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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Christianizing Egypt

In February it will, impossibly, be 30 years (!) since I went to the World Council of Churches seventh general assembly in Canberra, Australia. It was there, as an impressionable 18-year-old finishing high-school, that I learned a big new word: syncretism. Many people were up in arms at an apparent outbreak of the same during the assembly, and there was even a contingent of tiresome whackos from (where else?) the American Bible belt protesting outside our worship tent most days, saying syncretists were going to go to hell. We found these people vaguely amusing.

But to grow up and out of such lurid fantasies is to realize that people are constantly borrowing from other cultures and traditions, no matter how much the fundamentalist freaks and the purity fetishists scream and whinge about it. As the late great Robert Taft said of liturgical history, "we're all mongrels" so, a fortiori, is this true for "religious" traditions more broadly still--and the histories of ethnic and nationalist groups as well. This is a lesson amply illustrated by histories of almost every time and place. One of my most favored examples comes from Juliet du Boulay's haunting book (discussed here), Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village.

Soon we will have an affordable version of another such book about another ancient Eastern Christian country: Egypt. First released in hardback in 2017, this book is set for paperback release in the middle of 2021: Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity by David Frankfurter (Princeton University Press, June 2021), 336pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

How does a culture become Christian, especially one that is heir to such ancient traditions and spectacular monuments as Egypt? This book offers a new model for envisioning the process of Christianization by looking at the construction of Christianity in the various social and creative worlds active in Egyptian culture during late antiquity.

As David Frankfurter shows, members of these different social and creative worlds came to create different forms of Christianity according to their specific interests, their traditional idioms, and their sense of what the religion could offer. Reintroducing the term “syncretism” for the inevitable and continuous process by which a religion is acculturated, the book addresses the various formations of Egyptian Christianity that developed in the domestic sphere, the worlds of holy men and saints’ shrines, the work of craftsmen and artisans, the culture of monastic scribes, and the reimagination of the landscape itself, through processions, architecture, and the potent remains of the past.

Drawing on sermons and magical texts, saints’ lives and figurines, letters and amulets, and comparisons with Christianization elsewhere in the Roman empire and beyond, Christianizing Egypt reconceives religious change—from the “conversion” of hearts and minds to the selective incorporation and application of strategies for protection, authority, and efficacy, and for imagining the environment.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

On the Bicentennial of Greek Independence

Paschalis Kitromilides, as you may find here, has written a considerable number of scholarly works largely treating the relationship between "politics" and "religion," especially but not exclusively in a Greek Orthodox (and more broadly southern European) context. I have read some of his works and learned a great deal from him, not least about that perennial problem of Eastern Christian nationalism. 

Coming out, appropriately enough, on Greek independence day next year, is his latest work, co-edited with Constantinos Tsoukalas: The Greek Revolution: A Critical Dictionary (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2021), 800pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

On the bicentennial of the Greek Revolution, an essential guide to the momentous war for independence of the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire.

The Greek war for independence (1821–1830) often goes missing from discussion of the Age of Revolutions. Yet the rebellion against Ottoman rule was enormously influential in its time, and its resonances are felt across modern history. The Greeks inspired others to throw off the oppression that developed in the backlash to the French Revolution. And Europeans in general were hardly blind to the sight of Christian subjects toppling Muslim rulers. In this collection of essays, Paschalis Kitromilides and Constantinos Tsoukalas bring together scholars writing on the many facets of the Greek Revolution and placing it squarely within the revolutionary age.

An impressive roster of contributors traces the revolution as it unfolded and analyzes its regional and transnational repercussions, including the Romanian and Serbian revolts that spread the spirit of the Greek uprising through the Balkans. The essays also elucidate religious and cultural dimensions of Greek nationalism, including the power of the Orthodox church. One essay looks at the triumph of the idea of a Greek “homeland,” which bound the Greek diaspora―and its financial contributions―to the revolutionary cause. Another essay examines the Ottoman response, involving a series of reforms to the imperial military and allegiance system. Noted scholars cover major figures of the revolution; events as they were interpreted in the press, art, literature, and music; and the impact of intellectual movements such as philhellenism and the Enlightenment.

Authoritative and accessible, The Greek Revolution confirms the profound political significance and long-lasting cultural legacies of a pivotal event in world history.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Muslims under Christian Rule, and Christians Under Muslim Rule

As you continue your Christmas feasting, and perhaps spending some gift cards you got, you would do well to consider this book set for release on the 30th of this month: Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923 by Luigi Andrea Berto  (Routledge, 2020), 178pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book examines the status that rulers of one faith conferred onto their subjects belonging to a different one, how the rulers handled relationships with them, and the interactions between subjects of the Muslim and Christian religions.

The chronological arc of this volume spans from the first conquests by the Arabs in the Near East in the 630s to the exchange between Turkey and Greece, in 1923, of the Orthodox Christians and Muslims residing in their territories. Through organized topics, Berto analyzes both similarities and differences in Christian and Muslim lands and emphasizes how coexistences and conflicts took directions that were not always inevitable. Primary sources are used to examine the mentality of those who composed them and of their audiences. In doing so, the book considers the nuances and all the features of the multifaceted experiences of Christian subjects under Muslim rule and of Muslim subjects under Christian rule.

Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross is the ideal resource for upper-level undergraduates, postgraduates, and scholars interested in the relationships between Christians and Muslims, religious minorities, and the Near East and the Mediterranean from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Monasteries and Churches of Moldavia

Forthcoming early next year is a book that looks to be rewarding indeed to peruse and soak up vicariously the artistic splendors and Revelations of Byzantium: The Monasteries and Painted Churches of Northern Moldavia by Octavian Ion Penda (Illustrator), Alan Ogden  (Centre for Romanian Studies, 2021), 288pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The monasteries and painted churches of Moldavia stand today as a testament to the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the Romanian people. As the Romanians living in the historical provinces of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania, which today form modern Romania, struggled to maintain their autonomy against Ottoman expansion, their relative freedom allowed them to express themselves both artistically and culturally. Among their most remarkable creations are the monasteries and painted churches of Moldavia, in northeastern Romania, the subjects of this book. These monuments, unique in the world, reflect a cultural legacy inherited from Byzantium and the Roman Empire.

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Multitudes of the Nations

The revanchist and racist politics of too many so-called Christians in this country, especially among evangelicals and Roman Catholics, is a source of revulsion and scandal. But it is not new. 

There is a longstanding expectation among such groups that Christians are always and only white suburban members of the middle and upper classes who drive to churches with massive parking lots in the better parts of town for services only in English, lasting no more than 75 minutes in tastefully and comfortably appointed buildings wanting nothing by way of air conditioning, wifi, etc. The idea that Christians might be poor, of darker colours, and diverse races, attending liturgies in ancient languages in iconographically resplendent churches of antique lineage is unfathomable to such Americans as I have described. After more than a dozen years of trying to introduce Eastern Christianity to Americans, I can report that none of the above is remotely unjustified as a generalization, but is in fact a very closely, if not unanimously, held view among my students at least. 

