"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, January 31, 2019

Barbara Crostini and Ines Murzaku on Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy

It is always a pleasure to be able to interview Ines Murzaku, as I have a few times now, most recently here. Today we are joined by her co-editor, Barbara Crostini, as both of them talk about their recent publication, Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: the Life of Neilos in Context (Routledge, 2017).

AD: Tell us about your background

Barbara Crostini: As an Italian, I have always been interested in the intersection of Greek and Latin cultures on the peninsula. This combination was ongoing in Southern Italy, and it was also reflected in the Abbey of Grottaferrata near Rome, that celebrated 1000 years from its foundation in 2004. It is important for me to keep such memories alive both from a religious point of view and from a secular one. In both cases, the Greek presence underscores variety and openness to other ways of doing things, such as the liturgy, or simply offers more through its language and literature. We need to keep such openness in today's world.

Ines Murzaku: I am a professor of ecclesiastical history and Director of Catholic Studies Program at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. I guess this is a fancier way of saying that I am a Church historian, focusing on Church history and theology—especially Byzantine and Catholic Church history—and how this history has impacted and still impacts modern Church history and the Church’s thinking and theology. I earned a doctorate in Eastern Ecclesiastical History from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and have held visiting positions at the Universities of Bologna and Calabria in Italy and University of Münster in Germany.

I have investigated Church history as this has unfolded on the borders and frontiers of empires, including the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires; in places where the Byzantine East and the Latin West have met but also collided; how the West has reacted; and how the East has influenced Western thinking, including Western theology and ecclesiology. I am fascinated with borders and peripheries, with saints of the peripheries like Italo-Greek saints of southern Italy and with Church history as it has developed in the peripheries. I have done and am still doing a lot of archival work in Italy, Germany, and other countries. Writing Church history from the archives is difficult as many colleagues in the guild will admit, but also rewarding--in hearing the voice of those who in a sense have lost their voice. As Chesterton famously wrote in Orthodoxy, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead. It means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes: our ancestors.”

I am a practicing Byzantine-Greek Catholic with deep reverence for my tradition and think that Byzantine Catholics of Italy and elsewhere are a bridge between East and West and the medieval and premodern Byzantine-Catholic Church in southern Italy can provide some models of dialogue and co-existence for contemporary ecclesiology, theology, and ecumenism. St. Neilos and the Greek Monastery of the Mother of God of Grottaferrata, the Italo-Greeks-Albanians or Arbëresh of Southern Italy and their particular and unique histories of Easterners in the West are very rich and resourceful. A critical and dispassionate exploration of the history, ecclesiology, and theology of these Byzantine realities can be helpful in contemporary ecumenical dialogue between East and West, especially in understanding synodality and how this played out in a local Byzantine Church which was transplanted into a Latin context, as was the case of the Arbëresh or Italo-Albanian Church of Southern Italy – Calabria and Sicily.

AD: When we spoke last August, it was about your newly co-edited and co-translated Life of St Neilos of Rossano. His life is also the focus of this new collection, Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: the Life of Neilos in Context. What has led to such riches pouring forth now on Neilos, as it were? In other words, give us a sense of how your own scholarly labors and that of the fourteen others in this book converged.

Ines Murzaku: I think common scholarly interest and passion for monasticism and the monastic ideal brought us together. Moreover, our work was also a work of “recovery” bringing attention to an almost forgotten monasticism i.e. Italo-Greek monasticism of Southern Italy. These are good enough reasons to bring scholars together, no? Those holy monks must have been praying really hard for this volume to happen!

The broader argument is that monasticism and the ascetic ideal unite. The monk is one who is separated from all and united harmoniously to all. This might appear contradictory at first sight, but what monasticism repudiates is not the world and its citizens, but the mundane, temporary and selfish love which stands in the way of the monk’s spiritual ascent. “In gradual detachment from those worldly things which stand in the way of communion with the Lord, the monk finds the world a place where the beauty of the Creator and the love of the Redeemer are reflected” (John Paul II 1995).

Almost all my book projects began in a monastic setting: at the Greek Monastery of the Mother of God at Grottaferrata. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to research within the monastery’s walls, constantly illumined by the wisdom of the monks. Long, insightful conversations and exchanges with Abbot Emiliano Fabbricatore (who returned to the Lord on the day of the Theophany 2019) to better understand the text in action — as lived by the monks of Grottaferrata — were very frequent. Padre Emiliano’s knowledge of Greek, which he had learned in Greece — a country he loved very deeply until his death — was superb. He understood the nuances of the Greek text, and pointed our attention to minuscule details, something only monks who live the monastic life in community would understand and appreciate. Fr. Emiliano wanted the Life of St. Neilos, Italo-Greek saint of the periphery, and the history of Italo-Greek monasticism, to be read in English, as he once told me when he was accompanying a group of Seton Hall students in a visit to the monastery: “these young people are curious how we monks live, work, study. I guess monasticism has a message to offer. The Life of St. Neilos would probably be a good read for them in things our society has forgotten.”

