"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).

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bodily Asceticism

On the 15th of this month, Eastern Christians of course began the so-called Philip's Fast (sometimes known as "Christmas Lent" or "Winter Lent"), one of the four regular and sustained periods of fasting in the year in preparation for a major feast. This period would be ideal for reading a new book from Hannah Hunt, Clothed in the Body: Asceticism, the Body and the Spiritual in the Late Antique Era (Ashgate, 2012), 237pp.

The publisher describes this book thus:

This book explores religious anthropology and asceticism in eastern patristic writers ranging from Klimakos to Symeon the New Theologian, from St Paul to Ephrem the Syrian . It combines a focus on asceticism with a Christological subtext . Hunt considers why the Christian tradition as a whole has rarely managed more than an uneasy truce between the physical and the spiritual aspects of the human person . Why is it that the ‘Church’ has energetically argued, through centuries of ecumenical councils, for the dual nature of Christ but seems still unwilling to accept the fullness of humanity, despite Gregory of Nyssa’s ‘what has not been assumed has not been redeemed’?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gregory of Nyssa on Embodiment

Hans Boersma, whom I interviewed here, has a book coming out in early 2013 that will be of interest to patrologists, especially those interested in the Cappadocian tradition: Embodiment & Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa (Oxford, 2013), 320pp.

The publisher describes this book thus:
    Embodiment in the theology of Gregory of Nyssa is a much-debated topic. Hans Boersma argues that this-worldly realities of time and space, which include embodiment, are not the focus of Gregory's theology. Instead, embodiment plays a distinctly subordinate role. The key to his theology, Boersma suggests, is anagogy, going upward in order to participate in the life of God.
    This book looks at a variety of topics connected to embodiment in Gregory's thought: time and space; allegory; gender, sexuality, and virginity; death and mourning; slavery, homelessness, and poverty; and the church as the body of Christ. In each instance, Boersma maintains, Gregory values embodiment only inasmuch as it enables us to go upward in the intellectual realm of the heavenly future. Boersma suggests that for Gregory embodiment and virtue serve the anagogical pursuit of otherworldly realities. Countering recent trends in scholarship that highlight Gregory's appreciation of the goodness of creation, this book argues that Gregory looks at embodiment as a means for human beings to grow in virtue and so to participate in the divine life.
    It is true that, as a Christian thinker, Gregory regards the creator-creature distinction as basic. But he also works with the distinction between spirit and matter. And Nyssen is convinced that in the hereafter the categories of time and space will disappear-while the human body will undergo an inconceivable transformation. This book, then, serves as a reminder of the profoundly otherworldly cast of Gregory's theology.
    I look forward to further discussion of this book on here, and to an interview with the author in the new year.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2012

    Orthodox Readings of Aquinas

    As the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart acerbically put it, most Orthodox never bother to read Roman Catholic sources, but that does not prevent them from criticizing them, often in truly fatuous terms. And among those sources, it is a matter of some competition as to whether Augustine (as I noted before) or Aquinas is the more criticized and misunderstood because ignored. Along comes a new book that looks set to remedy this as least as far as the "angelic doctor" is concerned:  Marcus Plested, Orthodox Readings of Aquinas (Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology, OUP, 2013).

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    This book is the first exploration of the remarkable odyssey of Thomas Aquinas in the Orthodox Christian world, from the Byzantine to the modern era. Aquinas was received with astonishing enthusiasm across the Byzantine theological spectrum. By contrast, modern Orthodox readings of Aquinas have been resoundingly negative, routinely presenting Aquinas as the archetype of as a specifically Western form of theology against which the Orthodox East must set its face. Basing itself primarily on a close study of the Byzantine reception of Thomas, this study rejects such hackneyed dichotomies, arguing instead for a properly catholic or universal construal of Orthodoxy - one in which Thomas might once again find a place. In its probing of the East-West dichotomy, this book questions the widespread juxtaposition of Gregory Palamas and Thomas Aquinas as archetypes of opposing Greek and Latin theological traditions. The long period between the Fall of Constantinople and the Russian Revolution, conventionally written off as an era of sterility and malformation for Orthodox theology, is also viewed with a fresh perspective. Study of the reception of Thomas in this period reveals a theological sophistication and a generosity of vision that is rarely accounted for. In short, this is a book which radically re-thinks the history of Orthodox theology through the prism of the fascinating and largely untold story of Orthodox engagement with Aquinas.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    The Maronites

    This recent and interesting article on the desire of the Maronites to revive and retain the use of Aramaic puts me in mind of a fascinating paper I heard by a Spanish scholar at ASMEA in Washington last month entitled "The Arabic Karšuni: an Attempt to Preserve the Maronite Identity in Aleppo, Syria." I am also reminded of  a recent study of them by Paul Naaman: The Maronites: The Origins of an Antiochene Church: A Historical and Geographical Study of the Fifth to Seventh Centuries (Cistercian, 2011). This book is also available in a Kindle edition.

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    The Maronite Church is one of twenty-two Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Pope of Rome. Her patriarch is in Lebanon. Forty-three bishops and approximately five million faithful make up her presence throughout the world. The story of Maron, a fifth-century hermit-priest, and the community gathered around him, later called the Maronites, tells another fascinating story of the monastic and missionary movements of the Church. Maron's story takes place in the context of Syrian monasticism, which was a combination of both solitary and communal life, and is a narrative of Christians of the Middle East as they navigated the rough seas of political divisions and ecclesiastical controversies from the fourth to the ninth centuries. Abbot Paul Naaman wisely places the study of the origins of the Maronite Church squarely in the midst of the history of the Church. His book offers plausible insights into her formation and early development, grounding the Maronite Church in her Catholic, Antiochian, Syriac, and monastic roots.

