"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).

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Paris 1919: Centenary of the Versailles Treaty

I was reminded that yesterday was the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which of course brought the First World War to an end. But unlike other anniversaries connected to this war and others, few people seem to be marking this anniversary, largely because the Treaty has been widely thought too punitive of Germany and thus to have played an overlarge role in the Second World War.

In any event, if you are at all interested in the negotiations that led to that treaty, ending a war in which millions of Eastern Christians were slaughtered (Armenians, Pontic Greeks, Syriac and Assyrian Christians, inter alia, in 1915--to say nothing of the violence done to Greek Christians in the postwar forced migrations after 1923), then permit me again to recommend to you one of my favourite books about the entire war and its aftermath, Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World. It is brilliantly written, hilariously funny in parts, and deeply revealing of the characters of such as Wilson, Lloyd George, Poincaré and others of the second tier, including the leadership of Romania and Greece. It's always an enjoyable re-read.

Friday, June 28, 2019

More Gifts from Madonna House

Twice in as many weeks the lovely people of Madonna House have gifted me with books. I noted here receiving a copy of a biography of their founder. Now in the mail Fr Bob Wild has sent me copies of two of his recent books: first, A Catholic Reading Guide to Universalism,treating mostly contemporary Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox sources. Published in 2015 by Resource Publications, the book clocks in at 194pp. About it the publisher tells us this:

This reading guide to some of the philosophical and theological literature on universalism offers practical help in providing informed material on a topic that is often treated in a superficial and unenlightened manner. The reader may be surprised to learn that universalism was the predominant belief in the early centuries, and that it has always been present in the Christian tradition. Spurred on by von Balthasar's book, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Robert Wild's guide provides current studies that support Von Balthasar's arguments that universalism is a legitimate hope for the Christian.

The second book, released a year later, treats of a related theme: A Catholic Reading Guide to Conditional Immortality: The Third Alternative to Hell and Universalism (Resource Publications), 218pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Like many other people, the long tradition about hell has been a source of serious confusion and distress for me. Over the past six years or so I was relieved to discover two other alternatives that are also part of the Christian tradition, though less prominent--universalism and the subject of the present book, conditional immortality. Universalism--that everyone would eventually be saved--did not, in the final analysis, seem to really come to grips with the overwhelming scriptural testimony that some kind of radical fateful decision is possible to people. Conditional immortality--that people who absolutely refuse God's plan for them will be taken out of existence--seems to me the best scriptural understanding of what the Lord meant by "losing one's soul"--not everlasting punishment but the withdrawal of existence. This book is an attempt to explain this theological theory. It is not presented as a definite dogma or teaching of the church, but as one of the possible results of a persistent and irrevocable decision against God.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Episcopal Elites and "Lay Involvement" in the Abuse Crisis

Perhaps some day the concept of "lay involvement" in ecclesial governance will not be treated as though it were a rare strand of plague needing special handling by men in hazmat suits trying their best to contain this contagion as much as possible. Certainly the grudging acknowledgement of "lay involvement" by the American bishops earlier this month is evidence of this, as is the fact that the motu proprio of the pope in May, which I discussed here, finding it insultingly inadequate (to put it mildly), has no "lay involvement" at all but fatuously continues to rely on bishops to police each other. It is clear that the involvement of laics--a term much to be preferred for all the reasons Nicholas Afanasiev gave--is feared by churchmen today not for any remotely theological, still less doctrinal, reasons, but merely because of prejudice, class snobbery, and a fear of loss of status.

As Claudia Rapp, Peter Brown, and others have shown, bishops have increasingly since the fourth century been part of the elites of empire and other societies in which they found themselves--and that is still true today. It is of course the nature of elites that they are exclusive and seek to police the boundaries of whom they permit to enter and whom they exclude. And elites with a monopoly on power are all the more fierce in protecting the same, as bishops undeniably have and do, especially if there is also money on the line--and as the recent news out of West Virginia makes clear, there is cash flowing about freely from one oleaginous hand to another. The episcopal sense of entitlement and privilege remains unabated even at this late hour. Who among us wouldn't fear the loss of constantly eating in the best restaurants, drinking the finest single malt, and having fresh flowers delivered every day--on someone else's dime?