It is to them, and so many others, that a new book must come as a shock, which I can only welcome: Vince Bantu, A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity's Global Identity (IVP Academic, 2020), 256pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Christianity is not becoming a global religion. It has always been a global religion. The early Christian movement spread from Jerusalem in every direction, taking on local cultural expression all around the ancient world. So why do so many people see Christianity as a primarily Western, white religion? In A Multitude of All Peoples, Vince Bantu surveys the geographic range of the early church's history, revealing an alternate, more accurate narrative to that of Christianity as a product of the Western world. He begins by investigating the historical roots of the Western cultural captivity of the church, from the conversion of Constantine to the rise of European Christian empires. He then shifts focus to the too-often-forgotten concurrent development of diverse expressions of Christianity across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In the process, Bantu removes obstacles to contemporary missiological efforts. Focusing on the necessity for contextualization and indigenous leadership in effective Christian mission, he draws out practical lessons for intercultural communication of the gospel. Healing the wounds of racism, imperialism, and colonialism will be possible only with renewed attention to the marginalized voices of the historic global church. The full story of early Christianity makes clear that, as the apostle Peter said, "God does not show favoritism, but accepts those from every people who fear him and do what is right."

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Histories of Christian-Muslim Relations

Twenty years after the first edition of a useful and accessible book, we have now a second: Hugh Goddard,  A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), 240pp. About this book the publisher tells us the following:

Christians and Muslims comprise the world’s two largest religious communities. This book looks at the history of their relationship – part peaceful co-existence and part violent confrontation – from their first encounters in the medieval period up to the present. It emphasises the theological, cultural and political context in which perceptions and attitudes have developed and gives a depth of historical insight to the complex current Christian–Muslim interactions across the globe.

And then, continuing on in this excellent series, which no serious library should be without, is a very hefty volume (more suited for scholars than Goddard) by David Thomas, Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History Volume 14 Central and Eastern Europe (1700-1800) (Brill, 2020), 730pp. 

About this latest installment, the publisher tells us this:

Christian-Muslim Relations, a Bibliographical History Volume 14 (CMR 14) covering Central and Eastern Europe in the period 1700-1800 is a further volume in a general history of relations between the two faiths from the 7th century to the early 20th century. It comprises a series of introductory essays and also the main body of detailed entries which treat all the works, surviving or lost, that have been recorded. These entries provide biographical details of the authors, descriptions and assessments of the works themselves, and complete accounts of manuscripts, editions, translations and studies. The result of collaboration between numerous leading scholars, CMR 14, along with the other volumes in this series, is intended as a basic tool for research in Christian-Muslim relations.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Clerical Continence in England and Byzantium

Western apologists for celibacy, desperate to cover over the well-documented holes in their bogus and increasingly desperate apologias for that discipline, like tendentiously to play around with certain bits of canonical legislation to make the claim that continence is required of all clerics, and always has been, and the East gets it wrong, etc. This tedious clap-trap, subject to a royal rubbishing in my forthcoming Married Priests in the Catholic Church, by top-drawer historians without axes to grind, is given further scrutiny in this new book: Clerical Continence in Twelfth-Century England and Byzantium: Property, Family, and Purity Maroula Perisanidi (Routledge, 2020), 204pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Why did the medieval West condemn clerical marriage as an abomination while the Byzantine Church affirmed its sanctifying nature? This book brings together ecclesiastical, legal, social, and cultural history in order to examine how Byzantine and Western medieval ecclesiastics made sense of their different rules of clerical continence. Western ecclesiastics condemned clerical marriage for three key reasons: married clerics could alienate ecclesiastical property for the sake of their families; they could secure careers in the Church for their sons, restricting ecclesiastical positions and lands to specific families; and they could pollute the sacred by officiating after having had sex with their wives. A comparative study shows that these offending risk factors were absent in twelfth-century Byzantium: clerics below the episcopate did not have enough access to ecclesiastical resources to put the Church at financial risk; clerical dynasties were understood within a wider frame of valued friendship networks; and sex within clerical marriage was never called impure in canon law, as there was little drive to use pollution discourses to separate clergy and laity. These facts are symptomatic of a much wider difference between West and East, impinging on ideas about social order, moral authority, and reform.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Problems in Balkan Historiographies after Byzantium

The long-lasting, if conflicted, imprint left by "Byzantium"--both real and imagined--is itself a topic worthy of further consideration in any number of ways. In September of this year, we had one such way from the hand of Dimitris Stamatopoulos, Byzantium after the Nation: The Problem of Continuity in Balkan Historiographies (Central European University Press, 2020), 330pp.  

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Dimitris Stamatopoulos undertakes the first systematic comparison of the dominant ethnic historiographic models and divergences elaborated by Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Albanian, Romanian, Turkish, and Russian intellectuals with reference to the ambiguous inheritance of Byzantium. The title alludes to the seminal work of Nicolae Iorga in the 1930s, Byzantium after Byzantium, that argued for the continuity between the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires. The idea of the continuity of empires became a kind of touchstone for national historiographies. Rival Balkan nationalisms engaged in a "war of interpretation" as to the nature of Byzantium, assuming different positions of adoption or rejection of its imperial model and leading to various schemes of continuity in each national historiographic canon.

Stamatopoulos discusses what Byzantium represented for nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars and how their perceptions related to their treatment of the imperial model: whether a different perception of the medieval Byzantine period prevailed in the Greek national center as opposed to Constantinople; how nineteenth-century Balkan nationalists and Russian scholars used Byzantium to invent their own medieval period (and, by extension, their own antiquity); and finally, whether there exist continuities or discontinuities in these modes of making ideological use of the past.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Abuse and Lies in the Catholic Church

Does anyone have any patience left for yet another article, report, story, book about the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church? How many have we had in the last three months alone? The McCarrick Report (which "psychological disaster" I addressed here), the English-Welsh bishops' report, the attorney general's report on the Diocese of Buffalo, and at least two others I have seen. We've had such reports going back forty years and more at this point, and nothing has changed. Has anyone the slightest faith left that this will ever be seriously addressed? Does anyone for a moment remain so fatuous as to think bishops will ever really change? Who amongst us has been able to resist the thought that the entire episcopate is simply protecting their monopoly on power like a bunch of neighborhood gangsters? 

For those who have the stomach and the patience to read another book about the problem, Routledge has just come out with The Abuse of Minors in the Catholic Church: Dismantling the Culture of Cover Ups, eds., Anthony J. Blasi and Lluis Oviedo (Routledge, 2020), 288pp. We are offered the following description and table of contents (from which, I note without surprise, that once more any consideration of structural problems in the Church, which I alone seem to have taken seriously enough to write a book about, are absent): 

This book offers an academically rigorous examination of the biological, psychological, social and ecclesiastical processes that allowed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to happen and then be covered up. The collected essays provide a means to better assess systemic wrongdoing in religious institutions, so that they can be more effectively held to account.

