"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, July 31, 2015

The Legacy of Evagrius

As I have noted before, there remains a debate about the supposed "heterodoxy" of Evagrius, about whom a steady stream of books has been published in the last fifteen years. I am of the view that such doubts and debates have now been concluded in favor of Evagrius thanks to the landmark work of Augustine Casiday, whom I interviewed here.

But those debates do not seem to be over, and a new book edited by an important Catholic patristic scholar, Robin Darling Young, together with Joel Kalvesmaki, will bring us further insights from them and other scholars, including Gregory Collins, Brian E. Daley, Luke Dysinger, Julia Konstantinovsky, Columba Stewart, and others: Evagrius and His Legacy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 376pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

Evagrius of Pontus (ca. 345-399) was a Greek-speaking monastic thinker and Christian theologian whose works formed the basis for much later reflection on monastic practice and thought in the Christian Near East, in Byzantium, and in the Latin West. His innovative collections of short chapters meant for meditation, scriptural commentaries in the form of scholia, extended discourses, and letters were widely translated and copied. Condemned posthumously by two ecumenical councils as a heretic along with Origen and Didymus of Alexandria, he was revered among Christians to the east of the Byzantine Empire, in Syria and Armenia, while only some of his writings endured in the Latin and Greek churches. 
A student of the famed bishop-theologians Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, Evagrius left the service of the urban church and settled in an Egyptian monastic compound.  His teachers were veteran monks schooled in the tradition of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Anthony, and he enriched their legacy with the experience of the desert and with insight drawn from the entire Greek philosophical tradition, from Plato and Aristotle through Iamblichus.
Evagrius and His Legacy brings together essays by eminent scholars who explore selected aspects of Evagrius’s life and times and address his far-flung and controversial but long-lasting influence on Latin, Byzantine, and Syriac cultures in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Touching on points relevant to theology, philosophy, history, patristics, literary studies, and manuscript studies, Evagrius and His Legacy is also intended to catalyze further study of Evagrius within as large a context as possible.
"The scholarship on Evagrius Ponticus has seen a veritable explosion in the last ten to fifteen years. Now recognized as a major fourth-century intellectual figure, Evagrius and his role within contemporary networks continue to be reassessed. Evagrius and His Legacy is a valuable contribution to that effort; focused and excellently structured, this splendid volume represents the state of the art of Evagrian scholarship while leading the way toward further inquiry." —Susanna Elm, professor of history and classics, University of California, Berkeley

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Did the Fathers Dream About?

Freud, of course, called dreams the "royal road to the unconscious." But long before Freud, the capacity of dreams to reveal important messages was known by Jews and Christians as seen by the number of dreams of significance that show up in the Bible. Biblical dreams have been studied by scholars, but analysis of the uses of dreams and visions in post-biblical and especially patristic literature has tended to be piecemeal. But now we have a book-length study recently released:

Jesse Keskiaho, Dreams and Visions in the Early Middle Ages: The Reception and Use of Patristic Ideas, 400-900 (Cambridge, 2015), 240pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Dreams and visions played important roles in the Christian cultures of the early middle ages. But not only did tradition and authoritative texts teach that some dreams were divine: some also pointed out that this was not always the case. Exploring a broad range of narrative sources and manuscripts, Jesse Keskiaho investigates how the teachings of Augustine of Hippo and Pope Gregory the Great on dreams and visions were read and used in different contexts. Keskiaho argues that the early medieval processes of reception in a sense created patristic opinion about dreams and visions, resulting in a set of authoritative ideas that could be used both to defend and to question reports of individual visionary experiences. This book is a major contribution to discussions about the intellectual place of dreams and visions in the early middle ages, and underlines the creative nature of early medieval engagement with authoritative texts.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Does Heaven Smell Better than Hell?

I remember once attending a very spikey (did only Canadian Anglicans use that odd term to describe the highest of high-church Anglo-Catholic liturgics?) Evensong and Benediction presided over by the local bishop who said of St. Barnabas in Ottawa and its lavish use of incense "At least here you know you are in a church thanks to the smell," a reference, I thought, to the often indistinguishable modern, purpose-built churches of cinder block that look like some hideous hybrid between an office block and a Soviet hydro station, lacking any distinguishing signs or smells of divine worship. (Speaking of which, as a would-be collector of incense, I found this website has fantastically fast service and a wonderfully wide collection of some really delightful and outstanding incense.)

The role of smell has fascinated me for a long time. In the 1990s I did extensive traveling (five of seven continents, as it turned out) and I remember being on an ecumenical trip thousands of miles from home and going for an evening stroll with some of my colleagues. Some smell or other in the wind instantly transported me back home and evoked still-sore memories of a girl I had then been dating until recently.

Why does the olfactory sense have such power? That question came up in a book whose hardback version has been out for nearly a decade, and was very favorably reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. Now the University of California Press tells me a more affordable paperback version is forthcoming this September of a fascinating book from the Orthodox scholar Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination (U Cal Press, 2015), 448pp.

About this book we are told:

This book explores the role of bodily, sensory experience in early Christianity (first – seventh centuries AD) by focusing on the importance of smell in ancient Mediterranean culture. Following its legalization in the fourth century Roman Empire, Christianity cultivated a dramatically flourishing devotional piety, in which the bodily senses were utilized as crucial instruments of human-divine interaction. Rich olfactory practices developed as part of this shift, with lavish uses of incense, holy oils, and other sacred scents. At the same time, Christians showed profound interest in what smells could mean. How could the experience of smell be construed in revelatory terms? What specifically could it convey? How and what could be known through smell? Scenting Salvation argues that ancient Christians used olfactory experience for purposes of a distinctive religious epistemology: formulating knowledge of the divine in order to yield, in turn, a particular human identity.

Using a wide array of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources, Susan Ashbrook Harvey examines the ancient understanding of smell through religious rituals, liturgical practices, mystagogical commentaries, literary imagery, homiletic conventions; scientific, medical, and cosmological models; ascetic disciplines, theological discourse, and eschatological expectations. In the process, she argues for a richer appreciation of ancient notions of embodiment, and of the roles the body might serve in religion.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through

The Greek Orthodox scholar and priest John Panteleimon Manoussakis, whom I interviewed here about his recent splendid book, posted something to Facebook recently about a book I had not read, but which he was finding profitable: Marcus Pound, Theology, Psychoanalysis and Trauma (SCM Press London: 2007), 210pp.

Psychoanalytic thought is not entirely foreign to Eastern Christianity, though scholarly efforts to study and integrate it are not nearly as frequent or far advanced as for psychoanalysis and Western Christianity, not least in Jungian terms. I noted here a recent scholarly monograph, and gave some fuller thoughts here to the uses and abuses of Freud.

