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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Cross Before Constantine

You sometimes hear it put about, especially by those wishing to accuse Christians of being inconsistent on the question of the legitimacy of images, that early Christianity was largely iconoclastic before smuggling in various images and then trying to justify them. But a newly published revisionist history is forcing a re-think of some of these and related allegations: Bruce Longenecker, The Cross Before Constantine: The Early Life of a Christian Symbol (Fortress, 2015), 244pp.

About this book we are told:
This book brings together, for the first time, the relevant material evidence demonstrating Christian use of the cross prior to Constantine. Bruce W. Longenecker upends a longstanding consensus that the cross was not a Christian symbol until Constantine appropriated it to consolidate his power in the fourth century. Longenecker presents a wide variety of artifacts from across the Mediterranean basin that testify to the use of the cross as a visual symbol by some pre-Constantinian Christians. Those artifacts interlock with literary witnesses from the same period to provide a consistent and robust portrait of the cross as a pre-Constantinian symbol of Christian devotion. The material record of the pre-Constantinian period illustrates that Constantine did not invent the cross as a symbol of Christian faith; for an impressive number of Christians before Constantine's reign, the cross served as a visual symbol of commitment to a living deity in a dangerous world.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

St Maria of Paris

I've previously drawn attention to Mother/Saint Maria of Paris (Maria Skobtsova) here on the 70th anniversary of her martyrdom, where I noted several important studies of her life in detail. She is certainly an extraordinary Orthodox figure of the twentieth century, so it is no surprise that she is featured now in a new book from a well-known author: Eric Metaxas, Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness (Thomas Nelson, 2015), 256pp.

About this book we are told:
In his eagerly anticipated follow-up to the enormously successful Seven MenNew York Timesbest-selling author Eric Metaxas gives us seven captivating portraits of some of history’s greatest women, each of whom changed the course of history by following God’s call upon their lives—as women. Each of the world-changing figures who stride across these pages—Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks—is an exemplary model of true womanhood. Teenaged Joan of Arc followed God’s call and liberated her country, dying a heroic martyr’s death. Susanna Wesley had nineteen children and gave the world its most significant evangelist and its greatest hymn-writer, her sons John and Charles. Corrie ten Boom, arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, survived the horrors of a concentration camp to astonish the world by forgiving her tormentors. And Rosa Parks’ deep sense of justice and unshakeable dignity and faith helped launch the twentieth-century’s greatest social movement. Writing in his trademark conversational and engaging style, Eric Metaxas reveals how the other extraordinary women in this book achieved their greatness, inspiring readers to lives shaped by the truth of the gospel.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Now What? Whither Goest Latin Liturgy? A Post-Script to Bouyer

In three parts this month, I discussed The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, concluding by asking why, once Bouyer had revealed to Pope Paul VI the fact that Bugnini had swindled him and pulled off a giant heist, the pope did not sooner sack Bugnini and, especially, rubbish his proposed "reforms" and start over. Why persist with pushing through the results of a manifestly flawed, if not wicked, process? I shall return to this question, but for now want to consider the much larger and far more troubling ecclesiological and ecumenical question: by what lights did that pope, or any pope, believe himself to have the authority to dismantle an entire liturgical tradition and appoint a commission to jerry-rig a new one? The short answer is that no pope has ever had such authority, and no pope today has it, and no pope until Paul VI would dared to have dream that he did in fact have such authority.

As in many things, this question is not my own, but comes from Joseph Ratzinger, especially in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977. There--but also in other works--he raises an uncomfortable question about how much contemporary Catholicism has over-estimated the power and importance of the pope, resulting in gross distortions not only of his office, but of the entire Church. Having been subjected to a papal celebrity tour only last week here in the US, and having watched for years now how every papal sneeze or Tweet gets acres of coverage, nobody can dispute that we are and have been--for well over four decades at least--in the era of superstar popes, which is a development one should be highly skeptical over.

Ratzinger rightly notes that at no other period in 2000 years of history did anyone--including even such ultramontanist die-hards as Joseph de Maistre--conjure up the bizarre theory that popes had unlimited power to do anything, even abolishing age-old liturgical traditions and replacing them with committee-engineered products. Such a vision of the papacy really is the stuff of Eastern Orthodox nightmares, and rightly so. It deserves to continue to be challenged and dismantled at every opportunity.

