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

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Imagining Byzantium

I have for some time been ever more fascinated with the uses and abuses of the past, with questions of memory and forgetting, particularly in the context of East-West relations. We seem to be living in a time where such questions are coming more and more to the fore, as I have noted on here several times. A new book continues the exploration of these historiographical and hermeneutical questions: Elena Boeck, Imagining the Byzantine Past: The Perception of History in the Illustrated Manuscripts of Skylitzes and Manasses (Cambridge UP, 2015), 300pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Two lavish, illustrated histories confronted and contested the Byzantine model of empire. The Madrid Skylitzes was created at the court of Roger II of Sicily in the mid-twelfth century. The Vatican Manasses was produced for Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria in the mid-fourteenth century. Through close analysis of how each chronicle was methodically manipulated, this study argues that Byzantine history was selectively re-imagined to suit the interests of outsiders. The Madrid Skylitzes foregrounds regicides, rebellions, and palace intrigue in order to subvert the divinely ordained image of order that Byzantine rulers preferred to project. The Vatican Manasses presents Byzantium as a platform for the accession of Ivan Alexander to the throne of the Third Rome, the last and final world-empire. Imagining the Byzantine Past demonstrates how distinct visions of empire generated diverging versions of Byzantium's past in the aftermath of the Crusades.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Byzantine Funeral Orations

I was asked last week to give a lecture on Byzantine funerals, drawing on some of the work I did earlier this year, noted here and here. As I was preparing that talk, a soon-to-be released book caught my attention. Set for release in mid-September is Michael Psellos, Psellos and the Patriarchs: Letters and Funeral Orations for Keroullarios, Leichoudes, and Xiphilinos, trans. Anthony Kaldellis and Ioannis Polemis (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Psellos and the Patriarchs: Letters and Funeral Orations for Keroullarios, Leichoudes, and Xiphilinos contains translations of the funeral orations written by Michael Psellos, the leading Byzantine intellectual of the eleventh century, for the three ecumenical patriarchs of Constantinople whom he knew best: Michael Keroullarios (1043-1058), Konstantinos Leichoudes (1059-1063), and Ioannes Xiphilinos (1064-1075). The orations are significant sources for the lives and reputations of these patriarchs; they are also a prime source for the educational reforms made by the emperor Konstantinos IX Monomachos in the mid-1040s, and for many events of that turbulent century that Psellos witnessed, including popular uprisings, plots, civil wars, and the battle with the Catholic legates in 1054. Never before translated into English, the orations and letters are introduced by a detailed analysis of Psellos’ historical relationships with the patriarchs and an interpretation of the works.

The orations are not only important historical sources: they are crucial specimens of Byzantine rhetoric in a period of transition, as well as being key texts in the corpus of Psellos himself. Psellos used them to score important points in support of his own philosophical agenda and to make broader claims about ethics and metaphysics and the role of learning in political and ecclesiastical life. The orations are here accompanied by translations of a long letter that Psellos wrote to Keroullarios and a pair of letters to Xiphilinos, in which he defended key aspects of his philosophical project.

"This volume of translations, by two of the best contemporary experts on Psellos and his times, is an important addition to a growing body of scholarship on Byzantium in the eleventh century. Because of the four personalities involved, Psellos and the Patriarchs is an extremely valuable source for historians; it provides a wealth of material on such topics as the secular and ecclesiastical careers of leading intellectuals; relations between patriarch and emperor; the functioning of rhetoric at the highest levels in society; and not least, the personality, character, and literary prowess of Psellos himself." —John Duffy, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Philology and Literature, Emeritus, Harvard University

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Cappadocian Legacy

Coming out in October is a new book that focuses on three of the most important figures in Christian letters who are still feted yearly in both the East and the West: Nicu Dumitrascu, The Ecumenical Legacy of the Cappadocians (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 304pp.

About this book we are told:

This volume is significant as it details the Cappadocian legacy upon the three central divisions of Christianity, rather than adopting an approach focused solely upon one confession.

