"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, February 28, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed (II)

The clearest lesson of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church to date is that people both lack models of serious structural reform and are too scared to think in these terms. My book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, gives ample argumentation and evidence for both, showing a way forward that is deeply grounded in tradition East and West. I give you a foretaste of those arguments here, with more to come!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Legacy of Athanasius of Alexandria

Fortress Press sent me their latest catalogue, and in it I spy a book I overlooked when it was first published just over a year ago: Thomas Weinandy and Daniel Keating, Athanasius and His Legacy: Trinitarian-Incarnational Soteriology and Its Reception (Fortress, 2017), 144pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Athanasius was a fiery and controversial bishop from Egypt, driven from his See no less than five times. Yet, his work served as a keystone to the settlement of the central disputes of the fourth century, from the Trinitarian and christological debates at Nicaea to the formulation of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In this volume, Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap., and Daniel A. Keating introduce readers to this key thinker and carefully illuminate Athanasius's crucial text Against the Arians, unfolding the Trinitarian and incarnational framework of Athanasius's paramount concern: soteriology. The authors provide, in the second part, a robust map of the reception and influence of Athanasius's thought-from its immediate impact on the late fourth and fifth centuries (in the Cappadocians and Cyril) to its significance for the Eastern and Western Christian traditions and its reception in contemporary thought. Herein, Athanasius is presented for today's readers as one of the chief architects of Christian doctrine and one of the most significant thinkers for the reclamation of the Trinitarian and christological theological tradition.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Two Books by Sotiris Mitralexis

I had the pleasure of meeting the author briefly in Iasi in January at the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association. I look forward to seeing him again at a conference in Syros in June. In the meantime, herewith two notices about his newest books:

Sotiris Mitralexis, ed., Polis, Ontology, Ecclesial Event: Engaging with Christos Yannaras' Thought (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2018), 277pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Christos Yannaras (born 1935 in Athens, Greece) has been proclaimed ‘without doubt the most important living Greek Orthodox theologian’ (Andrew Louth), ‘contemporary Greece’s greatest thinker’ (Olivier Clément), ‘one of the most significant Christian philosophers in Europe’ (Rowan Williams). However, until recently the English-speaking scholar did not have first-hand access to the main bulk of his work: in spite of the relatively early English translation of his The Freedom of Morality (1984), most of his books appeared in English fairly recently – such as Person and Eros (2007), Orthodoxy and the West (2006), Relational Ontology (2011) or The Schism in Philosophy (2015). In this volume, chapters shall examine numerous aspects of Yannaras’ contributions to Orthodox theology, philosophy and political thought, based on his relational ontology of the person, later popularised in the Anglophone sphere by John Zizioulas. From political theology to Heidegger and the philosophy of language, from Yannaras’ critique of religion to the patristic grounding of the theology of the person and from Orthodoxy to the West, this volume comprises a panorama of Christos Yannaras’ transdisciplinary contributions.
The second work by Mitralexis is his Ever-Moving Repose: A Contemporary Reading of Maximus the Confessor's Theory of Time (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2018), 256 pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Sotiris Mitralexis offers a contemporary look at Maximus the Confessor's (580-662 CE) understanding of temporality, logoi, and deification, through the perspective of contemporary philosopher and theologian Christos Yannaras, as well as John Zizioulas and Nicholas Loudovikos. Mitralexis argues that Maximus possesses both a unique theological ontology and a unique threefold theory of temporality: time, the Aeon, and the radical transformation of temporality and motion in an ever-moving repose. With these three distinct modes of temporality, a Maximian theory of time can be reconstructed, which can be approached via his teaching on the logoi and deification. In this theory, time is not merely measuring ontological motion, but is more particularly measuring a relationship, the consummation of which effects the transformation of time into a dimensionless present devoid of temporal, spatial, and generally ontological distance--thereby manifesting a perfect communion-in-otherness. In examining Maximian temporality, the book is not focusing on only one aspect of Maximus' comprehensive Weltanschauung, but looks at the Maximian vision as a whole through the lens of temporality and motion.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed (I)

In a few short weeks my forthcoming book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico Press, 2019), which almost everyone who has read it has described as "explosive," will be published.

In the meantime, here is a very brief foretaste.

I will, over the coming weeks, be discussing aspects of the book on here, and also using this space as a place to discuss reactions to the book.