Nearly a half-century after the Latin "reforms," and more than half a century after Vatican II's decree on liturgy, where are we? What can we hope for in the coming years? This question deserves a longer answer than I shall attempt here
--though it is one I hope to come back to precisely in longer form elsewhere--but in the meantime some suggestions are clearly to be found in a book to be published in December: Alcuin Reid, ed., T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy (T&T Clark, 2015), 584pp.

About this book we are told:
In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, Catholic liturgy became an area of considerable interest and debate, if not controversy, in the West. Mid-late 20th century liturgical scholarship, upon which the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council were predicated and implemented, no longer stands unquestioned. The liturgical and ecclesial springtime the reforms of Paul VI were expected to facilitate has failed to emerge, leaving many questions as to their wisdom and value.
Quo vadis Catholic liturgy? This Companion brings together a variety of scholars who consider this question at the beginning of the 21st century in the light of advances in liturgical scholarship, decades of post-Vatican II experience and the critical re-examination in the West of the question of the liturgy promoted by Benedict XVI. The contributors, each eminent in their field, have distinct takes on how to answer this question, but each makes a significant contribution to contemporary debate, making this Companion an essential reference for the study of Western Catholic liturgy in history and in the light of contemporary scholarship and debate.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A History of Ukraine

Having spent the summer of 2001 in Ukraine, and having ever after longed to go back, I have deep memories and affection for the country even as I am aware of its deep problems. I am anything but an expert on Ukrainian history even as I have read some of it and took graduate classes in Ukrainian church history. But one can never read enough history about anything, especially from one of the leading scholars of our time, the widely and rightly respected Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy (some of whose other works I have noted here).

Plokhy has a book coming out in December that nobody will want to miss: The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (Basic Books, Dec. 2015), 432pp. Ukraine is not only the centre of a Russian-engineered conflict for the past several years, but it is the mother of East-Slavic Christianity. The Eastern Christian presence in Ukraine--in three Orthodox Churches, alongside the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church and others--is a crucial part of the problem but also the promise of Eastern Christianity especially leading up to the 2016 pan-Orthodox synod (if it happens).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense fight with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence. But today’s conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine’s territory and its existence as a sovereign nation. As the award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that used it as a strategic gateway between East and West—from the Roman and Ottoman empires to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. For centuries, Ukraine has been a meeting place of various cultures. The mixing of sedentary and nomadic peoples and Christianity and Islam on the steppe borderland produced the class of ferocious warriors known as the Cossacks, for example, while the encounter between the Catholic and Orthodox churches created a religious tradition that bridges Western and Eastern Christianity. Ukraine has also been a home to millions of Jews, serving as the birthplace of Hassidism—and as one of the killing fields of the Holocaust.
Plokhy examines the history of Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of the major figures in Ukrainian history: Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kyiv, whose daughter Anna became queen of France; the Cossack ruler Ivan Mazepa, who was immortalized in the poems of Byron and Pushkin; Nikita Khrushchev and his protégé-turned-nemesis Leonid Brezhnev, who called Ukraine their home; and the heroes of the Maidan protests of 2013 and 2014, who embody the current struggle over Ukraine’s future.
As Plokhy explains, today’s crisis is a tragic case of history repeating itself, as Ukraine once again finds itself in the center of the battle of global proportions. An authoritative history of this vital country, provides a unique insight into the origins of the most dangerous international crisis since the end of the Cold War. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Bible in....Arabic? What? Didn't Jesus Speak the Queen's English?

I drew attention to this book when it appeared in hardback a few years ago, but next month Princeton University Press is bringing out a paperback version of The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam by Sidney Griffith, one of the most important and senior scholars today of Syriac Christianity and its encounters with Islam.

About this book we are told:
From the first centuries of Islam to well into the Middle Ages, Jews and Christians produced hundreds of manuscripts containing portions of the Bible in Arabic. Until recently, however, these translations remained largely neglected by Biblical scholars and historians. In telling the story of the Bible in Arabic, this book casts light on a crucial transition in the cultural and religious life of Jews and Christians in Arabic-speaking lands.
In pre-Islamic times, Jewish and Christian scriptures circulated orally in the Arabic-speaking milieu. After the rise of Islam--and the Qur'an's appearance as a scripture in its own right--Jews and Christians translated the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament into Arabic for their own use and as a response to the Qur'an's retelling of Biblical narratives. From the ninth century onward, a steady stream of Jewish and Christian translations of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament crossed communal borders to influence the Islamic world.
The Bible in Arabic offers a new frame of reference for the pivotal place of Arabic Bible translations in the religious and cultural interactions between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Louis Bouyer's Memoirs (III): the Great Catastrophe

In the previous two installments treating The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, I noted some of Bouyer's wide-ranging publications, and then his contacts with some of the leading lights of Orthodoxy, especially in France after the 1917 Russian revolution. In this final installment, let us turn our attention to Bouyer's involvement with and analysis of the Second Vatican Council and in particular the disastrous liturgical "reforms" carried on in its name in the later 1960s.

