"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).

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Lord the Giver of Life

Coming out in June of this year is a collection from Eerdmans treating that one Person of the Trinity sometimes overlooked in some traditions, and sometimes thought to be at issue in East-West Trinitiarian disputes. I speak, of course, of The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today. Authored by Anthony Thiselton, this book, the publisher tells us, is a

wide-ranging, thoroughly researched volume [that] approaches questions concerning the Holy Spirit with an up-to-date account of biblical teaching on the topic, including exposition of passages and hermeneutics; a comprehensive historical survey; and current writers and issues, with assessment and mutual dialogue with Pentecostals and the Renewal Movement.

The Holy Spirit, prophecy, tongues, the miraculous, the range and nature of the Spirit's gifts, the Holy Spirit in relation to the Trinity -- all of these topics are of ongoing interest today. This learned volume from Anthony Thiselton offers scholarly work on specific themes along with practical consequences for worship and life.
Part II treats the Fathers, including the ante- and post-Nicene Fathers in both East and West. Part III has a chapter looking at both Lossky and Zizioulas.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Russian Orthodox History

The Russian Church, the largest Orthodox Church in the world and the second largest Christian Church after the Catholic Church, continues to generate no small share of scholarly and popular attention. Late this year, Eerdmands, which has done so much to make Bulgakov's works available in English, as I have shown on here repeatedly, is bringing out Thomas Bremer, Cross and Kremlin: A Brief History of the Orthodox Church in Russia (Eerdmans, October 2013), 192pp.

About this book we are told:
Russian political history and Russian church history are tied together very tightly. One cannot properly understand the overall history of Russia without considering the role of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

Cross and Kremlin uniquely surveys both the history and the contemporary situation of the Russian Orthodox Church. The first chapter gives a concise chronology from the tenth century through the present day. The following chapters highlight several important issues and aspects of Russian Orthodoxy -- church-state relations, theology, ecclesiastical structure, monasticism, spirituality, the relation of Russian Orthodoxy to the West, dissidence as a frequent phenomenon in Russian church history, and more.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Old Cairo

To think of Egypt today, with her long, indigenous Christian presence, is to weep. A new book will only likely deepen that flood of tears at what once was but has increasingly been destroyed by barbarians: Carolyn Ludwig et al, eds., The History and Religious Heritage of Old Cairo: Its Fortress, Churches, Synagogue, and Mosque (American University in Cairo Press, 2013), 250pp.

This book, the publisher says, is a "celebration of the history of religious life in the early Egyptian capital, in text and pictures": 

Just to the south of modern Cairo stands the historic enclave known as Old Cairo, which grew up in and around the Roman fortress of Babylon, and which today hosts a unique collection of monuments that attest to the shared cultural heritage of ancient Egyptians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. In this lavishly illustrated celebration of a very special place, renowned photographer Sherif Sonbol’s remarkable images of the fortress, churches, synagogue, and mosque illuminate the living fabric of the ancient and medieval stones, while the text describes the history of Old Cairo from the time of the ancient Egyptians and the Romans to the founding of the first Muslim city of al-Fustat, focusing on the Jewish history of the area (exploring the famous Genizah documents found in the Ben Ezra Synagogue that tell so much about everyday life in medieval Egypt), the early Coptic Christian churches, some of the oldest in the world, and the arrival of the Muslims in the seventh century, their establishment of al-Fustat on the edge of Old Cairo, and the building of the oldest mosque in Africa.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Studies in Eastern Christian Liturgy

We live in a happy time when scholarship on Eastern Christian liturgics proceeds apace, with numerous superlative studies appearing regularly, as I have noted on here repeatedly. One of the most recent is a collection of scholarly articles: B. Groen, ed., Inquiries into Eastern Christian Worship (Brill, 2012), 510pp.

This book is based on the second international congress of the Society of Oriental Liturgy, which was held in Rome in 2008. The table of contents (PDF) is here, and reveals some well known names in Eastern liturgics: Robert Taft, Mark Morozowich, Vassa Larin, Stefanos Alexopoulos, Michael Zheltov, Steven Hawkes-Teeples, and the Syriac scholar Susan Ashbrook Harvey, inter alia. The publisher further tells us:
This volume contains twenty-five selected papers of the 2008 congress of the Society of Oriental Liturgy held in Rome. The Society is a non-confessional scholarly association dedicated to the study of Eastern Christian worship, founded at its first congress in Eichstätt, Germany in 2006. The Society’s scope and purpose is to foster that study in all its aspects, such as the origins of Eastern liturgy, history, current practice, theology, and spirituality. The field includes related disciplines, such as hymnography, architecture, iconography, and their multiple methodologies. This volume shows the great variety of the field in question and brings to light new interesting and relevant research results by scholars working in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The papers deal with, inter alia, the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Georgian, Greek, Russian, Serbian, Syriac, and Ukrainian ritual-liturgical traditions, their development, and their meaning.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Muslim and Christian Violence

There is a certain tedious regularity to some people who, when confronted with the latest of myriad examples of violence committed in the name of Islam, resort to a knee-jerk "What about Christians shooting abortion doctors?" or "Yes, but what about the Christians and the Crusades," about which of course almost everyone today is maddeningly ignorant. This overlooks many things, not least that individual Christians who commit gratuitous violence today are always vanishingly small in number and always do so in clear violation of the example given by Christ Himself who  unequivocally rebukes those who use violence in His defense, famously saying that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword (Matt. 26:52; cf. Luke 22:49-51). 