An international team of contributors apply a necessarily multi-disciplinary approach to this difficult subject. Chapters look closely at the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clerics, explaining the complexity of this issue, which cannot be reduced to simple misconduct, sexual deviation, or a management failure alone. The book will help the reader to better understand the social, organizational, and cultural processes in the Church over recent decades, as well as the intricate world of beliefs, moral rules, and behaviours. It concludes with some strategies for change at the individual and corporate levels that will better ensure safeguarding within the Catholic Church and its affiliate institutions.  

This multifaceted study gives a nuanced analysis of this huge organizational failure and offers recommendations for effective ways of preventing it in the future. As such, it will be of keen interest to scholars of Religious Studies, Sociology of Religion, Psychology, Psychiatry, Legal Studies, Ethics, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, History, and Theology.

Table of Contents: 


1 Sexual Abuse of Young Boys in the RomanCatholic Church: An Insider Clinician’s Academic Perspective

Jay Feierman

2 For a Sociology of Pederasty in Catholic Clergy

Javier Elzo

3 Does Faulty Theology Play a Role in the Abuse Crisis?

Lluis Oviedo

4 The Role of Informal Networks in the Coverup of Clerical Sex Abuse

Anthony J. Pogorelc

5 From Causes toward Stratagems and Theological Considerations

Anthony J. Blasi

6 Has Canon Law Solved Any of the Challenges of the Sexual Abuse Crisis?

Patricia M. Dugan

7 Clergy Sex Abuse Litigation: Attribution of Responsibility to Religious Entities by Civil Courts

Nicolás Zambrana-Tévar

8 Sexual Abuse and Clerical Homosexuality: Notes on an Enigmatic Context

Dominikus Kraschl

9 Conclusion: Trying to Learn Some Lessons and Correct Past Mistakes

Anthony J. Blasi and Lluis Oviedo


Monday, December 7, 2020

Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Philosophy

With sections on themes, schools, doctrines, and individuals--including Ps-Denys, Justin the Philosopher/Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Evagrius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and other luminaries--and chapters by such prominent Orthodox scholars as Andrew Louth, this hefty collection looks very rich indeed: Mark Edwards, ed., The Routledge Handbook of Early Christian Philosophy (Routledge, 2020), 670pp.

The publisher tells us this about the book, released just last week:

This volume offers the most comprehensive survey available of the philosophical background to the works of early Christian writers and the development of early Christian doctrine.

It examines how the same philosophical questions were approached by Christian and pagan thinkers; the philosophical element in Christian doctrines; the interaction of particular philosophies with Christian thought; and the constructive use of existing philosophies by all Christian thinkers of late antiquity. While most studies of ancient Christian writers and the development of early Christian doctrine make some reference to the philosophic background, this is often of an anecdotal character, and does not enable the reader to determine whether the likenesses are deep or superficial, or how pervasively one particular philosopher may have influenced Christian thought. This volume is designed to provide not only a body of facts more compendious than can be found elsewhere, but the contextual information which will enable readers to judge or clarify the statements that they encounter in works of more limited scope.

With contributions by an international group of experts in both philosophy and Christian thought, this is an invaluable resource for scholars of early Christianity, Late Antiquity and ancient philosophy alike.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Clement of Alexandria

Originally published more than twenty years ago, just last month an electronic version of this book was released: Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy by Denise Kimber Buell (Princeton University Press, 2020), 224pp.

Clement remains, as I noted on here some time back, a very intriguing figure who sits ambivalently in many Christian traditions and calendars. About him and this book the publisher tells us this:

How did second-century Christians vie with each other in seeking to produce an authoritative discourse of Christian identity? In this innovative book, Denise Buell argues that many early Christians deployed the metaphors of procreation and kinship in the struggle over claims to represent the truth of Christian interpretation, practice, and doctrine. In particular, she examines the intriguing works of the influential theologian Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-210 c.e.), for whom cultural assumptions about procreation and kinship played an important role in defining which Christians have the proper authority to teach, and which kinds of knowledge are authentic.

Buell argues that metaphors of procreation and kinship can serve to make power differentials appear natural. She shows that early Christian authors recognized this and often turned to such metaphors to mark their own positions as legitimate and marginalize others as false. Attention to the functions of this language offers a way out of the trap of reconstructing the development of early Christianity along the axes of “heresy” and “orthodoxy,” while not denying that early Christians employed this binary. Ultimately, Buell argues, strategic use of kinship language encouraged conformity over diversity and had a long lasting effect both on Christian thought and on the historiography of early Christianity.

Aperceptive and closely argued contribution to early Christian studies, Making Christians also branches out to the areas of kinship studies and the social construction of gender.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

IOTA's Acta:

After years of wanting to get to Romania, I made it in January 2019 for the inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association, where I both gave a paper and was also an official ecumenical observer. We arrived the day after Christmas on the old calendar into the charming provincial town of Iași, which was wonderfully ablaze with Christmas lights and decorations and a lovely covering of fresh snow.

The conference was a rich and impressive affair thanks to Paul Gavrilyuk and others. Now he and they have brought out the first volume of proceedings: Pilgrims toward the Kingdom: The Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA Publications, 2020), 256pp.

About this collection, we are told this: 

Responding to the call of the conciliar spirit and seeking to help the Orthodox Church address the challenges of our times, the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) was founded in 2017. It first met in Iași, Romania in 2019 for its inaugural conference with over 300 scholars in attendance. Pilgrims toward the Kingdom: The Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association, the first release from IOTA Publications, celebrates these accomplishments and chronicles the history of IOTA. It includes vision statements from IOTA’s 25 thematic groups, the full conference program from Iași, the conference keynote address by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), and 166 full-color photographs.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Orthodox Identity in Western Europe

I'm happy to be able to report that I've made contact with the author of this just-released book, and so you will soon be able to hear directly from Sebastian Rimestad about his new book, Orthodox Christian Identity in Western Europe: Contesting Religious Authority (Routledge, 2020), 370pp. I hope to interview him in the coming weeks and will report that here. In the meantime, the publisher tells us this about the book: 

This book analyses the discourses of Orthodox Christianity in Western Europe to demonstrate the emerging discrepancies between the mother Church in the East and its newer Western congregations. Showing the genesis and development of these discourses over the twentieth century, it examines the challenges the Orthodox Church is facing in the modern world.

Organised along four different discursive fields, the book uses these fields to analyse the Orthodox Church in Western Europe during the twentieth century. It explores pastoral, ecclesiological, institutional and ecumenical discourses in order to present a holistic view of how the Church views itself and how it seeks to interact with other denominations. Taken together, these four fields reveal a discursive vitality outside of the traditionally Orthodox societies that is, however, only partly reabsorbed by the church hierarchs in core Orthodox regions, like Southeast Europe and Russia.

The Orthodox Church is a complex and multi-faceted global reality. Therefore, this book will be a vital guide to scholars studying the Orthodox Church, ecumenism and religion in Europe, as well as those working in religious studies, sociology of religion, and theology more generally.

