"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).

Monday, January 31, 2011


Borders are fascinating things. How are they determined and by whom? When do they change and why? A new book comes along to ask some of those questions in the context of the border between Polish Roman Catholicism to the West, and Russian Orthodoxy to the East--with Ukrainian Greco-Catholics stuck in the middle.

Andrzej Gil and Witold Bobryk, eds., On the Border of the Worlds: Essays about the Orthodox and Uniate Churches in Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages and the Modern Period (Siedlce-Lublin: Akademia Podlaska Instytut Europy Srodkowo-Wschodniej, 2010, 186pp.

This is a small book that has not yet received any attention in the West as far as I can tell. (Amazon and other sites carry no listings for it.) The publisher provides the following blurb:

Eastern Europe, compared to the whole continent, is a specific space, marked with a range of opposing features and phenomena. It was--and still is--a place of grand and small meetings but also of stormy conflicts. There are numerous borders there, separating religions, cultures and civilizations, but it is still filled with similar processes and common content.

Further events in Eastern Europe led to significant changes. As a result of a long-lasting process (1385-1569), two states were joined--Poland and Lithuania--covering a large part of the Ruthenian lands with Kyiv. Orthodoxy became an important religious factor in the Polish-Lithuanian state. In 1596 some hierarchs of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv accepted the Union with Rome, thus creating a new religious community--the Uniate Church. On the other hand, the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Moscow led to the establishment of the Metropolitan Diocese of Moscow in 1448, raised to the rank of Patriarchate (1589).

In this publication a few issues have been discussed considering the history of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv in the late Middle Ages and the Modern Period.
Those issues are discussed in seven chapters:
  • Andrzej Gil and Witold Bobryk, "On the Border or a Few Words About the Eastern European Religious Space on the Example of the Metropolitanate of Kyiv and its Heritage"
  • Ihor Skochylias, "From Sacred Space to Administrative Model of Church Governing: the Organization of the Territory of Halych (Lviv) Eparchy in the Medieval and Early Modern Period"
  • Mikhail Dmitriev, "Humanism and Traditional Orthodox Culture of Eastern Europe: the Problem of Compatibility (15-17th centuries)"
  • Tomasz Kempa, "Stauropegic Brotherhood of Vilno and Brotherhood Monastery as the Most Important Centre in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the End of the 16th and in the 17th Centuries"
  • Leonid Tymoshenko, "Prince Konstanty Wasyl Ostrogski and the 'Single-Faith' Muscovy"
  • Andrzej Gil, "The First Images and the Beginning of the Cult of the Archbishop of Polock Josaphat Kuncewicz in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth till the mid-17th Century"
  • Witold Bobryk, "Rite Changes in the Uniate Diocese of Chelm in the 18th Century"
Look for this to be reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies later this year.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ecclesiology and Ecumenism in Yves Congar

Yves Congar is indisputably one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. His scholarship did so much not only to renew the Catholic Church, but also to contribute to the ressourcement movement and the ecumenical movement. His scholarship has been especially important to, and useful for, the ongoing search for East-West unity.

A recent book discusses his thought in some important detail:

Douglas Koskela, Ecclesiality and Ecumenism: Yves Congar and the Road to Unity (Marquette Studies in Theology) (Marquette U Press, 2008), 174pp.

In her review in the forthcoming issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Catherine Clifford discusses this book, noting its creative contribution to Congar scholarship but noting also that this is a rather short book and sacrifices some necessary depth in places.

You may read the full review, and much else besides, by subscribing to the journal here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Filioque

Last year, I noted all the recent advances in dealing with the controverted topic of the filioque, including a remarkable new book about it:

A. Edward Siecienski, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) (OUP, 2010).

In the upcoming spring issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, we have a long review of this book by the Orthodox historian Robert Haddad.

In his review, Haddad, himself a member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, and so one of the participants in their drafting and publishing a statement in 2003 on the filioque, calls Siecinski's book a "tour de force" and praises, for reasons he discusses in detail, the importance of this book, concluding "We are all in his [Siecinski's] debt."

You will want to read the long review in the journal later this spring.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vladimir Solovyov's Divine Sophia

In the upcoming spring issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, we will have a review by Robert Slesinski of

Judith Deutsch Kornblatt, Divine Sophia: The Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov, with annotated translations by Boris Jakim, JD Kornblatt, and Laury Magnus (Ithaca/London: Cornell U Press, 2009), xviii+297pp.