The Russo-Japanese War

I noted the appearance of this book in hardcover in 2017, but this month sees the publication of a more affordable paperback edition of  Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War by Betsy Perabo (Bloomsbury, 2019), 232pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
How should Christians think about the relationship between the exercise of military power and the spread of Christianity? In Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War, Betsy Perabo looks at the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 through the unique concept of an 'interreligious war' between Christian and Buddhist nations, focusing on the figure of Nikolai of Japan, the Russian leader of the Orthodox Church in Japan.
Drawing extensively on Nikolai's writings alongside other Russian-language sources, the book provides a window into the diverse Orthodox Christian perspectives on the Russo-Japanese War – from the officials who saw the war as a crusade for Christian domination of Asia to Nikolai, who remained with his congregation in Tokyo during the war. Writings by Russian soldiers, field chaplains, military psychologists, and leaders in the missionary community contribute to a rich portrait of a Christian nation at war.
By grounding its discussion of 'interreligious war' in the historical example of the Russo-Japanese War, and by looking at the war using the sympathetic and compelling figure of Nikolai of Japan, this book provides a unique perspective which will be of value to students and scholars of both Russian history, the history of war and religion and religious ethics.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Loss and Gain (I)

In 1848 Newman published a novel, Loss and Gain, which was about a young man at Oxford converting to Catholicism. The Orthodox priest and pastoral theologian Bill Mills is not converting to Catholicism, but Newman's theme came to mind in re-reading Mills' wonderful memoir, Losing My Religion. The life of the Christian in general, and of pastoral ministry in particular, is very much one of losing and gaining: losing time, losing struggles for perceived goods, losing beloved friends and parishioners through death, moving away, or irreconcilable conflicts.

But it is also about gaining far more than one realized. Those to whom, ostensibly, one ministers are often the bearer of amazing gifts that come wholly unexpected. I got tastes and glimpses of this in the 1990s in Ottawa when I was involved with providing pastoral care in a large downtown nursing home for several years and when also, during the same period, I worked regularly at a suicide distress centre.

Both of these dynamics come out in  Losing My Religion. In the rest of this series, I'll highlight some of the especially valuable lessons, but also humourous anecdotes, in this book, about which the publisher provides the following blurb:

After four years of college and six years in seminary, William Mills was ready for a parish--or so he thought. He didn't realize much of his time would be endless discussions about bagels and coffee, digging ditches, and parking lot condom patrols.
For six years, community life was just humming along. Then disaster struck. Mills' life came crashing down when nearly a third of his congregation left in a public power play, causing him to question his faith in himself, in the church, and in God. Marva Dawn, a noted writer of spirituality and ministry, said that being a pastor is like being peppered with popcorn: after a while, you just get tired of it, pack your bags, and move on. However, as Mills himself says, "I was either too stubborn or stupid, so I stayed."
Losing My Religion is about the ups and downs, ins and outs, choices and challenges of being a pastor in the twenty-first-century church. It's also about the redemptive power of community life and finding healing and wholeness in a broken world.

Monday, February 18, 2019

On the History of Sobornost (the Journal)

A new book by the Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols is always worth paying attention to. He is easily in the top tier of serious and worthwhile Roman Catholic theologians today, but what sets him apart still further is his life-long scholarly study of the Christian East in a number of books (on, e.g., Maximus the Confessor, or Vladimir Lossky, or Rome's relationship to the Eastern Churches, inter alia), a discussion usually marked by careful, sober assessment untainted by either polemics or romanticism.

All those hallmarks look to be present in his newest book, an historical study of a journal I have read for many years, but always with an inchoate sense that there was something a bit peculiar about it, that its internal tensions were rather volatile, and that it could not quite figure out who it was or what it was attempting to do. Nichols has turned his skills to telling this history of engagement-cum-conflict in Alban and Sergius: The Story of a Journal (Gracewing, 2018), 528pp.