Complicating matters in the "Catholic imaginary," as I call it in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico, 2019), is the role pseudo-memories play of certain high-profile examples of "lay involvement" in the Church--e.g., Henry VIII vs. Thomas More and the pope; or Henry IV and Gregory VII at Canossa; or Napoleon and Pius VII. These linger on today unconsciously to safeguard the future from any "lay involvement." As Adam Phillips says, "memories always have a certain future in mind." The Catholic, and certainly papal, imaginary since the nineteenth century has designed its power structures precisely with these paranoid pseudo-memories of power-mad tyrants in mind. But we have, thankfully, no German and French emperors or English kings to contend with today, and thus none of these are therefore remotely germane. These convenient bogeymen cannot be allowed to prevent the people of God from playing their rightful part in the careful ways I outline in the book.

Those proposals are not, as some ignorant fool who has not read the book claimed on Twitter, a proposal to make the Catholic Church Anglican--a specious suggestion I dealt with here. Precisely what the book does is to take what is good and useful in both Anglican and Armenian (and other Eastern Orthodox) structures and reconfigure them in a Catholic context. Nobody, least of all I, thinks having no serious primate with real power--as bedevils both Anglicanism and Orthodoxy--is a solution to anything.

Nor are these proposals modern. It is pathetic to see how even hierarchs (actually, it's not pathetic: nothing about these men surprises me any more) are totally ignorant of their own history, and thus scrambling after various "oversight boards" and "metropolitan models" that have all the substance and seriousness of diagrams doodled on the back of one of their cocktail napkins at the Waldorf Astoria. There is no need, dear leaders, to invent things from scratch: look at your own history and tradition to rediscover the role of synods at every level of the Church. If you need a reminder of what they are and how they function, then see Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed.

Monday, June 24, 2019

On the Life of Catherine Doherty

Last week, when I was at the Orientale Lumen conference in Washington, DC, I was approached by a lovely woman, Echo Lewis, whom I did not know, but who introduced herself as being from Madonna House, which I visited in 2004 and of which I remain a big fan. She very graciously gave me a copy of her biography of Madonna House founder: Victorious Exile by Echo Lewis (Madonna House Publications, 2013), 205pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Katya Kolyschkine, who came to be known in the West as Catherine de Hueck Doherty, lived a life of adventure, peril, persecution and exile from her native Russia. The darkness of poverty and near despair closed in on Katya; but propelled by a love so great nothing could overpower it, she proved victorious in her quest to show the face of that love to thousands of others. In doing so, Katya set a spark of pre-Revolutionary Holy Russia aflame in the Western world.

Friday, June 21, 2019

On Reforming Diocesan Boundaries and Structures

I was at the twenty-third Orientale Lumen conference in Washington this past week. Capably organized as ever by the indefatigable and ever-generous Jack Figel, its sessions were moderated this year by my friend Will Cohen, author of The Concept of Sister Churches in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Since Vatican II.

Fascinating papers were given by several people, including Anastacia Wooden, whose work on Afanasiev I noted here; by Hyacinthe Destivelle, whose book The Moscow Council has been widely read; and by my friend and co-editor Daniel Galadza, author of Liturgy and Byzantinization in Jerusalem, which is, he tells us, coming out in December in a much more affordable paperback edition.

I too gave a paper--this year's theme was on the old notion of "One Bishop to One City?"--and I drew on my new book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, in which my last chapter talks about restructuring dioceses, especially in the Latin Church, so that they are no longer huge corporations with archbishops, junior vice-presidents called "auxiliary bishops," and massive, dehumanized bureaucracy spending millions to hide abuse and abusers--and to hide the slush fund abusive bishops use for booze, flowers, and rent-boys.

