"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).

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Byzantines in Boats

I have just stumbled upon a small but fascinating press that--perhaps because it lives in the shadow of a much larger university press in the same town--had been unknown to me previously: the Cambridge Scholars Press. In perusing their lists, I spy several recent titles of interest to Eastern Christians:

Trevor Curnow, Pantokrator: An Introduction to Orthodoxy:

About Curnow's book the publisher tells us the following:
Although most people think of Greek philosophy as “Western”, its religion is commonly referred to as “Eastern”. For those who have not spent time in countries where Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion, it can seem exotic and alien. Even those who visit these countries can come away with little understanding of it. Pantokrator: an Introduction to Orthodoxy helps those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy to become acquainted with the history of the Orthodox Church, what it teaches, how it is structured, and how it differs from other churches. There is also a brief guide to the architecture and internal design and decoration of Orthodox churches. Because monasticism plays an important role in the life of the Orthodox Church, an account is given of the monastic life. This is illustrated with reference to how that life is lived on Mount Athos, an enclave within Greece run entirely by monks. The history and organisation of the Holy Mountain, as Athos is called, is explained in general terms with a more detailed account of one of its monasteries, Pantokrator.

Savvas Neocleous, ed., Papers from the First and Second Postgraduate Forums in Byzantine Studies: Sailing to Byzantium

About this collection, the publisher tells us:
Sailing to Byzantium brings together ten probing and pertinent critical papers, presented at the First and Second Postgraduate Forums in Byzantine Studies, held at Trinity College Dublin on 17-18 April 2007 and 15-16 May 2008 respectively. These essays engage with various facets of Byzantine history and culture. Many of them seek to shed new light on frequently controversial subject matters relating to history, historiography, and religion (the contentious nature of Jerusalem in Byzantine imperial ideology; medieval Western attitudes and perceptions of the Byzantine Empire; and the translation and use of Greek theologians in the West). Elsewhere, there are papers that tackle aspects of Byzantine literature (Encyclopaedism; the circulation of poetry; and a case study of political rhetoric in Manuel II’s Dialogue with the Empress-Mother on Marriage). Finally, history of art and cult come under the microscope in the last two essays of the volume (the meaning of the eight-century apsidal conch at Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome and the origins of the cult of Saint Martin in Dalmatia). Sailing to Byzantium is a provocative, wide-ranging collection and a must for students and academics who wish to broaden their understanding of one of history’s most fascinating civilizations.

Eugenia Russell, ed., Spirituality in Late Byzantium: Essays Presenting New Research by International Scholars:

About this book the publisher says:
This collection of essays on late Byzantine spirituality presents new research covering a very important but less than well-documented period of Byzantine culture. Its thematic cohesion, originality of thought, variety of methodological approaches and broad intellectual range, make it a valuable contribution to the field and an asset for academics and students alike. The essays discuss pertinent historical, textual, liturgical and doctrinal matters, and through new evidence and re-appraisals of accepted scholarly views they seek to make their mark.
Table of Contents:

Introduction - Eugenia Russell
Part I: The Seeds of Hesychia and the Theologians of Hesychasm:
1) The Reforming Abbot and his Tears: Penthos in late Byzantium (Hannah Hunt)
2) The Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos and His Defence of Hesychasm (Norman Russell)
3) Symeon of Thessalonica and his Message of Personal Redemption (Eugenia Russell)
4) Reading Denys in late Byzantium: Gregory Palamas’s Approach to the Theological Categories of ‘Apophasis’ and ‘Union and Distinction’ (James Blackstone)
Part II: Four Case Studies on Late Byzantine Spirituality:
5) The ‘Testament of Job’: From Testament to Vita (Maria Haralambakis)
6) Donors and Iconography: The Case of the Church “St. Virgin”in Dolna Kamenitsa (Teodora Burnand)
7) The Church of the Most Pure Virgin at the Village of Graeshnitsa (Robert Mihajlovski)
8)  Journey of the Soul to Perfection: Nicetas Stethatos (Jozef Matula)
Afterword - Eugenia Russell
List of Contributors
About the Editor

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hesychasm and Globalization

As I am forever reminding my students, geography is crucial to understanding religion, religious history, religious conflict, and the diversity of religious practices. As the late Archpriest Robert Anderson used always to insist, "everything in the East is local custom." The nature of those customs, and their transformation as the geographical context changes, is the subject of a new book:

Christopher D. L. Johnson, Globalization of Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer: Contesting Contemplation (London/NewYork: Continuum, 2010), 224pp.

