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


Friday, December 15, 2017

Robert Slesinski on Sergius Bulgakov

Robert Slesinski is always worth reading, and has established himself as a leading and wide-ranging scholar of several of the noteworthy figures of the Russian Silver Age and of her theological renaissance from the end of the 19th through the middle of the 20th centuries. He has published a number of articles and reviews in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies over the years. And now, I'm delighted to tell you, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press has just published his newest study, The Theology of Sergius Bulgakov (2017), 280pp

Following my usual practice, I e-mailed some questions to Fr. Bob about the book, and here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background

RS: I am a Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic priest (Eparchy of Passaic, NJ) of over 40 years, but my surname gives me away as something else.  On my paternal side, I am Polish, but not insignificantly on my maternal side I am German-French-English.  In sum, I'm a hybrid.  But growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts, there was never a time when I did not have to pronounce and spell my last name!

Going on to college I would have liked to have taken Polish as a "foreign language" requirement course, but few colleges offer Polish as a subject of study.  But Russian was offered--and that was the beginning of my interest in all things "Russian."

Having discerned a possible vocation to the priesthood, I was accepted as a candidate by the RC Diocese of Worcester--my pastor at the time, by the way, was a Melkite turned RC and I was his first vocation to the priesthood. I was sent to the North American College in Rome with the understanding I could frequent the Russian College. Well, after a year at NAC I transferred to the Russicum and subsequently was accepted by the Eparchy of Passaic...the beginning of a life's journey.

AD: Your 1984 book was a real scholarly landmark, devoted to Pavel Florensky. Are there connections you see from him to Bulgakov?

RS: My first book, Pavel Florensky: A Metaphysics of Love, my doctoral dissertation was, indeed, published by SVS Press, and now they are publishing my fourteenth book, The Theology of Sergius Bulgakov.  The two figures are intimately connected, the former serving as a "spiritual father" to his "spiritual son."


There is a famous painting of the two, "The Philosophers," by M. Nestervov in the Saint Petersburg, Russia, Art Museum of the two walking in Florensky's garden at Sergiev Posad.  The whole composition has Florensky as a "Plato," as it were, and Bulgakov as an Aristotle. (AD: the photo is on the cover of the book at left.)

AD: There's been a huge upswing in studies devoted to Bulgakov over the last couple of decades. Why do you think he continues to command such a wide interest?

RS: Bulgakov has surprisingly been neglected in Orthodox circles--after all, he was "convicted" of "heresy."  Westerners--like Hans Urs von Balthasar--who were interested in possible insights from the Christian East rediscovered him.

AD: Your introduction seems to suggest that Orthodoxy did not pay much attention to Bulgakov until and after Western Christians began doing so. What led the West--among whom you single out such luminaries as Rowan Williams, Aidan Nichols, and John Milbank inter alia--to Bulgakov? Was it a perceived gap in the Western tradition that he somehow filled, or was it something else?

RS: This continues your next question: people like myself--Westerners--are, indeed, interested in gaining insights into our common Christian tradition from the East.

AD: Your first chapter notes "some truly eye-opening statements" about Bulgakov's openness to the Catholic Church, not least about the papacy and the filioque, about which he said "I am a 'filioquist'." What do you think he meant by that?

RS: Bulgakov as a person was deeply, indelibly, steeped in Orthodox tradition, but was devastated by the Bolshevik Revolution. Just as at the time of the Council of Florence as the Turks were overwhelming Constantinople, Bulgakov flirted with a possible help from Rome.  Now he remained a confirmed Orthodox, but still affirmed certain "Catholic" beliefs like the filioque, embracing Augustine's paradigm of love to explain the Holy Trinity.

AD: My perception of Bulgakov (admittedly it's been a few years since I read T.A. Smith's translation of The Burning Bush) is that he often finds a way to accept or even agree, broadly speaking, with the substance of Catholic doctrine, but finds ways to disagree methodologically--either the categories of definition, or the papal mechanisms of definition of the modern Marian dogmas. Is that a fair distinction?

RS: To continue the discussion...the esteemed late Alexander Schmemann, an actual student of Bulgakov, made the observation that however "Orthodox" Bulgakov was, he always wanted to put his original stamp of "things"--novelty being his mode of action.  Catholic doctrine/dogma he was wont to characterize in his own terms--not necessarily of those of Catholics themselves.  Curiously, as "opposed" as he was to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (he was a partisan of Aquinas in this matter), he fervidly argued in favor of the Theotokos being a "Co-Redemptrix."

AD: You note at the beginning of ch.7 that Bulgakov's understanding of the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception "is found to be wanting" but the rest of his Mariology is not. Tell us more about that.

RS: My answer to this question is to repeat what I say in response to the last question--only to add that Bulgakov was utterly convinced in his sophiological understanding of May, she truly was the Pneumatophore--the Bearer of the Holy Spirit!


AD: In ch.8 you note Florovsky's influence on modern Orthodoxy's turn to history and patrology at the expense of more systematic theology such as Bulgakov's. Why is that? What is behind the focus on history and the fathers--and also behind the fear of Bulgakov's more speculative and systematic work?

