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

Friday, November 29, 2019

Why Do We Keep Making the Same Mistakes?

Who among us has not instantly and constantly recognized oneself in the famous Pauline "I-not-I" passage at the end of Romans 7? Here Paul reflects on his own constant and relentless tendency to see the good but not do it, and to see the evil but not avoid it. This plagues all of us as a result of the introduction of what we might call deathful sin into the world. As the apostle says:
It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Here we see plainly evidence of what Freud would infamously call the "repetition compulsion" which is a central feature of the "death drive." Here we see, too, clear evidence of what Melanie Klein called "splitting" as parts of the mind war against the self and God. In all this, as in so many other instances (cf. Evagrius on the logismoi), Christianity anticipated what it would take modern psychology 1900 years to develop.

One person to grasp and admit this very readily is the late English analyst Nina Coltart, author of a book I read 25 years ago now, and return to more times than I can count: Slouching Toward Bethlehem. In her book, Coltart recognized that “We [analysts] deal with sin and its ramifying effects as surely as did a monk taking confession in his cell in the twelfth century; and we are the current representatives of a long tradition of those who worked for the cure of souls and who, in doing so, tried to bring not only insight but also transformation to the suffering sinner.” A little later in the book she also notes that “It may be a viable argument to say that Freud restored a sense of sin…and in so doing he rendered a service." (He did much more than that, as I have argued all over the place these last few years, not least in my new book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.)

In event, all that is prologue to a new, very short, but very powerful and useful little book that I recently received: Juan-David Nasio, Psychoanalysis and Repetition: Why Do We Keep Making the Same Mistakes? trans. David Pettigrew (SUNY Press, 2019), 98pp. For those who may be thrown off by the title, pay attention to the subtitle, which really says it all. Nasio's use of Freud and Lacan is very sparing, and as noted below his insights are very useful to Christians who feel caught in habitual sin (cf. Romans 7:13ff) and other repetitive habits destructive of ourselves, our human relationships, and our relationship with God.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In Psychoanalysis and Repetition, Juan-David Nasio, one of the leading contemporary Lacanian psychoanalysts in France, argues that unconscious repetition represents the core of psychoanalysis as well as no less than the fundamental constitution of the human being. Through repetition, the unconscious memory of the past erupts, without our knowledge, in our choices and actions, to such an extent that, for Nasio, we are our past in action.
While Nasio explains that repetition is both healthy and pathological, the book is primarily concerned with the repetition of unconscious trauma, as trauma engenders trauma, through unconscious fantasms that are expressed, in turn, as symptoms. Through vivid clinical examples, as well as trenchant theoretical explications involving repetition, Nasio illuminates a range of fundamental concepts in Freud and Lacan and offers a rethinking of the psychoanalytic tradition in the context of this theme. Nasio’s approach is richly interdisciplinary, incorporating passages from philosophers Descartes and Spinoza, for example, and from such literary figures as Pindar, Proust, and Verlaine. The interdisciplinary fabric of Nasio’s discourse conveys the crucial importance of the concept of repetition in psychoanalysis and in the human condition.
This book, of course, draws on what is arguably the most controversial work in a life and career marked by much of the same: Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where he postulated the existence of a repetition compulsion as part of the death drive. Until very recently, almost every analyst was at pains to pretend this theory did not exist. Even a noted sycophant like Ernest Jones severely downplayed the work in his three-volume hagiography of Freud's life.

More recently, however, and strikingly, the death drive has come in for a lot of renewed attention, much of it discussed on here in the past two years. For all the bogus controversy dredged up between Freud and Christians, this point seems to me to be the most obvious and easily accessible place for theology and Freud to begin a dialogue. Thus I think Christians should be the people most receptive to this theory, finding it most congenial to and so manifestly compatible with what we understand of original sin and its effects on us (cf. Romans 7:14ff.). More recently others have been coming to this conclusion, including Paul Axton.

I'm finding Nasio's text very valuable in revealing the nature of trauma and how it works on the memory. I'm also moved by the brief interview with which the book begins, in which Nasio explains how he practices as an analyst, a method and manner that strikes me as very kenotic.

He also has interesting insights into the problems of memory and forgetting, which I have often discussed on here in relation to Adam Phillips, inter alia. Thus Nasio can write that "There is more of the unconscious in a symptom than in the memory of an important family event" (5). That is a useful reminder that memories do not capture everything, and are often changed in their recalling, especially if more than one person recalls the memory. Thus he will write a little later on that "repetition is repetition of the Same...but--take note!--never identical to itself, always slightly modified each time is surges" (11). Because of this lack of total identity between recall, he can say--as many others have demonstrated--that "Memory is always capricious and unfaithful" (20).

Nasio's book is also a reminder that the same trauma can and does affect different people in different ways, and it profits nobody anything to downplay or outright deny some kind of traumatic suffering merely because one, apparently, managed to live through the same event and emerge relatively unscathed. He further notes that not everything we might later think traumatic existed clearly and unambiguously in those terms at the time. Instead, the messiness of memory can play a significant role here, especially repeated memories: "The 'return' of pathological repetition, the Same...that haunts the subject, is a blind and violent emotion experienced in childhood or puberty, during a half-real, half-imagined traumatic episode of a sexual, aggressive, or sad character" (24).

Even if traumatic memories may be half-real and half-imagined, sometimes people get involved, as Nasio says, in pathological repetition, which can be "not only painful in its manifestation but also compulsive in its eruption. Repetition is compulsive because it results form an irresistible double force of the unconscious fantasm: a push upward in order to externalize itself, and a push forward in order to begin again. Every compulsion bears this double movement upward and forward" (36). This is very much in keeping with how Freud and others more recently have seen this, perhaps especially Todd McGowan, whose hugely insightful book Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis I discussed in several installments.

We can never tire of reminding ourselves: the death drive is not nihilistic! It is teleological. Pathological repetition, that key hallmark of the drive, is teleological. The drive and its cycles of repetition, even--especially--retraumatizing repetition, all act purposefully. They seek something. They need something. They are striving after something that, however mistakenly, the mind thinks will be salutary and perhaps even healing. As Nasio puts it, trauma, strangely, exercises an "attraction" to "an exclusive and unhealthy model of satisfaction" (28). This teleological orientation is so strong in some that, as Nasio says, "trauma is paradoxically a drug, and the one who is traumatized is addicted to this drug. Trauma engenders trauma" (23).

The single greatest insight I found in this book was its clarification about the very nature and typology of trauma. We are mistaken if we think that trauma is a singular and enormous, overpowering event. It may be that for some people, but for others it may consist of a "series of regular micro traumas. Indeed a psychical trauma does not necessarily present itself as a sudden and violent breach [effraction]. Rather, it can occur progressively and subtly over the course of a sufficiently long duration. But whether the trauma is a brutal breach or a slow and insidious succession of micro traumas, it is always defined according to an essential formulation: too much excitement in a subject who is too weak to bear it" (32).

This of course immediately put me in mind of a series of reflections of Adam Phillips to which I have often returned in my mind over the past few years: on how we are often too much to bear for ourselves. Perhaps in a sense we are all "manic" and perhaps only God can contain us.

In sum, then, there is much in Juan-David Nasio, Psychoanalysis and Repetition: Why Do We Keep Making the Same Mistakes? to reflect on in these closing days of the civil year when many of us may do a kind of year-long examen of our life before turning to wonder whether the new year will bring us some welcome change and healing. The fact that we so often find ourselves repeating the very things that hurt and harm us rather than heal us cries out for deeper explanation, and Nasio has helped us in that regard.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Greek Orthodox Church in America

It's striking to see what apparently is a new imprint from Cornell University Press ("NIU Series in Orthodox Christian Studies"). It will release a volume in this series next June when it publishes The Greek Orthodox Church in America: A Modern History  by Alexander Kitroeff (2020), 324pp.

