"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, September 28, 2018

East-African Christianity

Fortress Press sends me their catalogue of new and forthcoming publications, and I spy in there the next installment in a series, this time devoted to looking at the theological diversity of Eastern Africa, including its many millions of Orthodox Christians: Paul Kollman and Cynthia Toms Smedley, Understanding World Christianity: Eastern Africa (Fortress, 2018), 342pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Each volume of the Understanding World Christianity series analyzes the state of Christianity from six different angles. The focus is always Christianity, but it is approached in an interdisciplinary manner--chronological, denominational, sociopolitical, geographical, biographical, and theological. Short, engaging chapters help readers understand the complexity of Christianity in the region and broaden their understanding of the region itself. Readers will understand the interplay of Christianity and culture and will see how geography, borders, economics, and other factors influence Christian faith.
In this exciting volume, Paul Kollman and Cynthia Toms Smedley offer an introduction to Eastern African Christianity that has been desperately needed by scholars, students, and interested readers alike. Rich in experience and knowledge, Kollman and Toms Smedley introduce readers to the vibrancy of Eastern African Christianity like no other authors have done before.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements

I well remember in the late 1990s there was a big gathering in Rome of what were then being called "new ecclesial movements" in the Latin Church that had grown up in the latter half of the twentieth century and were, in some cases, doing some unique things in new or different ways outside of the traditional episcopal-monastic models and lines of control. Some of these went on to flame out in spectacular ways, some still court controversy (e.g., Opus Dei, with which I have some limited experience in Canada in the 90s), and some seem to be continuing in their good work.

Renewal movements within Orthodoxy crop up periodically throughout its history, too, often in response to some revolutionary change. One thinks, e.g., of the brotherhood movements in what is today Ukraine after the Counter-Reformation and Union of Brest, or those that grew up around the Russian Revolution. More recently a series of movements and initiatives have arisen in post-Soviet Russia, Ukraine, Greece and elsewhere--again not all of them successful, and some, from what I have heard informally, downright pathological.

Along comes a new scholarly collection to give us an overview of some of these groups: Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements in Eastern Europe, eds., A.D. Milovanović and Radmila Radić, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 339pp.

About this collection (whose table of contents you can view here) the publisher tells us the following:
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.

T of C: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783319633534

Monday, September 24, 2018

Death and Dying

Earlier this year I published an article based on a lecture I gave at Baylor University in 2015. In it I examined contemporary Western Christian funeral rites, starting with the Latin tradition after Vatican II. The scholarship by other Western Christians was quite critical of those reforms, as I went on to be in my lecture, all of us arguing that those obsequies work at cross-purposes from the necessary eschatological proclamation that funerals are uniquely situated to convey. In other words, funerals fail not only to adequately convey an understanding of death, judgment, heaven, and hell; but they fail to do other things, too. I went on tentatively (and non-triumphalistically) to suggest that one place to look to begin to repair this damage would be to the Byzantine funeral rites.

Before that lecture and since, I have, then, maintained an ongoing interest in the practices (or, increasingly, the disturbing lack thereof) surrounding death and dying in our culture, and changing practices around funerals. I have noted on here in the past fascinating and disturbing studies--such as that of Candi Cann--which I again commend to your interest.

All this is prologue to saying that a new book just published this summer looks to deserve a place in this burgeoning syllabus on Christian obsequies: Christian Dying: Witnesses from the Traditioneds. George Kalantzis and Matthew Levering (Cascade Books, 2018), 284pp.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Donatist Crisis

Liverpool University Press continues an invaluable service with their series Translated Texts for Historians. Past publications, as I've noted on here, have offered critical translations of the acts of such highly controversial councils as Chalcedon and Nicaea II, inter alia. Now they have newly published in paperback just last week The Donatist Schism: Controversy and Contexts, ed. Richard Miles (Liverpool University Press

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
This is the first book for over twenty years to undertake a holistic examination of the Donatist Controversy, a bilious and sometimes violent schism that broke out in the North African Christian Church in the early years of the century AD and which continued up until the sixth century AD. What made this religious dispute so important was that its protagonists brought to the fore a number of issues and practices that had empire-wide ramifications for how the Christian church and the Roman imperial government dealt with the growing number of dissidents in their ranks. Very significantly it was during the Donatist Controversy that Augustine of Hippo, who was heavily involved in the dispute, developed the idea of 'tough love' in dealing with those at odds with the tenets of the main church, which in turn acted as the justification for the later brutal excesses of the Inquisition.
In order to reappraise the Donatist Controversy for the first time in many years, 14 specialists in the religious, cultural, social, legal and political history as well as the archaeology of Late Antique North Africa have examined what was one of the most significant religious controversies in the Late Roman World through a set of key contexts that explain its significance the Donatist Schism not just in North Africa but across the whole Roman Empire, and beyond.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Presence and Absence of Images