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
In the last century the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius gave to Russian Orthodoxy an opportunity, in a sustained encounter with the Christian West, to speak with a voice never heard as powerfully before in the western world, and from the date of its foundation in 1928, the Journal of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, later Sobornost, sought to strike a good balance between Western and Eastern contributions to Christian thought. It provided an ecumenical encounter principally between the exiled Orthodox intelligentsia of the Russian diaspora and the Catholic party of the Church of England, but also on occasion with Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestants.
In this fascinating account of the work and mission of Sobornost, Aidan Nichols shows how this was to change significantly as the Western tradition began to be seen as taking too many wrong turnings to be a reliable guide for Christian theology at large, and he divides this study into two parts: the first forty years of the journal as a time of encounter more or less on equal terms, and the last fifty years where the meeting of East and West would be increasingly on the East's terms--and, in another striking development, this meant the Greek East rather than the Russian. This process of transformation was only gradual, but by the start of the twenty-first century, Sobornost was fast becoming, especially through its mediation of modern Greek philosophy, theology and spirituality, as well as the more traditional discipline of Byzantine studies, a largely monophonic voice for Orthodoxy in the West. This was a far cry from its origins, even if that voice was also much needed in an often disoriented English, European and North American Christianity. Throughout its history, Sobornost has been invaluable for Western readers in the provision of information about the Eastern Churches, and especially the Byzantine or Chalcedonian Orthodox--always the more important part of both Fellowship and journal. A definitive role for the present and for the future, as they both celebrate their 90th anniversary.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bless Me Father for I Have Lost My Faith....in My Parish?

Though I was privileged to read it in draft form, I was still excited last night to find in my mailbox a copy of Bill Mills' new book, Losing My Religion: A Memoir of Faith and Finding (Resource Publications-Wipf and Stock, 2019), 170pp.

It comes, rightly and justly, bearing a slew of impressive blurbs:

"William Mills has given us a true story told truthfully, a story of a faith lost and found, a story of the church at its best and worst, a story of a priest who persisted in his vocation in spite of everything. Service to the Body of Christ, the church, is not for the faint of heart and yet, in the end, there are blessings" (Will Willimon, United Methodist Bishop, retired, and Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry, Duke Divinity School).

 "William Mills has gone honest and intimate with us in telling his story of the travail of ministry. His drama of mean-spirited betrayal in the congregation and the late unexpected reassurance of support replicates our best story of crucifixion and resurrection" (Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary).

 "William Mills' memoir is a beautifully crafted, honest, wise, and insightful book. It stands in the very best tradition of spirituality--a writer and text that can speak to the real condition of the soul, and the day-to-day struggle that many have with belief. . . Honest and wise books on religious resilience are often hard to find. But this is one of those rare gems, and I commend it for anyone who knows how long our spiritual journey can be" (Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford).

"The Church speaks a lot about truth but isn't so good at honesty. Here is a priest who has learned the cost of this and who, with courage and imagination, encourages us to join him and to say it as it is. We clergy often know the words of religion but miss the music. William Mills calls us back to the vocation of trying to tune our lives to the harmonies of the eternal but only by recognizing emotional and factual truth and in pursuit of justice. Enjoy it and feel yourself defrost" (Mark Oakley, Dean, St. John's College, Cambridge).

 "Losing My Religion is the brave, tender, furious account of how William Mills is lifted, brought low, broken, healed, and made whole. As books about religious life go, it is among the wisest and most honest I've ever read. This book should keep company on your shelf with the better works of J.F. Powers, Larry Woiwode, and Thomas Merton" (Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk: Stories).

"The memoir is entitled Losing My Religion, but it is a testament to all that can be gained by remaining true to one's moral compass, staying honest and authentic, seeking to learn lessons in each of life's challenges. This is a passionate, compelling book, full of meaning"  (Judy Goldman, author, Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap).

So you don't just have to take my word that this is a delightful book, and I'm glad to have the handsome finished edition in my hands to read it again and savor its humility, humor, and candor about the difficult life of parish ministry today. I will write more about it in the coming days, and arrange to interview him (as I have done in the past on here), but for now just wanted to note that if you count clergy among your family and friends, if you are yourself a pastor, or if you know someone contemplating seminary and parish ministry, then you must get this book into their hands.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bombs Away!

It has, for two decades now, often been remarked upon that the Russian Orthodox Church has gone hand-in-hand with the military adventures of Putin--whether in Syria, the invasion of Ukraine, the invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or other parts of the former Soviet Union. (In this it repeats in different fashion the role it played in another context--that of the "great patriotic war" of 1941-45.) But that relationship has not been systematically studied in English in the way it is in this forthcoming book: Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy: Religion, Politics, and Strategy by Dmitry Adamsky (Stanford UP, 2019), 376pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
A nuclear priesthood has arisen in Russia. From portable churches to the consecration of weapons systems, the Russian Orthodox Church has been integrated into every facet of the armed forces to become a vital part of Russian national security, politics, and identity. This extraordinary intertwining of church and military is nowhere more visible than in the nuclear weapons community, where the priesthood has penetrated all levels of command and the Church has positioned itself as a guardian of the state's nuclear potential. Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy considers how, since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the Church has worked its way into the nuclear forces, the most significant wing of one of the world's most powerful military organizations.
Dmitry Adamsky describes how the Orthodox faith has merged with Russian national identity as the Church continues to expand its influence on foreign and domestic politics. The Church both legitimizes and influences Moscow's assertive national security strategy in the twenty-first century. This book sheds light on the role of faith in modern militaries and highlights the implications of this phenomenon for international security. Ultimately, Russian Nuclear Orthodoxy interrogates the implications of the confluence of religion and security for other members of the nuclear club, beyond Russia.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Orthodox Material Culture

