"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, April 16, 2021

Married Priests in the Catholic Church--including a Married Bishop!

My book that was just published this month, Married Priests in the Catholic Church, began life a decade ago as a collection focused solely on Eastern Catholic experiences--the longstanding Roman harassment and Latin chauvinism around married clergy, the fetishization of celibacy as some kind of "superior" state and with it the concomitant denigration of marriage as a second-class sacrament for the "weaker brethren," and the bogus historicizing that has gone on around the "apostolicity" of celibacy. These and other issues were to be taken up, along with an ecumenical examination of the costs of this approach to Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement. Almost all of this would be focused on a European, and especially East-Slavic, context for the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church is the largest of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, having the largest number of married clergy. 

But as the book went through the University of Notre Dame Press's superlative peer-review and editorial processes, the reviewers' recommendations came to me asking to expand the focus of the book in both "cultural" and ecclesial terms. I grasped the logic of this at once, and set out recruiting chapters from non-European married clergy (Melkites, Copts, et al), and from Orthodox clergy as well as former Anglicans who remained married clergy in the relatively new ordinariates around the world. All this made for a much richer collection.

In the coming weeks I want to feature excerpts and insights from the various sections of the book. Today we start with an essay from the third section, "Ecumenical Considerations." The essay comes from England bearing the title "The Gift to the Church of Married Clergy" by Edwin Barnes. 

Barnes was a bishop in the Church of England, mother-church of the Anglican Communion (in which I was baptized) from 1995 to 2002. He and his wife Jane converted to Catholicism a decade ago and spent the last few years of his life ordained a priest, and later designated a monsignor, in the Latin Church before his death in early 2019. 

His chapter is short but lovely, and it talks about how the ministry of married clergy is very much a ministry of the married couple. He gives moving tribute to how much unsung and unpaid work was done by his wife, and how no parish--if it is to be a genuine community of concern and pastoral care and not just a sacramental gas station--can function without the whole couple, together and singly, working in their various spheres. 

In saying this, his chapter joins nicely with others, including that of Irene Galadza, the matushka of the most important and influential Ukrainian Greco-Catholic parish in North America, St. Elias in Brampton, Ontario, where she and her husband, Archpriest Roman, have been since they founded the parish in 1976. Irene, too, recognizes not just how much parish ministry depends on the labours of husband and wife alike, but also--and importantly--how much a strain such ministry can put on the marriage. Hers is a welcome note of realism and restraint of those romanticized fantasies some have of how great it must be to have a married priesthood, and how that will apparently "solve" the so-called vocations crisis in the Latin Church. 

Irene's is not a counsel of despair, however, but very much a sober and cheerful reflection on how the wives of clergy can undertake the responsibility for the careful welfare (psychological and physical, but also spiritual) of herself and their children. Though she does not use such terminology as "self-care," that is very much the import of what she writes.

In this regard, her chapter is likewise joined to that of another: Bill Mills, a long-standing priest in the Orthodox Church of America, and author of any number of wonderful books, including his frank and funny memoir I discussed in my interview with him here. He, too, is well aware of the psychic costs of married life in a manse or rectory, and discusses those in his charming and amusing chapter, "Marriage and Ministry: an Eastern Orthodox Perspective." If you like that chapter, you'll love his many other books I have noted on here over the years. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Post-War and Cold War Catholicism

I had a wonderful dinner with the author of this forthcoming book when I invited him to campus to give a lecture in 2019. He told me he was working on this history, and given the quality of his scholarship from his other works I have read and heard, I know this forthcoming book will be first-rate and absolutely fascinating when we can get our hands on Joseph P. Chinnici's American Catholicism Transformed: From the Cold War Through the Council (Oxford University Press, April 2021), 480pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Situating the church within the context of post-World War II globalization and the Cold War, American Catholicism Transformed draws on previously untapped archival sources to provide deep background to developments within the American Catholic Church in relationship to American society at large. Shaped by anti-communist sentiment and responsive to American cultural trends, the Catholic community adopted "strategies of domestic containment," stressing the close unity between the Church and the "American way of life." A focus on the unchanging character of God's law as expressed in social hierarchies of authority, race, and gender provided a public visage of unity and uniformity. However, the emphasis on American values mainstreamed into the community the political values of personal rights, equality, acceptance of the arms race, and muted the Church's inherited social vision. The result was a deep ambivalence over the forces of secularization.

The Catholic community entered a transitional stage in which "those on the right" and "those on the left" battled for control of the Church's vision. International networking, reform of religious life among women, international congresses of the laity, the institutionalization of the liturgical movement, and the burgeoning civil right movement positioned the community to receive the Vatican Council in a distinctly American way. During the Second Vatican Council, the American bishops and theological experts gradually adopted the reforming currents of the world-wide Church. This convergence of international and national forces of renewal -- and resistance to them -- says Joseph Chinnici, will continue to shape the American Catholic community's identity in the twenty-first century.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Orthodoxy in Cyprus

I have fond memories of my (so far) only trip to Cyprus in October of 1993, and would dearly love to go back some day. I thought of that trip in seeing that next week will give us a paperback edition of a book published a few years ago: Orthodox Cyprus under the Latins, 1191–1571: Society, Spirituality, and Identities by Chrysovalantis Kyriacou (Lexington Books, 15 April 2021), 354pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Medieval and Renaissance Cyprus was a fascinating place of ethnic, cultural, and religious encounters. Following almost nine centuries of Byzantine rule, Cyprus was conquered by the Crusaders in 1191, becoming (until 1571) the most important stronghold of Latin Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean—first under the Frankish dynasty of the Lusignans, and later under the Venetians. Modern historiographical readings of Cypriot identity in medieval and early modern times have been colored by British colonialism, Greek nationalism, and Cyprocentric revisionism. Although these perspectives have offered valuable insights into the historical experience of Latin-ruled Cypriots, they have partially failed to capture the dynamics of noncoercive resistance to domination, and of identity preservation and adaptation. Orthodox Cyprus under the Latins, 1191–1571 readdresses the question of Cypriot identity by focusing on the Greek Cypriots, the island’s largest community during the medieval and early modern period. By bringing together theories from the fields of psychology, social anthropology, and sociology, this study explores continuities and discontinuities in the Byzantine culture and religious tradition of Cyprus, proposing a new methodological framework for a more comprehensive understanding of Cypriot Orthodoxy under Crusader and Venetian rule. A discussion of fresh evidence from hitherto unpublished primary sources enriches this examination, stressing the role of medieval and Renaissance Cyprus as cultural and religious province of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine Orthodox world.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Married Priests in the Catholic Church

If you go here, you will be able to read a brief interview I did about my just-released book Married Priests in the Catholic Church.

In the weeks ahead, I will try to feature excerpts from the book, or discussion of its chapters, to whet your appetite further about it. In the meantime, the publisher tells us this about the book:

These essays offer a historically rigorous dismantling of Western claims about the superiority of celibate priests.

