"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).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Recommendations 2017

Somewhere or other Churchill reports (or someone around him reported--perhaps Jock Colville's diaries, which I am re-reading just now?) that during the war his nightly ritual consisted of what Catholics might call an examination of conscience: he interrogated himself before going to sleep, he said, to ask what concrete good he had done that day to advance the Allied cause towards victory: "Action this day" was his motto, which he had printed on bright red stickers he used to affix to memos he sent all over the place to a variety of people.

Stock-taking towards the year's end is not a bad exercise on a larger scale, and I find it helpful to look back at what has been read in the preceding months. To that end, and to aid readers in discovering books they may have missed, or books they may wish to order as gifts for friends and family, I offer the following look back at some of the books discussed on here since January. (For Christmas lists from years past, see here, here, here, and here.)

Patristics: This year, I drew attention to a number of new books in Patristics, including a work Against Marcellus. Oxford University Press brought out a Handbook on Maximus in paperback. (Maximus has been a "growth industry" for some time, as a look back here will show.) I also noted new works on Irenaeus, and a Kindle edition of a book published about Climacus 

Ecclesiology: I have not yet read Ashley Purpura's new study on hierarchy and power in Byzantine theologies, but I am very much looking forward to doing so.

On a similar theme, see a new book on Constantine and state power.

I reviewed a new collection devoted to the ecclesiology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a fascinating woman whose life is nicely told in this biography.

I remain haunted by Francis Oakley's study of conciliarism, which I commend to your interest. This year also saw the publication of a new book devoted to other forms of conciliarism.

Liturgy: A few weeks ago I drew attention to the work of the historian Robert Taft, whose life is drawing to a close. At the link you will find discussion of some of the many influential works Taft authored over the last half-century.

Russian Orthodoxy: It has long been obvious to me that the Russian Church enviously copies the Roman Church in not a few areas, including, recently, in racing to up the number of new saints, as you may read in this new book about new Russian saints and memories.

Other works noted this year include one on aseticism at the sunset of the Romanov empire. In the final years of that empire, Russia engaged in a disastrous war with Japan during which the role of the Church was significant but overlooked until now.

But all was not decline: see a new book about Russian Orthodox revivals from the revolution to end of WWII.

In a time of decline and confusion, new notions of national identity began to arise, as Serhii Plokhi's new book, Lost Kingdom, reveals.

This year we saw attention being drawn to two very influential Russian thinkers: to Pavel Florensky's early writings; and to the life of Vladimir Lossky

Russian Revolution: Amidst the avalanche of publications on the centenary of the revolution, I drew brief attention to a biography of Trotsky, noting also other studies of Stalin, and others. One of the poisoned fruits of the revolution has come in for reexamination: the Great Terror revisited. Additionally, see here for some interesting studies of the theological roots of the revolution.

Papal History: T.A. Howard's very fine new book, The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age was discussed in three parts, beginning here. Any Catholic on your Christmas list, any historian, or anyone interested in questions of historiography and authority, as well as intellectual history more generally, will find this a rich study.

There's more than one pope in the world, of course, and the Coptic holder of that title occupies an office with a long and distinguished history, some of which is told in a three-volume series newly available in paperback.

For more on Coptic monastic history, see here.

Historical Memory and Forgetting: These are themes I have been discussing on here for more than two years. This year several new works were noted here. I also mentioned a recent collection devoted to theologies of retrieval.

Spirituality and Sacramentality: The Oxford University Press collection on sacraments, in which I wrote the chapter on orders, is coming out in an affordable paperback. I've taught courses on sacraments for years, and I think I am as unbiased as possible in saying that this really is the best book available for undergraduates and even beginning graduate students.

An interesting new study on the role of artistic askesis was noted here.

The great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann's "lost" work on the liturgy of death was noted here.

Finally, see this new book on the poetry of Romanus the Melodist regarding the Theotokos.

Author Interviews: One of the real delights of running this blog is the ability to interview authors of new works. This year I was able to do four of those, with a reposting (for reasons noted at the link) of an interview previously done with John P. Manoussakis.

I interviewed my friend Nick Denysenko  to talk about his book, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, which is a fascinating work very winsomely written.

Cyril Hovorun's new book on ecclesial structures is the best book in ecclesiology to come out in the last five years, and I will be returning to it again in the new year. In the meantime, if you can overlook its dozens of typos, it will be very much worth your time. It deserves a wide audience among Catholics and Orthodox alike.

It is always a real delight to talk to my friend Michael Plekon, as I did again this spring about his new book on sacramentality, which Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox friends will all find edifying. Now that he has retired from more than forty years teaching at CUNY, I hope we can yet expect further books and articles from him, especially of the nature and calibre of Saints as They Really Are, which several of my students have found invaluable.

Finally, I would draw attention to A.E. Siecienski on the papacy. I have not paid nearly enough attention to that book this year, and hope to remedy that soon. In the meantime, it is quite simply a superlative work of history which I most heartily commend to all who are interested.

