"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).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Christians and the Great War

I have finished one of the most interesting and satisfying studies of the Great War, viz., Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (Harper Collins, 2014).

Jenkins is one of the leading historical scholars of our time, author of such earlier works as:
Jenkins writes with great care and insight, sympathetic to those he is describing without ever crossing over into outright advocacy or an unduly politicized reading of events.

I hope to post a longer review of this excellent book in the coming days, but for now, let me warmly recommend it to those interested not just in the Great War, but also in the dramatic changes in Christianity in the West from 1914 to the present. Reading the reactions of many pastors and hierarchs, as well as the behavior of soldiers in the trenches, it seems the war took place not just a century ago, but a millennium, and on a different planet, too. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Copts and the West

In 2006 when the hardback version of this book came out, we had a Coptic specialist review it for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. The reviewer praised the book as a significant and insightful contribution not only to Eastern Christian, and specifically Coptic, history, but also to East-West relations and the historical construction of the same. At the end of this year a very affordable paperback version will be forthcoming of Alastair Hamilton, The Copts and the West, 1439-1822: The European Discovery of the Egyptian Church (Oxford UP, 2014), 354pp.

About this book we are told:
In seventeenth-century Europe the Copts, or the Egyptian members of the Church of Alexandria, were widely believed to hold the key to an ancient wisdom and an ancient theology. Their language was thought to lead to the deciphering of the hieroglyphs and their Church to retain traces of early Christian practices as well as early Egyptian customs. Now available in paperback for the first time, this first, full-length study of the subject, discusses the attempts of Catholic missionaries to force the Church of Alexandria into union with the Church of Rome and the slow accumulation of knowledge of Coptic beliefs, undertaken by Catholics and Protestants. It ends with a survey of the study of the Coptic language in the West and of the uses to which it was put by Biblical scholars, antiquarians, theologians, and Egyptologists.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jews and Greeks in the Byzantine Empire

Just in time for Christmas for the Byzantium nuts among your friends and family: a new book, from the endless parade of studies devoted to all things Byzantine: James K. Aitken and James Carleton Paget, eds.,The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire (Cambridge UP, 2014), 392pp.

The publisher tells us this about the book:
The Jewish-Greek tradition represents an arguably distinctive strand of Judaism characterized by use of the Greek language and interest in Hellenism. This volume traces the Jewish encounter with Greek culture from the earliest points of contact in antiquity to the end of the Byzantine Empire. It honors Nicholas de Lange, whose distinguished work brought recognition to an undeservedly neglected field, in part by dispelling the common belief that Jewish-Greek culture largely disappeared after 100 CE. The authors examine literature, archaeology, and biblical translations, such as the Septuagint, in order to illustrate the substantial exchange of language and ideas. The Jewish-Greek Tradition in Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire demonstrates the enduring significance of the tradition and will be an essential handbook for anyone interested in Jewish studies, biblical studies, ancient and Byzantine history, or the Greek language.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ottoman History and Our World Today

On the Remembrance Day, in this centenary year of the Great War, I am giving a lecture this afternoon on the three main Eastern Christian massacres that occurred during the war, especially at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915: the Armenian, of course, which is relatively well known; but also the mass slaughter of the Assyrians and of the Pontic Greeks (and later deportation of Anatolian and Aegean Greeks, including the wholesale destruction of Smyrna during the so-called Turkish War of Independence), these latter of which are not well known at all but were arguably even more devastating, especially to the Assyrians.

Even a century later, I do not think we are much better at appreciating the politics of the region in all their intractable complexity. It is one of the paradoxes and problems of Middle Eastern politics that attempts to make things better often make them far worse. I still struggle to get my students to see that American foreign policy in the last four years especially, encouraging the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Assad in Syria, not only has not made things better for religious minorities, Eastern Christians in particular, but has in fact made them worse. And yet we persist in this foolish optimism that all we need is to let everyone have a "free and fair election" and manna will rain down from heaven as the lion and lamb lie down together.

That kind of fantasy backfired spectacularly as the Ottoman Empire attempted, again under Western pressure, various attempts at modernization and liberalization in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Those who bore the brunt of the inevitable backlash were of course the Christians, especially the Armenians, as several studies have made clear, and as a newly released book also argues: Bedross Der Matossian, Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire (Stamford University Press, 2014), 264pp.

About this book we are told:
The Ottoman revolution of 1908 is a study in contradictions—a positive manifestation of modernity intended to reinstate constitutional rule, yet ultimately a negative event that shook the fundamental structures of the empire, opening up ethnic, religious, and political conflicts. Shattered Dreams of Revolution considers this revolutionary event to tell the stories of three important groups: Arabs, Armenians, and Jews. The revolution raised these groups' expectations for new opportunities of inclusion and citizenship. But as post-revolutionary festivities ended, these euphoric feelings soon turned to pessimism and a dramatic rise in ethnic tensions.

The undoing of the revolutionary dreams could be found in the very foundations of the revolution itself. Inherent ambiguities and contradictions in the revolution's goals and the reluctance of both the authors of the revolution and the empire's ethnic groups to come to a compromise regarding the new political framework of the empire ultimately proved untenable. The revolutionaries had never been wholeheartedly committed to constitutionalism, thus constitutionalism failed to create a new understanding of Ottoman citizenship, grant equal rights to all citizens, and bring them under one roof in a legislative assembly. Today as the Middle East experiences another set of revolutions, these early lessons of the Ottoman Empire, of unfulfilled expectations and ensuing discontent, still provide important insights into the contradictions of hope and disillusion seemingly inherent in revolution.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Russian Tales of Demonic Possession

It was, if I recall, Gabriele Amorth who noted the two most common tricks of the evil one are to convince us he does not exist, or else to over-sensationalize his existence to the part of paranoia. I think of both traps, but especially our propensity for the latter, whenever titles about the demonic come along. I think, thanks to Hollywood, we have become accustomed to writing off such talk as at one with spinning heads, nuclear-green vomit, and little girls in raspy voices saying vulgar things. Nonetheless, Christianity has always taken the reality of evil seriously, and I have yet to find any way of accounting for much of human history if you foolishly disallow such an explanation. A new book offers us translations of old Russian tales of demonic possession: Marcia A. Morris,  Russian Tales of Demonic Possession: Translations of Savva Grudtsyn and Solomonia (Lexington Books, 2014), 154pp.