Although celibacy is often seen as a distinctive feature of the Catholic priesthood, both Catholic and Orthodox Churches in fact have rich and diverse traditions of married priests. The essays contained in Married Priests in the Catholic Church offer the most comprehensive treatment of these traditions to date. These essays, written by a wide-ranging group that includes historians, pastors, theologians, canon lawyers, and the wives and children of married Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox priests, offer diverse perspectives from many countries and traditions on the subject, including personal, historical, theological, and canonical accounts. As a collection, these essays push especially against two tendencies in thinking about married priesthood today. Against the idea that a married priesthood would solve every problem in Catholic clerical culture, this collection deromanticizes and demythologizes the notion of married priesthood. At the same time, against distinctively modern theological trends that posit the superiority, apostolicity, and “ontological” necessity of celibate priests, this collection refutes the claim that priestly ordination and celibacy must be so closely linked.

In addressing the topic of married priesthood from both practical and theoretical angles, and by drawing on a variety of perspectives, Married Priests in the Catholic Church will be of interest to a wide audience, including historians, theologians, canon lawyers, and seminary professors and formators, as well as pastors, parish leaders, and laypeople.

Contributors: Adam A. J. DeVille, David G. Hunter, Dellas Oliver Herbel, James S. Dutko, Patrick Viscuso, Alexander M. Laschuk, John Hunwicke, Edwin Barnes, Peter Galadza, David Meinzen, Julian Hayda, Irene Galadza, Nicholas Denysenko, William C. Mills, Andrew Jarmus, Thomas J. Loya, Lawrence Cross, and Basilio Petrà.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Christianity in South and Central Asia

This month we have a more affordable paperback edition of a book first published in 2019 by Edinburgh University Press as part of their series Edinburgh Companions to Global Christianity: Christianity in South and Central Asia, eds. Kenneth R. Ross, Daniel Jeyaraj, and Todd M. Johnson (April 2021), 512pp. 

About this collection the publisher tells us this:
Students, pastors, missionaries, and professors looking for key information about Christianity in South and Central Asia need look no further. This comprehensive reference volume covers every country in South and Central Asia, offering reliable demographic and religious information, as well as original interpretative essays by indigenous scholars and practitioners.

Combining empirical data and original analysis in a uniquely detailed way, it maps patterns of growth and decline, assesses major traditions and movements, analyzes key themes, and examines current trends. Readers will find profiles of Christianity through clearly presented statistical and demographic information. Also included are essays examining each of the major Christian traditions (Independents, Orthodox, United Churches, Protestants/Anglicans, Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals/Charismatics) as they are finding expression in South and Central Asia.

Those who are interested in studying key themes of this region--such as faith and culture, worship and spirituality, theology, social and political engagement, mission and evangelism, religious freedom, gender, interfaith relations, monastic movements and spirituality, displaced populations, and ecclesiology--will find highly detailed essays and information. Compiled by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity, this volume is unmatched in scope and detail.
The countries covered in this volume and their authors are as follows: 

Kazakhstan, Alina Ganje
Uzbekistan, Feruza Krason
Turkmenistan, Barakatullo Ashurov
Tajikistan, Barakatullo Ashurov
Kyrgyzstan, David Radford
Iran, Gulnar Francis-Dehqani
Afghanistan, Anthony Roberts
Pakistan, Mehak Arshad and Youshib Matthew John
North India, Leonard Fernando SJ
Western India, Atul Y. Aghamkar
South India, Daniel Jeyaraj
North-East India, Kaholi Zhimomi
Nepal, Bal Krishna Sharma
Bhutan, Tandin Wangyal
Bangladesh, Pradeep Perez SJ
Maldives, Kenneth R. Ross and Todd M. Johnson
Sri Lanka, Prashan de Visser

Major Christian Traditions:

Catholics, Felix Wilfred
Orthodox, Romina Istratii
United and Uniting Churches, Joshva Raja
Protestants and Anglicans, Arun W. Jones
Independents, Roger E. Hedlund
Evangelicals, Rebecca Samuel Shah and Vinay Samuel
Pentecostals/Charismatics, Ivan Satyavrata

Monday, April 5, 2021

Virgin Martyrs in Late Antique Byzantium

The ways in which we narrate the past almost always say as much about us in the present--and sometimes the future we wish to have--as they purport to do about the past. That seems no less true even in martyrology and hagiography as a new book once more reminds us:Narrating Martyrdom: Rewriting Late-Antique Virgin Martyrs in Byzantium by Anne P. Alwis (Liverpool University Press, 2020), 240pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book reconceives the rewriting of Byzantine hagiography between the eighth and fourteenth centuries as a skilful initiative in communication and creative freedom, and as a form of authorship. Three men - Makarios (late C13th-C14th), a monk; Constantine Akropolites (d.c.1324), a statesman; and an Anonymous educated wordsmith (c. C9th - each opted to rewrite the martyrdom of a female virgin saint who suffered and died centuries earlier. Their adaptations, respectively, were of St. Ia of Persia (modern-day Iran), St. Horaiozele of Constantinople, and St. Tatiana of Rome. Ia is described as a victim of the persecutions of the Persian Shahanshah, Shapur II (309-79 C.E), Horaiozele was allegedly a disciple of St Andrew and killed anachronistically under the emperor Decius (249-51 C.E), and Tatiana, we are told, was a deaconess, martyred during the reign of emperor Alexander Severus (222-35 C.E). Makarios, Akropolites, and the Anonymous knowingly tailored their compositions to influence an audience and to foster their individual interests. The implications arising from these studies are far-reaching: this monograph considers the agency of the hagiographer, the instrumental use of the authorial persona and its impact on the audience, and hagiography as a layered discourse. The book also provides the first translations and commentaries of the martyrdoms of these virgin martyrs.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies

I was pleased and honoured to have been asked, nearly a decade ago now, to contribute to this forthcoming collection, part of a series of such Handbooks published by the world's most prestigious academic press: The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies, eds. Geoffrey Wainwright and Paul McPartlan (Oxford University Press, July 2021), 696pp. My chapter is on ecclesiology. 

As an editor myself of international scholarly collections, including my newest one, Married Priests in the Catholic Church, which likewise took nearly a decade to finish, I am well aware of how much one is at the mercy of contributors, and how long they can force you to drag things out by not submitting materials on time, or by (in some especially egregious cases) agreeing to submit and then not only failing to do so, but refusing all further communication in a vexatiously rude manner. I know from talking to Paul over the years that this forthcoming Handbook took much longer than was hoped--so much so that the other editor, Geoffrey Wainwright, died just over a year ago, before this book was in print. 