Bibliographical and historical studies are interspersed with articles which focus more on theological or philosophical matters, bringing the Cappadocian Fathers to life. For this reason, the volume has a potentially larger readership than similar works, since it can very effectively serve as an introduction to Cappadocian thought for readers who have a background in philosophy/Classics, but who are approaching the Cappadocians for the first time. The volume draws together an international team of scholars, from a variety of academic backgrounds (philosophy, theology, Classics). At the same time, as it is composed in English it is readily accessible for an international audience. As a result of its interdisciplinary nature, the volume can be sold to scholars in a range of disciplines, as well as university libraries. It should be mentioned also: Faculties of Theology and History, Dept. of Classics, Sociology and Philosophy, Academic Theological/Religious Associations, Theological Scientific Centers, researchers in the Cappadocian spirituality, Christian Associations, Independent Theological researchers, Christian groups or large communities irrespective of confession, etc.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ukrainian Images of the Last Judgment

When I was last at a conference with John-Paul Himka two years ago, he told me this book was in the works. It builds on his earlier work, Last Judgment Iconography in the Carpathians. I am delighted to see it in print at last. Nobody with an interest in Slavic iconography will want to be without The World to Come: Ukrainian Images of the Last Judgment (Harvard University Press, 2015), 410pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Icons and murals depicting the biblical scene of the Last Judgment adorned many Eastern-rite churches in medieval and early modern Ukraine. Dating from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, these images were extraordinarily elaborate, composed of dozens of discrete elements reflecting Byzantine, Novgorodian, Moldavian, and Catholic influences, in addition to local and regional traditions. Over time, the details of the iconography evolved in response to changing cultural resources, the conditions of material life at the time, and new trends in mentality and taste.
The World to Come lists and describes more than eighty Last Judgment images from present-day Ukraine, eastern Slovakia, and southeastern Poland, making it the largest compilation of its kind. Photographs show overviews and details of the images, and most are printed in full color. The icons and murals provide a valuable source of knowledge about the culture in which they were created: what was meant by good and evil, what was prophesied for the future, and what awaited in the afterlife.

Friday, August 21, 2015

No Turning Back

I recently completed a chapter for an exciting collection being put together under the editorship of the Orthodox scholar and Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne, John Chryssavgis, who has corralled an impressive group of scholars both Catholic and Orthodox to write essays in advance of next year's great and holy synod of global Orthodoxy. If all goes well, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press will have this in print early in 2016. I can't wait to see it.

The book will, of course, give the usual suspects fresh reason to start hyperventilating about how the Ecumenical Patriarchate has once again swallowed the poison of the "pan-heresy of ecumenism" by "cozying up" to the "papists," but with such fanatics there is little one can do apart from re-stating that if Catholics and Orthodox really behaved as they fear we do, then we would have stitched up some sort of sordid unity scheme years ago and not remain divided today. One must equally remind them that unity is not an option: the Lord gives no wiggle room here, and sitting back denouncing one another on Facebook is as equally unhelpful as is the demand that unity be attained solely by one side simply "returning" to the other.

This forthcoming collection is, to my mind, an example of something the late Canadian scholar Margaret O'Gara referred to as The Ecumenical Gift Exchange. O'Gara is perhaps best known for her landmark book on the controverted First Vatican Council, Triumph in Defeat: Infallibility, Vatican I, and the French Minority Bishops. That book remains important, and I drew on it in my chapter which dealt in part with the political conditions in Europe (especially from the twin crises of Gallicanism and the French Revolution) behind Vatican I, a council which, as I said, was conceived, convoked, and conducted in an atmosphere of enormous anxiety.

O'Gara died too young of cancer in 2012, but a recent collection of her works under Michael Vertin's editorship has come out to honour her memory: No Turning Back: The Future of Ecumenism (Michael Glazier, 2014), 280pp.

About this book we are told:

Jesus' prayer on behalf of his of followers is "that all may be one. As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us" (John 17:21). No Turning Back illustrates significant developments in ecumenism during the thirty-plus years of ecumenical theologian Margaret O'Gara's own engagement in ecumenical dialogue.