The publishers, Continuum, provides the following blurb:
The meditative prayer practices known as Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer have played an important role in the history of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This book explores how these prayer practices have spread from a primarily monastic setting within Orthodox Christianity, into general Orthodox Christian usage, and finally into wider contemporary Western culture. As a result of this gradual geographic shift from a local to a global setting, caused mainly by immigration and dissemination of related texts, there has been a parallel shift of interpretation causing disagreement. By analyzing ongoing conversations on the practices, this book shows how such disagreements are due to differences in the way groups understand the ideas of authority and tradition. These fundamental ideas lie beneath much of the current discussion on particular aspects of the practices and also contribute to the wider academic debate over the globalization and appropriation of religious traditions.
I look forward to having this reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Just published by the European academic publisher Peter Lang is a new book looking at a phenomenon as old as Christianity itself: martyrdom.

Jakob Engberg et al., eds., Contextualising Early Christian Martyrdom (Peter Lang, 2011), 275pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This collection of essays examines Christian martyrdom by locating it in different historical, cultural and social contexts. Chronologically, the book analyses traditions predating the Christian martyr literature and ideology proper, and studies an example of how this ideology was transformed in the post-Constantinian era. Within this chronological span the following contextual themes are discussed: the arena and the values represented by gladiatorial combat and executions; the reaction of 'others' to Christian martyrdom and martyr ideology; how Christians differentiated suicide from martyrdom; the relationship between Christian apologetic literature and martyr literature; and the conceptions of gender and sexuality in Jewish and Christian martyr literature in their Greco-Roman setting.

The contents:
  • Anders Klostergaard Petersen/Jakob Engberg: Finding Relevant Contexts for Early Christian Martyrdom 
  • Niels Willert: Martyrology in the Passion Narratives of the Synoptic Gospels 
  • Stefan Krauter: The Martyrdom of Stephen 
  • Jesper Carlsen: Exemplary Deaths in the Arena: Gladitorial Fights and the Execution of Criminals 
  • Jakob Engberg: Martyrdom and Persecution - Pagan Perspectives on the Prosecution and Execution of Christians c. 110 210 AD 
  • Jesper Hyldahl: Gnostic Critique of Martyrdom 
  • Nils Arne Pedersen: «A Prohibition So Divine» - The Origins of the Christian Ban on Suicide 
  • Judith Lieu: The Audience of Apologetics: the Problem of the Martyr Acts 
  • Anders Klostergaard Petersen: Gender bending in Early Jewish and Christian Martyr Texts 
  • Dayna S. Kalleres: Imagining Martyrdom During Theodosian Peace. John Chrysostom and the Problem of Judaizers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is Rob Bell Right?

Rob Bell's thesis that "love wins" is all the rage. In reading his work, listening to him, and following this controversy, I quickly realized that both Bell's questions and his apparent answers are as old as Christianity itself.

The question of "soteriological exclusivism" has haunted Christianity from the beginning. Is the covenant with Israel exclusive to Jews, open to Gentiles, or in fact supplanted by a "new" covenant in Christ? From at least Origen onwards--and most notoriously in the case of his theory of ἀποκατάστᾰσις--Christians have been sharply divided in trying to answer the question of whether it is possible to think that ultimately all may be saved. Even today, commentators on Origen are not agreed that he meant what he has so often been accused of believing. There are several books that can help us shed some light on what Origen, the patristic, and the Eastern Christian tradition generally meant:

The Westminster Handbook to Origen has several good articles on this by Elizabeth Divley Lauro, Frederick Norris, Brian Daley, and others. This volume was edited by John McGuckin, author of The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity on which I have commented earlier.

Perhaps the most prominent Western theologian to revive this controversy in our time was Hans Urs von Balthasar (who has been sharply criticized by Alyssa Pitstick). Von Balthasar had studied many of the Fathers, and wrote about, inter alia, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.