RS: Florovsky's influence, to my mind, became paramount after the indictment of heresy.  He was an historian--hence patristics.  And we all know of the centrality of the Divine Liturgy for the Christian experience of God, hence liturgical theology.  Speculative theology/philosophy of the likes of Bulgakov did not, alas--to my mind--find a resonant ear in the Orthodox.

AD: Having done some work in both Orthodox and Catholic ecclesiology, I naturally read your 14th chapter, "Ecclesiological Musings in Bulgakov," with great interest. The word 'musings' is especially noteworthy, as you go on to suggest that Bulgakov may have been a bit sloppy with the scriptural texts, claiming they give no "'indications concerning the Church as an organization'" (p.209).  Later on you speak of his rather 'cloudy' approach to the Church's sacramental character. And once again his love-hate relationship to Catholicism returns in his discussion of papal infallibility. What lies behind these rather conflicted views?

RS: There is no doubt in my mind that the weakest theology of Bulgakov is in the area of ecclesiology.  I would surmise he was reading too much of German Protestant theology.  Catholics and Orthodox are truly one in this area.

AD: Tell us what your hopes were for this book, The Theology of Sergius Bulgakovand who should read it.

RS: Well, my book is intended to inspire any philosopher-theologian to consider Bulgakov as an area for insight in coming to terms with understanding God and the cosmos.  Now that ALL the major works of Bulgakov are in English translation, I would hope that my "modest" monograph may assist in appreciating the theological genius of Bulgakov.

AD: Having finished this, what projects are you at work on now?

RS: Over the ten years I worked on my Bulgakov book I have written seven other books in "mystagogical catechesis;" I am now working on another one The Holy Mysteries: Celebrating Christ's Sacramental Presence.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Deaconesses in Orthodoxy

As the discussion about women in diaconal ministries (broadly defined) in both Orthodoxy and Catholicism continues, a new publication could not be more timely: Deaconesses, the Ordination of Women and Orthodox Theology, eds. Niki Papageorgiou, Eleni Kasselouri-Hatzivassiliadi, and Petros Vassiliadis (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2017), 585pp.

About this book we are told:
This collection of essays highlights the thorny and divisive issue of the admission of women into the sacramental diaconal priesthood of the Christian Church from the Orthodox theological perspective. The contributions here stem from scientific papers presented at an international conference titled Deaconesses, Ordination of Women and Orthodox Theology, organized in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 2015 by the Center of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies (CEMES). They cover almost all the fields of biblical, liturgical, patristic, systematic, canonical, and historical theology. The volumes main focus is the ancient order of deaconesses, in connection with the overall issue of the ordination of women. Although most papers address the issues from an Orthodox perspective, their sober analysis can provide theological argumentation for the wider Christian community, both the Churches and Christian denominations that exclude women from the sacramental priesthood, and those that have already adopted their ordination.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy

I'm always excited to see a new book from Ines Angeli Murzaku, whom I have interviewed in the past about earlier publications. She alerted me to this forthcoming collection, co-edited with Barbara Crostini: Greek Monasticism in Southern Italy: The Life of Neilos in Context (Routledge, 2017), 396pp.

I've asked her for an interview about this book, and she's consented. I'll post that as soon as we are both able.

In the meantime, here is the publisher's blurb:
This volume was conceived with the double aim of providing a background and a further context for the new Dumbarton Oaks English translation of the Life of St Neilos of Rossano, founder of the monastery of Grottaferrata near Rome in 1004. Reflecting this double aim, the volume is divided into two parts. Part I, entitled “Italo-Greek Monasticism,” builds the background to the Life of Neilos by taking several multi-disciplinary approaches to the geographical area, history and literature of the region denoted as Southern Italy. Part II, entitled “The Life of St Neilos,” offers close analyses of the text of Neilos’s hagiography from socio-historical, textual, and contextual perspectives. Together, the two parts provide a solid introduction and offer in-depth studies with original outcomes and wide-ranging bibliographies. Using monasticism as a connecting thread between the various zones and St Neilos as the figure who walked over mountains and across many cultural divides, the essays in this volume span all regions and localities and try to trace thematic arcs between individual testimonies. They highlight the multicultural context in which Southern Italian Christians lived and their way of negotiating differences with Arab and Jewish neighbors through a variety of sources, and especially in saints’ lives.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Life of René Girard

Growing up as I did in Her Britannic Majesty's senior dominion, I listened religiously to CBC radio, especially its wonderfully edifying evening program "Ideas," which I found on a pocket radio in the summer of my 12th year and listened to secretly when I was supposed to be asleep.

It was on one episode of that program, later in my life--I think in the late 1990s--that I first came across the work of René Girard, who has done so much to help us understand the role of the "scapegoat" and to see how violence and sacrifice work, but are also overturned by the advent of Christ.

Author of such landmark works as Violence and the Sacred and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard, who died in 2015, was and is a hugely important scholar whose influence continues to grow. He will soon be the subject of a welcome biography I am greatly looking forward to reading: Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard by Cynthia L Haven  (Michigan State University Press, 2018), 346pp.