About this book we are told:
Russian Tales of Demonic Possession: Translations of Savva Grudtsyn and Solomonia is a translation from the Russian of two stories of demonic possession, of innocence lost and regained. The original versions of both tales date back to the seventeenth century, but the feats of suffering and triumph described in them are timeless. Aleksei Remizov, one of Russia’s premiere modernists, recognized the relevance of the late-medieval material for his own mid-twentieth-century readers and rewrote both tales, publishing them in 1951 under the title The Demoniacs. The volume offers a new translation of the original Tale of Savva Grudtsyn as well as first-ever translations of The Tale of The Demoniac Solomonia and Remizov’s Demoniacs.Russian Tales of Demonic Possession opens with an introduction that interprets and contextualizes both the late-medieval and the twentieth-century tales. By providing new critical interpretations of all four tales as well as a short discussion of the history of demons in Russia, this introduction makes an eerily exotic world accessible to today’s English-speaking audiences.
Savva Grudtsyn and Solomonia, the protagonists of the two tales, are young people poised on the threshold of adulthood. When demons suddenly appear to confront and overmaster them, each of them teeters on the brink of despair in a world filled with chaos and temptation. The Tale of Savva Grudtsyn and The Tale of the Demoniac Solomonia propel us forcibly into the realm of good and evil and pose hard questions: Why does evil afflict us? How does it manifest itself? How can it be overcome? Aleksey Remizov’s modernist re-castings of the two stories offer compelling evidence that these same questions are very much with us today and are still in need of answers.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lemkin on Genocide

Next year is the centenary of the Armenian genocide, the very concept of which was owed to later reflection and conceptualization by Raphael Lemkin. That is to say, the term "genocide" was only coined by Lemkin in the 1940s, and when it was it quickly became apparent that it applied not only to the Holocaust but also back to the events of 1915. A recently published book was just issued this year in paperback form and gives us an introduction to the concept and its creator: Steven Leonard Jacobs, Lemkin on Genocide (Lexington Books, 2014),430pp.

About this book we are told:
Providing an annotated commentary on two unpublished manuscripts written by international law and genocide scholar Raphael Lemkin, Steven L. Jacobs offers a critical introduction to the father of genocide studies. Lemkin coined the term "genocide" and was the motivating force behind the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. The materials collected here give readers further insight into this singularly courageous man and the issue which consumed him in the aftermath of the Second World War. It is a welcome addition to the library of genocide and Holocaust Studies scholars and students alike.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Theodore the Studite on Iconoclasm

I've received a good half-dozen or more catalogues in the mail this month, advertising books to be released by Christmas or into the new year. Included is a new translation of one of the two best-known patristic writers refuting the case against icons. Paulist Press tells me this title is available in November, but Amazon has a February 2015 date. In either case, continuing in the valuable Ancient Christian Writer series, is Theodore the Studite: Writings on Iconoclasm (Ancient Christian Writers No.69), trans. Thomas Cattoi (Paulist, 2014), 320pp.

About this book we are told:
Famous for his writings exploring the nature and purpose of the monastic life, Theodore the Studite (759 826) was also the author of numerous apologetic works on the theology of the icon, where prose and poetry brought together theological depth and mystical inspiration. In the context of the iconoclast revival that swept through Byzantium in the early years of the ninth century, Theodore was the chief advocate of the legitimacy of icon veneration, and argued for the fundamental congruence between this practice and the Christological vision of the early councils. As John Damascene had done during the eighth century, Theodore envisages the icon as the synthesis of the Christian faith in the incarnation; its veneration is not only the litmus test of doctrinal orthodoxy, but it is also an integral part of the spiritual practice of the Christian, for whom Christ s resurrection points towards the eschatological redemption of the cosmos.

This volume makes available in English for the first time all the writings by Theodore on the subject of iconoclasm. It will be of great interests to scholars and students of early Christian theology and spirituality, as well as to anyone eager to explore the relationship between spiritual practice and the visual arts.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Heirs to Hated and Deliberately Overlooked Kingdoms

I don't know how anyone can look at the situation of Middle Eastern Christians today and not ricochet between rage and despair--rage at the ignorance of their plight, not least on the part of their co-religionists in the West, and despair over the inability and unwillingness of anyone to do anything of substance to help them. I have been talking about Christians in Syria and Egypt in my classes these past two weeks, and it is difficult not to weep and rail about what they have been undergoing for centuries, but especially what they have suffered in the last three years in particular.

A new book released in late October takes us inside these neglected and overlooked religious communities: Gerard Russell, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (Basic Books, 2014), 352pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before. 
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. Historically a tolerant faith, Islam has, since the early 20th century, witnessed the rise of militant, extremist sects. This development, along with the rippling effects of Western invasion, now pose existential threats to these minority faiths. And as more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of greater freedoms and job prospects, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction. Drawing on his extensive travels and archival research, Russell provides an essential record of the past, present, and perilous future of these remarkable religions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Fall Issue of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

You know, if you are not yet a subscriber to Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, you really are continuing to miss out on a wealth of riches that only increase from issue to issue. The upcoming fall 2014 issue is one of the most jam-packed issues we've published in over a decade. It includes the following:


Natalia Shlikhta, "Two Portraits – A Study of the Orthodox Episcopate in Postwar Soviet Ukraine." Abstract:
Drawing on the methodological insights of scholars such as James C. Scott, William Fletcher, and Sheila Fitzpatrick, the author, by means of research into Soviet archives, correspondence, and synodal documents and other sources, has uncovered many details of how Bishop Feodosii Kovernynsky and Archbishop Palladii Kaminsky not merely survived but in many cases actively and repeatedly subverted the restrictions placed upon their episcopal ministry in several Ukrainian dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church from the late 1940s until the late 1970s. Shlikhta looks in particular at daily practices of these two men (e.g., redistricting of parish boundaries; promoting to priestly ranks of those who were often locally established deacons or laypeople not hand-picked by the state to be priests; publishing prayer books in Ukrainian rather than Russian as an ostensible tool to help “Uniates” integrate into the official Russian Church more easily) to dis-cover their subaltern strategies, which, while not always rising to the level of mass protest, major manifestos demanding rights, or similarly dramatic defiance of the regime, were nonetheless effective. The portrait that emerges significantly complicates the previous narrative of “two churches” whereby there was an officious and ideologically subservient church under complete communist domination on the one hand, and a rebellious, illegal underground church on the other. These two bishops reveal various quotidian strategies by which they demonstrated how it was possible to be rebellious within the officially permitted structures of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine in the postwar period.
Peter Galadza's brief response to Shlikhta's article follows.

Jaroslav Z. Skira, "John of Damascus and Theodore Abū Qurrah: Icons, Christ, and Sacred Texts." Abstract:
Increasingly scholars dispute the idea that the rise of Islam in the sixth and following centuries contributed to the rise of iconoclasm in the Byzantine east in the seventh-ninth centuries. Two significant figures living under Islamic domination, John of Damascus and Theodore Abû Qurrah, both dealt with the permissibility and theology of images by appeals to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic scriptures. Both stressed the importance of differentiating worship of God from veneration of icons in order to guard against the charge of idolatry. But they diverged in the audiences to whom they aimed these arguments, John aiming at a Christian audience, and Theodore at a Jewish and Islamic one. Both, however, claimed not merely to be reiterating the inherited tradition, but actively developing it to face new challenges. The author reviews their respective development of tradition in their diverse contexts to reveal overlapping defenses of icons.
Nadia Delicata, "On Divine-Humanity: Sergius Bulgakov’s Personalist Theology as Foundation for the Christian Life." Abstract:
The article argues that Bulgakov’s radically personalist understanding of God elucidates a sophisticated personalist Christian ethics. A novel understanding of the form, end, mat-ter and method of the Christian life can be discerned through Bulgakov’s four theological entry points evident in his great trilogy. First, an overall understanding of the Christian life as a paideia tou kyriou, that is, as a formation to Christ-like be-coming. Divine-humanity, the end of the Christian life, is an imitation of God-Manhood. For Bulgakov, however, the principle of self-emptying that characterizes God-becoming-flesh is a revelation of God’s own personalist nature. Divine peri-choresis as an emptying and filling of the immanent Trinity is revealed economically in the theology of creation, where creation is properly out of nothing to become something through the self-revelation of the Father in the Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, immanent divine being as self-revelation, or “divine Sophia,” has its creaturely counterpart in creation’s becoming a revelation of God, the “creaturely Sophia.” Yet creation also necessitates its own created hypostases to return God’s love offered to the world. The method of human flou-rishing is an imitatio Dei as becoming persons-in-relationship. However, the essence of the Christian life as a kenotic-pleromic ethic in imitation of divine perichoresis, is only possible through receiving the Holy Spirit who descends at Pentecost on all flesh, allowing humanity to seek her ultimate transcendence by actively returning to the Father his divine Love.
Oleh Kindiy, "Patrology, Ecology, and Eschatology: Looking Forward to the Future of the Planet by Looking Back to the Fathers of the Church." Abstract:
Nearly a half-century ago in an infamous article, Lynn White Jr. accused Christianity of being complicity in environ-mental degradation, a claim that has met with widespread rebuttal. And yet, there are signs today of renewed ecological degradation in manifold forms, and peoples of all intellectual disciplines and backgrounds are struggling to respond to these challenges. Theologians have their role to play, and this article shows that there are deep theological resources within early Christianity addressing the goodness, stewardship, and salvation of God’s creation. Drawing especially on the patristic literature of such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Athanasius of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, Ps-Dionysius the Areopagite, John of Damascus, Maximus the Confessor, Origen of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan, the author argues that we need today new forms of asceticism in addition to fasting from food that will help us forego excessive consumption and in so doing free us to draw into a deeper communion with all of God’s creation.


In this section we have three relatively short stand-alone pieces:
  • Robert F. Slesinski, "Alexander Scriabin: New Age En Avant de la Lettre."
  • Michael Plekon, “Maria Skobtsova: Making a Saint in the Eastern Church Today."
  • Andrew Cuff,"Συμπροσευχή: Defeating the Otherness Mentality with Joint Catholic-Orthodox Prayer."
We also are featuring three essays, and an introductory letter, to a conference on Eastern Christianity and Islam (viewed through the life and work of Louis Massignon) held recently at Heythrop College in the University of London:
  • Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch and all the East,"Greetings for the Conference of 27 November 2012 on The Life and Thought of Louis Massignon (1883-1962): Comparative Political and Theological Perspectives."
  • Christian Krokus: "Louis Massigon: Vatican II and Beyond"
  • Stefanie Hugh-Donovan, "Louis Massignon, Olivier Clément, Thomas Merton, Christian de Chergé: Radical Hospitality, Radical Faith."
  • Richard J. Sudworth, "Responding to Islam as Priests, Mystics, and Trail Blazers: Louis Massignon, Kenneth Cragg, and Rowan Williams."
Book Reviews:

Michael Plekon reviews Paul Gavrilyuk, Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance (see also my lengthy discussion of the book here.)

And finally I review Augustine Casiday's Remember the Days of Old: Orthodox Thinking on the Patristic Heritage. (My review is a shorter version of the one published here.)

