism was only for the lower classes.

Since then I have become far more aware of the dangerous and destructive tendencies of all human institutions to use and abuse power and to protect themselves often at all costs from even the most elementary forms of accountability. The trick becomes holding this recognition in tension with a proper theology of authority that does not deny human weakness but still insists that fallible human beings are owed respect and even obedience for the offices they bear in the name of God. As Eamon Duffy nicely titles it in his great one-volume history of the papacy, the Church is led by Saints and Sinners.

A book set for November release will take up all these questions and then some, and thus is something I greatly look forward to reading: God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium by Ashley M. Purpura (Fordham University Press, 2017), 240pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the current age where democratic and egalitarian ideals have preeminence, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, among other hierarchically organized religious traditions, faces the challenging questions: "Why is hierarchy maintained as the model of organizing the church, and what are the theological justifications for its persistence?" These questions are especially significant for historically and contemporarily understanding how Orthodox Christians negotiate their spiritual ideals with the challenges of their social and ecclesiastical realities.
To critically address these questions, this book offers four case studies of historically disparate Byzantine theologians from the sixth to the fourteenth-centuries--Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Niketas Stethatos, and Nicholas Cabasilas--who significantly reflect on the relationship between spiritual authority, power, and hierarchy in theoretical, liturgical, and practical contexts. Although Dionysius the Areopagite has been the subject of much scholarly interest in recent years, the applied theological legacy of his development of "hierarchy" in the Christian East has not before been explored.
Relying on a common Dionysian heritage, these Byzantine authors are brought into a common dialogue to reveal a tradition of constructing authentic ecclesiastical hierarchy as foremost that which communicates divinity.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Julian the Apostate

Evelyn Waugh's satirical portrait of the Emperor Constantine, noted here, is a wonderful mockery of the tendency of some Christians to glamorize the "co-equal to the apostles." No such mockery is necessary for, nor does that grandiose title apply to, one of Constantine's near successors, treated in a new book by H.C. Teitler: The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford UP, 2017), 312pp.

About this new study the publisher tells us this:
Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last pagan to sit on the Roman imperial throne (361-363). Born in Constantinople in 331 or 332, Julian was raised as a Christian, but apostatized, and during his short reign tried to revive paganism, which, after the conversion to Christianity of his uncle Constantine the Great early in the fourth century, began losing ground at an accelerating pace. Having become an orphan when he was still very young, Julian was taken care of by his cousin Constantius II, one of Constantine's sons, who permitted him to study rhetoric and philosophy and even made him co-emperor in 355. But the relations between Julian and Constantius were strained from the beginning, and it was only Constantius' sudden death in 361 which prevented an impending civil war.
As sole emperor, Julian restored the worship of the traditional gods. He opened pagan temples again, reintroduced animal sacrifices, and propagated paganism through both the spoken and the written word. In his treatise Against the Galilaeans he sharply criticised the religion of the followers of Jesus whom he disparagingly called 'Galilaeans'. He put his words into action, and issued laws which were displeasing to Christians--the most notorious being his School Edict. This provoked the anger of the Christians, who reacted fiercely, and accused Julian of being a persecutor like his predecessors Nero, Decius, and Diocletian. Violent conflicts between pagans and Christians made themselves felt all over the empire. It is disputed whether or not Julian himself was behind such outbursts. Accusations against the Apostate continued to be uttered even after the emperor's early death. In this book, the feasibility of such charges is examined.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Romanian Church and the Holocaust

Just released last month is a book that is sure to revive controversy over questions of collusion and assistance on the part of the Romanian Orthodox Church during World War II: Ion Popa, The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust (Indiana University Press, 2017), 226pp.