About this book (a chapter of which is excerpted for separate publication) the publisher tells us:
René Girard (1923–2015) was one of the leading thinkers of our era—a provocative sage who bypassed prevailing orthodoxies to offer a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history, and human destiny. His oeuvre, offering a “mimetic theory” of cultural origins and human behavior, inspired such writers as Milan Kundera and J. M. Coetzee, and earned him a place among the forty “immortals” of the Académie Française. Too often, however, his work is considered only within various academic specializations. This first-ever biographical study takes a wider view. Cynthia L. Haven traces the evolution of Girard’s thought in parallel with his life and times. She recounts his formative years in France and his arrival in a country torn by racial division, and reveals his insights into the collective delusions of our technological world and the changing nature of warfare. Drawing on interviews with Girard and his colleagues, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard provides an essential introduction to one of the twentieth century’s most controversial and original minds.

Friday, December 8, 2017

C.S. Lewis and Orthodoxy

My friend, the always delightful Edith Humphrey, has a new book out: Further Up and Further In: Orthodox Conversations with C. S. Lewis on Scripture and Theology (SVS Press, 2017), 301pp.

I have interviewed her on here before about previous books, and hope to arrange an interiew about this newest study of hers, about which the publisher tells us the following:

Drawing on Lewis's broad corpus, both his beloved classics and his less well-known writings, Humphrey brings Lewis into conversation with Orthodox thinkers from the ancient past down to the present day, on subjects as diverse and challenging as the nature of reality, miracles, the ascetic life, the atonement, the last things, and the mystery of male and female.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Is Islam a Christian Heresy?

Next month, in their hugely important History of Christian-Muslim Relations series, Brill is bringing out a book that will revisit a long-standing debate going back almost to the beginnings of Christian encounters with, and analysis of, Islam:  John of Damascus and Islam: Christian Heresiology and the Intellectual Background to Earliest Christian-Muslim Relations (English and Greek Edition) by Peter Schadler (Brill, 2017).

The publisher supplies the following blurb about the book and then a detailed table of contents:
How did Islam come to be considered a Christian heresy? In this book, Peter Schadler outlines the intellectual background of the Christian Near East that led John, a Christian serving in the court of the caliph in Damascus, to categorize Islam as a heresy. Schadler shows that different uses of the term heresy persisted among Christians, and then demonstrates that John’s assessment of the beliefs and practices of Muslims has been mistakenly dismissed on assumptions he was highly biased. The practices and beliefs John ascribes to Islam have analogues in the Islamic tradition, proving that John may well represent an accurate picture of Islam as he knew it in the seventh and eighth centuries in Syria and Palestine.

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations

Introduction

1 Heresy and Heresiology in Late Antiquity
 Problems in Associating Islam with Heresy
 Manichaeism: The Exception that Proves the Rule
 Heresy as Opposition to the Church
 Other Understandings of Heresy in Late Antiquity
 Early Christian Use of Heresiology
 The Demonic Nature of Heresy
 Heresy as the Result of Philosophical Speculation
 Other Typical Traits of Heresiology

2 Aspects of the Intellectual Background
 The Encyclopedism of Christian Palestine
 Heresiology as History?
 The Sociological Imperative to Institution Building as a Force for Islam’s Inclusion
 From Heresiology to Panarion and from Panarion to Anacephalaeosis: The Shifting Nature of Heresiology
 John of Damascus and non-Christian Philosophy
 The Definition of Heresy in John’s Works
 Demons and the Heresiology of John

3 The Life of John of Damascus, His Use of the Qurʾan, and the Quality of His Knowledge of Islam
 The Life of John of Damascus
 John of Damascus and Arabic
 The Qurʾan and its Apparent Use Among Christians
 John of Damascus and the Qurʾan
 Anastasius of Sinai and the Qurʾan
 The Alleged Leo-Umar Correspondence
 Lives of the Prophets and Other Sources

4 Islamic and Para-Islamic Traditions
 Scholarly Accounts of Early Islam
 Revisionist Islamic Studies and its Antecedents
 Contemporary Islamic Studies
 John of Damascus, the Black Stone, and the Ka’ba
 The Ka’ba, the Black Stone, and the Maqām Ibrāhīm in the Islamic Tradition
 An Untraditional Perspective
 The Damascene’s Observations Given the Untraditional Perspective
 Rivers in Paradise
 The Monk and an-Nasara
 Female Circumcision
 Pillars of Faith

5 John of Damascus and Theodore Abu Qurrah on Islam
 Problems Authenticating Abu Qurrah’s Greek Corpus
 Theodore Abu Qurrah on Islam
 Theodore, the Qurʾan, and Muhammad
 The Arian Monk
 Theodore and Heresy
 Theodore and John: Some Differences and Conclusions

Conclusion
Appendix 1: Greek Text and English Translation of ‘On Heresies 100’
Appendix 2: Potential Qurʾanic References in ‘On Heresies 100’
Bibliography
Index

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Russian Orthodox Church and the United Nations

In grade 7, I won the school debating championship and went on to the regional finals. Again in gr. 9 I lead the team; and on both occasions we were pretending to be members of the UN Security Council debating the merits, first, of the US bombings of Libya in 1985; and then whatever was in the news two years later. As children of late modernity, we thought we were just debating international politics and doing so with a kind of strategic ruthlessness; but what became obvious to me was that each position also made certain moral claims as to what was the best thing to do in circumstances of international terrorism. It would, however, take me many more years to be able to see--thanks to both Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory--how successfully and how often modernity's moral judgments are disguised, and how artificial its distinctions between the undefined "religious" vis-a-vis the political and the moral.