Early Syriac Theology

I have long had a great interest in and devotion to Ephraim the Syrian in particular and the Syriac tradition in general, thinking that Sebastian Brock's argument (viz., that the Syriac tradition is the "third lung" of the Church next to the Latin and Greek) is important but still not understood widely enough. That said, we have seen a steady increase in the number of publications in English in the last two decades devoted to the Syriac tradition, including a second edition of a book published just this month: Chorbishop Seely Joseph Beggiani, Early Syriac Theology: With Special Reference to the Maronite Tradition, 2nd. ed. (CUA Press, 2014), 192pp.
About this book we are told:
St. Ephrem, who was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XV, and Jacob of Serugh were two of the earliest and most important representatives of the theological world-view of the Syriac church. Much of their work was in the form of hymns and metrical homilies, using poetry to express theology. In Early Syriac Theology, Chorbishop Seely Joseph Beggiani strives to present their insights in a systematic form according to headings used in western treatises, while not undermining the originality and cohesiveness of their thought.

For St. Ephrem of Syria (d. 373) and Jacob of Serugh (d. 521), God is utterly mysterious, yet He is present in all that He has created. The kenosis (self-emptying) of the Word of God is found not only in the human nature of Christ, but in the finite words of Sacred Scripture. In this action, the Divine makes itself accessible to human beings. The triple descent of the Son of God into the womb of Mary, the Jordan River at his baptism, and into sheol at his death, were actions directed both to redemption and divinization. Ephrem and Jacob employed a system of types and antitypes used in Sacred Scripture to demonstrate the sacraments as extensions of Christ’s actions through history.

The material is organized under the themes of the hiddenness of God, creation and sin, revelation, incarnation, redemption, divinization and the Holy Spirit, the Church, Mary, the mysteries of initiation, eschatology and faith. Additionally, the book highlights the fact that the liturgical tradition of the Maronite church, one of the Syriac churches, is consistently and pervasively a living expression of the theology of these two Syriac church fathers.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

St Jerome and the Invention of Yet More Slavic Myths

The urge to invent a foundational mythology whereby an "apostle" came to and established a local church is an old one. As Susan Wessell's splendid book Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome showed, this urge was given great energy thanks to Leo and the sharply declining prestige of his see after the shift of the imperial capital to Constantinople in 330. But as earlier scholarship, especially that of Francis Dvornik in his The Idea Of Apostolicity In Byzantium And The Legend Of Apostle Andrew made clear, the West was not alone in feeling it necessary to stress apostolic foundation and lineage: Constantinople later got into the act, and later still the East-Slavs, as a new book suggests: Julia Verkholantsev, The Slavic Letters of St. Jerome: The History of the Legend and Its Legacy, or, How the Translator of the Vulgate Became an Apostle of the Slavs (Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), 280pp.

About this book we are told:

The Slavic Letters of St. Jerome is the first book-length study of the medieval legend that Church Father and biblical translator St. Jerome was a Slav who invented the Slavic (Glagolitic) alphabet and Roman Slavonic rite. Julia Ver­kholantsev locates the roots of this belief among the Latin clergy in Dalmatia in the 13th century and describes in fascinating detail how Slavic leaders subsequently appropriated it to further their own political agendas.

The Slavic language, written in Jerome’s alphabet and endorsed by his authority, gained the unique privilege in the Western Church of being the only language other than Latin, Greek, and Hebrew acceptable for use in the liturgy. Such privilege, confirmed repeatedly by the popes, resulted in the creation of narratives about the distinguished historical mission of the Slavs and became a possible means for bridging the divide between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the Slavic-speaking lands.

In the 14th century the legend spread from Dalmatia to Bohemia and Poland, where Glagolitic monasteries were established to honor the Apostle of the Slavs Jerome and the rite and letters he created. The myth of Jerome’s apostolate among the Slavs gained many supporters among the learned and spread far and wide, reaching Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and England.

Grounded in extensive archival research, Verkholantsev examines the sources and trajectory of the legend of Jerome’s Slavic fellowship within a wider context of European historical and theological thought. This unique volume will appeal to medievalists, Slavicists, scholars of religion, those interested in saints’ cults, and specialists of philology.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book

In my iconography class last week we were talking about the power of relics and material objects in the life of not only individual Christians, but also between Christian communities--especially monasteries. Such objects sometimes invite less than edifying behavior as people steal relics to take back home and profit from. Think, e.g., of how often the Byzantine sanctoral celebrates the finding of the head of John the Baptist: a full four times if I'm not mistaken. But equally, as the late Pope John Paul II knew in returning stolen relics to the Orthodox, these items can be agents of ecclesial reconciliation and ecumenical progress. A new book suggests the latter motivation was precisely at work in the design of an illuminated gospel book: Kathleen Maxwell, Between Constantinople and Rome: An Illuminated Byzantine Gospel Book (Paris Gr. 54) and the Union of Churches (Ashgate, 2014), 348pp.

About this book we are told:
This is a study of the artistic and political context that led to the production of a truly exceptional Byzantine illustrated manuscript. Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, codex grec 54 is one of the most ambitious and complex manuscripts produced during the Byzantine era. This thirteenth-century Greek and Latin Gospel book features full-page evangelist portraits, an extensive narrative cycle, and unique polychromatic texts. However, it has never been the subject of a comprehensive study and the circumstances of its commission are unknown. In this book Kathleen Maxwell addresses the following questions: what circumstances led to the creation of Paris 54? Who commissioned it and for what purpose? How was a deluxe manuscript such as this produced? Why was it left unfinished? How does it relate to other Byzantine illustrated Gospel books?Paris 54's innovations are a testament to the extraordinary circumstances of its commission. Maxwell's multi-disciplinary approach includes codicological and paleographical evidence together with New Testament textual criticism, artistic and historical analysis. She concludes that Paris 54 was never intended to copy any other manuscript. Rather, it was designed to eclipse its contemporaries and to physically embody a new relationship between Constantinople and the Latin West, as envisioned by its patron. Analysis of Paris 54's texts and miniature cycle indicates that it was created at the behest of a Byzantine emperor as a gift to a pope, in conjunction with imperial efforts to unify the Latin and Orthodox churches. As such, Paris 54 is a unique witness to early Palaeologan attempts to achieve church union with Rome.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Paul Gavrilyuk, Georges Florovsky, and Alasdair MacIntyre Meet in a Bar....