    Monday, November 26, 2012

    The Spirit in Science

    The late Christopher Hitchens and those of his ilk liked to sneer at "religion" and claim it was opposed to "science," without actually demonstrating any deep understanding of either. That is a lamentably common stereotype that a new book, one among many, greatly helps to correct: Michael Welker, ed., The Spirit in Creation and New Creation: Science and Theology in Western and Orthodox Realms (Eerdmans, 2012).

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    How does the Spirit relate to the world in which we live? How does the Spirit relate to the world to come, also known as the new creation? This volume gathers fifteen scholars -- experts in physics, biology, mathematics, psychology, sociology, and theology -- to ponder these questions, each one marshaling his own disciplinary tools and unique perspective.
    The contributors represent a variety of countries -- including Germany, Greece, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the Ukraine -- and a number of faith traditions, from Russian and Greek Orthodox to Roman Catholic to Pentecostal. Discussing scientific and theological perspectives on the Spirit's role in creation and in the new creation, the contributors produce a fruitful dialogue that will lead to a deeper understanding of and respect for the Spirit's creative work.
    Contributors: Denis Alexander, José Casanova, Sergey S. Horujy, Cyril Hovorun, Vladimir Katasonov, Andrew Louth, Frank D. Macchia, Jürgen Moltmann, Friederike Nüssel, Renos K. Papadopoulos, Marcus Guy Plested, John Polkinghorne, Jeffrey Schloss, Vladimir Shmaliy, Michael Welker
    The number of Orthodox contributors to this volume is very impressive, and in the introduction the editor tells us that a Russian translation is already in the works.  

    Friday, November 23, 2012

    The Churches of Egypt

    As we continue to watch with unease the situation in Egypt, and especially the plight of the Coptic Church under their newly elected pope, a new book sheds light on Christian history in Egypt. American University of Cairo Press tells me of a forthcoming edition of The Churches of Egypt: From the Journey of the Holy Family to the Present Day by Gawdat Gabra and Gertrud J.J. van Loon, edited by Carolyn Ludwig with photographs by Sherif Sonbol (AUC Press, 2012), 330pp.

    This book, the publisher tells us, offers us a:
    New flexibound edition of this stunning tour of Egypt's Christian houses of worship
    With over 300 full-color photographs, this is the first fully illustrated book devoted to Christian houses of worship in Egypt. The text incorporates the latest research to complement the broad geographic scope covering nearly all significant Coptic sites throughout the country, from the ancient Coptic churches in Old Cairo to the churches in the monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun, the Red Sea, and Upper Egypt. Churches associated with the Holy Family’s sojourn in Egypt, including Gabal al-Tayr and Dayr al-Muharraq, enrich the volume. Churches of all other Christian denominations in Egypt are also described and beautifully illustrated here. A number of Greek Orthodox churches, Evangelical Coptic, Catholic, Armenian, and Anglican churches are included. Introductory chapters on the history of Christianity in Egypt, the architecture of the Coptic Church, and Coptic wall paintings help readers to appreciate fully the great cultural, artistic, and architectural heritage of Egypt’s Christians.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Lossky on the Roads of France

    Until the recent explosion of new publications in Eastern Christianity, Vladimir Lossky's The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, published during World War II, was often one of the few, indeed only, books in English to which people interested in Orthodoxy repaired. It remains in print, which is a testimony to certain enduring ideas, though it is certainly not a text one could rely on with completely uncritical faith today. More recent scholarship has rightly corrected some of Lossky's ideas, not least his sui generis (to put it gently) ideas about the filioque.

    Other works to which Lossky contributed have aged better, including The Meaning of Icons, co-authored with Leonid Ouspensky. In addition, his work of theological anthropology, In the Image and Likeness of God also stands up well.

    Now St. Vladimir's Seminary Press has brought out a new book that gives us further insights into France during the dark days of occupation by what the Resistance called the "grey lice"of the Nazis in the 1940s:

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    This book follows Vladimir Lossky's attempt to enlist in the French army after the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. It records his reflections on suffering; the true nature of Christian or Western civilization; the rightness or otherwise of war; the problematic relationship between Church and State; what we mean by a "nation"; and secularization. Such issues are mulled over, not as arid abstractions, by someone who, as he walks across an increasingly war-torn landscape, quite literally has his feet on the ground. A revelation to those who know only Lossky's more scholarly works - here one discovers his rounded personality, his warm humanity, and his love not only of Christian France but of the West in general. Vladimir Lossky was one of the most influential Orthodox thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. Michael Donley is a writer and translator, and an expert in French literature.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Muslims and Christians in the Middle East

    Released in 2009 by one publisher, and again last year by another, is a book of interest to all Christians with communities and confreres in the Middle East: Kajsa Ahlstrand and Gran Gunner, eds., Non-Muslims in Muslim Majority Societies - With Focus on the Middle East and Pakistan (Lutterworth, 2011). 

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    In a world where almost all societies are multi-religious and multi-ethnic, we need to study how social cohesion can be achieved in different contexts. In some geographical areas, as in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, people of different religious belonging have, through the ages, lived side by side, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in dissonance. In other geographical regions, as in Scandinavia, societies have been quite religiously homogeneous but only recently challenged by immigration. The implication in both locations is that the relationship between religious minority and majority is on the agenda. In order to discuss the situation for Non-Muslims in Muslim majority societies, a consultation was convened with both Muslim and Christian participants from Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Sweden. Some of the participants work in academic settings, others in faith-based organizations, some in jurisprudence and others with theological issues. This book presents articles that discuss issues such as freedom of religion, minority rights, secular and religious legislation, and inter-religious dialogue in Muslim majority societies.

