"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, July 30, 2021

St. Nicholas the Giftgiver

The great psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, whom I will never tire of citing, and from whom I continue to learn many things, likes to say that adults actually remain children for a very long time. Perhaps in some respects we never grow out of our childhood, and that is by no means a necessarily bad thing. 

And who, pray tell, is the patron saint of children but in reality universally (if sometimes perhaps covertly) beloved by all ages? St. Nicholas, of course. If you don't like St. Nicholas, are you even human? His appeal seems so easily universal and understandable that it's no wonder new books continue regularly to appear about him. In October of this year in a new imprint for kids from IVP, we will have Ned Bustard's Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver (IVP, 2021), 32pp. 

About this little book the publisher tells us this:

On the night before Christmas, so the old stories say, Saint Nicholas rides in a magical sleigh. But what is the truth, and what are the legends? Who is this giftgiver, and why all the presents? Around Christmas we spend a lot of time thinking about presents, but have you ever wondered why we give gifts? Learn about the life of Saint Nicholas and discover why he became known as one of the greatest giftgivers of all time. Told as a delightful poem, this colorfully illustrated book will be enjoyed by children and the adults who read with them. Also included is a note from the author to encourage further conversation about the content. Discover IVP Kids and share with children the things that matter to God.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Journey to Freedom

We've now had almost three full decades of what quickly came to be dubbed post-Soviet religiosity. And during that period all sorts of interesting figures and their books have begun to emerge, including this one: Journey to Freedom by Sergei Ovsiannikov, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Bloomsbury, 2021), 288pp.

About this new book (recently reviewed here) the publisher tells us this: 

Whilst serving in the Soviet army in 1973, Sergei Ovsiannikov was arrested and imprisoned for acts of disobedience under military command. It was while in prison, like Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky, that he began to ponder deeper issues and on release trained to be a Russian orthodox priest. This extraordinary but short book is about his search for true freedom. The issues he wrestles with are profound and, like any confrontation with truth, it caused him great anguish and pain. As Ovsiannikov wrote:

'It was in my prison cell that I lost fear. I realised that if they sent me to a labour camp with a long sentence, it did not matter because I was free. Of course subsequently I came to realise that freedom is not given, you have to take responsibility for it.'

It was during this time that he discovered Christianity and decided that this was the real meaning of his life.

Later, after a period spent with the Russian Orthodox community in London, Ovsiannikov lived for the last twenty years of his life in Amsterdam in charge of the Russian Orthodox community.

Drawing heavily on Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin and translated from the original Russian by celebrated translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky with an introduction by Rowan Williams, this brief spiritual book is a small masterpiece of its kind.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Baron Williams of Oystermouth Again Looks Ad Orientem

Virtually from the beginning of his academic life decades ago, Rowan Williams, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, has been recognized as an exceptionally important Western scholar of Eastern Christian traditions. His 1975 doctoral dissertation was devoted to Vladimir Lossky's theology, and since then Williams has also written such iconographically devotional books as Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin and in-depth scholarly studies that include Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction, and these are just his more recent books. He's written scores of others devoted to figures and themes in Western theology, too. He's even been known to offer a gracious "blurb" for such books as this one. 

In September of this year, another work coming out that will surely bear close attention: Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Tradition (Bloomsbury, Sept. 2021), 272pp.

About this new work the publisher tell us this:

In many ways, we seem to be living in wintry times at present in the Western world. In this new book, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and a noted scholar of Eastern Christianity, introduces us to some aspects and personalities of the Orthodox Christian world, from the desert contemplatives of the fourth century to philosophers, novelists and activists of the modern era, that suggest where we might look for fresh light and warmth. He shows how this rich and diverse world opens up new ways of thinking about spirit and body, prayer and action, worship and social transformation, which go beyond the polarisations we take for granted.

Taking in the world of the great spiritual anthology, the Philokalia, and the explorations of Russian thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, discussing the witness of figures like Maria Skobtsova, murdered in a German concentration camp for her defence of Jewish refugees, and the challenging theologies of modern Greek thinkers like John Zizioulas and Christos Yannaras, Rowan Williams opens the door to a 'climate and landscape of our humanity that can indeed be warmed and transfigured'.

