"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).


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hesychasm and Iconography

Students like to think they have caught their professors in a contradiction: "Yes, but last week you said X. So how do you reconcile that with today's Y?" This happened to me recently with a student wanting to know why it is the Christian East places such emphasis on the use of icons in prayer and liturgy, on the one hand, and yet in the hesychastic tradition speaks of acquiring communion with God via "imageless contemplation" on the other. Surely, my student alleged, there must be a contradiction here. I did not and do not think that is the case and a new book helps us to see why: Anita Strezova, Hesychasm and Art: The Appearance of New Iconographic Trends in Byzantine and Slavic Lands in the 14th and 15th Centuries (ANU Press, 2014),

About this book we are told:
Although many of the iconographic traditions in Byzantine art formed in the early centuries of Christianity, they were not petrified within a time warp. Subtle changes and refinements in Byzantine theology did find reflection in changes to the iconographic and stylistic conventions of Byzantine art. This is a brilliant and innovative book in which Dr Anita Strezova argues that a religious movement called Hesychasm, especially as espoused by the great Athonite monk St Gregory Palamas, had a profound impact on the iconography and style of Byzantine art, including that of the Slav diaspora, of the late Byzantine period. While many have been attracted to speculate on such a connection, none until now has embarked on proving such a nexus. The main stumbling blocks have included the need for a comprehensive knowledge of Byzantine theology; a training in art history, especially iconological, semiotic and formalist methodologies; extensive fieldwork in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Turkey and Russia, and a working knowledge of Greek, Old Church Slavonic, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian, Latin as well as several modern European languages, French, German, Russian and Italian. These are some of the skills which Dr Strezova has brought to her topic (Professor Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA Adjunct Professor of Art History School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics The Australian National University),

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sainthood and Race

Eastern Christians, perhaps more than their Western brethren in some ways, struggle, as is commonplace, with questions of ethnicity, nationalism, and related problems. Do those struggles extend even to the dead and long departed? I'm not entirely convinced that they do insofar as a figure such as Francis of Assisi or Seraphim of Sarov or Mary of Egypt have long transcended Umbrian or Russian or Egyptian categories to achieve global devotion. But a new book raises intriguing questions about race and saints: Molly Bassett and Vincent Lloyd, eds. Sainthood and Race: Marked Flesh, Holy Flesh (Routledge, 29014), 232pp.

Eastern Christians will be especially interested in ch.7 which treats Coptic realities. About this book the publisher tells us:
In popular imagination, saints exhibit the best characteristics of humanity, universally recognizable but condensed and embodied in an individual. Recent scholarship has asked an array of questions concerning the historical and social contexts of sainthood, and opened new approaches to its study. What happens when the category of sainthood is interrogated and inflected by the problematic category of race?
Sainthood and Race: Marked Flesh, Holy Flesh explores this complicated relationship by examining two distinct characteristics of the saint’s body: the historicized, marked flesh and the universal, holy flesh. The essays in this volume comment on this tension between particularity and universality by combining both theoretical and ethnographic studies of saints and race across a wide range of subjects within the humanities. Additionally, the book’s group of emerging and established religion scholars enhances this discussion of sainthood and race by integrating topics such as gender, community, and colonialism across a variety of historical, geographical, and religious contexts. This volume raises provocative questions for scholars and students interested in the intersection of religion and race today.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Discovering the Trinity in Disability

My friends, the lovely newlyweds Tom and Annette Hrywna, came to town recently (much as Her Majesty occasionally leaves London on a tour from the imperial capital to the lesser provinces) spreading connubial bliss and bringing with them a large box of new books that had been accumulating at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies in Ottawa. Among the choice selections that came to me, having previously escaped my attention, was Myroslaw Tataryn and Maria Truchan-Tataryn, Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference (Novalis/Orbis, 2013), 144pp.

For those who don't know, Fr. Myroslaw is a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest and scholar. He is the author of important scholarly studies such as Augustine and Russian Orthodoxy as well as editor of such collections as Windows to the East.

This current book is co-authored with his wife, a fellow academic and mother. I hope to interview them both in the coming weeks.

About this book the publisher tells us:
From the gospels it would appear that the disabled have a special claim on Jesus love and attention. And yet this does not appear to be the case in the church. Drawing on scripture, theology, and the personal experience of their daughter s severe disability, the authors explore the theological meaning of disability and the special insights it afford into the mystery of God's Trinitarian being (God as an inclusive community).

Monday, October 20, 2014

Changing Religious Movements in Local and Global Perspective

For nearly two decades now we have been regularly hearing about the likely impact of "globalization" on everything from economies to churches, and it is indeed true that much has changed, not least thanks to technology that can bring, say, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or ISIS in Iraq, to much greater attention to a housewife in Boise than previously. Scholars continue to study the interplay between local actors and a global stage, as in this recent book which looks at Orthodox, Islamic, and other religious traditions: Robert W. Hefner et al, eds., Religions in Movement: The Local and the Global in Contemporary Faith Traditions (Routledge, 2013), 330pp.

About this book we are told:
There has long been a debate about implications of globalization for the survival of the world of sovereign nation-states, and the role of nationalism as both an agent of and a response to globalization. In contrast, until recently there has been much less debate about the fate of religion. ‘Globalization’ has been viewed as part of the rationalization process, which has already relegated religion to the dustbin of history, just as it threatens the nation, as the world moves toward a cosmopolitan ethics and politics. The chapters in this book, however, make the case for the salience and resilience of religion, often in conjunction with nationalism, in the contemporary world in several ways.
This bookhighlights the diverse ways in which religions first and foremost make use of the traditional power and communication channels available to them, like strategies of conversion, the preservation of traditional value systems, and the intertwining of religious and political power. Nevertheless, challenged by a more culturally and religiously diversified societies and by the growth of new religious sects, contemporary religions are also forced to let go of these well known strategies of preservation and formulate new ways of establishing their position in local contexts. This collection of essays by established and emerging scholars brings together theory-driven and empirically-based research and case-studies about the global and bottom-up strategies of religions and religious traditions in Europe and beyond to rethink their positions in their local communities and in the world.
The publisher also gives us the table of contents. Eastern Christians will be especially interested in chapters 2, 4, and 5:

General Introduction Sara Mels and Christiane Timmerman
PART 1: Global Perspectives on Religion and Politics 1. Introduction: Global Perspectives on Religion and Politics John Hutchinson 2. Islam, Politics and Globalisation: What are the Issues and Outcomes? Jeffrey Haynes 3. The Paradox of Globalisation: Quakers, Religious NGOs and the United Nations Jeremy Carrette 4. European Secularity and Religious Modernity in Russia and Eastern Europe: Focus on Orthodox Christianity Inna Naletova 5. The Orthodox Tradition in a Globalising World: The Case of the Romanian Orthodox Church Suna Gülfer Ihlamur-Öner 6. Good Muslims, Good Chinese: State Modernization Policies, Globalisation of Religious Networks and the Changing Hui Ethno-Religious Identification Maja Veselič 7. When National Histories and Colonial Myths Meet: ‘Histoire Croisée’ and Memory of the Moroccan-Berber Cultural Movement in the Netherlands Norah Karrouche 8. Self-Sacrifice and Martyrdom in Terrorism: Political and Religious Motives Francesco Marone