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Coptic Civilization

    As some parts of the world pay some (but by no means enough) attention to on-going events in Egypt, including the treatment of Coptic Christians, a number of forthcoming books shed light not just on current Coptic realities but on their noble and venerable past. One, set for release in January 2013 is Gawdat Gabra, ed.,Coptic Civilization: Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Egypt (American University of Cairo Press, 2013), 272pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    A comprehensive cultural history of the Copts and their rich contributions of literature, art and architecture, material arts and music
    Egypt’s Copts make up one of the oldest and largest Christian communities in the Middle East. Yet despite the availability of a large number of books on aspects of Coptic culture, including art and architecture, monasticism, theology, and music, there is to date no single volume that provides a comprehensive cultural history of the Copts and their achievements. Coptic Civilization aims to fill this gap, by introducing the general reader, the interested non-specialist, to Coptic culture in all its variety and multi-faceted richness. With contributions by twenty scholars, Coptic Civilization includes chapters on monasticism, the Coptic language, Coptic literature, Christian Arabic literature, the objects and documents of daily life, magic, art and architecture, and textiles, as well as the history of Coptic Church, its liturgy, theology, and music.

    Friday, November 16, 2012

    Bill Mills on Alexander Schmemann

    Recently I drew attention to the publication of a wholly welcome new book on the thought of the most influential liturgical theologian of our time: William C. Mills, Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology (Hillenbrand, 2012), 144pp.

    I asked the author, my friend Bill Mills, a priest of the Orthodox Church of America, for an interview. (Previous interviews with him may be read here and here.) Here are his thoughts.

    AD: Tell us what led you to write this book.

    WCM: I was encouraged by my adviser to choose a topic that was narrow in scope and that I would complete in time. After all, there’s a reason why there are so may ABD’s around!  A lot of people can do the coursework and complete their exams, but then get stuck in the muddy and murky waters during the dissertation phase. After browsing my bookshelves I started re-reading The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983 and then some parts of his magnum opus The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom and some of his essays in Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann and Church, World, Mission: Reflections on Orthodoxy and the West

    After reading Schmemann again I noticed that he actually had a lot to say about the priesthood, ministry, vocation, clericalism, and pastoral care. I then started doing some preliminary research and found that until now most scholarship on Schmemann focused on his work on the Eucharist in particular. Nothing had been done on his thoughts or teachings on pastoral theology. The culmination of this research eventually became my doctoral dissertation which was titled: "Church, World, and Kingdom: A Study of Alexander Schmemann’s Pastoral Theology" (2004).  My book,  Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology, is a complete revision of that dissertation. My dissertation focused more on the priesthood and clericalism but the book deals more with Schmemann’s overarching views of pastoral ministry and theology.
    AD: A few years ago at a conference, Robert Taft noted that virtually no other modern Orthodox theologian's writings have had the same long "shelf life" as those of Alexander Schmemann, who died nearly thirty years ago. Why do you think that Schmemann remains so popular and influential today, nearly thirty years after his death?

    WCM: I fully agree with Father Taft. Schmemann’s books are read, not just by those of us in the East but also those in the West, especially in some Catholic circles and in mainline Christian Churches too. A few years ago I attended a conference at Princeton Seminary. During a break I visited the seminary bookstore and what did I find but a two foot stack of,  For the Life of the World and The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom which were both required reading for a course on worship and prayer.
    I was stunned. It was then and there that I realized how important Schmemann was in academic circles, even thirty years after his passing. While doing some online research I also found that his books are required reading at such places as Gordon Conwell Seminary, Princeton Seminary, Westmont School of Theology, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, as well as others. It goes to show how universal and important his writings are today as they were in the 1960’s and 70’s.

    Furthermore Schmemann’s writings have a clearness and simplicity about them and Schmemann had the ability of explaining very complicated and complex issues, such as the Ordo for example and then in a local parish he can preach on Zachaeus and our need for repentance. His writings speak to both the academy as well as to what the late liturgical theologian and Benedictine monk Aidan Kavanagh called “Mrs. Murphy” a.k.a your average parishioner. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Schmemann’s books have been translated into eleven languages including German, French, Russian, Japanese, Finnish, and Spanish among others. His work has been and continues to be read long after his death.

    If you have not read any of Schmemann’s writings please visit www.schmemann.org where you will find many of his essays, sermons, and book reviews. You can read all of this for free thanks to the work and vision of the now deceased Father Victor Sokolov, the former dean of Holy Trinity (OCA) Cathedral in San Fransisco. This is a wonderful online resource for those of us who still read and enjoy Father Alexander’s writings.

    AD: Your preface notes that you provide a "new grammar" for pastoral theology. Tell us a bit about that "grammar" and how you understand "pastoral theology."

    WCM: I borrowed this term from David Fagerberg’s work, especially his Theologia Prima: What Is Liturgical Theology? Fagerberg talks about creating a new grammar or a new way of speaking about liturgical theology vis a vis the work he did on Schmemann. I liked Fagerberg’s use of the grammar metaphor since I was trying to create a new way of speaking about pastoral ministry. So much of pastoral ministry today is discussed in terms of fundraising, administration, events, programs, and so forth, which leaves very little of its theological underpinnings left. Of course this is not the case everywhere and in every seminary, but when surveying seminary curricula across the board you’ll be surprised what you see in terms of pastoral formation.

    In Church, World, and Kingdom, I attempted to redirect the discussion from merely secular and business terms like programs, administration, and so forth, to a theological discussion about pastoral care based on the saving work of Jesus Christ which we express and experience in the Eucharist--the Divine Liturgy. My book is certainly not a panacea to the many problems regarding pastoral theology, but it does offers direction and guidance as we move the discussion forward.

    AD: Your preface notes Schmemann's presence as an observer at Vatican II, and his influence on that council. Tell us a bit about what he thought about Vatican II and how he influenced the council.