About this book we are told:
In 1930, about 750,000 Jews called Romania home. At the end of World War II, approximately half of them survived. Only recently, after the fall of Communism, have details of the history of the Holocaust in Romania come to light. Ion Popa explores this history by scrutinizing the role of the Romanian Orthodox Church from 1938 to the present day. Popa unveils and questions whitewashing myths that concealed the Church's role in supporting official antisemitic policies of the Romanian government. He analyzes the Church's relationship with the Jewish community in Romania and Judaism in general, as well as with the state of Israel, and discusses the extent to which the Church recognizes its part in the persecution and destruction of Romanian Jews. Popa's highly original analysis illuminates how the Church responded to accusations regarding its involvement in the Holocaust, the part it played in buttressing the wall of Holocaust denial, and how Holocaust memory has been shaped in Romania today.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bloody Byzantine Streams

Interest in all things Byzantine is as high as ever, and students of the empire's history will want to take note of a book released just in June: Anthony Kaldellis, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade (OUP, 2017), 440pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the second half of the tenth century, Byzantium embarked on a series of spectacular conquests: first in the southeast against the Arabs, then in Bulgaria, and finally in the Georgian and Armenian lands. By the early eleventh century, the empire was the most powerful state in the Mediterranean. It was also expanding economically, demographically, and, in time, intellectually as well. Yet this imperial project came to a crashing collapse fifty years later, when political disunity, fiscal mismanagement, and defeat at the hands of the Seljuks in the east and the Normans in the west brought an end to Byzantine hegemony. By 1081, not only was its dominance of southern Italy, the Balkans, Caucasus, and northern Mesopotamia over but Byzantium's very existence was threatened.
How did this dramatic transformation happen? Based on a close examination of the relevant sources, this history-the first of its kind in over a century-offers a new reconstruction of the key events and crucial reigns as well as a different model for understanding imperial politics and wars, both civil and foreign. In addition to providing a badly needed narrative of this critical period of Byzantine history, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood offers new interpretations of key topics relevant to the medieval era. The narrative unfolds in three parts: the first covers the years 955-1025, a period of imperial conquest and consolidation of authority under the great emperor Basil "the Bulgar-Slayer." The second (1025-1059) examines the dispersal of centralized authority in Constantinople as well as the emergence of new foreign enemies (Pechenegs, Seljuks, and Normans). The last section chronicles the spectacular collapse of the empire during the second half of the eleventh century, concluding with a look at the First Crusade and its consequences for Byzantine relations with the powers of Western Europe. This briskly paced and thoroughly investigated narrative vividly brings to life one of the most exciting and transformative eras of medieval history.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Exploring the Life of the Soul

I noted in July a recent book by Peter Tyler that attempts to link patristic spiritual theology with modern psychoanalytic thought around questions of the "soul." Now we have another, similar book just published: John Hanwell Riker, Exploring the Life of the Soul: Philosophical Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Self Psychology (Lexington, 2017),194pp.

Charles Strozier, a highly respected historian and psychoanalyst, has written appreciatively of Riker's new book. Strozier is the author not just of historical works about Abraham Lincoln but other books, including a fascinating biography I recently finished of Heinz Kohut, who was such a significant figure in Chicago psychoanalytic circles in the latter decades of the 20th century.

About Riker's book the publisher tells us:
In this book, John Hanwell Riker develops and expands the conceptual framework of self psychology in order to offer contemporary readers a naturalistic ground for adopting an ethical way of being in the world. Riker stresses the need to find a balance between mature narcissism and ethics, to address and understand differences among people, and to reconceive social justice as based on the development of individual self. This book is recommend for readers interested in psychology and philosophy, and for those who wonder what it means to be human in the modern age.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Religion, Authority, and the State: Constantine and Beyond

Debates about religious freedom are by no means unique to the United States in these early years of the 21st century. So too debates about the legacy of Constantine are not new developments either. Two recent books shed light on both questions, giving them wide context.

The first, Religion, Authority, and the State: From Constantine to the Contemporary World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 249pp. is a collection edited by Leo Lefebure.With at least two chapters focusing on Slavic Orthodox debates around religious freedom, this book promises to be of interest to Eastern Christians.