Slesinski, a scholar of Russian philosophy and theology, notes that this book is "striking for its manifest erudition" as well as its "utter handiness" for many reasons he articulates in his critically thoughtful review. He calls this a "highly recommended" book, especially to any and all interested in the Slavophiles in general, and the very influential thought and work of Solovyov in particular.

Look for the long review of Slesinski in the upcoming issue of the journal, to which you will want to subscribe here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A History of Byzantium

Interest in Byzantium, if the number of recent books in English is any guide, has never been higher. We have recently seen various studies on that ancient empire and its far-reaching culture, including the relationship between Church and state, and its artistic (especially iconographic) culture. Judith Herrin's Byzantium: the Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire, which I reviewed for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies when it came out in 2009, is a very good and very accessible introduction for those with little background. 

Now along comes another new book, first published in 2005 and just issued in a second edition:

Timothy E. George, A History of Byzantium (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), xviii+455pp.

In both form and layout, this reads and looks very much like a book that would be assigned as an undergraduate textbook. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, and the book has, judging by its going into a second edition as well as the critical comments that greeted the first edition, clearly met just such a need among educators.

Look for this to be reviewed in greater detail later this year in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Russian Icons in Modernity

As I have noted before, books on icons continue to pour forth around the world from a variety of presses. I have just received notice of another new book coming from Penn State Press:

Jefferson J.A. Gatrall and Douglas Greenfield, eds., Alter Icons: The Russian Icon and Modernity (Penn State, 2011), 304pp + 16 colour + 24 b&w illustrations.

The publisher provides us the following blurb about the book:

Passage into the modern world left the Russian icon profoundly altered. It fell into new hands, migrated to new homes, and acquired new forms and meanings. Icons were made in the factories of foreign industrialists and destroyed by iconoclasts of the proletariat. Even the icon’s traditional functions—whether in the feast days of the church or the pageantry of state power—were susceptible to the transformative forces of modernization. In Alter Icons: The Russian Icon and Modernity, eleven scholars of Russian history, art, literature, cinema, philosophy, and theology track key shifts in the production, circulation, and consumption of the Russian icon from Peter the Great’s Enlightenment to the post-Soviet revival of Orthodoxy. Alter Icons shows how the twin pressures of secular scholarship and secular art transformed the Russian icon from a sacred image in the church to a masterpiece in the museum, from a parochial craftwork to a template for the avant-garde, and from a medieval interface with the divine to a modernist prism for seeing the world anew.
In addition to the editors, the contributors are Robert Bird, Elena Boeck, Shirley A. Glade, John-Paul Himka, John Anthony McGuckin, Robert L. Nichols, Sarah Pratt, Wendy R. Salmond, and Vera Shevzov.
This will be reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, and also discussed on here, later this year.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Eucharistic Praying East and West

One of the great achievements of the twentieth-century ecumenical movement was the recovery of the very ancient eucharistic ecclesiology which understood that the Eucharist makes the Church. This movement has gone hand-in-hand in many ways with the movement, in the West especially, of liturgical reform. Scholars continue to ponder the meaning and implications of all this.

Recently a group of scholarly essays has been gathered together in a new collection edited by Maxwell Johnson of Notre Dame and just published by Liturgical Press:

Issues in Eucharistic Praying in East and West: Essays in Liturgical and Theological Analysis (Lit. Press, 2011), xvi+395pp.

Johnson, who has written the introduction and the eighth chapter ("Recent Research on the Anaphoral Sanctus: An Update and Hypothesis")  has gathered together an impressive collection of twelve other scholars. What is very much a pleasant surprise is that, unlike similar collections in which one almost invariably finds that "East and West" means 90% of the chapters concern the West, and 10% the East, at least half of the chapters in the present volume are in fact devoted to Eastern questions in particular.