This collection of selected papers from the final fifteen years of O'Gara's work before her untimely death in 2012 aims to illustrate the broad lines of ecumenism for general readers to share concrete details of recent ecumenical developments with specialist readers to encourage both groups of readers in their commitment to the pursuit of full communion among the Christian churches. An invaluable resource for academic and ecclesial specialists in ecumenism, teachers and students of theology and religious studies, Christian ministers, and all educated Christian adults who take seriously Jesus' prayer "that all may be one."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Christians in the Iranian Empire

With Iran a political obsession for the United States since at least 1979 (and of course back into the 1950s), an obsession renewed lately with the "nuclear deal," it is timely to remind people that there are plenty of non-Muslim Persians and Iranians just as there are--as I remarked here, inter alia--plenty of Arab Christians and other non-Muslims in the Middle East. A new collection shows us the diverse mixture of religious groups in late antique Iran: Richard E. Payne, A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 2015), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Christian communities flourished during late antiquity in a Zoroastrian political system, known as the Iranian Empire, that integrated culturally and geographically disparate territories from Arabia to Afghanistan into its institutions and networks. Whereas previous studies have regarded Christians as marginal, insular, and often persecuted participants in this empire, Richard Payne demonstrates their integration into elite networks, adoption of Iranian political practices and imaginaries, and participation in imperial institutions.
The rise of Christianity in Iran depended on the Zoroastrian theory and practice of hierarchical, differentiated inclusion, according to which Christians, Jews, and others occupied legitimate places in Iranian political culture in positions subordinate to the imperial religion. Christians, for their part, positioned themselves in a political culture not of their own making, with recourse to their own ideological and institutional resources, ranging from the writing of saints’ lives to the judicial arbitration of bishops. In placing the social history of East Syrian Christians at the center of the Iranian imperial story, A State of Mixture helps explain the endurance of a culturally diverse empire across four centuries.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Advancing Genocide Studies

This year, as I have often remarked on here for some time now, marks the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. Next month we will see a scholarly collection from an author whose earlier work on children and genocide was noted here: Samuel Totten, ed.,  Advancing Genocide Studies: Personal Accounts and Insights from Scholars in the Field (Transaction Publishers, 2015),247pp.

About this book we are told:
Advancing Genocide Studies follows in the footsteps of the editor’s earlier volume, Pioneers of Genocide Studies. Here a new generation of scholars presents personal essays that reveal their motivation to study genocide, the passion that drives them to continue its study, their primary scholarly interests and efforts, and their perspective on the field as it currently stands.
The contributors come from diverse backgrounds, numerous different nations and various disciplines: Kjell Anderson (The Netherlands, criminology); Yair Auron (Israel, history and education); Taner Akcam (Turkey and United States, history and sociology); Alexander Alvarez (United States, criminology); Gerry Caplan (Canada, history); Craig Etcheson (United States, international relations); Maureen Hiebert (Canada, political science); Adam Jones (Canada, political science); Henry Theriault (United States, philosophy); Samuel Totten (United States, history and political science); and Ugor Ungor (The Netherlands, history and sociology).
All the contributors are well known in the field of genocide studies, and all have made important contributions to this area. Variously, they have done important theoretical work, produced new findings vis-à-vis old cases of genocide, and are pursuing new issues and topics within the field of genocide studies. Many have worked “on the ground“ and bring a sense of immediacy to various crises.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Sacramental Theology

Last spring I drew attention to this forthcoming publication after I finished the final edits to my chapter. Now Oxford University Press tells us it will be released the end of next month, and you can pre-order copies already at the Amazon link. So with delight I draw it to your attention again. It is a very substantial and impressive forthcoming collection, which is ideally suited for classroom usage: Matthew Levering and Hans Boersma, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology (Oxford, 2015), 736pp.