About this book we are told the following by the publisher:
In this deep history, Alexander Kitroeff shows how the Greek Orthodox Church in America has functioned as much more than a religious institution, becoming the focal point in the lives of the country's million-plus Greek immigrants and their descendants.
Assuming the responsibility of running day- and afternoon Greek-language schools and encouraging local parishes to engage in cultural and social activities, the Church became the most important Greek American institution and shaped the identity of the Greeks in the United States. The Orthodox Church did this by successfully balancing between the need to retain Old World traditions at the core of Orthodox Christianity while adapting to the American environment and to address the spiritual and secular needs of the younger generations steadily integrating into American society.
Kitroeff digs into these traditions, highlighting the American Church's dependency on the "mother church," the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople and the use of the Greek language in the Sunday liturgy. For several decades in the post-WWII era the Church reconciled its Old-World ties with the Americanization of the faithful, most significantly and controversially permitting the use of English in the liturgy. When, at the end of the twentieth century, the process of assimilation progressed to the extent of raising the possibility of the Church merging into a supra-ethnic American Orthodox Church the Patriarchate in Constantinople expressed strong disapproval. But today, as this rich biography of the Church shows us, Greek Orthodoxy remains in between the Old World and the New, both Greek and American.

Monday, November 25, 2019

What to Buy for all the Bishops in Your Life

If you are wondering what to get all the Catholic bishops and clergy in your life as Christmas bears down on us in exactly one month, why not try a copy of a new book which has the merit of being short and quite blunt, sparing them the time and effort of trying to figure out what the author really means? If you and they are frustrated by lack of concrete proposals for reform in the Church to deal with the endless sex abuse crisis, think about sending a crate of these books to every official in your chancery and parish office.

I refer, of course, to my own book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. It comes with a slew of endorsements from bishops, theologians, and other scholars of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox backgrounds.

You can read about the genesis of the book here and here. You can also read about one of my major themes and interlocutors in the book here. If you want a short radio interview on the book, here I am on our local NPR affiliate.

And finally here is the publisher's blurb:
The most serious sex abuse crisis in Catholic history demands the most serious and far-reaching response. This book is a contribution to that response. Its proposed changes would revolutionize Catholic structures from the parish to the papacy. Unlike other revolutions, however, this one is anchored with great care in both history and theology, including that of the various Eastern Churches.
This book shows that the current monocausal explanations of abuse and cover-up (either “clericalism” or “homosexuality”) both overlook the structural issues of governance. The current centralized structures, which monopolize power in the hands of bishops and popes, must be reformed and in their place new structures of local accountability implemented, in order for the Church to move past the present crisis.
This is a radical book in the original sense of the word: a return to root practices that structured much of Catholic life for hundreds of years. It is thus a deeply “traditionalist” book rooted strongly in venerable Christian practices, but is also an openly “liberal” book that argues in favor of liberating the laics so they can resume with voice and vote their rightful role in the councils of governance.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Neuropsychiatry, Philosophy, and Theology Meet in a Bar...

In my book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, I discuss one of Paul Ricoeur's major books, Freud and Philosophy. That book, which originated as the Terry Lectures at Yale almost half a century ago, stands as one of the most perceptive and important engagements of Freud by any Christian thinker in the last century. Ricoeur saw with more piercing insight than most that Freud, far from being an enemy of Christian faith, is one of its most important allies in the battle against illusion and idolatry (a point Adam Phillips has also recognized).

I'm also working on a long essay in which I draw on one of Ricoeur's last works, Memory, History, Forgetting. Though dense, this and all his books are always worth working your way through, not least for his ranging far and wide, and without apology, across disciplinary frontiers, including psychology, history, philosophy, and theology. Though ostensibly a Protestant, he ranges across Catholic theology very easily, and has often been discussed by Catholic theologians and mentioned even in recent papal encyclicals. Anyone dealing with modern hermeneutics will have come across Ricoeur and the need to grapple with his many books.

It is with interest, then, that I came across notice of a recent publication by M.T.H. Wong, a neuropsychiatrist: Ricoeur and the Third Discourse of the Person: From Philosophy and Neuroscience to Psychiatry and Theology (Lexington Books, 2018), 215pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book is about the so called “4S” challenge – how does or can or should someone say something to someone about something? This challenge is getting more intense day by day in our contemporary globalized world, increasingly connected by science and technology through telecommunication and all sorts of social media, where people are acutely aware of the diverse views on culture, politics, economics, religion, ethics, education, physical health and mental wellbeing, which are very often in conflicts with each other.
This book arises from the reading of the dialogue between two internationally renowned and respected French scholars, Jean-Pierre Changeux and Paul Ricoeur, What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature, and the Brain, which explores where science and philosophy meet, and whether there is a place for religion in the 21st century. This book develops on the ideas Ricoeur raised in the dialogue about the need for “digging deeper” and a “third discourse” as a way forward to improve dialogues between competing worldviews and ideologies. It attempts to formulate a “third discourse” (as distinct from ordinary language as “first discourse” and various scientific or professional/specialist languages as “second discourse”) to address the burning issue of fragmentation of the person through overcoming the alienations between established discourses of philosophy, science and theology, without doing injustice to the unique and indispensable contributions of each of these discourses. It argues that such a “third discourse” has to go beyond dualism and reductionism. To achieve that, this new way of talking about the lived experience of the person is going to take the form of a non-reductive correlative multilayered discourse that has the capacity to, as expressed in the language of the hermeneutics of Ricoeur, “explain more in order to understand better.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Dumitru Staniloae's Ecumenical & Trinitarian Ecclesiology

Recently the international trilingual juried journal of which I am editor, Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, published an essay treating many of the same themes as that author has now developed at length in his new book: Dumitru Staniloae’s Trinitarian Ecclesiology: Orthodoxy and the Filioque by Viorel Coman (Fortress, 2019), 310pp.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I think Staniloae one of the most important Orthodox theologians of the last century, and that Radu Bordeianu's book on him remains one of the most significant treatments in ecclesiology this century. (See my interview with Radu here.) It is good, then, that Staniloae continues to get much deserved attention from young scholars. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Dumitru Stăniloae is one of the most important but routinely neglected twentieth-century Orthodox theologians. Viorel Coman explores the ecumenical relevance of Stăniloae’s reflections on the interplay between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the church in the context of the debates on the ecclesiological ramifications of the filioque. Coman combines a historical and theological analysis of Stăniloae’s approach to the filioque, Trinity, and church. The historical analysis shows the changes that have taken place over time in Stăniloae’s approach to the issue of the filioque and the doctrine of the church. The theological analysis emphasizes the ecumenical contribution of the Romanian thinker to the fields of Trinitarian theology and ecclesiology. Even though this book centers primarily around Stăniloae’s vision on the link between the doctrine of the Trinity and the Church, it places his theological reflections in a solid dialogue with other Eastern (Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, and John Zizioulas) and Western theologians (Karl Barth, Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, and Walter Kasper).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Christiaan Kappes on the Epiclesis Debate at Florence

The author of this most impressive new book is, indeed, an impressive fellow, both in writing and in person, where he wears his considerable learning lightly and cheerfully.