Friday, November 27, 2020

God, Tsar, and People: The Political Culture of Early Modern Russia

I went through a monarchist phase in my youth, and still have something of a soft spot for various royalist and monarchist movements and histories. Though related to them by inter-marriage, the Romanov monarchs of Russia seem to have singularly and tragically lacked the ruthlessly pragmatic streak that their Windsor cousins used to survive the Great War and down to the present day. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of change and upheaval in Russia before this period, some of it told in this new book: Daniel B. Rowland, God, Tsar, and People: The Political Culture of Early Modern Russia (Northern Illinois University Press, 2020), 420pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

God, Tsar, and People brings together in one volume essays written over a period of fifty years, using a wide variety of evidence―texts, icons, architecture, and ritual―to reveal how early modern Russians (1450–1700) imagined their rapidly changing political world.

This volume presents a more nuanced picture of Russian political thought during the two centuries before Peter the Great came to power than is typically available. The state was expanding at a dizzying rate, and atop Russia's traditional political structure sat a ruler who supposedly reflected God's will. The problem facing Russians was that actual rulers seldom―or never―exhibited the required perfection. Daniel Rowland argues that this contradictory set of ideas was far less autocratic in both theory and practice than modern stereotypes would have us believe. In comparing and contrasting Russian history with that of Western European states, Rowland is also questioning the notion that Russia has always been, and always viewed itself as, an authoritarian country. God, Tsar, and People explores how the Russian state in this period kept its vast lands and diverse subjects united in a common view of a Christian polity, defending its long frontier against powerful enemies from the East and from the West.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Christianity in Soviet Armenia

Readers of my two books will be aware of how deeply I esteem the Armenian Church for many reasons, and how fascinated I remain by her history. A new book gives us glimpses into one particularly difficult period of that history: Soviet captivity. I look forward to reading Jakub Osiecki, The Armenian Church in Soviet Armenia: The Policies of the Armenian Bolsheviks and the Armenian Church, 1920-1932, trans. Artur Zwolski (Peter Lang, 2020), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book presents the results of comprehensive study on the history of Soviet Armenia and the Armenian Church in the years 1920-32. Through documents uncovered in the Communist Party Archive in Yerevan and the Georgian Historical Archive, press antireligious propaganda, oral testimonies, and biographical interviews conducted by the author, The Armenian Church in Soviet Armenia expands the discussion on the history of the Armenian Church in the 20th century, especially regarding the relations between the spiritual leaders of the Armenian Church and the Bolsheviks. In accordance with stipulations laid out by the Central Committee in consultation with the GPU, Khoren Muradbekian was elected as the Catholicos of All Armenians. His election was the principal reason behind the schism inside the Church– which, especially in the Armenian diaspora, divided not only clergy, but laymen themselves. These divisions, even after hundred years, are still vivid in Armenian society.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Schmemann and Florovsky's Correspondence

I just got the new (and very thick!) catalogue of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in the mail. There are, as you can imagine, all sorts of gems in it, but the first that leapt out concerns two pivotal figures I first read and studied in one of my doctoral classes almost 20 years ago now: Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky. Both are towering figures of 20th-century Orthodoxy, and both are always fascinating to read. 

Both men entered into a post-war correspondence that has just been published under the translation of Paul Gavrilyuk (whose previous superlative study of Florovsky I discussed in detail here): On Christian Leadership: the Letters of Alexander Schmemann and Georges Florovsky (1947-1955) (New York: SVS Press, 2020), 416pp.

I am a great reader of and believer in the value of letters, diaries, and journals and the utility of all of them to scholarship. So I shall greatly look forward to reading this new collection, about which the publisher tells us this:

Fr Georges Florovsky (1893-1979) and Fr Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) profoundly shaped twentieth-century Orthodox theology. Their correspondence, edited and translated for the first time, provides a unique window into their theological visions, leadership styles, and interactions with their contemporaries. Most of the letters were written when Florovsky had recently moved to the US to lead and organize the fledgling St Vladimir s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, while Schmemann was still teaching at the St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris. The correspondence also reveals the circumstances of Schmemann s move to the US at the request of Florovsky, and offers glimpses into their subsequent collaboration at St Vladimir s Seminary until their tragic rift in 1955. Reminiscent of the style of Schmemann s Journals, the letters lay out the challenges of leadership with brutal honesty and good humor, bearing an eloquent testimony to their authors dedication to launching a new era of seminary education.

Friday, November 20, 2020


I just finished teaching my re-designed ecclesiology class this semester. We made good use of my 2019 book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power for one unit. Our major text was the Oxford Handbook of Ecclesiology

Speaking of handbooks, I see that T&T Clark has one just released a few weeks ago: T&T Clark Handbook of Ecclesiology, eds. Kimlyn J. Bender  and D. Stephen Long (2020, 504pp.). About this new book the publisher tells us this:

Divided into 3 parts, this handbook provides a wide-ranging survey and analysis of the Christian Church. The first section addresses the scriptural foundations of ecclesiology; the second section outlines the historical and confessional aspects of the topic; and the final part discusses a variety of contemporary and topical themes in ecclesiology.

Compiled and written by leading scholars in the field, the T&T Clark Handbook of Ecclesiology covers a range of key topics in the context of their development and importance in each stream of historic Christianity and the confessional traditions. The contributors cover traditional matters such as creedal notes, but also tackle questions of ordination, orders of ministry, and sacraments. This handbook is extensive enough to provide a true overview of the field, but the essays are also concise enough to be read as reference selections.

I note that one of the major Orthodox contributors to this new handbook is my friend Will Cohen, whose own work in ecclesiology and ecumenism is an important contribution about which I interviewed him here

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Demons, Psychology, and Chrysostom

The lunatic fringe in both Catholicism and whatever this thing called American evangelicalism is, have both been active in the last few days, flinging around in absurd and irresponsible manner the language of both angels and demons in a desperate and risible attempt to claim that the removal of the manifestly worst president in American history was somehow the result of supernatural forces which they claimed to "rebuke" and "exorcise." 

No real churchman of any intelligence or seriousness would go within a thousand miles of such antics, including John Chrysostom, subject of a new study: Samantha L. Miller, Chrysostom's Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology (IVP Academic, 2020), 216pp. About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

For many Christians today, the notion that demons should play a role in our faith―or that they even exist―may seem dubious. But that was certainly not the case for John Chrysostom, the "golden-tongued" early church preacher and theologian who became the bishop of Constantinople near the end of the fourth century. Indeed, references to demons and the devil permeate his rhetoric. But to what end? In this volume in IVP Academic's New Explorations in Theology series, Samantha Miller examines Chrysostom's theology and world, both of which were imbued with discussions about demons. For Chrysostom, she contends, such references were employed in order to encourage Christians to be virtuous, to prepare them for the struggle of the Christian life, and ultimately to enable them to exercise their will as they worked out their salvation. Understanding the role of demons in Chrysostom's soteriology gives us insight into what it means to be human and what it means to follow Christ in a world fraught with temptation and danger. In that regard, Chrysostom's golden words continue to demonstrate relevance to Christians in today's world.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Understanding World Christianity: Russia

Fortress Press recently sent me their catalogue of new and forthcoming publications, and in it I spied a book co-authored by a widely respected scholar I have heard at conferences over the years: Understanding World Christianity: Russia by Alexander S. Agadjanian and Scott M. Kenworthy (Fortress, 2021), 160pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Christianity is a global religion. It's a fact that is too often missed or ignored in many books and conversations. In a world where Christianity is growing everywhere but in the West, the Understanding World Christianity series offers a fresh, readable orientation to Christianity around the world. Understanding World Christianity is organized geographically, by nation and region. Noted experts, in most cases native to the area of focus, present a balanced history of Christianity and a detailed discussion of the faith as it is lived today. Each volume addresses six key "intersections" of Christianity in a given context, including the historical, denominational, sociopolitical, geographical, biographical, and theological settings. Understanding World Christianity: Russia offers a compelling glimpse into the vibrant and complex picture of Christianity in the Russian context. It's an ideal introduction for students, mission leaders, and any others who wish to know how Christianity influences, and is influenced by, the Russian context.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Sex Abuse and Episcopal and Papal Cover-Up: What to Do?