The publisher further tells us about this book:
In commemoration of Constantine’s grant of freedom of religion to Christians, this wide-ranging volume examines the ambiguous legacy of this emperor in relation to the present world, discussing the perennial challenges of relations between religions and governments. The authors examine the new global ecumenical movement inspired by Pentecostals, the role of religion in the Irish Easter rebellion against the British, and the relation between religious freedom and government in the United States. Other essays debate the relation of Islam to the violence in Nigeria, the place of the family in church-state relations in the Philippines, the role of confessional identity in the political struggles in the Balkans, and the construction of Slavophile identity in nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox political theology. The volume also investigates the contrast between written constitutions and actual practice in the relations between governments and religions in Australia, Indonesia, and Egypt.  The case studies and surveys illuminate both specific contexts and also widespread currents in religion-state relations across the world.
The second study, by Kyle Smith, is Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 2016), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
It is widely believed that the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity politicized religious allegiances, dividing the Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire and leading to the persecution of Christians in Persia. This account, however, is based on Greek ecclesiastical histories and Syriac martyrdom narratives that date to centuries after the fact. In this groundbreaking study, Kyle Smith analyzes diverse Greek, Latin, and Syriac sources to show that there was not a single history of fourth-century Mesopotamia. By examining the conflicting hagiographical and historical evidence, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia presents an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor, uncovering how Syriac Christians manipulated the image of their western Christian counterparts to fashion their own political and religious identities during this century of radical change.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

On Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology and Related Matters

In late August I first drew attention to this book, and noted a few other sources of relevance to the life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

I have now had a chance to read A Communion in Faith and Love: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology (2017, 176pp), edited by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson.

It is, as with all such collections, very mixed. The first three chapters revisit a lot of Behr-Sigel's biography, and for those who are familiar with this material, as I am, these chapters offer little that is new and fresh.

The fourth chapter, by Antoine Arjakovsky, whom I have often discussed on here and interviewed in the past, is an interesting reading of Behr-Sigel in dialogue with Celia Deane-Drummond, especially her 2000 book, Creation Through Wisdom: Theology and the New Biology.

Teva Regule's chapter, the fifth, is the first one to really deliver on the promise of the title, focusing as it does on Behr-Sigel's "ecclesiological vision."

Valerie Karras writes an interesting but by no means original chapter on the questions of sex, gender, the Trinity, and ordination of women in Orthodoxy in light of Behr-Sigel. This is a helpful synthesis of questions she and others have engaged elsewhere, and for those new to those debates, this would not be a bad place to start. I'm not entirely convinced of some of her conclusions, but she certainly raises some of the right questions.

Amal Dibo's chapter is perhaps the weakest of the book, and I confess to being rather cross with it insofar as it is content yet again to repeat that tiresome slogan about the Orthodox Church not being "an institution; it is a new life with Christ." One hears this constantly, though one almost never detects the slightest effort on the part of the one making this claim to actually defend it with the necessary detail and elaboration it requires to be anything more than an empty, romanticizing, self-congratulatory assertion. (Certainly my students, coming fresh to Orthodoxy, find it the most heavily and ponderously institutional of all Christian expressions they have every encountered--regularly saying they thought Catholics were bad enough, but Orthodox are much worse!)

The editor's chapter, "Behr-Sigel's New Hagiography and its Ecumenical Significance" is a treat--indeed, the true highlight of the volume. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson writes with grace and insight and knows what the really important questions are to ask. Noting the connection between hagiography and ecclesiology whereby nobody is saved alone--that is, that we are all saved together, as part of the communion of saints, that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews--Wilson shows how these twin themes were developed in Behr-Sigel who, though she moved from Lutheranism and the Reformed Church into Orthodoxy, nonetheless retained what Wilson calls a "characteristically gracious attitude: she always insists on validating what she finds good and worthy in other communities, even in the one she has chosen to leave." Given the shrill slandering one finds in so much of Orthodox apologetics today, especially among on-line converts who have nary a good word about their now-despised Protestant (or Catholic) pasts, this is a model worthy of holding up again and again.

Behr-Sigel's approach to hagiography was first pioneered in some of her writings in her Master's thesis, Prayer and Holiness in the Russian Church, a translated excerpt of which Wilson offers as the final chapter to this book. Behr-Sigel focused on a married woman about whom little was known: Juliana Lazarevskaya, the telling of whose life advanced a new approach to hagiography much closer to modern biography, that is, an approach that does not drown its subject "in a fog of golden legend." Among other things, Juliana was noteworthy for being married and nobody's idea of pious or "monastic."