About this book by Pound the publisher tells us:
Marcus Pound's book develops a specifically theological form of psychotherapy rooted in liturgy and arising from engagement with postmodern psychoanalysis. Jacques Lacans claim that the unconscious is structured like a language radically challenged psychoanalysis and Pound uses this as the basis for his work in this volume. Postmodern psychoanalysis has been anticipated by theology, and Pound goes further in this claim to argue there has been a return to theology in psychoanalysis.
I returned to Freud this year in writing my lecture for last month's OTSA conference at Fordham, where I took up the uses and abuses of "forgetting" in various forms as an integral part of how Christian tradition develops, not least in the history of Catholic-Orthodox estrangement and reconciliation. As I think we have all learned by now thanks to him and modern psychology, not all forms of forgetting are regrettable, and not all forms of remembering are commendable.

So I went back to Freud, especially his short essays "Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through" as well as "Motivated Forgetting" from The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (The Standard Edition).


I also found two other works very insightful and helpful here, beginning with Paul Ricoeur's  Memory, History, Forgetting. Ricoeur is of course no stranger to Freud, having engaged him for decades, not least in his Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation.

Even more than Ricoeur the work of a contemporary scholar is very suggestive and illuminating: Bradford Vivian of Syracuse University's  Public Forgetting: The Rhetoric and Politics of Beginning Again is an interesting and suggestive work that argues about how, when it comes to such things as cultural conflicts and reconciliation, deliberate forgetting can be as beneficial ritualized remembrance. In witness of this, consider recent debates over what to do with the Confederate flag in the south. The move to have it removed from official public display suggests that culturally many people are understandably prepared to "forget" that history instead of seeking ad perpetuam rei memoriam.

The importance of forgetting remains an important and under-appreciated one for Catholics and Orthodox still struggling to come to terms with our dolorous and divisive past. We remember and repeat, Freud showed, in order to work through--or (as we say today), "move on." Let it be so, and soon. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Performing Orthodox Ritual in Byzantium

Just when I've about despaired of any further point in remaining on Facebook, with its capacity to hoover up huge amounts of time for little to no substantial purpose, along comes someone posting of a new book that had escaped my attention: Andrew Walker White, Performing Orthodox Ritual in Byzantium (Cambridge University Press, 2015), 284pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In this groundbreaking, interdisciplinary study, Andrew Walker White explores the origins of Byzantine ritual - the rites of the early Greek Orthodox Church - and its unique relationship with traditional theatre. Tracing the secularization of pagan theatre, the rise of rhetoric as an alternative to acting, as well as the transmission of ancient methods of musical composition into the Byzantine era, White demonstrates how Christian ritual was in effect a post-theatrical performing art, created by intellectuals who were fully aware of traditional theatre but who endeavoured to avoid it. The book explores how Orthodox rites avoid the aesthetic appreciation associated with secular art, and conducts an in-depth study (and reconstruction) of the late Byzantine Service of the Furnace. Often treated as a liturgical drama, White translates and delineates the features of five extant versions, to show how and why it generated widely diverse audience reactions in both medieval times and our own.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Good Hill to Die On

I taught a mini-class on ecclesiology last week, and we spent a great deal of time on papal history and the papacy in general. My students asked me for references to general works in Church history, including the history of Orthodox-Catholic divisions and relations, and also papal history in particular. Unhesitatingly I recommended to them, inter alia, various works of the Chadwick brothers, including Henry Chadwick's invaluable and magisterial East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church: From Apostolic Times until the Council of Florence (Oxford, 2005).

It's not for the faint of heart, or those without solid background. But for those who have the background, Chadwick's book lays out, in prose so taut and spare as almost to be painful, the disintegration of East-West relations and the long process of estrangement, all of which is treated with great care and even-handedness, offering few rationalizations or comforting places to hide from the painful facts. Though the Guardian obituary for Henry's brother Owen Chadwick says of the latter that he wrote in "short sentences: no modern writer employed so few subordinate clauses. He had a penchant for one-sentence paragraphs. His writing was always crisp and vivid," that could equally be said of Henry in East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church, a book which seems to have been written (or at least edited) by someone with an almost sadistic desire to prune out everything but the most essential points, with no digressions or detail beyond what was judged strictly necessary. I think only a senior scholar could have pulled it off. As I tell my students, especially those fresh out of highschool, it is much harder to write a short essay or book than a long one, and they rarely believe me. But discipline--askesis--if you will is necessary in writing as in life. 

Henry wrote as an Anglican, so in some important ways had no dog in any Catholic-Orthodox fights and could rise above polemics in East and West. He once said of ecumenical scholarship, and the ecumenical movement, that it was a "good cause to die for," and I agree. Henry died in 2008 at the age of 87, after a long and prolific life.

His brother Owen, also a Church of England cleric, theologian, dialogue partner with Orthodoxy on behalf of the Anglican Communion, and historian, lived to be 99, and died last Friday after an equally if not more prolific life as a scholar at the top of his class. He was rightly lauded by his country. Her Majesty made him a member of the Order of Merit, which is within the sole gift of the Sovereign, limited to 24 members, and is thus unique and rare in the British honours system as being free from grubby control by government ministers. (Having said that, I've never understood why the queen sullied so rare a guild by inducting the former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, as sordid, dimwitted, and oleaginous a mediocrity as ever emerged from her senior dominion.)

I have not read many of Chadwick's books, but have scholarly friends who have and they recommend various of them, including his study of the important patristic figure John Cassian.

I can say something more about two that I have read. More than ten years ago now, when I was grappling with the East-West divide over whether in any significant sense one can say that doctrine "develops," as the West, above all in the person of Cardinal Newman, says it can (and as the East sometimes denies), I found Chadwick's book From Bossuet to Newman a very useful history and chronology, studying figures who are sometimes lost in the massive shadow that Newman casts here, as in so much else.

But it is Owen Chadwick's A History of the Popes 1830-1914 (Oxford, 2003) that I have found utterly invaluable over the years. I think he and others--including the other Cambridge historians John Pollard and Eamon Duffy--are right in seeing this period as crucial for the creation of the modern papacy, with all its centralized power, global prominence--and ecumenical difficulty. Chadwick got in first with his study and it remains a landmark work of papal history, not least for Eastern Christians trying to understand how Vatican I came about with its twin problematic definitions of papal infallibility and jurisdiction (about which I have had a thing or two to say).

For such a crucial period of nearly a century, Chadwick's taut and spare style was on display again: the book, though 614pp. long, could easily have been twice that in lesser hands. Moreover, this is not dry-as-dust prose, either. He had, here as elsewhere, a keen eye for an illuminating tale, an amusing anecdote (as the typically winsome obituarist at the Daily Telegraph recognizes), or a juicy bit of gossip that was relevant but not salacious or vicious.