AD: In your introduction, Barbara, you note that this present volume was explicitly conceived as a companion to the Life. What does this collection offer to those wanting to understand Neilos more deeply?

Barbara Crostini: Undoubtedly, the essays in the volume provide the broader context in which to understand the phenomenon of the Southern Italian saints. The first part of the volume offers essays on the text of the Life that provide insights into specific passages or readings, or even words, in this rich text. The second part opens more broadly to the historic-cultural phenomenon of monasticism in Southern Italy.

AD: The theme of this book is also, of course, monasticism, on which you have published other studies. What are some of the outstanding features of Greek monasticism in southern Italy in this period?

Barbara Crostini: I would say resistance and austerity. Resistance to the ongoing Latinization of their region, through the cultivation of the Greek liturgy and contact with the East. This was always appreciated as a source of complementary wisdom. Austerity was the hallmark of this ascetic streak of monks, often hermits or solitaries, or living in cave-like dwellings in small groups. Their closeness to the natural world and the simple environment of the country was always admired and provides an edge of authenticity to their spiritual outlook.

AD: Some people sometimes assume that monasticism is an irrelevant pursuit of a tiny elite, and monastics of nearly a thousand years ago can have nothing to teach us today. But what lessons do you see in the life of Neilos and those of his brethren more generally?

Ines Murzaku: Probably an innovative and emerging monasticism is in the making in the 21st century, which will meet the spiritual demands of our modern time: a new monk prototype who works in the world and is not of the world; one who does not renounce the secular world but instead sanctifies it; a monk who will persevere and be greater and accomplish greater things than his forefathers. In the age of computers, I-phones, Twitter, Facebook and constant bombardment with information there is a deep need of spirituality, longing, and reflective silence. There is truthfulness and credibility in the monastic message that is attractive to the person who might not have a desire to join the monastery but is in search of authentic spirituality and simplicity. Through silence and prayer, the millennials will be able to control noise and distraction, and establish an intimate relation with God.

AD: Your own chapter in this volume talked about the long-lasting effects of Neilos on Grottaferrata and its identity. Tell us a bit more about those effects and about Grottaferrata’s unique place in the Church today.

Ines Murzaku: Neilos’s desire for Grottaferrata was that it be a meeting place of encounter and preservation i.e., continue in Neilos’s encountering enterprise and preserve and transmit what was left of the Italo-Greek monasticism. Thus, Grottaferrata, following in the founder’s footsteps, re-created her identity, showing a high level of originality and adaptability while building its stabilitas for the monastic community at the gates of the urbe--Rome. Neilos’s pilgrimage and later Grottaferrata’s pilgrimage made the monastic community reach new levels of self-understanding and self-knowledge while showing a high level of adaptability to new conditions.

AD: Having now published two books in one year on Neilos, what will 2019 bring? What projects are you at work on now?

Ines Murzaku: I am taking a little break from Neilos but not from the monastic ideal and asceticism. I am currently writing a book focusing on St. Mother Teresa entitled: Mother Teresa: The Saint of the Peripheries Who Became Catholicism’s Center Piece which will be published by Paulist Press in 2019. However, I find much of St. Neilos in St. Mother Teresa, their monastic ideal and love of Christ and the neighbor is the same. I am always impressed how relevant monasticism is for us moderns and millennials: for we who are thirsty for authenticity – well, monasticism has it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (I)

During very long flights to Romania earlier this month, with long times in between and thus a lot of sitting around, I very happily whiled away the hours by starting Cynthia Haven's lovely new biography,  Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (Michigan State UP, 2018), 346pp.

I will say more about it after I finish it, but for now wanted to commend it to those of you who are interested not just in his extraordinary life and work, but also in the history of southern France (especially Avignon) and in the history of academic changes and conflicts in the United States. A cast of well-known characters crosses the page, including not least Lacan and Derrida.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Cyprus Under the British