PART 2: Varieties of Religious Globalization 9. Introduction: Varieties of Religious Globalization Robert W. Hefner 10. Religion in the Contemporary Globalized World: Construction, Migration, Challenge, Diversity Peter Beyer 11. Voluntarism: Niche Markets Created by a Fissile Transnational Faith David Martin 12. Women perform ʾIjtihād: Hibridity as Creative Space for Interpretation of Islam Els Vanderwaeren 13. Processes of Localised and Globalised Islam Among Young Muslims in Berlin Synnøve Bendixsen 14. Towards Cultural Translation: Rethinking the Dynamics of Religious Pluralism and Globalization Through the Sathya Sai Movement Tulasi Srinivas 15. Ghanaian Films and Chiefs as Indicators of Religious Change Among the Akan in Kumasi and Its Migrants in Southeast Amsterdam Louise Müller

Friday, October 17, 2014

If I Dream of Byzantium Am I Really Dreaming of Deflowering My Sister?

More than twenty years ago now, I thought seriously about becoming a traditional, five-times-a-week-on-the-couch psychoanalyst--traditional in method, if not entirely in theory. By that I mean that I shared Christopher Lasch's judgment that Freud, in attending to phenomena in the individual psyche in a clinical setting, gave us often startling and brilliant insights of singular and lasting value; but the Freud of wide-ranging cultural theories (think Moses and Monotheism, Totem and Taboo or The Future of an Illusion or, more widely,  Civilization and Its Discontents) was completely out of his depth and can be safely ignored.

Thus, in broader matters I could never identify completely with Freud, and aligned myself (as noted previously) with other "neo-Freudian" figures such as the late Nina Coltart, author of the delightful collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Nevertheless, Freud's classical, and much abused and much mocked text The Interpretation of Dreams, remains very valuable in some ways. It came back to mind (!) tonight in reading of a new book released just last week: Christine Angelidi and George Calofonos, eds., Dreaming in Byzantium and Beyond (Ashgate, 2014), 232pp.

About this book we are told:
Although the actual dreaming experience of the Byzantines lies beyond our reach, the remarkable number of dream narratives in the surviving sources of the period attests to the cardinal function of dreams as vehicles of meaning, and thus affords modern scholars access to the wider cultural fabric of symbolic representations of the Byzantine world. Whether recounting real or invented dreams, the narratives serve various purposes, such as political and religious agendas, personal aspirations or simply an author's display of literary skill. It is only in recent years that Byzantine dreaming has attracted scholarly attention, and important publications have suggested the way in which Byzantines reshaped ancient interpretative models and applied new perceptions to the functions of dreams. This book - the first collection of studies on Byzantine dreams to be published - aims to demonstrate further the importance of closely examining dreams in Byzantium in their wider historical and cultural, as well as narrative, context. Linked by this common thread, the essays offer insights into the function of dreams in hagiography, historiography, rhetoric, epistolography, and romance. They explore gender and erotic aspects of dreams; they examine cross-cultural facets of dreaming, provide new readings, and contextualize specific cases; they also look at the Greco-Roman background and Islamic influences of Byzantine dreams and their Christianization. The volume provides a broad variety of perspectives, including those of psychoanalysis and anthropology.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Christian East and West as Seen in Three Extraordinary Women

I am very happy to be involved in a conference planned for May 2015 on the life and work of Dorothy Day, details of which may be had here. She was an extraordinary woman in herself, but what especially fascinates me is how much her life seems to run not only in roughly chronological parallel with two other of her contemporaries from the Christian East, viz., Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Mother Maria Skobtsova, but how her life and theirs ended up doing so much good in such strikingly similar ways. All three were different in their origins--Day as an American Episcopalian who became Roman Catholic, Doherty as Russian Orthodox who wound up in the Catholic Church in Canada, and Skobtsova as an early atheist who became Orthodox in France--but united in their strong pursuit of God and defense of God's beloved poor and suffering people.

One of the people coming to the conference to give a paper is the priest Robert Wild, author of the book Comrades Stumbling Along: The Friendship of Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Dorothy Day as Revealed Through Their Letters (Alba House, 2009), 173pp. His collection of their correspondence draws out some of the parallels between Day and Doherty, the latter of whom began life as a Russian Orthodox Christian of minor, pre-revolutionary nobility before ending her life married to a Melkite Greek Catholic priest and living a very simple, quasi-monastic life in a small town in eastern Ontario at Madonna House, which she helped to found.

Doherty's life has been explored in a number of books, including this collection edited by the Jesuit David Mecconi, Catherine de Hueck Doherty: Essential Writings as well as They Called Her the Baroness: The Life of Catherine De Hueck Doherty.

Mother Maria, who is perhaps more alike in her early life to Day than Doherty, has been getting more attention since her canonization by the Ecumenical Patriarch a decade ago now. Her life can be read about in such books as Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings  as well as Jim Forrest's book, aimed especially at children: Silent as a Stone: Mother Maria of Paris and the Trash Can Rescue.

All three women deserve continued exploration and study, and anyone willing to put a paper together on such parallels and connections would be most welcome to submit such a proposal to our conference here

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Put Not Your Trust in Princes, E.g.#159,614,287

We are mere weeks away from mid-term elections in the US, but also many, many weeks into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict during which, inter alia, I have heard from Christian friends waxing romantic about the supposed "traditional" "Christian values" being exhibited by and under the influence of Vladimr Putin. In the US, as NPR was reporting earlier this week as I was driving home, there are GOP politicians who, running for re-election next month, have not yet figured out how to appeal to the fear of Christians that social mores have changed with regard to same-sex "marriage," but how, also, to appeal to the more liberal voters who are glad that such mores have changed or been set aside by various judicial fiats of late. What is the so-called conservative voter and politician to do? Perhaps John Anderson's newly published book will help us: Conservative Christian Politics in Russia and the United States: Dreaming of Christian Nations (Routledge 2014), 206pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book explores the politics of conservative Christian churches and social movements in Russia and the United States, focusing on their similar concerns but very different modes of political engagement.
Whilst secularisation continues to chip away at religious adherence and practice in Europe, religion is often, quite rightly, seen as an influential force in the politics of the United States, and, more questionably, as a significant influence in contemporary Russia. This book looks at the broad social movement making up the US Christian Right and the profoundly hierarchical leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church as socially conservative actors, and some of the ways they have engaged in contemporary politics. Both are seeking to halt the perceived drift towards a more secular political order; both face significant challenges in handling the consequences of secularism, pluralism and liberal individualism; and both believe that their nations can only be great if they remain true to their religious heritage. In exploring their experience, the book focuses on shared and different elements in their diagnosis of what is wrong with their societies and how this affects their policy intervention over issues such as religious and ethnic belonging, sexual orientation and education.
Drawing on political, sociological and religious studies, this work will be a useful reference for students and scholars of religion and politics, Russian politics and American politics.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trashing Heretics on Twitter and Facebook