Johnson's introduction, which you may read here,  tells us that this current book is in someways a successor picking up where Paul Bradshaw's Essays on Early Eastern Eucharistic Prayers (Liturgical Press, 1997) left off.  The great Robert Taft, on the back cover of this book, acknowledges the continuity between the volumes and notes:
the topical importance of this anthology. And Johnson’s excellent introduction provides a careful guide to its riches, which no theological library can henceforth be without. For Johnson’s summary of his book’s purpose (p. xv) is perfectly fulfilled:    ‘ . . . one of the primary goals of this volume has been to offer an update on the state of the question on various Eucharistic prayers today and, as such, it is hoped that these essays will become required reading for students of liturgy.’ Amen to that!
 The publisher provides the following description:
This collection provides several "state of the question" essays on current research in a variety of Eucharistic prayers in the Churches of East and West, including attention to other issues of Eucharistic praying and theology. In addition to essays by already recognized scholars in the field, this collection also introduces readers to a new generation of liturgiologists who are emerging within the academy as notable contributors to the field of liturgical studies.
For students and teachers of liturgy, indeed, for all who seek solid and up-to-date scholarship on Eucharistic liturgy and theology, this volume offers an ecumenical guide from New Testament texts through Addai and Mari, the so-called Apostolic Tradition, and Roman Canon, through the diversity of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox anaphoras, up to and including the sources for the prefaces of the Missal of Paul VI. Close attention is also given to questions such as the origins of the Sanctus, Eucharistic consecration, as well as other historical and theological questions from within Eucharistic praying.
 Some of the Eastern contributors include:
  • Nicholas Russo, “The Validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari: Critique of the Critiques”
  • Bryan Spinks, "The Mystery of the Holy Leaven (Malka) in the East Syrian Tradition" 
  • John Paul Abdelsayed, "Liturgical Exodus in Reverse: a Re-evaluation of the Egyptian Elements in the Jerusalem Liturgy"
  • Hans-Jürgen Feulner, "The Armenian Anaphora of St. Athanasius"
  • Anne Vorhes McGowan, "The Basilian Anaphroras: Rethinking the Question"
  • Michael Zheltov, "The Moment of Eucharistic Consecration in Byzantine Thought"
Of these articles, I think Russo's especially important, along with Zheltov. In the former, we read a thorough response to Latin critics of the decision by Rome in 2001 to recognize as legitimate and valid (because indisputably ancient) the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, for which decision Robert Taft provided much of the scholarship. A few Latins got their lace surplices in a twist over that decision and tried (foolishly) to take on Taft's impeccable scholarship. Russo takes up the debate from where Taft left off and demolishes the Latin criticisms.

Zheltov's article is fascinating and important, especially for those Orthodox who fetishize the "epiclesis" even to the point of artificially shoe-horning one into the Roman canon (whose lack of an "epiclesis," at least in a recognizably "Byzantine" form, is simply proof of the canon's very great antiquity: it antedates the Christological and pneumatological controversies) in those Orthodox churches that use the "Western rite" in some variation or other. Byzantine views of the epiclesis are not at all what many Orthodox polemicists, apologists, and liturgists today would have us believe, and the history is neither so neat nor so straightforward as is fondly imagined by those who--in Taft's memorable phrase--do not have their views encumbered by anything so bothersome as facts. The burden of Zheltov's article is to "demonstrate...that, while the Byzantines undoubtedly were very concerned about the epiclesis recited during their Eucharistic liturgy, its mere existence did not always signify the importance it is ascribed in late- and post-Byzantine theological literature. For the Byzantines often pointed to some other elements of the rite as 'consecratory' and were in nowise strangers to the idea of a Eucharistic consecration independent of an epiclesis" (263). Zheltov goes on to show that neither the East nor the West was, especially between the fourth and eighth centuries, univocal in its views on the precise "moment" of the consecration. Is it the words of institution? epiclesis? the elevation of the gifts during the ekphonesis? some or all of these? Zheltov goes to show that most scholars (save for Taft) have overlooked how often the elevation at the ekphonesis ("Ta agia tois agiois") is thought to be the key moment especially in the post-Iconoclastic period. In the end, Zheltov concludes that there has been a diversity of practices and beliefs in the Byzantine world, and that more often than not, what matters is not so much the words--whether epicletic or institutional--so much as the manual priestly acts accompanying them.

In addition to these, at least two other chapters treat in part Eastern traditions:
  • Walter Ray, "Rome and Alexandria: Two Cities, One Anaphoral Tradition"
  • Albertus G.A. Horsting, "Transfiguration of Flesh: Literary and Theological Connections between Martyrdom Accounts and Eucharistic Prayers"
Issues in Eucharistic Praying in East and West: Essays in Liturgical and Theological Analysis will be reviewed at length later this year in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An Eastern Christian on the Throne of Canterbury

Though it is a commonplace that we live in a globalized world today, and a common stereotype that the ancients were prisoners of their surroundings, generally unable to go hither and thither, some of them did lead--as we would say today--very "international" lives, bringing far-flung parts of the oikoumene into interesting and influential encounter. One such figure is Theodore of Tarsus (c. 602-690), who was born in Asia Minor (in Cilicia) but spent the last two decades of his life as archbishop of Canterbury--a product of Eastern Christianity in a very Western see.