    WCM: Well, I’m not sure how much he really influenced the Vatican Council but he certainly attended as a peritus, an observer, and was there in October 1963. In his recently published diaries of Vatican II, Yves Congar  mentions that he had lunch on a few occasions with Schmemann and enjoyed his company very much. Congar notes Schmemann’s apprehension about the then growing power and authority of the papacy versus the more open nature of conciliarism, a theme which was repeated again and again in the various sessions of the council. Of course these themes also appear a lot in Schmemann’s own work, not so much as a critique of the papacy as such, but against the increasing power and authority of bishops. It is sad to say that even fifty years after Vatican II we are still dealing with these same issues, and even those of in the East as well.

    AD: You note that your book draws on previously unpublished material in the archives at St. Vladimir's. What was it like working in those archives? Are there other important materials there still in need of publication?

    WCM: One of my friends is an archeologist who does research in the Galilee in Israel. He told me once that when digging you often find things that you were not originally looking for. And he is right. Digging leads you in all sorts of directions. I cannot remember exactly how I came across Schmemann’s archives but there were two or three large Xerox boxes full of his notebooks, journals, letters, and essays stacked away in the library. Some of these papers were typed on very thin onion skin paper that was used a lot last century and it was strange touching these papers since they are quite old and faded. Many of Schmemann’s essays were originally talks that he delivered at the annual St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary Education Day lecture, or from clergy retreats and gatherings, or sermons delivered in parishes, or talks at colleges and conferences. Very often Father Alexander dictated these talks to his longtime secretary Ann Zinzel, who passed away in September of this year, and she typed them up. He then edited and made corrections, then she retyped them, and voila, they were published. All of this was before computers so you can imagine the hard work, persistence, and patience involved in the process.

    I also came across a treasure trove of student notebooks from his time at the Saint-Serge Theological Institute in Paris. These notebooks were very simple, plain covers with lined paper and were filled with his tiny handwriting. Schmemann had very good penmanship and those notebooks were filled with copious notes, mostly in Russian but some in French. He also kept not only letters and notes that he received but also their envelopes as well. Of course I was thrilled to have access to those archives and to actually be able to touch and see Schmemann’s work. For a researcher this is akin to finding the motherlode of gold in a mine or cave!

    In addition to his personal papers and notebooks there are over five hundred “reel-to-reel” tapes  of talks that he gave in Russian for Radio Liberty. Once a week for nearly twenty years Schmemann left the seminary campus and drove down to Manhattan where he taped his weekly radio broadcast for Radio Liberty. During the cold war period Radio Liberty broadcasted programs, lectures, and music to the former USSR and other Eastern Block countries. These talks were originally delivered in Russian but thankfully, due to the work of Father Alexis Vinogradov and Father John Jillions, some of those talks have been translated into English, namely the little books Our Father and Death Where is Thy Sting. However there are still hundreds of additional talks and lectures that exist and from what I gather have been published in Russian but have not yet appeared in English. I hope one day some of these talks would be translated and published here in our country. 
    I have met many people who still read and re-read Father Alexander's Journals and other writings. I would hope that more of his writings become available to this next generation who needs to hear his words of wisdom! 

    AD: You speak in your first chapter of the "disconnect" between what is often taught academically in seminaries and theology faculties, and the realities faced by pastors in parishes today. How does Schmemann help bridge that gap?

    WCM: There are a few major “disconnects” as I mention in the book, which are noted by both scholars in the East and West alike. First and foremost is the tragedy that so many seminaries and schools of formation have professors who have very little or no experience in parish life. In his magnificent introduction to The Power to Comprehend with All the Saints: The Formation and Practice of a Pastor-Theologian, Wallace Alston, Jr. the former director of the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, states that the gap between the academy and the local parish is widening. Seminarians are being steeped in academic theology, which is very important, but they are leaving with very little pastoral and practical training. Unfortunately the academy has looked down on pastoral or practical theology a “lesser sister” so to speak and not a bona fide area of study or investigation on its own. It is one thing to read and study Sts. Augustine or John Chrysostom in class or listen to lectures about Serbian Church history,  but then something other to not have compassion or care at the bedside of a sick or dying parishioner. This is not the case of an “either/or” choice but of a "both-and." Seminaries can and should provide both types of training for future clergy and lay leaders.

    The beauty with Schmemann’s writings is that he seems to transcend theological topics or subjects as they are often seen as “separate” or “disconnected” or “disjointed.” He envisioned liturgical theology, as what David Fagerberg has called prime theology or theologia prima. Schmemann envisioned the study of theology as one seamless whole rather than a collection of separate parts. Most of Schmmeann’s writings can be categorized or labeled or identified as pastoral liturgy, since he envisioned the liturgical celebration not as a mere theological subject to study in the academy but as a source and wellspring for theology in general. Again, as the great Robert Taft said in his keynote speech at the Schmemann lecture a few years ago, the academic study of liturgy was like Humpty Dumpty. There were all these parts and various pieces that people were talking about and studying but Schmemann’s contribution, perhaps his greatest contribution, was that the managed to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And for this purpose we are all grateful and that is why Schmemann has enjoyed a long shelf life.

    AD: Your second chapter notes numerous Orthodox influences on Schmemann. Which ones do you think were most influential in shaping his eucharistic and pastoral theology?