Cyprus seems to be coming in for some recent scrutiny, as a recent book, noted only last month, bears on parts of its history. Now another new book treats its more recent history: Christos Ioannides, Cyprus under British Colonial Rule: Culture, Politics, and the Movement toward Union with Greece, 1878–1954 (Lexington Books, 2019), 340pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This is a unique book that combines a political narrative with poetry to examine the role of culture and the fusion of religion and politics during the struggle against colonialism. The context is Britain’s geopolitical interests in the Middle East. The author utilizes a vital cultural source echoing the authentic voice of the people, Cypriot folk poems, which has remained virtually unknown to the English reader until now. Translated into English, they are interwoven into the book’s narrative to reflect the yearning for social justice and the political sentiments of the vast majority of the population, the peasants, in a rural society. Lawrence Durrell’s literary masterpiece, Bitter Lemons, his politico-cultural chronicle on British-ruled Cyprus, is also discussed critically.
The Greek Orthodox Church led the anti-colonial movement revolving around union with Greece. Through his intimate knowledge of Greek Orthodox practices, the author elucidates how religious customs and rituals were intertwined with the nationalist ideology to lead to political mobilization. In the process, culture, with its religious underpinnings, shaped politics. This dynamic has been the case from the Middle East, Turkey and North Africa, to Eurasia and South East Asia. Prime examples are the Iranian revolution and the more recent Arab Spring, both of which caught the West by surprise. In Cyprus, the British, with their sense of superiority, remained alien to the local culture and discounted popular sentiment. The two rebellions that ensued caught Britain totally by surprise. This is a valuable case study on the convergence of religion and politics. Academics, students and non-specialists will find a captivating narrative on Britain’s colonial encounter in an idyllic but strategic island in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Lemkos and Orthodoxy

One of the especially fascinating groups of Eastern Christians, who seem to fall between so many larger imperial and nationalist projects and configurations, is the Lemkos, newly treated in a book by Stefan Dudra, Lemko Identity and the Orthodox Church (Carpathian Institute, 2018), 150pp.

The publisher gives us this brief blurb:

The Lemko Region of the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe has been inhabited by East Slavic people for centuries. For nearly as long, it has been the arena of intense ethnopolitical competition. This collection of sketches illuminates how Lemkos’ reaction to competing nationalist pressures led them to an identity centered on Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Coptic Martyrs

I reviewed here a recent book on the theology of martyrdom and some of its ecclesiological and ecumenical questions. Now another book, set for release next month, treats the same Coptic martyrs in Egypt, but in a very different way: Moses Mosebach, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs (Plough Publishing, 2019), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Behind a gruesome ISIS beheading video lies the untold story of the men in orange and the faith community that formed these unlikely modern-day saints and heroes. In a carefully choreographed propaganda video released in February 2015, ISIS militants behead twenty-one orange-clad Christian men on a Libyan beach.
In the West, daily reports of new atrocities may have displaced the memory of this particularly vile event. But not in the world from which the murdered came. All but one were young Coptic Christian migrant workers from Egypt. Acclaimed literary writer Martin Mosebach traveled to the Egyptian village of El-Aour to meet their families and better understand the faith and culture that shaped such conviction.
He finds himself welcomed into simple concrete homes through which swallows dart. Portraits of Jesus and Mary hang on the walls along with roughhewn shrines to now-famous loved ones. Mosebach is amazed time and again as, surrounded by children and goats, the bereaved replay the cruel propaganda video on an iPad. There is never any talk of revenge, but only the pride of having a martyr in the family, a saint in heaven. “The 21” appear on icons crowned like kings, celebrated even as their community grieves. A skeptical Westerner, Mosebach finds himself a stranger in this world in which everything is the reflection or fulfillment of biblical events, and facing persecution with courage is part of daily life.
In twenty-one symbolic chapters, each preceded by a picture, Mosebach offers a travelogue of his encounter with a foreign culture and a church that has preserved the faith and liturgy of early Christianity – the “Church of the Martyrs.” As a religious minority in Muslim Egypt, the Copts find themselves caught in a clash of civilizations. This book, then, is also an account of the spiritual life of an Arab country stretched between extremism and pluralism, between a rich biblical past and the shopping centers of New Cairo.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Testament of the Lord

More and more I think much of Christian conflict and division turns on readings of history, which is why psychoanalysts such as Vamik Volkan, often mentioned on here, are so indispensable in raising the question: are we really talking history, or are we constructing narratives of "chosen trauma" or "chosen glory" to stand in for historical scholarship, which is almost invariably messy, complex, and difficult to do well?

Among perennial areas where these kinds of debates erupt is in early Christian worship and morality, and this is as true of the East as it is of the West--perhaps even more so in the latter. A newly translated work will only further intensify these debates: The Testament of the Lord: Worship & Discipline in the Early Church, transl Alistair Stewart (SVS Press, 2018), 170pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The Testament of the Lord is one of several ancient “Church Order” texts. Written in the first four centuries of the Church, they direct Christian conduct and morality, ecclesiastical organization and discipline, and the Church’s worship and liturgical life. Beginning with an apocalyptic section in which the risen Lord himself addresses the reader, The Testament then describes the building of a church, the mode of appointment for clergy and monastics, and the conduct of daily prayers and of other liturgical services.
The text is newly translated from the extant Syriac (with an eye to Ethiopic manuscripts), and the introduction makes the case for a fourth century Cappadocian redactor who gave the work its present shape, though much of its material goes back at least to the third century. Those who are interested in early Church Orders will also find the Didache and St Hippolytus’ On the Apostolic Tradition in the Popular Patristics Series (PPS 41 and 54).