As a Canadian (as well, of course, as a man of heroic modesty and saintly humility) I am constitutionally averse to promoting my own work, but if there is any moment where it might be helpful to people, now is it. 

The McCarrick report came out of Rome this week. I have been interviewed about it already and asked to write about it. The first article came out this morning in the Catholic Herald. More will follow, there and likely elsewhere. 

The question I have already been asked by editors is this: what can be done about the catastrophically broken system of governance and episcopal appointment in the Church? 

My answers are the same as those I began giving more than a decade ago: the closed system of papal appointment and promotion must be destroyed. Not tinkered with, moderately reformed, mildly changed, slightly altered: destroyed. Blown up. Annihilated. Cremated, and its ashes fired out of a space cannon to the dark side of Saturn or Jupiter.  

That system, people must come to learn, is a total novelty anyway, scarcely a century old. The idea that it is some longstanding part of sacred and holy Tradition is a pernicious fantasy that must itself now die. Only with the 1917 code of canon law is the claim--the novel and wicked claim--made that the pope of Rome has the right to appoint all the world's bishops. That claim is so staggering, so modernist, so untraditional, so without theological justification, that the eminent historian Eamon Duffy has rightly called it a coup d'Eglise. 

What must also die is the even worse fantasy that the current system is somehow required by the claims of Vatican I (repeated verbatim at Vatican II) that "universal jurisdiction" of the pope of Rome requires him to appoint bishops universally. That is nonsense, and the easiest proof of that is the existence of the Eastern Catholic Churches, most of whose bishops are not in fact appointed by the pope but elected by their own synods. So the current system is neither required nor any longer defensible. Indeed, it is a millstone around the neck of the Church: either we kill it or it will continue to kill us all. 

What might or should replace it? Synodal election is the best system to my mind. I argued this out in some detail in my Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, published early last year. Have a look and let me know if you can think of a better way forward. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

On Receiving--or Not--the Great Schoolman Thomas Aquinas

One of the most fascinating books I read in the last decade was and remains Marcus Plested's Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, about which I interviewed him on this blog. It must surely be counted as a key piece of scholarship in dismantling the bogus and tendentious tales told by Orthodox apologists about the Big Bad Schoolmen, and in that way serving as "ecumenical scholarship" of the most precious sort. 

Plested now teams up with the indefatigable Matthew Levering to bring us, early next year, The Oxford Handbook of the Reception of Aquinas. The book contains several chapters on Eastern, Byzantine, and Orthodox responses to Aquinas in a variety of different historical contexts--along with many other riches. About this book the publisher further tells us this: 

The Oxford Handbook of the Reception of Aquinas provides a comprehensive survey of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant philosophical and theological reception of Thomas Aquinas over the past 750 years.This Handbook will serve as a necessary primer for everyone who wishes to study Aquinas's thought and/or the history of theology and philosophy since Aquinas's day. Part I considers the late-medieval receptions of Aquinas among Catholics and Orthodox. Part II examines sixteenth-century Western receptions of Aquinas (Protestant and Catholic), followed by a chapter on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Orthodox reception. Part III discusses seventeenth-century Protestant and Catholic receptions, and Part IV surveys eighteenth- and nineteenth-century receptions (Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic). Part V focuses on the twentieth century and takes into account the diversity of theological movements in the past century as well as extensive philosophical treatment. The final section unpicks contemporary systematic approaches to Aquinas, covering the main philosophical and theological themes for which he is best known. With chapters written by a wide range of experts in their respective fields, this volume provides a valuable touchstone regarding the developments that have marked the past seven centuries of Christian theology.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Cold War Mary: Ideologies, Politics, and Marian Devotional Culture

I confess that I have long found the myth of Fatima among Catholics to be impossible to take seriously for reasons I have written about on here and elsewhere. It is so clearly a species of illusion in the strict Freudian sense (that is, as an infantile wish-fulfilment) that I am surprised the great man of Vienna did not feel moved to use it as Exhibit A for his Future of an IllusionAny idea that the Mother of God talks in the hectoring and quasi-narcissistic fashion she is reported to have in 1917 is as impossible to believe as is the idea that her "message" had nothing to do with "Red scares" of the time, a thesis I expect to receive some attention when a new book is published next year: Cold War Mary: Ideologies, Politics, and Marian Devotional Culture (Leuven University Press, 2021), 432pp. 

About this forthcoming collection, the publisher gives us these details: 

One hardly known but fascinating aspect of the Cold War was the use of the holy Virgin Mary as a warrior against atheist ideologies. After the Second World War, there was a remarkable rise in the West of religiously inflected rhetoric against what was characterised as "godless communism". The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church not only urged their followers to resist socialism, but along with many prominent Catholic laity and activist movements they marshaled the support of Catholics into a spiritual holy war. In this book renowned experts address a variety of grassroots and Church initiatives related to Marian politics, the hausse of Marian apparitions during the Cold War period, and the present-day revival of Marian devotional culture. By identifying and analysing the militant side of Mary in the Cold War context on a global scale for the first time, Cold War Mary will attract readers interested in religious history, history of the Cold War, and twentieth-century international history.

Contributors: Michael Agnew (McMaster University), Marina Sanahuja Beltran (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), William A. Christian, Jr. (Independent, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), Deirdre de la Cruz (University of Michigan), Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw), Thomas Kselman (University of Notre Dame), Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam / Meertens Institute), Katharine Massam (University of Divinity, Melbourne), David Morgan (Duke University), Konrad Siekierski (King's College London), Tine van Osselaer (University of Antwerp), Robert Ventresca (Western University Canada), Daniel Wojcik (University of Oregon) and Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz (University of Kansas)

Friday, November 6, 2020

Russian Conservatism

It is striking but not surprising that we have both president and patriarch pictured on the cover of a book that was published in 2019 in hardcover, and in the spring of next year will come out in paperback: Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism (Northern Illinois University Press, 2019/2021), 300pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Russian Conservatism examines the history of Russian conservative thought from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present. As Paul Robinson shows, conservatism has made an underappreciated contribution to Russian national identity, to the ideology of Russian statehood, and to Russia's social-economic development. Robinson charts the contributions made by philosophers, politicians, and others during the Imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods. Looking at cultural, political, and social-economic conservatism in Russia, he discusses ideas and issues of more than historical interest. Indeed, what Russian Conservatism demonstrates is that such ideas are helpful in interpreting Russia's present as well as its past and will be influential in shaping Russia's future, for better or for worse, in the years to come.