That latter point seems to come out in something lighter, which I only discovered upon reading the obits: I have just ordered his Victorian Miniature, about which the publisher tells us:
Nancy Mitford once observed that some of the most bitter personal clashes of all time have been 'between the Manor and the Vicarage'. Owen Chadwick's Victorian Miniature paints a detailed cameo of nineteenth-century English rural life, in the extraordinary battle of wills between squire and parson in a Norfolk village. Both the evangelical clergyman and the squire, proudly conscious of his Huguenot ancestry, were passionate diarists, and their two journals open up a fascinating double perspective on the events which exposed their clash of personalities. The result is a narrative that is at once deeply informative about Victorian class distinctions, rural customs and festivities, and richly entertaining in a manner worthy of Trollope.
As a fan of Nancy Mitford, and even more of Trollope's Barchester Towers, which I thoroughly enjoyed more than twenty years ago, Chadwick's book sounds like pleasurably diverting reading now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Heroic and Holy Ukrainian Churchmen of the 20th Century

The news that the Vatican dicastery responsible for such matters has been ordered by the pope of Rome to publish a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky is good news indeed, as the Ottawa institute bearing his name explains.

Would it be churlish to remark that such news is grossly overdue, and should never have been held up for decades in Rome in the first place? There are important ecclesiological issues here. More than a decade ago now I asked those involved with the process why the synod of the supposedly sui iuris Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (UGCC) did not simply go ahead with its own process of declaring Sheptytsky a saint (of which I am not in doubt). The argument in favor of handling matters locally only gained strength under the papacy of Benedict XVI, who returned beatifications to the home church of the candidate in question, and was, moreover, on record going back decades in calling for far greater decentralization (of many issues and practices) out of Rome and back to the local and regional structures of the Church. Canonizations were once, of course, very local affairs, and only gradually centralized in Rome for reasons that make rather limited sense today.

There are, moreover, important geopolitical considerations, at least according to John Allen. I think Allen may be making more of this than meets the eye, but let that pass for now.

What of this towering man--both literally and figuratively (he was nearly 7 feet tall)? Who was this "lion of Halychyna"? For those unfamiliar with his life, this recent article, while suffering from the usual infelicities of English (and some confusion about Habsburg geography), is not a bad place to start. The historian Timothy Snyder--who, I recently discovered with some surprise, is apparently a fluent Ukrainian speaker--outlined Sheptytsky's role in rescuing Jews from the Holocaust in this 2009 piece from the New York Review of Books. Snyder is the author of such important and well-received studies as his recent Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and earlier works, including The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–-1999.

For those who want good studies on Sheptytsky, there are, fortunately, several in English by reputable scholars--though, alas, no good book-length biography that I know of, notwithstanding the fact his rich, long, productive life would certainly lend itself to one. Perhaps the estimable church historian and priest Athanasius McVay, author of several recent studies, and author also of this invaluable blog, can be thumb-screwed into writing one if he is not already doing so. I interviewed him here about one of his earlier books; but see here also for others.

Returning for a moment to the question of his role in the Holocaust, see this handsome and moving book recently published by the Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa: Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky and the Ukrainian Jewish Bond. But see even more the memoirs of one Jew whose survival he attributes to Sheptytsky: Kurt Lewin's  A Journey Through Illusions. (A Ukrainian version was apparently published in 2007.) This is a haunting, moving book deserving a wide audience.

For a study of Sheptytsky's liturgical theology, see Peter Galadza's The Theology and Liturgical Work of Andrei Sheptytsky (1865-1944).

For his sophiology, see Andriy Chirovsky's Pray for God's Wisdom: The Mystical Sophiology of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.

For his moral theology, see Andrii Krawchuk's  Christian Social Ethics in Ukraine: The Legacy of Andrei Sheptytsky.

For an early and very short work about his ecumenical activity, see George Perejda's Apostle of Church Unity: The life of the servant of God, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky. But there is in fact a much more recent, much more scholarly, and much more wide-ranging treatment of his ecumenical activity and much else besides in the collection Morality and Reality: The Life and Times of Andrei Sheptyts'kyi. Edited by Paul Robert Magocsi and Krawchuk, with an introduction by the eminent historian Jaroslav Pelikan, this collection is not to be missed.

After his death on 1 November 1944, Sheptytsky was succeeded as primate by the formidable Joseph Slipyj, who was arrested the next year along with the rest of the UGCC hierarchy and sent to the Gulag.

Many other Ukrainian Catholics were simply shot or murdered in other horrifying ways. Some of them were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001. Some of their stories are told in Blessed Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky, C.Ss.R., and Companions Modern Martyrs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church: Modern Martyrs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. I also drew some lessons from this "church of martyrs" in a recent article here.

The story of another martyr is told by Athanasius McVay in God's Martyr, History's Witness.

Slipyj was not killed but spent a brutal 18 years in concentration camps. He would be released in 1963 and exiled to Rome (his "gilded cage" as I was told he called it) for the remaining 21 years of his life, dying just a scant 5 years before the legalization of the UGCC and its emergence from the underground.

Slipyj was the object of a study by the eminent Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan: Confessor Between East and West: A Portrait of Ukrainian Cardinal Josyf Slipyj. This, too, is an invaluable study and nobody with any interest in these matters can afford to be without this study written by Pelikan, who was regarded by many as the doyen of church historians until his death in 2006.

On the thirtieth anniversary of Slipyj's death last September, several publishers brought out English translations of some of his works. One such may be found here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Greek New Testament

Though schoolchildren all over the planet don't think there's enough summer left, there is in fact plenty of time and daylight still in which to begin learning the original language of the New Testament. Many summers ago now, while a grad student, I started studying Greek under John Jillions, the Orthodox priest, scholar, and now chancellor of the OCA. He had done his doctorate at the University of Thessaloniki on the New Testament and thus was ideally skilled as a teacher. As I now tell my students, there is always value in learning another language--and ideally several--but for scholars that value is at least doubled when it comes to languages such as Latin and Greek. Along comes a new course of study from the Jesuit Francis Gignac, An Introductory New Testament Greek Course (CUA Press, 2015), 232pp.
About this book we are told:
New Testament Greek is a form of Koine Greek, the common language that evolved in the time of Alexander the Great from a welter of dialects of classical times. For more than ten centuries. Koine Greek was the ev- eryday commercial and cultural language of the Mediterranean world. It is best-known, though, for being the language in which the New Testament was composed.

Many Christians have the desire to read the New Testament in its original language. Unfortunately, books that introduce the student to New Testament Greek either tend to be long-winded, or overly simplified, or both. In this book, legendary scholar of biblical Greek, the late Frank Gignac provides a straight-forward "just the facts" approach to the subject. In fifteen lessons, he presents the basics of the grammar and the vocabulary essential for reading the Gospels in the original language. All the reader need do is to supply the desire to learn. As Gignac writes, "Good luck as you begin to learn another language! It may be sheer drudgery for a while, but the thrill will come when you begin to read the New Testament in the language in which it was written."