Though I am of course somewhat biased, I do think the publisher is correct in enumerating some of the virtues of this collection thus, saying the handbook
  • Provides a multi-faceted introduction to sacramental theology
  • Introduces readers to the historical roots and development of Christian sacramental worship
  • Was written by an international team of authors who are leading practitioners of the discipline
We are further told about this book:
As a multi-faceted introduction to sacramental theology, the purposes of this Handbook are threefold: historical, ecumenical, and missional. The forty-four chapters are organized into the following parts five parts: Sacramental Roots in Scripture, Patristic Sacramental Theology, Medieval Sacramental Theology, From the Reformation through Today, and Philosophical and Theological Issues in Sacramental Doctrine.

Contributors to this Handbook explain the diverse ways that believers have construed the sacraments, both in inspired Scripture and in the history of the Church's practice. In Scripture and the early Church, Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics all find evidence that the first Christian communities celebrated and taught about the sacraments in a manner that Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics today affirm as the foundation of their own faith and practice. Thus, for those who want to understand what has been taught about the sacraments in Scripture and across the generations by the major thinkers of the various Christian traditions, this Handbook provides an introduction. As the divisions in Christian sacramental understanding and practice are certainly evident in this Handbook, it is not thereby without ecumenical and missional value. This book evidences that the story of the Christian sacraments is, despite divisions in interpretation and practice, one of tremendous hope.
And as you peruse this Table of Contents you will note many prominent scholars of Eastern Christianity (noted in italics)

Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering: Introduction: The Handbook's Three Purposes

Sacramental Roots in Scripture
1: Walter Moberly: Sacramentality And The Old Testament
2: Dennis T. Olson: Sacramentality in the Torah
3: Craig A. Evans and Jeremiah J. Johnston: Intertestamental Background of the Christian Sacraments
4: Nicholas Perrin: Sacraments and Sacramentality in the New Testament
5: Edith M. Humphrey: Sacrifice and Sacrament: Sacramental Implications of the Death of Christ
6: Richard Bauckham: Sacraments and the Gospel of John
7: David Lincicum: Sacraments in the Pauline Epistles
8: Luke Timothy Johnson: Sacramentality and Sacraments in Hebrews

Patristic Sacramental Theology
9: Everett Ferguson: Sacraments in the Pre-Nicene Period
10: Khaled Anatolios: Sacraments in the Fourth Century
11: Lewis Ayres and Thomas Humphries: Augustine and the West to AD 650
12: Andrew Louth: Late Patristic Developments in Sacramental Theology in the East (Fifth-Ninth Century)

Medieval Sacramental Theology
13: Mark G. Vaillancourt: Sacramental Theology from Gottschalk to Lanfranc
14: Boyd Taylor Coolman: The Christo-Pneumatic-Ecclesial Character of Twelfth-Century Sacramental Theology
15: Joseph Wawrykow: The Sacraments In Thirteenth-Century Theology
16: Ian Christopher Levy: Sacraments in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
17: Yury P. Avvakumov: Sacramental Ritual in Middle and Later Byzantine Theology, 9th -15th centuries

From the Reformation through Today
18: Mickey L. Mattox: Sacraments in the Lutheran Reformation
19: Michael Allen: Sacraments in the Reformed and Anglican Reformation
20: John Rempel: Sacraments in the Radical Reformation
21: Peter Walter, Translated by David L. Augustine: Sacraments in the Council of Trent and 16th Century Catholic Theology
22: Brian A. Butcher: Orthodox Sacramental Theology: Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries
23: Trent Pomplun: Post-Tridentine Sacramental Theology
24: Scott R. Swain: Lutheran and Reformed Sacramental Theology, 17th-19th Centuries
25: E. Brooks Holifield: Sacramental Theology in America, 17th through 19th Centuries
26: .: Twentieth Century and Contemporary Protestant Sacramental Theology
Part I: Martha L. Moore-Keish: Sacraments in General and Baptism in Twentieth Century and Contemporary Protestant Theology
Part II: George Hunsinger: The Lord's Supper in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Protestant Theology
27: Peter Casarella: Catholic Sacramental Theology in the Twentieth Century
28: Peter Galadza: Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Orthodox Sacramental Theology