These thoughts came to mind in coming across a recent book by Ann Stensvold, Religion, State and the United Nations: Value Politics (Routledge, 2016), 200pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This volume approaches the UN as a laboratory of religio-political value politics. Over the last two decades religion has acquired increasing influence in international politics, and religious violence and terrorism has attracted much scholarly attention. But there is another parallel development which has gone largely unnoticed, namely the increasing political impact of peaceful religious actors.
With several religious actors in one place and interacting under the same conditions, the UN is as a multi-religious society writ small. The contributors to this book analyse the most influential religious actors at the UN (including The Roman Catholic Church; The Organisation of Islamic Countries; the Russian Orthodox Church). Mapping the peaceful political engagements of religious actors; who they are and how they collaborate with each other - whether on an ad hoc basis or by forming more permanent networks - throwing light at the modus operandi of religious actors at the UN; their strategies and motivations. The chapters are closely interrelated through the shared focus on the UN and common theoretical perspectives, and pursue two intertwined aspects of religious value politics, namely the whys and hows of cross-religious cooperation on the one hand, and the interaction between religious actors and states on the other.
Drawing together a broad range of experts on religious actors, this work will be of great interest to students and scholars of Religion and Politics, International Relations and the UN.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Transgenerational Trauma in Armenia

Over the last three years, as I have been reading (and re-reading) in a lot of the literature around historical memory, and the psychoanalysis of trauma, it has become clear that an emerging theme in both bodies of literature is an awareness of how trauma does not die when those who endured it do. It can often live on unconsciously in subsequent generations. Several of the articles of scholarly clinicians such as Jeffrey Prager have been helpful to me here; and so too several articles and books of Vamik Volkan have also been very illuminating.

In this light, then, it should not surprise us that while all those who would have experienced the Armenian Genocide first-hand are now dead, that event lives on in the descendants of those who survived the horrors of 1915. A new book takes us into this world: The Transgenerational Consequences of the Armenian Genocide: Near the Foot of Mount Ararat by Anthonie Holslag (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 287pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book brings together the Armenian Genocide process and its transgenerational outcome, which are often juxtaposed in existing scholarship, to ask how the Armenian Genocide is conceptualized and placed within diasporic communities. Taking a dual approach to answer this question, Anthonie Holslag studies the cultural expression of violence during the genocidal process itself, and in the aftermath for the victims. By using this approach, this book allows us to see comparatively how genocide in diasporic communities in the Netherlands, London and the US is encapsulated in an historic narrative. It paints a picture of the complexity of genocidal violence itself, but also in its transgenerational and non-spatial consequences, raising new questions of how violence can be perpetuated or interlocked with the discourse and narratives of the victims, and how the violence can be relived.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Recommendations 2017

Somewhere or other Churchill reports (or someone around him reported--perhaps Jock Colville's diaries, which I am re-reading just now?) that during the war his nightly ritual consisted of what Catholics might call an examination of conscience: he interrogated himself before going to sleep, he said, to ask what concrete good he had done that day to advance the Allied cause towards victory: "Action this day" was his motto, which he had printed on bright red stickers he used to affix to memos he sent all over the place to a variety of people.

Stock-taking towards the year's end is not a bad exercise on a larger scale, and I find it helpful to look back at what has been read in the preceding months. To that end, and to aid readers in discovering books they may have missed, or books they may wish to order as gifts for friends and family, I offer the following look back at some of the books discussed on here since January. (For Christmas lists from years past, see here, here, here, and here.)

Patristics: This year, I drew attention to a number of new books in Patristics, including a work Against Marcellus. Oxford University Press brought out a Handbook on Maximus in paperback. (Maximus has been a "growth industry" for some time, as a look back here will show.) I also noted new works on Irenaeus, and a Kindle edition of a book published about Climacus 

Ecclesiology: I have not yet read Ashley Purpura's new study on hierarchy and power in Byzantine theologies, but I am very much looking forward to doing so.

On a similar theme, see a new book on Constantine and state power.

I reviewed a new collection devoted to the ecclesiology of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, a fascinating woman whose life is nicely told in this biography.

I remain haunted by Francis Oakley's study of conciliarism, which I commend to your interest. This year also saw the publication of a new book devoted to other forms of conciliarism.

Liturgy: A few weeks ago I drew attention to the work of the historian Robert Taft, whose life is drawing to a close. At the link you will find discussion of some of the many influential works Taft authored over the last half-century.

Russian Orthodoxy: It has long been obvious to me that the Russian Church enviously copies the Roman Church in not a few areas, including, recently, in racing to up the number of new saints, as you may read in this new book about new Russian saints and memories.

Other works noted this year include one on aseticism at the sunset of the Romanov empire. In the final years of that empire, Russia engaged in a disastrous war with Japan during which the role of the Church was significant but overlooked until now.

But all was not decline: see a new book about Russian Orthodox revivals from the revolution to end of WWII.

In a time of decline and confusion, new notions of national identity began to arise, as Serhii Plokhi's new book, Lost Kingdom, reveals.