This new edition features a new preface from the author, a foreword from fellow classicist Frank Matera, and an answer guide to the problems presented in the exercises. The book thus can be used for self- study for those who seek to learn the language of the early church.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Erasmus of Rotterdam on Origen of Alexandria

The latest catalogue of the Catholic University of America Press was on my desk after return from holidays in New England. Among the several new books of interest coming out later this year and early next year is a new translation by Thomas P. Scheck of Erasmus's Life of Origen: A New Annotated Translation of the Prefaces to Erasmus of Rotterdam's Edition of Origen's Writings (1536) (CUA Press, 2016),288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) hailed Origen of Alexandria (185-254) as a holy priest, a gifted homilist, a heroic Christian, and a celebrated exegete and theologian of the ancient Church. In this book Thomas Scheck presents one of the fruits of Erasmus's endeavors in the field of patristic studies (a particularly neglected field of scholarshipwithin Erasmus studies) by providing the first English translation, annotated and thoroughly introduced, of Erasmus final work, the Prefaces to his Edition of Origen's writings (1536). Originally published posthumously two months after Erasmus's death, the work surveys Origen of Alexandria's life, writings, preaching, and contribution to the Catholic Church. The staggering depth and breadth of Erasmus's learning are exhibited here, as well as the maturity of his theological reflections, which in many ways anticipate the irenicism of the Second Vatican Council with respect to Origen. Erasmus presents Origen as a marvelous doctor of the ancient Church who made a tremendous contribution to the Catholic exegetical tradition and who lived a saintly life. Scheck's translation of Erasmus's prefaces is prefaced by four substantial chapters of introductory material, outlining Erasmus's program for theological renewal, a survey of Origen's life and works from a modern perspective, a discussion of Origen's legacy in the Church as an exegete and theologian (focusing particularly on Origen's influence on St. Jerome), and the immediate 16th century background of Erasmus's Edition of Origen. These chapters are followed by the translation itself, to which is then appended a lengthy appendix chapter that discusses Erasmus's own legacy in the Catholic Church in the 16th century.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Russian Architecture

Whatever one thinks of the ugliness of the geopolitics and war-making of the current Russian regime, there is no detracting from the often staggering beauty of much of Russian church architecture, liturgy, and iconography. I have many lavishly illustrated coffee-table books about Russian churches and architecture, and many more about Russian iconography--to say nothing of CDs of Russian liturgies, all of which are lovely indeed.

A book just released at the end of last month takes us to the ends of the earth in exploration of some recondite architectural masterpieces: William Craft Brumfield, Architecture at the End of the Earth: Photographing the Russian North (Duke, June 2015), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
Carpeted in boreal forests, dotted with lakes, cut by rivers, and straddling the Arctic Circle, the region surrounding the White Sea, which is known as the Russian North, is sparsely populated and immensely isolated. It is also the home to architectural marvels, as many of the original wooden and brick churches and homes in the region's ancient villages and towns still stand. Featuring nearly two hundred full color photographs of these beautiful centuries-old structures, Architecture at the End of the Earth is the most recent addition to William Craft Brumfield's ongoing project to photographically document all aspects of Russian architecture.

The architectural masterpieces Brumfield photographed are diverse: they range from humble chapels to grand cathedrals, buildings that are either dilapidated or well cared for, and structures repurposed during the Soviet era. Included are onion-domed wooden churches such as the Church of the Dormition, built in 1674 in Varzuga; the massive walled Transfiguration Monastery on Great Solovetsky Island, which dates to the mid-1550s; the Ferapontov-Nativity Monastery's frescoes, painted in 1502 by Dionisy, one of Russia's greatest medieval painters; nineteenth-century log houses, both rustic and ornate; and the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Vologda, which was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 1560s. The text that introduces the photographs outlines the region's significance to Russian history and culture.

Brumfield is challenged by the immense difficulty of accessing the Russian North, and recounts traversing sketchy roads, crossing silt-clogged rivers on barges and ferries, improvising travel arrangements, being delayed by severe snowstorms, and seeing the region from the air aboard the small planes he needs to reach remote areas.

The buildings Brumfield photographed, some of which lie in near ruin, are at constant risk due to local indifference and vandalism, a lack of maintenance funds, clumsy restorations, or changes in local and national priorities. Brumfield is concerned with their futures and hopes that the region's beautiful and vulnerable achievements of master Russian carpenters will be preserved. Architecture at the End of the Earth is at once an art book, a travel guide, and a personal document about the discovery of this bleak but beautiful region of Russia that most readers will see here for the first time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Orthodoxy and Nationalism

I drew attention to this collection edited by Lucian Leustean, Orthodox Christianity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Southeastern Europe, when it was published last year, and it has since then sat accusingly on my desk. I've picked it up several times and started it over the last few months, but always some interruption or other took me away from it. Only this week had a chance to devote some time to it.

Let me say straightaway that anybody with any interest in the vexed question of Orthodoxy and nationalism--as well as the wider religio-political history of southeastern Europe over the last 150 years--cannot be without this book. The introductory chapter, which cogently sets forth an overview of forms and causes of nationalism and various scholarly theories and treatments of it, is itself worth the price of the book.

After that, the book devotes chapters to Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the sunset of the Ottoman Empire and its millet system. The details unearthed considerably complicate conventional portraits about ethno-phyletism, the role of the French Revolution, and much else besides. This is a deeply fascinating book that has been smoothly edited.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Macedonians and Ottomans: Nationalism and Religion

With the centenary last year of the outbreak of the Great War we have, as I've frequently noted, seen a flood of books on not just the war but on antebellum events, empires, and churches, including the long, slow dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of modern Orthodox nation-states in the nineteenth century, usually forcibly carved out of the Ottoman regime. A recent book examines a small but significant region often overlooked: Ipek K. Yosmaoglu, Blood Ties: Religion, Violence and the Politics of Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia, 1878-1908 (Cornell University Press, 2013), 336pp.


About this book we are told:
The region that is today Macedonia was long the heart of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. It was home to a complex mix of peoples and faiths who had for hundreds of years lived together in relative peace. To be sure, these people were no strangers to coercive violence and various forms of depredations visited upon them by bandits and state agents. In the final decades of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, however, the region was periodically racked by bitter conflict that was qualitatively different from previous outbreaks of violence. In Blood Ties, Ipek K. Yosmaoglu explains the origins of this shift from sporadic to systemic and pervasive violence through a social history of the "Macedonian Question."

Yosmaoglu's account begins in the aftermath of the Congress of Berlin (1878), when a potent combination of zero-sum imperialism, nascent nationalism, and modernizing states set in motion the events that directly contributed to the outbreak of World War I and had consequences that reverberate to this day. Focusing on the experience of the inhabitants of Ottoman Macedonia during this period, she shows how communal solidarities broke down, time and space were rationalized, and the immutable form of the nation and national identity replaced polyglot, fluid associations that had formerly defined people’s sense of collective belonging. The region was remapped; populations were counted and relocated. An escalation in symbolic and physical violence followed, and it was through this process that nationalism became an ideology of mass mobilization among the common folk. Yosmaoglu argues that national differentiation was a consequence, and not the cause, of violent conflict in Ottoman Macedonia.