I'm in Boston this weekend at the annual conference of the Orthodox Theological Society of America. I was asked to come to give a response to Paul Gavrilyuk's excellent and important new book Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance.

I've taken the liberty of posting below the comments that I shall be making this weekend as one of the respondents to the book:
A Response to Paul Gavrilyuk, Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance (OUP, 2014)
Delivered 24 October 2014 at the Orthodox Theological Society of America’s Annual Conference,
Holy Cross College, Brookline, MA
Adam A.J. DeVille, Ph.D.[1]

            I’m delighted to be asked to take part in this symposium, especially with such distinguished fellow panelists. I’m delighted, moreover, because it gave me an opportunity to read a book I have wanted to read for most of this year. Fr. Michael Plekon read and reviewed Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaissance for the upcoming fall issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, of which I am editor, and when he sent me his review in the spring of this year, I was immediately jealous and annoyed with myself that I did not first read the book before sending it to him for review! It sounded utterly fascinating, and indeed it is. Reading Gavrilyuk’s study took me back more than a decade to one of my doctoral courses at the Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa that was devoted entirely to the thought of Florovsky, to whom I still turn in small ways on a regular basis as in, e.g., having my graduate students read his essay, “St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers.”[2]
In what follows, I shall proceed by way of three sections. First I begin with some brief laudatory comments. Second, I note several areas where I would like to hear further from the author. And in the third and longest section, I suggest an alternate way of conceiving of Florovsky’s problematic and unsatisfactory notions of the “pseudomorphosis” and “Western captivity” of Orthodoxy, which I draw from the landmark work of the leading moral philosopher of our time, Alasdair MacIntyre.

            This is a crisply written book that brings together wide-ranging discussions—history, philosophy, Russian culture and politics both pre- and post-Bolshevik, and of course theology in the context of Florovsky’s life. It cannot have been easy, it would seem to me, to maintain such an even-handed tone throughout for it seems Florovsky was an infuriating person both in some of his arguments and then, as the author painfully records, particularly in his rather ruinous trail of thwarted personal and institutional relations across Europe and North America. Put more simply, it would have been both easy and understandable for the author to offer polemical and simplistic rejoinders to the polemics and dubious theoretical generalizations of Florovsky, but those were all avoided and the book is much the better for it. There were many moments in reading this book when I was little short of staggered and sorely vexed by what Florovsky had to say but in almost all those cases, the author had gotten in ahead of me to at least mention, and often share, many of the concerns I had. This is neither a “take-down” nor a pious hagiography, but intellectual history and biography of the best sort, allowing us to see the man in full. If, as Cardinal Newman famously said, the danger of hagiography is that it reduces complex people and their messy lives to mere “clothes racks for virtues,” we can be grateful to the author that he avoided that danger and allowed us to see everything Florovsky “wore,” winsomely captured in the beret and cassock on the front cover!

For Further Elaboration:
            There were, if I may so say, a number of lapidary formulations in this book that were tantalizingly under-developed. If time permits, I should like to hear even just a bit more from the author when he says, but does not really develop, such things as:

  • Florovsky viewed American pragmatism as preferable to European rationalism (65)? Why?
  • To “reclaim its true identity, Russia had to recover its Byzantine cultural roots” (66). Did Florovsky ever specify what such roots consisted of, and whether such a process of recovery was even possible?
  • All of medieval Russia was “monolithic” and “united by the common religious ideal of Eastern Orthodoxy” (73). Did Florovsky ever document this claim with serious evidence? (I’m far from an expert in medieval Russian history, but what I have read would suggest that this is too simplistic and neat a claim.)
  • It’s possible “to ‘enter’ the mind of the Fathers through ‘ecclesial experience’” (91)? To channel Alasdair MacIntyre here (about whom much more below): Whose ecclesia? Which experience?[3] And what about F’s famous aversion to mystical/spiritual experiences?
  • It has, it seems to me, become a deplorably common habit in Orthodox apologetics (especially on-line) to constantly recycle fourth-hand stereotypes and calumnies against Anselm, and I’ve long wondered where this got started. Nobody, of course, ever bothers to cite sources, least of all primary texts, but perhaps Florovsky is the originator of this, given the discussion that starts on p.154 (and esp. the article cited there in footnote 81)?
  • Florovsky “was more receptive to the thought of Augustine, especially his ecclesiology” (239). Why was he more receptive—especially when considered against the rather tenuous (if not hostile) relationship most of 20th-century Orthodoxy seems to have had towards Augustine, at least until recently?[4] 
  • Vatican Expansionist Policy (70-71): this discussion was, I thought, rather too brief and overlooked some important recent scholarship. Through frightfully ungenerous and shamefully triumphalistic in its “soteriological exclusivism,” (Waclaw Hryniewicz), Catholic policy in this period was not nearly as monolithic or almost “monstrous” as Florovsky seemed to think. There are several studies that would have been welcome here, as they add important distinction and nuance, and would be pivotal for later changes at the Second Vatican Council.[5]
  • F “assumed that nothing good whatsoever could come to Russia (more precisely, to Ukraine) from adopting the Jesuit educational paradigms” (180). Why? What was so problematic about the Jesuit paradigm that Florovsky could be so flippantly dismissive of it?