Little was known about Theodore, especially his early life prior to taking up his archiepiscopal appointment in Canterbury. What shaped his thought? Who were formative figures for him? Did he, coming from something of a non-Chalcedonian part of the world, bring those views to shape how Christians in England understood Christ? We are closer to answering some of these questions thanks to a new book:

James Siemens, The Christology of Theodore of Tarsus: The Laterculus Malalianus and the Person and Work of Christ (Studia Traditionis Theologiae) (Brepols, 2010), xvii+211pp.

Recent research has uncovered texts that shed light on Theodore, especially his views about Christ. As the publisher tell us:

Theodore of Tarsus served as archbishop of Canterbury for twenty-two years until his death in 690, aged eighty-eight. Because the only significant record we had of Theodore was that contained in Bede’s Historia, until recently it was very difficult to say anything about his life before this appointment, and even more difficult to determine anything about his thought. All of that changed in the last half of the twentieth century, when the discovery of some biblical glosses from Canterbury was revealed and the ensuing scholarship uncovered more of Theodore’s work than had previously been known. The Laterculus Malalianus is a text that benefited from treatment in this period. This present work examines the Laterculus for what it has to say about the person and work of Christ, and establishes that Theodore’s main theological inspiration was Irenaeus of Lyons and the concept of recapitulation, even while he cast his thought in language heavily drawn from the Syriac East, and Ephrem the Syrian in particular.
The volume represents a contribution to our understanding of the early medieval theological project in Britain, the transmission of eastern Mediterranean thought in the early medieval West and, ultimately, of the work of Theodore of Tarsus.
This will be reviewed later this year in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies by John Hunwicke.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Copts Then and Now

Our debts to the aboriginal Christians of Egypt--today known as the Copts--are incalculable. The founders of monasticism and the preservers of some of the oldest icons in the world, they, more than any other tradition, have shown us a radical way of living the gospel through monasticism and, inter alia, an ascetic discipline more rigorous than any other Christian tradition in the world. They have also been on the front-line of those who have suffered for the gospel for more than fourteen centuries.

That plight of the Coptic Church in Egypt itself has only very recently begun to receive even passing notice on the part of the Western media in general, and Western Christians in particular. The New Year's Eve bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria seems at long last to have drawn greater attention, though Copts have been suffering from Muslim violence for a very long time. The situation there has been grim for decades, but seems to have been growing worse in the last few years.

For those new to the Coptic world and desirous of some background of one of the most interesting and richest Christian traditions, they would do well to start with some of the works of Otto Meinardus, who, until his death in 2005, was the Western world's leading Coptologist--though himself not a Copt at all but a Methodist-Lutheran pastor from Germany.

The American University of Cairo Press recently sent me a copy of Meinardus's 

Two Thousand Years of Coptic Christianity (AUC Press, 1999, 2002, 2010), vii+344pp.

Originally published in 1999, and reissued in in paperback in 2002 and again last October, this is a good historical overview in three lengthy chapters and four substantial appendices. 

Meinardus was a prolific fellow who also wrote other important works on Coptic monks, Coptic saints and pilgrimages, Coptic monasteries, Coptic art, the Apostle Paul and his travels, St. John of Patmos, and more general introductions to Christians in the Middle East as well as the Holy Family's sojourn there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ecclesial Hierarchy

Matthew Levering has written a book that, in some respects, I wish I had written--that, indeed, more than ten years ago now, I did think I might some day write. It is a fascinating study that treats of Triadology, Christology, ecclesiology, ecumenism, and the sacraments:

Matthew Levering, Christ and the the Catholic Priesthood: Ecclesial Hierarchy and the Pattern of the Trinity (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2010), x+339pp.

This is a marvelous book, flawlessly written with great cogency and unfailing respect even for those positions and people with which Levering disagrees. He sets out to see if it is possible, in this day and age, to come up with a convincing theological rationale for the existence of hierarchy in the Church--an acute question in the last several decades, but perhaps never so acute as in the last year or so when both Catholic and Orthodox bishops--not excluding the bishop of Rome--as well as priests and others, have been accused of, e.g. and inter alia, themselves committing horrifying crimes against children or covering up such crimes by other clergy. Who has not been tempted at least once to quote to such bishops Cromwell's famous speech to the Long Parliament:
It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money... . Ye have no more religion than my horse....