Dogmatic Approaches
29: David W. Fagerberg: Liturgy, Signs, and Sacraments
30: Geoffrey Wainwright: One Baptism, One Church?
31: C. C. Pecknold and Lucas Laborde, S.S.J.: Confirmation
32: Bruce D. Marshall: What is the Eucharist? A Dogmatic Outline
33: Brent Waters: Marriage
34: Adam DeVille: The Sacrament of Orders Dogmatically Understood
35: Anthony Akinwale, O.P.: Reconciliation
36: John C. Kasza: Anointing of the Sick

Philosophical and Theological Issues in Sacramental Doctrine
37: Thomas Joseph White, O.P: Sacraments and Philosophy
38: Benoît-Dominique de La Soujeole, O.P. Translated by Dominic M. Langevin, O.P.: The Sacraments and the Development of Doctrine
39: David Brown: A Sacramental World: Why It Matters
40: Francesca Aran Murphy: Christ, The Trinity, and The Sacraments
41: Peter J. Leithart: Signs of the Eschatological Ekklesia: The Sacraments, the Church, and Eschatology
42: Gordon W. Lathrop: Liturgy, Preaching and the Sacraments
43: C. J. C. Pickstock: Sense and Sacrament
44: Jorge Scampini, O.P: The Sacraments in Ecumenical Dialogue

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hail the Day that Sees Her Rise!

The Dormition is a lovely festival worthy of celebration for its own sake, but for those of us who are unapologetic carnivores yearning to get back to grilling some of God's tastier creatures, it also marks the end of a short fasting period to which we shall not bid farewell with much grief or difficulty. As we keep vigil tonight and then celebrate the feast tomorrow, we will be able more fully to follow the advice of the letter to the Hebrews (13:15) and keep our barbeques making sweet sacrifices of praise until mid-November.

In between those steaks and sausages, burgers and chops, ribs and brisket and much else, you might pause to consider some recent studies on the Dormition/Assumption, to which I have drawn attention over the years, including here and here.

Another Mariological and iconological study was released at the end of July: Jaroslav Folda, Byzantine Art and Italian Panel Painting: The Virgin and Child Hodegetria and the Art of Chrysography (Cambridge UP, 2015), 424pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Virgin and Child Hodegetria was a widely venerated Byzantine image depicting the Virgin holding and pointing to her son as the way to salvation. In this book, Jaroslav Folda traces the appropriation of this image by thirteenth-century Crusader and central Italian painters, where the Virgin Mary is transformed from the human mother of god, the Theotokos, of Byzantine icons, to the resplendent Madonna radiant in her heavenly home with Christ and the angels. This transformation, Folda demonstrates, was brought about by using chrysography, or golden highlighting, which came to be used on both the Virgin and Child. This book shows the important role played by Crusader painters in bringing about this shift and in disseminating the new imagery to Central Italy. By focusing on the Virgin and Child Hodegetria, Folda reveals complex artistic interchanges and influences extending across the Mediterranean from Byzantium and the Holy Land to Italy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

"Do This in Memory of Me"

As I noted on here a few weeks ago, my attention has lately been riveted on the question of memory and forgetting, especially in the context of Christian disputes and traumas such as the Fourth Crusade. More than a decade ago now I published several articles on the concept of the "healing of memories" that the late Pope John Paul II talked about so often in the context of Christian relations, especially between East and West.

But I did not then attend to the issue of how those memories were formed in the first place, or how we come to forget things, or to other broader questions raised by the category of memory, which is of course such a central part of the central ritual of Christianity: the Eucharist. What does it mean to say "Do this in memory of me?" How are we to translate the Greek ἀνάμνησιν or the Latin commemorationem in Luke 19:22? Christians have not, of course, always agreed on these terms, nor do we today.

Even if we did agree on the liturgical meaning of these terms, it would leave other important questions unresolved. In my days as a psychology major, the then-recent research of people like Elizabeth Loftus was emerging to demonstrate just how fungible and unreliable memory can be. Her research on what even so-called eye-witnesses thought they remembered was and remains startling and disconcerting. Memory, it seems, is an enormously complex phenomenon and ever so much more than a mere "photograph" in our mind of a past event. I look forward to continuing to explore these questions in the coming years.