Pseudomorphosis and Western Captivity or Epistemological Crisis?
            Let me come to what I regard as the most central arguments for which Florovsky is best known, arguments which, more than a decade after I first encountered them, seem to me far less clear or convincing than they once did. In what Paul Gavrilyuk writes, I take the following to be the central statement of the problem:
Crucial for understanding Florovsky’s analysis of the western influences in Russian intellectual history was the concept of pseudomorphosis, which he adopted from Oswald Spengler…..Florovsky was familiar with the concept of pseudomorphosis both in the broad culturological sense proposed by Spengler and in a related sense to denote the process of Orthodox theology’s succumbing to the western influences and the consequent alienation of theological thought from the life and worship of the Orthodox Church (pp.178-79).

From here, G narrates “a history of Russian theology as a drama in three acts” (179ff):
  •  Prelude: from 988 until 16th century: crisis of Russian Byzantinism as a departure from the Fathers
  •  First Act: 16th century Kiev: “acute Latinization” under Mohyla. 
  •  Second Act: Peter the Great’s Protestant pseudomorphosis 
  •  Interlude: heroic struggles of the 19th century under Filaret to shake off the West and reintroduce patristics into seminary curricula 
  •  Final Act: Soloviev and Renaissance bring in German Idealism, the “most damaging western influence” (182). 