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious.... So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go! 
Levering is not even remotely so polemical or dismissive. In five meaty chapters, with a substantial introduction and a brief conclusion, he sees his burden precisely as rescuing a plausible understanding of hierarchy from the (in many cases justly deserved, as he himself recognizes repeatedly) opprobrium to which it is so often subject today in Church and world alike. Levering clearly writes as a vir ecclesiasticus but his is not merely a defensive exercise in "apologetics" (that unjustly derided activity) for some kind of ham-fisted hierarchy offering us only the ability to "exult in the freedom to submit to authority with wild abandon" (Richard John Neuhaus's splendid phrase). No obsequious W.G. Ward he--demanding a papal bull at breakfast every morning with his Times. This is instead theology of a very high order, focused not on human hierarchs but on Christ, and done exactly as it should be: with great ecumenical openness and generosity of spirit to other traditions to see what can be learned from them--without, at the same time, watering down his own Roman Catholic tradition. This book is a model of how to engage others respectfully and profitably without selling one's own tradition down the river.

A very great deal of Levering's book, in fact, is a dialogue with the Greek Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas--and, beyond him, Nicholas Afanasiev, Paul Evdokimov, Alexander Schmemann, and others. Non-Orthodox who feature prominently here include Joseph Ratzinger and Myroslav Volf. Linking them all--and correcting them when necessary, at least as far as Levering sees it--is Thomas Aquinas.

I am not a Thomist and have little interest in him, so I shall leave it to others to determine whether Levering has rendered Thomas rightly. That said, the Thomas who appears so often in this book poses, to my mind, really no problem to the East in almost every instance and, surprisingly, would seem to agree with common Eastern positions on, e.g., the relationship between Peter and the other Apostles as an analogy for the relationship between one primate and many bishops. (Sometimes I think Levering's use of Thomas in this book is rather forced as with the end of ch. 3, pp.164ff., where the reason Thomas is brought into dialogue with Zizioulas is not clear; Levering's rationale for the inclusion ["Aquinas's scriptural and metaphysical depth serves our inquiry at this stage," 164] is overly laconic and unconvincing.) I fear, however, that even the very mention of the so-called angelic doctor will be enough to ensure that Eastern Christian readers do not learn from this rich and profitable book. For too many Eastern Christians the mere mention of such phrases as "scholasticism," "Aquinas" (etc.) is enough for them either to dismiss a work tout court or else descend into fits of apoplexy about matters on which they have an "encyclopedic ignorance" and "deranged terror" (in David Bentley Hart's memorably apt phrases). It would be a great loss to fail to read this book because of that. For there is, in my estimation, nothing in this book that would not, mutatis mutandis, also be enormously relevant and accessible to Orthodox Christians wondering--as many, in, e.g., the OCA cannot have failed to do over the last decade or more of scandals--about why God has burdened the Church with bishops, especially bishops who fiddle the books or diddle the altar boys.

Levering does not suffer that temptation. His answer to the question--Why hierarchy?--is refreshingly theological. By that I mean that he has avoided the very frequent trap, which I have elsewhere lamented, of the majority of ecclesiologists today (of all traditions) who treat the Church purely sociologically; God plays no real role. Not for Levering. This book begins and ends with God and the recognition that the Church is His; it is not a plaything of our own devising. Bishops, whose capacity for iniquity the author does not romantically deny or cynically overplay, are given to us precisely so that we can, through their sacramental ministrations, be given access to Christ.

Chapter 1, "Hierarchical Priesthood and Trinitarian Communion" sets the scene for the rest of the book. Here Levering first reviews the Trinitarian theology of Ratzinger and Zizioulas before turning to Volf. In responding to all three with Thomas, Levering, surprisingly, glides over (pp. 46-47; cf. p.196, fn. 33) the controverted issue of the filioque. The question he puts to all four is: "does not hierarchy mean that some Christians give more and others receive more? If this is so, how can a hierarchical Church be a true image of either the divine unity or the communion of the divine Trinity" (53)? He spends the rest of the book surveying responses to this and related questions--e.g., how are we to understand Christ as high priest, and what is the significance of that for the sacramental priesthood in the Church today?--and then coming up with his own very carefully considered reply.

A few critical comments: While this is a richly referenced work, and for once a publisher has had the very good sense--which all other publishers of academic books should be required to follow--of using footnotes and not the wholly vexatious endnotes, Levering's footnotes are sometimes rather lavish and occasionally ostentatious; but sometimes they are surprising by what is not there when one would have expected--given the author's impressively wide reading--certain sources most certainly to make an appearance. E.g., Levering relies almost exclusively on Afanasiev's essay "The Church Which Presides in Love" from 1963, even though he is aware (cf. p. 189, fn.12) that the fuller work by Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit, has been in print since 2007. I think this book should have been consulted more because it contains a great deal of material not only relevant to Levering's argument, but also capable of introducing significant nuance and subtle shifts in Afanasiev's ecclesiology.