Oxford University Press sent me an e-mail this week alerting me to a book to be published at month's end that treats some of these questions: Dmitri Nikulin, ed., Memory: A History (Oxford UP, 2015),416pp.

About this book we are told:
In recent decades, memory has become one of the major concepts and a dominant topic in philosophy, sociology, politics, history, science, cultural studies, literary theory, and the discussions of trauma and the Holocaust. In contemporary debates, the concept of memory is often used rather broadly and thus not always unambiguously. For this reason, the clarification of the range of the historical meaning of the concept of memory is a very important and urgent task. This volume shows how the concept of memory has been used and appropriated in different historical circumstances and how it has changed throughout the history of philosophy. In ancient philosophy, memory was considered a repository of sensible and mental impressions and was complemented by recollection-the process of recovering the content of past thoughts and perceptions. Such an understanding of memory led to the development both of mnemotechnics and the attempts to locate memory within the structure of cognitive faculties. In contemporary philosophical and historical debates, memory frequently substitutes for reason by becoming a predominant capacity to which one refers when one wants to explain not only the personal identity but also a historical, political, or social phenomenon. In contemporary interpretation, it is memory, and not reason, that acts in and through human actions and history, which is a critical reaction to the overly rationalized and simplified concept of reason in the Enlightenment. Moreover, in modernity memory has taken on one of the most distinctive features of reason: it is thought of as capable not only of recollecting past events and meanings, but also itself. In this respect, the volume can be also taken as a reflective philosophical attempt by memory to recall itself, its functioning and transformations throughout its own history.
We are also given the table of contents:

Introduction. Memory in Recollection of Itself. Dmitri Nikulin

Ch.1. Memory in Ancient Philosophy. Dmitri Nikulin

Reflection: Roman Art and the Visual Memory of Greece. Francesco de Angelis
Ch.2. Memory in Medieval Philosophy. Jörn Müller
Reflection: Visual Memory and a Drawing by Villard de Honnecourt. Ludovico Geymonat
Ch. 3. Memory in the Renaissance and Early Modern Period. Stephen Clucas
Reflection: Memory and Forgetfulness in Daoism. Xia Chen
Ch. 4. Forms of Memory in Classical German Philosophy. Angelica Nuzzo
Reflection: Memory and Story-Telling in Proust. Mieke Bal
Ch. 5. Memory in Continental Philosophy: Metaphor, Concept, Thinking. Nicolas de Warren
Reflection: Freud and Memory. Eli Zaretsky
Ch. 6. Trauma, Memory, Holocaust. Michael Rothberg

Reflection: Memory: An Adaptive Constructive Process. Daniel Schacter

Ch. 7. Memory in Analytic Philosophy. Sven Bernecker

Reflection: The Recognitional Structure of Collective Memory. Axel Honneth

Ch. 8. Memory and Culture. Jan Assmann

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Copts and Ottomans

Global attention has not been as riveted on Egypt and her Coptic Christians in the past many months as it had been from early 2011, but that does not mean they do not continue to suffer and are not worthy of our sustained attention. A book published in June will help to maintain that scholarly focus: Febe Armanios, Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt (Oxford UP, 2015), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In this book, Febe Armanios explores Coptic religious life in Ottoman Egypt (1517-1798), focusing closely on manuscripts housed in Coptic archives. Ottoman Copts frequently turned to religious discourses, practices, and rituals as they dealt with various transformations in the first centuries of Ottoman rule. These included the establishment of a new political regime, changes within communal leadership structures (favoring lay leaders over clergy), the economic ascent of the archons (lay elites), and developments in the Copts' relationship with other religious communities, particularly with Catholics.

Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt highlights how Copts, as a minority living in a dominant Islamic culture, identified and distinguished themselves from other groups by turning to an impressive array of religious traditions, such as the visitation of saints' shrines, the relocation of major festivals to remote destinations, the development of new pilgrimage practices, as well as the writing of sermons that articulated a Coptic religious ethos in reaction to Catholic missionary discourses. Within this discussion of religious life, the Copts' relationship to local political rulers, military elites, the Muslim religious establishment, and to other non-Muslim communities are also elucidated. In all, the book aims to document the Coptic experience within the Ottoman Egyptian context while focusing on new documentary sources and on an historical era that has been long neglected.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Post-Soviet Monasticism

The whole reason for starting this blog nearly five years ago now was to showcase the endless and diverse flood of (often affordable!) books on Eastern Christianity, a dramatic change in the last two decades. Prior to that, one often searched in vain for a solitary chapter in the odd book surveying Eastern Christian realities. Entire monographs devoted to Eastern Christians were rare, had small print runs, and cost a small fortune.

On that latter point, alas, we are not entirely far removed yet. Thus a forthcoming book next month, edited by Ines Angeli Murzaku (whom I interviewed here about another collection on monasticism) is published by a major publisher, but still at a formidable cost: I.A. Murzaku, ed., Monasticism in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Republics (Routledge, 2015), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
This book looks at Eastern and Western monasticism’s continuous and intensive interactions with society in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Former Soviet Republics. It discusses the role monastic’s played in fostering national identities; and the potentiality of monasteries and religious orders to be vehicles of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue within and beyond national boundaries. Using a country-specific analysis, the book highlights the monastic tradition and monastic establishments. It addresses gaps in the academic study of religion in Eastern European and Russian historiography, and looks at the role of monasticism as a cultural and national identity forming determinant in the region.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Byzantine Vestments at the Met

The always fascinating blog Byzantine Texas drew my attention to an exhibition that just opened and runs until November at The Met in New York: Liturgical Textiles of the Post-Byzantine World. Alas, I won't likely be back in New York until Christmas, but this is fascinating enough to consider a trip out there just to see it.

The display is introduced by an essay, "Why Vestments?" authored by a man who probably knows more about the topic than anybody else today: Warren Woodfin, author of a book noted on here several years ago and worth drawing to your attention again:

The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium (Oxford, 2012), 384pp.

About this book the publisher told us:
In spite of the Orthodox liturgy's reputation for resistance to change, Byzantine liturgical dress underwent a period of extraordinary elaboration from the end of the eleventh century onwards. As part of this development, embroideries depicting holy figures and scenes began to appear on the vestments of the clergy. Examining the surviving Byzantine vestments in conjunction with contemporary visual and textual evidence, Woodfin relates their embroidered imagery both to the program of images used in churches, and to the hierarchical code of dress prevailing in the imperial court. Both sets of visual cross-references serve to enforce a reading of the clergy as living icons of Christ. Finally, the book explores the competing configurations of the hierarchy of heaven as articulated in imperial and ecclesiastical art. It shows how the juxtaposition of real embroidered vestments with vestments depicted in paintings, allowed the Orthodox hierarchy to represent itself as a direct extension of the hierarchy of heaven.
Drawing on the best of recent scholarship in Byzantine liturgy, monumental painting, and textile studies, Woodfin's volume is the first major illustrated study of Byzantine embroidered vestments to appear in over forty years.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Eastern Christians and the Great Terror

Eastern Christians, especially those in Ukraine and Russia trying to understand their history over the last 98 years, and especially the massive destruction of Christianity in the Soviet period, must contend with the scholarship of Robert Conquest, who has just died. Born in the same year as the Bolshevik revolution, he was an absolutely crucial figure in demolishing the romanticized notions certain Western intellectuals had about communism.

I have not read all his works, but two are seared into my memory. The first, The Great Terror: A Reassessment was a landmark work when it was first published in 1968. It was republished after the collapse of the evil empire, and his publishers asked whether he wanted to re-title the work. I've never forgotten his blunt response as recorded in this interview with him in 2003.