The same, of course, cannot be said of Mohammad, whose own life precisely refuses to separate the things of "Caesar" from those of God, and who himself took up the sword in vicious, bloody, and lethal military campaigns against his enemies, which are credibly and amply documented. His example remains influential (some Muslims call him the "perfect man") in shaping the views and, worse, the behavior of some Muslims today. The point in mentioning all this is not to exonerate one tradition at the expense of another, or to exaggerate or whitewash the offenses of either, but only to say that the two track-records are vastly different and any responsible telling by serious scholars must acknowledge this. The archbishop of Canterbury has not responded--and will not respond--to Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh's monstrous and demonic fatwa by demanding the destruction of all British mosques; the pope of Rome has not called--and will not call--on the Italian government or Roman Catholics to blow up all the mosques in Rome and the Italian peninsula; the patriarch of Moscow has not called--and will not call--on Russian Orthodox Christians or the Russian government to destroy the houses of worship of Russia's largest minority religion, Islam. And the reason none of them would countenance violence is because doing so would be direct and obvious disobedience to Christ. 

This raises an interesting question: does the media's willingness to react so swiftly and often simplistically to Christian violence, and to take such absurd pains to downplay or dismiss Muslim violence (e.g., the obfuscation around the religion of the Toulouse murderer of four Jews last month) reflect the fact that the media knows--but will not admit--that violence is supposed to be an anomaly for Christians, but also knows--and perforce will not admit--that violence is a justifiable commonplace for many Muslims? Several new books take up these questions. For Muslims, Jeffry Halverson's forthcoming volume looks promising: Searching for a King: Muslim Nonviolence and the Future of Islam (Potomac Books, August 2012), 192pp. 

About this book we are told:
At a time when violent images of the Muslim world dominate our headlines, Western audiences are growing increasingly interested in a different picture of Islam, specifically the idea of Muslim nonviolence, and what it could mean for the world. But is nonviolence compatible with the teachings of Islam? Is it practical to suggest that Muslim societies must adopt nonviolence to thrive in today’s world? Where is the Muslim equivalent of a Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr.? Searching for a King offers a comprehensive look into Islamic conceptions of nonviolence, its modern champions, and their readings of Islam’s sacred texts, including the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Jeffry R. Halverson asserts that the foundation for nonviolence in Islam already exists. He points to the exemplary lives and teachings of modern Muslim champions of nonviolence, little known in the Western world. Using rich historical narratives and data from leading international agencies, he also makes the case that by eliminating the high costs of warfare, nonviolence opens the door to such important complementary initiatives as microfinancing and women’s education programs. Ultimately, Halverson endorses Muslim champions of nonviolence and argues for the formulation of a nonviolent version of jihad as an active mode of social transformation.
On the Christian side, we have two new books looking at violence in Christian Scriptures. The first is a collection: Pieter G.R. de Villiers and Jan Willem van Henten, eds.,  Coping With Violence in the New Testament (Brill, 2012), 305pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Violence is present in the very heart of religion and its sacred traditions – also of Christianity and the Bible. The problem, however, is not only that violence is ingrained in the mere existence of religions with their sacred traditions. It is equally problematic to realise that the icy grip of violence on the sacred has gone unnoticed and unchallenged for a very long time. The present publication aims to contribute to the recent scholarly debate about the interconnections between violence and monotheistic religions by analysing the role of violence in the New Testament as well as by offering some hermeneutical perspectives on violence as it is articulated in the earliest Christian writings.
A second recent book has also taken a look at this problem: Philip Jenkins, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses (HarperOne, 2011), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions—all are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, “one of America’s best scholars of religion” (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith.
Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditions—nor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faith—until they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the “holy amnesia” that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bible’s most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict. Jenkins lays bare the whole Bible, without compromise or apology, and equips us with tools for reading even the most unsettling texts, from the slaughter of the Canaanites to the alarming rhetoric of the book of Revelation.
Laying Down the Sword presents a vital framework for understanding both the Bible and the Qur’an, gives Westerners a credible basis for interaction and dialogue with Islam, and delivers a powerful model for how a faith can grow from terror to mercy.
Jenkins, it should be noted, is not your typical academic drone eager to slag Christianity while cravenly running from the slightest critical word about Islam. He is a highly acclaimed historian who, in some of his previous works, has shown himself an astute defender of Christians as in, e.g., his 2004 book from Oxford University Press, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, a study made all the more remarkable for the fact that its author is not a Catholic himself. 

He has also offered one of the most perceptive accounts I have seen of the shifting centre of gravity within Christianity in his 2002 book (updated in a third edition in September 2011), The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity

Finally, mention must also be made of his 2009 book God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis, a book that I found useful not least because it introduces some important and welcome nuances into recent discussions about a supposed demographic "take-over" by ostensibly burgeoning Muslim populations in Western Europe, especially France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. 