Perhaps it is from a painfully personal awareness of the power of Twitter or Facebook to destroy reputations in a gratuitous and unjust fashion based as often as not on one's "friends" or those to whom one links or fails to link, but my students seem especially fascinated and engaged when I talk about how many early Christians--Origen of Alexandria or Evagrius of Pontus, to name perhaps the most prominent--could have been invoked, or alternately celebrated or trashed, often posthumously, on the basis of hearsay, the types of friends they kept or failed to keep, or the posthumous antics of their so-called friends and disciples invoking the master's name to promote various ideas and causes. To my mind, one of the clearest examples of this is Evagrius of Pontus, who has been under such a "glare of unwelcome light" (Anthony Blanche) and has been treated in lurid and hostile terms with what seems to me very thinly sourced and very ambiguous "evidence." Fortunately, Evagrius has come in for a wholly welcome re-examination by Augustine Casiday, as noted here in my interview with him. Now a new book looks at the whole phenomenon of how people were trashed with the label of "heretic": Geoffrey S. Smith, Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity (Oxford UP, 2014), 216pp.

About this book we are told:
Few literary innovations have exercised as much influence upon Christian attitudes toward internal diversity as has the practice of organizing the names and alleged misdeeds of rival teachers into heresy catalogues. For two millennia, followers of Jesus have employed the heresy catalogue as a powerful weapon in internal struggles for legitimacy, authority, and supremacy. Despite its enduring popularity and influence within the Christian tradition, the heresy catalogue remains an underappreciated polemical genre among historians of early Christianity.Guilt by Association explores the creation, publication, and circulation of heresy catalogues by second- and early third-century Christians. Polemicists made use of these religious blacklists, which include the names of heretical teachers along with summaries of their unsavory doctrines and nefarious misdeeds, in order to discredit opponents and advocate their expulsion from the "authentic" Christianity community. The heresy catalogue proved to be especially effective because it not only recast rival teachers as menacing adversaries, but also reinforced such characterizations by organizing otherwise unaffiliated teachers into coherent intellectual, social, and scholastic communities that are established and sustained by demonic powers. Geoffrey Smith focuses especially on the earliest Christian heresy catalogues, including those found within the works of Justin, Irenaeus, and Hegesippus, to shed new light upon the complex process through which early Christianity took shape.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Jerusalem Churches in the Round

Set for release at the very end of this year is a new book in the prestigious Oxford Studies in Byzantium authored by Vered Shalev-Hurvitz, Holy Sites Encircled (Oxford UP, 2014), 520pp.

About this book we are told:

The round and octagonal churches of Jerusalem were the earliest of their kind. Powerful, monumental structures, recalling imperial mausolea and temples, they enshrined the holiest sites of Christianity. Constantine himself ordered the building of the first ones immediately after the council of Nicaea (325), his main objective being the authentication of Jesus's existence in Jerusalem in accordance with the council's resolutions, but the sites he chose in Palestine also obliterated reminiscences of Jewish or Pagan domination. Holy Sites Encircled demonstrates that all four concentric churches of Jerusalem encircled new holy sites exclusively relating to the corporeal existence of Jesus or Mary, and that they were self-contained, and apse-less because the liturgy, including the Mass, was performed from the venerated centre. Offering intimate concentric spaces, as well as perpetual processions around these sites, they promoted the development of new feasts, shaping the city's liturgy and that of the whole Christian world. They were found especially suitable to compete with former religious landmarks and therefore many of their descendants outside Jerusalem were cathedrals. This volume begins with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which replaced a pagan temple in Jerusalem city centre, and concludes with the Dome of the Rock, a unique Muslim structure, which was built by the Ummayads on the very site of the ruined Jewish Temple on Mount Moriah, using the concentric architecture of Jerusalem to establish their new authority. Illustrating how architectural form links together culture, politics, and society it explores the perceptions and architectural models that shaped these unusual churches and their impact, in both ideas and design, on future architecture.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Fascinating and Maddening Georges Florovsky

I was asked to go to Brookline later this month to Holy Cross College, the site of this year's meeting of the Orthodox Theological Society of America. OTSA asked me to be on a panel as one of the respondents to Paul Gavrilyuk's new book, Georges Florovsky and the Russian Religious Renaisance (Oxford UP, 2014), 320pp.

I will not repeat here everything of what I have said in my written remarks prepared for the panel, but let me instead note some of the strengths of this book, and some of the curiosities of the man portrayed in it.

It is, first of all, a wonderfully cogent book. Its tone and balance are striking, and the author is greatly to be commended here for avoiding any kind of polemics in response to some of Florovsky's more outrageous claims. I first studied Florovsky in a doctoral course more than ten years ago now, and I came greatly to respect him. I still do in some ways, and thus, almost every semester, I have my students read his essay "St Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers" (which they read alongside a Catholic treatment of many of the same issues, viz., Hans Urs von Balthasar's 1939 essay, translated into English only in 1997 as "The Fathers, the Scholastics, and Ourselves.") But reading Gavrilyuk's book made me re-think much of what Florovsky wrote, which now seems to me far less credible than I once thought. I think perhaps I was taken in by the force of Florovsky's rhetoric rather than the quality of his evidence, which today seems to me much more dubious.

Gavrilyuk's book is neither a “take-down” nor a pious hagiography, but intellectual history and biography of the best sort, allowing us to see the man in full. If, as Cardinal Newman famously said, the danger of hagiography is that it reduces complex people and their messy lives to mere “clothes racks for virtues,” we can be grateful to the author that he avoided that danger and allowed us to see everything Florovsky wore, winsomely captured in the--if you will--"bespoke" beret and rather déshabillé cassock on the front cover!

Florovsky was indeed a complex man, and it seems very clear that he rather sharply embodied something attributed to Cyrano de Bergerac, who said that he sought always "to stand, not so high perhaps, but always alone." Florovsky was forever breaking with his colleagues in Paris, New York, Princeton, and elsewhere. He seems almost driven towards a destruction of relationships and a refusal of any party line. It remains a mystery to me, given this track record, that he was so regularly invited to WCC and other ecumenical events over the years.

Florovsky, of course, is best known for his idea of a "neo-patristic synthesis," which is of value, but only to a limited degree, and in the wrong hands subject to abuse and distortion. His other big idea was that Orthodoxy was victimized by a "Western captivity" that corrupted it through a "pseudomorphosis." For lengthy reasons I shall argue later in the month, I think both claims now have to be very sharply revised not only because the evidence Florovsky adduces is so thin but also because there is now a good deal of other evidence to be considered that complicates the picture. Moreover, the image that Florovsky conveys here is a thoroughly unattractive one. In his caricatures, nobody looks good: Orthodoxy is always a victim, weak, helpless, supine before the rapacious and ravishing Western brute. Whom does that accurately or fairly describe--on either side? How do such characterizations help East or West, singly or together?