For Ukrainians and those interested in Ukraine in particular, his study The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, published in 1987, was likely the first book to gain widespread attention to what later on, more recently, would come to be called the Holodomor about which several studies have been published as I noted here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Divinization through Icons and Liturgy

The literal and utterly infuriating iconoclasm recently going on in a Roman Catholic church in New York at the behest of its "pastor" and seemingly with the approval of its bishop is a vile and wicked act of anti-incarnational (and therefore at least quasi-heretical) philistines. It is also as perfect an illustration as one could hope for of the fact, as Joseph Ratzinger argued fifteen years ago, that Nicaea II's teaching on iconography has never been received at all adequately in the Latin Church, and in Western Christianity more generally. (I analyzed Ratzinger's thought on this issue here.)

This puts me in mind of a book just released two weeks ago by a young Dominican theologian whom I briefly met at a conference four years ago. Here he introduces to a Roman Catholic audience the central notion of divinization understood in terms of what could be called a "liturgical iconology":  Andrew Hofer OP, ed., Divinization: Becoming Icons of Christ through the Liturgy (Hillenbrand, 2015), 164pp.

About this book we are told:
Written as an accessible introduction to the Catholic teaching of divinization, Divinization: Becoming Icons of Christ through the Liturgy explains the startling claim, so often overlooked, that God transforms the Christian people through the Church’s liturgy to share in his divine nature. Divinization: Becoming Icons of Christ through the Liturgy is a short collection of essays that serves as an excellent introduction to the Catholic theology of divinization, which means that human beings are raised to be “partakers in the divine nature” (cf. 2 Pet 1:4) through the work of the Liturgy. Although different in authorship and in focus, the essays in this work form a coherent introduction to how God makes the faithful in the pews partakers in his divine nature through the action of the liturgy.

This remarkable book offers an accessible and systematic organization of essays on different aspects of divinization—liturgical theology, scripture, pastoral teaching, liturgical renewal and evangelization—contributed by theologians with much experience in teaching in the classroom and parish settings.
The book also bears the blurbs of two people whose views I respect enormously, one Catholic:
“Our life in Christ, according to Blessed Columba Marmion, is ‘constituted by the fact of being sons of God—a participation, through sanctifying grace, in the eternal filiation of the Incarnate Word….The whole of Christian life, holiness itself, consists in being, by grace, that which Jesus is by nature: Son of God.’  This splendid collection of essays unfolds the many facets of the profound mystery of divinization at the core of the Christian life, according to which our transformation in Christ is nothing less than a conformation to him.”--Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, OP, Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei; Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,Vatican City.
And the other Orthodox:
“Eastern Christian theology celebrates divinization as the divine telos for all human beings, that we might become God’s fellows and partakers. Now we have a much-needed book that celebrates divinization in the Roman Catholic tradition! Andrew Hofer’s team of theologians presents an intriguing explanation of divinization by drawing from the treasury of Catholic tradition. In a writing style accessible to the Catholic in the pew, the authors establish the biblical roots of divinization, show how people and communities receive the gift of divinization in liturgy, and connect divinization to the urgency of the new evangelization. I highly recommend this sophisticated and theologically-rich book for clergy, theologians, students, and general readers.”--Nicholas Denysenko, PhD, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies and Director, Huffington Ecumenical Institute, Loyola Marymount University.

Monday, August 3, 2015

That Heretic Marcion

A graduate student of mine is working on Irenaeus of Lyons, and along the way has been telling me about her various encounters with Marcion, who tangled with Irenaeus and others and about whom a new study has just been released: Judith M. Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (Cambridge UP, 2015), 520pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
A comprehensive and authoritative account of the 'heretic' Marcion, this volume traces the development of the concept and language of heresy in the setting of an exploration of second-century Christian intellectual debate. Judith M. Lieu analyses accounts of Marcion by the major early Christian polemicists who shaped the idea of heresy, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Epiphanius of Salamis, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Ephraem Syrus. She examines Marcion's 'Gospel', 'Apostolikon', and 'Antitheses' in detail and compares his principles with those of contemporary Christian and non-Christian thinkers, covering a wide range of controversial issues: the nature of God, the relation of the divine to creation, the person of Jesus, the interpretation of Scripture, the nature of salvation, and the appropriate lifestyle of adherents. In this innovative study, Marcion emerges as a distinctive, creative figure who addressed widespread concerns within second-century Christian diversity.

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.
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