Social Teachings:
Tempting though it often is for too many bourgeois Christians especially to reduce the tradition to one of puritanism and moral scrupulosity, the social teaching of Christianity remains a stinging rebuke to the world today, and to much of the Church today, too, alas. Several new books remind us of this rebuke, including one on hoarding and saving. See also David Bentley Hart and Alasdair MacIntyre on Christianity and communism. Finally, see this long overdue and very valuable attempt at defining the common good.

Psychoanalysis: Though many continue to proudly to trumpet their illiteracy and ignorance by sneering whenever Freud or psychoanalysis is mentioned, I remain a resolute defender of both, and spent no little time on here this year continuing to engage the tradition Freud founded, as you can see, inter alia, here. Thus I spent a good bit of time on a welcome new book devoted to the pioneering work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, which I reviewed in 3 parts.

I also noted a slender new study trying to look at world conflicts through analytic eyes.

The incomparable Adam Phillips and his apophaticism was discussed on here; see elsewhere my article on him and the Christian East; and see my thoughts on his book about unforbidden pleasures.

One country figured more than just about any others in his patients and imagination: thus it makes sense to welcome a new book on the Russian Freud.

Finally see some writings on Marx and Freud.

Lesser known Eastern Churches: This year, as I noted, we happily saw the publication of a number of new books about the Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia; see also here.

There were also new books about Chaldean Catholics; about Christians in Iraq; and about the Assyrian Church of the East.

Orthodoxy and the Academy: A hefty new collection, featuring a wide variety of articles, all devoted to the status and workings of Orthodox in the academy today was given considerable time on here as the year opened.

Moral theology: Amidst the controversy in the Catholic world occasioned by discussions of marriage and re-marriage, and the controversies more generally swirling around Pope Francis, I took the liberty of drawing attention to a book I first read more than twenty years ago now, which is perhaps even more important than ever in offering--entirely unintentionally--some crucial insights into how this Jesuit pope operates. Thus I commended, and commend, to your attention, Jonsen and Toulmin's book on the history of casuistry.

Once more, I drew attention to Alasdair MacIntyre, but this time to his stunning new book on ethics and desire in modernity.

Byzantium: Interest in all things Byzantine remains high. I noted only a few of the books published under this broad, well, canopy, this year.

When it appears next year, Daniel Galadza's book on liturgical Byzantinization will be a real landmark.

I've spent no little time on the Crusades in the past few years. One new book, devoted to Byzantine history up to the First Crusade was noted here.

See also recent studies about Leontinus of Byzantium; and about Byzantine architecture and aurality.

Finally, see a new book devoted to Byzantium's capital city.

Ottoman History and Eastern Christian Encounters with Islam: Gorgias Press, whose lists of titles devoted to the East are incomparably vast, published a welcome study devoted to Syrians under the Ottomans.

Plagued though we are today by questions of identity, they are not unique to us. A new study detailed such a search for identity in the early Ottoman period.

Turkish denials of Armenian genocide continue, as do studies of the same.

Finally, see this welcome collection on Orthodoxy and Islam in Greece and Turkey.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Indian Christian Traditions

Fortress Press recently sent me their fall catalogue and in it I spy three works focusing on the resplendently diverse Eastern and other Christian traditions in India and more broadly in southern Asia.

First up, published last month, is a new book by Roger Hedlund, Christianity Made in India: From Apostle Thomas to Mother Teresa (Fortress, 2017), 230pp.

The blurb from the publisher tells us the following:
Christianity Made in India: From Apostle Thomas to Mother Teresa discusses the indigenization of Christianity in the Indian context. It is set in the larger context of the exceptional growth of the church in the non-Western world during the twentieth century, which has been characterized by a diversity of localized cultural expressions. It recognizes that the center of Christian influence numerically and theologically is shifting wouthward to Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Increasingly, it is found in nontraditional (non-Catholic, non-Protestant, non-Syrian) churches of indigenous-independent variety, frequently charismatic, not necessarily Pentecostal, but of substantial evangelical and cultural diversity. Predominantly, it is a church of the poor. It affirms the reality that wherever the gospel goes, it takes root in the local culture.
Also published in October is D. Perman Niles' new book, Is God Christian?: Christian Identity in Public Theology: An Asian Contribution (Fortress, 2017), 216pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Is God Christian? Christian Identity in Public Theology: An Asian Contribution is a sequel to Niles's previous book, The Lotus and the Sun: Asian Theological Engagement with Plurality and Power, and continues the narrative of the social biography of Asian theology. It enters the theological efforts of the author's generation as a collective enterprise to survey methods that in the arena of public theology confront and reject the assertion that God is Christian or there is a Christian god among other gods. The focus is on the issues and questions that affect the people and societies of Asia. The theology envisaged here is not the kind that will confine itself within the Christian community but one that will have an import for the actors in public life. Asian Public Theology will be one that will be inherently interreligious in nature. Accordingly, the theological methods explored in this book are not concerned narrowly with problems in Christian theology, but rather with challenges posed for Christian theology in the wider arena of social and political life in Asia.
The last book draws our attention to a prominent Indian Orthodox hierarch about whom I was already hearing many glowing things when I was involved in the World Council of Churches in the 1990s and he was still alive. I was in Canberra in early 1991 for the seventh general assembly of the WCC, when Paulos Mar Gregorios was one of the WCC's presidents, and I recall his sailing serenely around the assembly with a lovely smile and avuncular air.