    WCM: As a researcher and historian one must always keep in mind that everything has a context. One cannot talk about World War II for example without talking about the aftermath, namely, the  ramifications, and personalities  of World War I. So too with how Schmemann became the person that he was. Schmemann certainly did not come up with all of his great ideas on his own, but stood on the shoulders of some very formidable theologians such as Fathers Nicholas Afanasiev, Sergius Bulkakov and Kyprian Kern as well as his mentor the Church historian Anton Kartashev. Each of these people, in their own ways, helped form and shape Schmemann into the priest, professor, and writer that he was. If your readers are interested in learning about some of these people I encourage them to read Living Icons: Persons of Faithin the Eastern Church and Tradition Alive: On the Church and the Christian Life in Our Time, both written and edited by my friend and colleague Father Michael Plekon. Living Icons provides some very good biographical sketches and outlines of these formidable theologians and provides the reader with a sociological and historical context and their place in theology. 
    It was Anton Kartashev, a major figure in the great All Moscow Council in 1917-18 who eventually found his way to the Saint Sergius Institute in Paris, who inspired Schmemann to work on Byzantine Church history. Kartashev was grooming Schmemann to take over his teaching post, but eventually Schmemann changed direction and took up liturgical theology instead, taking the lead of both Nicholas Afanasiev and Kyprian Kern. By the time Schmemann was studying at Saint Serge, Afanasiev already had published several very important volumes in ecclesiology and theology and was actually cited in some of the proceedings of Vatican II. Schmemann served as Kern’s assistant and intern at the Saint Constantine and Helen Russian émigré parish in Clamart, just a few miles southwest of Paris. Clamart was also the home to Nicholas Berdiev  the famous Russian philosopher who hosted a weekly Sunday evening salon in his house where Jacques and  Raissa Maritain together with Mother Maria Skobtsova would often show up and attend lectures, talks, and gatherings. 
    Finally, in his journals Schmemann often pays homage to Professor George Weidle, his teacher at the Lycee Carnot who taught Schmemann about literature, music, poetry, and art, all of which Schmemann loved dearly. His mentor Kyprian Kern also enjoyed art very much and would often invite students to his office for tea and talks about current topics of interest including art and culture. It is amazing that when you read Schmemann’s  Journals you get a sense of the depth and breadth of his many cultural experiences and love of literature. He read widely, Russian and French poetry as well as mystery novels and the short stories of Chekov. But he was also well versed in both national and international news and life and read The Tablet, The New York Times, Time Magazine, as well as the French weekly newspapers.

    AD: Your third chapter, similarly, notes Catholic influences on, and interlocutors with, Schmemann. Tell us about a few of those.

    WCM: There are so many to name. Living and studying in France meant that Schmemann was friendly with a wide variety of Christians from both East and West. He attended for example the World Council of Churches during its early years as well as the annual Summer Liturgical Institutes hosted at Saint Serge, which was started by his mentor Kyrpian Kern as a way to bring Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutherans, and Methodists together to learn from one another. During the fourth annual liturgical week he mentions the following persons who were there, a real “who's who” of liturgical studies: Dom Bernard Botte, OSB; Dome J. Capelle, OSB; Rev. Balthasar Ficher; Prof. Andre Grabar, and R. E.C Varah. He was also acquainted with the work of Yves Congar, Oscar Cullman, Henri de Lubac, Louis Bouyer, and others. So what we have basically is a very strong interest and devotion to ecumenism and openness--which, unfortunately, we do not have today.

    AD: Tell us a bit about "clericalism" and how Schmemann can help overcome it.

    WCM: I encourage every deacon, priest, and bishop and anyone who is seeking to be ordained a deacon or priest to re-read The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983 at least once per year. When you skim his entries you will find many scathing remarks he makes about the real temptation for some people who seek the priesthood just to “dress up” and be different so to speak. Take for example the following: 
    General assembly of all students. I told them all the things that I believe in my heart to be right and necessary. Did I reach them? I do not know. They are so armored in their cassocks, so convinced that they know and can do anything in their youthful self-assurance.” (Feb. 10, 1977, p. 146).

    And to the seminary come so many tortured people, torturing themselves, obsessed with heavy maximalism.” (April 6, 1978, p. 218).

    Some priests only accuse, only frighten, only threaten, and nothing else.” (April 2, 1982, p. 318)

    “…but I am always worried because of the inexplicable transformation that often occurs when a man becomes a bishop. Ambiguity and temptation of sacerdotal power!” (May 25, 1982, p. 333)

    These are just a few of the many very pointed remarks he makes throughout the Journals. And from what I gather--I have not read them--the original largely un-edited Journals published in Russian and now more recently in French contain even stronger comments about clericalsim! I think Schmemann saw the reality of ecclesial life. His mentor Sergius Bulgakov wrote a very powerful and inspiring essay simply titled “The Episcopate” where he writes about the downfall of the Constantinian imprisonment of the Church with all the eagle rugs, mitres, cassocks, and so forth, all the external trappings of ecclesial life that really get in the way of the preaching of the gospel. So too you’ll find similar lines of thought in the work of Elizabeth Behr-Sigel and also Mother Maria Skobtsova and Paul Evdokimov as well.

    We also must remember that as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and as basically the chancellor or adviser to the Holy Synod of Bishops he saw first hand what power and authority can do, how it can change people, and how it can destroy people at the same time.

    Schmemann’s writings about the Eucharist remind us that while the priest is ordained or set apart to serve the services and preach the gospel and visit the sick, that in the Divine Liturgy we are all equal before God, breaking bread with one another and sharing the common love and joy of Christ. If we always remember that in our baptism we all become members of the royal priesthood then we’ll be okay. It is when we as clergy begin to think and act as if we were a separate “caste” or “class” of Christians that trouble arises. Unfortunately, many of the troubles that we are having in the Orthodox Church in America have arisen due to rampant clericalism and lack of transparency and accountability.

    AD: More than a decade ago, when I read the version of Schmemann's diaries published by SVS Press, I noted that there were many things Schmemann complained about, but he always seemed happiest--exuberantly joyful even--when celebrating the liturgy. Is that how you see him?

    WCM: Yes, he certainly talks a lot about either looking forward to a feast or a liturgical celebration. He really enjoyed the eucharistic services very much. In his Journals for example he talks a lot about attending Church with his mother and brother in Paris as well as the services at Saint Serge with his wife Julianna.

     AD: Sum up your book Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology for us and what you hope it will do.