Friday, July 3, 2015

From Rome to Byzantium

A colleague of mine, a medieval historian, recently started teaching a course called "The Dark Ages: Were They All That Dark?" More recent scholarship continues to suggest that we have been too quick not only to label that period "dark" but, more generally, to police past periods in light of present politics in service of today's agendas. A recent book continues in the process of re-evaluating the past rather than blithely assuming it was all darkness and chaos: A.D. Lee, From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome (Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 360pp.

About this book we are told:
Between the deaths of the Emperors Julian (363) and Justinian (565), the Roman Empire underwent momentous changes. Most obviously, control of the west was lost to barbarian groups during the fifth century, and although parts were recovered by Justinian, the empire's centre of gravity shifted irrevocably to the east, with its focal point now the city of Constantinople. Equally important was the increasing dominance of Christianity not only in religious life, but also in politics, society and culture. Doug Lee charts these and other significant developments which contributed to the transformation of ancient Rome and its empire into Byzantium and the early medieval west. By emphasising the resilience of the east during late antiquity and the continuing vitality of urban life and the economy, this volume offers an alternative perspective to the traditional paradigm of decline and fall.

Chrismation and Catholics

Last year I interviewed Nicholas Denysenko about his splendid recent book Chrismation: A Primer for Catholics.

This year it was announced in late June that Nick's book had won second place in the Liturgy category of the annual book awards of the Catholic Press Association. Axios!

Also earlier this year I used the book with my grad students in a class on sacraments, and they found it a challenging, compelling, and cogent study which they all enjoyed and from which they found themselves greatly edified.

So for all these reasons: if you haven't ordered it yet, go ahead and do so!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Greek Language and Culture in Eastern Christianity

I've drawn attention earlier to this welcome series that Ashgate is putting out. It is by no means inexpensive, but certainly every serious institutional library devoted to Eastern Christianity will spare no monies in attaining this complete collection, which continues to appear volume by volume roughly every 12-18 months. The latest installment is edited by a young scholar whom I have interviewed on here before about his other works: Scott Fitzgerald Johnson, ed., Languages and Cultures of Eastern Christianity: Greek (The Worlds of Eastern Christianity, 300–-1500) (Ashgate, 2014), 579pp.

About this collection we are told:
This volume brings together a set of fundamental contributions, many translated into English for this publication, along with an important introduction. Together these explore the role of Greek among Christian communities in the late antique and Byzantine East (late Roman Oriens), specifically in the areas outside of the immediate sway of Constantinople and imperial Asia Minor. The local identities based around indigenous eastern Christian languages (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, etc.) and post-Chalcedonian doctrinal confessions (Miaphysite, Church of the East, Melkite, Maronite) were solidifying precisely as the Byzantine polity in the East was extinguished by the Arab conquests of the seventh century. In this multilayered cultural environment, Greek was a common social touchstone for all of these Christian communities, not only because of the shared Greek heritage of the early Church, but also because of the continued value of Greek theological, hagiographical, and liturgical writings. However, these interactions were dynamic and living, so that the Greek of the medieval Near East was itself transformed by such engagement with eastern Christian literature, appropriating new ideas and new texts into the Byzantine repertoire in the process.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Islamic-Byzantine Frontier

I gave a lecture a few weeks ago on the history of Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East, and noted that those of us who are scholars far from the region are in the happy position (unlike, sadly, many of the Christians themselves in the region) of having an abundance of scholarly resources continuing to pour forth on the topic. Released earlier this year is one more title to add to a growing list: A. Asa Eger, The Islamic-Byzantine Frontier: Interaction and Exchange Among Muslim and Christian Communities (I.B. Tauris, 2015).

About this book we are told:
The retreat of the Byzantine Army from Syria in around 650 CE, in advance of the approaching Arab armies, is one that has resounded emphatically in the works of both Islamic and Christian writers, and created an enduring motif: that of the Islamic-Byzantine frontier. For centuries, Byzantine and Islamic scholars have evocatively sketched a contested border: the annual raids between the two, the line of fortified fortresses defending Islamic lands, the no-man's land in between and the birth of jihad. In their early representations of a Muslim-Christian encounter, accounts of the Islamic-Byzantine frontier are charged with significance for a future 'clash of civilizations' that often envisions a polarised world. A. Asa Eger examines the two aspects of this frontier: its ideological and physical ones. By uniting an exploration of both the real and material frontier and its more ideological military and religious implications, he offers a more complex vision of this dividing line than has been traditionally disseminated. With analysis grounded in archaeological evidence as well the relevant historical and religious texts, Eger brings together a nuanced exploration of this vital element of medieval history.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Bishop of Rome in Antiquity

As I mentioned earlier this month, in drawing attention to George Demacopoulos's forthcoming book on Gregory the Great, scholarship for the last decade and more, especially scholarship committed to overcoming the East-West divide, has been looking at various popes and leaders of the first millennium to see what we may need to re-learn from them today. In the various recent studies I have read, including Susan Wessell's splendid Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome, both East and West have been discovering surprising things not only about the papacy and each other, but also about their own particular traditions in this process. A book released at the end of May promises to continue that process: Geoffrey D. Dunn, ed., The Bishop of Rome in Late Antiquity (Ashgate, 2015), 270pp.

About this book (which contains an essay from the aforementioned Demacopoulos), the publisher tells us:
At various times over the past millennium bishops of Rome have claimed a universal primacy of jurisdiction over all Christians and a superiority over civil authority. Reactions to these claims have shaped the modern world profoundly. Did the Roman bishop make such claims in the millennium prior to that? The essays in this volume from international experts in the field examine the bishop of Rome in late antiquity from the time of Constantine at the start of the fourth century to the death of Gregory the Great at the beginning of the seventh. These were important centuries as Christianity underwent enormous transformation in a time of change. The essays concentrate on how the holders of the office perceived and exercised their episcopal responsibilities and prerogatives within the city or in relation to both civic administration and other churches in other areas, particularly as revealed through the surviving correspondence. With several of the contributors examining the same evidence from different perspectives, this volume canvasses a wide range of opinions about the nature of papal power in the world of late antiquity.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pope Gregory the Great

As I have noted before, much of the last two decades of ecumenical dialogue between East and West has turned its focus to the first millennium, looking for people and models of unity that can potentially guide the way forward today. But that scholarship has unearthed some surprises that discomfit both East and West, making it clear that any romanticized appeal to the first millennium as a golden time of unity is bound to be revealed for the nonsense that it is.