But at long last this Handbook makes its debut. About it the publisher tells us this:

The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies is an unparalleled compendium of ecumenical history, information and reflection. With essay contributions by nearly fifty experts in their various fields, and edited by two leading international scholars, the Handbook is a major resource for all who are involved or interested in ecumenical work for reconciliation between Christians and for the unity of the Church. Its six main sections consider, respectively, the different phases of the history of the ecumenical movement from the mid-nineteenth century to the present; the ways in which leading Christian churches and traditions, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, and Pentecostal, have engaged with and contributed to the movement; the achievements of ecumenical dialogue in key areas of Christian doctrine, such as Christology and ecclesiology, baptism, Eucharist and ministry, morals and mission, and the issues that remain outstanding; various ecumenical agencies and instruments, such as covenants and dialogues, the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Global Christian Forum; the progress and difficulties of ecumenism in different countries, areas and continents of the world, the UK and the USA, Africa, Asia, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, ; and finally two all-important questions are considered by scholars from various traditions: what would Christian unity look like and what is the best method for seeking it? This is a remarkably comprehensive account and assessment of one of the most outstanding features of Christian history, namely the modern ecumenical movement.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Eastern Christianity: a Reader

Justin Coyle, a young and formidably wise scholar whom one should keep an eye on in the years ahead and of whom one continues to expect great things, kindly writes the other day to draw my attention to a book set for release later this year: Eastern Christianity: A Reader by J. Edward Walters (Eerdmans, November 2021), 448pp.

I am especially gratified to see that "Eastern" here actually means (as it too rarely does) "east of Byzantium." Thus we see a wonderful array from some of the richest, oldest, but frequently overlooked traditions often grouped under the heading of "Oriental" or "non-Chalcedonian" Orthodox. This will certainly be the kind of book useful in survey courses, and required in every serious library devoted to the Christian East. 

This volume offers, the publisher tells us,

English translations of Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Coptic, and Ethiopic Christian texts from late antiquity to the early modern period 

In order to make the writings of Eastern Christianity more widely accessible this volume offers a collection of significant texts from various Eastern Christian traditions, many of which are appearing in English for the first time. The internationally renowned scholars behind these translations begin each section with an informative historical introduction, so that anyone interested in learning more about these understudied groups can more easily traverse their diverse linguistic, cultural, and literary traditions. A boon to scholars, students, and general readers, this ample resource expands the scope of Christian history so that communities beyond Western Christendom can no longer be ignored.

We are also given the table of contents:


Chapter One: Syriac

Introduction to Syriac Christianity

     General Bibliography for Syriac Christianity

     1. The Doctrina Addai

     2. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns against Heresies 3 and 53

     3. Martyrdom of Mīles, Abursam, and Sinay

     4. Jacob of Serug, The Fourth Homily on Cain and Abel

     5. Narsai, On the Canaanite Woman

     6. Simeon of Beth Arsham, Letter on the Ḥimyarite Martyrs

     7. The Syriac Life of Mary of Egypt

     8. Timothy I, Letter 47

     9. Theodore bar Koni, Scholion, Mēmrā 10 (selection)

Chapter Two: Armenian

     Introduction to Armenian Christianity

     General Bibliography for Armenian Christianity

     1. Koriwn, The Life of Mashtotsʿ

     2. Eznik of Koghb, Refutation of the Sects (or, On God)

     3. The Teaching of Saint Grigor

     4. Anania of Narek, On This Transitory World

     5. Grigor of Narek, Book of Lamentation, Discourse 1, Discourse 88

     6. Nersēs Shnorhali, Hymn for the Sunrise Hour, Instructional Preface to a Prayer of Nersēs, Prayer of Nersēs

Chapter Three: Georgian

     Introduction to Georgian Christianity

     General Bibliography for Georgian Christianity

     1. Martyrdom of St. Shushanik

     2. John Sabanisże, Martyrdom of Habo, the Perfumer from Baghdad

     3. The Lives of John the Iberian, Euthymios the Athonite, and George the Athonite

     4. The Life of Porphyry of Gaza

Chapter Four: Arabic

     Introduction to Arabic Christianity

     General Bibliography for Arabic Christianity

     1. Homilies on the Gospel Readings for Holy Week

     2. Theodore Abū Qurrah, That God Is Not Weak

     3. The Disputation of Abraham of Tiberias

     4. Ḥunayn Ibn Isḥāq, How to Discern the True Religion

     5. Miracles of Saint George

     6. Commentary on the Pentateuch

Chapter Five: Coptic

     Introduction to Coptic Christianity

     General Bibliography for Coptic Christianity

     1. Life of Pachomius

     2. Shenoute of Atripe, I Have Been Reading the Holy Gospels

     3. Pseudo-Dioscorus of Alexandria, Encomium on Macarius of Tkōou

     4. The Anaphora of Saint Thomas the Apostle

     5. Christophoria, Letter to the Comes Mena

     6. John of Paralos, Homily on the Archangel Michael and the Blasphemous Books of the Heretics

     7. Pseudo-Cyril of Alexandria, Encomium Interpreting Part of the Apocalypse of John the Apostle of Christ Jesus

Chapter Six: Ethiopic

     Introduction to Ethiopic Christianity

     General Bibliography for Ethiopic Christianity

     1. Select Inscriptions of ˁEzana

     2. Homily on Frumentius

     3. Synaxarion on Yared

     4. Glory of the Kings (Kǝbrä Nägäśt) (selection)

     5. Hildephonsus, Bishop of Toledo, Miracles of Mary

     6. Zärˀä Yaˁəqob, Book of the Trinity

     7. Prayer Amulet: MS Duke Ethiopic 15

Friday, March 26, 2021

Byzantine Religious Law in Southern Italy

Coming out in May of this year is a book that focuses on those fascinating proto-ecumenical encounters of Eastern Christians with their Western counterparts in the latter's territories when the former were cut off from their own hierarchs: James Morton, Byzantine Religious Law in Medieval Italy (Oxford University Press, 2021), 336pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Southern Italy was conquered by the Norman Hauteville dynasty in the late eleventh century after over five hundred years of continuous Byzantine rule. At a stroke, the region's Greek Christian inhabitants were cut off from their Orthodox compatriots in Byzantium and became subject to the spiritual and legal jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic popes. Nonetheless, they continued to follow the religious laws of the Byzantine church; out of thirty-six surviving manuscripts of Byzantine canon law produced between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, the majority date to the centuries after the Norman conquest.