His is the kind of book you buy not just to support good scholarship and not just because you are interested in history, ecumenism, and theology, but also because you are, naturellement, the sort of person who luxuriates in the kind of rich footnotes this volume has aplenty, and the kind of even richer historical narratives it sets forth while simultaneously challenging, untwisting, and revising earlier narratives which were often entangled with and corrupted by apologetic agendas. Meet the priest and scholar Christiaan Kappes, author of the fascinating new book The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence, just released from the University of Notre Dame Press (2019), xxii + 418pp.

Following my usual practice, I sent him some questions about the book, and here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us a bit about your background

CK: I've been a priest since 2002 and have had the fortune of serving in a variety of different apostolates, both pastoral and academic. My bishops have assigned me to work in Ecuador, Mexico, the Vatican, and Greece. These last several years I've spent my time as the academic dean of Ss Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary, which is a theological graduate school offering two kinds of Master degrees in theology to about 35 students who are mainly Eastern Christians, though we do have other denominations and ritual churches represented.

AD: When we were last met together on here, it was to discuss your book on the Immaculate Conception. Are there connections between that book and your new one? 

Hmmm...On the thematic level there is practically no overlap.

While (surprisingly) the conception by the Theotokos of Jesus in utero is the major analogy among pre-Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers of both Greekdom and Latindom for talking about the manner or process to analogize Eucharistic change, this analogy is based upon the Holy Spirit changing the substance of an ovum (in today’s language) into an hypostasis or new personal-substance. So, as the Spirit changed ovum-into-person miraculously, Greek and Latin Fathers explained that the Spirit changed an item from a bread-substance or wine-substance into an hypostasis (without getting to detailed into the classification and modality of this change), Jesus Christ. So, the process of Mary's conception within the womb of Anna is fairly irrelevant to these kinds of analogies.

On the other hand, the historical timing of the epiclesis debate between Greeks and Latins (1390s-1439) nearly coincides with the first known Greek awareness of the question of Mary's status in grace at her conception (c. 1343), where Dominicans were notable in the East for trying to convince Orthodox, just as other Latins, that Aquinas was correct so that Mary was born with some sort of lack of grace, or taint, otherwise referred to as original sin. Even so, there is no reason or occasion in the present monograph to go into the Immaculate Conception at Florence, even if it was the talk of the town since the rebellious and contemporary Latin Council of Basil (opposing Florence) declared about this time that Mary was immaculately conceived, which annoyed not a few Dominicans present and representing Pope Eugene IV at his council (which sat successively at the cities of Ferrara and Florence, Italy).
AD: More generally, can you tell us what led to the writing of The Epiclesis Debate at the Council of Florence?

CK: Two young scholars Charles Yost and Nicholas Kamas (both of whom have recently graduated from Notre Dame) were kind enough to extend an invite to me to participate in a Notre-Dame (IN) sponsored session at the Congress of Medieval Studies (held every year in Kalamazoo, MI). The theme of that particular session was on Eucharistic controversies of the period. As such, I took some odds and ends that I had begun to notice in Mark of Ephesus's works and compiled them into a paper. Afterwards, I was so impressed by what I found that I was excited to keep researching in order to share with a wider audience my findings.

AD: Not all of our readers will know what your title refers to. Could you give us a one-sentence summary of what the "epiclesis debate" was about, and a summary of the significance of Florence, too? 

CK: The title refers to a long-standing disagreement between churches of the Eastern Orthodox communion with the Roman Catholic Church over the moment of the Eucharistic prayer when the bread is changed into the body and wine is changed into the blood of Christ. Secondly, in a sentence, the Council of Florence was the last bilateral attempt of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic church to overcome major areas of doctrinal differences that kept them out of Eucharistic communion with one another.

AD: Immediately in your introduction we're off to the races in which we find the conventional narratives seriously complicated if not overturned. Thus we hear, e.g., of radical differences within and among Greek and Dominican scholars, not least over the roles played by Palamas and Palamite thought, whose influence, you say, has been overlooked. Why the neglect, and why is it important to bring this to the surface? 

CK: First of all, all the documents of the Council of Florence were only completely published in 1976 with the publishing of the Slavonic Acts of the Council. What is more the documents and records of Palamism had only begun to be investigated with a certain degree of scientific accuracy starting in the 1910s and a complete edition of all the actors from Palamas until Florence is still yet to be published (though we are getting much much closer!). Finally, in addition to the important lack of documentation, there was the problem of the methodological divide between traditional Roman Catholic theologians (systematicians/dogmaticians) and historical theologians (also medievalists); the former naturally feel the onus to believe that past polemical narrative of past scholars and churchmen somehow carry on the correct spirit of looking at history and theology that requires no or very little nuance for a contemporary church, while the latter began to spend their time mythbusting the Neo-Thomistic (late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century) narrative of a purported dominance, unity, and internal coherence of Thomistic and Dominican thought during the whole of the middle ages and renaissance until modernity. These narratives –even if the best Neo-Scholastics were always aware of the intramural debates among their own for centuries – were only beginning to fall apart in the 1960s (as far as the publication of academic challenges to such commonplace meta-narratives goes).

AD: Your book, noting the "grossly skewed portrait" that has been common among Catholics considering Mark of Ephesus, gives us a very different picture of him, especially in chs. 2 and 3. Give us a thumb-nail sketch of how you see him and how he has been used and abused by modern Catholics and Orthodox apologists. 

CK: Given the stakes and the perspectives of the time, it would have been quite unusual, perhaps just short of impossible, for popes, cardinals, and theologians to objectively engage Mark when so much of what the papalists were doing at Florence was vested in opposing anti-papal Conciliarists in nearby Basel, who were contesting the pope's claims to supreme jurisdiction and his claims to a rather vague doctrinal immunity in contrast to that any other clergyman in the church.

Understandably, any jot or tittle whereby Mark was perceived in a western politico-religious context to contribute to this political opposition of princes and prelates against the pope was an immediate threat to the politico-religious order that was desired by pope and papalists. Here, people and God are, as per usual, subjected to political and cultural expediencies. In fact, Mark of Ephesus was never canonically disciplined by any "uniate" Constantinopolitan authority, nor by a decree by a pope of Rome. Yet, he has been the object of constant invective over the centuries principally for undermining a triumphalistic narrative of Florence. Yet, Mark's communion of Orthodox churchmen only begged to renegotiate Florence and enter into new discussions toward a lasting union by means of a new conjoint council (hardly the actions of a schismatic). Of course, his Holy Synaxis (or group of friends) was rejected after the emperor solemnly declared the union of Florence in 1452 after papal threats to withhold military aid.

I do not wish to demonize these characters responsible for this programme, but rather underline that--like the lessons learned by Dvornik's immortal book on the Photian Schism rehabilitating Photius (it would seem) for ever--Renaissance literature provided an imaginative construct for demonizing Eugenicus that remained in full force well after Dvornik's challenge to sectarian scholars to exercise tolerance, fairness, and non-partisanship.