Jenkins shows that the picture is rather more complicated than some of the more apocalyptic writings of certain figures (e.g., Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West) have led us to believe, and the demographic data are not as inexorable as some may assume. Nevertheless, for all that, Jenkins does paint a disturbing picture of a European Christianity in sharp decline, and that in itself is more than enough to worry about quite apart from Islam. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Crusading Against the Ottomans

As I have repeatedly noted in the past, the Crusades continue to be among the most grossly misunderstood events in Muslim-Christian history. A recent book looks at the Crusades and the Ottomans from the collapse of Constantinople onward: Norman Housley, Crusading and the Ottoman Threat, 1453-1505 (Oxford UP, 2012), 272pp.

About this book we are told:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Latin Orders in Greece 1204-1500

The more we study church history the messier we recognize it to be.  A book published late last year discusses some of this messiness and complexity in East-West, Orthodox-Catholic relations: Nickiphoros Tsougarakis, The Latin Religious Orders in Medieval Greece, 1204-1500 (Brill, 2012), 394pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The monastic and mendicant orders that were so central in the evolution of western religion and spirituality also played a pivotal role in the expansion of Latin Christendom after the eleventh century. In the thirteenth century, following the capture of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade, Cistercians, Benedictines, Franciscans, and Dominicans installed themselves in the former territories of the Byzantine Empire. Here, they had to adapt and compromise in order to survive, whilst Latins, Turks, and Greeks struggled to gain supremacy in the Aegean. They were also, however, faced with the challenge of attracting the devotion of the Greek Orthodox population, advancing the cause of church union, and promoting the interests of their Frankish, Venetian, and Genoese patrons. This volume follows the orders’ fortunes in medieval Greece, examines their involvement in the ecclesiastical and secular politics of the age, and looks at how the monks and friars pursued their spiritual, missionary, and Unionist goals in the frontier societies of Latin Romania.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Image, Word and God in the Early Christian Centuries

As I have noted previously, the question of the use of images was by no means a straightforward one for early Christians coming out of Judaism. While we today may assume the validity of the Incarnation-iconodoulia connection, that was not always the case. What was permitted and what banned by the Decalogue? What was the relationship between image and idols, especially in a pagan imperial context? Is Judaism a thoroughgoing iconoclastic faith? A new book will shed light on these questions: Mark Edwards, Image, Word and God in the Early Christian Centuries (Ashgate, 2013), 228pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Christianity proclaims Christ and the incarnate word of God; the Bible is described as the Word of God in both Jewish and Christian tradition. Are these usages merely homonymous, or would the ancients have recognized a more intimate relation between the word incarnate and the word proclaimed? This book investigates the concept of logos in pagan, Jewish and Christian thought, with a view to elucidating the polyphonic functions which the word acquired when used in theological discourse. Edwards presents a survey of theological applications of the term Logos in Greek, Jewish and Christian thought from Plato to Augustine and Proclus. Special focus is placed on: the relation of words to images in representation of divine realm, the relation between the logos within (reason) and the logos without (speech) both in linguistics and in Christology, the relation between the incarnate Word and the written text, and the place of reason in the interpretation of revelation.
Bringing together materials which are rarely synthesized in modern study, this book shows how Greek and biblical thought part company in their appraisal of the capacity of reason to grasp the nature of God, and how in consequence verbal revelation plays a more significant role in biblical teaching. Edwards shows how this entailed the rejection of images in Jewish and Christian thought, and how the manifestation in flesh of Christ as the living word of God compelled the church to reconsider both the relation of word to image and the interplay between the logos within and the written logos in the formulation of Christian doctrine.
Contents: Introduction; Seeing and hearing God in the Old Testament; Seeing and hearing God in the New Testament; Word and image in Classical Greek philosophy; Philosophers and sophists of the early Roman era; Image text and incarnation in the second century; Image, text and incarnation in the third century; Neoplatonism and the arts; Image, text and incarnation in the fourth century; Myth and text in Proclus; The Christianity of Christian Platonism; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

Turning Off Technology

As I noted recently, questions about technology and community have been longstanding preoccupations of mine. I just recently finished a book published in 2004 that narrates a winsome journey of a young couple from Yale and MIT who ended up living with, and largely like, Amish for a year: Eric Brende, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. The author ends with a few suggestions on how to live with technology, and to live with less technology. For those Eastern and other Christians interested in this kind of life, a life that seems at heart more monastic than most of us lead, you will find this an interesting book--very descriptive, and helpfully non-prescriptive.

I read this book in one afternoon, and it is charmingly written, not least because it is free from any sanctimonious preaching or hectoring. It documents a fascinating year living among the Amish, and an increasing sense of wanting to do that permanently. But in the end several insurmountable hurdles presented themselves and Eric and his wife Mary left. But they carried with them many lessons from the "Minimites," as they called their low-tech neighbors, which they continue to live out today in a suburb of St. Louis. The neighborhood near St. Louis where they have settled seems to follow the pattern for flourishing outlined by Jane Jacobs in her landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Here many things are within walking or cycling distance, and this is something I wish we would see in more large cities.

I read Jacobs' book as an undergraduate in an introductory course on ethics. At first, I couldn't figure out what the hell the professor, Kenneth Melchin, was doing by having us read a book about urban planning in an ethics course taught by a theology department.

We also read another equally baffling choice, viz., Eric Voegelin's The New Science of Politics, most of which I didn't understand at the time, but which has come back to me more and more over the years, not least its memorable notion of the "immantization of the eschaton." Both books not only taught valuable lessons in themselves, but their selection in an ethics course was a piece of pedagogical brilliance: they helped me overcome once and for all what Alasdair MacIntyre sees as one of the most pernicious traps of modernity: the blindness we have to moral questions, which are in fact shot through all of life, and not discreetly delimited into tight departments. Ever since, I have answered in the affirmative MacIntyre's question "Does Applied Ethics Rest Upon a Mistake?"