I am regularly asked to give presentations on the history and theology of images, especially to Roman Catholic crowds desirous of learning more about this much-neglected part of the tradition. Usually these are very general introductions in which I point out, inter alia, that the permission given by Nicaea II for the use of icons is a very conservative one. As Bulgakov asked, where is an actual theology of images in the council? He concluded that there isn't one, and it remains to be developed. Some recent studies previously noted on here have gone some way to aid that development.

Now a new book looks like it will raise some deep and fascinating questions in grappling with a theology of images and all that it entails: Natalie Carnes, Image and Presence: a Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia (Stanford UP, 2018), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Images increasingly saturate our world, making present to us what is distant or obscure. Yet the power of images also arises from what they do not make present—from a type of absence they do not dispel. Joining a growing multidisciplinary conversation that rejects an understanding of images as lifeless objects, this book offers a theological meditation on the ways images convey presence into our world. Just as Christ negates himself in order to manifest the invisible God, images, Natalie Carnes contends, negate themselves to give more than they literally or materially are. Her Christological reflections bring iconoclasm and iconophilia into productive relation, suggesting that they need not oppose one another. Investigating such images as the biblical golden calf and paintings of the Virgin Mary, Carnes explores how to distinguish between iconoclasms that maintain fidelity to their theological intentions and those that lead to visual temptation. Offering ecumenical reflections on issues that have long divided Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, Image and Presence provokes a fundamental reconsideration of images and of the global image crises of our time.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Handbook of Ecclesiology

My 2011 book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy was steeped in the ecclesiological insights of both East and West of the 20th century, a century that some have called the century of the Church. By that is commonly meant that other "branches" of theology--Christology, say, or Triadology--have had hundreds of years of reflection, going back deep into the first millennium, but systematic reflection on the Church was not common until the twentieth century. Since then we have of course seen an explosion of books in ecclesiology. My chapter on The Church, in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies gives a good overview of these ecclesiological developments ecumenically understood.

For those who really want to get into the details here, then I direct your attention to the hefty and impressive Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiologyed. Paul Avis (Oxford UP, 2018), 672pp.

About this handbook the publisher tells us the following:
The Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology is a unique scholarly resource for the study of the Christian Church as we find it in the Bible, in history and today. As the scholarly study of how we understand the Christian Church's identity and mission, ecclesiology is at the centre of today's theological research, reflection, and debate. Ecclesiology is the theological driver of the ecumenical movement. The main focus of the intense ecumenical engagement and dialogue of the past half-century has been ecclesiological and this is the area where the most intractable differences remain to be tackled Ecclesiology investigates the Church's manifold self-understanding in relation to a number of areas: the origins, structures, authority, doctrine, ministry, sacraments, unity, diversity, and mission of the Church, including its relation to the state and to society and culture. The sources of ecclesiological reflection are the Bible (interpreted in the light of scholarly research), Church history and the wealth of the Christian theological tradition, together with the information and insights that emerge from other relevant academic disciplines. This Handbook considers the biblical resources, historical development, and contemporary initiatives in ecclesiology. It offers invaluable and comprehensive guide to understanding the Church.
We also have a detailed table of contents:

List of contributors
1. Introduction to Ecclesiology, Paul Avis

Part I: Biblical Foundations
2. The Ecclesiology of Israel's Scriptures, R. W. L. Moberly
3. The Church in the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, Loveday Alexander
4. The Johannine vision of the Church, Andrew T. Lincoln
5. The Shape of the Pauline Churches, Edward Adams
6. The Church in the General Epistles, Gerald O'Collins, SJ

Part II: Resources from the Tradition
7. Early Ecclesiology in the West, Mark Edwards
8. The Eastern Orthodox Tradition, Andrew Louth
9. Medieval Ecclesiology and the Conciliar Movement, Norman Tanner, SJ
10. The Church in the Magisterial Reformers, Dorothea Wendebourg
11. Anglican Ecclesiology, Paul Avis
12. Roman Catholic Ecclesiology from the Council of Trent to Vatican II and Beyond, Ormond Rush
13. Baptist Concepts of the Church and their Antecedents, Paul S. Fiddes
14. Methodism and the Church, David M. Chapman
15. Pentecostal Ecclesiologies, Amos Yong