He died in 1996, but since then interest in his work and influence has held steady. The author himself of noted works, including Cosmic Man - The Divine Presence: The Theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, he also edited a collection of important essays that were republished just this year: Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy.

Now, this month, under the editorship of K.M. George, Paulos Mar Gregorios: A Reader has just been published by Fortress (368pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Paulos Mar Greogorios: A Reader is a compilation of the selected writings of Paulos Mar Gregorios, a metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India and a former President of the World Council of Churches. The book deals with his thought in the areas of ecumenism, orthodox theology, philosophy, interfaith dialogue, and philosophy of science. The book will be of special value to the students of ecumenism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Indian philosophy, interdisciplinary studies, and holistic education.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Book You Must Order for Every Western Christian this Christmas

Over at Catholic World Report, you can read my review of Sr. Jeana Visel's splendid new book, which I have noted on here in the past: Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacramental Encounter (Liturgical Press, 2016).

As I note, it's a short, accessible book, steeped in the best contemporary scholarship, and dealing, in a discerning and pastorally sensitive way, with the challenges facing the Western Church as she tries to overcome decades upon decades of iconoclasm.

It is the book you should buy for every Roman Catholic and even many Protestant Christians you know to have an interest in icons. And then buy copies for your pastor, bishop, and chancery.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Icons: the Essential Collection

As I have often noted on here over the years, icons have never been more popular than they are today, with workshops regularly filling in churches of all traditions as people are eager to learn not just about icons, but how to paint them themselves.

Released last fall is a little book that deserves attention for making an introduction to icons very affordable: Faith Riccio, Icons: The Essential Collection (Paraclete Press, 2016), 128pp.

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

On the Problems of Biography: Freud Reconsidered

I am at work on two recent books that are both, in part, biographical studies but also studies that grapple with the problems of biography and how to interpret an author's life in light of his works. The first is--it will not surprise you--by the incomparably compelling Adam Phillips (about whom see here): Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (Yale UP, 2016), 192pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Becoming Freud is the story of the young Freud—Freud up until the age of fifty—that incorporates all of Freud’s many misgivings about the art of biography. Freud invented a psychological treatment that involved the telling and revising of life stories, but he was himself skeptical of the writing of such stories. In this biography, Adam Phillips, whom the New Yorker calls “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytical writer,” emphasizes the largely and inevitably undocumented story of Freud’s earliest years as the oldest—and favored—son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and suggests that the psychoanalysis Freud invented was, among many other things, a psychology of the immigrant—increasingly, of course, everybody’s status in the modern world.
Psychoanalysis was also Freud’s way of coming to terms with the fate of the Jews in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So as well as incorporating the writings of Freud and his contemporaries, Becoming Freud also uses the work of historians of the Jews in Europe in this significant period in their lives, a period of unprecedented political freedom and mounting persecution. Phillips concludes by speculating what psychoanalysis might have become if Freud had died in 1906, before the emergence of a psychoanalytic movement over which he had to preside.
Biographies of Freud are not wanting, beginning with the three-volume and largely apologetic endeavor of one of Freud's close early associates, Ernest Jones (about whom see here).

A more recent attempt, by the widely respected historian Peter Gay, was published to great acclaim in 1988 as Freud: A Life for Our Time. I read it shortly after it came out when I was an undergraduate student in psychology, and it is a fine study, though not (as Paul Roazen showed) without some residual tendencies towards an apologetic treatment of Freud that he didn't need.

Phillips' study is a unique one, now joined by another one from Todd Dufresne (who studied under Roazen): The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life (Cambridge UP, 2017), 322pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Freud is best remembered for two applied works on society, The Future of an Illusion and Civilization and its Discontents. Yet the works of the final period are routinely denigrated as merely supplemental to the earlier, more fundamental 'discoveries' of the unconscious and dream interpretation. In fact, the 'cultural Freud' is sometimes considered an embarrassment to psychoanalysis. Dufresne argues that the late Freud, as brilliant as ever, was actually revealing the true meaning of his life's work. And so while The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and his final work Moses and Monotheism may be embarrassing to some, they validate beliefs that Freud always held - including the psychobiology that provides the missing link between the individual psychology of the early period and the psychoanalysis of culture of the final period. The result is a lively, balanced, and scholarly defense of the late Freud that doubles as a major reassessment of psychoanalysis of interest to all readers of Freud.
This latter study, I must confess, has challenged my own approach to Freud's late works, which I have heavily discounted. I'm still rethinking this issue as I make my way through this book.

But, having finished Phillips first, let me turn to it. It is a slender volume and the writing is much more taut than one finds in a lot of his other books, whose characteristically discursive style I noted here. It is interesting to read Phillips alongside Dufresne because Phillips gives pride of place to the early works, where as Dufresne weights the very last works the same as the earliest.

Phillips repeatedly makes the argument in  Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst that if Freud had died in 1906 then psychoanalysis would have developed very differently, and far less ideologically, without a prescribed history and an apparently inviolable canon of sacred texts, rituals, and rules.