Among those who have been looking at prominent figures of the papacy in the first millennium is the Orthodox scholar George Demacopoulos, translator of The Book of Pastoral Rule: St. Gregory the Great in the Popular Patristics Series of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press and author more recently of The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity which is a fascinating study I have reviewed elsewhere at length. 

In October he will be out with a new study I look forward to reading: Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 240pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Gregory the Great (bishop of Rome from 590 to 604) is one of the most significant figures in the history of Christianity. His theological works framed medieval Christian attitudes toward mysticism, exegesis, and the role of the saints in the life of the church. The scale of Gregory's administrative activity in both the ecclesial and civic affairs of Rome also helped to make possible the formation of the medieval papacy. Gregory disciplined malcontent clerics, negotiated with barbarian rulers, and oversaw the administration of massive estates that employed thousands of workers. Scholars have often been perplexed by the two sides of Gregory—the monkish theologian and the calculating administrator.

George E. Demacopoulos's study is the first to advance the argument that there is a clear connection between the pontiff's thought and his actions. By exploring unique aspects of Gregory's ascetic theology, wherein the summit of Christian perfection is viewed in terms of service to others, Demacopoulos argues that the very aspects of Gregory's theology that made him distinctive were precisely the factors that structured his responses to the practical crises of his day. With a comprehensive understanding of Christian history that resists the customary bifurcation between Christian East and Christian West, Demacopoulos situates Gregory within the broader movements of Christianity and the Roman world that characterize the shift from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages. This fresh reading of Gregory's extensive theological and practical works underscores the novelty and nuance of Gregory as thinker and bishop.
This original and eminently readable interpretation will be required reading for students and scholars of Gregory and sixth-century Christianity, historians of late antiquity, medievalists, ecclesiastical historians, and theologians.
Gregory the Great: Ascetic, Pastor, and First Man of Rome has the potential to be the most important intellectual biography of Pope Gregory I to appear since the publication in 1988 of Carole Straw’s landmark study, Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection. Demacopoulos proposes a new interpretive paradigm by insisting that the ‘problem of the two Gregories’ is not really a problem at all: Gregory’s ascetic and pastoral theology, he argues, informs and structures his administrative practices. This important insight will have significant impact on future research." — Kristina Sessa, Ohio State University.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Endless Russian Revolutions

I have heard it said since at least 2001 that revolutionary, ideological, and imperial ambitions in Russia are never dead. The Revolution may have been nearly a century ago, and the collapse of the poisoned fruit of that revolution nearly a quarter-century ago now, but the hopes of re-founding an empire are eternal. If anyone doubts this, simply look at the annexation of Crimea, the gratuitous and aggressive war against Ukraine, and the other recent machinations of the Putin regime.

A recent history also advances this theme. Written by the colorful and sometimes controversial Orlando Figes (whose book The Crimean War: A History, as I noted several years ago, is just splendid), Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History (Metropolitan Books, 2014, 336pp.) is, as the publisher tells us:

an original reading of the Russian Revolution, examining it not as a single event but as a hundred-year cycle of violence in pursuit of utopian dreams
In this elegant and incisive account, Orlando Figes offers an illuminating new perspective on the Russian Revolution. While other historians have focused their examinations on the cataclysmic years immediately before and after 1917, Figes shows how the revolution, while it changed in form and character, nevertheless retained the same idealistic goals throughout, from its origins in the famine crisis of 1891 until its end with the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991.

Figes traces three generational phases: Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who set the pattern of destruction and renewal until their demise in the terror of the 1930s; the Stalinist generation, promoted from the lower classes, who created the lasting structures of the Soviet regime and consolidated its legitimacy through victory in war; and the generation of 1956, shaped by the revelations of Stalin’s crimes and committed to “making the Revolution work” to remedy economic decline and mass disaffection. Until the very end of the Soviet system, its leaders believed they were carrying out the revolution Lenin had begun.
With the authority and distinctive style that have marked his magisterial histories, Figes delivers an accessible and paradigm-shifting reconsideration of one of the defining events of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pope Francis and Ecology: Late to the Party?

Far be it from me to try to steal some of the thunder of Pope Francis, but he has plenty of thunder to spare and is generous enough not to begrudge such efforts. I will therefore venture to suggest, amidst the increasing media hoopla over his encyclical on ecology--to be released tomorrow--that what he says is almost certainly going to be far from revolutionary or even very original in some respects. (This is as it should be for, as Fr. John Hunwicke rightly and repeatedly says, the job of the pope is to be a remora or a breakwater against innovation.) By that I mean that other Christian leaders, pre-eminent among them the Ecumenical ("Green") Patriarch Bartholomew, have been writing on ecological themes for decades, a fact that seems to have been acknowledged by the pope in having Met. John Zizioulas be one of the people involved with the official presentation of the encyclical on Thursday--and a fact, moreover, acknowledged in the text if the leaked draft's footnotes are anything to go by. Though one should not expect the dim and highly selective cheerleaders in the media to know this history of Eastern Christian theologizing about ecology, I drew attention to such Eastern Christian publications most recently in 2015. For earlier publications, see here but also here in 2014, and in 2011 here. (None of this, nota bene, is to gainsay what the pope will say, which deserves careful and respectful attention.)

In addition, for those seeking practical advice, His All-Holiness Bartholomew has written a preface to Greening the Orthodox Parish: A Handbook for Christian Ecological Practice.

Other Orthodox scholars have written on the topic, including Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God's Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (SVS Press, 2009), 266pp.

The Orthodox scholar John Chryssavgiss has also edited a hefty collection, Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation (Fordham University Press, 2013), 508pp.

Chryssavgiss also authored an informative piece here on how the Ecumenical Patriarch came to be know as the "Green Patriarch." And he edited another important collection: In the World, Yet Not of the World: Social and Global Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Pope Francis, moreover, is not the only pope to write on these issues. Environmental issues began appearing, in their modern form, on the papal radar as far back as Paul VI in the 1960s. Much more recently, the unjustly maligned Pope Benedict XVI also addressed them, and a recent collection of his writings on the topic published by Our Sunday Visitor is very helpful here: The Environment.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Asceticism as Cure for Consumerism: An Interview with Fr. Gregory Jensen

With the impending release this week of the papal encyclical on ecology, attention is once again focused on the social outworkings of the Christian gospel. As I noted recently, it has often been said that Orthodoxy has not developed its social teaching as much as the Catholic Church has. This is not a point of triumphalism but rather a recognition that--as with so many other things--most of Orthodoxy until 1991 was living under tyrannical rule, either Islamic or communist, and thus in no position to make these developments.

But as with so many things in Eastern Christianity in the last quarter-century, we are now happily seeing a stream of books emerge each year to fill in some of the gaps. One such book has just been published. Written by the Orthodox priest-scholar Gregory Jensen, The Cure for Consumerism (154pp.) is the second volume in a new series devoted to Orthodox Christian social thought published by the Acton Institute. I asked him for an interview and here are his thoughts:

AD: Tell us about your background

Let’s see, my wife and I have been married for 30 years and I’ve been a priest for 18. These are probably the two most important things I can tell you about myself not just personally but also as a scholar. Everything I do flows out of my experiences as a husband and a priest.