Friday, January 18, 2019

In Praise of Afanasiev

I was in Iasi, Romania last week for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association. I was both an official ecumenical observer and also a panelist giving a paper on papal primacy.

Among many interesting sessions and papers, one impressed me more than the rest: a paper given by a newly minted scholar, Anastacia Wooden, on the legacy of Nicholas Afanasiev.

It was a superlative piece of scholarship, and clearly marks Wooden down now as the Afanasiev expert in the world. What made her paper simultaneously fascinating and depressing was her careful documentation of how shabbily Afanasiev has been treated by Catholic (esp. Aidan Nichols) and Orthodox (esp. John Zizioulas) theologians alike, who, at best, pay him the briefest lip service before going on to criticize him (typically for things he did not say, while ignoring the things he did say) or else ignore him. Apart from such shabby treatment by these two, he is apparently generally ignored. I found this astonishing because, in my naivete, I had assumed that everyone recognized Afanasiev as one of the great men of postwar ecclesiology and therefore blithely imagined he was widely and appreciatively read. Apparently not.

Nonetheless, do not let that stop you, dear discerning reader, from reading Afanasiev. The easiest place to begin is with his Church of the Holy Spirit. I drew on that in several of my writings, including, most recently, this essay.

An introduction to him may be found in the chapter on his life written by Michael Plekon in Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church.

Other works in English include the three essays found in the collection edited again by Plekon, Tradition Alive: On the Church and the Christian Life in Our Time

There is much that remains untranslated and unpublished, and I strongly encouraged Wooden to remedy these lacunae as soon as possible. We have every reason to expect many good things from her, and I shall endeavor to keep you apprised of them.

God Does Not Need Your Outrage

I count it one of the great gifts of Providence that Andriy Chirovsky, a mitred Ukrainian Catholic priest and scholar who founded the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, became my Doktorvater. I don’t use that word just because academics are supposed to throw around pretentious German terms to impress others, but because it describes, in a real and lasting way, the relationship he had to me: a real father in God concerned that my work not just be about academic attainment, advancement, and glory; but that it serve the Church and not my own vainglory.
He made it very clear to me from our first class together in the spring of 1997 that anyone studying God—which is what theology aspires to do—is on very dangerous territory and must proceed with the greatest reserve. The dangers of idolatry are all around us, and so too are the dangers of pride and presumption, any one of which can blind us and bind us to our own downfall. “Keep yourself low to the ground,” he used to advise—if only, he continued with characteristic wry humour, so that you don’t have to far to fall when you trip yourself up or your enemies try to knock you down! 

More than that, there is another gift I received from him, and that was an introduction to Evagrius of Pontus, on whom, happily, an explosion of research has been published since the turn of the century as seen in books by, inter alia, Luke DysingerGabriel Bunge, Jeremy Driscoll, and other scholars, including those to be found in this important collection.

We also have many translations published of, e.g., Ad Monachos and other works.

George Tsakiridis's book Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts is interesting for its attempts to link Evagrius with some aspects of modern psychology.

Since I first learned of Evagrius, I find myself quoting from his On Prayer every semester when classes start: “if you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” That is a reminder, of course, that unlettered peasants in the fields who pray while they rake potatoes can be far holier and closer to God than those of us with advanced degrees but a sterile prayer life. It is a reminder--to put it in a Pauline idiom--not to be puffed up with knowledge. 

It should not, however, be taken as license for anti-intellectualism, which I see some Catholic and Orthodox Christians do with some regularity. Evagrius is, as it were, the patron saint of those traduced by seemingly pious anti-intellectual mobs who think the Church of Christ should be turned into some self-created purity cult. A hugely influential figure of the fourth century, he had an enormous impact on the foundation of monasticism and much else, including what we would call moral theology: what the West knows as the seven capital or deadly sins is a condensed derivative version of the eight logismoi or “disordered thoughts” first schematized and very vividly described by Evagrius (who, himself, got parts of his scheme from various places, not all of them Christian it seems). 