Byzantine Religious Law in Medieval Italy is a historical study of these manuscripts, exploring how and why the Greek Christians of medieval southern Italy persisted in using them so long after the end of Byzantine rule. The first part of the book provides an overview of the source material and the history of Italo-Greek Christianity. The second part examines the development of Italo-Greek canon law manuscripts from the last century of Byzantine rule to the late twelfth century, arguing that the Normans' opposition to papal authority created a laissez faire atmosphere in which Greek Christians could continue to follow Byzantine religious law unchallenged. Finally, the third part analyses the papacy's successful efforts to assert its jurisdiction over southern Italy in the later Middle Ages. While this brought about the end of Byzantine canon law as an effective legal system in the region, the Italo-Greeks still drew on their legal heritage to explain and justify their distinctive religious rites to their Latin neighbours.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Christian Adaptations of and to Muslim Governance

I have previously drawn attention to the fascinating books of the historian Phillip Wood who treats early Muslim-Christian encounters in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. He has another book coming out later next month that I am greatly looking forward to reading: The Imam of the Christians: The World of Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, c. 750–850  (Princeton University Press, April 2021), 304pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

How Christian leaders adapted the governmental practices and political thought of their Muslim rulers in the Abbasid caliphate

The Imam of the Christians examines how Christian leaders adopted and adapted the political practices and ideas of their Muslim rulers between 750 and 850 in the Abbasid caliphate in the Jazira (modern eastern Turkey and northern Syria). Focusing on the writings of Dionysius of Tel-Mahre, the patriarch of the Jacobite church, Philip Wood describes how this encounter produced an Islamicate Christianity that differed from the Christianities of Byzantium and western Europe in far more than just theology. In doing so, Wood opens a new window on the world of early Islam and Muslims’ interactions with other religious communities.

Wood shows how Dionysus and other Christian clerics, by forging close ties with Muslim elites, were able to command greater power over their coreligionists, such as the right to issue canons regulating the lives of lay people, gather tithes, and use state troops to arrest opponents. In his writings, Dionysius advertises his ease in the courts of Abdallah ibn Tahir in Raqqa and the caliph al-Ma’mun in Baghdad, presenting himself as an effective advocate for the interests of his fellow Christians because of his knowledge of Arabic and his ability to redeploy Islamic ideas to his own advantage. Strikingly, Dionysius even claims that, like al-Ma’mun, he is an imam since he leads his people in prayer and rules them by popular consent.

A wide-ranging examination of Middle Eastern Christian life during a critical period in the development of Islam, The Imam of the Christians is also a case study of the surprising workings of cultural and religious adaptation.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Handbook of Theological Anthropology

Released just last month under the editorship of Mary Ann Hinsdale  and Stephen Okey, the T&T Clark Handbook of Theological Anthropology features chapters on such towering Eastern figures as Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa, as well as chapters on other very topical and current challenges.  

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

Including classical, modern, and postmodern approaches to theological anthropology, this volume covers the entire spectrum of thought on the doctrines of creation, the human person as imago Dei, sin, and grace.

The editors have gathered an exceptionally diverse range of voices, ensuring ecumenical balance (Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox) and the inclusion of previously neglected perspectives (women, African American, Asian, Latinx, and LGBTQ). The contributors revisit authors from the “Great Tradition” (early church, medieval, and modern), and discuss them alongside critical and liberationist approaches (ranging from feminist, decolonial, and intersectional theory to critical race theory and queer performance theory). This is a much-needed overview of a rapidly evolving field.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Red Theology

Being Christian (and, worse, being an American Christian) does not prevent one from succumbing to politically tendentious mythologies and stupid ideas, including the claims that capitalism is reconcilable with Christianity, and socialism and communism are inherently opposed to it. A new book upends many of those silly assumptions: Roland Boer, Red Theology: On the Christian Communist Tradition  (Haymarket, 2020), 294pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In Red Theology: On the Christian Communist Tradition, Roland Boer presents key moments in the 2,000 year tradition of Christian communism. Defined by the two features of alternative communal practice and occasional revolutionary action, Christian communism is predicated on profound criticism of the way of the world. The book begins with Karl Kautsky―the leading thinker of second-generation Marxism―and his oft-ignored identification of this tradition. From there, it offers a series of case studies that deal with European instances, the Russian Revolution, and to East Asia. Here we find the emergence of Christian communism not only in China, but also in North Korea. This book will be a vital resource for scholars and students of religion and the many aspects of socialist tradition.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Syriac Christian Culture

The always-fascinating Syriac tradition constitutes, in the charmingly inapt metaphor of the great Syracist Sebastian Brock of Oxford, the "third lung" of Christianity, offering a unique perspective alongside the Latins in the West and the Greeks in the near-East. The Syriac tradition's riches are on offer in a new book released this month: Syriac Christian Culture: Beginnings to Renaissanceeds. Aaron Michael Butts and Robin Darling Young (Catholic University of America Press, 2021), 400pp.

About this collection the publisher tells us this: 

Syriac Christianity developed in the first centuries CE in the Middle East, where it continued to flourish throughout Late Antiquity and the Medieval period, while also spreading widely, as far as India and China. Today, Syriac Christians are found in the Middle East, in India, as well in diasporas scattered across the globe. Over this extended time period and across this vast geographic expanse, Syriac Christians have built impressive churches and monasteries, crafted fine pieces of art, and written and transmitted a sizable body of literature. Though often overlooked, neglected, and even persecuted, Syriac Christianity has been – and continues to be – an important part of the humanistic heritage of the last two millennia.

The present volume brings together fourteen studies that offer fresh perspectives on Syriac Christianity, especially its literary texts and authors. The timeframes of the individual studies span from the second-century Syriac translation of the Hebrew Bible up to the thirteenth century with the end of the Syriac Renaissance. Several studies analyze key authors from Late Antiquity, such as Aphrahat, Ephrem, Narsai, and Jacob of Serugh. Others investigate translations into Syriac, both from Hebrew and from Greek, while still others examine hagiography, especially its formation and transmission. Reflecting a growing trend in the field, the volume also devotes significant attention to the Medieval period, during which Syriac Christians lived under Islamic rule. The studies in the volume are united in their quest to explore the richness, diversity, and vibrance of Syriac Christianity.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923

I previously posted a brief notice about this book, Christians under the Crescent and Muslims under the Cross c.630 - 1923 by Luigi Berto (Routledge, 2020), 178pp. I have now had a chance to read it, and as soon as I did made the decision on the spot to adopt it for my course Eastern Christian Encounters with Islam. It is the rare book that does all the things I need a book to do for teaching undergraduates, but this book superbly accomplishes them all:

  • it is written in cogent, clear English
  • it is without an obvious agenda, especially an apologetic one
  • it is relatively brief
  • it avoids getting lost in the notes and apparatus, which undergrads often find bewildering
  • it captures the messiness of history--the "nobody has clean hands" approach
  • it is reasonably affordable in a paperback edition.
My course has struggled over the years to find suitable texts. Some are far too apologetic and almost polemical; some are only partially useful; some were useful for a time but more recent scholarship or events on the ground (e.g., the Arab Spring) made much of them out of date. So to find this book is a great gift and I am very much looking forward to teaching with it.

The publisher's description of the book follows:

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.

Friday, March 12, 2021

A Potpouri of Books

I will give the credit to Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory for reminding me many years ago now that the one who studies and teaches theology, and who reads nothing but, is going to be a very intellectually impoverished teacher indeed. I don't know if I needed his imprimatur or not, but I have never had any trouble maintaining very active interests in all sorts of other areas both for their own sake, but also because they shed real and useful light on a context in which, say, some Eastern Christian group found itself, or some issue--e.g., socioeconomic conditions--which has an obvious impact on any Christian teachings about poverty and justice. 