My questions here are not dissimilar to those above and are two-fold: what is the evidence for all this? And: is such a theory of captivity and pseudomorphosis not too neat by half? That is, does it not grossly oversimplify what I suspect to be rather more complicated history? To be clear: I’m not saying Florovsky is entirely wrong. There is clear evidence of Western influence on Orthodoxy in each of the three periods noted above (as Ukrainian Catholics know only too well!). My central rejoinder to Florovsky would be: you bemoan Western influence as deleterious, and see the entire process in negative, passive terms.  I, however, would like to suggest the process was, in part, a sign of life and vitality as two traditions encountered one another. The process of pseudomorphosis was not all bad. I am not being Pollyannaish here; nor am I defending (much less trumpeting) the Jesuits or “the West”; nor am I denying that there were problems in what they did, and in the Orthodox tradition that encountered “the West.” What I am suggesting is that the Spenglerian categories are, as least as Florovsky used them, unhelpful insofar as they seem far too unilateral and negative, and allow Orthodoxy to portray itself in grossly unflattering light.[6] These categories obscure more than they reveal. I want to suggest an alternate way of conceiving of the encounter between Orthodoxy and “the West.”
I was glad to see that the author here argues, rightly in my view, that Florovsky is to be faulted for “rarely taking the trouble to explain how precisely a given ‘western influence’ actually distorts the Orthodox teaching. Cultural morphology is particularly ill-suited for making normative theological truth-claims” (189).[7] If Florovsky’s theory and use of cultural morphology are not helpful, then perhaps we may think instead in the terms of the history of philosophy. Here I draw on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, widely recognized as the most important and influential moral philosopher of the post-war period. I shall use MacIntyre to illustrate my rejoinder above. Rather like Florovsky, MacIntyre’s work as a philosopher is deeply embedded within a thick historicist narrative.[8] In what follows, I want to draw on an important essay of MacIntyre to see if Florovsky’s dubious ideas of “captivity” and “pseudomorphosis” can be more firmly situated on more intellectually defensible ground.
            In a 1977 essay “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative, and the Philosophy of Science”[9] MacIntyre begins to sketch out what happens to various narrative traditions diversely conceived as they encounter one another in literature, science, and philosophy. MacIntyre says that we all face epistemological crises on a regular basis, in ways large and small as rival traditions of interpretation raise troubling questions in what we assumed were settled narratives: “Every tradition therefore is always in danger of lapsing into incoherence and when a tradition does so lapse it sometimes can only be recovered by a revolutionary reconstitution.”[10] He begins with homely examples: a happily married husband returns home one day to find out his wife has left and is filing for divorce; or a seemingly respected and appreciated employee arrives at work one day to find out she has been given the sack. In cases such as these, what the man thought he knew about himself, his wife, and his marriage is revealed to be faulty; and what the woman thought about her employment and employer are similarly revealed to be mistaken in crucial aspects. Both the man and the woman thus enter into an epistemological crisis, one sign of which, MacIntyre says, is “that its accustomed ways for relating seems and is begin to break down.”[11]
When faced with a breakdown, whether on a personal-domestic level or on a scientific or philosophical level (MacIntyre references people like Galileo and Copernicus here), the newly crumbling narrative tradition—whether of my marital life or of cosmological history—is forced to choose one of three paths. In essence, the crumbling tradition can collapse and disappear into total defeat; it can resist the new knowledge as far as possible and thereby disappear into ever-increasing irrelevancy and obscurantism; or it can begin the process of discerning where it may well have been mistaken in the past, what it needs to survive in the present, and what the rival narrative newly emerging will offer to the tradition to allow it to survive into the future, albeit in a newly reconstituted way. As MacIntyre puts it:
The criterion of a successful theory is that it enables us to understand its predecessors in a newly intelligible way. It, at one and the same time, enables us to understand precisely why its predecessors have to be rejected or modified and also why, without and before its illumination, past theory could have remained credible. It introduces new standards for evaluating the past. It recasts the narrative which constitutes the continuous reconstruction of the scientific tradition.[12]
In a moment, I shall attempt something of a recasting of the narrative told by Florovsky in an effort to reconstruct it in light of what we now know about the history of Eastern and Western Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In order to do that—to construct a theory capable of withstanding the upheaval of various epistemological crises—MacIntyre says that the crucial thing is to offer a capacious and verifiable historical narrative subject to ongoing correction and revision. [13] He argues that “the best account that can be given of why some scientific theories are superior to others presupposes the possibility of constructing an intelligible dramatic narrative which can claim historical truth and in which such theories are the subject of successive episodes.”[14] Failing to do this will leave us in one of two dead-ends: “It is only when theories are located in history, when we view the demands for justification in highly particular contexts of a historical kind, that we are freed from either dogmatism or capitulation to skepticism.”[15]
            Florovsky, I would submit, tended towards a pejorative “dogmatism” in his narrative of the captivity and pseudomorphosis of the Orthodox tradition, and one is tempted to respond with a perhaps all-pervasive and corrosive skepticism of his entire work. But neither is helpful or just. If, as MacIntyre says, one sign of a healthful theory is its capacity for on-going revision and correction—its ability, that is, to stand upright between the peaks of dogmatism and skepticism—how are we to analyze Florvsky’s theory of captivity and pseudomorphosis? In F’s hands, the theory does not seem especially open to correction or regular revision, and on that ground alone is suspect. But there are other reasons for suspecting it as well.
Following MacIntyre’s third way out of an epistemological crisis, can we not see the various encounters between Orthodoxy and “the West” as having been “resolved,” in the main, through changes that, far from being purely those of decline or artificially imposed change on a helpless Orthodox victim, were in fact, to some limited extent, far messier and more multilateral, and saw Orthodoxy emerge afterwards in different form, but still very much alive and recognizably distinct from the West? To hear Florovsky tell it, Orthodoxy was virtually a corpse which her Western masters forcibly redressed with the latest fashionable outfits from London or Paris or Milan without Russian resistance or response.[16] But surely this view of Orthodox passivity or, worse, “captivity” is (to put it mildly) de trop. Not all Orthodox were incapable of acting and re-acting to Western developments. Some, in fact, took very robust and courageous steps towards resolving the crisis as in, e.g., the bold actions of the Orthodox bishops at the Union of Brest.[17] You may disagree—as doubtless Florovsky did—with that precise reaction, but at least they were still acting! In its various encounters with “the West,” Orthodoxy did not collapse and disappear—whether under Mohyla, Peter the Great, or German Idealism. It emerged different, to be sure—on this nobody can gainsay Florovsky—but the idea that it was somehow totally “captured” and forced to endure an artificial or corrupting “pseudomorphosis” simply strains credulity  and I would lay it aside as a failed theory for at least three additional reasons.
First, as Gavrilyuk recognizes (see p. 189), Florovsky has simply failed to provide enough proof for a conviction. F’s sweeping generalizations—whether through sloppiness, indolence, or malice—are sophomoric and insufficiently substantiated with serious evidence.  Nobody looks good here. The Orthodox East is made out to be some sickly and helpless victim beset upon by some rapacious and ravishing thug from the West.
Second, these ideas of captivity and pseudomorphosis presuppose some pristine past untouched by anyone who is not a pure laine Russian working in some hermetically sealed “Russian culture” (or, worse, “Eastern Christianity”) in which no “Western” ideas or influences may be found. I do not believe that any such cultures exist, least of all in Europe; just as I do not believe any church is ever totally isolated from influences from other churches—nor should be! Here I would follow MacIntyre and suggest that Florovsky is an acutely modern man insofar as he has failed to appreciate precisely the extent to which he is himself a creature of the very traditions and cultures whose existence he disputes! As Gavrilyuk very nicely puts it: “It is ironic that the self-appointed guardian of the western corruption of Orthodox theology would succumb to the most fundamental form of westernization by choosing English over his mother tongue as his primary medium of scholarly expression” (199)![18]
Third, I would suggest to Florovsky—and here is where I think MacIntyre’s account of an epistemological crisis far more helpful because it recognizes mutual agency and mutual responsibility for change over against Spengler’s idea of captivity, implying as it does that the “captive” is always totally helpless, always a victim: Orthodoxy did make certain choices and did decide to act in certain ways when confronted with rival traditions—whether the bolder actions at Brest or through the Kiev Mohyla Academy, or in other ways. In responding in diverse ways, the Orthodox were not being passive captives jerry-rigging a pseudomorphosis: they were resolving an epistemological crisis as best as they could in their time and place, adopting some new ideas, adapting others, rejecting still others. Whatever else you may say of Mohyla, given his vast industry he cannot be accused of being merely passive and helpless according to at least three recent scholarly studies.[19] Also important here is Metropolitan Filaret who, by Florovsky’s own admission, took the initiative to restore patristic study to seminary curricula in Russia in the 1840s (p.182)!
Here I will go out on a limb and suggest speculatively that Filaret and the Russian seminaries were, in fact, ahead of the West, actively leading the West (rather than being led by them) in recovering the study of the Fathers—a process that would take at least two more generations in the West. Though I am not expert in the history of Western seminary curricula and so cannot say for certain that the Fathers were never studied, there was, from what I have seen, scant attention paid to them (which is true even today in some places). In proof of this, consider the reception of Cardinal Newman into the Catholic Church in October 1845: he had been immersed in patristics as an Oxford Anglican for much of the first half of his life, and it was precisely this immersion in the Fathers, rather than the scholastics, that made him suspect from 1845 until at least 1878 when Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal. Newman deplored the West’s fortress mentality, coining the phrase—long before Churchill used it in 1946—about an “iron curtain” that descended over Catholicism after Trent, cutting off very nearly the whole of the first millennium and imprisoning Catholicism in stultified scholastic categories, cut off from her vital patristic heritage.[20]
Consider, moreover, the work of such towering figures as Yves Congar and others in the ressourcement movement who recovered the study of the Fathers in the West only in the interwar period of the twentieth century.[21] The idea that Orthodoxy is only ever led by the West or captured by it, rather than at least some of the time showing the way, is thus, I would submit, a thesis very much in need of revision in light of these two examples.[22] To be sure, the West has often had the upper-hand, but I do not think that one can say that Orthodoxy is only ever acted upon, captured even, or forced to endure a “pseudomorphosis.” History, including Christian history, is much messier than that, and it is to Paul Gavrilyuk’s great credit that he has helped us appreciate that with renewed depth in his splendid book.