After the conference, perhaps I'll be able to post my thoughts in full. But in the meantime, this is a splendid book for all sorts of reasons, and anyone interested in not only Florovsky but Russian and more broadly Orthodox history in Europe and North America in the last century, and in the current one, will not want to be without Gavrilyuk's carefully researched and painstakingly argued scholarly work without which no credible future discussion of its subject will be possible.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sanctify Them in the Truth

As I noted almost three years ago now, we have seen an explosion of books in the last decade devoted to the topic of theosis, otherwise known in English as divinization or deification (and I tell my students to pay special attention to the spelling of that latter term as a few of them turn in essays with it rendered as defecation!). Set for December release is a wide-ranging collection devoted to exploration of the idea of "sanctification," that is, how do we become holy and thus like God? Edited by Kelly M. Kapic, the book is Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice (IVP, 2014), 300pp.

About this book we are told:
Often treated like the younger sibling in theology, the doctrine of sanctification has spent the last few decades waiting not-so-patiently behind those doctrines viewed as more senior. With so much recent interest in ideas like election and justification, the question of holiness can often seem to be of secondary importance, and widespread misunderstanding of sanctification as moralism or undue human effort further impedes thoughtful engagement. But what if we have missed the boat on what sanctification really means for today's believer? The essays in this volume, which come out of a recent Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, address this dilemma through biblical, historical, dogmatic and pastoral explorations. The contributors sink their teeth into positions like the "works" mentality or "justification by faith alone" and posit stronger biblical views of grace and holiness, considering key topics such as the image of God, perfection, union with Christ, Christian ethics and suffering. Eschewing any attempt to produce a unified proposal, the essays included here instead offer resources to stimulate an informed discussion within both church and academy. Contributors include:
  • Henri Blocher
  • Julie Canlis
  • Ivor Davidson
  • James Eglinton
  • Brannon Ellis
  • Michael Horton
  • Kelly M. Kapic
  • Richard Lints
  • Bruce McCormack
  • Peter Moore (whose chapter focuses on the great Eastern Father John Chrysostom)
  • Oliver O’Donovan
  • Derek Tidball

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How Did the Fathers Talk about God?

It is a striking sign of the times when I receive in my mail this week the most recent catalogue from one of the leading evangelical publishers in the anglophone world, and it comes with Byzantine iconography splashed all over the cover. Evangelicals have been "discovering" the East, and the Fathers, for the better part of three decades now. Set for release early in January of next year is a new book by Mark Sheridan, Language for God in Patristic Tradition: Wrestling with Biblical Anthropomorphism (IVP, 2015), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Criticism of myth in the Bible is not a modern problem. Its roots go back to the earliest Christian theologians, and before them, to ancient Greek and Jewish thinkers. The dilemma posed by texts that ascribe human characteristics and emotions to the divine is a perennial problem, and we have much to learn from the ancient attempts to address it. Mark Sheridan provides a theological and historical analysis of the patristic interpretation of Scripture’s anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language for God. Rather than reject the Bible as mere stories, ancient Jewish and Christian theologians read these texts allegorically or theologically in order to discover the truth contained within them. They recognized that an edifying and appropriate interpretation of these stories required that one start from the understanding that "God is not a human being" (Num 23:19). Sheridan brings the patristic tradition into conversation with modern interpreters to show the abiding significance of its theological interpretation for today. Language for God in Patristic Tradition is a landmark resource for students of ancient Christian theology. Wide-ranging in scope and accessible in its analysis, it demonstrates that those engaged in theological interpretation of Scripture have much to gain from studying their forebears in the faith.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Byzantium and the Crusades

Next month will give us fresh opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the Crusades, those events, as I have so often remarked, which are, more than anything in Christian history, subject to such gross distortion and tendentious abuse. Thus in November we shall have the second edition of Jonathan Harris' important book Byzantium and The Crusades: Second Edition (Bloomsbury, 2014), 288pp. About this book the publisher tells us:

This new edition of Byzantium and the Crusades provides a fully-revised and updated version of Jonathan Harris's landmark text in the field of Byzantine and crusader history.
The book offers a chronological exploration of Byzantium and the outlook of its rulers during the time of the Crusades. It argues the distinct view, with regards to Byzantine interaction with Western Europe, the Crusades and the crusader states, that one of the main keys to these interactions can be found in the nature of the Byzantine empire and the ideology which underpinned it, rather than in any generalised hostility between the peoples.
Taking recent scholarship into account, this new edition includes an updated notes section and bibliography, as well as the following significant new additions to the text:
- New material on the role of religious differences after 1100
- A detailed discussion of economic, social and religious changes that took place in twelfth-century Byzantine relations with the west
- In-depth coverage of Byzantium and the Crusades during the thirteenth century
- New maps, illustrations, genealogical tables and a timeline of key dates
Byzantium and the Crusades is an important contribution to the historiography by a major scholar in the field that should be read by anyone interested in Byzantine and crusader history.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Popes Ancient and Modern

If you've read my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (and really: why would you not have read it already, and sent copies to all your friends and family?) you will see in there a discussion of how much the papacy has changed over the years, not least in the last century alone. Think what you want about it, the office has demonstrated remarkable flexibility in various periods, and continues to do so under Pope Francis. That flexibility is very important for those hoping for continued reform of the office so that, as the late Pope John Paul II prayed in 1995, it may again be an instrument of unity for Eastern and Western Christians alike.

There is much of papal history that we are learning about anew, realizing that the received mythologies of both East and West continue to need significant revision. Recent books such as George Demacopoulos' study, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity and Susan Wessel, Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome have been very helpful and important here.

In December, in time for Christmas presents, two new books will be released devoted to popes in late antiquity and in the twentieth century. The first of these will be John Moorhead, The Popes and the Church of Rome in Late Antiquity (Routledge, 2014), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
In the past few decades there has been an explosion of interest in the period of late antiquity. Rather than being viewed within a paradigm of the fall of the Roman Empire, these centuries have come to be seen as a time of immense creativity and significance in western history. Popes and the Church of Rome in Late Antiquity places the history of the papacy in a broader context, by comparing Rome with other major sees to show how it differed from these, evaluating developments beyond Rome which created openings for the extension of papal authority.
Closer to home, the book considers the ability of the Roman church to gain access to wealth, retain it in difficult times, and disburse it in ways that enhanced its authority. Author John Moorhead evaluates patterns in the recruitment of popes and what these suggest about the background of those who came to papal office. Structured around a narrative of the papacy’s history from the accession of Leo the Great to the death of Zacharias II, the book does more than tell what happened between these years, applying new approaches in intellectual, cultural, and social history to provide a uniquely deep and holistic study of the period.

The second book set for December release is John Pollard,The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 (Oxford UP, 2014), 576pp.