Part III: Major Modern Ecclesiologists
16. Karl Barth, Kimlyn J. Bender
17. Yves Congar, Gabriel Flynn
18. Henri de Lubac, Gabriel Flynn
19. Karl Rahner, Richard Lennan
20. Joseph Ratzinger, Theodor Dieter
21. John Zizioulas, Paul McPartlan
22. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Friedericke Nussel
23. Rowan Williams, Mike Higton

Part IV: Contemporary Movements in Ecclesiology
24. Feminist Critiques, Visions, and Models of the Church, Elaine Graham
5. Social Science and Ideological Critiques of Ecclesiology, Neil Ormerod
26. Liberationist Ecclesiologies with Special Reference to Latin America, Michelle A. Gonzalez
27. Asian Ecclesiologies, Simon Chan
27. African Ecclesiologies, Stan Chu Ilo

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Russian Modernism and Byzantine Iconography

The more we study the immediate ante-revolutionary period in Russia the more we are coming to see that there was a fascinating fermentation of ideas for serious social reform. Russia was not nearly so monolithic as some have portrayed, nor so reactionary. A new book helps us to see how widespread some of these ideas were, touching many spheres: The Icon and the Square: Russian Modernism and the Russo-Byzantine Revival by Maria Taroutina (Penn State, 2018), 288pp.

About this book the publisher informs us thus:
In The Icon and the Square, Maria Taroutina examines how the traditional interests of institutions such as the crown, the church, and the Imperial Academy of Arts temporarily aligned with the radical, leftist, and revolutionary avant-garde at the turn of the twentieth century through a shared interest in the Byzantine past, offering a counter-narrative to prevailing notions of Russian modernism.
Focusing on the works of four different artists—Mikhail Vrubel, Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, and Vladimir Tatlin—Taroutina shows how engagement with medieval pictorial traditions drove each artist to transform his own practice, pushing beyond the established boundaries of his respective artistic and intellectual milieu. She also contextualizes and complements her study of the work of these artists with an examination of the activities of a number of important cultural associations and institutions over the course of several decades. As a result, The Icon and the Square gives a more complete picture of Russian modernism: one that attends to the dialogue between generations of artists, curators, collectors, critics, and theorists.
The Icon and the Square retrieves a neglected but vital history that was deliberately suppressed by the atheist Soviet regime and subsequently ignored in favor of the secular formalism of mainstream modernist criticism. Taroutina’s timely study, which coincides with the centennial reassessments of Russian and Soviet modernism, is sure to invigorate conversation among scholars of art history, modernism, and Russian culture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

John O'Malley on Vatican I

When it's published at Catholic World Report, I'll post a link to my review of John O'Malley's superlative new study, Vatican I: the Council and the Making of an Ultramontane Church (Harvard University Press, 2018). (Here's a link to my review there of John Quinn's last book on the same council.) In the meantime, let me most warmly recommend it to you.

Like O'Malley's previous books, especially on Trent and Vatican II, this one is superb. It treats a wide-ranging history of the one council in the West to give more trouble to Eastern Christians than any other. The First Vatican Council's treatment of papal pretensions to universal jurisdiction remain a considerable ecumenical problem, though my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy proposed one way around that.

In this endless season of sexual depravity and episcopal malfeasance, cowardice, and cover-up, O'Malley's new book will also be of great interest to Catholics looking to reform the Church. Perhaps the most encouraging feature of the long and wide-ranging history O'Malley tells is how much of the modern papacy is a creation (often not directly intended, but without doubt intentionally exploited by the papacy) of diverse populist movements. If populism made the pope into this international celebrity of endless volubility and catastrophic incompetence, then there is hope that what populism has wrought, populism can remove through relentless and ruthless demands for reform. Vive l'Eglise libre!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Some Background to the Ukrainian Situation

I have said privately to friends for some time now that I never expected to see movement on the Ukrainian Orthodox situation, least of all in the form of the clear direction now emanating from Constantinople towards the granting of autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. For those who want some background into what autocephaly is, and what the historical basis is for Constantinople's claims today, you could do worse than see my review of the literature in Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, pp. 86-87 and 195-97.

Having reviewed that literature, as well as the Russian claims (which, though reiterated recently in far more violent and apocalyptic terms than in the recent past, are totally unchanged for the Russians are perpetual broken records that never advance any creative arguments: they just endlessly repeat their claims, all of which are the clearest examples I have seen of what Vamik Volkan calls "chosen trauma"), it is clear, and has been for a long time, to reputable historians that the historical claims and canons Russia musters in Metropolitan Hilarious's statement are totally tendentious and cannot be seen as anything other than self-serving.