Evagrius was later denounced by certain enemies who left a vague impression that he had stumbled into “Origenism” (another dubious construction) and was thus tainted with a soupçon d'hétérodoxie (to borrow Marc Froidefont’s phrase). Recent research, above all by Augustine Casiday in his Reconstructing the Theology of Evagrius Ponticus: Beyond Heresy, has finally laid all this to rest. (I interviewed Casiday here.)

The hostile and unjust treatment of Origen and Evagrius is instructive, for though it happened in the first half of the first millennium, it happens still today. We can see it on many websites and read about it with some regularity. People get mobbed by social media and various websites for their supposed deviation from whatever the orthodox line is supposed to be. (This latest outrage for Latin Catholics is apparently the reading of a book in an English class at some school in Steubenville, Ohio. For Eastern Catholics and Orthodox, the latest supposed outrage was splashed about by some blogger whose entire business model depends on a steady supply of such things.)

This manufacturing of outrage is completely unattractive when anybody does it, but doubly so when Christians do so, whether outwardly against "the world" or by inwardly turning on each other, jacking up the outrage while fancying themselves to be defending “holy mother Church” or protesting against some “blasphemy” in, say, a movie or commercial. I wish all such people clearly understood this: God does not need your outrage, or your brittle and shrill “defense” of Him, or His Mother, or the angels and saints. He does not need, nor does He want, your anger. (Neither do the rest of us most assuredly.) He is unmoved by all this, and you should be, too. Worse, your anger is an anti-icon: the image you reveal is not an image of God. Your outrage accomplishes nothing good, but in fact does you (and quite possibly others) great harm.

Any time a TV show, movie, website, book, or person “offends” you by what it says about God, you need to be impassible in the face of it. That is not some pious bit of badly disguised sanctimony from me. (Heaven—and Google—know that I’ve dished out my share of polemics and outrage over the years, though the older I get the less I find that attractive and the more I regret having done it in the past.) It comes from Evagrius.

For Evagrius, impassibility (being, that is, without the disordered and destructive passions that drive the logismoi) is the highest and most perfect of all the spiritual states to attain. It is also the most difficult. When, last year, I finally had a chance—after quoting him piecemeal for nearly two decades—to teach a full course on Evagrius, it was a wonderfully bracing experience for Evagrius does not mess around, but writes with a vividness and a bluntness that is very refreshing. He helpfully overturns many of our covert assumptions about what the “worst” vices are. He must, therefore, come as quite a shock to those American Christians, at any rate, who assume, falsely, that the worst vices have to do with sex. When such Christians find what they think are sexual sins in others—even fictional ones in books they have not read—their outrage is predictable, tiresome, and wholly counter-productive. Evagrius foresaw all this with his usual clinical precision. 

But we are often deceived as to the causes of our anger. Evagrius has keen insights into how we deceive ourselves, and his methods for dealing with such deceptions are, as I have argued elsewhere, psychoanalytic avant la lettre. (As the eminent historian Peter Brown nicely put it, “the lonely cells of the recluses of Egypt have been revealed, by the archaeologist, to have been well-furnished consulting rooms.”) As Freud would realize only much later (and then--as Madelon Sprengnether's new book, Mourning Freud makes clear--only incompletely), there is an intimate connection between anger and unresolved grief and mourning; there is also often a connection to thwarted desire, some of it quite often sadistic or masochistic in nature. 

I assigned my students to read Robert Sinkewicz’s Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford, 2006) for its translation of On the Eight Thoughts. There, Sinkewicz notes that “among the individual vices considered by Evagrius, none receives greater attention than anger, for it is this vice that presents the greatest obstacle to the advancement in gnostic life and pure prayer” (my emphasis). Sinkewicz’s translation and accompanying apparatus are long and dense, and require revisiting from time to time. But this claim about the pre-eminence of anger as the “greatest obstacle” has stuck with me as a salutary thorn in my side. 

I have come to think of this claim of Evagrius often, and to counter-pose the move away from anger with a move towards kindness and graciousness. Thus I cannot think of Evagrian warnings except alongside the wise counsel of a short and unjustly neglected little book by the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, On Kindness. Increasingly I realize that when I die, I should much more gladly be thought a kindly fool than an outraged old man. 

“But wait!” some will insist. “Mine is righteous anger, like Jesus with the money-changers! I’m angry at this book/meme/movie/show/Catholic university professor because I’m defending God/Mary/Holy Mother Church!!!” That bogus claim is as pure an example as I’ve ever seen of what psychoanalysis calls “projective identification” in which we project onto God our own outrage and assume He must feel it too. 