Bouyer was a participant in both the council and the commission charged with reforming the liturgy. Before that, he was appointed to the commission for reforming seminaries, and he does not leave his readers guessing as to what he thought of his fellow commissioners: "a mass of worthless idiots," "mere blockheads obstinately clinging to their own limitations." They do and did nothing to prevent what Bouyer saw as the already longstanding "collapse of ecclesiastical culture in the seminaries."

Bouyer notes the debates about Latin at the council: often, he maintains, those most obstinate in defending Latin were the least capable of speaking it; and those who had facility in Latin did not see why it had to be imposed always and everywhere on everyone.

One of the major goals of Vatican II was the achievement of Christian unity. But every time that "ecumenism" comes up in Bouyer's memoirs, the unease is palpable. Though the reasons for his unease are not always clear, at one point his characteristic bluntness reasserts itself by quoting the Anglo-Catholic Eric Mascall's denunciation of "'Alice in Wonderland Ecumenism': Everybody has won and all must have prizes!" Bouyer objects to the fact that in the rush to unity, significant and serious doctrinal disagreements are merely dismissed as unimportant, "the important thing being to agree that one may behave or believe as he pleases."

In his various ecumenical activities over the years, Bouyer came into contact with other Orthodox figures after Lossky and Bulgakov (discussed in Part II of this series) had passed from the scene, including Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad and Metropolitan Georges Khodr of Lebanon. Strikingly, he would also encounter "Bishop Kiril of Viborg" who, in 2009, was elected Patriarch of Moscow. Bouyer would go on to serve from 1979 on the official commission for dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Church.

Bouyer was skeptical about how much official dialogues could achieve. What he thought more important and more efficacious was "a common effort of purification, of understanding, and especially of humble faithfulness to what is authentic." Bouyer despaired that few 20th-century churchmen, both Catholic and Orthodox, understood the need for, and were themselves capable of offering, such purification and reconciliation. Of the few he thought capable of doing this, he mentions Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, Metropolitan Nikodim again, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, and Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky.

Let us turn at last to Bouyer's experience with the commission reforming the Latin liturgy ostensibly in the name, and with the purported mandate, of Vatican II. He had the expertise to be able to take part in this effort, but equally the intelligence to see that what the others were trying to pull off was in fact a giant swindle--manipulating data to accord with pre-arranged conclusions and decisions; manipulating people to make them do what others had chosen for them to do. And the worst culprit here, the greatest fraudster and master manipulator was, of course, Annibale Bugnini, whose The Reform of the Liturgy (1948-1975) attempts to offer a grand self-justification. Bugnini's machinations eventually caught up with him and he was exiled from Rome in disgrace but his deeply damaging actions remain in place to the present day--and defended as recently as 2007 in the altogether absurd and risible book of Piero Marini, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. (I cannot improve on George Rutler's take-down of this book.)

Bugnini was adept at playing off members of the commission against one another and especially playing the commission off against the rather hapless Pope Paul VI. But we must not be too hasty to blame Paul for employing Bugnini, who had in fact begun his destructive reign at the behest of Pope Pius XII in the 1940s. Thus we see--once more--the lie that Pius was some towering figure of unflinching and unchanging "tradition." Pius brought in major liturgical revisions on his own initiative, and many of these were of provenance and rationale as dubious as those promulgated after Vatican II. (As a side note, it remains more than curious to me that Pope Paul VI has yet to be the object of a major scholarly biography. The only English biography I know of is Paul VI: The First Modern Pope by the deceased journalist Peter Hebblethwaite--an entertaining read, as I recall from many years ago now, but clearly prejudiced and not very intellectually rigorous. Pius XII, for his part, has been often studied but almost always entirely in connection with what he did, or did not, do during World War II; few focus on his liturgical views as far as I know.)