For those who are interested,the Catholic writer John Zmirak interviews Brende here. A St. Louis TV station interviewed him and his wife as you can see here:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Unruly Catholics and Other Crazies

Two years ago I wrote an article on the notion of holy fools in the works of the great English Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh, especially the figure of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. Brideshead is Waugh's most popular and well-known novel, but he came later in life somewhat to regret the fame attached to a work that, he said, he wrote during the deprivations of wartime and which, afterwards, he himself found perhaps a bit de trop in places.

If you want to watch Brideshead then you must watch the British TV adaptation of it from the early 1980s (from which the picture at right of Sebastian, played by Anthony Andrews, is taken) and not that ghastly, tendentious 2008 movie version which turns the novel into a tedious, predictable Hollywood festival of sodomy and incest: such a lot of nonsense (as Charles Ryder's father frequently says).

And if you want to read more about Waugh's life, then of the four or so extant biographies, only one is worth your time: Douglas Lane Patey, The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography. It is impossible for me to overstate how superlative this work is. If I ever write a biography of anyone, I hope it will be even half as good as Patey's study, which is a careful, rigorous but sympathetic analysis of Waugh's life and works done by someone who understands theology critically and how it operates in Waugh's novels and life. It is a marvelous piece of scholarship.

My article on Waugh and fools is forthcoming as a chapter in a collection under Marc DiPaolo's editorship: Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna: Faith, Heresy, and Politics in Cultural Studies (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013, forthcoming). About this book the publisher tells us in rather heavyhanded political terms:
In Unruly Catholics from Dante to Madonna: Faith, Heresy, and Politics in Cultural Studies, contributors explore through literary and cinematic works this unsettled state of affairs and the not uncommon stark choices confronted by modern Catholics of whether to stay in the Church and reform it from within or leave the institution altogether. Contributors through their analyses ask such trenchant questions as: Is there a middle ground? What lessons might modern Catholics learned from subversive Catholic theologians, activists, literary figures, and filmmakers of the past? How did those individuals address the conflict between their personal beliefs and the official teachings of the Church? Can their strategies be adapted and recreated today? Should their strategies be adopted today?

Throughout the volume, essayists, consider and question the spiritual and political authority of the Roman Catholic Church, Liberal Catholics, Liberation Theology, church corruption, prominent fictional Catholics, fictional representations of Catholics as frightening immigrant figures, the question of abolishing Catholicism, and other related Catholic themes. Each examines the extent to which it is possible for contemporary Catholics to continue as active members of the Roman Catholic Church despite its advocacy of a conservative politics, its troubling treatment of women, its role in persecuting homosexuality, and its role in protecting its clergy from charges and prosecution for sexual crimes.
Such a blurb given us by the publisher, alas, makes it sound like I've gone off my onion (another Waughism from his semi-autobiographical Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold) and become a second version of Hans Kung or something. But my chapter says nothing at all about ecclesial politics or reform.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scripture and Tradition Biblically Understood

The lovely Edith Humphrey, a biblical scholar whom I interviewed here about her last book, has a new book out that I just received today from the publisher: Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says (Baker Academic, 2013), vii+182pp.

I've already asked her, and we will set up an interview on here in the coming weeks, once the press of the academic semester is over. In the meantime, the publisher tells us this about the book:
In some of the church's history, Scripture has been pitted against tradition and vice versa. Prominent New Testament scholar Edith Humphrey, who understands the issue from both Protestant and Catholic/Orthodox perspectives, revisits this perennial point of tension. She demonstrates that the Bible itself reveals the importance of tradition, exploring how the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles show Jesus and the apostles claiming the authority of tradition as God's Word, both written and spoken. Arguing that Scripture and tradition are not in opposition but are necessarily and inextricably intertwined, Humphrey defends tradition as God's gift to the church. She also works to dismantle rigid views of sola scriptura while holding a high view of Scripture's authority.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shut Up Already!

I've talked with my students several times this semester about the difficulty of keeping silence (for meditation, prayer, or even reading) and of "fasting" from the constant electronic stimulation that crowds our lives. It is not easy, but it is essential. 

Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the smartly written, often entertaining, and highly regarded  Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, a book that pays good attention to the Christian East and sensibly so, has a new book coming out in September: Silence: A Christian History (Viking Adult, 2013), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us that it will be:

a provocative history of the role of silence in Christianity by the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author.
In this essential work of religious history, the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity explores the vital role of silence in the Christian story.

How should one speak to God? Are our prayers more likely to be heard if we offer them quietly at home or loudly in church? How can we really know if God is listening? From the earliest days, Christians have struggled with these questions. Their varied answers have defined the boundaries of Christian faith and established the language of our most intimate appeals for guidance or forgiveness.

MacCulloch shows how Jesus chose to emphasize silence as an essential part of his message and how silence shaped the great medieval monastic communities of Europe. He also examines the darker forms of religious silence, from the church’s embrace of slavery and its muted reaction to the Holocaust to the cover-up by Catholic authorities of devastating sexual scandals.