Joseph Gill's The Council of Florence is a sad tribute to once celebrated intolerance of Petit, Grumel, and Jugie (even while I admit all their merits when speaking on many a topic not related to Mark Eugenicus). Perhaps dreams and images of world peace, religious unity, or even Roman Catholic hegemony, seemed especially by these authors to be symbolically frustrated by Mark (thus meriting their animus). Take a look at the constant barrage of scholarly quotations up to and beyond the turning point in Dvornik. L. Petit referred to Mark thus:
“Every man of good faith would agree on it [previously mentioned: Mark’s hardline, savage hatred of the Council]. For Mark’s part, if his kind of argument seems insidious –nay, even serious– the lion’s share of his arguments are of an astonishingly puerile nature […] Incidentally, he passes over his adversaries [in an apologetic letter]: all these things, from the point of view of this intransigent fanatic, constitute a series of unpardonable misleading comments […] The attack directed against the august assembly [of Florence] by the archbishop of Ephesus was rude, impassioned, hateful”[1] V. Grumel writes:“The Archbishop of Ephesus is far from giving us the impression of being a great genius. He had the appearance of impotence to elevate his thought above the manner of existence of created things […] This metaphysical impotence grants nothing honorific to this ‘hero of Orthodoxy’.”[2].
Again Martin Jugie wrote: “Note, after the separation [of Greeks and Latins], the Latins always appealed to the Greeks by employing the authority of the Greek Fathers. All the same (just as Mark Eugenicus himself had done at the Council on this score), the Greeks were either entirely ignorant of the Latin Fathers, or contended babylike that Latin works were corrupted by the Latins themselves”[3].

Finally, in a style entirely bereft of the spirit of Dvornik, Gill writes:
“In the meetings about Purgatory, conciliatory at the beginning, Mark hardened in his opposition the more he went on […] Quite arbitrarily, he treated the Constantinopolitan Creed as if it were the original Nicene […] Mark was impervious to argument […] Mark’s obstinacy would not have mattered so much if all the Greek prelates, or the most of them, had been of a high intellectual calibre […] He had the strength of character to follow a single-minded, indeed a narrow-minded, purpose at any cost.”[4]
Elsewhere, Gill remarks sarcastically: “Mark of Ephesus, it is true, was unpersuaded [by the Latins], indeed, if anything, more than ever confirmed in his belief of the unassailability of the Greek position, convinced by his own eloquence.”[5]

Perhaps, at the opposite end, Mark is imagined by eighteenth-century Orthodox authors to be a symbol of burgeoning Greek self-identity, styling him the Anti-Papas who single-handedly defeated empires and popes and saw the Greek Church as the only society or organization in which Greeks under the Turkish yoke could preserve their national/ethnic identity. In stark contrast to the original office (akolouthy) written by Mark's sibling in the fifteenth century for his sanctification, the eighteenth-century liturgical office written by Nikodemos Hagioritis speaks of Mark's trampling on tiaras and, effectively, of him overturning papal government. The style of the akolouthy is completely absorbed in Greek politico-religious aspirations of the period.

In reality, Mark was above all a Palamite monk who wanted solitude and who had no desire to go to Florence because he would be taken out of monastic retreat. Because he was devoted to his ordaining patriarch Joseph II (the alleged uniate) and because the emperor pressured him, he caved to their demands and represented his church as the emperor’s personal champion. He prepared for the Council by reading Latin-Scholastic literature, including Aquinas and Scotus, and used creatively some of their ideas for his positive writings, though tending to be cautious toward Aquinas overall.

Mark mainly citing Duns Scotus as a foil to Aquinas on religious questions, where Franciscans and Greeks agreed, but Dominicans dissented. Mark loved Renaissance art – writing a treatise in praise of what he saw in Italy – he spent money on Augustine’s works in Italy, whom he quoted more than any other Eastern theologian up to this point in Orthodox history for dogma.

He initially complimented the theological dialogue with Latins at the council and praised their acuity but ultimately was brought to frustration and turned against the council after a series of shenanigans at Florence, where thin-skinned clerics were trying to control each and every word that he uttered during the council and prevent him in numerous ways from discussing anything from Ecumenical Councils’ canons to finishing his speeches by raucous interruptions. He bore solemnly and politely each and every interruption until the filioque debates, whereupon a single Latin theologian was entrusted to speak on behalf of all of Latindom but who used neither Aquinas’s nor anybody else’s discernible argument for the filioque but instead employed a hodgepodge series of texts including a subordinationist text of Ps.-Basil’s Contre Eunomium. This finally exasperated the patience of Mark. He then retreated from the council, for which absence his serious health issues provided him a legitimate excuse in the eyes of his emperor.

AD: You document the relative neglect of Mark's role in the epiclesis debate, saying that to the extent modern Orthodoxy pays him any attention it is for his "theological conclusions" rather than his "method" (37). I confess that mention of theological method is often a trigger for me, awakening immediate overpowering fatigue from having been forced as an undergraduate to slog my way through Lonergan on method! Tell us why attending to Mark's method is in fact important.  

Yes, I’m with you, for I studied at the shrine to Lonerganian studies (Seton Hall). I must confess that I did not leave Seton Hall carrying any amulets with Lonergan’s name etched on them!

The method whereby Mark arrived at his conclusions--by which he also objected to Latins--included ranking of theological authorities by their intrinsic merit, denying a priori any per se infallibility of saints’ writings, and arguing that human reason needed to enter into the debates. One instance would be with the appeals by Latins to the visions of their saints of purgatorial fire. Among other things, he demanded a philosophical explanation on how material fire affected a non-material entity, the soul (alleged by Thomists to contain no material at all). Secondly, he argued that one cannot move from the topical and local experience of saints, to generalize dogma for the whole church based upon mystical visions that are in no wise found in anyone else’s legitimate tradition. This kind of discussion was jolting for the Latins, who begged Mark to stop saying the saints aren’t per se infallible! Who’s the rationalist in this vignette?

AD: Following on from this, you note (p.187) that part of Mark's objection in the end to Florence came from its failure (in Mark's eyes) to follow the reforming work and theology of the "Photian Council of 879-80." What was so important about that earlier council? Was his view of its significance shared by others at Florence?  

The Photian Council was conjoint; all major patriarchates (including popes) officially signed and sealed the decrees. What is more, under the next pope, John VIII, the cancellation of a first or former (anti-)Photian synod (870) was declared cancelled and Pope John’s decrees or decretal entered into Latin canonical collections (e.g. St. Ivo of Chartres) until it was superseded by Gratian’s canons called the Decretum (c. 1150), but which was devoid of references to the 880 synod.

The cooperation between Rome and Constantinople and the admission of the Greek righteousness on the question of the filioque by Rome itself needed to be acknowledged in Mark’s mind before any move forward toward union could happen. After all, the council of 880 called itself and was canonized as “ecumenical.” Due to Latins trusting a Greek-convert as their posthumous expert or peritus on these canons, Manuel Kalekas’s works--celebrated at the time--convinced the Latins to dismiss out of hand the validity of the acts of this council, preventing introduction of its acts at Florence.

AD: Another figure of whom we get a very different portrait from your work is Torquemada. Give us a sketch of him and his importance to these debates. 

Torquemada was styled a genius by Roman apologists, of course, since he was allegedly Neo-Thomist and due to the fact that he (after Florence) was to coin the first acceptable notion of papal infallibility. Historiography during the ultramontane period of Roman Catholic history apotheosized Torquemada for all but making the pope’s favorite color dogmatic…

In reality, Torquemada was a professional, rather cold, and faithful Dominican who was somewhat eclectic like many Dominicans of the day. He was not a papal absolutist but (in comparison to ultramontanes) a rather weak if not heretical (vis-à-vis Vatican I) papalist.

What is more, he was not a really good philosopher and Thomas Izbicki has shown in his monograph on Torquemada that he had a number of limitations in his understanding of canon law at the time of Ferrara-Florence. Among the Dominicans, he was certainly no slouch, but much of his energy and ire was being directed at Franciscan theology during his career; specifically he tried to get Franciscans condemned by an ecumenical council for believing in the Immaculate Conception.