It was, as ever, a good conference even if for many people today this whole ecumenical venture seems increasingly ignored by the vast majority of Christians. In my experience, dating back to 1991 in Australia, it has always been that way, alas.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books 41/10 (23 May 2019)

If there's a theme to this issue of the London Review of Books it is surely historical materialism and its ghosts, for lack of a better phrase. A case in point is a review of Brett Christophers, The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain (Verso, 2018), 394pp. The review discusses Christophers' evidence of how much land has been sold off, and so cheaply and with so few requirements or regulations, in the last several decades in the United Kingdom, whose government has deliberately kept poor, vague, or non-existent records of much of this transformation. One result of this is that it has jacked up housing prices by an enormous margin ("on average--that is, for all kinds of housing--land now accounts for 70% of a house's sale price. In the 1930s it was 2 per cent").

Jacqueline Rose has a long essay, "One Long Scream," that makes for very harrowing reading indeed. She has done some very interesting work in a number of areas, including the intersection of psychoanalysis, politics, and trauma. She also notes one of the few psychoanalysts in South Africa today, Mark Solms, whose work has gained international attention

Her essay looks back over the last quarter-century in South Africa, discussing a number of works, including My Father Died for This by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata.

As an Anglican coming of age in the 1980s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a hero to me from a great distance. I followed the move from apartheid to freedom with great interest, and later on I would review the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in great detail for how it handled some truly vexed questions about memories of the past and their possible healing.

But I have not followed events closely since the turn of the century, blithely assuming that progress was being made much more quickly and comprehensively than Rose shows it actually is. The tortured state of progress is illustrated in part by Rose discussing various presentations and evaluations of the life of Winnie Mandela, including, most recently, The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela (2018).

Clair Wills next reviews Eamonn McCann, War and an Irish Town (Haymarket, 2018), 330pp. This is a reissue of a book McCann first published in the 1970s. It shows the enormous complexity of the issues in the latter half of the twentieth century and how the politics was often shifting.

The essay has really forced me to start reading in Irish history. Previously I confess that my Scottish and English grandparents have left me with a residue of snobbery about the Irish, and a very strong pride about British imperialism. But I am increasingly recognizing that both were grossly unjust.

Sudhir Hazareesingh next reviews Herrick Chapman's France's Long Reconstruction: In Search of the Modern Republic (Harvard UP, 2018). It only reinforces my desire to read more about de Gaulle, who seems by all accounts to have been a maddeningly complicated man.

Poor Charles Darwin. Rosemary Hill reviews the latest volume (26) of his Correspondence. It seems the fate of all revolutionary men that they are bombarded with letters, and Darwin, we are told, is no less the case. But apparently with extraordinary patience and effort, he responded to nearly all his letters personally.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Hermites and Anchorites

Among some Christians of both East and West, there is a tendency to romanticize both monasticism and the Middle Ages. Such romanticism will find it hard to survive this new book, Hermits and Anchorites in England 1200-1550, ed. E.A. Jones (Manchester University Press, 2019), 248pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This source book offers a comprehensive treatment of solitary religious lives in England in the late Middle Ages. It covers both enclosed recluses (anchorites) and free-wandering hermits, and explores the relationship between them. Although there has been a recent surge of interest in the solitary vocations, especially anchorites, this has focused almost exclusively on a small number of examples. The field is in need of reinvigoration, and this book provides it. Featuring translated extracts from a wide range of Latin, Middle English and Old French sources, as well as a scholarly introduction and commentary from one of the foremost experts in the field, Hermits and anchorites in England is an invaluable resource for students and lecturers alike.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Horrors in the Annals of Psychiatry

In the late 1990s, when I was living with other grad students in the magnificent Somerset House in Ottawa, one of my house-mates was in medical school. I've never forgotten something he said with reference to chemotherapy: in a hundred years time, he argued, people will look back on what is today cutting-edge treatment of cancer and be utterly horrified by the barbarity of it all. Chemotherapy, he said, is in many ways a terribly destructive way to treat cancer, but in some cases it's all we've got.