Through Robinson's research we can now understand how Russian conservatives have continually proposed forms of cultural, political, and economic development seen as building on existing traditions, identity, forms of government, and economic and social life, rather than being imposed on the basis of abstract theory and foreign models.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology

I have often commented on here and elsewhere over the last five years or so how fascinating and relentless is the retelling of Crusades history in our time. I am hard-pressed to think of other areas where the historiography is so controverted so regularly if not continuously. Adding to what we know of this period is a hardcover version of a book that came out in 2017 but the paperback will appear in 2021: M. Cecilia Gaposchkin, Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology (Cornell University Press, April 2021), 376pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Throughout the history of the Crusades, liturgical prayer, masses, and alms were all marshaled in the fight against the Muslim armies. Invisible Weapons is about the prayers and liturgical rituals that were part of the battle for the faith. M. Cecilia Gaposchkin tells the story of the greatest collective religious undertaking of the Middle Ages, putting front and center the ways in which Latin Christians communicated their ideas and aspirations for crusade to God through liturgy, how liturgy was deployed in crusading, and how liturgy absorbed ideals or priorities of crusading. By connecting medieval liturgical books with the larger narrative of crusading, Gaposchkin allows us to understand a crucial facet in the culture of holy war.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Women of the Soviet Catacombs

Early next year, will see the publication in English translation of Women of the Catacombs: Memoirs of the Underground Orthodox Church in Stalin's Russia, trans. W.L. Daniel, with an introduction by the late Aleksandr Men (Northern Illinois University Press, March 2021), 252pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The memoirs presented in Women of the Catacombs offer a rare close-up account of the underground Orthodox community and its priests during some of the most difficult years in Russian history. The catacomb church in the Soviet Union came into existence in the 1920s and played a significant part in Russian national life for nearly fifty years. Adherents to the Orthodox faith often referred to the catacomb church as the "light shining in the dark." Women of the Catacombs provides a first-hand portrait of lived religion in its social, familial, and cultural setting during this tragic period.

Until now, scholars have had only brief, scattered fragments of information about Russia's illegal church organization that claimed to protect the purity of the Orthodox tradition. Vera Iakovlevna Vasilevskaia and Elena Semenovna Men, who joined the church as young women, offer evidence on how Russian Orthodoxy remained a viable, alternative presence in Soviet society, when all political, educational, and cultural institutions attempted to indoctrinate Soviet citizens with an atheistic perspective. Wallace L. Daniel's translation not only sheds light on Russia's religious and political history, but also shows how two educated women maintained their personal integrity in times when prevailing political and social headwinds moved in an opposite direction.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Simeon Frank's Unknowable Ontology

Simeon (Semyon) Frank remains a fascinating figure from the so-called Silver Age of Russian letters. I have noticed an upsurge of interest in him over the past decade or so as more of his works are translated and studied, including the publication this year of his The Unknowable: An Ontological Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, trans. Boris Jakim (Angelico Press, 2020), 346pp. 

About this book and its author the publisher tells us this:

The Unknowable is arguably the greatest Russian philosophical work of the twentieth century. In its density and profundity it is comparable to Pavel Florensky’s The Pillar and Ground of the Truth and Sergius Bulgakov’s The Bride of the Lamb. In 1937 Frank described The Unknowable as “the best and most profound thing which I have so far written.” The Unknowable was the culmination of Frank’s intellectual and spiritual development, the boldest and most imaginative of all his writings, containing a synthesis of epistemology, ontology, social philosophy, religious philosophy, and personal spiritual experience: the soul transcends outward to knowledge of other souls, thereby gaining knowledge of itself, becoming itself for the first time; and the soul transcends inward to gain knowledge of God, acquiring for the first time stable, certain being in this knowledge.  

S. L. FRANK (1877–1950) was one of the leading Russian philosophers of the twentieth century. Some authorities consider him to be the most outstanding Russian philosopher of any age. His active philosophical career spanned the half-century from 1902 to 1950. Over the course of this period he produced seven book-length treatises on philosophy, as well as several long philosophical essays, in addition to a mass of articles and reviews. When young, he took part in a Marxist group and was arrested and banned from major Russian cities. Yet, like a number of other Russian thinkers, he was not satisfied with Marxism and turned first to Idealism and then to religious philosophy. In 1922, along with other major ideological opponents of the Communist State, Frank was expelled from the Soviet Union. He worked in exile until his death in London in 1950.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

In Praise of Maps and Atlases

Every semester for more than a decade I have made regular use of maps in my classes, especially those devoted to Muslim-Christian relations both ancient and modern. I am an unapologetic believer that understanding the lay of the land--noticing, e.g., where the river valleys are, or mountain ranges, etc.--is crucial to understanding much of the history. 

In that light, I am looking forward to getting my hands on Christianity: A Historical Atlas by Alec Ryrie with maps by Malcolm Swanston (Belknap/Harvard UP, October 2020), 224 pages + 121 color maps, 18 illus.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

With over two billion practicing believers today, Christianity has taken root in almost all parts of the globe. Its impact on Europe and the Americas in particular has been fundamental. Through more than one hundred beautiful color maps and illustrations, Christianity traces the history of the religion, beginning with the world of Jesus Christ. From the consolidation of the first Christian empire—Constantine’s Rome—to the early Christian states that thrived in Ireland, Ethiopia, and other regions of the Roman periphery, Christianity quickly proved dynamic and adaptable.

After centuries of dissemination, strife, dogmatic division, and warfare in its European and Near Eastern heartland, Christianity conquered new worlds. In North America, immigrants fleeing persecution and intolerance rejected the established Church, and in time revivalist religions flourished and spread. Missionaries took the Christian message to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, bringing millions of new converts into the fold.

Christianity has served as the inspiration for some of the world’s finest monuments, literature, art, and architecture, while also playing a major role in world politics and history, including conquest, colonization, conflict, and liberation. Despite challenges in the modern world from atheism and secularism, from scandals and internal divisions, Christianity continues to spread its message through new technologies while drawing on a deep well of history and tradition.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Voting about God

I noted this book on here many years ago when it first came out, but this year we have a papaerback edition of Ramsay MacMullen's Voting about God in Early Church Councils (Yale University Press, 2020), 182pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In this study, Ramsay MacMullen steps aside from the well-worn path that previous scholars have trod to explore exactly how early Christian doctrines became official. Drawing on extensive verbatim stenographic records, he analyzes the ecumenical councils from A.D. 325 to 553, in which participants gave authority to doctrinal choices by majority vote.

The author investigates the sometimes astonishing bloodshed and violence that marked the background to church council proceedings, and from there goes on to describe the planning and staging of councils, the emperors' role, the routines of debate, the participants’ understanding of the issues, and their views on God’s intervention in their activities. He concludes with a look at the significance of the councils and their doctrinal decisions within the history of Christendom. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Habsburg History

Eastern Christians, especially some of those we today call, or who call themselves, Ukrainians, were for a very long time bound up with the fortunes of the Habsburgs, not least in Austrian Galicia. Galician history, as I indicate at the link, is itself fascinating, not least as told by Larry Wolff, and Robert Magosci and Christopher Hann. 