In the East, it is not only Origen who has been "accused" of holding to the doctrine of apokatastasis, but some have suggested a variant of it may be found in St. Gregory of Nyssa. For this see, inter alia, Morwenna Ludlow, Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner (Oxford UP, 2009). Others in the East in the modern period who are said to subscribe to some relative notion of apokatastasis include Sergius Bulgakov, Nikolai Berdyaev, Paul Evdokimov, and Kallistos Ware.

These questions are given fresh examination in a new publication from Cascade books briefly noted last year:

Gregory MacDonald, ed., 'All Shall Be Well': Explorations in Universal Salvation and Christian Theology, from Origen to Moltmann (Cascade Books, 2011), xii+439pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us:

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" (Lady Julian of Norwich).
Universalism runs like a slender thread through the history of Christian theology. It has always been a minority report and has often been regarded as heresy, but it has proven to be a surprisingly resilient "idea." Over the centuries Christian universalism, in one form or another, has been reinvented time and time again.

In this book an international team of scholars explore the diverse universalisms of Christian thinkers from the Origen to Moltmann. In the introduction Gregory MacDonald argues that theologies of universal salvation occupy a space between heresy and dogma. Therefore disagreements about whether all will be saved should not be thought of as debates between "the orthodox" and "heretics" but rather as "in-house" debates between Christians.

The studies that follow aim, in the first instance, to hear, understand, and explain the eschatological claims of a range of Christians from the third to the twenty-first centuries. They also offer some constructive, critical engagement with those claims.
Articles of particular note include:
  • Origen (Tom Greggs)
  • Gregory of Nyssa (Steve Harmon)
  • Sergius Bulgakov (Paul Gavrilyuk)
There are many other articles examining this notion in modern evangelical and Protestant theologians, as well as Catholic ones; the complete list may be seen here.

I don't expect that books will resolve this issue. If Origen, whom even his enemies regarded as one of if not the greatest of scholars in Christian antiquity, could not resolve this issue to everyone's satisfaction; and if, in our own day, Hans Urs von Balthasar, whom Henri de Lubac once called the most learned man in Europe, also could not resolve this problem; and if Bulgakov, considered by many the premiere Russian theologian of the twentieth century, also did not resolve this, it is highly unlikely that the famously low theological and intellectual culture of American evangelicalism is going to provide us with an answer.

There is, it seems, something necessary to the "drama" of salvation (as von Balthasar called it) for us simultaneously to hope that all may be saved, but also to be aware that such is probably not likely, and in any event the outcome is most certainly not known to us. Here, again, the East's apophaticism has much to teach the West, especially North American evangelicalism, which knows so little history, and seems to think it is possible for anybody to interpret Scripture and declaim on God's mind about this, that, or the other thing. (Cf. St. Gregory the Theologian: "Not to every one, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits" [I Theo. Orat. 27:3].)

One must underscore that there are things we do not, and cannot, know about God, not only in His essence/energies, but even in His communion with us. In matters of great mystery, where it is not necessary that we should intrude, it is necessary that we not intrude. Where the risks of speculation (theologoumena) are high, we must proceed very cautiously and only if we have serious and substantial justification for doing so (sucking up to the zeitgeist's faux universalism, and insipid blather about "love" that demands that all must have prizes, does not count). We must take appropriate care to steer between God's love, extended to everyone, and God's respect for human freedom that can be used to reject God's love and so seem to damn oneself. Here, it seems, is a classic instance of antinomic tension we cannot, and should not, collapse.

Patterns of Secularization

A century ago and more now, it was a commonplace among many academics that as countries and societies continued to "modernize" they would concomitantly throw off any religious allegiances they may once have had. Modernity, it was assumed, could only follow the way of secularity. Today we know that is bunk--pious superstition concocted by those for whom religion was the bearer of all evils. Religion is back today in a big way.

And yet, for all that, we continue to see societies once strongly identified with Christianity move away from their religious moorings. How does that happen? What are the motives? These and other new questions are tackled in a book that looks as the process of secularization in a once heavily Catholic country--Ireland--and a once heavily Orthodox one, Greece:

Daphne Halikiopoulou, Patterns of Secularization (Ashgate, 2011), 194pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

Drawing on David Martin’s “Cultural Defense Paradigm,” which expects secularization to be inhibited in cases where religion serves as a carrier of national identity, Patterns of Secularization offers a comparative study
highlighting the limits of existing interpretations and identifies variations within the cultural defense paradigm.