In this--as well as in telling the life of Mother Maria Skobtsova and Tikhon Zadonsk--Behr-Sigel's hagiographic methods become something of a model for the work of Michael Plekon, a close friend of Wilson (and of me) whom she mentions with gratitude several times in A Communion in Faith and Love.

Fr. Michael's books, including Hidden Holiness as well as Saints as They Really Arehave rightly won several awards and I know students to whom I recommend them have found them very valuable and insightful. I have interviewed him over the years about most of these books, and the most recent interview is here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rhetorical War as Politics By Other Means (I)

Yale University Press sent me a brand new book which I am reading with great interest: Philippe-Joseph Salazar, Words Are Weapons: Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, trans. Dorna Khazeni (Yale UP, 2017), 256pp.

This, the publisher tells us, is:
The first book to offer a rigorous, sophisticated analysis of ISIS’s rhetoric and why it is so persuasive
ISIS wages war not only on the battlefield but also online and in the media. Through a close examination of the words and images ISIS uses, with particular attention to the “digital caliphate” on the web, Philippe-Joseph Salazar theorizes an aesthetic of ISIS and its self-presentation. As a philosopher and historian of ideas, well versed in both the Western and the Islamic traditions, Salazar posits an interpretation of Islam that places speech—the profession of faith—at the center of devotion and argues that evocation of the simple yet profound utterance of faith is what gives power to the rhetoric that ISIS and others employ. At the same time, Salazar contends that Western discourse has undergone a “rhetorical disarmament.” To win the fight against ISIS and Islamic extremism, Western democracies, their media, politicians, and counterterrorism agencies must consider radically changing their approach to Islamic extremism.
This book is of great interest to my own ongoing project into the uses and abuses of Crusades history in ISIS propaganda. I shall have more to say about all that later.


Monday, October 9, 2017

The Psychoanalysis of the Living God (III)

In the previous two installments, we have been attending to the work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto, a pioneer in helping propel psychoanalytic thought beyond its prejudices about theology as an "illusion" born of infantile insecurities and neuroses.

Though her landmark book The Birth of the Living God has been in print for nearly forty years now, and though it enjoyed considerable and almost immediate engagement by pastoral psychologists and other counsellors and clinicians, its reception in the psychoanalytic world was very narrow in many ways. Her more recent book (1998) Why Did Freud Reject God?: A Psychodynamic Interpretation (discussed in my second installment), which is a remarkably careful, restrained treatment full of respect for Freud, and completely free of any "gotcha" tendencies one might expect in lesser hands, has finally shown to those with any lingering doubts that Rizzuto is a serious theoretician and clinician whose research demands to be taken seriously.

So we now have just such a serious engagement with Rizzuto in this new collection, Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, expertly edited by Martha J. Reineke and David M. Goodman (Lexington Books, 2017), 228pp.

With a helpful introduction and conclusion, the book features six chapters from various clinicians engaging Rizzuto, with each chapter having a response by Rizzuto herself. The book is a model of how to advance important discussions not in lockstep, but with gracious respect when people differ, as several commentators do with parts of Rizzuto's thought and work.

The first two chapters are extremely useful introductions to the wide applications of Rizzuto's work. The middle chapters are case studies. And the final two chapters challenge Rizzuto's work to go beyond its previous applications in looking, first, at the psychic constructions of various "monsters" and then at engagements with the so-called new atheists.

For those new to Rizzuto's work, the first two chapters will be especially useful in doing a lot of heavy lifting summarizing many of her main insights and methods.

The middle case studies are fascinating, especially in drawing attention to the VITA project at the Modum Bad Clinic in Norway, doing what from every indication sounds like fascinating and singular work today that far from fleeing a patient's religious imagery and language, or shunning it as nothing more or other than psychopathological, attempts to see where theological and spiritual language, metaphors, and insights may be useful either in revealing underlying disorders, or in contributing to a patient's healing, or both.