     WCM: Up until now most scholars and theologians have focused soley on Schmemann’s writings on the Eucharist and overlooking his other theological interests. Yet when we dive in and read his entire corpus we see that he also has a lot to say about priestly ministry and pastoral theology, a theme which I take up in Church, World, and Kingdom. My hope is that both students and theologians will use Church, World, and Kingdom as a way to once bring renewal and revitilization to our seminaries, graduate schools of theology, and to our parishes. Schmemann died in December 1983 and there is an entire generation of people who never had the chance to learn from Schmemann himself. One of my goals in Church, World, and Kingdom is to re-introduce Schmemann’s writings, specifically those on pastoral theology and ministry, to a new generation of readers. 

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Syriac Christianity in China

    We live in a happy time where the venerable traditions of Syriac Christianity are increasingly well studied and well known thanks, not least, to such outstanding scholars as Sidney Griffith, Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Sebastian Brock, and others. The Syriac tradition, as I noted before in discussing books treating the so-called Silk Road, once enjoyed an incredibly far-reaching influence throughout Asia.

    A recent book continues to document the extent of that influence even well into the second millennium: Li Tang, East Syriac Christianity in Mongol-Yuan China (12th-14th centuries) (Orientalia Biblica Et Christiana) (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011), 169pp.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Christians Studying Islam

    One of the very surprising things I discovered in reading both Congar's diaries of Vatican II and also those of Maxim Hermaniuk was the extent to which there was widespread unease in the council about any proposed statement on Islam for fear of inflaming the Arab world. How things have changed in the last half-century. Now a new book documents the extent to which the council's treatment of Islam gave birth to a new generation of Christian scholars of Islam: Christian Troll and C.T.R. Hewer, eds., Christian Lives Given to the Study of Islam (Fordham U Press, 2012), 320pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us: 
    This book captures the autobiographical reflections of twenty-eight Christian men and women who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, committed their lives to the study of Islam and to practical Christian-Muslim relations in new and irenic ways. Their contributions come from across the spectrum of the Western church and record what drew them into the study of Islam. Their accounts take us to twenty-five countries and into all the branches of Islamic studies: Qur'an, Hadith, Shari'a, Sufism, philology, theology, and philosophy. They give fascinating insights into personal encounters with Islam and Muslims, speak of the ways in which their Christian traditions of spiritual training formed and nourished them, and deal with some of the misunderstandings and opposition they have faced along the way.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2012

    Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Middle Ages

    It is a welcome and happy development that scholarly attention continues to be devoted to monotheistic encounters both ancient and modern, as in a new book just released: Jacob Lassner, Jews, Christians, and the Abode of Islam: Modern Scholarship, Medieval Realities (U of Chicago Press, 2012), 336pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    In Jews, Christians, and the Abode of Islam, Jacob Lassner examines the triangular relationship that during the Middle Ages defined—and continues to define today—the political and cultural interaction among the three Abrahamic faiths. Lassner looks closely at the debates occasioned by modern Western scholarship on Islam to throw new light on the social and political status of medieval Jews and Christians in various Islamic lands from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries. Utilizing a vast array of primary sources, Lassner balances the rhetoric of literary and legal texts from the Middle Ages with other, newly published medieval sources, describing life as it was actually lived among the three faith communities. Lassner shows just what medieval Muslims meant when they spoke of tolerance, and how that abstract concept played out at different times and places in the real world of Christian and Jewish communities under Islamic rule. Finally, he considers what a more informed picture of the relationship among the Abrahamic faiths in the medieval Islamic world might mean for modern scholarship on medieval Islamic civilization and, not the least, for the highly contentious global environment of today.

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    What Kind of Egypt Should Exist?

    Among some Coptic Christians, there is an understandable push for a more "secular" Egypt in this post-Mubarak era. Some Copts view this as the way to avoid a totalizing Islamicization of Egypt and the resultant suppression of Christianity in the country. But what would a "secular" Egypt look like? What exactly is secularism anyway? And are Christians so sure it is such a great thing? What about the experience of French Catholics in the aftermath of the "secularizing" French Revolution? Or Russian Orthodox in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution? Clearly secularism is not a monolith, nor certainly a panacea. It brings many problems of its own. A new book looks at all these questions: Hussein Ali Agrama, Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt (University of Chicago Press, 2012),288pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us:

    The central question of the Arab Spring—what democracies should look like in the deeply religious countries of the Middle East—has developed into a vigorous debate over these nations’ secular identities. But what, exactly, is secularism? What has the West’s long familiarity with it inevitably obscured? In Questioning Secularism, Hussein Ali Agrama tackles these questions. Focusing on the fatwa councils and family law courts of Egypt just prior to the revolution, he delves deeply into the meaning of secularism itself and the ambiguities that lie at its heart.
    Drawing on a precedent-setting case arising from the family law courts —the last courts in Egypt to use Shari‘a law—Agrama shows that secularism is a historical phenomenon that works through a series of paradoxes that it creates. Digging beneath the perceived differences between the West and Middle East, he highlights secularism’s dependence on the law and the problems that arise from it: the necessary involvement of state sovereign power in managing the private spiritual lives of citizens and the irreducible set of legal ambiguities such a relationship creates. Navigating a complex landscape between private and public domains, Questioning Secularism lays important groundwork for understanding the real meaning of secularism as it affects the real freedoms of a citizenry, an understanding of the utmost importance for so many countries that are now urgently facing new political possibilities.

    Saturday, November 10, 2012

    The Roman Pope and Orthodoxy

    "I'm greatly enjoying this DeVille guy's
    eminently sensible book. I give you my apostolic
    blessing to buy 600 copies for your friends
    at Christmas."