This is an original and illuminating vision of a Christian world still none too familiar to Western believers and even to students of theology, showing how the deep-rooted themes of Eastern Christian thought can prompt new perspectives on our contemporary crises of imagination and hope.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Natural Theology in the Orthodox Tradition

The indefatigable Paul Gavrilyuk has drawn attention to a new publication in the IOTA series of books he has been superintending as head of that impressive organization: Natural Theology in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, eds. Richard Swinburne and David Bradshaw (IOTA Publications, July 2021), 216pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

Natural theology attempts to show that there is a God, and what he is like, on the basis of evidence which both theists and atheists can recognize as obviously true, such as the existence of the universal laws of nature. Many recent Eastern Orthodox thinkers have questioned the cogency and religious value of natural theology. This volume contains essays by David Bradshaw, Richard Cross, Alexey Fokin, Paul Gavrilyuk, Travis Dumsday, Dionysios Skliris, and Richard Swinburne, on the history of natural theology in the Orthodox Church and its contemporary relevance.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Cops and Robbers in Ephesus

As I have been noting on here for a decade now as each volume rolls out, anglophone Christians owe a debt of gratitude to Liverpool University Press for their invaluable series devoted to translations of conciliar texts. The latest, just released in paperback, is The Council of Ephesus of 431: Documents and Proceedings by Richard Price with Introduction and Notes by Thomas Graumann.

About this the publisher tells us this:

The First Council of Ephesus (431) was the climax of the so-called Nestorian Controversy. Convoked by the emperor Theodosius II to restore peace to the Church, it immediately divided into two rival councils, both meeting at Ephesus. Attempts by the emperor's representatives to get the bishops on both sides to meet together had no success, and after four months the council was dissolved without having ever properly met. But a number of decrees by the larger of the two rival councils, in particular the condemnation of Nestorius of Constantinople, were subsequently accepted as the valid decrees of the 'ecumenical council of Ephesus'. The documentation, consisting of conciliar proceedings, letters and other documents, provides information not only about events in Ephesus itself, but also about lobbying and public demonstrations in Constantinople. There is no episode in late Roman history where we are so well informed about how politics were conducted in the imperial capital. This makes the Acts a document of first importance for the history of the Later Roman Empire as well for that of the Church.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Angel Beholding the Face of God

Angelico Press continues to have some of the most interestingly varied lists today, and their regular publishing of works in Eastern Christianity does them huge credit. Just this month they have now published a translation of a work by a Russian-American iconographer and founder of the Prosopon school, whose videos I have sometimes used in my own iconography classes: Vladislav Andrejev, The Angel of the Countenance of God: Theology and Iconology of Theophanies, trans. Alex Apatov (Angelico, 2021), 326pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this: 

Iconography is the study of the history, practice, and symbolism of painted Christian images. Iconology probes deeper still, into the “icon” of Divine Presence in the inner man, who is himself made “in the image [eikón] of God” (Gen 1:26), as the place where Wisdom seeks to make her home. Written by an iconographer with forty years’ experience researching the nature and mission of the icon, The Angel of the Countenance of God explores the biblical epiphanies of God—their translation into images, their mythological parallels, and their Trinitarian and Christological implications. Drawing on his own icon-writing, V. L. Andrejev here focuses on the biblical theme of the “Angel of Jehovah,” distinguishing the “created Angels” of the Heavenly Hierarchies from this “uncreated Angel” of Theophany, that divine Being Moses beheld in the flames of the Burning Bush, and Christian tradition depicts as the royal maiden Sophia, personification of the Wisdom of God. This distinction carries profound consequences for iconography, dogmatic theology, and discipleship.

The icon written on a board is the “spoken” word made visual, but its final significance lies within each person. For it is man himself, as the living icon of the Image of God, who by means of the immaterial, essential Light of God makes visible in icons the “actions” of God. Icon-writing is “symbolic realism,” and though not able to depict God, is able to depict the image of His actions. The fulfillment of the icon, the image of God, is love—the love uniting Bride and Bridegroom in the Song of Songs; that same love hymned by St Symeon the New Theologian and St Maximus the Confessor.

The Angel of the Countenance of God will be of value to all who have an interest in iconography, Trinitarian Christology, Sophiology, and Eastern Christianity.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Life of Mohammad and Early Islam

It is by no means uncommon for Eastern and other Christians in their more zealously apologetic works to portray themselves up against a hard-nosed enemy in Islam that brooked no tolerance of perceived ambiguity and ambivalence in certain Christian teachings, especially around the incarnation and Trinity. Even more common today, especially in America over the last two decades, one finds all sorts of reactionary commentators willing to portray Islam as an intolerant and incorrigibly violent "fundamentalist" tradition that brooks no uncertainty or ambiguity at all. To be sure, some Muslims figures, not least those associated with ISIS, themselves put forward this same version of Islam. Whether by ISIS or its opponents, such a portrait of Islam is seriously at odds with the developed tradition and invariably tendentious.