The final chapter is the only one that comes closest--and this only very briefly--to a theological engagement in the strict sense. But it has no sooner begun that task then it shifts focus, and one is left wanting further such engagement.

The editors, in their brief conclusion, note that there is a great deal of room for future creative adaptation of Rizzuto, and though they do not reference such a direction themselves, I take them to mean, inter alia, that one could begin to analyze not just an individual's psychic conception of God as a "transitional object" (Winnicott), but an entire culture or tradition. Rizzuto's work has been very much confined to individual-clinical experience, which is an absolutely necessary foundation from which to proceed. It remains to be seen whether and how her insights admit of wider application. Regardless, this is a valuable and insightful book with skillfully presented material. The editors and contributors are to be congratulated.


Friday, October 6, 2017

The Chaldean Catholic Church

For nearly 15 years, to think of the plight of Iraqi Christians is to weep. The unjust war that was waged in that country in 2003 did incalculable damage to Christians there and in neighboring countries. The Christians of Iraq, like those of Iran, Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere in the Arab and Islamic world, remain largely unknown by too many North Americans in particular.

A book coming out later this year will help to change all that: Kristian Girling, The Chaldean Catholic Church: Modern History, Ecclesiology and Church-State Relations (Routledge, 2017), 224pp.

About this study we are told by the publisher:
This book provides a modern historical study of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq from 2003 to 2013, against a background analysis of the origins and ecclesiological development of the Chaldean community from the sixteenth century onwards.
The book offers an insight into the formation of Chaldean ecclesiological identity and organisation in the context of the Chaldeans as a community originating from the ecclesial traditions of the Church of the East and as an Eastern Catholic Church in union with the Holy See. The book argues for the gradual and consistent development of a Chaldean identity grounded and incarnated in the Mesopotamian-Iraqi environment, yet open to engaging with cultures throughout the Middle East and West Asia and, especially since 2003, to Europe, North America and Australasia. It also examines the effects of religious and administrative policies of the governors of Mesopotamia-Iraq on the Chaldeans, from their formation in the sixteenth century until the installation of the new Chaldean patriarch, Louis Raphael I Sako, in March 2013. Furthermore, the book provides a unique analysis of the history of Iraq, by placing the Chaldeans fully into that narrative for the first time.
Providing a thorough overview of the history of the Chaldeans and an in-depth assessment of how the 2003 invasion has affected them, this book will be a key resource for students and scholars of Middle East Studies, Modern History, History of Christianity, as well as for anyone seeking to understand the modern status of Christians in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

More on Maximus

When I started this blog nearly seven years ago now I noted how many publications, by the middle part of the last decade, had recently appeared devoted to Maximus the Confessor. (If you look at old entries, you'll have to excuse some of the missing image links to Amazon, which several years changed its coding and left it to bloggers to manually reinstall every single link with new code, an enormously tedious process consuming time I do not have. Most of the text links still work, however.)

Since then, the pace of publications has slowed only slightly. If you are bewildered as to where to begin with all these scholarly riches, then you will be aided by The Oxford Handbook of Maximus the Confessor, eds. Pauline Allen and Bronwen Neil (OUP, 2017), 640pp. It appears later this fall in a paperback edition, having been published in hardback just over two years ago.

The publisher supplies us with the following blurb:
Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662) has become one of the most discussed figures in contemporary patristic studies. This is partly due to the relatively recent discovery and critical edition of his works in various genres, including On the Ascetic Life, Four Centuries on Charity, Two Centuries on Theology and the Incarnation, On the 'Our Father', two separate Books of Difficulties, addressed to John and to Thomas, Questions and Doubts, Questions to Thalassius, Mystagogy and the Short Theological and Polemical Works. 
The impact of these works reached far beyond the Greek East, with his involvement in the western resistance to imperial heresy, notably at the Lateran Synod in 649. Together with Pope Martin I (649-53 CE), Maximus the Confessor and his circle were the most vocal opponents of Constantinople's introduction of the doctrine of monothelitism. This dispute over the number of wills in Christ became a contest between the imperial government and church of Constantinople on the one hand, and the bishop of Rome in concert with eastern monks such as Maximus, John Moschus, and Sophronius, on the other, over the right to define orthodoxy. An understanding of the difficult relations between church and state in this troubled period at the close of Late Antiquity is necessary for a full appreciation of Maximus' contribution to this controversy.
The editors of this volume provide the political and historical background to Maximus' activities, as well as a summary of his achievements in the spheres of theology and philosophy, especially neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Psychoanalysis of the Living God (II)