Bouyer begins his reflections on his experience by noting that "I should not like to be too harsh on this commission's labors," not least because it had some decent people on it with both intelligence and genuine pastoral solicitude. But all that was lost as the commission was hijacked by the "mealy-mouthed scoundrel" Bugnini, "a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty." The "deplorable conditions" under which the commission operated were a direct result of "the despicable Bugnini" who "cobbled together" a "slapdash Mass" (the infamous Eucharistic Prayer 2 in the Roman Missal, the most widely used prayer today, was hastily jerry-rigged in the space of one evening over plates of pasta in a Roman trattoria the night before Bugnini wanted to send everything in). Bugnini knew he had to proceed with such indecent haste in order to rush all the changes through before people wisened up and got to the pope to stop Bugnini.

Bugnini was not alone in some of his most damaging activities but instead aided by a "trio of maniacs" whom Bouyer does not name. The alterations to the calendar, the suppression of ancient feasts and the octaves of others, the yanking around of saints' days, and the destruction of the ante-Lenten periods of preparation (to say nothing of fasting, which Bouyer does not treat) were all raced through the commission by the simple expedient of telling members "but the pope wills it!" and telling the pope "the commission wants this" and forbidding the other commissioners from talking independently to the pope. Both were kept in the dark and the "subterfuge Bugnini used" proved successful.

Only at the end did the mask slip and some of the game be given away. Thus Bouyer records his own private conversation with Pope Paul VI in which an incredulous pope asks why the commission did certain things, only to be staggered when Bouyer tells him that "'simply because Bugnini had assured us that you absolutely wished it.' His reaction was instantaneous: 'Can this be? He told me himself that you were unanimous on this!'"

It remains a great mystery--and on this Bouyer says nothing--as to why the pope, seeing that he had been played for a fool, and knowing the commission led by a wicked and manipulative man of massive mendacity, did not send that swine Bugnini off a Gadarene cliff sooner, and disband the commission or at the very least reject its findings and start over. Why would he have allowed all this to go through once the game was up? Why not start over? Why push forward reforms about which he himself, for many reasons, was justifiably and understandably ambivalent? What was he afraid of?

It seems, according to the speculations of such historians as Eamon Duffy (see his Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes) that Paul VI was himself a deeply conflicted man about many things, and so perhaps for all his unease about the changes nonetheless felt that some of them were good and he could sincerely appreciate and promote them. Perhaps too he was aware of the propensity for divisions to increase and be magnified in the Church after past councils, and he would not block liturgical changes if doing so would run the risk of schism (which, ironically, came precisely because he did push the reforms through!).

I think, in the end, that any assessment of Paul's pontificate must never collapse this irreconcilable tension: his great achievement (let it be counted unto him as righteousness!) in holding the line in Humanae Vitae set alongside his great failure in pushing through liturgical reforms whose results, as Ratzinger famously said, could only be catastrophic.

In concluding this series, I should say some things I forgot to mention at the outset: the book is superbly presented in its translation and editing. The footnotes are wonderful and almost lavish in their details, but never excessive; enough detail is given about more obscure references or persons to make their role in Bouyer's life plain without overwhelming the reader. The translation reads very nicely too, and this is no small achievement given Bouyer's cosmopolitan learning and lyrical, sometimes lapidary French. In sum, this is an important book and it has been given the translation and editing commensurate with its status.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Books for Sale

Thomas Kiser of Vivarium Books in Saint Paul, MN has contacted me to say "I am a used bookseller specializing in theology and pre-modern history based in Minnesota. I have recently acquired a curated collection of around 350 titles of a historical/theological nature related to Catholic and Orthodox relations, formerly belonging to Prof. James Likoudis."

I've not been uncritical of some things Likoudis has written, but that is not relevant here. The collection has a significant number of major works in theology and history, both ancient and modern, Eastern and Western. Some of these books are rare and hard to find today.

I haven't found a way to get his list posted here in a readable way. Until I do so, you should contact him directly for further details: tom@vivariumbooks.com.

Louis Bouyer's Memoirs (II): the Christian East

When we were last gathered together, I mentioned some of the works of Louis Bouyer I had read over the years and gave a bit of context for his Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, to which we now turn in some detail.