This year we saw attention being drawn to two very influential Russian thinkers: to Pavel Florensky's early writings; and to the life of Vladimir Lossky

Russian Revolution: Amidst the avalanche of publications on the centenary of the revolution, I drew brief attention to a biography of Trotsky, noting also other studies of Stalin, and others. One of the poisoned fruits of the revolution has come in for reexamination: the Great Terror revisited. Additionally, see here for some interesting studies of the theological roots of the revolution.

Papal History: T.A. Howard's very fine new book, The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age was discussed in three parts, beginning here. Any Catholic on your Christmas list, any historian, or anyone interested in questions of historiography and authority, as well as intellectual history more generally, will find this a rich study.

There's more than one pope in the world, of course, and the Coptic holder of that title occupies an office with a long and distinguished history, some of which is told in a three-volume series newly available in paperback.

For more on Coptic monastic history, see here.

Historical Memory and Forgetting: These are themes I have been discussing on here for more than two years. This year several new works were noted here. I also mentioned a recent collection devoted to theologies of retrieval.

Spirituality and Sacramentality: The Oxford University Press collection on sacraments, in which I wrote the chapter on orders, is coming out in an affordable paperback. I've taught courses on sacraments for years, and I think I am as unbiased as possible in saying that this really is the best book available for undergraduates and even beginning graduate students.

An interesting new study on the role of artistic askesis was noted here.

The great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann's "lost" work on the liturgy of death was noted here.

Finally, see this new book on the poetry of Romanus the Melodist regarding the Theotokos.

Author Interviews: One of the real delights of running this blog is the ability to interview authors of new works. This year I was able to do four of those, with a reposting (for reasons noted at the link) of an interview previously done with John P. Manoussakis.

I interviewed my friend Nick Denysenko  to talk about his book, Theology and Form: Contemporary Orthodox Architecture in America, which is a fascinating work very winsomely written.

Cyril Hovorun's new book on ecclesial structures is the best book in ecclesiology to come out in the last five years, and I will be returning to it again in the new year. In the meantime, if you can overlook its dozens of typos, it will be very much worth your time. It deserves a wide audience among Catholics and Orthodox alike.

It is always a real delight to talk to my friend Michael Plekon, as I did again this spring about his new book on sacramentality, which Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox friends will all find edifying. Now that he has retired from more than forty years teaching at CUNY, I hope we can yet expect further books and articles from him, especially of the nature and calibre of Saints as They Really Are, which several of my students have found invaluable.

Finally, I would draw attention to A.E. Siecienski on the papacy. I have not paid nearly enough attention to that book this year, and hope to remedy that soon. In the meantime, it is quite simply a superlative work of history which I most heartily commend to all who are interested.

Social Teachings:
Tempting though it often is for too many bourgeois Christians especially to reduce the tradition to one of puritanism and moral scrupulosity, the social teaching of Christianity remains a stinging rebuke to the world today, and to much of the Church today, too, alas. Several new books remind us of this rebuke, including one on hoarding and saving. See also David Bentley Hart and Alasdair MacIntyre on Christianity and communism. Finally, see this long overdue and very valuable attempt at defining the common good.

Psychoanalysis: Though many continue to proudly to trumpet their illiteracy and ignorance by sneering whenever Freud or psychoanalysis is mentioned, I remain a resolute defender of both, and spent no little time on here this year continuing to engage the tradition Freud founded, as you can see, inter alia, here. Thus I spent a good bit of time on a welcome new book devoted to the pioneering work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto: Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, which I reviewed in 3 parts.

I also noted a slender new study trying to look at world conflicts through analytic eyes.

The incomparable Adam Phillips and his apophaticism was discussed on here; see elsewhere my article on him and the Christian East; and see my thoughts on his book about unforbidden pleasures.

One country figured more than just about any others in his patients and imagination: thus it makes sense to welcome a new book on the Russian Freud.

Finally see some writings on Marx and Freud.


Lesser known Eastern Churches: This year, as I noted, we happily saw the publication of a number of new books about the Orthodox Christians of Ethiopia; see also here.

There were also new books about Chaldean Catholics; about Christians in Iraq; and about the Assyrian Church of the East.

Orthodoxy and the Academy: A hefty new collection, featuring a wide variety of articles, all devoted to the status and workings of Orthodox in the academy today was given considerable time on here as the year opened.

Moral theology: Amidst the controversy in the Catholic world occasioned by discussions of marriage and re-marriage, and the controversies more generally swirling around Pope Francis, I took the liberty of drawing attention to a book I first read more than twenty years ago now, which is perhaps even more important than ever in offering--entirely unintentionally--some crucial insights into how this Jesuit pope operates. Thus I commended, and commend, to your attention, Jonsen and Toulmin's book on the history of casuistry.

Once more, I drew attention to Alasdair MacIntyre, but this time to his stunning new book on ethics and desire in modernity.

Byzantium: Interest in all things Byzantine remains high. I noted only a few of the books published under this broad, well, canopy, this year.

When it appears next year, Daniel Galadza's book on liturgical Byzantinization will be a real landmark.

I've spent no little time on the Crusades in the past few years. One new book, devoted to Byzantine history up to the First Crusade was noted here.