I have found too that his methods were not faithful to Thomas Aquinas when he thought that he would fare better in forensic debate by saying something other than the Common Doctor or Angelic Doctor on the question. Furthermore – to no fault of his own – he was forced to invent an entire theology of the Eucharist and an anti-epiclesis theology against Greek dogmatics and liturgy in the space of about three days. I show that he simply cut and pasted what he could hastily put together at the Dominican convent in town and that the quality of the document reflects the urgency, his unreasonable timetable, and his lack of knowledge of Greek liturgy and Fathers (not to mention some of the Latin Fathers).

AD: At the end of chapter 8 we are confronted with several papal documents treating issues of the sacraments, and note that their "peculiar definitions were capable of being reformulated" (p. 221). At the end of ch. 9, you note that we see such a reformulation, building on Mark of Ephesus, in the revisions to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to take account of the role of the epiclesis. Does the Catholic Church need to make some kind of official recognition of Mark's role and even his sainthood, both as an ecumenical gesture to the East but also as a way of correcting the sometimes shoddy and tendentious ways in which he was used and abused by such Catholics as Louis Petit and Martin Jugie? 

It is a strange and entirely delicious question! Already so-called uniates or Melkite Catholics can be found with icons of Mark even in their churches.

What is most amusing is that St. Pius X sent the Melkites a rather nasty circular letter in the 1900s telling them to stop repeating and teaching what was essentially Mark of Ephesus’s position on the epiclesis! The fact is, however, that only historiographers and individual theologians have condemned Mark as a heretic. There is not a single canonical sentence, East or West, ever issued against him. Mark, as an editor of the acts and decrees of no less than three ecumenical councils, correctly told Pope Eugene at the end of Florence that his refusal to sign the document called “the definition” was in fact – in our language – the refusal to sign a “joint theological declaration.” Mark’s canonical point was that the entire Florentine council never officially impugned the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Churches on any dogmatic subject (remember that the minutes of Ecumenical Councils are not its canons or decrees).

Secondly, Florence issued no canons or decrees, nor did it attach to its acts any anathemas. So, given the reality of this, Mark asked how can Pope Eugene legally condemn him for not signing a joint declaration that has no disciplinary measures attached to it for not signing? What is more, since this style of council simply tried to declare that Greeks and Latins mean the same thing, Mark protested that for Latins Mark was already orthodox. Mark simply disagreed that the Latins were canonically correct in their assertion of unilateral powers to change ecumenical canons without consulting any other church and that the Greek word “through the Spirit” did mean the same thing as the Latin “from the Spirit” as the insufficiently-Thomist theologian at Florence had attempted to argue in his debate with Mark.

Allowing the Eastern Catholic Churches to add an appendix to their Menaion (along with the existing one of Palamas who wrote two treatises against the Dominican position on the Holy Spirit) is to me a fine way to express the reality of Mark. He certainly has nothing standing in the way of his local cultus. His canonical status in the Catholic Church is higher than Blessed Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and any other host of theologians with a messy but nonetheless Catholic identity. His sanctity is due, I think, to his sincerity and ascetical life that was unencumbered by the political machinations on both sides of the Adriatic at his time. He desired a lasting union not a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

AD: As an overall comment on the book, and much of your work more generally, is it fair to say (as David Bentley Hart did in an essay more than a decade ago now) that much of Christian division turns on, and is propagated still by, bad history, making careful and painstaking scholarly works as your own all the more important? 

Yes, I must agree. I spend so much time in manuscripts and critical editions of the primary texts and the sources used by the Medievals for their own arguments that it becomes a sad story for me. If they worked sometimes sincerely but were disadvantaged by a limited access to authentic sources, we poor contemporary Christians have at our fingertips the largest database in the history of Christianity and we come to the same conclusions with entirely different evidence.

We can see how much of theological fluff and theological opinion that was once upon a time asserted as dogma for cultural, ethnic, and political reasons, is clearly non-essential and yet our modern and even (shockingly) contemporary theologians (some of whom are good linguists and philologists) cling in an infantile manner to old narratives, by and large, written by non-saints and non-magisterial authors but which give the individual ego a feeling of belonging to a club with no cultural, linguistic, or ethnic membership with a single defect.

The psychological need for every personal or corporate action and personage of note in one’s church to perfectly contribute to a narrative of superiority or institutional infallibility is placing a ton of weight on every notable-historical member in one communion of churches that s/he will never be able to bear. Sinners sin and their post-lapsarian ignorance plays itself out like anybody else. Fairness, tolerance, and truthfulness, as the aims of a theologians with the largest database in world history, could have already resulted in solving the lion’s share of problems by now. However, on the bright side, look at the good accomplished by just one Dvornik and but one Taft. I’m hopeful that there are many, many more of these to come to overcome this silly-ongoing dialectic of otherness and opposition.

AD: Having finished the book, what other projects are you at work on now? 

I am working on a similar project with regard to the Filioque (to show how the Latin multiple-personality syndrome of filioquism, each of which personalities had little in common with each other but all iterations of the theory simply contributed to the fact that Greeks must be the bad guys). Of course, on the other side, I’m working on Mark of Ephesus’s and Gennadius Scholarius’s agreement with some aspects of the Latins’ position on “from the Son” gleaned from Palamas’s Apodictic Treatises on the Holy Spirit; wherein we see a perfectly coherent sense of “from the Son” that was even admitted at times (but sidelined at others) in the progression of thought by Aquinas. The irrational hatred of any mention of the Son in regard to immanent Trinity and his “essential” role (versus personal role) in production of the Son is fanatically opposed by anti-intellectual Orthodox without realizing that this position was endorse by Palamas, Eugenicus, and Scholarius.

The net result is that Aquinas’s theological opinion (though valid for Catholics of today) is one hypothesis, a drop in an historical sea and can be read in two different ways; one that is the majority reading of today and is unacceptable to Greeks; the other that is entirely in line with Palamas but that is unlikely to get a hearing from Dominicans, since it dares to agree with inimical Franciscan readings of Augustine’s Trinitarian productions that de-emphasize Aquinas’s famous Anselmian development of relations in favor of Augustine’s theory of psychological productions (more than mere metaphor) so that the Trinity is principally about a producing-person (viz., the Father) not about relating (with no real reason to rank the Father as first in a taxis or mere relatedness between three items). Anyway, this narrative already encountered stiff opposition from Dominicans against Franciscans (and nowadays medievalists) but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

In other news, I’m trying to put the finishing touches on my PhD thesis, written under Archbishop Elpidoforos of America, which outlines the Palamite background to the debates at Florence that resulted in the essence-energies research by Scholarios post-Florence and his publication of three separate treatise on the question.

AD: Sum up your hopes for the book, and who should read it.

I would hope that both Catholic theologians knowledgeable of Scholasticism and Orthodox theologians knowledgeable of patristics or Palamism can each appreciate the in-depth research into every source used by both Eugenicus and Torquemada and that each can agree that too many human elements intervened into what ought to have been serene and bilateral series of studies at Florence in order to come up with a truly bilateral agreement.