The early Freud, that is up to his turning 50 in 1906, wrote books that evidence a much freer spirit: "Freud in his forties was a younger man than he had ever been: less cautious and more boldly and brashly speculative. And the writings of this period have a corresponding sense of exhilaration and possibility" (145). Of those writings, Phillips singles out five, starting with the landmark The Interpretation of Dreams (1899/1900).

The book on dreams was quickly followed by The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).

These books, Phillips says, show more openness to engaging with others--artists, feminists, socialists, among them--though he notes several times Freud's total lack of interest in engaging politics, which he preferred to ignore almost at the cost of his life. Even as late as 1938 he thought that the Nazis were still not a serious threat, and that the Catholic Church was more of an enemy to him as both a Jew and an analyst.

That view is one that is quite understandable in the world Freud grew up in, born in Freiberg in Moravia, then part of the Habsburg Empire, before moving to the imperial capital of Vienna, where he would remain until the last 18 months of his life before being forced to flee to England to "die in freedom."

But with Phillips I tend to see in the early Freud not the hardened hostility to Christianity that would emerge in 1927's Future of an Illusion but, as he says in his concluding line to Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalysta man working with ideas and methods "for those eccentrics and dreamers who don't know what to make of themselves."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ultramontanism and Vatican I

The relative neglect of Vatican I by modern anglophone scholars has long amazed me--though the fact this council is so overwhelmingly outnumbered by books on Vatican II surprises nobody. Nevertheless, Vatican I remains the most revolutionary council in modern history in many ways. Apart from Margaret O'Gara's 1988 book Triumph in Defeat: Infallibility, Vatican I, and the French Minority Bishops, and more recently Richard Costigan's important The Consensus of the Church and Papal Infallibility: a Study in the Background of Vatican I, one finds very few serious studies (in English at least) on this most problematic of councils.

That gap, however, is soon to be happily filled by two books from very important and respected authors who are no strangers to the topic at all. The first comes from John Quinn, the retired Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco who, ten years ago now, authored a very useful and challenging book, The Reform of the Papacy: the Costly Call to Christian Unity.

Quinn returns to the topic in a new book, just released: Revered and Reviled: A Reexamination of Vatican Council I (Crossroad, 2017),128pp. I've just received it in the mail this month and, it being a short book covering much familiar territory, read it in a day. I will have more to say about it on here later.

About this newest book of his, the publisher tells us:
Revered and Reviled explores the ways that Vatican Council I influenced the important issues of papal primacy and the infallible teaching magisterium of the Pope. The book clarifies and corrects many misunderstood concepts and conclusions about the first Council. Although this is, first and foremost, a church history, it is written with the educated lay reader in mind. Vatican Council I laid the groundwork for critical issues relating to the Pope's power, especially the subjects of papal primacy and infallibility. The Council's conclusion remain important today, as Pope Francis looks toward synodality as the way of the Catholic Church. In essence, Revered and Reviled is hugely important because it is the first book to correct long-held misconceptions that have guided the philosophical position of the Catholic church for the last 145 years. With broad distribution, it should impact Catholic scholars, theologians and the faithful around the world.
The second book to treat Vatican I will be appearing from Harvard University Press next May, authored by the well-known and widely respected Jesuit historian John O'Malley:Vatican IThe Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church.

O'Malley's book is greatly to be welcomed. We brought him to the University of Saint Francis about five years ago, and I had the happy task of picking him up from the airport in Indianapolis. I volunteered to do this so that I could have two uninterrupted hours with him talking about the papacy (about which I have had a few things to say), time which was greatly enjoyable and edifying, not least for our discussion of how 1940s Vatican bureaucrats cleaned up the columns of "anti-popes" in the Annuario Pontificio, which should surprise nobody who has read Francis Oakley's deeply disturbing book The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church 1300-1870.

O'Malley, a widely published and respected historian, has written books on, inter alia, the councils of Trent and Vatican II, both of which are fascinating.

And now, in the midst of heated debates over papal authority under Francis, we have his newest book forthcoming, about which the publisher tells us:

The enduring influence of the Catholic Church has many sources—its spiritual and intellectual appeal, missionary achievements, wealth, diplomatic effectiveness, and stable hierarchy. But in the first half of the nineteenth century, the foundations upon which the church had rested for centuries were shaken. In the eyes of many thoughtful people, liberalism in the guise of liberty, equality, and fraternity was the quintessence of the evils that shook those foundations. At the Vatican Council of 1869–1870, the church made a dramatic effort to set things right by defining the doctrine of papal infallibility.
In Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church, John W. O’Malley draws us into the bitter controversies over papal infallibility that at one point seemed destined to rend the church in two. Archbishop Henry Manning was the principal driving force for the definition, and Lord Acton was his brilliant counterpart on the other side. But they shrink in significance alongside Pope Pius IX, whose zeal for the definition was so notable that it raised questions about the very legitimacy of the council. Entering the fray were politicians such as Gladstone and Bismarck. The growing tension in the council played out within the larger drama of the seizure of the Papal States by Italian forces and its seemingly inevitable consequence, the conquest of Rome itself.
Largely as a result of the council and its aftermath, the Catholic Church became more pope-centered than ever before. In the terminology of the period, it became ultramontane.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wounded by Love

Earlier this month  I drew attention to another book published by Denise Harvey Publishers, a book that came back to mind in a conversation with Fr John Jillions. We were together at the Eleanor Malburg Eastern Churches Seminar in Cleveland in October, and in the course of his presentation he mentioned--having lived in Greece for part of the time he was doing his doctorate at Thessaloniki--this book as being one of the most spiritually profound works he has read: Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios (2012), 268pp.