In my last installment I noted some recent thoughts on past and possibly future links between psychoanalysis and theology, especially about the controverted question of the existence of God, a discussion that has been advanced very considerably by the contributions, since 1979, of Ana-Maria Rizzuto in her landmark book The Birth of the Living God. That book, as I noted in the previous installment, has recently been the subject of an appreciative study to which I'll return presently.

In the meantime, let me draw attention to Rizzuto's second major book of note: Why Did Freud Reject God? (Yale University Press, 1998).

It is a rather unusual book, and not at all what I thought it would be--until, that is, the second half of the book. It starts off very much remotely, considering Freud's well-known passion for collecting antiquities, some of which he was able to bring with him to London when he fled there in the spring of 1938 to "die in freedom" as he said. Some were left behind; the rest were sold to raise funds to bribe the Nazis to grant the requisite forms permitting the Freud family and a few associates to flee to the British capital. Rizzuto wonders about Freud's relationships to these antiquities, some of which were clearly totems for pagan religions. She sees his massive and endless collecting of them as evidence of an unconscious obsession with very oblique theological questions.

From here she spends a very great deal of time on a detailed examination of the Philippson Bible, an illustrated and annotated Hebrew-German version which Freud's father Jakob gave his son, and which his son clearly read with great attention. This gives rise to a consideration of the religious faith and practice--or lack thereof, as the case may be--of Freud's parents and grandparents.

To read Freud, especially his correspondence, is to be confronted with copious evidence of his scriptural literacy: biblical quotations, that is, verses from and references to the Hebrew scriptures, and occasionally to the Talmud, show up on a regular basis-- and not in a clumsy fashion, either, suggesting deep and easy familiarity with the texts.

Rizzuto also takes great care to examine the other area where Freud's familiarity with the God of Judaism and Christianity emerges very early in his life: through his relationship to his beloved Czech Catholic nanny, who took him to church very early on (up to the age of 2 or thereabouts), as a result of which he apparently developed a habit, his mother said, of coming home and "preaching" to the household.

Having, over eleven chapters, laid out all this material for judicious consideration, and never once with a kind of "gotcha" attitude, Rizzuto comes, only in her twelfth and final chapter, to stitch everything together very graciously in answer to the question of her book's title. At no point does one feel like she is forcing the question, or forcing Freud into preconceived answers or subjecting him to a facile analysis on a couch of his own making. She applies psychoanalytic principles and practices to the man who pioneered them, and does so in a sober, restrained way leading to very well-supported conclusions. I have to think that Freud would, perhaps grudgingly, admire the case she has built.

Her conclusions are that Freud, as stoic a man as it is possible to imagine (he lived in constant pain from 1923, when cancer of the jaw was first diagnosed, leading to an endless series of sometimes brutal surgical interventions and to the wearing ever after of an ill-fitting prosthesis), grew early in life to hate feeling dependent on anyone and to hate feeling helpless or muddled (which is why he refused drugs to deal with his pain until the last few days of his life in September 1939 when he finally asked his physician for enough morphine to be injected to allow his life to move peacefully to its close). Freud associated "religion" with an infantile sense of helpless dependency on a paternal figure onto whom we project hopes for protection and eternal solicitude. Given, Rizzuto documents, an unreliable father in Jakob who left Freud feeling helpless at two crucial periods in his life, he seems to have rejected God because of his belief that God is simply unreliable and untrustworthy, just as his father was.

In the next installment we will turn to the new edited collection, Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, which does to Rizzuto and her book what she just finished doing to Freud and the Future of an Illusion

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