It is striking how quickly the Christian East immediately factors into Bouyer's life in ways I had either not known about or else forgotten. Already in the early pages of the Preface to this English edition (much of whose material, we are told in a footnote, is borrowed from the "Postface" in Jean Duchesne's French original published in Paris in 2014 by Cerf), we are told of Bouyer's friendship with the great Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov (about whom more later), and in particular his even deeper relationship with "A Monk of the Eastern Church," that is, Lev Gillet.

Gillet is of course a fascinating figure himself, and Peter Galadza and I collaborated on editing his correspondence with Met. Andrey Sheptytsky in a book also published in Paris in 2009. In Bouyer's long move out of Protestantism, it seems that for a time he contemplated becoming Orthodox, and thus we are told that from Gillet he received the sacraments of Chrismation, Confession, and the Eucharist at one point notwithstanding his doubts about doing so. He would continue to receive the Eucharist from Gillet, though with decreasing frequency and increasing worry about the propriety of what he was doing.

All this was, of course, during a period when such boundaries were much more strictly policed by most Catholics and Orthodox than they are today, at least on the Catholic side. As I have written on here and elsewhere several times, part of what I admire most about Gillet is precisely his almost impish (some would, of course, say impious) willingness deliberately to blur those boundaries in a recognition that the Catholic and Orthodox Church is at heart one, appearances and ideologies of division notwithstanding. Gillet began as a French Roman Catholic, became Eastern Catholic under Sheptytsky (to whom, for the rest of his life, even in Orthodoxy, he referred as "my spiritual father"), and then finally Orthodox. (See the winsome biography of him written by another equally fascinating figure, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Lev Gillet: A Monk of the Eastern Church.)

Gillet deploys all these arguments to work on Bouyer for a time, telling him that all Bouyer need do is believe the faith of the "undivided Church," the "faith of the Ecumenical Councils" in order to receive the sacraments from Gillet. Bouyer is suspicious of these arguments, but goes along for a time, later regretting that he doubted his doubts. He would eventually come to find Gillet's arguments a bridge too far.

Bouyer's journey thereafter would be more straightforward: he would be received into the Roman Catholic Church and go on to become one of her most prolific theologians. But during his more uncertain phase, when he encounters Gillet, Bouyer gets pulled into the interesting and messy inter- and intra-Orthodox squabbles of the inter-war period, many of them provoked by the divisions following on from the Bolshevik revolution.

What I found prescient about his comments on peoples and their projects from this period is how early and easily he sees right through the fraudulent attempt, especially in France, to gin up some kind of "hazy Occidental Orthodoxy," as he puts it, complete with "its dress-up costume clergy." As an historian, Bouyer knew too much to be taken in by such transparently tendentious projects as pretending there was a "Gallic Orthodox Church" in the first millennium or other such fantasies. That, however, has not stopped many later proponents from attempting to invent such things right down to our own day.

Though skeptical of some of Gillet's arguments, and aware of the problems in Orthodoxy, Bouyer in his Catholic period is not grudging when he comes to recognize the spiritual genius of the East precisely in not breaking or undermining the link between theology and spirituality, which Bouyer regards as so fundamental but so often weakened in the West. Here Bouyer explicitly cites the genius of Vladimir Lossky ("one of the most solid minds it has ever been granted me to come near to") in the modern period, and before him Sts. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory Palamas.

The other figure of prominence singled out for high praise is Sergius Bulgakov, whom Bouyer calls "the unquestionable genius that he was--an intellectual genius above all, to be sure, but whose intellectualism was shot through with the most unquestionably Christian, if not Christic, religion." Here again, however, Bouyer knows too much and is aware of the controversy surrounding Bulgakov, to which he seems to refer off-handedly by noting "ill-exorcized gnosticism...in Bulgakov's and his group's synthesis."

Finally, the other Orthodox figure who comes in for more critical discussion late in the book is Aleksei Khomyakov and his ecclesiology, especially his notion of sobornost found in The Orthodox Doctrine On the Church. Bouyer notes that he early on found Khomyakov's vision compelling but his experience at Vatican II disabused him of this positive assesment.

In addition to his knowledge of the major contemporaries of Orthodoxy in France, Bouyer seems to have known everybody who was anybody in Catholicism, having met many of the most prominent theologians of the 20th century, but also not a few Anglican and Orthodox hierarchs and of course several popes, including John XXIII who asked Bouyer to be involved in one of the commissions at Vatican II (the one on seminaries, headed by Cardinal Pizzardo, of whose idiocy Bouyer has not a doubt, as he makes clear in comments almost as scathing as Congar's).