[1] Associate professor and chairman of the Dept. of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, IN; and editor Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. adeville@sf.edu.
[2] I have them read this alongside similar arguments, on the Catholic side, from Hans Urs von Balthasar in his 1939 essay “Patristik, Scholastik, und Wir,” published in English in 1997 in Communio as “The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves.”
[3] Cf. MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (UND Press, 1988).
[4] Cf. Aristotle Papanikolaou and George E. Demacopoulos, eds., Orthodox Readings of Augustine (SVS Press, 2008).
[5] Cf., inter alia, Léon Tretjakewitsch’s book Bishop Michel d'Herbigny SJ and Russia: A pre-ecumenical approach to Christian unity (Augustinus Verlag, 1990); Raymond Loonbeek et Jacques Mortiau, Un pionnier, Dom Lambert Beauduin (1873-1960). Liturgie et Unité des chrétiens, 2 vol. (Chevetogne, 2001); and then the life and writings of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, who tried to work within the straitened approach of his time but with more generosity and sensitivity than many in Rome would evidence, especially in Sheptytsky’s relationship to his erstwhile spiritual son, Lev Gillet. Peter Galadza and I collaborated on Sheptytsky’s correspondence in Unité en division: Les lettres de Lev Gillet (“Un moine de l’Eglise d’Orient”) à Andrei Cheptytsky – 1921-1929 (Paris: Parole et Silence, 2009). For an Orthodox appreciation of Sheptytsky’s ecumenical and ecclesiological efforts, see Ihor George Kutash, “Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky: A Pioneer of the Sister Churches Model of Church Unity?” and Archbishop Vsevelod, “Metropolitan Andrei and the Orthodox,” both in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 43-45 (2002-2004):31-40 and 41-56 respectively.
[6] The portrait that emerges through Florovsky’s hands is that Orthodoxy never has moral agency: always acted upon, never actor; always victim, never vanquisher. It is a thoroughly unattractive portrait.
[7] Moreover, my fellow Ukrainian Catholics may be infuriated to find that I agree with Met. Hilarion Alfeyev in this one instance as recorded by the author when the former rightly “points out that not every instance of western influences led to a pseudomorphosis” (255).
[8] That is evident in one of his early books A Short History of Ethics (Macmillan, 1966) and then his most famous book After Virtue (UND Press, 1981).
[9] The essay was first published in The Monist 60 (1977): 453-472, from which I shall quote; and later reprinted in Idem, The Tasks of Philosophy: Volume 1: Selected Essays, vol. I (Cambridge UP, 2006).
[10] Ibid., 461.
[11] Ibid., 459.
[12] Ibid., 460.
[13] In this light, I am wondering, given a considerable number of new books in Russian history and theology published in the last two decades, what the historical picture as it is now emerging would have to say to and about Florovsky’s historical narrative of unilateral decline. Surely there would have to be significant revision in his thesis? I have in mind here such books as those by John and Carol Garrard; Judith Deutsch Kornblatt; Johannes M. Oravecz; Thomas Bremer; Antoine Arjakovsky; and others.
[14] MacIntyre, “Epistemological Crises,” 470.
[15] Ibid., 471.
[16] If Orthodoxy was indeed so moribund, then Florovsky fails to answer a very serious question. If “Russia’s adoption of Byzantine Christianity did little to stimulate the philosophical activity in the country” (180) and if, later under Mohyla, Peter the Great, and German Idealism, Orthodoxy is similarly portrayed as being passive and helpless—too weak to do much of anything—then what are we to infer about the state of Russian culture, whether in the tenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, or subsequent centuries? Must we not at least consider the possibility that Russian culture was not, in fact, a terribly strong, vital, robust creature but instead some sickly, underdeveloped creature at least partially responsible for its own poor state of health?
[17] The crucial study here is Borys Gudziak, Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest (Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies) (Harvard, 1999). Whatever one thinks of Brest and the phenomenon of “uniatism,” the union was one attempt at resolving an epistemological crisis, and arguably it was a relatively successful resolution following MacIntyre’s third path—adapt and emerge in a different form. In saying this, I reject, as I do above, the unproven idea that Orthodoxy was purely a victim at Brest of Polish-Lithuanian-Jesuitical-papist power ploys.
[18] MacIntyre is even more acid in dismissing modern men, especially intellectuals, as being quintessentially blind and yet endlessly acclaiming their own ability to see—they cannot see the traditions they come out of because they are too busy denying that they are part of a tradition, that is, of modern Enlightenment liberalism. See After Virtue, 96.
[19] There are at least three recent studies that complicate the picture of Mohyla as a mindless Latinizer living under Uniate hegemony: Marcus Plested’s recent book Orthodox Readings of Aquinas (Oxford, 2012) makes it clear that the Kiev Academy under Mohyla “cannot be written off as a corruption of Orthodoxy.” (See my interview with the author where he makes that claim here: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/2013/02/marcus-plested-on-orthodoxy-and-aquinas.html.) Second, see Ronald Popivchak, “The Life and Times of Peter Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kiev,” Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies 43-45 (2002-2004): 339-360; and finally Peter Galadza, “An Analysis of the Mohyla Kiev Liturgicon of 1639,” [in Ukrainian] in Leiturgiarion: The Service Book of the Divine Liturgy Published at the Monastery of the Caves, Kiev, 1639 [facsimile edition] (Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Publications, 1996), 1-22.
[20] Benjamin King’s 2009 book, in the same Oxford series of Gavrilyuk’s, Newman and the Alexandrian Fathers: Shaping Doctrine in Nineteenth-Century England, nicely documents this, as did earlier studies in the 1970s by the Oratorian C.S. Dessain and, more recently, the Greek Orthodox scholar George Dion Dragas, who has shown that Newman was the only nineteenth century Western theologian translated into Greek in his own day.
[21] See, inter alia, Gabriel Flynn and Paul Murray, Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology (Oxford, 2014).
[22] Others could be multiplied here, beginning, as Robert Taft has shown, with Orthodox influence on Catholic liturgical revision; and Orthodox influence—especially in the person of Afanasiev—on Catholic ecclesiology in Vatican II’s Lumen gentium.
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