About this book the publisher (who gives some excerpts here) tells us:
Saint Porphyrios, a Greek monk and priest who died in 1991, stands in the long tradition of charismatic spiritual guides in the Eastern Church which continues from the apostolic age down to figures such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Staretz Silouan in modern times. In this book he tells the story of his life and, in simple, deeply reflected and profoundly wise words, he expounds the Christian faith for today.
The vibrant personality of Saint Porphyrios at all times shines through his words with great transparency and charm. In his introduction to the Greek edition Bishop Irenaeus of Chania writes: 'The words of blessed Elder Porphyrios are the words of a holy Father, of a man with the gift of clear sight, who was ever retiring, humble, simple and ardent and whose life was a true and authentic witness to Christ, to His truth and to His joy. Through his presence, love, prayer, counsel and guidance he supported an untold number of people in the difficult hours of illness, mourning, pain, loss of faith and death. He is a god-bearing Father of our days, a true priest and teacher who in his ascetic way fell in love with Christ and faithfully served his fellow man.'
This book was compiled after Saint Porphyrios's death from an archive of notes and recordings of his reminiscences, conversations and words of guidance, and was first published in Greek in 2003. Since its publication in English in 2005 it has been reprinted seven times, most recently in 2015.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On the Theological Roots of the Russian Revolution and Communism More Generally

We were fortunate last week to bring to Ft. Wayne a fascinating scholar who teaches just an hour south of us at Ball State University: Sergei Zhuk, whose dual doctorates mark him out as a scholar of both American and Soviet/Russian history of the 20th century.

His talk, on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, was a deeply learned and wide-ranging affair. It was especially noteworthy to me that he began with and spent some time on the deep theological roots of the revolution, and of communism in particular. In doing so, he drew on, inter alia, his 2004 book Russia's Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism, and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830-1917 (Woodrow Wilson Centre Press), 480pp.

The theological roots of communism and the revolution are also treated in this new essay by Eugene McCarraher, who is always worth reading. When and if his much-promised and much-delayed book The Enchantments of Mammon: Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination is published I'm quite sure it will be worth reading.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Pope and the Professor (III)

As I noted in the previous post, this fascinating and deeply learned book acutely portrays the tensions of 19th-century Catholicism, not just between its titular figures of Pope Pius IX and Ignaz von Dollinger, but between academic history and theological dogma, between the German academic context and that of a Roman bishop squeezed in and about to lose his Papal States once and for all, and finally between different notions of papal authority, jurisdiction, and infallibility. On this latter point, many familiar characters show up, not least Cardinal Manning and John Henry Newman (whose life is told in Ker's magisterial biography). Finally, this book contains a good bit of history of relations between Orthodox and Catholics, who, under Dollinger's leadership, were already discussing issues--filioque, papal authority--that would have to await another century and more before being taken up again.

When we left off last, The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Döllinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age had set up for us the central tension in the book and in the life of its titular characters: infallibility and Vatican I are undeniably products of their time, a ferocious reaction to the European revolutions of 1848 and before, a deliberate and crude poke in the eye of the French and Italians who had so harried (even to the point of kidnapping) previous popes and who now were in essence colluding in the campaign to unify the Italian peninsula and thereby deprive popes of their dubiously acquired, and appallingly run, territories once and for all. At the same time, however, it does not seem possible--all the ultramontanist machinations notwithstanding--that the decree of Vatican I, which led to Dollinger's excommunication, could have been pulled off had it not enjoyed earlier support from people, including theologians, who were not coming at the dogma like reactionaries ready to ram a hot poker through Italian politicians and the imperialists of the French Second Empire.

There was, in other words, something of a theological case, flawed and problematic though it was, that could be made for infallibility and jurisdiction going back well before the 19th century, as Brian Tierney was among the first to discuss decades ago.

Dollinger thought that case complete nonsense. In writings under a nom de plume and then more boldly under his own name, he argued that the notion of infallibility "represented a novum, 'altogether unknown in the Church for many centuries'" (137). It was a position from which he was never to budge for the rest of his life. Dollinger's problem, in short, was that any definition would result in the "'triumph of dogma over history'" (143).

Less diplomatically, he would denounce the doctrine as "moonshine based on 'forgeries and fictions'" and this doctrine would prove a "'millstone'" around the neck of the Church, an idea in the 21st century it is hard to disbelieve. And like all flawed heroes in the heat of battle, Dollinger would undermine himself by fatal overreach in some of his rhetorical claims, causing sympathetic near-allies to withdraw, and leaving him more isolated, especially when he indulged in such controversies as attacking the Council of Florence as not being really ecumenical, and therefore inadmissible as evidence of earlier widespread belief in infallibility and jurisdiction, as the Infallibilists were attempting to argue.