Two recent books will help us appreciate that both the life of Mohammad and the development of Islam, were, of course, far messier and more complex than extreme apologists for it, or extreme "Orientalist" opponents of it, like to admit. 

The first of these is simply a new translation of a major biography that has been around for some time in French: Muhammad, by Maxime Rodinson, trans. Anne Carter (NYRB Classics, 2021), 432pp. 

Tariq Ali has a very appreciative and helpfully contextualizing review of this biography in a recent issue of the London Review of Books. About this book we are told this by the publisher:

A classic secular history of the prophet Muhammad that vividly recreates the fascinating time in which Islam was born.

Maxime Rodinson, both a maverick Marxist and a distinguished professor at the Sorbonne, first published his biography of Muhammad in 1960. The book, a classic in its field, has been widely read ever since. Rodinson, though deeply versed in scholarly studies of the Prophet, does not seek to add to it here but to introduce Muhammad, first of all, as “a man of flesh and blood” who led a life of extraordinary drama and shaped history as few others have. Equally, he seeks to lay out an understanding of Muhammad’s legacy and Islam as what he called an ideological movement, similar to the universalist religions of Christianity and Buddhism as well as the secular movement of Marxism, but possessing a singular commitment to “the deeply ingrained idea that Islam offers not only a path to salvation but (for many, above all) the ideal of a just society to be realized on earth.” 

Rodinson’s book begins by introducing the specific land and the larger world into which Muhammad was born and the development of his prophetic calling. It then follows the steps of his career and the way his leadership gave birth to a religion and a state. A final chapter considers the world as Islam has transformed it.

The second book looks to be equally important: A Culture of Ambiguity: An Alternative History of Islam by Thomas Bauer. Translated by Hinrich Biesterfeldt and Tricia Tunstall (Columbia University Press 336pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

In the Western imagination, Islamic cultures are dominated by dogmatic religious norms that permit no nuance. Those fighting such stereotypes have countered with a portrait of Islam’s medieval “Golden Age,” marked by rationality, tolerance, and even proto-secularism. How can we understand Islamic history, culture, and thought beyond this dichotomy?

In this magisterial cultural and intellectual history, Thomas Bauer reconsiders classical and modern Islam by tracing differing attitudes toward ambiguity. Over a span of many centuries, he explores the tension between one strand that aspires to annihilate all uncertainties and establish absolute, uncontestable truths and another, competing tendency that looks for ways to live with ambiguity and accept complexity. Bauer ranges across cultural and linguistic ambiguities, considering premodern Islamic textual and cultural forms from law to Quranic exegesis to literary genres alongside attitudes toward religious minorities and foreigners. He emphasizes the relative absence of conflict between religious and secular discourses in classical Islamic culture, which stands in striking contrast to both present-day fundamentalism and much of European history. Bauer shows how Islam’s encounter with the modern West and its demand for certainty helped bring about both Islamicist and secular liberal ideologies that in their own ways rejected ambiguity—and therefore also their own cultural traditions.

Awarded the prestigious Leibniz Prize, A Culture of Ambiguity not only reframes a vast range of Islamic history but also offers an interdisciplinary model for investigating the tolerance of ambiguity across cultures and eras.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Avvakum's Autobiography Newly Translated

To my surprise, when perusing the new releases from Columbia University Press--which has not hitherto been a prominent or regular publisher of theology in general, and Eastern Christian works in particular--I saw that they have just brought out a translation of a work that has long been a classic of Russian Christian literature: The Life Written by Himself: Archpriest Avvakum, translated by Kenneth N. Brostrom (Columbia University Press, July 2021), 208pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Moscow in the middle of the seventeenth century had a distinctly apocalyptic feel. An outbreak of the plague killed half the population. A solar eclipse and comet appeared in the sky, causing panic. And a religious reform movement intended to purify spiritual life and provide for the needy had become a violent political project that cleaved Russian society and the Orthodox Church in two. The autobiography of Archpriest Avvakum—a leader of the Old Believers, who opposed liturgical and ecclesiastical reforms—provides a vivid account of these cataclysmic events from a figure at their center.