See also recent studies about Leontinus of Byzantium; and about Byzantine architecture and aurality.

Finally, see a new book devoted to Byzantium's capital city.

Ottoman History and Eastern Christian Encounters with Islam: Gorgias Press, whose lists of titles devoted to the East are incomparably vast, published a welcome study devoted to Syrians under the Ottomans.

Plagued though we are today by questions of identity, they are not unique to us. A new study detailed such a search for identity in the early Ottoman period.

Turkish denials of Armenian genocide continue, as do studies of the same.

Finally, see this welcome collection on Orthodoxy and Islam in Greece and Turkey.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Indian Christian Traditions

Fortress Press recently sent me their fall catalogue and in it I spy three works focusing on the resplendently diverse Eastern and other Christian traditions in India and more broadly in southern Asia.

First up, published last month, is a new book by Roger Hedlund, Christianity Made in India: From Apostle Thomas to Mother Teresa (Fortress, 2017), 230pp.

The blurb from the publisher tells us the following:
Christianity Made in India: From Apostle Thomas to Mother Teresa discusses the indigenization of Christianity in the Indian context. It is set in the larger context of the exceptional growth of the church in the non-Western world during the twentieth century, which has been characterized by a diversity of localized cultural expressions. It recognizes that the center of Christian influence numerically and theologically is shifting wouthward to Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Increasingly, it is found in nontraditional (non-Catholic, non-Protestant, non-Syrian) churches of indigenous-independent variety, frequently charismatic, not necessarily Pentecostal, but of substantial evangelical and cultural diversity. Predominantly, it is a church of the poor. It affirms the reality that wherever the gospel goes, it takes root in the local culture.
Also published in October is D. Perman Niles' new book, Is God Christian?: Christian Identity in Public Theology: An Asian Contribution (Fortress, 2017), 216pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
Is God Christian? Christian Identity in Public Theology: An Asian Contribution is a sequel to Niles's previous book, The Lotus and the Sun: Asian Theological Engagement with Plurality and Power, and continues the narrative of the social biography of Asian theology. It enters the theological efforts of the author's generation as a collective enterprise to survey methods that in the arena of public theology confront and reject the assertion that God is Christian or there is a Christian god among other gods. The focus is on the issues and questions that affect the people and societies of Asia. The theology envisaged here is not the kind that will confine itself within the Christian community but one that will have an import for the actors in public life. Asian Public Theology will be one that will be inherently interreligious in nature. Accordingly, the theological methods explored in this book are not concerned narrowly with problems in Christian theology, but rather with challenges posed for Christian theology in the wider arena of social and political life in Asia.
The last book draws our attention to a prominent Indian Orthodox hierarch about whom I was already hearing many glowing things when I was involved in the World Council of Churches in the 1990s and he was still alive. I was in Canberra in early 1991 for the seventh general assembly of the WCC, when Paulos Mar Gregorios was one of the WCC's presidents, and I recall his sailing serenely around the assembly with a lovely smile and avuncular air.

He died in 1996, but since then interest in his work and influence has held steady. The author himself of noted works, including Cosmic Man - The Divine Presence: The Theology of St. Gregory of Nyssa, he also edited a collection of important essays that were republished just this year: Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy.

Now, this month, under the editorship of K.M. George, Paulos Mar Gregorios: A Reader has just been published by Fortress (368pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Paulos Mar Greogorios: A Reader is a compilation of the selected writings of Paulos Mar Gregorios, a metropolitan of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India and a former President of the World Council of Churches. The book deals with his thought in the areas of ecumenism, orthodox theology, philosophy, interfaith dialogue, and philosophy of science. The book will be of special value to the students of ecumenism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, Indian philosophy, interdisciplinary studies, and holistic education.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Book You Must Order for Every Western Christian this Christmas

Over at Catholic World Report, you can read my review of Sr. Jeana Visel's splendid new book, which I have noted on here in the past: Icons in the Western Church: Toward a More Sacramental Encounter (Liturgical Press, 2016).

As I note, it's a short, accessible book, steeped in the best contemporary scholarship, and dealing, in a discerning and pastorally sensitive way, with the challenges facing the Western Church as she tries to overcome decades upon decades of iconoclasm.

It is the book you should buy for every Roman Catholic and even many Protestant Christians you know to have an interest in icons. And then buy copies for your pastor, bishop, and chancery.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Icons: the Essential Collection

As I have often noted on here over the years, icons have never been more popular than they are today, with workshops regularly filling in churches of all traditions as people are eager to learn not just about icons, but how to paint them themselves.

Released last fall is a little book that deserves attention for making an introduction to icons very affordable: Faith Riccio, Icons: The Essential Collection (Paraclete Press, 2016), 128pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This lovely little gift book about approaching and praying with icons everyday has over 60 full color images of Sr. Faith's icons, each paired with a scripture and an inspirational word. Experience how these beautiful icons help us live a good life, what they have to offer, what they did for Sr. Faith, and what they can do for you. Icons are an invitation to go beyond our world; to take a moment to look as through a window into heaven. The space they create gives us a wonderful and open access to reach out toward God and know him deeply in a new way. They are meant to enrich our spiritual lives. They were created to touch and form us and have an ability to soothe and confront where necessary. They provide a place to gather our wandering attention and direct it toward God.