In any event, I resume here some intermittent jottings I have done over the past year, highlighting books I spy while reading the London Review of Books and now also the New York Review of Books, copies of which are very portable and should always be kept at hand for when you find yourself waiting in some doctor's office or stuck on some tedious Zoom meeting. Employing your manservant, or one of your children, to hold the current issue at the same height as, but just out of sight of, your camera ensures you can look like you are paying rapt attention to the meeting while happily reading about some interesting new book. Or so others who have tried this technique tell me.....

In any event, there are just some thoughts from reading reviews of new books in the last several issues (in no especial order) of both periodicals. I am way behind in doing this, so I will give you some samples from issues going back to early December and coming forward to the most recent. I have not read the books themselves, but make notes here of especially interesting ones I hope some day, money and time allowing, to track down and read and which, moreover, I hope might likewise be of interest to you.

Eastern Christians, including especially a lot of Ukrainian Catholics, know only too well the problem of being a displaced person, a stateless being. I have several friends whose families found themselves in DP camps across Europe in1945, and sometimes for several years before they were gradually allowed to make their way to North America or the United Kingdom.

It was with great interest, then, that I read in the 17 December 2020 issue of the NYRB a review of two new books that reveal the problem of statelessness has not gone away, and the peril and acute vulnerability of such peoples even today is very bad indeed. The first book is Mira L. Siegelberg's Statelessness: A Modern History. The second is Dimitry Kochenov's Citizenship

The Second World War shows up later in this issue with a review essay discussing two new books: Roger Morehouse's Poland 1939: the Outbreak of World War II; and then Florian Huber, "Promise Me You'll Shoot Yourself": The Mass Suicide of Ordinary Germans in 1945, trans. Imogen Taylor. The former book sounds like it covers well-trod territory, but the latter book explored mass death in a way, on a scale, and in an area I was far less familiar with. 

In the same issue I read with interest--as I have two friends, one with family there and the other having served with the US Marines there--a book about Okinawa: Akemi Johnson's Night in the American Village: Women in the Shadow of the US Military Bases in Okinawa. Whatever utility this (and many other bases of the oft-disguised American Empire) may once have played sounds long ago now and in the present we instead have a place of myriad pathologies, including sexual violence and murder. 

This issue also contains a review of The Essential Scalia: on the Constitution, the Courts, and the Rule of Law. Not being either a citizen or a legal scholar, I have little to say about American jurisprudence, but Scalia was an entertaining personality who could turn a phrase, so I often listened to him or read parts of his opinions in these latter years before his death in 2016. 

From the 11 March 2021 issue of the NYRB, I note a fascinating new book devoted to the study of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King JR together: Brandon Terry reviews the new book of Peniel Joseph, The Sword and the Shield: the Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. 

From the same issue I note a review of Angels and Saints, a lavishly and beautifully illustrated book that the NYRB reviewer, along with one in the New York Times, have both raved about. The publisher has this to say about the book:

Angels have soared through Western culture and consciousness from Biblical to contemporary times. But what do we really know about these celestial beings? Where do they come from, what are they made of, how do they communicate and perceive? The celebrated essayist Eliot Weinberger has mined and deconstructed, resurrected and distilled centuries of theology into an awe-inspiring exploration of the heavenly host.

From a litany of angelic voices, Weinberger’s lyrical meditation then turns to the earthly counterparts, the saints, their lives retold in a series of vibrant and playful capsule biographies, followed by a glimpse of the afterlife. Threaded throughout Angels & Saints are the glorious illuminated grid poems by the eighteenth-century Benedictine monk Hrabanus Maurus. These astonishingly complex, proto-“concrete” poems are untangled in a lucid afterword by the medieval scholar and historian Mary Wellesley.

The same essay in the NYRB also discusses T.M. Luhrmann's new book How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others, which looks at these questions around the world, but pays special attention to American evangelicals and their strange beliefs and peculiar fetishes, of which I need no convincing. 

There is a hilarious review by Ruth Bernard Yeazell of Anthony M. Amore's new book The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: the True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough Art Theft that takes us into all the strange and fascinating ways of the English aristocracy and their country houses, the absurd (and now discontinued) spectacle of their young women being "presented at court," and then the highly unusual turn of events when one such young woman stoll a Vermeer painting from her own family's country seat to sell the profits to aid the IRA with which she became involved. 

Nicholson Baker's new book sounds, from this review, about as depressing as you would imagine given the ever increasing capacity of governments to spy and then lie: Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act.

Catching up with the London Review of Books from its 17 December 2020 issue, I note a review of a fascinating new book by Robert Gerwarth, November 1918: the German Revolution. The First World War has long been far more fascinating to me than the second, and this book discusses aspects of the immediate post-war period I knew only in the vaguest outline. The myth of the "stab in the back" of Germany was seeded by Luddendorf in late 1918 before the imperial abdication and request for an armistice. 

This issue of the LRB reviews two new books about Lincoln, but before doing so, the reviewer, Eric Foner, notes that since his death in 1865, Lincoln has been featured in more than 16,000 books in English. The first of the new ones is David S. Reynolds, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times; while the second one is H.W. Brands, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom.

Finally, and briefly, I note the LRB reviews two new memoirs by politically prominent women: Barbara Amiel, Friends and Enemies: A Memoir; and Sacha Swire, Diary of an MP's Wife: Inside and Outside Power. 

I used to read Amiel occasionally when I lived in Canada and she wrote for Maclean's. I read her husband, Conrad Black, more frequently until he became a tedious blowhard writing paeans to Trump in exchange for favours rendered. The reviewer of Amiel's book says she, too, has become utterly tedious in her preoccupation with smiting enemies and settling scores.

That said, I will give credit to Black for an early book of his, which remains useful to those trying to understand the rapid and thoroughgoing collapse of Catholicism in Quebec after 1960, when it went from being as or even more intensely Catholic than Poland, Ireland, or Brazil: Render unto Caesar: The life and legacy of Maurice Duplessis shows that the theocratic (and frequently sinister) marriage between the Church and Quebec state is arguably the biggest reason behind the collapse inaugurated by the Quiet Revolution. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Shepherd of Hermas

The Shepherd of Hermas is a wild ride. I enjoy watching students try to figure out how to interpret the text when I have assigned it over the years. Its relative neglect in 21st-century scholarship is about to change next month with the publication of The Shepherd of Hermas: A Literary, Historical, and Theological Handbook by Jonathon Lookadoo (T&T Clark, April 2021), 312pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:
Jonathon Lookadoo guides readers through the early Christian apocalypse known as the Shepherd of Hermas, providing a clear overview of the numerous literary, historical, and theological insights that this text contains for those researching early Christianity.
Dividing his exploration into two sections, Lookadoo first introduces the Shepherd by providing an overview of the text to those with limited familiarity, while also focusing on critical issues such as authorship, date, and the Shepherd's complex manuscript tradition and reception history. He then moves to examine the interpretation of particular passages in detail, and by close exploration of theological and literary features he is able to contextualize the Shepherd alongside contemporary contexts. This volume covers the important thematic issues in the Shepherd, and also provides a fresh perspective that arises from a thoroughly textual focus; in so doing, Lookadoo enables readers to engage both with the Shepherd itself and the scholarship that surrounds the text.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Russian Christianity and its Place in Global Christianity

Scott Kenworthy writes deeply learned, but accessible and always fascinating, books on Russian Orthodox Christianity that are always worth your time. So when I learned from him recently that he had teamed up with another author to contribute to an ongoing series, I knew it would be worth my time to read Understanding World Christianity: Russia by Scott M. Kenworthy and Alexander S. Agadjanian (Fortress Press, 2021), 311pp. 