A groundbreaking work that will change our understanding of the most fundamental wish to be heard by God, Silence gives voice to the greatest mysteries of faith.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring 2013 Issue of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies

I've just finished the first review of edits to the upcoming spring issue of LOGOS: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.  We are pleased to feature three substantial articles, several shorter essays, and of course the usual array of books featured on here.

Nicholas Denysenko (whom I interviewed here about his new book) has an article “Fractured Orthodoxy in Ukraine and Politics: the Impact of Patriarch Kirill's 'Russian World.'” Here is the abstract for the article:
This article analyzes the intersection of “church” and “state” in Ukraine and the many complexities of a situation involving a multiplicity of both ecclesial and political actors: in the latter category, both Russia and Ukraine itself, in the context of a globalized world; in the former category the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate; the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (in both pre- and post-war iterations); the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church; and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate. Adding to the complexity of these relations among these churches and between these states is a new theopolitical ideology being sponsored by the current Patriarch Kiril of Moscow under the heading of a “Russian world,” which is supposed to unite at least East-Slavic Orthodoxy (if not other Orthodox Churches) and their host countries against the perceived threats of “Western” globalization. This “Russian world” is analyzed here for what it says, what reactions it has evoked among the four major churches in Ukraine; and for it might portend for Orthodox Christians in Ukraine and well as relations between Moscow and Constantinople in the ongoing struggle for understanding of global primacy among Orthodox hierarchs
Walter Sisto has an article "On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit: Sergius Bulgakov and the Theotokos." Here is the article's abstract:
The pneumatology and Mariology of Sergius Bulgakov, widely believed to be the most important Russian theologian of the twentieth century, is here examined to discover the links between the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God, and the implications for the divinization of humanity, especially as we share in the sufferings of Mary and Christ, and “so complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” These connections are developed in Bulgakov’s controversial sophiology whose development and implications for both Trinitarian theology and ecumenical methodology are discussed.
Robert Slesinski has an article also on Bulgakov: The Role and Meaning of Miracles and Relics in the Christological Thought of Sergius Bulgakov." Here is the abstract:

Bulgakov’s Christology (particularly in his recently translated The Lamb of God) is here examined for what it says about miracles and relics, including the relics of the bodies of saints and the body of Christ himself, both of which are treated by Bulgakov not as mere “corpses” but as still life-bearing bodies capable of resurrection. In addition, the category of miracle in Bulgakov is larger than healings or other manifestations of divine power: the very creation of the world is itself a miracle, and considered by Bulgakov in a teleological fashion in the context of Divine Providence. In this context, miracles are seen by Bulgakov not as violations of some material-spiritual boundary but as the singular outworking of divine purpose in the world. Miracles are given not to overwhelm or coerce people into belief, but entirely as invitations to follow Christ and share in the glorification of the Father. All this is tied into a unique and challenging discussion about the dyophysite nature of Christ and the relation in Him of His two natures, especially in their encountering death.

We are also publishing several shorter pieces in our Notes/Essays/Lectures category, and here we include:

Stephen Muse:

Muse is a marriage and family therapist (whom I interviewed here about his recent book) authors "Transfiguring Voluptuous Choice: An Eastern Orthodox Approach to Marriage as Spiritual Path." The article is a lyrical meditation on the mystery of marriage in light of Scripture, the Fathers (especially St. Irenaeus of Lyons), and contemporary experience.

Gregory Jensen:

Jensen authors "Reclaiming Psychology?" This review essay discusses a number of recent books in psychology and Orthodox spirituality, including Muse's When Hearts Become Flame as well as Alexis Trader, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck's Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds (2012).  Jensen's is a careful sifting of a good deal of psychology, from Freud onward, to see how various Christian authors, Catholics as well as Orthodox, have tried to make sense of it and, in professional clinical settings, make use of it where possible. In addition, he also looks at a number of recent attempts to integrate Christianity with psychology, and what remains in this project.

Seraphim Danckaert:

A doctoral student, Danckaert authors "The Body of the Living Christ: The Patristic Doctrine of the Church: Report on a Recent Symposium at Princeton University and Seminary." The report gives short a short précis of several speakers at the conference, including such well known names as Edith Humphrey (whom I interviewed here about her 2011 book, and whom I will interview again later this year about her most recent book); John Behr; and others. Danckaert skillfully situates each paper in the context of Florovsky's life and thought, about which you may read in more detail in Andrew Blane's biography Georges Florovsky: Russian Intellectual and Orthodox Churchman.

Book Reviews:
Nicholas Denysenko reviews the translation by Fritz West (whom I interviewed here about this book) of Anton Baumstark, On the Historical Development of the Liturgy.

Thomas Weinandy reviews Khaled Anatolios (whom I interviewed here, and whose book I discussed in some detail here), Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine.

Jack Turner reviews two new books, both dealing with Orthodoxy and science, one of which was featured here in an interview with the editors: Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization and Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Notre Dame's David Fagerberg reviews William Mills' latest book, Church, World, and Kingdom: The Eucharistic Foundation of Alexander Schmemann's Pastoral Theology.

Matthew Levering reviews Marcus Plested's superb new book (discussed here; interview with author here) Orthodox Readings of Aquinas.

Michael Plekon reviews Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.  Plekon also reviews Lilian Daniel's When "Spiritual but Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church.