But it was in taking on the assignments given him by Pope Paul VI that Bouyer would find himself pulled into what was the Great Swindle and the Great Catastrophe of 20th-century Catholicism: the vandalistic "reform" of the Latin liturgy. In the next installment, we shall see what Bouyer thought of that.

To be continued. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Catholic Liturgical Reform and Its Eastern Impact

If it isn't obvious, then let me make it so: I regard the liturgical reforms of Vatican II as little short of disastrous, and not only in their consequences but also in their very presuppositions. That is, of course, a view that is far from aboriginal to me. It comes from far more important figures, not least Joseph Ratzinger in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977 (and many other works of his) and Louis Bouyer in the recently translated Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, about which I have been writing this week as you will have seen and continue to see.

I am also deeply indebted to Catherine Pickstock's far-reaching, singular, and largely unanswered critique in After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. In fact, I think her criticisms are far more searching than those advanced by just about anyone else and the fact that (to my limited knowledge) Western liturgists have failed to answer them only condemns them all the more in my eyes and renders their project an even greater failure than they themselves often realized.

Let me also plainly state that I have long regarded with little less than abject terror the prospect of some wise-ass in the East trying to do to the Byzantine (or Coptic, or Armenian, or West- or East-Syrian) liturgical tradition what was done to the Latin in the 1960s and 1970s in the name of "updating" or "reforming" or "modernizing." There is, to be sure, room for change in Eastern liturgies, as there always is, but if anyone takes the Novus Ordo reforms as a model then they deserve to be run out of town on a rail, excommunicated, and drawn and quartered for good measure.

But let me equally plainly state that I know my good friend Nick Denysenko to be a superlative scholar whose sober judgments about matters liturgical I have never once doubted, and very often greatly profited from--not least in, e.g., his recent book on Chrismation, which I have used with my graduate students to great effect. He is that rarest of creatures who is able to combine the best of scholarship with the best pastoral sensitivity, equally at home in front of the lecture podium as in front of the altar. So I fully expect that while I will not agree with everything in his next book, set for release in December, I will nonetheless find deeply considered arguments judiciously arrayed for the edification of all concerned: Nicholas Denysenko, Liturgical Reform After Vatican II: The Impact on Eastern Orthodoxy (Fortress Press, 2015), 240pp.

About this book we are told:
Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) was the first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. The impact of this document was broad and ecumenical—the liturgical reforms approved by the Council reverberated throughout Christendom, impacting the order and experience of worship in Reformed and Orthodox Churches. Unrecognized in most studies, the Orthodox Churches were also active participants in the liturgical movement that gained momentum through the Catholic and Protestant Churches in the twentieth century. This study examines Orthodox liturgical reform after Vatican II through the lens of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue. After establishing the retrieval of the priesthood of the laity and active liturgical participation as the rationales for liturgical reform, the study presents the history of liturgical reform through four models: the liturgical reforms of Alexander Schmemann; the alternative liturgical center in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR); the symposia on liturgical rebirth authorized by the Church of Greece; and the renewed liturgy of New Skete Monastery. Following a discussion of the main features of liturgical reform, catechesis, ars celebrandi and the role of the clergy, Denysenko concludes with suggestions for implementing liturgical reform in the challenges of postmodernity and in fidelity to the contributions of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue.
I greatly look forward to reading this book over the Christmas break, to discussing it on here, and to interviewing Nick about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

By the Rivers of Byzantium We Sat and Wept as We Thought of....Greek Orthodox Hymns?

At long last we have, in the last decade, been seeing more scholarly works on Eastern Christian music. Set for release the first of next year is a promising new study that will further our understanding not just of Eastern Orthodox music and liturgics, but also of Orthodox-Muslim relations in the sunset of the Ottoman Empire: Merih Erol, Greek Orthodox Music in Ottoman Istanbul: Nation and Community in the Era of Reform (Indiana University Press, 2016), 278pp.