This is part of an ongoing series of books, at least one of whose earlier publications, that devoted to India, will of course be relevant to Eastern Christians given the very great diversity of them in India

About this newest installment, 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.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Married Priests in the Catholic Church

April is just around the corner, and that means that you can soon order my next book, Married Priests in the Catholic Church, which the University of Notre Dame Press is bringing out.

About this international and ecumenical collection, you should know this:

These essays offer a historically rigorous dismantling of Western claims about the superiority of celibate priests.

Although celibacy is often seen as a distinctive feature of the Catholic priesthood, both Catholic and Orthodox Churches in fact have rich and diverse traditions of married priests. The essays contained in Married Priests in the Catholic Church offer the most comprehensive treatment of these traditions to date. These essays, written by a wide-ranging group that includes historians, pastors, theologians, canon lawyers, and the wives and children of married Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox priests, offer diverse perspectives from many countries and traditions on the subject, including personal, historical, theological, and canonical accounts. As a collection, these essays push especially against two tendencies in thinking about married priesthood today. Against the idea that a married priesthood would solve every problem in Catholic clerical culture, this collection deromanticizes and demythologizes the notion of married priesthood. At the same time, against distinctively modern theological trends that posit the superiority, apostolicity, and “ontological” necessity of celibate priests, this collection refutes the claim that priestly ordination and celibacy must be so closely linked.

In addressing the topic of married priesthood from both practical and theoretical angles, and by drawing on a variety of perspectives, Married Priests in the Catholic Church will be of interest to a wide audience, including historians, theologians, canon lawyers, and seminary professors and formators, as well as pastors, parish leaders, and laypeople.

Contributors: Adam A. J. DeVille, David G. Hunter, Dellas Oliver Herbel, James S. Dutko, Patrick Viscuso, Alexander M. Laschuk, John Hunwicke, Edwin Barnes, Peter Galadza, David Meinzen, Julian Hayda, Irene Galadza, Nicholas Denysenko, William C. Mills, Andrew Jarmus, Thomas J. Loya, Lawrence Cross, and Basilio Petrà.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Handbook of Septuagint Research

Just released last month, this new T&T Clark Handbook of Septuagint Research, eds. William A. Ross  and W. Edward Glenny (T&T Clark, 2021), 512pp. is just the sort of collection aimed at Eastern Christians above all, for we have kept the LXX in official and unofficial use well beyond anything found in the West for centuries. 

About this collection the publisher tells us this:

Students and scholars now widely recognize the importance of the Septuagint to the history of the Greek language, the textual development of the Bible, and to Jewish and Christian religious life in both the ancient and modern worlds. This handbook is designed for those who wish to engage the Septuagint in their research, yet have been unsure where to turn for guidance or concise, up-to-date discussion. The contributors break down the barriers involved in the technical debates and sub-specialties as far as possible, equipping readers with the tools and knowledge necessary to conduct their own research.

Each chapter is written by a leading Septuagint scholar and focuses upon a major area of research in the discipline, providing an overview of the topic, key debates and views, a survey or demonstration of the methods involved, and pointers towards ongoing research questions. By exploring origins, language, text, reception, theology, translation, and commentary, with a final summary of the literature, this handbook encourages active engagement with the most important issues in the field and provides an essential resource for specialists and non-specialists alike.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Women of Soviet Catacombs

I almost avoided posting this notice of a forthcoming book for I am beyond tired of certain people traducing Soviet history in their transparently tendentious manner to scare us into thinking we shall soon see gulags erected in the United States any day now for these self-proclaimed Christians who adhere, with ostentatious sanctimony, to certain views on sex and gender which, they hope--not disguising their alarmingly overdeveloped sadomasochistic urges--will get them clapped in irons and subject to floggings and other tortures.

Nevertheless, we must not penalize the work of legitimate scholars narrating genuine history simply for fear of giving fodder to certain adolescent bloggers and their tiresome fetishes. Thus we can look forward, later this month, to the official release of Women of the Catacombs: Memoirs of the Underground Orthodox Church in Stalin's Russia, trans. Wallace L. Daniel  (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, February 26, 2021

Dumbarton Oaks Papers

No truly serious library devoted to Byzantine and Eastern Christian studies will ever want to be without an up-to-date subscription to the ongoing Dumbarton Oaks Papers. The 73rd volume, edited by Joel Kalvesmaki and coming in at 250 pages, was published last year, and it deserves your attention for its many riches, including the necrology of the great Byzantine liturgical historian Robert Taft (by his great sometime student Daniel Galadza, whom I interviewed here about his own recent book) as well as the following: 

  • Walter E. Kaegi, “Irfan Shahîd (1926–2016)”
  • Daniel Galadza, “Robert F. Taft, S.J. (1932–2018)”
  • Sylvain Destephen, “From Mobile Center to Constantinople: The Birth of Byzantine Imperial Government”
  • Dina Boero, “Making a Manuscript, Making a Cult: Scribal Production of the Syriac Life of Symeon the Stylite in Late Antiquity”
  • Alexandre M. Roberts, “Framing a Middle Byzantine Alchemical Codex”
  • Lilia Campana, “Sailing into Union: The Byzantine Naval Convoy for the Council of Ferrara–Florence (1438–1439)”
  • Hugh G. Jeffery, “New Lead Seals from Aphrodisias”
  • Maria G. Parani, “Curtains in the Middle and Late Byzantine House”
  • Kostis Kourelis, “Wool and Rubble Walls: Domestic Archaeology in the Medieval Peloponnese”
  • Kathrin Colburn, “Loops, Tabs, and Reinforced Edges: Evidence for Textiles as Architectural Elements”
  • Eunice Dauterman Maguire, “Curtains at the Threshold: How They Hung and How They Performed”
  • Sabine Schrenk, “The Background of the Enthroned: Spatial Analysis of the Hanging with Hestia Polyolbos in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection”
  • Jennifer L. Ball, “Rich Interiors: The Remnant of a Hanging from Late Antique Egypt in the Collection of Dumbarton Oaks”
  • Maria Evangelatou, “Textile Mediation in Late Byzantine Visual Culture: Unveiling Layers of Meaning through the Fabrics of the Chora Monastery”
  • Thelma K. Thomas, “The Honorific Mantle as Furnishing for the Household Memory Theater in Late Antiquity: A Case Study from the Monastery of Apa Apollo at Bawit”
  • Avinoam Shalem, “‘The Nation Has Put On Garments of Blood’: An Early Islamic Red Silken Tapestry in Split”; and 
  • Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, “A Taste for Textiles: Designing Ummayad and Early ʿAbbāsid Interiors.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Do Clothes Maketh the Monk?