David Bertaina (whom I interviewed here) reviews two books about Eastern Christians farther east than Byzantium: the Persian and Syriac traditions. The first Bertaina reviews is a Festschrift for the lovely and superb scholar Sidney Griffith (author of the enormously valuable study The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam), who was Bertaina's own Doktorvater: To Train His Soul in Books: Syriac Asceticism in Early Christianity.

Bertaina also reviews, not uncritically, a study by David Wilmshurst, The Martyred Church: a History of the Church of the East.

Given these vast riches (and more to come in a fall issue that is already full!), what prevents you from subscribing today?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Angels in Late Antique Christianity

Years ago, when I could not sleep, I fiddled around with the radio and found some overnight call-in show on some bad AM radio station with a saccharine-voiced self-appointed "angel guide" who told callers what angels were up to on their account. It was, of course (as Charles Ryder's father would say) "such a lot of nonsense" but it did make the point that angels are big business today.

Prescinding from their commercial popularity today, we have a new scholarly study from Ellen Muehlberger entitled Angels in Late Ancient Christianity (Oxford UP, 2013), 304pp.

About this book we are told:
Ellen Muehlberger explores the diverse and inventive ideas Christians held about angels in late antiquity. During the fourth and fifth centuries, Christians began experimenting with new modes of piety, adapting longstanding forms of public authority to Christian leadership and advancing novel ways of cultivating body and mind to further the progress of individual Christians. Muehlberger argues that in practicing these new modes of piety, Christians developed new ways of thinking about angels.

The book begins with a detailed examination of the two most popular discourses about angels that developed in late antiquity. In the first, delineated by Christians cultivating certain kinds of ascetic practices, angels were one type of being among many in a shifting universe, and their primary purpose was to guard and to guide Christians. In the other, articulated by urban Christian leaders in contest with one another, angels were morally stable characters described in the emerging canon of Scripture, available to enable readers to render Scripture coherent with emerging theological positions. Muehlberger goes on to show how these two discourses did not remain isolated in separate spheres of cultivation and contestation, but influenced one another and the wider Christian culture. She offers in-depth analysis of popular biographies written in late antiquity, of the community standards of emerging monastic communities, and of the training programs developed to prepare Christians to participate in ritual, demonstrating that new ideas about angels shaped and directed the formation of the definitive institutions of late antiquity.

Angels in Late Ancient Christianity is a meticulous and thorough study of early Christian ideas about angels, but it also offers a different perspective on late ancient Christian history, arguing that angels were central rather than peripheral to the emergence of Christian institutions and Christian culture in late antiquity.


  • First historical study of angels in Christianity
  • Draws on a diverse range of sources, including Coptic, Syriac, Greek, and Latin literatures

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

In Defense of Christian "Extremism"

For fifty cents at a local "antique" shop, I recently found an old copy of a book edited by Harold Faber The Road to the White House: The Story of the 1964 Election. The book pulls together the coverage in the New York Times of the 1964 US presidential election. It's mildly interesting, and of course it covers Barry Goldwater's infamous acceptance speech and its unapologetic declaration that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."

That line came back to me upon hearing the recent news that one arm of that vast Leviathan we call the US federal government has classified certain groups, including Catholic and evangelical Christians, as "extremist." The report is rightly being criticized on a number of grounds, not least for sounding like some lazy functionary more or less cribbed a lot of this nonsense from that fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia.

But there are two responses I have not yet seen to this. The first is that of tu quoque. The second is to concede, happily, the charge but then redefine the terms. For the first, we turn to Alasdair MacIntyre; for the second, to Stanley Hauerwas.

MacIntyre, as I have noted before, has rightly written that no institution is more "extreme" than the state:
The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf… [I]it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.
As William Cavanaugh, picking up from MacIntyre, argues, the dangerous and unmanageable modern state is never so furiously self-aggrandizing as during situations of war or perceived "national security" threats, when the organs and arms of the state, and their "extreme" infringements (soon to become regularized as routine) on the lives of its citizens grow like mad. Compared to this, no "religion" (an impossibly vague term I reject not least because it is capable of meaning just about anything) stands a chance at being "extreme" for no "religion" has so many organs capable not merely of controlling the lives of people, but of compelling them, under threat of lethal force, to do its bidding and of potentially punishing them with loss of life if they fail to do so. This is perforce true of today's state, when more and more parts of the US government--including seemingly anodyne ones like the department of "education"-- have their own armed SWAT teams. If this isn't "extreme" growth of state power, I don't know what is.

I was given a nasty taste of this last fall when on an Amtrak train (a shabby service today and a far cry from the fabled Pullman cars which, in the 1950s, sent Evelyn Waugh, traveling across country from New York to Los Angeles to discuss film rights for Brideshead Revisited, into raptures about the "luxury" of American railway travel) en route to Penn Station in New York to attend the Orthodox Theological Society of America conference, where I gave a paper. In upstate New York, south of Rochester, at least an hour from the Canadian border, very heavily armed troops in fatigues from the Border Patrol came on the train and demanded documents from everyone on there, stalking through cars at 11:30pm impudently interrogating people, "US citizens?" Note well: this was on US soil, the train never crossed any international borders (as noted, we were a good hour from that dangerous hotbed of "extremism" known as Canada), and yet we were stopped. As I furiously texted to my wife, "What is this? The Soviet Union redux where you have to have internal passports to travel from city to city?" One woman across from me was foolish enough to admit she was a German on a student visa, so she, along with a woman in a hijab in front of me, were both disappeared for an hour and interrogated, coming back looking very shaken indeed.  To their credit, these troops did not force the issue with people--I pretended to be asleep and they walked on past me--as though aware, however reluctantly and for however much longer, that, they do not (yet)  have the legal right to demand documents for internal travel, or expect people to prove their citizenship on a train in the middle of nowhere late at night in their own country far from any international borders never crossed by this particular train on this particular route. Nevertheless, the very fact of their menacing presence is a case of the "extreme" overreach of the modern security state.