A few other sources one would have expected to see here are also missing. Inter alia, I was surprised that Francis Dvornik's important historical works are nowhere cited. I was even more surprised that Levering's attention to Pseudo-Dionysius (pp.251-272) overlooks an increasingly burgeoning literature on him just in the last five years. I also think Levering's treatment of Ps-Dionysius is sometimes too sanguine and overlooks dangers the Orthodox theologian John Jillions has articulated well. Levering's treatment of Schmemann is really an afterthought in some ways, and he overlooks S's important insight that the one great unresolved problem, the one glaring lacuna in all ecclesiology, ancient and modern, East and West, is the problem of the parish.

In the end, however, I think Levering has made a very convincing case and shown himself a model Thomist, at least methodologically: he has taken his opponents' arguments very seriously, stated them at length with clarity and respect, and then shown how and where they are weak, flawed, or wrong. All this he has done in order to demonstrate that in the Church "hierarchical order imitates God in the Trinitarian action ad extra" (269), and such hierarchy can only be "understood eucharistically" as exercising a "participated power" (276) that "enables believers to enter into the pattern of the triune God's outpouring of love" (272).

Levering is to be congratulated for this excellent book, at once faithful and ecumenical, and wholly relevant to Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike today. I warmly recommend it to all Christians, Eastern and Western, who may recently have grown rather weary--and for good reason--with their shepherds' sins and shenanigans. In the end, thankfully, it is not about them--or us: it is about the Triune God, whom all of us are to glorify unto ages of ages.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ephraim the Semitic Syrian?

Oxford's Sebastian Brock, the great scholar of Ephraim the Syrian who has a review of a new book on Syriac realities in the forthcoming issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, has raised the question of how to consider the Syriac tradition of Eastern Christianity ("The Syriac Orient: a Third 'Lung' for the Church?," Orientalia Christiana Periodica 71 [2005]: 5-20). The Syriac tradition (as it is increasingly generally known, especially in North America, to avoid calling it "Syrian" and so conflating ancient theological realities with the politics of the modern nation-state) is neither Latin nor Greek, and its early development predated the Hellenization of Christianity and preserved much closer and more obviously Semitic roots outside of Greek philosophical categories.

Just how Semitic--just how Jewish--was, and is, that tradition, and its chief spokesman, Ephraim? Such is the question under examination in a new book:

E. Narinskaya, Ephrem, a 'Jewish' Sage: A Comparison of Exegetical Writings of St. Ephrem in the Syrian and Jewish Tradition (Studia Traditionis Theologiae) (Brepols, 2010), xix+357pp. 

The author holds a doctorate from the University of Durham.

The publisher provides us the following description of the book:
This book seeks to reconsider the commonly held view that some of Ephrem’s writings are anti-Semitic, and that his relationship with Judaism is polemical and controversial. The outcome of the research highlights several key issues. First, it indicates that the whole emphasis of Ephrem’s critical remarks about Jews and Judaism is directed towards Christian conduct, and not towards Jews; and second, it considers Ephrem’s negative remarks towards Jews strictly within the context of his awareness of the need for a more clearly defined identity for the Syriac Church.
Furthermore, this book examines discernible parallels between Ephrem’s commentaries on Scripture and Jewish sources. Such an exercise contributes to a general portrait of Ephrem within the context of his Semitic background. And in addition, the book offers an alternative reading of Ephrem’s exegetical writings, suggesting that Ephrem was aiming to include Jews together with Christians among his target audience. Further analysis of Ephrem’s biblical commentaries suggests that his exegetical style resembles in many respects approaches to Scripture familiar to us from the writings of Jewish scholars.
A comparison of Ephrem’s writings with Jewish sources represents a legitimate exercise, considering ideas that Ephrem emphasises, exegetical techniques that he uses, and his great appreciation of ‘the People’ – the Jews as a chosen nation and the people of God – an appreciation which becomes apparent from Ephrem’s presentation of them. The process of reading Ephrem’s exegetical writings in parallel with Jewish sources strongly identifies him as an heir of Jewish exegetical tradition who is comfortably and thoroughly grounded in it. This reading identifies Ephrem on a theological, exegetical and methodological level as a Christian writer demonstrating the qualities and features of a Jewish sage.
I look forward to having this book reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies later this year.
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