But once more the psychoanalysts were anticipated by Evagrius some 1500 years before Freud was even born. And so Evagrius deals handily with this deception, as Sinkewicz notes: “when recommending the use of anger against the demon of fornication, Evagrius warns that the demon of anger may engage strategies similar to the spirit of fornication by instilling images in the mind,” which lead only to more anger disguised by our supposed righteousness. (That is, of course, precisely what has happened in the Steubenville case.) In other words, by reacting to one imagined thing (for that is all we have on-line—our imagination of how horrid some novel must be that we have never read) we fall into another. It is, Evagrius notes, extremely difficult for most of us to direct anger against the other demons and vices without ourselves being consumed by that anger, which he vividly describes as “a plundering of prudence, a destruction of one’s state, a confusion of nature, a form turned savage, a furnace for the heart, an eruption of flames, a law of irascibility, a wrath of insults, a mother of wild beasts, a silent battle, an impediment to prayer.”

By contrast, says Sinkewicz, summing up and quoting Evagrius, a “soul free of anger is a temple of the Holy Spirit; a gentle person is remembered by God; ‘Christ reclines his head on a patient spirit’; and ‘an intellect at peace’ is ‘a shelter for the Holy Trinity’.” In other words, to be free from anger means that one has and practices the virtues of gentleness and patience, which virtues are to be found at “the summit of the spiritual life.” Perhaps if we spent a little less time on Twitter and social media ginning up outrage at the alleged offenses of others, we might have energy left to begin the arduous climb to the top. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Liturgical Devotions in Crusader States

The Crusades remain a topic of perpetual interest, and almost equally perpetual misrepresentation in the hands of many. One area that has been opening up has been the study of ritual and liturgy in the Crusader states, treated by emerging scholars, including Daniel Galadza in his Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem.

Galadza is one of the contributors to a new scholarly collection entitled Liturgy and Devotion in the Crusader States, eds. Iris Shagrir and Cecilia Gaposchkin (Routledge, 2018), 150 pages.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Examining liturgy as historical evidence has, in recent years, developed into a flourishing field of research. The chapters in this volume offer innovative discussion of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem from the perspective of 'liturgy in history'. They demonstrate how the total liturgical experience, which was visual, emotional, motile, olfactory, and aural, can be analysed to understand the messages that liturgy was intended to convey. The chapters reveal how combining narrative sources with liturgical documents can help decode political circumstances and inter-group relations and decipher the core ideals of the community of Outremer. Moreover, understanding the Latins’ liturgical activities in the Holy Land has much to contribute to our understanding of the crusade as an institution, how crusade spirituality was practised on the ground in the Latin East, and how people engaged with the crusading movement.
This volume brings together eight original studies, forwarded by the editors’ introduction, on the liturgy of Jerusalem, spanning the immediate pre-Crusade and Crusade period (11th-13th centuries). It demonstrates the richness of a focus on the liturgy in illuminating the social, religious, and intellectual history of this critical period of ecclesiastical self-assertion, as well as conceptions of the sacred in this time and place.
We are also given the table of contents:

1. Liturgy and devotion in the crusader states: introduction (Iris Shagrir and Cecilia Gaposchkin)

2. The regular canons and the liturgy of the Latin East (Wolf Zöller)

3. The libelli of Lucca, Biblioteca Arcivescovile, MS 5: liturgy from the siege of Acre? (Cara Aspesi)

4. Rewriting the Latin liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre: text, ritual and devotion for 1149 (Sebastián Salvadó)

5. Greek liturgy in crusader Jerusalem: witnesses of liturgical life at the Holy Sepulchre and St Sabas Lavra (Daniel Galadza)

6. Greek Orthodox monasteries in the Holy Land and their liturgies in the period of the crusades (Andrew Jotischky)

7. Processing together, celebrating apart: shared processions in the Latin East (Christopher MacEvitt)

8. Holy Fire and sacral kingship in post-conquest Jerusalem (Jay Rubenstein)

9. Royal inauguration and liturgical culture in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, 1099–1187 (Simon John)

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Beginning of Relics

Christians from the very beginning, being celebrants of an incarnate God, treasured (sometimes controversially) material embodiments of God's salvific activity in the world, including relics of their beloved dead. As one later commentator, St John Damascene, would famously put it,
I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God…. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.
How did the cults around various sets of relics begin? Of what practices did they consist? Were they everywhere practiced? These and other questions will find some answer in a forthcoming book, The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics by Robert Wiśniewski (Oxford University Press, 2019), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Christians have often admired and venerated martyrs who died for their faith, but for long time thought that the bodies of martyrs should remain undisturbed in their graves. Initially, Christian attitude toward the bones of the dead, saint or not, was that of respectful distance. The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics examines how this changed in the mid-fourth century. Robert Wiśniewski investigates how Christians began to believe in power of relics, first, over demons, then over physical diseases and enemies. He considers how they sought to reveal hidden knowledge at the tombs of saints and why they buried the death close to them. An essential element of this new belief was a string conviction that the power of relics was transferred in a physical way and so the following chapters study relics as material objects. Wiśniewski analyses what the contact with relics looked like and how close it was. Did people touch, kiss, or look at the very bones, or just at reliquaries which contained them? When did the custom of dividing relics appear? Finally, the book the book deals with discussions and polemics concerning relics and tries to find out how strong was the opposition which this new phenomenon had to face, both within and outside Christianity on its way relics to become an essential element of the medieval religiosity.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Depth Psychology and Orthodox Theology