The lesson I hope that all readers might draw from the study is humility with regard to what we think we know and how much evidence we think we have for our positions and summarizing the positions of our church. Without interlocutors to talk us down from our Ivory Towers (which I am blessed to have at our Seminary) we are all potentially liable, due to pride and prejudice, to fall into the same unchristian temptations as Mark’s interlocutors at Florence who prevented the realization of a lasting union of minds and hearts that Mark desired at the onset of the Council. While Mark’s reputation will likely require decades to rehabilitate – given the quantity of anti-Eugenican literature in nineteenth and twentieth centuries – I hope ultimately that a modicum of respect and of admiration may be in store for Mark, the result of an open-minded reading of the monograph, no matter the theological perspective with which the reader may enter into my text.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Gods of the Marketplace

I was, to be honest, a little amazed to learn that Harvey Cox is still alive, lazily assuming that anyone whose first big book was published in the 1960s must have died some time ago. But he's not just alive, but set next month to release a paperback edition of The Market as God (Harvard University Press, 2019), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
The Market has deified itself, according to Harvey Cox’s brilliant exegesis. And all of the world’s problems—widening inequality, a rapidly warming planet, the injustices of global poverty—are consequently harder to solve. Only by tracing how the Market reached its “divine” status can we hope to restore it to its proper place as servant of humanity.
The Market as God captures how our world has fallen in thrall to the business theology of supply and demand. According to its acolytes, the Market is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. It knows the value of everything, and determines the outcome of every transaction; it can raise nations and ruin households, and nothing escapes its reductionist commodification. The Market comes complete with its own doctrines, prophets, and evangelical zeal to convert the world to its way of life. Cox brings that theology out of the shadows, demonstrating that the way the world economy operates is neither natural nor inevitable but shaped by a global system of values and symbols that can be best understood as a religion.
Drawing on biblical sources, economists and financial experts, prehistoric religions, Greek mythology, historical patterns, and the work of natural and social scientists, Cox points to many parallels between the development of Christianity and the Market economy. At various times in history, both have garnered enormous wealth and displayed pompous behavior. Both have experienced the corruption of power. However, what the religious have learned over the millennia, sometimes at great cost, still eludes the Market faithful: humility.
Cox is of course a Protestant, and I hope it will not be taken as an ecumenical felicity if I mention that I shall read his book second. I will do so after I have read The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity by Eugene McCarraher, a Catholic scholar and writer of singular insight whom I have often cited since discovering him a few years back.

McCarraher's big book of 816 pages, is also published by Harvard UP, and released this week. About it the publisher tells us this:
Far from displacing religions, as has been supposed, capitalism became one, with money as its deity. Eugene McCarraher reveals how mammon ensnared us and how we can find a more humane, sacramental way of being in the world.
If socialists and Wall Street bankers can agree on anything, it is the extreme rationalism of capital. At least since Max Weber, capitalism has been understood as part of the “disenchantment” of the world, stripping material objects and social relations of their mystery and sacredness. Ignoring the motive force of the spirit, capitalism rejects the awe-inspiring divine for the economics of supply and demand.
Eugene McCarraher challenges this conventional view. Capitalism, he argues, is full of sacrament, whether or not it is acknowledged. Capitalist enchantment first flowered in the fields and factories of England and was brought to America by Puritans and evangelicals whose doctrine made ample room for industry and profit. Later, the corporation was mystically animated with human personhood, to preside over the Fordist endeavor to build a heavenly city of mechanized production and communion. By the twenty-first century, capitalism has become thoroughly enchanted by the neoliberal deification of “the market.”
Informed by cultural history and theology as well as economics, management theory, and marketing, The Enchantments of Mammon looks not to Marx and progressivism but to nineteenth-century Romantics for salvation. The Romantic imagination favors craft, the commons, and sensitivity to natural wonder. It promotes labor that, for the sake of the person, combines reason, creativity, and mutual aid. In this impassioned challenge, McCarraher makes the case that capitalism has hijacked and redirected our intrinsic longing for divinity—and urges us to break its hold on our souls.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Killing the Inconvenient and Inefficient

In the mid- and late-1990s, I was a volunteer in the pastoral care department of a large nursing home and was saddened by the neglect of many people there who were simply warehoused away pending their expiration date, which their families certainly found inconveniently far off into the future. And several of the residents themselves, bored, lonely, and often in declining health, felt the pressure to do the decent thing by hurrying along to their graves. The experience of visiting the residents, and sometimes bringing them the Eucharist, bestowed on my far more gifts than anything my poor efforts might have given them in return.

It was during this time that debates in Canada over euthanasia began to emerge, and it was smack in the middle of all that that Pope John Paul II rightly raised his finger in his powerful and still entirely relevant encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Some wrote that off as the "abortion letter" but its critique of the idol and ideology of "efficiency," developed at some length in several parts of the letter, admits of very wide application today, including how we handle the questions of human disease, decline, and death.

As I was reading the late pope's letter, I was also smack in the middle of my Hauerwas period, where I read every one of his books then extant, and even had whole sections memorized. He was hugely influential for my development, and became, unexpectedly, a friend when I wrote to him about my difficulties defending my MA thesis, which was heavily indebted to him and Alasdair MacIntyre. Hauerwas has written a powerful foreword to the new book Euthanasia and the Patristic Tradition by Ioannis Bekos (James Clarke & Co., 2019), 284pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Euthanasia and Patristic Tradition presents secular and Christian bioethics as opposing forces in dialogue, highlights the importance of the Christian Patristic tradition in revealing disguised characteristics of bioethics in our era, and challenges the idea of individualism in modern societies through the development of a Christian individualism. While the book is focused on euthanasia, it also offers important perspectives on other ethical dilemmas. Ioannis Bekos applies Panagiotis Kondyliss theory for the emergence of worldviews as a function of power where all ethical theories have been proved to be subjective. Bringing together bioethical theories and just war theory, he exposes the disguised power claims of modern bioethics over human existence. Then, through an account of the history of thought, society, and politics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Bekos delivers a profound critique of the idea of common morality, popular theories such as principlism and contractualism, ethicists like Peter Singer, and philosophers like Habermas. Using the works of St John Damascene and St Symeon the New Theologian, Bekos shows the fundamental elements of a Christian anthropology regarding the constitution of man, the character of pain and death, and the importance of the free will in man, offering a critique of modern bioethics.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Florensky's Theory of the Icon

If my experience running an iconography camp in the summer, and regularly being asked to give lectures on Eastern Christian iconography, are reliable indicators, then interest in Byzantine iconography remains high today on the part of Western Christians, as it has for well over a decade now. So too does scholarly interest in Florensky. Both themes meet in a new book: Clemena AntonovaVisual Thought in Russian Religious Philosophy: Pavel Florensky's Theory of the Icon (Routledge, 2019, ) 110pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:
This book considers a movement within Russian religious philosophy known as "full unity" (vseedinstvo), with a focus on one of its main representatives, Pavel Florensky (1882–1937). Often referred to as "the Russian Leonardo," Florensky was an important figure of the Russian religious renaissance around the beginning of the twentieth century. This book shows that his philosophy, conceptualized in his theory of the icon, brings together the problem of the "religious turn" and the "pictorial turn" in modern culture, as well as contributing to contemporary debates on religion and secularism.
Organized around the themes of full unity and visuality, the book examines Florensky’s definition of the icon as "energetic symbol," drawing on St. Gregory Palamas, before offering a theological reading of Florensky’s theory of the pictorial space of the icon. It then turns to Florensky’s idea of space in the icon as Non-Euclidean. Finally, the icon is placed within wider debates provoked by Bolshevik cultural policy, which extend to current discussions concerning religion, modernity, and art.
Offering an important contribution from Russian religious philosophy to issues of contemporary modernity, this book will be of interest to scholars of religious philosophy, Russian studies, theology and the arts, and the medieval icon.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Carrie Frederick Frost on Maternal Bodies

I had a very enjoyable conversation over dinner with Carrie Frederick Frost, an Orthodox scholar who is one of the officers of the newly formed International Orthodox Theological Association, whose inaugural meeting I attended this past January in Iasi, Romania--a delightful town which hosted a splendid conference. She told me of her forthcoming book, Maternal Body: A Theology of the Incarnation from the Christian East (Paulist, 2019, 144pp.) and when, several weeks ago, I received a review copy from the publisher, I sent her some questions for an interview. Here are her thoughts.