National identity and the secularization debate;
The origins and consolidation of ‘cultural defence’ in Greece and the Republic of Ireland.
Church and state: nationalist legitimisation versus ‘moral monopoly’;
Church and nation: external threat perceptions, national identity and religion.
State discourse and the redefinition of national ientity in the Greek and Irish educational systems; Church discourse and nationalist mobilisation.
Conclusion: Pattern of secularisation.
Bibliography; Appendix; Index.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The PIO's Endangered Books on Eastern Christianity

The great Byzantine liturgical historian Robert Taft

explains in this article, "Bad Bookworms: Precious Library Collection on Christian East Risks Ruin," the state of the collection at the Pontificio Istituto Orientale in Rome. (The PIO not only houses some of the most invaluable Eastern Christian works in the world, but continues to publish much excellent scholarship in such organs as the journal Orientalia Christiana Periodica, whose most recent table of contents you may read here, as well as the Orientalia Christiania Analecta.) 

If you know of ways to help, or know people with funds or the types of expertise noted in the article, why not consider contacting the PIO directly? 

Eastern Christian bibliophiles of the world--unite!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (7)

The recent news out of Chambesy that the Orthodox are unable to agree on the diptychs and autocephaly is no surprise to anyone who has followed these "pre-conciliar" discussions for some time--depressing, yes, but surprising no. For some guidance on these questions, we continue our exploration of the excellent two-volume Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, on which I have commented previously.

This marvellous collection, under John McGuckin's superb editorship, contains, surprisingly, no entry on the diptychs. (The only serious English-language study that I know of is Robert Taft's.) That is at once surprising but also realistic in that they are not nearly so important as the spokesmen quoted at Chambesy would have us believe. Yes, one needs to know with whom one is in communion, but the order of those commemorations is scarcely more than an expression of nationalistic pride; no ecclesiological principle is at stake, and it is fatuous to think that an issue such as this should impede deeper Christian unity.

Nor does the Encyclopedia contain a stand-alone entry on autocephaly. That, too, seems odd given how prominent a role autocephaly plays in current inter-Orthodox disputes. Autocephaly is mentioned briefly under a number of other entries dealing with particular churches. E.g., the entry "Orthodoxy in the United States of America" briefly treats the grant by Moscow in 1970 of autocephaly to what became the Orthodox Church of America. The fuller story is recounted in Aleksandr Bogolepov's Toward an American Orthodox Church: The Establishment of an Autocephalous Church. I am not bothered by the omission of autocephaly if one can see in it a downplaying of an overheated notion that has as much if not more to do with nineteenth-century nationalism than it does with any ecclesiological or theological principle. As the Orthodox theologian Nicholas Lossky has suggested, too much of Orthodoxy today is still beholden to the still prevalent “autocephalist ecclesiology” in which “relations among the ‘sister churches’ tend to resemble . . . the relations between sovereign states.”

Two other entries shed some welcome light on these Orthodox disputes. The first is Tamara Grdzelidze's "Church (Orthodox Ecclesiology)." This is a good theoretical overview, though in tone and scope it clearly evidences a somewhat problematic "Dionysian" approach to these questions; it does not, in other words, really deal with the messier historical-sociological aspects of the Church. I am also surprised--as I am in many entries--at how limited the "References and Suggested Readings" list at the end is. Missing are several important works one would expect to see here, including Nicholas Afanasiev, The Church of the Holy Spirit; John Meyendorff, ed., The Primacy of Peter: Essays in Ecclesiology and the Early Church; John Zizioulas's Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries; or Kondothra George's essay "Ecclesiology in the Orthodox Tradition" in The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church.  George's essay, as I've noted elsewhere, is not perfect, but reading it with Grdzelidze's would be useful in allowing each to balance the other.