Growing up an Anglican altar boy, I was fascinated by vestments, and utterly, secretly thrilled when I first got to done cassock and surplice. Uniforms of all types continue to fascinate, even if today I generally tend to wonder, as a good Freudian should, about the urges some have--stronger in others, we always assume--to dress up, to be saluted or venerated or curtsied to based in large part on titles and clothes. 

Monastics are supposed to immunize themselves from these temptations by wearing death-to-the-world black, or other simple habits often of rough and monochromatic nature. But debates about such garments are as old as monasticism itself, as a forthcoming book by Ingvild  Sælid Gilhus suggests: Clothes and Monasticism in Ancient Christian Egypt: A New Perspective on Religious Garments (Routledge, March 2021), 212pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book is an exploration of the ideals and values of the ascetic and monastic life, as expressed through clothes. Clothes are often seen as an extension of us as humans, a determinant of who we are and how we experience and interact with the world. In this way, they can play a significant role in the embodied and material aspects of religious practice.

The focus of this book is on clothing and garments among ancient monastics and ascetics in Egypt, but with a broader outlook to the general meaning and function of clothes in religion. The garments of the Egyptian ascetics and monastics are important because they belong to a period of transition in the history of Christianity and very much represent this way of living. This study combines a cognitive perspective on clothes with an attempt to grasp the embodied experiences of being clothed, as well as viewing clothes as potential actors. Using sources such as travelogues, biographies, letters, contracts, images, and garments from monastic burials, the role of clothes is brought into conversation with material religion more generally.

This unique study builds links between ancient and contemporary uses of religious clothing. It will, therefore, be of interest to any scholar of religious studies, religious history, religion in antiquity, and material religion.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Liturgical Dogmatics

A new book by David Fagerberg will always rocket to the top of one's must-read lists for he is one of the outstanding commentators on the great Alexander Schmemann, and also himself one of the great liturgical theologians in the Catholic world today, where he has done much to bring Eastern understandings to Western awareness. 

I have used his book, especially Theologia Prima for more than 15 years in classes, and more recently his Liturgical Asceticism as well. So I shall read his newest one with an eye to enjoyment and edification for me and my students alike when it appears in a few weeks: Liturgical Dogmatics: How Catholic Beliefs Flow from Liturgical Prayer (Ignatius Press, April 2021), 260pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

God is incomprehensible, but he is not unapproachable. What cannot be fully comprehended by dogma can be approached when we liturgize God.

What knowledge cannot fasten together, love can unite. There is a movement occurring between God and his children, and this divine economy is the subject matter of dogmatics. It is also exactly the definition of liturgy that this work assumes. Liturgy is the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity kenotically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification.

The Trinity's circulation of love turns itself outward, and in humility the Son and Spirit work the Father&;s good pleasure for all creation, which is to invite our ascent into participation in the very life of God, which consists of glory, love, beatitude.

All chapter topics in this volume are subdivisions of this single story stretching from alpha to omega, and they all turn out to be liturgical verities. What dogma stammers to state, liturgy celebrates in mystical participation. Liturgical Dogmatics therefore examines dogma in light of liturgy. The whole sweeping, saving activity of God, as described by dogma, is the subject of this book.

I'll see if I can arrange an interview with David, as I have done on here in the past.  

Friday, February 19, 2021

Wandering Holy Men and their Conflicts

For those who, as I noted on Monday, have begun their time in the Lenten desert, the themes of conflict, battle, and asceticism will be foremost in mind. Those also happen to be the focus of a recent book: The Wandering Holy Man: The Life of Barsauma, Christian Asceticism, and Religious Conflict in Late Antique Palestine, eds. Johannes Hahn and Volker Menze (University of California Press, 2020), 324pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Barsauma was a fifth-century Syrian ascetic, archimandrite, and leader of monks, notorious for his extreme asceticism and violent anti-Jewish campaigns across the Holy Land. Although Barsauma was a powerful and revered figure in the Eastern church, modern scholarship has widely dismissed him as a thug of peripheral interest. Until now, only the most salacious bits of the Life of Barsauma—a fascinating collection of miracles that Barsauma undertook across the Near East—had been translated. This pioneering study includes the first full translation of the Life and a series of studies by scholars employing a range of methods to illuminate the text from different angles and contexts. This is the authoritative source on this influential figure in the history of the church and his life, travels, and relations with other religious groups.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

That Bizarre Book We Call the Bible

To grow up as I did in Canada with any interests in literature and theology meant that you were more or less compelled to read the great literary critic Northrop Frye at some point, as I did more than three decades ago now when I tried to benefit from his The Great Code: the Bible and Literature. I remember very little other than the sense of exhilaration at a man who could amass so vast a learning and press it into service of what one might call a metaphysics of sorts. His ability to see and demonstrate so many connections between Scripture and English literature (and a myriad other areas it seemed) was impressive indeed. 

In one of his books he rather offhandedly speaks of the Bible as being a great sprawling mess of a book, which is just the sort of frisson an adolescent prone to uncritical piety, as I then was, is bound to find delightfully shocking. 

Those words came back to mind in reading the latest catalogue from Oxford University Press, including a new book by Kristin Swenson, A Most Peculiar Book:The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible (February 2021, 288pp.).

 About this new book the publisher tells us this:

The Bible, we are constantly reminded, is the best-selling book of all time. It is read with intense devotion by hundreds of millions of people, stands as authoritative for Judaism and Christianity, and informs and affects the politics and lives of the religious and non-religious around the world. But how well do we really know it? The Bible is so familiar, so ubiquitous that we have begun to take our knowledge of it for granted. The Bible many of us think we know is a pale imitation of the real thing.

In A Most Peculiar Book, Kristin Swenson addresses the dirty little secret of biblical studies that the Bible is a weird book. It is full of surprises and contradictions, unexplained impossibilities, intriguing supernatural creatures, and heroes doing horrible deeds. It does not provide a simple worldview: what "the Bible says" on a given topic is multi-faceted, sometimes even contradictory. Yet, Swenson argues, we have a tendency to reduce the complexities of the Bible to aphorisms, bumper stickers, and slogans. Swenson helps readers look at the text with fresh eyes. A collection of ancient stories and poetry written by multiple authors, held together by the tenuous string of tradition, the Bible often undermines our modern assumptions. And is all the more marvelous and powerful for it.