AD: Tell us a bit about your background

CFF: I was raised in a Carpatho Russian parish in southern West Virginia with no church school or effort to educate its few children, but the hours I logged in liturgy were formative in ways I am only able to glimpse now. I had lots of questions about how the church worked and what things meant, and even though the priests in my life were not always able to answer them or give answers that made sense, I was never shut down or discouraged from asking.

My father’s parents had emigrated from what is now Belarus just before World War I and my mother of Scottish, Irish, and other northern European descent had grown up Southern Baptist, left that community as soon as she was an adult, and then later converted to Orthodoxy after she married my father. They were both, each in different ways, pious Orthodox Christians whose faith inspired those around them. Somehow, all these things worked together, I believe, to propel me into theological studies later in my life. I studied Tibetan Buddhism as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and, after working all sorts of jobs unrelated to theology, getting married, and starting a family—I went back to the University of Virginia for my PhD in Theology, Ethics, and Culture, which I was fortunate to do under the advisement of the wonderful Vigen Guroian.

AD: What led you to write Maternal Body: A Theology of Incarnation from the Christian East?

CFF: This book does have an origin story that is different from most works of theology! When I was working on my PhD, my husband and I went through a process of discernment about the possibility of having a third child. To our total surprise, at a routine ultrasound at the end of the first trimester of my pregnancy, we found out that we would be having our third, fourth, and fifth children: triplets. Everyone in the family (me, my husband, and our two older children) processed the news in different ways, and I write about these in the “Preface” of the book.

For me, I became deeply thirsty for spiritual information on motherhood in my tradition. This led to me dedicating much of the rest of my graduate work as possible to studying motherhood in Orthodox theology and ultimately to writing this book (which is not an academic monograph, by the way; it’s directed at a wide audience). I composed this book because I went looking for something I could not find—theological writing about motherhood—and after working with other sources like icons, hymns, and prayers, I ended up engaging in theological reflection on motherhood myself and wanted to offer that up to others who might have the same thirst. The book ended up being about other things, too, which I discuss below.

I feel this book has an audience has a broad audience: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians—and others. Christianity, I’ve noticed, does not have a monopoly on motherhood, nor does Orthodoxy within the Christian world. But, I do feel that there are sources, ways of perceiving motherhood, and, indeed, “a theology of incarnation” found within Orthodoxy that might be of benefit to people both inside and outside the bounds of the Orthodox Church.

Paulist Press made good sense to be because they have a broad readership and I felt the book would find its way into many hands with the Paulist imprimatur. While I do understand that “theology of the body” is a loaded term in the Catholic context, and Julie Hanlon Rubio says as much in her lovely “Foreword,” this is not the case—in my mind—in the Orthodox context, and by doing a “theology of incarnation” around motherhood, I believe I am demonstrating just that. My references to the theology of my Catholic sisters and brothers are a way to welcome them into my work and to open my explanations of Orthodox sources and theology to them. I don’t so much see myself as positioning my work within Catholic debates as engaging in theological hospitality.

AD: One of the problems with the use of that phrase ("theology of the body") in some Catholic circles is that it seems straight out of European romanticism in which motherhood is rendered monochromatically and simplistically. In Orthodoxy, however, as you note in your preface, your research brought forth "other, more complex portrayals of motherhood." Give us a couple of examples if you would.

Well, for one thing, I am quite up front in the book about the fact that the sources on motherhood in the Orthodox tradition are not all sweetness and light. One example: in the Conception chapter, I discuss the church’s broad failure to minister to women and their families after miscarriage; the prayers for miscarriage that entered the service books in the fifteenth/sixteenth century and remain there still portray the bereaved woman as involved in the “killing of another person” and call her a “murderess.” Regardless of any lack of clarity around the causes of miscarriage in the medieval world, there is no possible justification—theological or pastoral—for using these prayers today. So, I do not whitewash the ways the church has failed its mothers.

A different example: In the Birthgiving chapter, I discuss the different ways of depicting Mary in Nativity icons, and what her posture and gaze are thought to indicate. Paulist was generous enough to include color plates in the book, so my readers are able to see an example of the Mary in the contemplative repose posture that I discuss in detail, and that I think offers mothers a model for understanding motherhood as not mutually exclusive from the contemplative life, but, in fact, deeply contemplative in its own right. What I find so interesting and inspiring about these images is that they are a reminder that theology is a living enterprise in relationship with our embodied experience as faith, and, as I note, I am especially curious to see how depictions of the Nativity do or not change over time as more women and mothers become iconographers.

AD: I love your phrase about motherhood being "ferociously physical" (p.xv). You helpfully show how this does not end with birth, or even begin there, but that the sheer physicality is found across the life-cycle:  conception (ch.1), pregnancy (ch.2), birthgiving (3), postpartum (4), and breastfeeding (5). Of these, I especially gravitated to your last two chapters. A few questions here: You allude (p.64) to some possible revisions to the "churching" rite's prayers for purification--which your chapter handles so carefully and compellingly. Would it be possible, in your judgment, to have such revisions include a petition for the "purification" or "enlightenment" of minds darkened by postpartum depression, which has been brutal for several women I know? (Here, to be clear, ritual practice could be seen not to replace but to work in tandem with, e.g., psychotropics or psychotherapy if necessary.)

I would welcome the inclusions of some general language for healing after childbirth. Most, but not all, childbirth experiences include something that warrants healing, be it fatigue (mental, physical, or spiritual), the separation of abdominal muscles, a perineal laceration, anxiety, postpartum blues, or postpartum depression, etc. Although we might be able to speak of “purification” and “enlightenment” in the case of postpartum depression in other quarters, not in these prayers; these prayers must be entirely cleansed, as it were, of that sort of language. As I make the case in my book, our understand of impurity in a Christian context is so thoroughly associated with sin that we cannot disentangle the two, and there’s no need to try when we have other ways of talking about healing.

AD: Your chapter on breastfeeding notes that for some this can be a real process of "trial and error" and does not always go smoothly. You further note that "the effort of producing milk is enormously taxing on the mother's body" (p.68). Let me press on this point a bit with a couple of questions: First, I've been wondering for some time why much of modern Christianity seems ill at ease with the genre of lament. Do we need to be honest and speak of times in motherhood (or parenthood in general) where we are exhausted, frustrated, angry, depressed, utterly physically drained--and needing to voice all this openly in our prayers and rites the way the psalmists did and do?

CFF: I am guessing it won’t shock you then when I say that By the Rivers of Babylon is one of the nursery lullabies in the Frederick Frost household? I think passing one on to our children from the cradle shows the high estimation we have for religious lament.

The idea of voicing the frustration, anger, exhaustion, etc., of motherhood in  prayers and rites is interesting to me because one of the themes of my book is that mothers have not been the voices, have not been the authors of prayers about motherhood in the church at all, much less had the opportunity to consider including any of these sentiments.