Turning to Stanley Hauerwas, let us adopt his strategy (also that of LGBT [etc. etc.] activists) and reclaim the vocabulary here. Christianity is "extreme" and anybody who is surprised by this, or worse, alarmed enough to put Christians on some government watch list, has simply not been paying attention. Some time ago, Stanley Hauerwas already adopted this reversal of terms in an essay "The Non-Violent Terrorist: In Defense of Christian Fanaticism" from his 1998 book Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified. During our correspondence in the 1990s, Stanley sent me a draft of this before it was published, and the phrase has always stuck with me as one of his many bon mots. He ends up in a direction I cannot entirely follow, namely pacifism. But still the arguments are important.

It builds on his earlier essay "Preaching as though We Had Enemies." In that latter essay, he argues that "one hopes that God is using this time to remind the Church that Christianity is unintelligible without enemies. Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is to produce the right kind of enemies." Note well: the right kind of enemies. In both places, and elsewhere, as in his most recent book on war, Hauerwas reminds Christians of what, in perhaps most other ages, would have been unremarkable: that the world has always regarded us as "odd" at best, and as "crazy," "extremist," "enemies," etc. at worst. And that is indeed correct: the Church is the enemy of any state so "extreme" that thinks itself the supreme power and authority in the world, unhindered by, and unaccountable to, any higher power, and free therefore to run roughshod over the rights and dignity of the human person. The Church opposes such totalitarian extremism in political systems and actors wherever they may be found.

Moreover, the God whom we worship, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, is "extreme." He goes, as Eastern Christians know from the hymnody of Holy Saturday, and from the anastasis icon, down to the very depths of hell to destroy its power even over those who first betrayed Him, Adam and Eve, portrayed here as being helped out of their tombs; He goes to the ends of the earth to rescue the lost sheep; He welcomes back the prodigal when all our earthly notions of "justice" would side with the elder brother and give nothing to the returning son except a sanctimonious harangue about "loose living."

But it is, I suppose, harmless enough for God to be thought of as "extreme." He at least is presumably not (yet) on a government watch list. Now, however, Christians are on such a silly list--but usually not, alas, for the right reasons.It is no surprise to me that the US government is openly adopting this language--which I'm sure has already been used sotto voce for some time, and no doubt in reference to such things as the pro-life witness of Christians, especially evangelicals and Catholics. (As Kathy Shaidle likes to say, more abortionists shot by Christians appear in Law and Order episodes than have ever appeared in real life.) Still, Christians, when living the faith fully and properly, should be "extreme" in resisting enemies through the power of love, in serving the poor, in loving God in all people. Christianity, by definition, is "extreme" in making claims that most of the bien pensants today find offensive: e.g., that Jesus Christ is the one true way to heaven; that all people need to come to know Christ; that allegiance to Him trumps allegiance to any other group, including the supposedly secular (but covertly sacralized) state; and that those who follow Him are expected to live in ways deeply offensive to those shaped (inter alia) by the incredibly tedious but highly intolerant mores of the sexual revolution.

If your Christianity is respectable, if it allows you to live as a comfortable petite bourgeois, then you are doing it wrong. Or, put negatively in the argot of our government minders, if your Christianity does not get you labeled as "extreme" then you're also doing it wrong. I have been trying to make this point to my students this semester--not, I fear, entirely successfully--when looking at the example of the Way of the Pilgrim and the holy fool in Ostrov. A peasant who wanders around Russia, or who washes up on a northern Russian monastery, both spending their days staggering around saying the Jesus Prayer thousands of times every day, are "extreme" relative to most of us who count it a good day if we can rattle off a couple Aves and Paters as we snatch the last bites of scrambled egg and race for the car. Loving those who hate you, even to the point of forgiving them as they are torturing and executing you, is by any definition "extreme." Serving those who have nothing to repay you with, doing the menial jobs of bathing stinking wounds on people who would be otherwise dying in gutters, is "extreme" in the eyes of most. Defending the dignity and life of everyone, including those (babies, the handicapped, the elderly, the sick) whom the world condemns as Lebensunwertes Leben is apparently "extreme" today. But all this is part of following the most extreme Godman, the king who voluntarily undertakes to be born in the degrading circumstance of an animal feeding trough in the middle of antique "flyover country"; the one who forgives even those who torture and kill him. This God is extreme, and that label should be a badge of honor for all who rightly follow Him.

Routledge Companion to Modern Thought

Though not inexpensive, we have a new collection just released late last month from Routledge with only one (alas) chapter devoted to the Christian East: Chad Meister and James Beilby, eds., The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought (Routledge, 2013), 896pp.