All councils have extra-conciliar and blatantly political factors that loom large, and Vatican I is no different, as Howard so skillfully makes clear. Consider just one brief bit of chronology:

18 July 1870: the final vote on Pastor Aeternus, with 533 voting placet and 2 voting non placet; the other fathers having left to avoid voting against the decree. (At its convocation the bishops numbered some 700.)

19 July 1870: the Franco-Prussian War broke out, causing Napoleon III to withdraw his troops from Italy, leading to the final collapse of the Papal States and the realization of the project of Italian unification.

20 September 1870: Victor Emmanuel's Italian troops breached the walls of Rome at Porta Pia, and the city was now to become the capital of a new nation-state. From here until after the Lateran Accords of 1929, all popes considered themselves "prisoners" and would not leave the Vatican. Rather than quietly, let alone gracefully, accept this, Pius IX redoubled his rhetoric about the temporal states being necessary for the preservation of the Church's spiritual power, an argument I confess to finding absurd. He promoted, and allowed others to promote, a new cult around his person as though he were a proto-martyr about to be sacrificed at any moment. It is not an edifying spectacle to behold. If ever we needed a re-reading of Freud's Future of an Illusion about infantilizing father-figures and neurotic transferences, this is it.

The pressure on the Papal States in the late 1860s, and their impending demise, provoked in Pius and his courtiers and defenders a skillful counter-propaganda campaign that portrayed the pope as a harried, persecuted fellow, a "prisoner of the Vatican." This was enormously influential in arousing sympathy for the pope, and that sympathy softened up a lot of people to the claims of infallibility and jurisdiction that were being bandied about, giving the pro-infallibility crowd an initial advantage the minority found hard to overcome. Rather than directly and openly resist the move for a definition, which would seem in bad taste and unsympathetic to the pope, the minority adopted what Howard suggests was a strategic mistake: that of arguing that the time for a definition was "inopportune." The problem here, says Howard, is that "it appeared to cede the high ground of theological principle to the Infallibilists" (140). It was a mistake they would never recover from.

In the end, a "moderate" form of infallibility and jurisdiction was accepted by the council, the more "maximalist" position having been curtailed in part by the efforts of the minority, whose day, Margaret O'Gara first argued, would come at the Second Vatican Council. But this was still a bridge too far for Dollinger, who refused to knuckle under to pressure from his German bishop and was therefore excommunicated, a devastating blow to him which would never be lifted.

In addition to rejecting the ideas on historical grounds, Dollinger was, Eastern Christians will want to note, an early proto-ecumenist, who spent a lot of time organizing conferences with Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox in an attempt to heal the divisions of the Church. These conferences, held in Bonn, involved Orthodox participants from St. Petersburg, from the University of Athens, Romania, Syria, and elsewhere in the Orthodox and Anglican worlds. They discussed such issues as the filioque, noting in one of their decree that the filioque (so well treated in The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy by A. Edward Siecienski, whom I interviewed here) was inserted via an "illegal" method and that the whole Church, East and West, should consider removing it.

Echoing words of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, words which I have myself made much use of in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, Dollinger argued that "'the great stumbling block and real hindrance to any understanding in the eyes of the Easterners...is the papacy, in the form which it has assumed'" (194).

These conferences were discussing issues that would then fade for nearly a century until the modern Orthodox-Catholic dialogue would take them up again, coming in some cases to a near-identical position as that of the Bonn conferences Dollinger organized and led. But as with us now, so with them then: hyper-Orthodox converts began to derail matters. In this case, "the joker in the pack," as Howard aptly names him, is some pest called Julian Joseph Overbeck who veered from Anglicanism into Lutheranism, then ordination as a Catholic priest who attempted to confect a marriage, after which he left and became an Orthodox layman in the Russian Church. He ginned up a letter-writing campaign to Orthodox hierarchs to derail the Bonn efforts, and to proclaim that Orthodoxy was the one true faith, all others hopeless heretics with whom no congress should be had. La plus ça change...

In the end, Dollinger died disappointed all around: by the decree of Vatican I, by his resulting excommunication, and by the failure of the Bonn conferences to resolve Christian division.

But did he die a failure? Howard ends by raising "a delicate question for Catholics today: to what degree was this excommunicated scholar an intellectual architect, or at least a significant harbinger, of the Second Vatican Council"? To which I would add another question: to what degree do we still need to learn from Dollinger about conflicts in the Church over papal authority, conflicts never so much in evidence after 1870 as they are today?


Friday, November 17, 2017

On the Concept and Act of Genocide

Every November, in teaching my course on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam, we come to the dolorous history of Armenia, including of course the genocide of 1915. In our discussions, I discuss with students how it became necessary in the 20th century to coin a new term to describe a new form of evil and destruction, a term that comes to us from the life and work of Raphael Lemkin, to whom I have drawn attention in the past as books about him continue to appear.