The same thing could equally be said about psychiatry. I continue to read the lives of psychoanalysts in the United Kingdom, and recently finished R.D. Laing's Wisdom, Madness and Folly: The Making of a Psychiatrist. Laing seems to have been no moral exemplar, at least in his family life, and some of his ideas are rather farouche. But his basic sense of humanity and decency, and his willingness to buck the consensus (e.g., against putting so-called schizophrenics into insulin-induced comas from which not all of them returned alive) of the time in favour of trying to reach people written off by the medical establishment, must be counted unto him as righteousness.

Wisdom, Madness, and Folly is a short but harrowing set of memoirs especially of immediate post-war psychiatry in Glasgow and beyond. It is, among other things, a reminder that so-called scientists are as much herd animals as anybody else, and "scientific consensus" often comes at the expense of science properly so called, one of whose most crucial practices must surely remain that of verifying, and if necessary falsifying, conclusions taken for granted. Otherwise we end up doing horrible things to people we have written off as "unreachable" or "unworthy."

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Pope and the Professor in Paperback

I'm pleased to see a very affordable edition of a book I discussed in three parts is now available from Oxford University Press: The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age by Thomas Albert Howard (Oxford UP, 2019), 368pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Pope and the Professor tells the captivating story of the German Catholic theologian and historian Ignaz von Dollinger (1799-1890), who fiercely opposed the teaching of Papal Infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council (1869-70), convened by Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878), among the most controversial popes in the history of the papacy. Dollinger's thought, his opposition to the Council, his high-profile excommunication in 1871, and the international sensation that this action caused offer a fascinating window into the intellectual and religious history of the nineteenth century. Thomas Albert Howard examines Dollinger's post-conciliar activities, including pioneering work in ecumenism and inspiring the "Old Catholic" movement in Central Europe. Set against the backdrop of Italian and German national unification, and the rise of anticlericalism and ultramontanism after the French Revolution, The Pope and the Professor is at once an endeavor of historical and theological inquiry. It provides nuanced historical contextualization of the events, topics, and personalities, while also raising abiding questions about the often fraught relationship between individual conscience and scholarly credentials, on the one hand, and church authority and tradition, on the other.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Obsessive-Compulsive Ottoman Disorder

Well do I recall reading biographies of David Lloyd George, as well as histories of the Great War and its aftermath, and hearing again how much George loathed the Ottomans and how, if nothing else came of the conflict, he wanted to ensure their empire was smashed after the war. Even sympathetic commentators and biographers regarded this as an "obsession" on George's part, but it was apparently an obsession shared by many others, as we shall soon see. Set for release early next month is what looks to be a fascinating work exploring how we construct images of "enemies" and how we view and write history in the light of current politics: Noel Malcolm, Useful EnemiesIslam and The Ottoman Empire in Western Political Thought, 1450-1750 (Oxford University Press, 2019), 512pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
From the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the eighteenth century, many Western European writers viewed the Ottoman Empire with almost obsessive interest. Typically they reacted to it with fear and distrust; and such feelings were reinforced by the deep hostility of Western Christendom towards Islam. Yet there was also much curiosity about the social and political system on which the huge power of the sultans was based. In the sixteenth century, especially, when Ottoman territorial expansion was rapid and Ottoman institutions seemed particularly robust, there was even open admiration.
In this path-breaking book Noel Malcolm ranges through these vital centuries of East-West interaction, studying all the ways in which thinkers in the West interpreted the Ottoman Empire as a political phenomenon - and Islam as a political religion. Useful Enemies shows how the concept of 'oriental despotism' began as an attempt to turn the tables on a very positive analysis of Ottoman state power, and how, as it developed, it interacted with Western debates about monarchy and government. Noel Malcolm also shows how a negative portrayal of Islam as a religion devised for political purposes was assimilated by radical writers, who extended the criticism to all religions, including Christianity itself.
Examining the works of many famous thinkers (including Machiavelli, Bodin, and Montesquieu) and many less well-known ones, Useful Enemies illuminates the long-term development of Western ideas about the Ottomans, and about Islam. Noel Malcolm shows how these ideas became intertwined with internal Western debates about power, religion, society, and war. Discussions of Islam and the Ottoman Empire were thus bound up with mainstream thinking in the West on a wide range of important topics. These Eastern enemies were not just there to be denounced. They were there to be made use of, in arguments which contributed significantly to the development of Western political thought.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Aphoristic Flirt Adam Phillips