Written in the 1660s and ’70s from a cell in an Arctic village where the archpriest had been imprisoned by the tsar, Avvakum’s autobiography is a record of his life, ecclesiastical career, painful exile, religious persecution, and imprisonment. It is also a salvo in a contest about whether to follow the old Russian Orthodox liturgy or import Greek rites and practices. These concerns touched every stratum of Russian society—and for Avvakum, represented an urgent struggle between good and evil.

Avvakum’s autobiography has been a cornerstone of Russian literature since it first circulated among religious dissidents. One of the first Russian-language autobiographies and works of any sort to make use of colloquial Russian, its language and style served as a model for writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gorky. The Life Written by Himself is not only an important historical document but also an emotionally charged and surprisingly conversational self-portrait of a crucial figure in a tumultuous time.

Monday, July 12, 2021

On Liturgical Dogmatics: David Fagerberg Interviewed

If you read past entries on here, you will know that I am an undisguised admirer of the work of David Fagerberg, whom I have interviewed previously about his many excellent books, all of which are worth your time. I have used his first book, Theologia Prima, in courses for some fifteen years now. 

More recently I have been recommending his On Liturgical Asceticism to students.

Now there is a new must-read book from him, and it really does belong on every RCIA reading list, and on the syllabus of introductory courses in Christianity, whether in a parish or undergraduate classroom. For Liturgical Dogmatics is, quite simply, that good. It has achieved the rare feat of being a book written by a top-drawer academic who eschews complicated jargon and an academic apparatus to write an accessible, cogent book that is not at all dumbed down but remains meaty and substantial from your first bite to the last morsel. 

As is my custom, I sent David some questions about his background, the book, and future plans. Here are his thoughts. 

AD: Tell us a bit about your background

DF: I am nearing retirement (another year) so I find myself retrospecting quite a lot. In 1988 I submitted a dissertation proposal titled “What Is Liturgical Theology” and I have been adding to my answer since, as though the dissertation was a small sculpture and I’ve been adding clay to the bust. The pathway to Liturgical Dogmatics was direct thematically, even if meandering biographically.

AD: What led to the writing of Liturgical Dogmatics?

DF: The books on the wall in front of me are about liturgy and Byzantine theology. The books on the wall behind me are about philosophy and systematic theology. They are from two different phases of my life, and perhaps this volume is their reconnection. I began with systematics, and was drawn into liturgical studies. It is nice to think that instead of those initial years being wasted, they have hung around to be put to use now.

I also answer this question with a short and true anecdote. I wrote the book in a second and a half in my mind; putting it on paper naturally took longer. 

I was asked once if I could teach the course in liturgical history one summer. I thought, “Yes I could. I would start with Adam and Eve as cosmic priests, talk about their forfeiture of a liturgical career, cover salvation history from Abraham to Moses to the prophets, arrive at Jesus as the High Liturgist, and consider the baptized Christian as his liturgical apprentice.” 

Then I realized I was only being asked to teach a course on the history of the liturgy. All that got me thinking that we might also do a liturgical triadology, liturgical cosmology, liturgical anthropology, liturgical hamartiology (sin), liturgical soteriology, liturgical Christology/Pneumatology, liturgical ecclesiology, and liturgical eschatology. These are the sections of the book.

AD: Your first book, Theologia Prima, has been out for many years now, and I've used it for over a decade in classes before also using On Liturgical Asceticism  and Liturgical Mysticism. How does Liturgical Dogmatics stand in relation to those other three? What is its unique contribution?

DF: There was no grand plan. I marvel at authors who have some multi volume project in mind from the start, but such was not the case for me. I was carried along the current of liturgical theology. The first task was to understand what Kavanagh and Schmemann meant when they said, respectively, that liturgy is primary theology and the ontological condition for theology. The first book was linking liturgy + theology as two words naming one reality. 

But I found that students and colleagues misunderstood, and I concluded it must be due to operating with a different grammar, so I wanted to thicken both terms: treat liturgy as leitourgia, theology as theologia. The Orthodox theologians of asceticism helped me with that. 

The ascetical dimension opens another door. Not only is it what capacitates us for committing liturgy, it also is a connection between the sacred and the profane. Robert Taft wrote, “the purpose of all Christian liturgy is to express in a ritual moment that which should be the basic stance of every moment of our lives.” So my previous two books (Consecrating the World and Liturgical Mysticism) looked at daily life through the lens of liturgy. And since dogma concerns the whole of Christian thought and life, it was time to look at dogma through the lens of liturgy.