About this book we are told:
This companion provides an unrivalled view of the field of modern Christian thought, from the Enlightenment to the twentieth century and beyond. Written by an outstanding team of theologians and philosophers of religion, it covers the following topics within Christian thought:
        • Key figures and influencers
        • Central events and movements
        • Major theological issues and key approaches to Christian Theology
        • Recent topics and trends in Christian thought
Each entry is clear and accessible, making the book the ideal resource for students of Christian thought and history and philosophy of religion, and a valuable reference for professional theologians and philosophers.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Strengthen Your Brethren

It has often been remarked that too many bishops today are much more corporate executives than spiritual fathers. A new book would seem to go some way in at least one instance towards changing that: J. Peter Sartain, Strengthen Your Brothers: Letters of Encouragement from an Archbishop to His  Priests (Liturgical Press, 2012), 192pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

In recent years, Archbishop Peter Sartain has written to the priests of the Diocese of Joliet (where he served from 2006-10) and the priests of the Archdiocese of Seattle (where he currently ministers). These intimate, thoughtful letters of encouragement and support are collected here. From a place of commitment and care, Archbishop Sartain addresses a variety of spiritual, theological, pastoral, and personal situations that challenge priests. His personal experience and spiritual insights come together in a moving pastoral way, offering the reader a deep sense of God s care for the world and those who shepherd his people.

Archbishop Sartain's confidence that God is in charge and ministry is based on surrendering control to God s truth, love, and simple presence permeates this book. Priests will find it uplifting, as will others who serve in ministry, and the people who care about them.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Amish, Hippies, and the Rest of Us

I have for some time been deeply interested in the Amish, among whom I live in northern Indiana, which has the third-largest population of Amish in the country.We buy all our vegetables from a nearby Amish market, and much else from another Amish store. Last week I watched this interesting PBS documentary on them. I've read a number of studies about the Amish, including John Hostetler's Amish Society; Carol Highsmith and Ted Landphair, The Amish: A Photographic Tour; and Leslie Kelly, America's Amish Country II.

What interests me is not their theology, nor their largely non-sacramental and aliturgical life, none of which I could accept. (At risk of pressing on them categories they do not recognize, I would be inclined to say that their manner of life, especially their biblically grounded stewardship of the earth, has a deeply "sacramental" quality to it in a way that Alexander Schmemann described very well.) Instead, what interests me is precisely their manner of living: small, local, agrarian, and with a constant wariness about how new technology can damage their families and communities. And yet, given the strictures on their life, they flourish: recent studies indicate that they have large families and an extremely high rate of retention (I've seen numbers above 90%) of their youth, which no Christian church anywhere on the planet comes close to replicating. In speaking of the Amish I am not, I hope, indulging in any kind of romanticism or contrarianism; I am certainly not a Luddite. I know it is a besetting sin of too many Eastern Christians, and so I try to keep a firm check on any impulse towards nostalgia for a "simpler" or "better" past that never was.

But the quiet example of the Amish raises questions for me that I have long considered about the globalized world in which we live--ecological questions, sociopolitical questions, economic questions, and ultimately philosophical and theological questions. These are questions that first came to me in the late 1990s when I was writing an MA thesis on Alasdair MacIntyre, whose most influential book After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, first published in 1981, ends with a famous passage about the similarities (but also differences) between the collapse of the West-Roman Empire into the Dark Ages, and the "new dark ages which are already upon us." In such a context, MacIntyre said, we are awaiting "a new--and doubtless very different--Saint Benedict." That language has led some, e.g., the Orthodox blogger Rod Dreher, whom I read daily with great interest, to speak of a "Benedictine option" for Christians today--looking at new forms of community, new ways of living, in our present circumstances.

Some years ago Dreher wrote a book I read with relish, Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots. (Dreher also has a new book out this year, to which I will attend later. I hope also to interview him about it.)

If, following Paul Evdokimov, all Christians are called to a life of "interiorized monasticism," how possible is that in the world in which most of us live today? Can the silence and contemplation, the prayer and solitude, which are necessary components of any monasticism worthy of the name, be lived today when we are surrounded by so much technology? Should we not, Amish-like, look more critically on our phones, tablets, computers, and cars? What would a new, and doubtless very different, monasticism look like? How can we be more like the Amish? How can the vision of a "crunchy" conservatism be lived on more than an individual "boutique" basis? Are Christians of our time called to live differently in intentional communities? (Catholics like this family would seem to think so. In 2006, I spent a few days with some friends who were then part of the City of the Lord, a Catholic intentional community in Phoenix. There was much there that was attractive, but the charismatic worship was deeply repellent.)

I have no answers to these questions, but continue to think about them. I hope my thinking will be aided by the recent publication of a book from Paraclete Press, which has published a number of good works in Eastern Christianity, monasticism, and much else besides: David Janzen, The Intentional Christian Community Handbook: For Idealists, Hypocrites, and Wannabe Disciples of Jesus (Paraclete Press, 2012).

About this book, which was brought to my attention by my good friend, Fr. Jason Charron, the publisher tells us:
In the 21st century, a new generation of Spirit-energized people are searching for a new—yet ancient—way of life together. David Janzen, a friend of the New Monasticism movement with four decades of personal communal experience, has visited scores of communities, both old and new. The Intentional Christian Community Handbook shares his wisdom, as well as the experience of intentional Christian communities across North America over the last half century.
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