Two more recent studies have appeared to examine further the legacy of Lemkin in coining that term including, first, Douglas Irvin-Erickson, Raphael Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Raphaël Lemkin (1900-1959) coined the word "genocide" in the winter of 1942 and led a movement in the United Nations to outlaw the crime, setting his sights on reimagining human rights institutions and humanitarian law after World War II. After the UN adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, Lemkin slipped into obscurity, and within a few short years many of the same governments that had agreed to outlaw genocide and draft a Universal Declaration of Human Rights tried to undermine these principles.
This intellectual biography of one of the twentieth century's most influential theorists and human rights figures sheds new light on the origins of the concept and word "genocide," contextualizing Lemkin's intellectual development in interwar Poland and exploring the evolving connection between his philosophical writings, juridical works, and politics over the following decades. The book presents Lemkin's childhood experience of anti-Jewish violence in imperial Russia; his youthful arguments to expand the laws of war to protect people from their own governments; his early scholarship on Soviet criminal law and nationalities violence; his work in the 1930s to advance a rights-based approach to international law; his efforts in the 1940s to outlaw genocide; and his forays in the 1950s into a social-scientific and historical study of genocide, which he left unfinished.
Revealing what the word "genocide" meant to people in the wake of World War II—as the USSR and Western powers sought to undermine the Genocide Convention at the UN, while delegations from small states and former colonies became the strongest supporters of Lemkin's law—Raphaël Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide examines how the meaning of genocide changed over the decades and highlights the relevance of Lemkin's thought to our own time.
The second book, from the same publisher and appearing a month after the one above, is by Berel Lang, Genocide: The Act as Idea (U Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 224pp.

About this book we are told:
The term "genocide"—"group killing"—which first appeared in Raphael Lemkin's 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, had by 1948 established itself in international law through the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Since then the charge of genocide has been both widely applied but also contested. In Genocide: The Act as Idea, Berel Lang examines and illuminates the concept of genocide, at once articulating difficulties in its definition and proposing solutions to them. In his analysis, Lang explores the relation of genocide to group identity, individual and corporate moral responsibility, the concept of individual and group intentions, and the concept of evil more generally. The idea of genocide, Lang argues, represents a notable advance in the history of political and ethical thought which proposed alternatives to it, like "crimes against humanity," fail to take into account.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

But Sir: By Now He Stinketh!

Apart from Susan Ashbrook Harvey's book, noted here, I know of no other works treating the sense of smell in particular apart from this new work: Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam
by Mary Thurlkill (Lexington), 212pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Medieval scholars and cultural historians have recently turned their attention to the question of “smells” and what olfactory sensations reveal about society in general and holiness in particular. Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam contributes to that conversation, explaining how early Christians and Muslims linked the “sweet smell of sanctity” with ideals of the body and sexuality; created boundaries and sacred space; and imagined their emerging communal identity. Most importantly, scent—itself transgressive and difficult to control—signaled transition and transformation between categories of meaning.
Christian and Islamic authors distinguished their own fragrant ethical and theological ideals against the stench of oppositional heresy and moral depravity. Orthodox Christians ridiculed their ‘stinking’ Arian neighbors, and Muslims denounced the ‘reeking’ corruption of Umayyad and Abbasid decadence. Through the mouths of saints and prophets, patriarchal authors labeled perfumed women as existential threats to vulnerable men and consigned them to enclosed, private space for their protection as well as society’s. At the same time, theologians praised both men and women who purified and transformed their bodies into aromatic offerings to God. Both Christian and Muslim pilgrims venerated sainted men and women with perfumed offerings at tombstones; indeed, Christians and Muslims often worshipped together, honoring common heroes such as Abraham, Moses, and Jonah.
Sacred Scents begins by surveying aroma’s quotidian functions in Roman and pre-Islamic cultural milieus within homes, temples, poetry, kitchens, and medicines. Existing scholarship tends to frame ‘scent’ as something available only to the wealthy or elite; however, perfumes, spices, and incense wafted through the lives of most early Christians and Muslims. It ends by examining both traditions’ views of Paradise, identified as the archetypal Garden and source of all perfumes and sweet smells. Both Christian and Islamic texts explain Adam and Eve’s profound grief at losing access to these heavenly aromas and celebrate God’s mercy in allowing earthly remembrances. Sacred scent thus prompts humanity’s grief for what was lost and the yearning for paradisiacal transformation still to come.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why We Secretly Hate Freedom and Health

In having to choose books for next year for a moral theology class, I've had occasion to go back to old works I've used in the past, beginning with the Orthodox thinker Christos Yannaras's The Freedom of Morality, which I have often used over the years, having first read it a dozen or more years ago now. Like many of his books, it contains occasionally wild claims and polemical allegations, and Freedom of Morality in particular is grossly swollen on its own verbosity and badly in need of severe editing. Nevertheless, the core arguments still remain important in refusing the temptation on the part of too many Christians--Catholics especially--to reduce "morality" to some kind of discrete system or, worse, an ideology.

Following Heraclitus' famous aphorism that you cannot step twice into the same river, so I find that picking up books one has read several times over the years necessarily entails reading them differently as the river of one's life continues to move. So this time, in coming back to Yannaras, I read him in light of more recent reading along similar themes, including the social critic and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom.

Fromm, in turn, let me to Nikolai Berdyaev's Slavery and Freedom. I don't know if anyone has ever read Fromm and Berdyaev together, let alone written and analyzed their similarities, but they are plainly there in both books for everyone to see. This is not entirely surprising as both men were near-contemporaries in living through both world wars. Both were also shaped by Marxism and existentialism in different ways.