Pollard is the author of the invaluable (and often amusing) study, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950 (Cambridge, 2008). In this new book of his, we are told:
The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 examines the most momentous years in papal history. Popes Benedict XV (1914-1922), Pius XI (1922-1939), and Pius XII (1939-1958) faced the challenges of two world wars and the Cold War, and threats posed by totalitarian dictatorships like Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, and Communism in Russia and China. The wars imposed enormous strains upon the unity of Catholics and the hostility of the totalitarian regimes to Catholicism lead to the Church facing persecution and martyrdom on a scale similar to that experienced under the Roman Empire and following the French Revolution.

At the same time, these were years of growth, development, and success for the papacy. Benedict healed the wounds left by the 'modernist' witch hunt of his predecessor and re-established the papacy as an influence in international affairs through his peace diplomacy during the First World War. Pius XI resolved the 'Roman Question' with Italy and put papal finances on a sounder footing. He also helped reconcile the Catholic Church and science by establishing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and took the first steps to move the Church away from entrenched anti-Semitism. Pius XI continued his predecessor's policy of the 'indigenisation' of the missionary churches in preparation for de-colonisation. Pius XII fully embraced the media and other means of publicity, and with his infallible promulgation of the Assumption in 1950, he took papal absolutism and centralism to such heights that he has been called the 'last real pope'. Ironically, he also prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Where's the Bird?

Oftentimes in that rarefied and fanciful hothouse of Western-Rite Orthodoxy, one sometimes finds, amidst much liturgical bricolage, an "epiclesis" jerry-rigged onto some Western eucharistic anaphora or other. This is usually based on the ironically Western concern with certain formula that must be uttered for a sacrament to be validly "confected." Eastern Christians who have been misled into believing that an anaphora is not "valid" if it lacks an epiclesis thus feel the need to tack one on to Western prayers they have appropriated unto themselves. More amusingly still, some of them claim that the West once had an epiclesis until it "dropped out," much like those towering theological giants at Charlemagne's court insisted, with no evidence whatsoever, that the filioque was in the original draft of the creed from Nicaea until it, too, somehow mysteriously "dropped out." (The always witty and erudite Fr. John Hunwicke has discussed these silly ideas over the years.)

The concept and role of an epiclesis comes up for renewed study in a recent book: Anne McGowan, Eucharistic Epicleses, Ancient and Modern (Liturgical Press, 2014), 312pp. About this book the publisher tells us:
The past several decades have witnessed a shift in the approach to the Spirit. Since the mid 1960s, scholarly attention has been focused on the role of the Holy Spirit in the modern — and now increasingly postmodern and ‘post-Christian’ — world:  first, there has been a resurgence of interest in the pneumatology of past eras; second, studies of the Spirit from a Pentecostal and Charismatic perspective have entered the mainstream of contemporary theological discussion and scholarship;  third, interest in the Spirit has intersected with feminist, liberationist, ecological, global and interfaith concerns, among others, to produce a multitude of new constructive theological proposals in which the Spirit plays a prominent part.
Now it is time to give attention to the liturgical role of the Spirit and the study of worship as a site of the Spirit’s presence and work — an approach that is thoroughly and expertly discussed in Eucharistic Epicleses.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Married Eastern Catholic Priests

I am working like a madman to get my third book done and submitted to the publisher by October. I'm not being immodest when I say that it will be the single-best collection ever published on the topic of married Catholic priests. There is nothing else out there remotely close to what will be in this book. That is a simple statement of facts. The book reprints two very important essays from several decades ago, including one that was privately circulated in Canada; but even more important, it includes previously unpublished historical research on early canons and debates about clerical continence; it includes ecclesiological and ecumenical reflections from Catholics and Orthodox; and it will include singular pastoral and theological reflections from married priests as well as an outstanding essay by one presbytera reflecting on the vocation of being married to a priest. I have to say I'm especially pleased with how the essays cohere together. Often collections are very uneven, but many of these essays, even without intending it, build off one another and mesh together in a felicitous fashion.

We're still kicking around titles, though I'm leaning towards something like A Primer on Married Catholic Priests though it will probably end up with something more academic and solemn: Married Eastern Catholic Priests: Historical, Ecclesiological, and Theological Reflections. We'll see. Suggested titles would be welcome in the comments below.

The contents:

I) Introduction: Adam DeVille

II) Historical Reflections:

i) David Hunter (University of Kentucky), "Priesthood and Sexual Continence: the Origins of a Western Tradition."

ii) J.K. Coyle (†) (deceased professor of patristics and history at Saint Paul University, Ottawa), "Recent Views on the Origins of Clerical Celibacy: A Review of the Literature from 1980-1991."

iii) Patrick Viscuso (professor of canon law at the Antiochian House of Studies and past president of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America), "Later Byzantine Developments in Priesthood."

III: Ecumenical and Ecclesiological Reflections:

i) Victor Pospishil (†) (a deceased Ukrainian Catholic priest and canonist), "Compulsory Celibacy for Eastern Catholics in the Americas."

ii) James Dutko (protopresbyter of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese of the USA), "Mandatory Celibacy among Eastern Catholics: a Church-Dividing Issue."

iii) Peter Galadza (Saint Paul University, Ottawa; Ukrainian Catholic liturgical scholar and married priest), "Official Catholic Pronouncements Regarding Presbyteral Celibacy: their Fate and Implications for Catholic-Orthodox Relations."

iv) Adam DeVille (associate professor and chairman of the Dept. of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis), "A Married Priesthood is no Panacea."

v) David Meinzen (bi-ritual Ukrainian Catholic priest and RC university chaplain, formerly of the OCA), "Reflections from the Field: A Married Priest and His Family on Vocations and Pastoral Challenges."

IV: Theological Reflections:

i) Lawrence Cross (Eastern Catholic archpriest at the Australian Catholic University), "Married Clergy: at the Heart of Tradition."

ii) Basilio Petrà (Roman Catholic priest and ordinary professor of moral theology at the University of Central Italy), "Married Priesthood: Some Theological Resonances."

iii) Thomas Loya (Byzantine Catholic priest and pastor of Annunciation parish in Homer Glen, IL), "Celibacy and the Married Priesthood: Rediscovering the Spousal Mystery."

iv) Irene Galadza (retired Catholic teacher and vice-principal, catechist, and presbytera at St. Elias Parish, Brampton, Ontario), "The Vocation of the Presbytera: Icon of the Theotokos in the Midst of the Ministerial Priesthood."

Conclusion: Adam DeVille

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Aidan Hart on His Splendid New Book about Icons

I was both delighted and dismayed when I received Aidan Hart's newest book, Icons in the Modern World: Sprint, Matter and Beauty (Gracewing, 2014; 288pp.) in the mail: delighted because it is a fantastic book that immediately deserves a place in every library concerned about iconography; but dismayed because the irritating bureaucracy that now surrounds so much of our life made me order books for my fall course back in January. So I couldn't get my students to read this in my course on iconography, but I will definitely adopt it when I teach the class next--if, that is, the publisher finally gets its act together and gets more copies printed and available here in North America. I contacted Aidan for this interview several months back, and have held off running it here while I cajoled the publisher and others into trying to get some copies available on this side of the Atlantic. So far, Amazon.com is showing only one copy, but if you all flood Amazon and demand copies, perhaps that will finally rouse Gracewing from its torpor to get some shipped over here.