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    The Mother of All Cities

    Jerusalem remains a city holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. A long-time resident of that ancient place has a new book about life in, and the history of, Jerusalem: Jerome Murphy-O'Connor Keys to Jerusalem: Collected Essays (Oxford UP, 2012), 360pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us:
    Jerome Murphy-O'Connor has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, during which time he has taught graduate students its history and archaeology, and also compiled a bestselling archaeological guidebook for visitors.
    The current volume provides an initial survey of the history, archaeology and theology of Jerusalem, but the twelve articles that make up the body of the book deal with problems that the author feels have not been given a satisfactory solution. Thus Murphy-O'Connor discusses the precise location of a number of important buildings, i.e. the Temple, the Antonia and the Capitol and also treat of events in the life of Jesus that are located in Jerusalem; his dispute with the money-changers in the Temple, his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, his route from Pilate to Golgotha. The previously unpublished chapters dealing with the Christian Quarter are perhaps the most original. They describe the creation of the Christian Quarter in 1063 and define its limits relative to the present Old City. Its two most important buildings, the Holy Sepulchre and the great Hospital of the Knights of St John, are treated in great detail. The concluding chapter is a classified bibliography of sources for the study of Jerusalem.
    Thoughtfully illustrated with maps, photographs, and diagrams, this book is a mine of information for specialists working on Jerusalem, and for the interested reader with some prior knowledge of this fascinating and complex city.
    • Lays out the full argumentation for the authenticity of the Holy Sepulchre in detail
    • Provides a complete study of the Christian Quarter in Jerusalem
    • Explains the historical route of the Via Dolorosa and specifies how the traditional route came into being
    • Uses a close literary analysis of all the gospel texts to suggest what really happened at Gethsemane
    • Provides arguments supporting the traditional locations for the Temple and the Antonia
    Jerome Murphy-O'Connor has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years, during which time he has taught graduate students its history and archaeology, and also compiled a bestselling archaeological guidebook for visitors. The current volume provides an initial survey of the history, archaeology and theology of Jerusalem, but the twelve articles that make up the body of the book deal with problems that the author feels have not been given a satisfactory solution. Thus Murphy-O'Connor discusses the precise location of a number of important buildings, i.e. the Temple, the Antonia and the Capitol and also treat of events in the life of Jesus that are located in Jerusalem; his dispute with the money-changers in the Temple, his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, his route from Pilate to Golgotha.
    The previously unpublished chapters dealing with the Christian Quarter are perhaps the most original. They describe the creation of the Christian Quarter in 1063 and define its limits relative to the present Old City. Its two most important buildings, the Holy Sepulchre and the great Hospital of the Knights of St John, are treated in great detail. The concluding chapter is a classified bibliography of sources for the study of Jerusalem.
    Thoughtfully illustrated with maps, photographs, and diagrams, this book is a mine of information for specialists working on Jerusalem, and for the interested reader with some prior knowledge of this fascinating and complex city.

    Thursday, November 8, 2012

    Dhimmis and Others in Islamic Law

    As I noted a few days ago, the treatment of non-Muslims--most especially Eastern Christians and Jews--under Islam in various places at various times continues to be a subject of huge, and debated, importance. What was the status of the dhimmi peoples (Christians and Jews)? We continue to need further study of this crucial question. It is therefore a happy development to have a new book that may shed some some light on these issues: Anver Emon, Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law: Dhimmis and Others in the Empire of Law (Oxford Islamic Legal Studies, 2012), 360pp. 

    This book, the publisher says:
          • Presents an original analysis of the dhimmi rules governing the approach Islamic law takes towards foreigners, giving new perspectives on the nature of Islamic law and problem of governing amidst diversity
          • Offers an interdisciplinary interpretation of the issue of the treatment of foreigners in Islamic law, examining it from the perspectives of Islamic law, legal theory, and history
          • Demonstrates the difficulties present in pursuing pluralism alongside rule of law and effective governance
    Moreover, we are told about this book that:
    The question of tolerance and Islam is not a new one. Polemicists are certain that Islam is not a tolerant religion. As evidence they point to the rules governing the treatment of non-Muslim permanent residents in Muslim lands, namely the dhimmi rules that are at the center of this study. These rules, when read in isolation, are certainly discriminatory in nature. They legitimate discriminatory treatment on grounds of what could be said to be religious faith and religious difference. The dhimmi rules are often invoked as proof-positive of the inherent intolerance of the Islamic faith (and thereby of any believing Muslim) toward the non-Muslim.
    This book addresses the problem of the concept of 'tolerance' for understanding the significance of the dhimmi rules that governed and regulated non-Muslim permanent residents in Islamic lands. In doing so, it suggests that the Islamic legal treatment of non-Muslims is symptomatic of the more general challenge of governing a diverse polity. Far from being constitutive of an Islamic ethos, the dhimmi rules raise important thematic questions about Rule of Law, governance, and how the pursuit of pluralism through the institutions of law and governance is a messy business.

    As argued throughout this book, an inescapable, and all-too-often painful, bottom line in the pursuit of pluralism is that it requires impositions and limitations on freedoms that are considered central and fundamental to an individual's well-being, but which must be limited for some people in some circumstances for reasons extending well beyond the claims of a given individual. A comparison to recent cases from the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Court of Human Rights reveals that however different and distant premodern Islamic and modern democratic societies may be in terms of time, space, and values, legal systems face similar challenges when governing a populace in which minority and majority groups diverge on the meaning and implication of values deemed fundamental to a particular polity.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    Christological Unity

    Christopher Beeley is evidently a busy fellow, with two major studies of patristic theology released within a month. The second of these is The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in Patristic Tradition (Yale U Press, 2012), 400pp.

    About this book the publisher tell us:
    No period of history was more formative for the development of Christianity than the patristic age, when church leaders, monks, and laity established the standard features of Christianity as we know it today. Combining historical and theological analysis, Christopher Beeley presents a detailed and far-reaching account of how key theologians and church councils understood the most central element of their faith, the identity and significance of Jesus Christ.
    Focusing particularly on the question of how Christ can be both human and divine and reassessing both officially orthodox and heretical figures, Beeley traces how an authoritative theological tradition was constructed. His book holds major implications for contemporary theology, church history, and ecumenical discussions, and it is bound to revolutionize the way in which patristic tradition is understood.