If you randomly started reading Adam Phillips and knew nothing of his background, I have to think it would soon become apparent that he is a psychoanalyst, which conclusion you would arrive at--tentatively, of course--after seeing how his style is circuitous, diffuse, self-questioning, suggestive and assertive in about equal measure, and very reminiscent of the wide-ranging meanderings of the mind. If--apart from, perhaps, his study of D.W. Winnicott--you read virtually any of his many books, you will find that one way to characterize them is as collections of aphorisms surrounded by acres of prose. Because they bear remembering and quoting, I wanted to write some of them down here in no particular order. I gravitate towards the ones I think rich with theological promise as well as those of what seems to me acute clinical insight and applicability.

From On Flirtation: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Uncommitted Life, a book written in part to offer "psychoanalysis with a light touch," to allow analyst and analysand--and general readers--to realize that analysis should be about pleasure and enjoying ourselves (with a reference to Nina Coltart's singular and splendid book Slouching Towards Bethlehem).

On Idolatry:

"It is one of the advantages of flirtation that it can protect us from idolatry....Flirtation keeps things in play."

"All idols, by disarming pertinent forms of criticism, distracted their worshippers from more problematic but interesting desires."

"Psychoanalysis has always been a religion in which you are not allowed to believe in God."
"Dreams are accidents of desire."

"It is a fundamentally useful Freudian insight that we are never coincident with--the same as--the images we have of ourselves."

For the "Theology of the Body" Crowd:

"We have made a fetish of sexual difference....Our categories are themselves ghosts or ghost-writers and not the reassuring commodities which we...pretend they are."

"There is an erotics of uncertainty so the fear of relinquishing the idea of difference may be the fear of the death of desire."

"Thinking of the sexes as making each other whole is grounds for murder."

"Our theoretical habits, like our erotic habits, are the revenge of the past upon the future."
On the Virtues and Nature of Forgetting:

"People come for psychoanalytic treatment because they are remembering in a way that does not free them to forget."

"It has been the value of forgetting that psychoanalysis after Freud has most often repressed."

"It is only when two people forget themselves in each other's presence that they can recognize each other."

On D.W. Winnicott, British Psychoanalysis, and Narrative Theology/Philosophy:

"In Winnicott's work, it could be argued, psychoanalysis was incorporated into a Christian empiricist tradition.....Psychoanalysis becomes a new theology of mothering."

"Freud...put the implied narratives of a life, sanctioned by a Christian cosmology, in question."

"A successful psychoanalysis...makes memory possible but with a specific end in view--the patient's recovery."

"The patient has to refuse himself the conventional satisfactions of narrative....Psychoanalysis enables the patient to tolerate anti-narrative."

"Psychoanalysis as a theory and a therapy unavoidably promotes and institutionalizes the idea of an exemplary life." 

"Psychoanalysis is a professionalized social practice." (Would Alasdair MacIntyre agree?)
"Psychoanalytic practice is always hearsay."

On Psychoanalytic Methods and Results:

"Free association itself is the psychic act of relinquishing, as far as possible, one's slavish devotion to internal censors."

Quoting Sandor Ferenczi, "'The patient is not cured by free-associating: he is cured when he can free associate'."

"The radical nature of Freud's project is clear if one imagines what it would be like to live in a world in which everyone was able--had the capacity--to free-associate, to say whatever happened to come into their mind at any given moment."