Habsburg history takes place on a much wider front, of course--indeed, a global one, and is even more interesting. It is an area I have long wanted to read more of, and now I have new incentive to do so thanks to the wonderful London Review of Books, in its 24 September 2020 edition, where we find a laudatory review of a new book: Martin Rady, The Habsburgs: to Rule the World (Basic Books, 2020), 416pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

In The Habsburgs, Martyn Rady tells the epic story of a dynasty and the world it built -- and then lost -- over nearly a millennium. From modest origins, the Habsburgs gained control of the Holy Roman Empire in the fifteenth century. Then, in just a few decades, their possessions rapidly expanded to take in a large part of Europe, stretching from Hungary to Spain, and parts of the New World and the Far East. The Habsburgs continued to dominate Central Europe through the First World War.

Historians often depict the Habsburgs as leaders of a ramshackle empire. But Rady reveals their enduring power, driven by the belief that they were destined to rule the world as defenders of the Roman Catholic Church, guarantors of peace, and patrons of learning. The Habsburgs is the definitive history of a remarkable dynasty that forever changed Europe and the world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Deceptions of Desire

Regular readers of this blog, and especially my book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, will be aware of how indebted I am to the Spanish Jesuit priest, theologian, and psychoanalyst Carlos Dominguez-Morano and his landmark and brilliant book Belief After Freud. That book remains, far and away, the most theologically sophisticated, compelling, and important engagement of Freud for decades. 

Well, to my enormous excitement, I see that Lexington Books is bringing out another of his books in translation next month: The Myth of Desire: Sexuality, Love, and the Self, trans. Veronica Polo Torok (Lexington, November 2020), 254pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In The Myth of Desire: Sexuality, Love, and the Self, Carlos Domínguez-Morano draws on psychoanalysis to explore the broad and complex reality of the affective-sexual realm encompassed by the term desire, a concept that propels individual aspirations, pursuits, and life endeavors. Domínguez-Morano takes a global perspective in order to introduce a methodology, examine the present sociocultural determinations affecting desire, review the main stages in the evolution of desire, and reflect on affective maturity. Domínguez-Morano further explores the five basic expressions of desire: falling in love and being a couple, homosexuality, narcissism and self-esteem, friendship, and the derivative of desire by way of sublimation. Scholars of psychology, philosophy, and sociology will find this book particularly useful.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Art, Craft, and Theology in Fourth-Century Authors

Morwenna Ludlow is well known among patristics scholars, not least for her book Gregory of Nyssa, which I profitably read many years ago. She has a new book just out on Kindle, and set for November release in hardback: Art, Craft, and Theology in Fourth-Century Christian Authors (Oxford University Press, 2020), 288pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Ancient authors commonly compared writing with painting. The sculpting of the soul was also a common philosophical theme. Art, Craft, and Theology in Fourth-Century Christian Authors takes its starting-point from such figures to recover a sense of ancient authorship as craft. The ancient concept of craft (ars, techne) spans 'high' or 'fine' art and practical or applied arts. It unites the beautiful and the useful. It includes both skills or practices (like medicine and music) and productive arts like painting, sculpting and the composition of texts. By using craft as a guiding concept for understanding fourth Christian authorship, this book recovers a sense of them engaged in a shared practice which is both beautiful and theologically useful, which shapes souls but which is also engaged in the production of texts. It focuses on Greek writers, especially the Cappadocians (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nysa) and John Chrysostom, all of whom were trained in rhetoric. Through a detailed examination of their use of two particular literary techniques--ekphrasis and prosōpopoeia--it shows how they adapt and experiment with them, in order to make theological arguments and in order to evoke a response from their readership.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Sadomasochism and Pseudo-Christian Culture

At the Other Place, you will find some thoughts on sadomasochism and its dynamics in a Christian context. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Saving Russian Iconography

At the end of this month will emerge a paperback edition of a lovely, important, fascinating book first published several years ago. For all those interested in Russian history, and in iconography, this book needs a place in your library: Irina Yazykova, Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography, trans. Paul Grenier (Paraclete Press, 2020), 224pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

This dramatic history recounts the story of an aspect of Russian culture that fought to survive throughout the 20th century: the icon. Russian iconography kept faith alive in Soviet Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. As monasteries and churches were ruined, icons destroyed, thousands of believers killed or sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps, a few courageous iconographers continued to paint holy images secretly, despite the ever-present threat of arrest. Others were forced to leave Russia altogether, and while living abroad, struggled to preserve their Orthodox traditions. Today we are witness to a renaissance of the Russian icon, made possible by the sacrifices of this previous generation of heroes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Ministry After Freud

One of Freud's longest and closest friendships was with Oskar Pfister, a Swiss Reformed pastor (discussed briefly here) who immediately saw the pastoral applicability of psychoanalytic techniques. Pfister visited Freud and befriended his entire family in Vienna over many years. It was perhaps with him in mind that Freud spoke of the ideal psychoanalyst as being neither a priest nor a physician, but instead a "secular pastoral worker." (That did not stop numerous Catholic--mainly Jesuit--priests from becoming analysts, as I documented in part here.)

But then Freud published Future of an Illusion, and inadvertently alienated most Jews and Christians--needlessly, as I have argued in a variety of places (including on here) over the years, and will argue at much greater length and detail in a book I'm working on, "Theology After Freud," which will doubtless get finished in fifty years or after my death, whichever comes first. For Freud is in fact the most useful adjunct theology could have for his clear-eyed efforts to diagnose and destroy illusions and idolatry which afflict us all, and often are bound up together in most ideologies, including those afflicting Catholic Christianity today. 

Pfister, as it turns out, was not alone in finding Freud useful for pastoral ministry. Along comes a new edition of a book which documents how Protestant pastors in this country found him helpful: Allison Stokes, Ministry After Freud (Wipf and Stock, 2020), 264pp. 

About this new book (originally published by Abingdon in 1985, apparently) the publisher tells us this:

Ministry After Freud tells the fascinating story of the impact of Freud's depth psychological discoveries on the practice of American Protestant ministry. It focuses on the lives and work of leaders such as Elwood Worcester, Anton Boisen, Flanders Dunhar, Smiley Blanton, Norman Vincent Peale, Seward Hiltner, and Paul Tillich, who were pioneers in the Religion and Health Movement, which brought together religion and psychology in healing ministry, and greatly influenced the practice of pastoral care and counseling. Never before chronicled and described, this Movement paralleled the Social Gospel Movement.

The book also tells the story for the first time of the New York Psychology Group, which met on Manhattan in the early 1940s. Members of this exclusive group—including Paul Tillich, Seward Hiltner, Erich Fromm, Rollo May, David Roberts, Gotthard Booth, Violet De Laszlo—shared ideas about the bearing of psychology on religion, ideas that later deeply influenced American intellectual and religious life through the articles and books these people wrote. The author identifies religion and health as a movement in theological liberalism, which historically seeks to interpret the gospel for each generation.