Professionally, academically, I did my undergraduate work in psychology at the University of Dallas. After graduation I stayed on for an MA in theology (and meet my wife—I had a good year!). My thesis was on ethics in psychotherapy, which got me interested in exploring issues of fundamental anthropology in the social sciences.

In 1995 I received my doctorate from Duquesne University’s Institute of Formative Spirituality where I was able study with the late Fr Adrian van Kaam. Both a Catholic priest and a psychologist, van Kaam was instrumental in establishing a critical—but appreciative and collaborative dialogue—between psychology and Christian spirituality.  

Like many other programs in spiritual formation, IFS was an interdisciplinary program in personality theory, religion and pastoral practices. So on the graduate level, my academic background is in moral theology and personality theory. This allowed me to write a dissertation—that still sits accusingly on my shelf waiting to be reworked for publication—exploring phenomenologically the psycho-social structures and dynamics of communion in Orthodox liturgy (you see why it needs to be re-written!). My published work is in Christian spirituality, psychology, and now economics and property rights.

AD: Tell us what led to the writing of this book in particular

The short answer is that Acton asked me to do so. The slightly longer answer is that The Cure for Consumerism is based on a presentation I did at Acton University, the Acton Institute’s “four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society” (see here for more details). I’m doing the presentation again this year (“East Meets West: Consumerism and Asceticism”). It has been well received not only by the sprinkling of Orthodox at AU (all of whom are my friends) but also by Catholics and evangelical Christians. So Acton saw there was some interest in the project beyond just Orthodox Christians.

There needs to be moral limits on human consumption. Unfortunately, we often equate moral limits with merely curtailing consumption. And to be fair, yes sometimes I need to make do with less--but not always. The moral problem of consumerism is not, however, solved by telling people merely to consume less but rather by helping each other consume in ways that are morally better. Learning how to do this is part and parcel of the ascetical life.

I think the book provides Christians and others of good will with a framework to respond to consumerism in a manner that is both anthropologically and economically sound. Evidently the folks at Acton agreed and so they asked me to write the book.

AD: Your book is vol. 2 in the Orthodox Christian Social Thought Series from the Acton Institute. Do you know what has prompted them to start this imprint rather than, say, a more traditional Orthodox publisher?

I’m not sure why Acton took the path they did. You might want to direct that question to Acton. But as a scholar, I prefer to work in an interdisciplinary environment. That was my doctoral program after all. Being able to have conversations about consumerism with other Orthodox Christians is helpful to be sure but insufficient.  Doing research for the book meant talking with Christians in other traditions, pastors, lay business leaders and other professionals as well as with economists (only some of whom are Christians).

While I’d be happy to do so if asked, I’ve never written for a traditional Orthodox publisher so I can’t speak to what that experience would be like. For me at least, I want to get feedback from a broad range of sober scholarly and pastoral voices. Working with Acton helped me do this and further helped me to write a book that, while clearly Orthodox in its sources and themes, can speak to a broader audience. I’m writing as an Orthodox Christian but for men and women of good willing trying to live out their economic lives in a morally good, and even holy, manner.

AD: The back blurb of your book notes that in all the railing against “consumerism” on the part of churchmen and moralists, one thing is overlooked: a massive drop in poverty worldwide since 1970. Tell us more about this development.

If you take a slightly longer historical view, the decrease in poverty is more dramatic still. Over the last 200 years, the percentage of people living in poverty has fallen while the population has increased dramatically. The economist Max Roser points out that “In a world without economic growth, an increase in the population would result in less and less income for everyone, and a 7-fold increase would have surely resulted in a world in which everyone is extremely poor. Yet, the exact opposite happened. In a time of unprecedented population growth we managed to lift more and more people out of poverty!” 

It is economic growth that lifts people out of poverty. There is a place for foreign aid, and there’s a place for government assistance, but what people need isn’t just compassion but also work. St John Chrysostom says the hand of compassion is extended because work isn’t available (or in some extreme cases, possible). Human beings are made to work. 

For people to acquire gainful, and dignified, work we have to create wealth. We need to do this not only to pay a just wage but also to expand the opportunities men and women have for education and access to health care--to take only two examples.

Unfortunately, many Christians hold what Jeffrey D. Sachs in an op-ed calls an “anti-market sentiment.” Yes, as he says, “Economic growth and poverty reduction can’t be achieved by free markets alone.” We can, and should, argue over the exact mix of public and private expenditures. Whatever the mix, lifting people out of poverty requires “economic growth, and hence a market economy, is vital.”

AD: You begin your book with a story from the Desert Fathers to illustrate the connection between asceticism and economic life, a connection that seems to me often overlooked. Tell us a bit more about how you see that connection.

Consumerism, is not so much a denial of our nature but rather the frustration of our natural desire to experience communion with God, our neighbor, and creation. Asceticism is about forming, reforming, and transforming my consumption so that creation is once again an experience of communion with God and neighbor.

Human beings are by nature consumers and if we weren’t then receiving Holy Communion would be sin. Our Lord says, “take and eat; take and drink.” We are to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and are invited to the “wedding feast of the Lamb.” Again, we are by nature consumers but our consumption must be in harmony with the Divine Will.

But communion is always personal and the ascetical tradition of the Church takes this into account. Yes. there are limits to human consumption (e.g., gluttony, greed, avarice, and sexual immorality of all types are forbidden) but within those limits we have great freedom to form our lives. Ascetical struggle, like the life of communion it serves, is always personal. An ascetical approach to our economic life requires more than a simplistic, and let’s be frank often ideological, call to consume less.  To do so inevitably means that I’m imposing my own ascetical rule on you. So yes, fast, pray, and give alms according to your conscience and circumstances (hence the story of the rich monk and the poor monk with which I begin the book).

AD: You then recount the life of St. Mary of Egypt, by many accounts an “extreme” example of asceticism. How did you see her life as relevant to a book about economics and consumerism? 

Our economic lives, our lives of social involvement, and our spiritual lives are not meant to be separate but to work together in harmony. Communion is also a consonance, a harmony of the different aspects of our life, working together for God’s glory and our own salvation. St Mary of Egypt embodies all of this.

Listening to St Mary’s life every year, I’m often struck by how she didn’t enjoy her sinful life; she takes neither physical pleasure or financial profit. She didn’t prostitute herself for gain but to degrade herself and others. She was, as we hear in the services of the Church, a slave to her passions.