Like most things, the study of Eastern Orthodox aesthetics, anthropology, and material culture lags behind similar treatments given to Western communities. But an important new study looks to fill the gap to some degree: Orthodox Christian Material Culture: Of People and Things in the Making of Heaven by Timothy Carroll (Routledge, 2018), 201 pp,

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
Although much has been written on the making of art objects as a means of engaging in creative productions of the self (most famously Alfred Gell’s work), there has been very little written on Orthodox Christianity and its use of material within religious self-formation. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is renowned for its artistry and the aesthetics of its worship being an integral part of devout practice. Yet this is an area with little ethnographic exploration available and even scarcer ethnographic attention given to the material culture of Eastern Christianity outside the traditional ‘homelands’ of the greater Levant and Eastern Europe.
Drawing from and building upon Gell’s work, Carroll explores the uses and purposes of material culture in Eastern Orthodox Christian worship. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork in a small Antiochian Orthodox parish in London, Carroll focuses on a study of ecclesiastical fabric but places this within the wider context of Orthodox material ecology in Britain. This ethnographic exploration leads to discussion on the role of materials in the construction of religious identity, material understandings of religion, and pathways of pilgrimatic engagement and religious movement across Europe.
In a religious tradition characterised by repetition and continuity, but also as sensuously tactile, this book argues that material objects are necessary for the continual production of Orthodox Christians as art-like subjects. It is an important contribution to the corpus of literature on the anthropology of material culture and art and the anthropology of religion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

A History of Mt. Athos

I have over the years noted a number of books and videos, as well as TV shows, about Mt. Athos, a place that continues to enchant or at least attract a good deal of Western attention. Another study, from a major academic press, joins this collection: A History of the Athonite Commonwealth: The Spiritual and Cultural Diaspora of Mount Athos by Graham Speake (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 308pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book examines the part played by monks of Mount Athos in the diffusion of Orthodox monasticism throughout Eastern Europe and beyond. It focuses on the lives of outstanding holy men in the history of Orthodoxy who have been drawn to the Mountain, have absorbed the spirit of its wisdom and its prayer, and have returned to the outside world, inspired to spread the results of their labours and learning. In a remarkable demonstration of what may be termed 'soft power' in action, these men have carried the image of Athos to all corners of the Balkan peninsula, to Ukraine, to the very far north of Russia, across Siberia and the Bering Strait into North America, and most recently (when traditional routes were closed to them by the curtain of communism) to the West. Their dynamic witness is the greatest gift of Athos to a world thirsting for spiritual guidance.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Short Note on Freud's Historiographical Mistakes

The philosopher Jonathan Lear of the University of Chicago is also a practicing psychoanalyst. He has written a number of books in and about both disciplines. The second edition of his Freud is an especially lucid treatment, judiciously sifting what is good and what must be abandoned in Freud's thought. It would make a very useful introductory textbook in, say, an undergraduate course.

His final chapter in that book is devoted to the late period of Freud when he turned his attention to the Future of an Illusion, a book, as I've often noted, Freud himself denounced almost as soon as it was published as "my worst book!" Lear's assessment of Freud in this book and other works is very helpful. He begins by noting--as others have--that Freud very much wanted to situate himself as an Enlightenment rationalist par excellence, and as a successor to Darwin. Such desires led him to some serious mistakes in writing about "religion." As Lear puts it with great clarity:
in the name of analyzing the fantasy underlying religious belief, Freud participated in his own fantasy of inevitable historical progress, which included secularization as a hallmark of that progress. There is reason to think that this closed down Freud's curiosity: he was disposed to see religious commitment as historically retrogressive. If he could find a kernel of wishfulness in that commitment that was sufficient; it was as though there was nothing more to look for. As a result, Freud blinded himself to the possible complexity of religious belief (204). 
This very much accords with my own read of Future. It is insufficiently curious, ideologically pre-determined, and in some ways also very lazy: he never bothers to move beyond sweeping and sophomoric generalizations to investigate the depth and details of what he denounces too facilely. He also represents Christianity in particular as nothing more than a cult of the "primal murder" of the father by the son, a notion that is laughable on its face as a few seconds reading the New Testament will reveal.