This book's virtues are several: there are, of course, dozens of lovely colour plates of his own icons as well as other artwork; and then the chapters are meaty, substantial theological reflections (e.g., on the renewal of sacred art, on beauty and the gospel, on theological anthropology, beauty and the grotesque, and the relationship between sacred and profane art) that would challenge any undergraduate with at least a basic background in theology.

I contacted Aidan, whom I interviewed here about his last book, about this new work of his and here are his thoughts:

AD: Tell us what led you from your last book, which we spoke about on the blog several years ago, to this one. What were you hoping to accomplish with this latest book? 

Aidan Hart: The last book, Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting, was primarily a technical manual for icon painters. I felt the need to write for a wider readership, and to explore contemporary issues as seen through the theology of the icon. For many years I have been very interested in the  way Orthodox theology unites matter and spirit, creation and Creator, and the implications that this has for our understanding of the human person. With its theological treasures, Orthodox Church is under the obligation of love to do all that it can to address contemporary issues, using the wisdom it has accrued over the centuries. So I set out to write a few words about subjects which deal with the relationship of matter and spirit, such as ecology, the nature of beauty, the nature of the human person, abstract art, the meaning of tradition, and the renewal of liturgical art.

AD: Your introduction mentions that in any initial discussions of icons, the worldview which proclaims matter to be good attracts the viewer's attention as it "resonates with our innermost being" (p.5). Tell us a bit more what you mean by that.

AH: Some of the Church Fathers distinguish between our being in the image and the likeness of God. They say that while likeness to God is acquired to the extent that a person walks in the way of Christ, every person, whether or not they believe it, is in God's image. This latter means that truth will resonate with every person's innermost being. How clearly it will resonate admittedly depends on the person's degree of purity - their likeness to God. But nevertheless, truth and virtue are natural to the human person because thy are made in God's image, while falsehood and vice are unnatural. Each person is a union of matter and spirit, soul and body, and our day to day experience shows us how intimately these are bound together.  

AD: You speak of icons as providing a "radical way of seeing" (p.2). Seeing what, and how, and why? 

I have always been enthralled by the story of Moses seeing the bush burning without being consumed, and of Christ's transfiguration. Although we know that this world is fallen, it is still 'upheld by the word of God's power'. Each thing is not only created by a word of the Word, a logos from the Logos, but is directed and sustained by that living word. To the degree that we are purified, we see and hear and feel this indwelling word within each thing. We see the world burning with God's presence yet not consumed. 'The pure in heart shall see God', not just in heaven but through creation. We have a foretaste of Paradise when we see the world imbued with this light and fire, hear the still small voice within each rock, tree and creature. That is the 'what' of your question. How do icons help us see in this radical way? They cannot of course compel us, but they can help. First, the fact that Orthodox kiss icons as a means of honouring the person depicted creates an attitude of veneration towards the whole material world, because we see it as a revelation of divine love, and not just as dead matter. This attitude of thanksgiving recapitulates the world in Christ; we see the cosmos as a garment, or even body, of Christ. Second, the way that icons are painted have a gradual effect on our vision of the world. They are a sort of infra-red camera, allowing us to see energies that are otherwise invisible to the natural eye. The way light comes from within things in an icon stimulate us to look for this light in real life.  

AD: You note that this book, a collection of essays, is concerned with several things including the "insight that icons offer on the contemporary liturgical renewal of art." Especially for Roman Catholics (and others) concerned about renewing their own liturgical tradition after 50 years of change, what iconographical insights would you offer them and others as especially germane? 

I think that the first thing that my Catholic brethren need to consider in relation to liturgical arts, is that it is not only important what is depicted, but how this theme is depicted. This 'how' often has more impact on our soul than the 'what'. From around the time of Italian the Renaissance western Christendom has tended to leave it to artists to decide how they will depict sacred themes. Consequently, the faithful have been at the mercy of current art trends, many of which have no aim to create an atmosphere and state of soul conducive to prayer and worship. I am not saying that the Byzantine way of painting - whatever that is! - is the only way to paint liturgical art. But I am saying that every formal, stylistic element of  liturgical art, be it visual, musical or architectural, must aim to show the world transfigured and to create the right state of soul conducive to prayer. Otherwise, is it worthy to be called liturgical art? This is to say that iconographer should endlessly copy existing works, but that until the Catholic Church establishes clear theological principles to guide its liturgical artists, then its current interest in icons will be a passing fad. The chapter in the book outlines what I think some of these essential principles are. The second related issue regarding the liturgical renewal of the visual arts is the question: What is reality? Liturgical art should be realistic in that it is truthful, but what is the true and highest state of the human person and the world that we are trying to depict in an icon? For the Orthodox this highest state for a human person is unequivocally to be deified, and the material world to be transfigured. Now, although this teaching is implicit in Roman Catholic teaching, I think it is fair to say that it is not so much in the forefront as it is for the Orthodox. This in turn has meant its liturgical art has tended towards naturalism; realism had been equated with naturalism. Or when there has been a reaction against this naturalism,  abstraction has lurched far in the other direction, away from the natural.  

AD: You argue that icons "challenge us and lay bare our inner state" (p.5). Tell us a bit more what you mean by that.  

The world view, the tradition, that produces well painted icons is the world view of the saints. For the icon tradition is prophetic in that it depicts the world seen from the divine perspective and not merely the human. Hence the variety of strange perspective systems that the icon uses, such as multi-view perspective in which an object is depicted seen simultaneously from many view points, as God 'sees' it. To a secular mind this vision of the world seems weird and unreal, to distort reality. But such a critique of the icon is in fact a critique of the critic. It says as much about their own world view as about the icon. Christ crucified, and icons, are 'a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles' (1 Cor. 1: 23).  

AD: You conclude your introduction with a charming story about people in a gallery trying to judge an icon, only to have them told that is in fact the icon which judges us. How is that so?

True judgement is simply reflecting back the truth, not condemning. The icon is like a saint, only in two dimensions. The saint is.  He or she just loves Christ. All his or her words and deeds come out of this inner state of  being, an attitude of adoration and worship. Like the saint, the icon just is. It depicts in its style as well as in its subject matter a world shoot through with the glory of God. It is a world in which both suffering and joy are affirmed, but in which joy has the final word. This paradisiacal life is divine, and as such cannot be comprehended by the rational faculty alone. It is not irrational, but it is certainly more than what the rational brain can comprehend. And so when someone rejects the icon's world as unreal, they are revealing in fact that they are operating merely as 'soulish' person and not a spiritual person. As St Paul writes, 'The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned' (1 Corinthians 2:14). The original Greek usually translated as 'unspiritual man' or 'natural man' is 'psuchikos', which literally translated means 'soulish man'. Paul refers here to people who operate only in the realm of the soul, meaning just the rational faculty, body and emotions, and have not raised these faculties into the realm of the spirit to become what he calls in the next verse a 'spiritual man', a 'pneumatikos'. A natural man is not necessarily an evil or bad person, but one not yet deified, not yet illuminated by the Holy Spirit.