My interest in the relationship between Freudian and later analytic psychologies is, I think, rather amply demonstrated on here and elsewhere. I am at work on a long book review, an article, and a book about all this. So I await with keen interest the publication later this year of Pia Sophia Chaudhari's Dynamis of Healing: Patristic Theology and the Psyche in the Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought imprint of Fordham University Press (2019), 234pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:

This book explores how traces of the energies and dynamics of Orthodox Christian theology and anthropology may be observed in the clinical work of depth psychology. Looking to theology to express its own religious truths and to psychology to see whether these truth claims show up in healing modalities, the author creatively engages both disciplines in order to highlight the possibilities for healing contained therein. Dynamis of Healing elucidates how theology and psychology are by no means fundamentally at odds with each other but rather can work together in a beautiful and powerful synergia to address both the deepest needs and deepest desires of the human person for healing and flourishing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Persian Christians at the Chinese Court

The expansion of Syriac and other Christian traditions into China and far east Asia has long fascinated me; so, too, has its gradual disappearance. Along comes a recently published book to continue to shed light on these great traditions and their expansion and eventual retraction: R. Todd Godwin, Persian Christians at the Chinese Court: The Xi'an Stele and the Early Medieval Church of the East (I.B. Tauris, 2018), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Xi'an Stele, erected in Tang China's capital in 781, describes in both Syriac and Chinese the existence of Christian communities in northern China. While scholars have considered the Stele exclusively in relation to the Chinese cultural and historical context, Todd Godwin demonstrates that it can only be fully understood by reconstructing the complex connections that existed between the Church of the East, Sasanian aristocratic culture, and the Tang Empire (617–907) between the fall of the Sasanian Persian Empire (225–651) and the birth of the Abbasid Caliphate (762–1258).
Through close textual re-analysis of the Stele and by drawing on ancient sources in Syriac, Greek, Arabic, and Chinese, Godwin demonstrates that Tang China (617–907) was a cosmopolitan milieu where multiple religious traditions, namely Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and Christianity, formed zones of elite culture. Syriac Christianity in fact remained powerful in Persia throughout the period, and Christianity―not Zoroastrianism―was officially regarded by the Tang government as "The Persian Religion."
Persian Christians at the Chinese Court uncovers the role played by Syriac Christianity in the economic and cultural integration of late Sasanian Iran and China, and is important reading for all scholars of the Church of the East, China, and the Middle East in the medieval period.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Byzantine Constructions of the West

More than five years ago now, I lavished rather a lot of attention on an important and fascinating collection, Orthodox Constructions of the West. It seems that next month we are to have a similar collection albeit one with a tighter focus on a particular period: Byzantium and the West: Perception and Reality (11th-15th c.), eds. Nikolaos Chrissis, Athina Kolia-Dermitzaki, and Angeliki Papageorgiou (Routledge, 2019), 334pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us the following:
The interaction between Byzantium and the Latin West was intimately connected to practically all the major events and developments which shaped the medieval world in the High and Late Middle Ages – for example, the rise of the ‘papal monarchy’, the launch of the Crusades, the expansion of international and longdistance commerce, or the flowering of the Renaissance. This volume explores not only the actual avenues of interaction between the two sides (trade, political and diplomatic contacts, ecclesiastical dialogue, intellectual exchange, armed conflict), but also the image each side had of the other and the way perceptions evolved over this long period in the context of their manifold contact.
Twenty-one stimulating papers offer new insights and original research on numerous aspects of this relationship, pooling the expertise of an international group of scholars working on both sides of the Byzantine-Western ‘divide’, on topics as diverse as identity formation, ideology, court ritual, literary history, military technology and the economy, among others. The particular contribution of the research presented here is the exploration of how cross-cultural relations were shaped by the interplay of the thought-world of the various historical agents and the material circumstances which circumscribed their actions. The volume is primarily aimed at scholars and students interested in the history of Byzantium, the Mediterranean world, and, more widely, intercultural contacts in the Middle Ages.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Guntrip on Schizoids and Christians