Kavanagh referred to his fictitious Mrs. Murphy as someone who does primary theology. If I may say so, then, my books have been describing Mrs. Murphy as a liturgical theologian (though not of the academic variety), a liturgical ascetic (though not of the monastic variety), a liturgical mystic (though not of the extraordinary variety), and now I am considering her as a liturgical dogmatician. The dogmas that scholars talk about, she experiences.

AD:Already in your introduction you unapologetically introduce a term that, in the Latin Catholic world at least, is still being "recovered" as it were: theosis. Tell us a bit about the connection between liturgy and theosis.

It is like flower and fruit, pathway and home, tasting and seeing, work and beatitude, dawn and noontime, tabernacle tent and Solomon’s Temple. There is a foretaste of theosis in liturgy, but the discipline and rhythm of liturgy leads to the throne of God. That we drink from the river of liturgy (the reference to Jean Corbon is intentional) means we acquire a taste for deification. It brings us home. One of the sentences that fell off my keyboard said what I mean: “the liturgy is not the performance of a human religion; liturgy is the religion of Christ perpetuated in Christians.” Theosis is Christ taking up his occupancy in us. 

AD: The great liturgical historian Robert Taft of blessed memory often analogized liturgy to what happens between the outstretched fingers of Adam and God in Michelangelo's famous Sistine fresco. Is that analogy useful in illustrating your opening emphasis on liturgy as synergistic co-operation with God?

I found Lev Gillet’s definition of synergy to be perfect: “two unequal, but equally necessary, forces.” Both fingers must stretch out, but God’s power of grace is stronger than man’s power of ritual. So it is in sacraments: the human minister applies water and grace regenerates. So it is in liturgy: liturgy is a work of God, though it is an activity of man. (This is also expressed in scholastic categories of causation. Garrigou-Lagrange wrote, “one part does not come from us in the other from God. The act is entirely from God as from its first cause, and it is entirely from us as from its neck and cause. The first cause does not render secondary causes superfluous.”)

AD: I'm wondering if the use of "dogma" and cognates in your work won't stick in a few throats given common misconceptions of dogma as stifling, cramped, restrictive. Here is where I'm wondering if your work on Chesterton might be helpful. I often paraphrase him (accurately, I hope, for it's been a while since I went back and read him!) that we should see "dogma" as a bounded playground, as a free space where we can play at leisure within certain boundaries beyond which the Church simply says "Here be mines!" or "There be dragons!" Is that apt?

You have helped me fulfill my vow to quote Chesterton to somebody, somewhere, once a week. That is exactly his point, yes. “Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making these old mistakes.” So he calls doctrine or dogma a sort of map of the mind; a guide to the maze; the key that fits the lock. Dogmatic teaching takes “the responsibility of marking certain roads as leading nowhere or leading to destruction, to a blank wall, or a sheer precipice.” It allows for freedom.

AD: Perhaps more seriously, tell us a bit about the relationship between dogma and liturgy. The old tags about "lex orandi" and "lex credendi" have sometimes carelessly been used to suggest a monocausal and unidirectional relationship between the two, but it's more complicated than that, surely?

DF: I do propose a unidirectional relationship, but that’s because it’s a category mistake to treat them on the same level. Kavanagh thought we are misled by having ignored the verb statuat. “So long, I think, as the verb stays in the sentence it is not possible to reverse subject and predicate any more than one can reverse the members of the statement: the foundation supports the house.” Of course the house exerts weight upon the foundation, but the unidirectionality is expressed by Schmemann calling liturgy the ontological condition for theology.

AD: I'm struck by the care you pay to the great Orthodox Met. John Zizioulas in your book (as well as Florensky and others), and this, together with your long interest in and writing about Schmemann and others from the East, makes me think that while our liturgical practices differ very considerably, our liturgical theology, as Catholics and Orthodox, is very closely intertwined indeed. Is that a fair assessment?

DF: I would like to think so – agreed. I sometimes say that I can catch the scent of something in Eastern liturgy, Eastern spirituality, Eastern theology that I might not otherwise single out, but once I am aware of it I can detect it also in the West. 