AD: Strikingly, you title your second chapter "The Fresh Air of Tradition," which is not, I daresay, how many people may conceive of it. Tradition, rather, is thought to be stultified, stale, stuffy, stifling. What is fresh here as you understand the role of Christian tradition?  

Without reference to something higher we are slaves to our limited world view. We are free from outside influences, so we think, but are in fact limited to ourselves. A broken branch is free from its mother tree, but it is going to die. Holy tradition, on the other hand, opens the individual to an expansive world, a world of holiness. Also, the human person, being made in the image of the Holy Trinity, is made for relationship. Tradition is merely a word for relationship with the saints who have gone before and who are well and alive in Christ.

Besides, everyone's world view is an extension of some tradition, and we delude ourselves if we think that we can create or act ex nihilo, in a vacuum devoid of any outside influences. The choice therefore is not between having a tradition or not, but which tradition we place ourselves under.  

AD: As a teacher I was especially taken with the aptness of your argument that university students are often "suspicious of tradition in art yet embrace it in science." Why do you think that is? Why do we praise the "cutting edge" artist but think that if you are following, say, Orthodox conventions safeguarding the making of an icon that you are somehow "stifled"?

This is a very important point. I think it is rooted in the fact that loss of faith in God has led to heresy regarding the nature of the human person. Post Modernism has lost faith in absolutes regarding anything but the material world, hence the hegemony of science. And so the artist, who is in a real sense a philosopher expressing his world view in matter rather than writing, is left with no objective truth to seek and reveal. He or she is subsequently only allowed to explore but not to find, experiment but not to conclude, challenge but not to suggest alternatives. If, on the other hand, one has a clear vision of deified man in Christ as the highest end of humankind, then as an artist you know what you are trying to achieve. And so, like a scientist, you experiment but with an objective. And a good iconographer will experiment with new designs, colour combinations and so on. But he or she will measure the results against the objective reality of Christ. Does this or that colour combination accord with life in Christ?  If so, I will use it. If not, I will discard it. The wonderful thing with iconography is that the realities that we are trying to indicate happen to be infinitely glorious and wonderful. They provide endless scope for creative new expression. We are slaves to a magnanimous Master! Every sensible person, be they scientist, craftsperson or artist, wants to learn all they can from their forebears. You then add your bit, like a shoot springing from a big tree.  

AD: I greatly cheered your noting how often East-West discussions of art and iconography degenerate into polemics and caricature, and was very glad your book is free of that. Equally I was glad you did not romanticize the tradition, but instead openly acknowledged that "the icon tradition does in fact change and adapt all the time" (p.71). Give us some examples of healthy change and adaptation you are seeing today in the icon tradition.  

My iconographic muse is Archimandrite Zenon (Teodor). Although we have never met (though we did correspond once), I have been following his work since 1989. He is constantly, even restlessly, searching for new inspiration from different Christian cultures and epochs as well as his indigenous Russian tradition; early Christian, Roman, Romanesque, early Byzantine, Armenian. And he adapts his style and designs to the place for which he paints. Father Gregory Krug is another example of someone entirely within the tradition and yet unique. His unusual personality  (he suffered most of his life from depression) and natural artistic gift, was transfigured by his monastic life to create compassionate, modern iconography which was fearless yet humble. Sadly I have seen few examples of church architecture which have, to my mind, successfully drawn on the best of modem architecture. This is  a field to be developed yet. In general, I think that we Orthodox need to be more intelligent and thinking about how we live out our lives in the 21st century. Having armed ourselves with a deep knowledge of the timeless principles of the faith and the tradition, we need to be more confident. One need only look at the vast range of work within Byzantium and across Russia to see how confident past Orthodox cultures have been in learning from what is around them, then adapting and affirming. As Archimandrite Vasileios of Iviron monastery used to tell me, there are epochs where it is difficult to get this wrong, and there are others where it is difficult to get it right. We are definitely in the latter category, but we need to try our best.  

AD: Tell us a bit about the connections you see, especially in your fourth chapter, between iconography and ecology.  

In Christ 'it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him' (2 Cor 1:19). I think that if a culture the Church is trying to address worships an idol them start with that idol and make it transparent to God. Our materialistic age adores matter, so we need to make matter transparent for it, show that what a materialist loves in the material world is in fact an image of God's love, beauty, wisdom, and expansive creativity. Ecology is a case in point. Because Christianity is based on the incarnation - the creator becoming creature- it cannot but have a tremendous amount to say about ecology. I think ecology is to the 21st century man what the inscription to an unknown God was the Athenians at the time of St Paul. When he was at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34), despite his indignation at all the idols he saw, Paul began his preaching by affirming the partial good that the Athenians believed in, the inscription to an Unknown God, and then proceeded from there.  Although secular ecology doesn't acknowledge our dependence on God, it does at least acknowledge the interdependence of everything on earth and of earth with the rest of the cosmos.

The icon is micro-ecology, in that the icon painter takes representatives of the whole of creation and transforms them into a bearer of divine grace. He or she takes pigments form the mineral kingdom, wood from the vegetable kingdom, and egg for the animal. As a priest, king and prophet of the creation, the iconographer then transforms these things, respecting each material's unique character but lifting it also to a higher plane, making it more articulate in the praise of God. As such, this making process is both industrial and affirmative, conservationist but also transformationist. As an icon painter I love to use natural pigments. I need to listen to each pigment, know what it can and cannot do. I have learned to look before I make. This attitude of contemplation is fundamental to our ecological crisis. Because we in our consumerist society have forgotten how to feed our souls through contemplation of nature, we effectively treat the cosmos as dead raw material to be fodder for factories. Consumerism is the inevitable disease of  a non-contemplative society. A soul deprived of spiritual food will seek the temporary titillation of buying something new. Until we make our society more contemplative it will have an aching belly and try to satisfy itself by consuming ever more. The icon can help to nurture this contemplative spirit.  

AD: Your sixth and longest chapter is on "beauty and the gospel." Tell us a bit about the connections you see between those two.  

When I was an evangelical Christian I was very struck by Don Richardson's book Peace Child: An Unforgettable Story of Primitive Jungle Treachery in the 20th Century. He and his wife with their child went to live among the cannibalistic Sawi tribe of  what was then Dutch New Guinea. Having learned the language, Don and his wife Carol discovered how extremely difficult it was to communicate the gospel to the Sawi because betrayal was a virtue for them, so much so that in the Gospel story Judas was the hero and Jesus the dupe to be laughed at. But eventually they discovered one tradition among the otherwise warring tribes that provided a way in. The one trust Sawifs would never betray was the exchange of a child between tribes. As long as this freely offered 'peace child' lived, the two tribes would not fight. On this basis, Don began to teach Christ as the peace child, and eventually many of the Sawi people converted. Richardson came to call this principle of incipient truths in each culture 'redemptive analogies'. 