The second significant entry is McGuckin's essay "Patriarchate of Constantinople." As with all of his other entries and overviews in this collection, the essay on New Rome's patriarchate is a marvel of composition, saying just what one would expect in an article of this type and length. With great cogency he gracefully sketches the early, especially conciliar and canonical, history of the rise of the patriarchate, its clashes with others (Rome and Alexandria especially), and its increasingly large position and expansive authority exercised with what McGuckin twice calls the "home synod" (almost all modern treatments speak of a "permanent" or "residential" synod, that is, the synodos endemousa, whose most authoritative scholarly treatment remains Joseph Hajjar, Le synode permanent (synodos endemousa) dans l’église byzantine des origins au XIe siècle [= Orientalia Analecta 164, Rome, 1962]). McGuckin also notes how many patriarchs have been outstanding leaders, and how many have been martyrs, but also how many succumbed to the bribery and pressures placed upon them under the Ottomans and their millet system. He notes the sad decline of Constantinople after World War I and the Greco-Turkish War of 1922 and its resulting massive population transfers, leading to a decline of Christians in the city which today is almost complete. He also briefly discusses the disputes between Constantinople and Moscow over the issue of autocephaly, and the extent, if any, of the former's jurisdiction over Christians in North America and Europe. Constantinople of course claims a very expansive jurisdiction, which Russia greatly resents, not least when it sees the Ecumenical Patriarch reaching into the "Russian sphere," whether in Estonia, Ukraine, or Russian parishes in the United Kingdom and France.

In any event, The Encyclopedia of Eastern Orthodox Christianity does not contain entries on everything (no book could), but it is still an invaluable resource continuing John McGuckin's superlative scholarship. No library, personal or institutional, will want to be without these two volumes.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Patriarchal Beastiary

With the depressing if tediously predictable news that recent Orthodox discussions at Chambésy have bogged down over patriarchal protocol and precedent (the so-called diptychs of all things: some things never change), with the ongoing turmoil in the Orthodox Church of America centred on its primate, with the election of a new Maronite patriarch, and with the election of the new (earthly) head of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, whom most refer to as a "patriarch" though the title, canonically, is "major archbishop" (a Vatican invention in the 1960s to spare delicate Russian feelings), there has been a lot of discussion in the news lately about heads of Eastern Churches. What is a primate? patriarch? metropolitan? catholicos? Herewith a brief bibliographical note about anglophone sources for understanding these figures.

There is, in fact, no one comprehensive and reliable study of how Eastern Churches are governed. Studies such as Michael Burgess, The Eastern Orthodox Churches: Concise Histories with Chronological Checklists of Their Primates are, as I have shown elsewhere, rather significantly flawed in many respects so as to preclude unconditional recommendation. Nicholas Ferencz's fascinating book American Orthodoxy and Parish Congregationalism is really excellent, but it treats exclusively American parochial and diocesan realities.

There are some historical treatments of certain patriarchs in certain periods. Thus, for example, we have Daniel Benjamin's The Patriarchs of the Church of the East. An outdated history is also given us by Arthur John Maclean's The Catholicos of the East and his people: Being the impressions of five years' work in the "Archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian mission," an account of ... Northern Persia (known also as Nestorians).The most accurate and current treatment comes, in part, in Christoph Baumer's The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity.

For Antioch, we have John Mason Neale's old History of the Holy Eastern Church: The Patriarchate of Antioch: Together with Memoirs of the Patriarchs of Antioch / by Constantius ; translated from the Greek ; and three appendices. We also have a treatment of the Melkite patriarchs: History of the Melkite Patriarchates: (Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem), from the Sixth Century Monophysite Schism Until the Present (1910). Both of these, of course, are now very dated. One forthcoming work from Gorgias Press is Patriarchs of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the Nineteenth Century.

Among Eastern Catholic treatments, the best is Francis Marini's The Power of the Patriarch: Patriarchal Jurisdiction on the Verge of the Third Millennium.  But see also the works of another Maronite, the Chorbishop John Faris: The Eastern Catholic Churches: Constitution and Governance: According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. Important too in this context is Jobe Abbass, Apostolic See in the New Eastern Code of Canon Law.

Two other books are in categories by themselves: the massive, wonderfully and lavishly illustrated The Splendour of Orthodoxy: Two Thousand Years of History, Monuments and Art (v. 1 and v. 2). This two volume set, as I said elsewhere, is itself a monument to the bibliographer's art. It is a handsome, large, beautiful book that actually has some limited scholarship on Orthodox ecclesial structures.

The other massive two-volume study is that of Michael Magee, a Roman Catholic theologian: his The Patriarchal Institution in the Church: Ecclesiological Perspectives in the Light of the Second Vatican Council is an extremely detailed and hugely important study that seems to have attracted little attention since Herder and Herder brought it out in 2006. I drew heavily on it in my own work:  

Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity.