"If a person ends up speaking psychoanalysis then the treatment has failed and must be called indoctrination."

"Psychoanalysis has always been about what it means to get bogged down in traditions."

"Psychoanalysis has, fortunately, had all its boundaries blurred...and it has now spilled into all sorts of other areas--religion, history, philosophy, politics, anthropology among others--with which it has much in common."

"Guilt...is a fundamental obstacle to psychoanalytic cure; the patient desperately needs his symptoms as a punishment."

"In psychoanalytic treatment it takes two to make a life-story."

"It would be particularly interesting for those who love psychoanalysis to tell us their misgivings about it all." (This is something I shall certainly do at some point!)

"It is not clear why so many of our notions of accountability--and often intelligibility--depend so exclusively on a capacity for blame."

"In our repetitions we seem to be staying away from the future, keeping it at bay."

"The best and worst of psychoanalytic theory always verges on the mystical."

"A good life entails the tolerance and enjoyment of inner complexity....There is no final resolution here" (commenting on Christopher Bollas' Being a Character).

"Psychoanalysis does not have to be an omnivorous interpreting machine, or another colonial adventure. At its best, it is a way of keeping the questions of childhood alive."

Monday, June 3, 2019

Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

I confess to not having heard of the author of this new book, but any time the words "Orthodoxy and Ecumenism" are used together, I always pay attention both out of serious and longstanding interest, and also because that combination amusingly causes certain heads to explode. But more seriously, with this book in particular, it comes with serious endorsements from Rowan Williams (who kindly and recently endorsed my new book), and with an endorsement from the former OCA chancellor, John Jillions (who was on the jury for what became my first book). So I look forward to reading Orthodoxy and Ecumenism: Towards an Active Metanoia by Razvan Porumb (Hachette Paris, 2019), 284pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book explores the relationship between the Orthodox tradition and the ecumenical practice of engagement with other Christian traditions. This relationship has for a long time been compromised by an underlying tension, as the Orthodox have chosen to participate in ecumenical encounters while – often at the same time – denouncing the ecumenical movement as deficient and illegitimate. The author perceives this relationship to be even more inconsistent since the core of Orthodoxy as professed by the Orthodox is precisely that of re-establishing the unity and catholicity of the Church of Christ. This vision informs Orthodox identity as essentially a Church of exploration, of engagement and dialogue, a Church committed to drive all other traditions, but also itself back to the «right» primordial faith. The book exposes the risk of Orthodox theology turning into an oppositional picture of Orthodoxy as necessarily opposed to a heterodox antipode, rather than being the continuous dynamic reality of the living Church of Christ. The author proposes the rediscovery of a set of paradigms in an ethos of humble, active metanoia that would enable a more plenary ecumenical operation for the Orthodox as well as a renewed awareness of their own spirituality.
And about this book, Williams had this to say: 
This is a sensitive, erudite and original essay on Orthodox attitudes to ecumenism. It deals very thoroughly with many of the contemporary anxieties expressed by the Orthodox about ecumenical involvement and offers a fresh and very rich theological perspective, deeply rooted in recent Eastern Christian thought (not least the theology of the great Fr Dumitru Staniloae), opening up new possibilities for understanding ecumenical dialogue without relativising or sacrificing fundamental commitments. It is a welcome and creative contribution to both ecumenical and Orthodox theology (The Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, Magdalene College, Cambridge University, Former Archbishop of Canterbury).
And Jillions offered this assessment: 
This is an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to better understand - from the inside - Orthodox theological tensions around ecumenism. But the book moves well beyond old stalemates. Razvan Porumb proposes that all Churches see themselves as part of a engaged with each other in all their diversity and journeying together on a transformational path toward theosis. A refreshing and hopeful vision of what the movement toward Christian unity could be (The Very Revd Dr John A. Jillions, St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, Former Chancellor, Orthodox Church in America).
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