A missionary needs to find and then speak through such analogies. These are images and realities that the people already believe in and which are types of the gospel. I think beauty is one such redemptive analogy for the modern man. For too long in the West discourse about God, sin and redemption has been expressed in legal terms: God sets laws; mankind transgresses them and so must be punished; Christ is punished in our place, and so on. Besides being a very limited view, this Satisfaction Theory of atonement, as it is called, presents a rather ambiguous picture of God the Father. I believe a more accurate, more Orthodox and more communicative image is provided via beauty: Mankind is made in the beautiful image of God and is called to be transfigured, together with the whole material world of which it is priest; man tries to go it alone and so looses much of this beauty and the opportunity of deification; the Logos unite Himself to our fallen nature and thereby reinvigorates it with His divinity and conquers death; through faith and repentance, mankind can be restored to its ancient beauty and become even more radiant still with the indwelling Holy Spirit.  

AD: I was glad to see your next chapter on "beauty and the grotesque" so that Christians are not mistakenly thought to be "mere aesthetes." Why was this an important chapter to include after the previous one? What message were you trying to convey?  

The grotesque operates on many levels. If beauty has any role in the spiritual life it is to awaken us and thereby open our eyes to see more deeply. The grotesque can awaken us by its shock value.  The sublime and awe value of beauty can be lessened if we know nothing but elegant proportion. But, by its marked contrast, occasional encounter with the grotesque reminds us of beauty’s specialness. The grotesque also reminds us that beauty is achieved and is not easy; one adjustment to proportion and things loose their balance of form. The grotesque also hints at the beauty of content independent of the beauty of outer form. In the film The Elephant Man, and I believe too in real life, the physically deformed Joseph Merrick is grotesque in outward form but beautiful of spirit in his inner man. The beauty of his character shines all the more brilliantly in the face of his grotesque outward deformity. Another aspect of the grotesque in nature, I believe, is that it is an expression of divine humour and playfulness. It is an example of the vast variety within God's scheme. The sloth and the gazelle are brethren, and the slug and the swan are in the same drama. God loves to surprise us by both joy and mirth, the yes and the question, the clear and the perplexing.
 
AD: Sum up your hopes for Icons in the Modern World: Sprint, Matter and Beauty

I hope that its essays, which are more excursions into territory than detailed mappings, will encourage others more bright and informed than myself to make more in-depth explorations into the fields that it touches on. It is my little attempt to prod the Orthodox Church to engage in a more positive, frank and nuanced way with contemporary issues than it is tending to. We need to avoid uninformed generalisations. We need to seek out all that is good or partially good in our secular society, and on the other to seek deeper causes for the malaise that assail it. If we are to bring the Gospel to more people, we need to find appropriate mediums and images which strike a chord. We can't be lazy and parrot great truths using moribund terminology or metaphors.  So I hope that this book will help in some little way to stimulate  more of this work.  

AD: Any projects you are at work on now--icons, books, articles?  

Chapel of Gonville & Caius, Cantab.
There is always a pile of commissioned work to complete, about two years ahead at present. I now have a full-time assistant and apprentice, and have trained some others to help in other aspects, such as icon panel making and gilding, so this helps a lot. I have recently finished a large Annunciation icon for Caius College, Cambridge, and am working on two large icons to go on a splendid hand wrought iron screen for an Anglican church in London. I am designing and having made furniture for the Catholic chapel in Cambridge University. 

Earlier this year, my assistant and I completed a seven foot high stone carving of the Mother of God for Lincoln Cathedral. The aim was to make this fully modeled three dimensional sculpture work like an icon, rather than be merely a work of art. Judging by the response it seems to be working! It is polychromed, and for the design I drew on both the Byzantine icon tradition (particularly the icon type, 'Our Lady of the Sign') and on the Romanesque carving tradition. 

I am hoping to have confirmed soon two large mosaic commissions for an Orthodox church in Texas. I am toying with ideas for a third book. Any ideas from yourself!? I like the essay tradition, in part because writing essays fits comfortably into the demands of my icon work. But more importantly, the compactness of an essay has affinities with the icon. An essay can evoke an image, a wholeness, without collapsing under the weight of detail. The trick is to have enough substance for the argument to have gravitas, but not zoom into detail so much that the picture is lost in pixels seen too close. One area that interests me a lot is the relationship of science, particularly physics, and religious vision. This may well be one subject explored in the next book. Many of the more 'esoteric' discoveries in science, such as Einstein's theory of relativity and quantum field theory, have been intuited in religion, albeit evident only in hindsight. If, for example, Christians believe that time is created, which we do, then time must be relative. Only God is not relative. We should not therefore be surprised to find that under certain conditions (movement close to the speed of light, and extreme gravitational force) time slows down. And if man, and indeed all creation to some extent, is made in the image of God the Holy Trinity, then relationship must be at the heart of creation, and therefore of all scientific models. It is not therefore surprising that there appears to be no single subatomic particle, but rather a community of them: quarks, leptons, neutrinos, bosons, and the graviton, gluon, and photon. And regarding the relationship of nature and person and the character of theological discourse we see some parallels with quantum field theory. This theory says that all particles arise out of fields, be it the electromagnetic field, gravitational field, the Boson field or whatever other field. Quantum mechanics says that particles are tiny vibrations or waves in these fields. Whether a particle appears as a particle or a wave depends on how, or rather if, we look. As one writer, Aatish Bhatia succinctly put it: 'Don't look: waves. Look: particles.' In other words, the essence of reality is waves, but when we try to observe them they appear as particles. This is the guts of quantum mechanics.

Perhaps there is a parallel between this quantum field theory and the reality of human nature and human personhood? Personhood is specific, 'compressed', particular, like a particle. And yet the particular person can only exist because there is a single human nature (a human 'field'). And, like quantum mechanics, what we need to emphasize in a particular human circumstance depends on what we are trying to achieve - do we  emphasise nature/fields or person/particles. A totalitarian regime denies the value of the individual against the state, and therefore personhood needs to be emphasized. An individualistic society, on the other hand, will need to hear more about the one human nature that unites everyone, that makes the person possible, and inspires compassion. If I am right, that there is a certain reflection of spiritual realities in physical laws, then might it be possible to speed up scientific discoveries if scientists were to look for insights within the teachings of tried and tested spiritual traditions? And, conversely, might not we Christians find fresh ways of articulating spiritual truths by looking within newly discovered theories of physics? Christ often illustrated His teachings using agricultural experiences that were familiar to his listeners. Today, as more lay people become familiar with modern scientific discoveries, might not the Church fruitfully use these to illustrate spiritual truths?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...