In any proper accounting of the relationship between Christianity and psychoanalysis, to which I have contributed piecemeal on here (and elsewhere) over the last three years, Harry S. Guntrip must occupy a significant place. He embodied both traditions, being himself a therapist and also a Congregational minister. From this dual perspective he was able to author such books as his early Psychotherapy and Religion and his later Psychology for Ministers and Social Workers

But Guntrip is perhaps best known for his work on the schizoid type. Others in Britain before and after him--especially Melanie Klein in England, and R.W. Fairbairn (also a practicing Christian) in Scotland--had also done important work on this personality type, all of it in the context of object relations theory whose most important thinker was and remains, of course, D.W. Winnicott. (More recently, Nancy McWilliams' essay is noteworthy for its lucidity and detailed portrait of schizoid types. I think she is quite right in arguing that this type is not a pathology to be corrected, but a phenomenon nonetheless deserving careful consideration.)

An earlier biography of Guntrip, who had the benefit of being analyzed by both Fairbairn and Winnicott,.was published in 1986.

What we have more recently from Trevor Dobbs, himself an analyst and academic, is Faith, Theology, and Psychoanalysis: the Life and Thought of Harry S. Guntrip (Wipf and Stock, 2007). It's a frustrating book because it is a rather poorly edited doctoral dissertation, which genre often and notoriously makes for bad books. This book, to be clear, is not bad but undisciplined: the reader is yanked around from topic to topic with little development and less warning or connection. Nevertheless, it is worth persisting to obtain some of its insights.

The book notes that Freud's Future of an Illusion from 1927 set up an apparent conflict between something called "religion" and the so-called science of psychoanalysis. But not everyone, as I have noted on here many times in the past three years, believes in, let alone perpetuates, this pseudo-conflict. Indeed, some labor in both domains without a problem, and Guntrip was one such.

Another was the Scottish analyst W. R.D. Fairbairn (Guntrip's analyst, along with D.W. Winnicott), who also contributed a great deal to the object-relations school, and had his own acute insights into the schizoid phenomenon. Fairbairn (who died in 1964) is finally getting some overdue attention in several new publications, including this collection and this one.

I recently finished John Sutherland's biography of Fairbairn, who grew up in a rather strict Scottish Protestant household before gravitating later to the richer experiences of Anglican Christianity.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Hurry Up Already: Eschatological Ecclesiology and its Problems

If you've been at this ecclesiology and ecumenism business as long as I have (thirty years this spring, since I was a high-school student involved in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, and then in the Canadian Council of Churches and World Council of Churches for many years), you realize how long even little things take, and how far off into the future unity looks. One of the first lessons I learned in the late 1980s was that by then everyone who had been at it since the 1960s saw a significant cooling off; and a little later still, the hopes for full-on Christian unity everywhere by the turn of the millennium were scaled waaaaaay back. (Already in 1991 in Canberra, everyone was using the phrase "ecumenical winter.") By the new millennium we had some people (e.g., Aidan Nichols in his otherwise useful Rome and the Eastern Churches) speaking of unity as an eschatological prospect, which I found very depressing.

Along comes an affordable paperback edition of a recent book to cheer and buck us up by arguing that all this talk of eschatology can be a dodge for doing more things better right now: Scott MacDougall, More Than Communion: Imagining an Eschatological Ecclesiology (Bloomsbury, 2018), 302pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The dominant contemporary model for ecclesiology (theological views of the church itself) is the ecclesiology of communion. MacDougall argues that communion ecclesiologies are often marked by a problematic theological imagination of the future (eschatology). He argues further that, as a result, our ways of practising and being the church are not as robust as they might otherwise be. Re-imagining the church in the light of God's promised future, then, becomes a critical conceptual and practical task.
MacDougall presents a detailed exploration of what communion ecclesiologies are and some of the problems they raise. He offers two case studies of such theologies by examining how distinguished theologians John Zizioulas and John Milbank understand the church and the future, how these combine in their work, and the conceptual and practical implications of their perspectives. He then offers an alternative theological view and demonstrates the effects that such a shift would have. In doing so, MacDougall offers a proposal for recovering the 'more' to communion and to ecclesiology to help us imagine a church that is not beyond the world (as in Zizioulas) or over against the world (as in Milbank), but in and for the world in love and service. This concept is worked out in conversation with systematic theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Johannes Baptist Metz, and by engaging with a theology of Christian practices currently being developed by practical theologians such as Dorothy C. Bass, Craig Dykstra, and those associated with their ongoing project.
The potential for the church to become an agent of discipleship, love, and service can best be realised when the church anticipates God's promised perfection in the full communion between God and humanity, among human beings, within human persons, and between humanity and the rest of creation.
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