Friday, November 24, 2017

On the Problems of Biography: Freud Reconsidered

I am at work on two recent books that are both, in part, biographical studies but also studies that grapple with the problems of biography and how to interpret an author's life in light of his works. The first is--it will not surprise you--by the incomparably compelling Adam Phillips (about whom see here): Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (Yale UP, 2016), 192pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Becoming Freud is the story of the young Freud—Freud up until the age of fifty—that incorporates all of Freud’s many misgivings about the art of biography. Freud invented a psychological treatment that involved the telling and revising of life stories, but he was himself skeptical of the writing of such stories. In this biography, Adam Phillips, whom the New Yorker calls “Britain’s foremost psychoanalytical writer,” emphasizes the largely and inevitably undocumented story of Freud’s earliest years as the oldest—and favored—son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and suggests that the psychoanalysis Freud invented was, among many other things, a psychology of the immigrant—increasingly, of course, everybody’s status in the modern world.
Psychoanalysis was also Freud’s way of coming to terms with the fate of the Jews in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So as well as incorporating the writings of Freud and his contemporaries, Becoming Freud also uses the work of historians of the Jews in Europe in this significant period in their lives, a period of unprecedented political freedom and mounting persecution. Phillips concludes by speculating what psychoanalysis might have become if Freud had died in 1906, before the emergence of a psychoanalytic movement over which he had to preside.
Biographies of Freud are not wanting, beginning with the three-volume and largely apologetic endeavor of one of Freud's close early associates, Ernest Jones (about whom see here).

A more recent attempt, by the widely respected historian Peter Gay, was published to great acclaim in 1988 as Freud: A Life for Our Time. I read it shortly after it came out when I was an undergraduate student in psychology, and it is a fine study, though not (as Paul Roazen showed) without some residual tendencies towards an apologetic treatment of Freud that he didn't need.

Phillips' study is a unique one, now joined by another one from Todd Dufresne (who studied under Roazen): The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life (Cambridge UP, 2017), 322pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Freud is best remembered for two applied works on society, The Future of an Illusion and Civilization and its Discontents. Yet the works of the final period are routinely denigrated as merely supplemental to the earlier, more fundamental 'discoveries' of the unconscious and dream interpretation. In fact, the 'cultural Freud' is sometimes considered an embarrassment to psychoanalysis. Dufresne argues that the late Freud, as brilliant as ever, was actually revealing the true meaning of his life's work. And so while The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and his final work Moses and Monotheism may be embarrassing to some, they validate beliefs that Freud always held - including the psychobiology that provides the missing link between the individual psychology of the early period and the psychoanalysis of culture of the final period. The result is a lively, balanced, and scholarly defense of the late Freud that doubles as a major reassessment of psychoanalysis of interest to all readers of Freud.
This latter study, I must confess, has challenged my own approach to Freud's late works, which I have heavily discounted. I'm still rethinking this issue as I make my way through this book.

But, having finished Phillips first, let me turn to it. It is a slender volume and the writing is much more taut than one finds in a lot of his other books, whose characteristically discursive style I noted here. It is interesting to read Phillips alongside Dufresne because Phillips gives pride of place to the early works, where as Dufresne weights the very last works the same as the earliest.

Phillips repeatedly makes the argument in  Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst that if Freud had died in 1906 then psychoanalysis would have developed very differently, and far less ideologically, without a prescribed history and an apparently inviolable canon of sacred texts, rituals, and rules.

The early Freud, that is up to his turning 50 in 1906, wrote books that evidence a much freer spirit: "Freud in his forties was a younger man than he had ever been: less cautious and more boldly and brashly speculative. And the writings of this period have a corresponding sense of exhilaration and possibility" (145). Of those writings, Phillips singles out five, starting with the landmark The Interpretation of Dreams (1899/1900).

The book on dreams was quickly followed by The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).

These books, Phillips says, show more openness to engaging with others--artists, feminists, socialists, among them--though he notes several times Freud's total lack of interest in engaging politics, which he preferred to ignore almost at the cost of his life. Even as late as 1938 he thought that the Nazis were still not a serious threat, and that the Catholic Church was more of an enemy to him as both a Jew and an analyst.

That view is one that is quite understandable in the world Freud grew up in, born in Freiberg in Moravia, then part of the Habsburg Empire, before moving to the imperial capital of Vienna, where he would remain until the last 18 months of his life before being forced to flee to England to "die in freedom."

But with Phillips I tend to see in the early Freud not the hardened hostility to Christianity that would emerge in 1927's Future of an Illusion but, as he says in his concluding line to Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalysta man working with ideas and methods "for those eccentrics and dreamers who don't know what to make of themselves."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ultramontanism and Vatican I

The relative neglect of Vatican I by modern anglophone scholars has long amazed me--though the fact this council is so overwhelmingly outnumbered by books on Vatican II surprises nobody. Nevertheless, Vatican I remains the most revolutionary council in modern history in many ways. Apart from Margaret O'Gara's 1988 book Triumph in Defeat: Infallibility, Vatican I, and the French Minority Bishops, and more recently Richard Costigan's important The Consensus of the Church and Papal Infallibility: a Study in the Background of Vatican I, one finds very few serious studies (in English at least) on this most problematic of councils.