And it is, if I may be forgiven for saying so, my own work that alone (to date) provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of Orthodox ecclesiology and governance (among many other things). I treat patriarchal governance at length in this book, setting it alongside papal governance in the Roman Church to try and find a way forward through the impasse that the papal office poses.

Liturgical Entrances Great and Small

The New Testament scholar Edith Humphrey, a former Canadian Anglican who entered the Antiochian Orthodox Church recently, has written a number of really excellent reviews for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies including of  Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions and also, more controversially, Eugene Rogers' After the Spirit (Radical Traditions).

She is also herself the author of a number of interesting books, including Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit and And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament; but I am especially looking forward to her forthcoming work:

Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven (Brazos Press, 2011), 272pp.

About this book, the publisher provides the following overview and contents:

Can we understand worship in a way that transcends style, relevance, and aesthetics? Taking into account the most contested issues of the "worship wars," Edith Humphrey shows how the act of entering into God's presence is central to all true Christian worship. Regardless of worship style, when we come into God's presence, we praise God alongside angels and with the whole of creation.
Seeking to reclaim the forgotten theme of worship as entry into God's presence, Humphrey shows its prominence in the Bible, providing an accessible but thorough study of the Old and New Testaments. She analyzes key moments in church history to show how worship developed in Eastern and Western churches. She also draws insights from healthy worshiping communities around the globe. The book offers practical guidance on leading worship today to worship leaders, pastors, thoughtful lay readers, and students.
Introduction: The Crisis of Corporate Worship and the Life of the Church
1. "Teach Us to Pray": What Is Worship, and Where Does Corporate Worship Fit?
2. "Praise God in His Sanctuary": Worship as Entrance in the Old Testament
3. "In Spirit and in Truth": Entrance in the New Testament
4. "From You Comes . . . Praise": Traditional Liturgies of the East
5. "In the Great Congregation": Traditional Liturgies of the West
6. "Your Church Unsleeping": Expressions of Worship Today
7. "That Your Prayers Not Be Hindered": Avoiding Pitfalls in Corporate Worship
Conclusion: "To Sing Is a Lover's Thing"
With a whole slew of ecumenical endorsements, which you may read here, Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven looks like a most interesting book that I am not only looking forward to reading and seeing reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, but also to adopting for use in my courses on liturgy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Christian Monarchy

In my youth I was an unreconstructed monarchist; and even today, though my jejune romanticism for such as the Tudors has long since been replaced by a repugnance at how bloodthirsty and rapacious they were (Mary I being somewhat of an exception as we now know thanks to Eamon Duffy), I still maintain an affection for my sovereign, Her Britannic Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada and her other dominions beyond the seas. Her example of Christian service and fidelity stands in sharpest contrast not only to the tawdry conduct of her uncouth children and their sometime spouses, but also to the hideous vulgarities and degradations of modern "democratic" politics. (In the memorable words of Evelyn Waugh in the 1950s: "I have never voted in a parliamentary election.... I do not aspire to advise my Sovereign in her choice of servants.") Monarchy as a political system, especially Christian monarchy, has much to recommend it. How did monarchies arise in various parts of the world, including Kyivan Rus'? That is one of the questions to which a new book is devoted:

Nora Berend, Christianization and the Rise of Christian Monarchy: Scandinavia, Central Europe and Rus' c.900-1200 (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 460pp.

This book, the publisher tells us, is
a comparative, analysis of one of the most fundamental stages in the formation of Europe. Leading scholars explore the role of the spread of Christianity and the formation of new principalities in the birth of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and Rus' around the year 1000. Drawing on history, archaeology and art history, and emphasizing problems related to the sources and historiographical debates, they demonstrate the complex interdependence between the processes of religious and political change, covering conditions prior to the introduction of Christianity, the adoption of Christianity, and the development of the rulers' power. Regional patterns emerge, highlighting both the similarities in ruler-sponsored cases of Christianization, and differences in the consolidation of power and in institutions introduced by Christianity. The essays reveal how local societies adopted Christianity; medieval ideas of what constituted the dividing line between Christians and non-Christians; and the connections between Christianity and power.
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