    Of Electronic "Readers" and Punishment Shelves

    And now, bibliophiles, something different. Two things in fact:

    First, a droll essay about fights between couples over how to organize their bookshelves. I rather like the fellow who has the "punishment shelf" in his garage.

    And second, an essay from the prolific and always insightful Anthony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple, a retired prison psychiatrist from Britain) on bookshelves, electronic "books" and much else.

    Tuesday, November 6, 2012

    Schmemann's Eucharistic Theology

    Happy day. I've just received a new book on Alexander Schmemann that I've mentioned before, and which is now available on Amazon to order: William C. Mills, Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology (Hillenbrand, 2012), xiii+125pp.

    About this book we are told:
    In Church, World and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology, author William C. Mills analyzes the pastoral and Eucharistic theology of the world-renowned Eastern Orthodox priest, pastor, professor, seminary dean, theologian, and author, Alexander Schmemann. Schmemann's theological legacy has influenced all levels of Church life. His books, articles, essays, and sermons are known world-wide and translated into numerous languages and have been referenced by theologians in the East and the West. William C. Mills expertly reminds us that for Alexander Schmemann, the scriptures, doctrine, faith, teachings, practices, and prayers of the Church are expressed and fully realized in the Eucharistic gathering. Alexander Schmemann's theology was influential from the Second Vatican Council onward, not only on his own Orthodox tradition, but also on Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgical theology. This new research has shed light on the importance of the liturgical and Eucharistic context for ministry, especially highlighting the spiritual, practical, and theological preparation of ordained clergy and the general ministry of the entire body of Christ. This book is primarily devoted to Schmemann's pastoral theology, and will be a welcome addition to the academic and popular understanding of ordained and lay ministry within Christendom, especially within the Orthodox and Roman Catholic sacramental tradition.
    Watch for an interview with the author in the coming weeks. 

    Memories of the Crusades

    As I have had too many occasions to remark, few instances in Christian-Muslim relations are as wildly, deliberately, tendentiously misunderstood than the Crusades. Execrable nonsense from the likes of the fatuous Karen Armstrong, Bill Clinton, and others too numerous to mention have made these events so misunderstood as to cause one to despair. What we continue to need is calm, dispassionate, serenely detached narrating of the history based on the factual evidence without regard for present felt political purposes. Along comes a new book, released only last week, that may do that:

    Nicholas L. Paul, To Follow in Their Footsteps: The Crusades and Family Memory in the High Middle Ages (Cornell University Press, 2012), 336pp.

    About this book the publisher tells us:

    When the First Crusade ended with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, jubilant crusaders returned home to Europe bringing with them stories, sacred relics, and other memorabilia, including banners, jewelry, and weapons. In the ensuing decades, the memory of the crusaders' bravery and pious sacrifice was invoked widely among the noble families of western Christendom. Popes preaching future crusades would count on these very same families for financing, leadership, and for the willing warriors who would lay down their lives on the battlefield. Despite the great risks and financial hardships associated with crusading, descendants of those who suffered and died on crusade would continue to take the cross, in some cases over several generations. Indeed, as Nicholas L. Paul reveals in To Follow in Their Footsteps, crusading was very much a family affair.
    Scholars of the crusades have long pointed to the importance of dynastic tradition and ties of kinship in the crusading movement but have failed to address more fundamental questions about the operation of these social processes. What is a "family tradition"? How are such traditions constructed and maintained, and by whom? How did crusading families confront the loss of their kin in distant lands? Making creative use of Latin dynastic narratives as well as vernacular literature, personal possessions and art objects, and architecture from across western Europe, Paul shows how traditions of crusading were established and reinforced in the collective memories of noble families throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Even rulers who never fulfilled crusading vows found their political lives dominated and, in some ways, directed by the memory of their crusading ancestors. Filled with unique insights and careful analysis, To Follow in Their Footsteps reveals the lasting impact of the crusades, beyond the expeditions themselves, on the formation of dynastic identity and the culture of the medieval European nobility.
    Paul is editor, with Suzanne Yeager, of a collection of articles also published this year on the Crusades: Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image, and Identity (Johns Hopkins U Press, 2012), 296pp.)

    About this book the publisher tells us: 

    Few events in European history generated more historical, artistic, and literary responses than the conquest of Jerusalem by the armies of the First Crusade in 1099. This epic military and religious expedition, and the many that followed it, became part of the collective memory of communities in Europe, Byzantium, North Africa, and the Near East. Remembering the Crusades examines the ways in which those memories were negotiated, transmitted, and transformed from the Middle Ages through the modern period.
    Bringing together leading scholars in art history, literature, and medieval European and Near Eastern history, this volume addresses a number of important questions. How did medieval communities respond to the intellectual, cultural, and existential challenges posed by the unique fusion of piety and violence of the First Crusade? How did the crusades alter the form and meaning of monuments and landscapes throughout Europe and the Near East? What role did the crusades play in shaping the collective identity of cities, institutions, and religious sects?
    In exploring these and other questions, the contributors analyze how the events of the First Crusade resonated in a wide range of cultural artifacts, including literary texts, art and architecture, and liturgical ceremonies. They discuss how Christians, Jews, and Muslims recalled and interpreted the events of the crusades and what far-reaching implications that remembering had on their communities throughout the centuries.
    Remembering the Crusades is the first collection of essays to investigate the commemoration of the crusades in eastern and western cultures. Its unprecedented multidisciplinary and cross-cultural approach points the way to a complete reevaluation of the place of the crusades in medieval and modern societies.
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