That gap, however, is soon to be happily filled by two books from very important and respected authors who are no strangers to the topic at all. The first comes from John Quinn, the retired Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco who, ten years ago now, authored a very useful and challenging book, The Reform of the Papacy: the Costly Call to Christian Unity.

Quinn returns to the topic in a new book, just released: Revered and Reviled: A Reexamination of Vatican Council I (Crossroad, 2017),128pp. I've just received it in the mail this month and, it being a short book covering much familiar territory, read it in a day. I will have more to say about it on here later.

About this newest book of his, the publisher tells us:
Revered and Reviled explores the ways that Vatican Council I influenced the important issues of papal primacy and the infallible teaching magisterium of the Pope. The book clarifies and corrects many misunderstood concepts and conclusions about the first Council. Although this is, first and foremost, a church history, it is written with the educated lay reader in mind. Vatican Council I laid the groundwork for critical issues relating to the Pope's power, especially the subjects of papal primacy and infallibility. The Council's conclusion remain important today, as Pope Francis looks toward synodality as the way of the Catholic Church. In essence, Revered and Reviled is hugely important because it is the first book to correct long-held misconceptions that have guided the philosophical position of the Catholic church for the last 145 years. With broad distribution, it should impact Catholic scholars, theologians and the faithful around the world.
The second book to treat Vatican I will be appearing from Harvard University Press next May, authored by the well-known and widely respected Jesuit historian John O'Malley:Vatican IThe Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church.

O'Malley's book is greatly to be welcomed. We brought him to the University of Saint Francis about five years ago, and I had the happy task of picking him up from the airport in Indianapolis. I volunteered to do this so that I could have two uninterrupted hours with him talking about the papacy (about which I have had a few things to say), time which was greatly enjoyable and edifying, not least for our discussion of how 1940s Vatican bureaucrats cleaned up the columns of "anti-popes" in the Annuario Pontificio, which should surprise nobody who has read Francis Oakley's deeply disturbing book The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church 1300-1870.

O'Malley, a widely published and respected historian, has written books on, inter alia, the councils of Trent and Vatican II, both of which are fascinating.

And now, in the midst of heated debates over papal authority under Francis, we have his newest book forthcoming, about which the publisher tells us:

The enduring influence of the Catholic Church has many sources—its spiritual and intellectual appeal, missionary achievements, wealth, diplomatic effectiveness, and stable hierarchy. But in the first half of the nineteenth century, the foundations upon which the church had rested for centuries were shaken. In the eyes of many thoughtful people, liberalism in the guise of liberty, equality, and fraternity was the quintessence of the evils that shook those foundations. At the Vatican Council of 1869–1870, the church made a dramatic effort to set things right by defining the doctrine of papal infallibility.
In Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church, John W. O’Malley draws us into the bitter controversies over papal infallibility that at one point seemed destined to rend the church in two. Archbishop Henry Manning was the principal driving force for the definition, and Lord Acton was his brilliant counterpart on the other side. But they shrink in significance alongside Pope Pius IX, whose zeal for the definition was so notable that it raised questions about the very legitimacy of the council. Entering the fray were politicians such as Gladstone and Bismarck. The growing tension in the council played out within the larger drama of the seizure of the Papal States by Italian forces and its seemingly inevitable consequence, the conquest of Rome itself.
Largely as a result of the council and its aftermath, the Catholic Church became more pope-centered than ever before. In the terminology of the period, it became ultramontane.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Wounded by Love

Earlier this month  I drew attention to another book published by Denise Harvey Publishers, a book that came back to mind in a conversation with Fr John Jillions. We were together at the Eleanor Malburg Eastern Churches Seminar in Cleveland in October, and in the course of his presentation he mentioned--having lived in Greece for part of the time he was doing his doctorate at Thessaloniki--this book as being one of the most spiritually profound works he has read: Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios (2012), 268pp.

About this book the publisher (who gives some excerpts here) tells us:
Saint Porphyrios, a Greek monk and priest who died in 1991, stands in the long tradition of charismatic spiritual guides in the Eastern Church which continues from the apostolic age down to figures such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Staretz Silouan in modern times. In this book he tells the story of his life and, in simple, deeply reflected and profoundly wise words, he expounds the Christian faith for today.
The vibrant personality of Saint Porphyrios at all times shines through his words with great transparency and charm. In his introduction to the Greek edition Bishop Irenaeus of Chania writes: 'The words of blessed Elder Porphyrios are the words of a holy Father, of a man with the gift of clear sight, who was ever retiring, humble, simple and ardent and whose life was a true and authentic witness to Christ, to His truth and to His joy. Through his presence, love, prayer, counsel and guidance he supported an untold number of people in the difficult hours of illness, mourning, pain, loss of faith and death. He is a god-bearing Father of our days, a true priest and teacher who in his ascetic way fell in love with Christ and faithfully served his fellow man.'
This book was compiled after Saint Porphyrios's death from an archive of notes and recordings of his reminiscences, conversations and words of guidance, and was first published in Greek in 2003. Since its publication in English in 2005 it has been reprinted seven times, most recently in 2015.
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