All three--Yannaras, Fromm, and Berdyaev--have been on my mind lately because I have, since reading Adam Phillips, been especially taken with two of his insights: first, that most of us do not really want to be free because we find ourselves too much to bear. It is easier to restrict our freedom through submission to someone or something else--ideology, alcohol, authority figures--than it is to bear our freedom in all its uncontained unpredictability and ill-defined spontaneity.

I think our dis-ease with freedom is what led to D.W. Winnicott's powerful aphorism (quoted in Phillips' short biography of him, but originally found in his book on the child) that "health is much more difficult to deal with than disease." If we are suffering and diseased (spiritually, psychologically, physically) we are bound and unfree. Perhaps perversely, many of us seem to prefer it that way. That is both stranger and yet more widespread than many of us realize.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Rise of Scripture

My friend Bill Mills, whom I have often interviewed on here over the years, just alerted me to the new publication of a well-known and long-time Orthodox biblical scholar, Paul Nadiim Tarazi, The Rise of Scripture (OCABS, 2017), 482pp.

I'm waiting to hear from Tarazi about doing an interview with him about this new book. In the meantime, here is what the publisher tells us:
Those who experience the Bible as a living text understand that Scripture possesses a life and power all its own. Written by human hands, texts become sacred when they resonate with ultimate truths encountered in the direst of human circumstances. Paul Nadim Tarazi’s The Rise of Scripture offers a cogent argument for the particulars of how it is the Bible as we have it became Scripture. Avoiding futile speculation over Israelite textual and ethnic origins, Tarazi lays bare the Bible’s strategic defense against hellenistic urban hegemony over the fertile clay and desert environs of western Asia. With the help of biblical Hebrew—a “concocted language,” according to Tarazi—scribes wrote and shaped oral and textual materials into a manifesto of cultural resistance in response to the ethnocentric arrogance of the alien occupation. The successful accomplishment of such a defense relied upon a kind of leveling of the playing field, in which the writers of the Bible came to throw all their own false idols into the fire, resulting in the production of the most scathing collective self-examination in human history. It is the thesis of this book that the reading and teaching of Scripture brings human beings together in the barren wilderness of authentic human existence in obedience to, and under the care of the ultimate Shepherd, the God of Scripture.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Culture and Faith in a Greek Village

Twice in the past month this book, which I first mentioned on here in 2011, has come up unexpectedly in conversations: first when I was at Notre Dame College in Euclid, OH in early October giving a lecture, and was joined there by John Jillions, who was on my doctoral committee and is now the chancellor of the Orthodox Church of America, and just a lovely human being. I mentioned this book for some reason or other when we were in conversation over breakfast, and it turns out he knew the author from when he was in England teaching Orthodox theology at Cambridge and tending a parish.

Then last week a graduate student of mine returned from a trip to Greece that she just took, and was remarking on how often she saw layers of Orthodoxy superimposed on a still considerable "pagan" cultural substratum. So I take the liberty of drawing your attention anew to Juliet Du Boulay's Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village (Denise Harvey Publishers, 2009), 478pp.

It is a fascinating, textured work thick with descriptions and glimpses of lost worlds, and very moving, too, in unexpected ways. Her chapters, written without any sort of condescension, on certain customs and beliefs surrounding both marriage and death give clear evidence of the uneasy overlay of Christian and non-Christian beliefs and expectations--to say nothing of her unintentionally amusing discussion of villagers' reactions to news of the American moon landings in the 1960s. Those who think of Greece as full-throated, unadulterated Orthodox Christianity of the pure laine variety will be given frequent pause by what is described in this book by a graceful anthropologist who went on to become Orthodox herself, and is now married to an Orthodox priest.

In reading this book, I am repeatedly put in mind of a comment attributed to the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, in August 1914, as the chimes of Big Ben indicated the expiration of the ultimatum to Germany and the commencement of British hostilities against it: "the lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." In reading this book, it is astonishing to me how much the world has changed in less than four decades--how many of the "lamps" of Greek culture have been extinguished, and for not very clear, still less good, reasons. Practices that du Boulay observed during her time in Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s had already begun to fall into desuetude, a process that has only accelerated exponentially in the last several decades.

Some further details about this book from the publisher:
In 1974 Juliet du Boulay published her first work, Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village, now considered a classic text for the anthropology of Modern Greece. This sequel, the fruit of a lifetime’s reflection, adds new dimensions to this portrait, exploring the all-encompassing religious awareness of the same village community, and its rootedness in both Orthodox Christian and pre- or non-Christian ideas and practices. The story is told through a steady development of rich ethnographic detail in which the people come to life in all their vitality, contradictoriness, humour, realism and courage. From the particularities of life in the village a picture is built up in which the Byzantine legacy intertwines with fragments of antiquity, both Greek and Jewish, and with the universal themes, both tragic and hopeful, which confront man as he struggles to make sense of life. In this way a compelling pattern of symbols and images is revealed which underpin every action and event in the human and natural spheres, and is described here lucidly, convincingly and with great affection.
Excerpts may be read here. But do buy the book if you are at all interested. It is a lyrical and poignant read, at once anthropological and autobiographical, but edifying in any event.
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