I have read and benefited from the book, and all who are interested in this history will not want to be without it. It is very cogently written, with a keen eye for telling detail and judicious assessments at every turn. It documents the Emmanuel Movement out of Boston in 1906 and other early movements that led to burgeoning interest in psychology and especially psychoanalysis, leading up to and developing yet further after the 1909 visit of Freud et al to this country.

It is hard to read the book now without at least a touch of wistfulness for a bygone era in which pastors and theologians sought out serious methods of pastoral counselling  and tried to learn as much as they could from Freud and related traditions of aptly named depth psychology. Who has that depth today in an era of monetized "mindfulness" apps on a phone and similar trifles? 

Monday, October 12, 2020

A New Biography of Stalin

The influence of Stalin on the destruction of Eastern Christian churches--Catholic and Orthodox--is notorious. I have read a couple biographies about him over the years, and now Princeton University Press has another one coming out this month: Ronald Grigor Suny, Stalin: Passage to Revolution (PUP, 2020, 896pp.

About this hefty new study, the publisher tells us this:

This is the definitive biography of Joseph Stalin from his birth to the October Revolution of 1917, a panoramic and often chilling account of how an impoverished, idealistic youth from the provinces of tsarist Russia was transformed into a cunning and fearsome outlaw who would one day become one of the twentieth century's most ruthless dictators.

In this monumental book, Ronald Grigor Suny sheds light on the least understood years of Stalin's career, bringing to life the turbulent world in which he lived and the extraordinary historical events that shaped him. Suny draws on a wealth of new archival evidence from Stalin's early years in the Caucasus to chart the psychological metamorphosis of the young Stalin, taking readers from his boyhood as a Georgian nationalist and romantic poet, through his harsh years of schooling, to his commitment to violent engagement in the underground movement to topple the tsarist autocracy. Stalin emerges as an ambitious climber within the Bolshevik ranks, a resourceful leader of a small terrorist band, and a writer and thinker who was deeply engaged with some of the most incendiary debates of his time.

A landmark achievement, Stalin paints an unforgettable portrait of a driven young man who abandoned his religious faith to become a skilled political operative and a single-minded and ruthless rebel.

Friday, October 9, 2020

St Maximus the Confessor

This blog just passed its tenth anniversary, which I only realized now, a few weeks after the fact. If you go back to those early days of innocence and wonderment, you will see that ten years ago we were in the full flood of publications by and about Maximus the Confessor. That has recently abated only slightly, but now we have a new translation to pick up the slack: St. Maximus the Confessor, The Ascetic Life, The Four Centuries on Charity, trans. Polycarp Sherwood (Angelico Press, 2020), 296pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580–662), saint and martyr, might well be called the Saint of Synthesis. His thought, no less than his geographical wanderings, place him between Rome and Byzantium, between the theologies of East and West, and between the early Middle Ages and the ancient Church, whose representatives and traditions (which during his day had suffered much at the hands of imperial and ecclesial censure) he salvaged and brought back to the attention of his contemporaries. In this, we may take him as an exemplar for our own time, which demands of us as well such a re-excavation of the traditions of the Church as we seek also to bridge the divergences of the past (along with others that have meanwhile come to roost) in our present spiritual quest.

The Ascetic Life takes the form of question and answer between a novice and an old monk. This dialogue springs directly from the nature of Christian life, centering above all on the quest for salvation, that is, the Lord’s purpose in His Incarnation—for it is by learning to make this purpose our own that we shall be saved, or deified, as St. Maximus would say. Once this purpose has been made clear and embraced, the three principal virtues required for attaining it are then explored—love, self-mastery, and prayer. Love tames anger, self-mastery overcomes desire, and prayer joins the mind to God.

The Four Centuries on Charity is written in the form of sententious or gnomic literature, which was first fixed in “centuries” by Evagrius Ponticus, both the number 100 and the number of the centuries being significant: the first as a perfect number referring to the One, God; and the other as representing the four Gospels. St. Maximus himself offers concision as the reason for his choice of the sententious form, for it facilitates the work of the memory in order that the reader may lay by a store of memorable, pithy sayings upon which to dwell prayerfully.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Greek Christians and Arab Muslims in the Levant

Late Ottoman history, including the founding of various Orthodox nation-states out of that empire on a wave of nationalism, remains a topic of great interest to me. So this new book, released just this month, looks especially fascinating: Michael Kreutz, The Renaissance of the Levant: Arabic and Greek Discourses of Reform in the Age of Nationalism (De Gruyter, 2020), 230pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Since the Mediterranean connects cultures, Mediterranean studies have by definition an intercultural focus. Throughout the modern era, the Ottoman Empire has had a lasting impact on the cultures and societies of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. However, the modern Balkans are usually studied within the context of European history, the southern Mediterranean within the context of Islam.

Although it makes sense to connect both regions, this is a vast field and requires a command of different languages not necessarily related to each other. Investigating both Greek and Arabic sources, this book will shed some light on the significance of ideas in the political transitions of their time and how the proponents of these transitions often became so overwhelmed by the events that they helped trigger adjustments to their own ideas. Also, the discourses in Greek and Arabic reflect the provinces of the Ottoman Empire and it is instructive to see their differences and commonalities which helps explain contemporary politics.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Reformation and Enlightenment Influences on Russian Orthodoxy

One of the self-congratulatory illusions (in the strict Freudian sense) that some Orthodox apologists like to tell themselves is that their tradition has somehow been insulated or even inoculated from Enlightenment influences and, to a lesser degree, the upheavals of the various Protestant reformations of the sixteenth century. Neither illusion (which functions, as Freud saw, as a protective device as well as of wish fulfilment: in this case the desire that Orthodoxy be "protected" from what are taken to be nefarious philosophical influences, and the wish that it remain a "safe haven" free of such things after all other Christians have apparently succumbed to them) withstands a moment of scholarly scrutiny, but when has that ever gotten in the way of a good myth? 

In any event, a forthcoming study will add to our understanding of this period: A Spiritual Revolution: The Impact of Reformation and Enlightenment in Orthodox Russia, 1700–1825 by Andrey V. Ivanov (University of Wisconsin Press, November 2020), 320pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

The ideas of the Protestant Reformation, followed by the European Enlightenment, had a profound and long-lasting impact on Russia’s church and society in the eighteenth century. Though the traditional Orthodox Church was often assumed to have been hostile toward outside influence, Andrey V. Ivanov’s study argues that the institution in fact embraced many Western ideas, thereby undergoing what some observers called a religious revolution.

Embedded with lively portrayals of historical actors and vivid descriptions of political details, A Spiritual Revolution is the first large-scale effort to fully identify exactly how Western progressive thought influenced the Russian Church. These new ideas played a foundational role in the emergence of the country as a modernizing empire and the rise of the Church hierarchy as a forward-looking agency of institutional and societal change. Ivanov addresses this important debate in the scholarship on European history, firmly placing Orthodoxy within the much wider European and global continuum of religious change.

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