At the very end of her life she is able to free herself by God’s grace from the passions—and I suspect profound sexual traumas of childhood—that enslaved her. Not only does she receive Holy Communion (for only the second time in her life) from Zosimas but also, for friendship’s sake, she has a little taste of the food he brought her. Communion with God, neighbor, and the material world all converge in her and all are the fruit of her ascetical struggle. St Mary makes clear, in very dramatic form, what is true for all of us: that we can live lives that are whole and integrated.

AD: Toward the end of your chapter on Orthodox criticism of the free market, you note that a “systematic treatment” of economic issues from an Orthodox perspective is often elusive, and more “homiletical” than systematic. I’ve often talked to my students about this frustration when it comes to Catholic social teaching, but I present it to them as a feature, not a bug: that is, the OST/CST is designed to be somewhat vague and exhortative so that actual individuals in concrete circumstances can figure out how to implement it in details fitting their contexts. Would you agree?

I would agree that it is a very good thing that both OST and CST avoid making prudential decisions and so avoid imposing solutions without concern for the lives of actual individuals and concrete circumstances. So yes, the homiletic character of both is a feature not a bug. What I was getting at was something more basic: especially in English, there really isn’t much research and writing being done in OST.

AD: “Consumption: Vicious and Virtuous” is the title of your fifth chapter. Tell us more about how you see virtuous consumption, especially as I think many middle-class Christians seem to suffer from at least a little guilt in what they consume, feeling as though they are somehow depriving others of food or shelter or whatever by the very act of consumption. Do too many Christians operate on a zero-sum approach to consumption today?

What we can do--and this is what I mean by “virtuous consumption”--is work to help create opportunities to expand the circle of economic activity to help more people enjoy the benefits of a market economy. For example, if you hire a maid service to clean your house, you are providing work for someone who (typically) has very few skills and who might otherwise be on welfare (or worse). These jobs are low on the economic ladder but they can (and often do) serve as a starting point for people to move up economically. The point here is that economic self-interest and altruism are not inherently opposed. Unfortunately, you may think this if you hold to a zero-sum economic model.

At its most benign, zero-sum economic thinking is neurotic. Somewhat more worryingly for me as a pastor, I think it reflects a lack of gratitude (thanksgiving, eucharistia) to God for the material blessings He has bestowed on us. Feeling guilty only paralyzes us and keeps us from wisely appraising our own economic decisions. Let me explain.

A “zero-sum approach to consumption” says that wealth is only destroyed, never created. The reason is that the total amount of wealth is fixed; and while it can be redistributed, doing so creates winners and losers. Ironically, this is the thinking that leads to consumerism since a zero-sum economic model ultimately say that I have to take from you before you take it from me. Now, in fairness, I may have done exactly that but that makes a thief. If we assume that the whole economic system is zero-sum, well then yes, the middle class are thieves and robbers just like the “1%.” But, even the poorest Americans—who are almost always better off than the poorest Africans or Asians—are also guilty.

This is simply not true. While there is much work to do, even in my lifetime humanity as a whole has become dramatically, unbelievably, better off economically. What we want for ourselves we should also want for others. If it’s wrong for me to be middle class then it is wrong for the poor of Africa or Asia or of inner-city America.

AD: Though you grapple with modern economic issues, your book is shot through with a very healthy dose of the Fathers, and of considerable quotation of, and meditation upon, liturgical texts. This was all, it seems, in service of a larger theological vision of the human person and human community, yes?

While I think the free market and economic development are good things, they aren’t ends in themselves and they aren’t sufficient for all our needs, but they are morally good. At the same time there are moral limits for our economic life just as there are for the rest of life. One of the reasons I like working with Acton is they (and I) aren’t free market fundamentalists or anarcho-capitalists (nor, by the way, are they or I libertarians). They (and I) argue that for the free market to remain free requires not only the rule of law but also the cultivation of the moral virtues. Economic development likewise requires not only technical expertise but moral wisdom. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who defend the free market fail to make this clear.

Understandably scholars and bishops take what are typically secular and materialistic defenses of the free market and economic development at face value and assume that these defenses exhaust the moral and practical justification for the free market. As I see it, a central task of OST is to ask if there isn’t a deeper, moral foundation to a market economy and economic development. Logically, we need to answers these questions before we can criticize specific economic or policy decisions.

AD: You conclude (p. 145) that “consumerism is consumption misdirected.” Tell us a bit more what you mean by that.

I mean here that consumption, being a consumer, is in the service of communion with God, neighbor and the creation. Consumerism, on the other hand, sees consumption as the goal. This means that in consumerism what matters is not wealth creation—which as I said earlier is especially important if we care for the poor—but wealth destruction. It is wholly a negative phenomenon.

AD: Tell us your hopes for this book, The Cure for Consumerism and who in particular will benefit from reading it.

Like the other social sciences, economics develop as a science within the mixed blessing that is the Enlightenment. To put our economic life on a sound anthropological footing means seeing through and beyond the anthropology of the Enlightenment. This in turn means asking what it means to be a person created in the image of God and called to live and work as a member of not just “a” human community but multiple, often overlapping, intersecting and not infrequently diverging human communities. The family and the Church are our twin foundation here but I belong to other communities well. I think the liturgy and the classical spiritual writings (East AND West) can help us understand how these different communities are meant to function and relate to each other.

For example--and I’m not arguing policy here: I’ve heard people say the Church Fathers teach that we have an absolute obligation to help the poor. Fair enough. They then go on to say that therefore any cut in social services or unwillingness to increase the SNAP budget is a violation of Christian charity. While I appreciate the good intention here, I’m not sure this is the case. Even if it is, though, appeals to the Fathers to justify government expenditures fails to take into account some important parts of patristic teaching.

For the Fathers, not only do the rich have an obligation to the poor but the poor have their own moral obligation in the economic realm. If the situation allows for it (and in the ancient world, it often didn’t) the poor are to work and support themselves and their family and not become a burden on the Church. They also have an obligation toward the rich. They owe their prayers, their gratitude, and a kind word to the rich. This is something that isn’t (and I don’t think can be) part of a state welfare program.

So those who argue from the Fathers in favor of government spending are picking and choosing just as surely are those who argue that government has NO obligation to care for the poor. Both for reasons of morality and public policy this all needs to be sorted out, and I hope my book can play a small part in doing so. My work is a very modest attempt to help Christians and others of good will navigate the moral challenges of a market economy, especially (though not exclusively) in their personal lives.

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

Some of the research for the book was also done when I was a Lone Mountain Fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, MT. PERC is a secular group primarily concerned with researching free market solutions to environmental issues but I found them very supportive of my own theological perspective. I hope to go back there in the near future and work more on property rights in OST. Early monastic literature and the canons of the Church both I think assume what a basic right to property as part of what the Moscow Patriarchate calls the human vocation to labor and right to “the fruits of labour.” The latter includes “the right to own and use property, the right to control and collect income, the right to dispose of, lease, modify or liquidate property” (Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church VII.1). But, as my wife says, the future belongs to God.
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