Rather than dismiss the Bible as an outlandish or irrelevant relic of antiquity, Swenson leans into the messiness full-throttle. Making ample room for discomfort, wonder, and weirdness, A Most Peculiar Book guides readers through a Bible that will feel, to many, brand new.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Resources for Great Lent 2021

The Gregorian paschalion is out by a month this year from the Julian, the latter having Pascha on the first Sunday of May, the former on the first Sunday of April. So today begins for some Eastern Christians the Great Fast. 

I would direct you here to what I wrote in 2017 for my thoughts on the best books to understand Lent and both its liturgical history as well as its ascetical practices. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia

The complex realities of Muslim-Orthodox interactions in Russia continue to fascinate, and to repay careful study. A recent book builds on a considerable, and ever-growing, body of literature in this area: Languages of Islam and Christianity in Post-Soviet Russia by Gulnaz Sibgatullina (Brill, 2020), 232pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

In her book, Gulnaz Sibgatullina examines the intricate relationship of religion, identity and language-related beliefs against the background of socio-political changes in post-Soviet Russia. Focusing on the Russian and Tatar languages, she explores how they simultaneously serve the needs of both Muslims and Christians living in the country today. 

Mapping linguistic strategies of missionaries, converts and religious authorities, Sibgatullina demonstrates how sacred vocabulary in each of the languages is being contested by a variety of social actors, often with competing agendas. These linguistic collisions not only affect meanings of the religious lexicon in Tatar and Russian but also drive a gradual convergence of Russia's Islam and Christianity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Jesuits and the Psychoanalysts

I've been neglectful in not pointing out to you a book and author interview I did at the other blog I maintain. It is a book that overlaps with the focus of this blog, focusing as much of it does on Jesuit theology and psychology in Latin America in the postwar period, which is then so wonderfully linked back to the first generation of psychoanalysts around Freud. 

That book is Daniel José Gaztambide's A People's History of Psychoanalysis: from Freud to Liberation Psychology, and it is really superb. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Sex Abuse and Harvard

To my delight, I was invited last year to give a lecture at a Harvard symposium later this spring that is focused on bringing together a very impressive and international cast of scholars, clinicians, and activists to discuss the problems of child sex abuse, not least in the Catholic Church. My book, fast approaching its second birthday, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power, forms the backbone of my lecture, but I will also be going beyond what I wrote there to sketch out a new proposal very much in its earliest and most inchoate stage that seeks to offer some regular, structured means of healing for victims and communities. 

This proposal is indebted to a chapter in a book I discussed in some detail at my other blog. That book, the second of two in an important and rewarding collection, is also very much worth your time.

As you can see here, I am one of the speakers. That website will give you further details as to how you may following along with the conference on Zoom. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Church of the Holy Apostles

Edited by two major scholars in the field, published in perhaps the most prestigious series for Byzantine scholarship in the anglophone world, and covering one of the most hallowed churches of Byzantium, The Holy Apostles: A Lost Monument, a Forgotten Project, and the Presentness of the Past, eds. Margaret Mullett and Robert G. Ousterhout (Dumbarton Oaks Papers/Harvard University Press, 2020, 320pp.) is a book about a building that no longer exists physically. As the publisher tells us:

Founded by Constantine the Great, rebuilt by Justinian, and redecorated in the ninth, tenth, and twelfth centuries, the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople was the mausoleum of emperors, patriarchs, and saints. It was also a key station in the ceremonies of the city, the site of an important school, a major inspiration for apostolic literature, and briefly the home of the patriarch. Despite its significance, the church no longer exists, replaced by the mosque of Mehmet II after the fall of the city to the Ottomans. Today the church is remembered primarily from two important middle Byzantine ekphraseis, which celebrate its beauty and prominence, as well as from architectural copies and manuscript illustrations.

Scholars have long puzzled over the appearance of the church, as well as its importance to the Byzantines. Anxious to reconstruct the building and its place in the empire, an early collaborative project of Dumbarton Oaks brought together a philologist, an art historian, and an architectural historian in the 1940s and 1950s to reconstruct their own version of the Holy Apostles. Never fully realized, their efforts remained unpublished. The essays in this volume reconsider their project from a variety of vantage points, while illuminating differences of approach seventy years later, to arrive at a twenty-first-century synthesis.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

From Romania to the Kingdom

On Monday I received in the mail a handsome and worthy volume that does honour to the outstanding inaugural conference of the International Orthodox Theological Association (IOTA) that I attended in January 2019 in Isai, Romania. That splendid conference was superbly organized by many people, but above all Paul Gavrilyuk who is also the editor of this volume: Pilgrims Toward the Kingdom: the Beginnings of the International Orthodox Theological Association (St. Paul, MN: IOTA Publications, 2020), ix+245pp+166 illustrations.  

Having contributed to, edited, and overseen the publication of numerous sets of conference proceedings over the years (including one forthcoming late this year from Peeters), I am not used to finding such a superlative example as this. Many times published in very expensive limited print runs by academic presses, and almost never illustrated, this volume, by contrast, is a large hardcover, on high-quality paper, lavishly illustrated all in colour, and with a highly detailed index as well. As a result the entire book, like the conference itself, reflects the hard work and uncompromising approach of the editor and redounds to his credit. That said, this is not in fact a book of proceedings. Many of the papers (as mine was) have already been published elsewhere.

Instead, this book begins by tracing the roots of IOTA to the Council of Crete in 2016, and to subsequent meetings thereafter, especially the Jerusalem gathering. The structure of IOTA, and its various working groups, are then detailed along with the rationale for each of the many diverse groups, from dogmatic theology to canon law to liturgy to Byzantine studies to ecumenical studies to Scripture, missiology, literature, ecology, politics, patristics, media, and on and on. 

For me it was a glorious conference not just because of the quality of papers and people there, but also because of the location. Iasi, Romania was a lovely and charming town and one day I should be glad to go back. Since I began my involvement in the ecumenical movement in Australia in 1991, where I met and for years afterwards remained friends with a young man from Romania who gave me an icon of the Theotokos I have always treasured (it sits beside my computer in my office at the university), I have wanted to get to Romania, and finally did. That we arrived the day after Christmas into a provincial city with freshly fallen snow, and abundantly decorated for the holidays, only added to my delight in the location. 

The other outstanding feature of this conference--at which I both gave a paper and was also an official ecumenical observer--was its unapologetic model of doing theology liturgically and prayerfully. We opened in the cathedral with a moleben that was wonderfully sung, walking home from which afterwards through the snow while seeing the dazzling displays of lights only adding to our liturgy after the liturgy. As I said in an interview I gave during the conference, the fact that we were doing theology liturgically, prayerfully, constitutes both a positive model for, but also a gracious rebuke of the more typical model of academic conferences where the sessions consist of nothing but lectures. 

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