For those who want the most comprehensive, fair-minded, detailed, and theologically literate treatment full of good pastoral sense, they will only have to wait a few more weeks until my dear friend, the Orthodox scholar Nicholas Denysenko, publishes his newest book, The Orthodox Church in Ukraine: A Century of Separation (Northern Illinois University Press, 2018), 316pp.

In the meantime, you may find some of his wisdom distilled into this post, which I warmly commend to your attention.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Bethlehem's Syriac Christians

For those who keep an eye on the plight of the Christian minorities in the Middle East, including those in Israel, a book released last December by the formidable Gorgias Press (whose lists, as I frequently say, are among the most impressive when it comes to such populations, as also to Muslim-Christian relations, inter alia) will be of considerable interest: Bethlehem's Syriac Christians: Self, Nation and Church in Dialogue and Practice by Mark D Calder (Gorgias, 2017), 318pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
An anthropological study of Syriac Orthodox Christian identity in a time of displacement, upheaval, and conflict. For some Syriac Orthodox Christians in Bethlehem, their self-articulation - the means by which they connect themselves to others, things, places and symbols - is decisively influenced by their eucharistic ritual. This ritual connects being siryāni to a redeemed community or 'body', and derives its identity in large part from the Incarnation of God as an Aramaic-speaking Bethlehemite.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Theology and Trauma

I've been doing a lot of reading over the past three years in the study of trauma widely understood. Part of this has been motivated by trying to understand how Eastern Christians have reacted to and suffered the effects of such things as, inter alia, the Armenian genocide and other massacres by Ottoman Muslims, Ukrainian Greek-Catholic repression at the hands of Stalin from 1946 onwards--to say nothing of earlier divisions and events in the Church often thought to require some "healing of memories."

The study of trauma has really exploded in the last several years, and I have previously noted on here some of the scholars I have found especially useful--Jeffrey Prager, Charles Strozier, Vamik Volkan, and others.  But books linking reflections on trauma to Christianity are rather rare. Notably there is Marcus Pound's book from 2008, Theology, Psychoanalysis, and Trauma, which is useful though rather narrowly focused on Lacan.

Now, however, released just a couple of weeks ago, we have a new collection, wide-ranging in scope, but with several essays devoted to theology and trauma: Trauma and Transcendence: Suffering and the Limits of Theory, eds. Eric Boynton and Peter Capretto (Fordham UP, 2018), 344pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Trauma theory has become a burgeoning site of research in recent decades, often demanding interdisciplinary reflections on trauma as a phenomenon that defies disciplinary ownership. While this research has always been challenged by the temporal, affective, and corporeal dimensions of trauma itself, trauma theory now faces theoretical and methodological obstacles given its growing interdisciplinarity. Trauma and Transcendence gathers scholars in philosophy, theology, psychoanalysis, and social theory to engage the limits and prospects of trauma’s transcendence. This volume draws attention to the increasing challenge of deciding whether trauma’s unassimilable quality can be wielded as a defense of traumatic experience against reductionism, or whether it succumbs to a form of obscurantism.
Contributors: Eric Boynton, Peter Capretto, Tina Chanter, Vincenzo Di Nicola, Ronald Eyerman, Donna Orange, Shelly Rambo, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Hilary Jerome Scarsella, Eric Severson, Marcia Mount Shoop, Robert D. Stolorow, George Yancy.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The End of the World in the Carpathians: Story and Pictures to Follow!

The hardcover version has been out for a few years, but helpfully a more affordable paperback version will appear this month of John-Paul Himka's unique and important study Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians (University of Toronto Press, 2018), 368pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Few subjects in Christianity have inspired artists as much as the last judgment. Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians examines images of the last judgment from the fifteenth century to the present in the Carpathian mountain region of Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania, as a way to consider history free from the traditional frameworks and narratives of nations. Over ten years, John-Paul Himka studied last-judgment images throughout the Carpathians and found a distinctive and transnational blending of Gothic, Byzantine, and Novgorodian art in the region.
Piecing together the story of how these images were produced and how they developed, Himka traces their origins on linden boards and their evolution on canvas and church walls. Tracing their origins with monks, he follows these images' increased popularity as they were commissioned by peasants and shepherds whose tastes so shocked bishops that they ordered the destruction of depictions of sexual themes and grotesque forms of torture. A richly illustrated and detailed account of history through a style of art, Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians will find a receptive audience with art historians, religious scholars, and slavists.
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