AD: I have recently been thinking a lot about the well-known pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott and his controversial lecture in 1947, "Hate in the Counter-Transference" in which he shocked people by honestly admitting that there come times when physicians hate their patients just as mothers hate their children. This, he assured his shocked audience, is a normal and necessary developmental task! Do we as Christians sometimes unhelpfully glide over those moments where even in families we just can't stand each other? 

I have so many thoughts in response here that I hardly know where to start, though I don’t think I have a straight-forward answer to your question. One thing in the background of my book, against which I am reacting, is a very saccharine, sentimentalized, unnuanced portrait of motherhood that one see sometimes in the Orthodox Church today that understands motherhood as the pinnacle of womanhood and allows no room for even ambiguous, much less negative experiences or perceptions of maternity. Besides being theologically spurious, I cannot see that this is a recipe for good relationships or growth.

Another thought: For years I participated in a continuous Psalter read during Lent, in which a group of women divide up the Psalter and rotate through it, such that it’s being collectively read in its entirely every day and each woman reads it through during the fast. The first few years I found myself surprised by all the anger. And struggle, heartbreak, despair, mourning, and bitterness! This was an academic source of interest to me until my father died followed by a personally hellish sequence of events. The following Lent, the only person that understood me was the Psalmist, and I remember clearly reaching back through tears and three thousand years to thank him for his company.

At some point after that, I wondered about the possibilities of a female Psalmist. I know the poet Scott Cairns has composed some “Idiot Psalms,” but perhaps there’s a women out there who will try her hand and add a woman’s voice to this canon of lament?

AD: You speak of how the Orthodox tradition sometimes "denigrates the maternal body" (p.xvi), and I've certainly seen this in some of the hymnody and other texts you cite. Is there context here that as a scholar you can offer to help us understand why that might be? Does that scholarship offer any "aid and comfort," as it were, to mothers who may be taken aback, hurt, or even driven out of the Church by feeling denigrated as "impure" ?

CFF: As I insist throughout the book, the core theological understanding of the body in the Orthodox tradition is that it is creator-fashioned, our venue for communion in this life, and our vehicle into the next—and this is just as true for women as it is for men, just as true for mothers as for anyone else. We are quite capable of sullying our bodies (and our minds) as we wish, but this does not alter its significance.

Therefore, practices such as banning women from communion during menstruation and excluding them from church (and communion) after childbirth based on a portrayal of childbirth as unclean and defiling are inconsistent with these core theological premises. Scholarship about the childbirth prayers in particular has amply demonstrated that the connection between impurity and childbirth is a late addition to the rites; that the versions of these prayers that were in place for some time concerned first the baby; and then when mention of the mother was first added, her “purity” was not a concern. I think all these things are helpful for women and mothers (and the whole church community) to know, but, depending on women’s experiences in the church, for some I am afraid they may be cold comfort. For me, there is thus a real sense of urgency to expunge the church of menstrual bans on communion and to align the words of these prayers with the convictions of our theology so that they are pastorally helpful, not harmful to mothers and their families.

AD: In your epilogue you contrast the relentless march of chronological time with a "deeper sense of time that is lived out in the maternal body." I'm wondering (and here I'm thinking of Catherine Pickstock's brilliant critique in her astonishing book After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy) of modern conceptions of time and how they were foolishly adopted by liturgical reformers in the 1960s in the West) whether you would see a parallel in the flow of the liturgical year rather than the "secular" or civil calendar. Does maternal-bodily time more closely track that of liturgical time in any way?

I am convinced that modern conceptions of linear time are not nearly as reality based as we are led to believe by the culture in which we live. I don’t know Pickstock’s work (though now I am going to look for it), but I think of Peter Berger’s observation that the modern world’s conception of time changed when timelines (as in the charts one sees regularly in newspapers and textbooks, showing a sequence of historical events) were invented and became all the rage in the late 18th century. Think, for comparison, of fourth century Jerusalem when the liturgical year was celebrated cyclically by pilgrims and residents who not just reenacted, but re-experienced the life of Jesus throughout the year; this is not linear time; this could never be represented in, or reduced into, a timeline.

When my children were younger, before we went into church, I would make a show of taking off my watch and turn to them and say, “We are now leaving time; transcending time, and heading into supertime.” This was more than preventing them from asking me what time it was during church; it was a way to emphasize that the liturgical experience is, in fact, outside of time as we might otherwise conceive it.

Aspects of maternity are outside of time, or differently connected to time, too. For one thing, the entire maternal, even female, experience is cyclical, rather than linear—the menstrual cycle is constantly waxing and waning; there is an eternal return. In addition to the sacraments, if ever there is a moment of supertime in the human body, it is the conception and carrying of another human person inside of you. The arrival and nurturing of another person within one’s body is a physical epiphany. All these things are ways that the maternal body experiences time in a non-linear, more liturgical way.

AD: Having finished the book, what sorts of projects are you at work on now?

This fall, all of my energies are going towards teaching and childrearing. I am teaching at Western Washington University for this first time: both an Introduction to the Study of Religion class and a Christianity and Modern Literature class. I worked in some letters of Ignatius of Antioch to the former and I was able to design the latter which includes Flannery O’Connor stories Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor” excerpt, and Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, all of which have been fantastically enjoyable to teach.

I am also continuing to teach at Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary this fall, and there I am supervising an Independent Study on the topic of “Women’s Roles in the Church: Past, Present, and Future.” Two very different teaching environments—one secular undergraduate, one seminary graduate—but, I derive great pleasure from being in the classroom with my students in any environment.

As for the children rearing: four out of my five children are still at home. I have a sense of how fleeting that time with them is, and I want to place myself in a position to savor it. The bits of time left over here and there are reserved for the nonprofit work I do. I am on the board of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) and we are busy planning our next mega-conference for 2023 (after having wrapped up our first one in Romania earlier this year), and I am on the advisory board for Saint Phoebe Center for the Deaconess and am actively involved in their ongoing work advocating for the re-institution of ordained deaconesses.

All this being said, I am always reading and making little notes and thinking this and that about what major project I ought to undertake next. In many ways, it would make sense for me to compile my work on the childbirth prayers into a book or write a book-length argument for ordained deaconesses in the church today. I have also been thinking for some time about a book on Prayer of the Heart in the home setting. But it is not yet clear to me which of these (or perhaps another topic entirely) is my vocation. The thing about Maternal Body was that it was so clear to me, there was no question that I must write this book; all other possible projects fell to the wayside. I may not ever have that level of clarity around a project again, but I would like to reach some spiritual discernment about my next major undertaking.

AD: Sum up the book for us, your hopes for it, and who especially should read it.

This book is about many things! I encounter Orthodox icons, hymns, homilies, and other sources in Orthodox Christianity, seeking what they have to offer a theological reflection on motherhood; in this way the book is about Orthodox Christian sources on motherhood. Along the way, I address Orthodox practices that have neglected mothers’ bodies; in this way, the book is about living within a truth-bearing but flawed tradition and what this demands of me as a practitioner—a situation in which I am far from alone. I offer a fresh view of our bodies through the lens of motherhood; and in this way the book is a corrective to disparaging views of the body that surround and infect the church. I encounter ways in which women, including mothers, are entering aspects of the Orthodox theological conversation in which they’ve never significantly been involved before (they are becoming theologians, iconographers, hymnographers, etc.); and in this way the book is about the possibilities and hope as women’s voices are integrated into the church really for the first time. In all these ways, this is a book not just for mothers, but for other women and for men interested in any of these topics.

Ultimately, though, Maternal Body is about understanding our embodied experience as humans with joy and better cultivating a relationship with our Creator. May it work in this way.

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