As Lear puts it, Freud fails to do to his own analysis what he readily applies elsewhere. But he also makes historiographical mistakes--though, admittedly, these were not uncommon at the turn of the century, when for some time many thinkers had been predicting massive and unrelenting secularization so that, by century's end, "religion" would largely have disappeared. We now know what a crock those predictions were and are. (MacIntyre's 1967 lectures on this are still useful.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often

As I have often noted, Newman is alone among 19th-century Catholic figures to be translated into Greek for study by his Orthodox contemporaries. His Oxford patristic formation, especially in the Alexandrian Fathers, made and makes him a most attractive feature as C.S. Dessain decades ago noted, and as Benjamin King more recently has shown.

Now comes a new book that looks to be very interesting for fleshing out some of Newman's ecclesiological thought. I have often quoted him in discussions with Orthodox over Vatican I and the role of papal definitions of dogma. But we have not really had a systematic treatment of his views until now: To Be Perfect Is to Have Changed Often: The Development of John Henry Newman's Ecclesiological Outlook, 1845–1877 by Ryan J. Marr (Fortress Academic, 2018), 234pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This study approaches John Henry Newman’s writings on the church from a fresh perspective by examining the development of Newman’s ecclesiological outlook over time. It demonstrates that it can be misleading to refer to Newman’s “Catholic ecclesiology” (singular), because such an approach gives the impression that Newman maintained a stable ecclesiological perspective during his Roman Catholic period. In reality, Newman’s outlook on the church underwent significant developments over the last four decades of his life. As a result of various events in his life, including the Rambler affair and his experience of the First Vatican Council, Newman slowly developed an ecclesiological outlook that counterbalanced the authority of the pope and bishops with a robust account of the role of theologians and the lay faithful in the reception and transmission of church doctrine. Whether consciously or not, Newman left his ecclesiological writings open for further development on the part of theologians who would follow after him.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Modern Orthodox Theology

In thinking back on my experience last month in Iasi at the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, the scriptural verse in the sub-title of a forthcoming book did come to mind. There have been many new developments within Orthodox theology in the last three decades, and some of them will be covered in Paul Ladouceur, Modern Orthodox Theology: Behold I Make All Things New (T&T Clark, 2019), 544pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Modern Orthodox theology represents a continuity of the Eastern Christian theological tradition stretching back to the early Church and especially to the Ancient Fathers of the Church. This volume considers the full range of modern Orthodox theology.
The first chapters of the book offer a chronological study of the development of modern Orthodox theology, beginning with a survey of Orthodox theology from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the early 19th century. Ladouceur then focuses on theology in imperial Russia, the Russian religious renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century, and the origins and nature of neopatristic theology, as well as the new theology in Greece, Romania and Serbia. Subsequent chapters examine specific major themes:
The restoration of patristic thought in Orthodox theology
God and Creation
Divine-humanity and the theology of the person
Ecclesiology and ecumenical theology
The 'Christification' of life
The 'Name-of-God' quarrel
Women in the Orthodox church
The volume concludes with assessments of major approaches of modern Orthodox theology and reflections on the current status and future of Orthodox theology.

The publisher also gives us this table of contents:

Table of contents
Foreword and Acknowledgments
1. Prolegomena to Modern Orthodox Theology
2. Theological Encounters with the West: Orthodox Theology from the Fifteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century
3. Theology in Imperial Russia
4. The Russian Religious Renaissance
5. The Origins and Nature of Neopatristic Theology
6. Theology Old and New in Greece
7. Theology in Romania
8. Tradition and the Restoration of Patristic Thought
9. God and Creation
10. Divine-Humanity, Personhood and Human Rights
11. The Church of Christ
12. Ecumenical Theology and Religious Diversity
13. The Christification of Life
14. Social and Political Theology
15. Onomatodoxy: The Name-of-God Conflict
16. The Ordination of Women
17. Light and Shadows in Modern Orthodox Theology
18. The Living Tradition of Orthodox Theology
19. Bibliography
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