Bowing down in docility to both the letter and spirit of the Second Vatican Council (from docilis, meaning “easily taught”), I have sought to obey the magisterium’s command in paragraph 15 of Unitatis Redintegratio:

Catholics therefore are earnestly recommended to avail themselves of the spiritual riches of the Eastern Fathers which lift up the whole man to the contemplation of the divine. The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians. 

I want to avail myself of spiritual riches. I want to be lifted to the contemplation of the divine. I want to know, venerate, preserve, and cherish the heritage of liturgy and spirituality as it appears in the fullness of Christian tradition, and therefore I will look over the fence to pastures of the East. (I borrowed that from the opening of an essay I wrote for a forthcoming collection titled Mapping the Una Sancta, ed. Sotiris Mitralexis and Andrew Kaethler.)

AD: I'm struck by the creedal structure of your book: you start by reflecting on the conditions necessary for the "I believe" or "I know," move next to God, the fall and redemption, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and then eschatology. In addition, we get sections on angels and demons, on seven deadly sins, and much else, making the book seem in some ways ideally suited for, say, an RCIA program? Was that structure deliberate?

I looked at the table of contents of some manuals on dogmatics on the shelves behind me and noticed that’s the way they divide things up. If I’m going to look at traditional dogmatics through a liturgical eye, I might as well use their organizational scheme. It would please me very much to think I have made things more intelligible to someone in RCIA. They will have to send an email to Ignatius Press. 

AD: Naturally, while enjoying the whole book, I paid special attention to your section on ecclesiology, an area I have written about in my own books. Oddly enough I confess to relief at what is not here: any notion that offices and structures are worth your time! You say nothing about them and I'm assuming--correct me if I'm wrong--that this reflects the truth that offices and structures will pass away and exist no more in heaven, but that there we will always and forever liturgize?

Though I cannot find the quote in all the Schmemann material at my fingertips, I swear he is the one who said: “the Church is not an institution with sacraments, she is a sacrament with institutions.” That seems to speak to your point. I did not intentionally skip offices and structures: they simply were not the main characteristics of the Church to parade before my eyes.

AD: You open by explicitly eschewing footnotes, leading me to assume you are hoping for a readership beyond the AAR or the Society of Oriental Liturgy. Then your very clear style, and concrete metaphors and illustrations, make this an accessible book for a lot of people I suspect. Who was your imagined audience, and who especially would benefit from reading the book?

DF: What do academics do with dogmas? Talk about them, organize them, prioritize them, footnote them, write about them, systematize them, shelve them and take them back down again. But I suppose the thesis of the book is that Mrs. Murphy can experience dogmas. I’m not expecting Mrs. Murphy to read this book, then, but I do hope it defends her to the academic guild. 

AD: Having finished this book, what are you at work on next?

A couple times I have quipped that it would be possible to write a second volume of Liturgical Asceticism by using only Western authors this time. I’m going to give it a try under the title Liturgical Abnegation. There are Catholic spiritual authors that use terms troubling to our modern ears, terms like “abnegation, annihilation, indifference, resignation, mortification, nothingness, self-denial,” etc. The terminology sounds harsh because we hear it within a limited horizon, but it might be better understood if we could place the language against a more transcendent horizon. 

That transcendent horizon, I hypothesize, is the act of liturgizing God. Liturgical asceticism is a capacitation for liturgy; liturgical abnegation is a consequence of liturgy. Asceticism and abnegation are akin, but I look forward through the former at liturgy and am now looking backward through liturgy upon the latter. I do not gather my authors under any hard and fast temporal or geographical line grouping the authors, they are simply ones who have spoken about abnegation in a way revealing and provocative to me: Olier, Grou, Boudon, Rodriguez, de Caussade, Fenelon, de Sales, Libermann, Saint-Jure, Eudes, Scaramelli, de Granada, Ravignan, for example. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

David Fagerberg on his New Book

In February I noted the forthcoming publication of David Fagerberg's next book, Liturgical Dogmatics

I was sent a review copy by Ignatius Press, and have now read it with the same profit and delight as I find in all of David's books. If you go here you will find interviews I have done with him on here over the years about those other books. 

I write today simply to say that I have sent him questions about Liturgical Dogmatics, and hope to have those posted when he responds. Watch this space for that.

In the meantime, let me say this would be an outstanding book for any introductory class on Christianity, whether at a parish or in an undergraduate classroom. The richness of its content is made more accessible still by the eschewing of references (which is a hard sentence for an academic to type!). 

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