About this book we are told:
During the late Ottoman period (1856–1922), a time of contestation about imperial policy toward minority groups, music helped the Ottoman Greeks in Istanbul define themselves as a distinct cultural group. A part of the largest non-Muslim minority within a multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire, the Greek Orthodox educated elite engaged in heated discussions about their cultural identity, Byzantine heritage, and prospects for the future, at the heart of which were debates about the place of traditional liturgical music in a community that was confronting modernity and westernization. Merih Erol draws on archival evidence from ecclesiastical and lay sources dealing with understandings of Byzantine music and history, forms of religious chanting, the life stories of individual cantors, and other popular and scholarly sources of the period. Audio examples keyed to the text are available online.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Christian Ecology East and West

Say what you will about the modern papacy--and I have--you cannot lay at its feet the complaint of it not making its views widely known. Thus, when the current pope of Rome relieved himself of some utterances about ecology recently, Laudato Si' was suddenly heard on the lips of hundreds of millions of people around the world who know nothing of what encyclicals are and knew not the Franciscan reference in that title. 

In early October, on the eve of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi in the Latin calendar, the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne is hosting a half-day conference on Laudato Si'. Details here. Admission is free. Come one, come all!

My own paper at the conference is entitled “Ecumenical Ecology: Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Caring for Creation.” In essence, I am going to show just how deeply indebted Pope Francis is to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who in many books (most edited by John Chryssavgis) over two decades and more has been arguing in favor of an integral ecology and showing that caring for creation is a deeply rooted Christian impulse and practice. See, e.g., Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation. See earlier works such as On Earth As In Heaven: Ecological Vision and Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

For wider-ranging collections treating ecological as well as many other topics, see  Speaking the Truth in Love: Theological and Spiritual Exhortations of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew


In the World, Yet Not of the World: Social and Global Initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

But if you don't have time to read all these books (or the patience to wade through papal ramblings and rantings), then just come hear me on Sat. Oct. 3 as I talk about the unprecedented papal borrowing of Orthodox thought and its official incorporation into a high-ranking (though not problem-free....) document of the Roman Magisterium.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Louis Bouyer's Memoirs (I)

As I have noted several times on here in the past, I am an inveterate and unapologetic reader of diaries, the blunter the better. In this absurd and ghastly age, where offense and outrage are now manufactured in ever finer gradations by brutish bourgeois brats sniveling about "micro-aggressions" and claiming to find "racism," "trans-phobia," and "misogyny" (etc., etc., etc.) under every fig leaf, it seems that private diaries are increasingly the only place where one may speak frankly without being hounded to death by mobs of juveniles whom a better age would have brought up to shut up if not to grow up.

In recent years, we have seen the publication of the diaries and memoirs of a number of prominent Catholic and Orthodox scholars of the last century, as I noted at the link. Now we have another set freshly translated into English just this year: The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After (Angelico Press, 2015), 272pp.

I read these with great interest, and to my surprise there was a lot more here than I expected. By that I mean two things: first, the bulk of the text is devoted to his early life, including his Protestant period; Vatican II and its liturgically disastrous aftermath are only treated relatively briefly towards the end. Bouyer seems to have known just about everybody of prominence in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox circles, and he is not at all shy about name-dropping.

Second, I had forgotten--if I ever knew--just how prolific Bouyer was. I had of course read some of his works, including The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit. And for a time, Bouyer's historical works, including Orthodox Spirituality and Protestant and Anglican SpiritualityThe Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, and in particular his Introduction to Spirituality seemed to be on every Roman Catholic theology and seminary curriculum and you couldn't escape them even if you wanted to.

His study of the founder of the Oratory and the "apostle of Rome," St Philip Neri: A Portrait was a valuable little book when I was myself exploring a vocation with the Oratorians--though I have to confess that as far as biographies of Neri are concerned, I preferred Philip Neri: The Fire of Joy by the German Paul Türks. It was translated by the priest-scholar Daniel Utrecht of the Toronto Oratory, who introduced me to the book in the late 90s when I spent several wonderful weeks at the Toronto Oratory, which I have elsewhere described as a rare and shining jewel in the Catholic Church in Canada.

When I was working on a very early draft of the dissertation which became Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity, I had a chapter that at one point included a lengthy discussion of the founder of the modern Oratory in the Anglophone world, John Henry Newman, about whom Bouyer wrote such studies as Newman: His Life and Spirituality that I found valuable if a bit dated (it came out in 1958). Since the late 50s, Newman scholarship has of course exploded and there are so many books on him now that I cannot possibly describe them all here. (Start with Ian Ker's absolutely splendid and unrivaled John Henry Newman: A Biography if you are at a loss for where to begin.)

Perhaps more than any other work--and the above are only the ones I have read, and only a fraction of what Bouyer wrote--I found his Life and Liturgy a useful book in bridging the gap between, well, liturgy and life. It's one thing to read pious phrases from the Fathers about the home being a "domestic Church," but it's another to see someone think through some of the implications of what that means. Bouyer was the first to help me do that, but there were other books that helped to bridge that gap, including, on the Orthodox side, Lev Gillet's  Year of Grace of the Lord; on the Catholic side, Joseph Ratzinger's valuable early little study, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgyand then, for greater history and deeper philosophy and anthropology, Catherine Pickstock's After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, a book I still regard as the most important and damning, but neglected, work of liturgical criticism in English of what happened to the Latin liturgy after Vatican II. The fact that her criticism of the structural defects in the new Mass has never been adequately answered so far as I have seen says to me that all the defenders of Latin liturgical reform are quite simply incapable of answering it and thus have conceded the correctness of her views here, with which I am entirely in agreement.

On the question of liturgical reform, I forget where I first read an oft-cited quotation attributed to Bouyer who apparently already within just a year or two of the new Pauline missal (the "Novus Ordo") had concluded that "we must speak plainly: there is practically no liturgy worthy of the name today in the Catholic Church." That struck me as a touch polemical at the time and perhaps just a tad too sweeping a generalization.

But, having now read The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth and Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After, I see that blunt and sweeping criticisms are Bouyer's stock in trade. And, of course, Bouyer's blunt assessment would also be seconded by others, most notably Ratzinger in his Milestones: Memoirs, 1927-1977. Late in the book, Bouyer reflects on his first encounters with Ratzinger at the council, and praises the German's "clearness of views, his wide knowledge, his intellectual courage as well as his penetrating judgment....[and] his humor, which was so full of kindness; he was, however, nobody's fool" (p.226).

I will give further examples of Bouyer's blunt analysis, and discuss the early chapters in more detail, in subsequent entries.

To be continued. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt

2015 is shaping up to be a record year for the number of books published on Eastern Christian-Muslim relations. I've noted a few on here, and will note still others, and one of these days hope that my administrative-academic burdens--and other publishing commitments--let up later this fall so that I can review some of them on here.

One that came out in late spring is Henrik Lindberg Hansen, Christian-Muslim Relations in Egypt: Politics, Society and Interfaith Encounters (I.B. Tauris, 2015), 304pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The subject of Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East—and indeed in the West—attracts much academic and media attention. Nowhere is this more the case than in Egypt, which has the largest Christian community in the Middle East, estimated at 6-10 per cent of the national population. Henrik Lindberg Hansen analyzes this relationship, offering an examination of the nature and role of religious dialogue in Egyptian society. Taking three main religious organizations and institutions in Egypt (namely the Azhar University, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic Orthodox Church), Hansen argues that religious dialogue involves a close examination of societal relations, and how these are understood and approached. Including analysis of the occasions of violence against Christian communities in 2011 and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013, Hansen provides a wide-ranging exploration of the importance of religion in Egyptian society and everyday encounters with a religious ‘other’. This makes his book vital for researchers of both religious minorities in the Middle East and interfaith dialogue in a wider context.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Reality of the Church Today

Every semester I tell my students that they must remember that the Church, like Christ, has two natures: divine and human. It is sometimes easy for some people to get light-headed in the stuffy air of Byzantium (to borrow a phrase from Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory) and to imagine the Church as an exalted, transcendental body--the Body of Christ--free from spot or wrinkle, as indeed she is. But that overlooks the fact that the Body is also full of human bodies--human beings in all our sinfulness. Treatments in ecclesiology that hold both of these natures together are often harder to come by than one would imagine. Along comes a new book by a scholar who certainly knows the human side of the Church. I met the author, Cyril Hovorun, briefly in Chicago at the AAR conference in 2012. He is a highly respected Orthodox scholar and theologian from Ukraine whose works on the ecclesial situation there, and on the theological implications of the Russian war against Ukraine, make for must-reads.

I am eagerly awaiting my copy of his newest book, which I shall read with great interest. It has just been released: Cyril Hovorun, Meta-Ecclesiology: Chronicles on Church Awareness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 260pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Aphrahat, the Syrian poet who lived in the fourth century, described the church of Christ as a colored bird. What does this bird see when, flying above the surface of the ever–changing sea, it looks at its own reflection? This book considers how the church has permanently reimagined itself over the course of its historical journey. Far from being a constant, the self-awareness of the church has varied in relation to theological and philosophical trends together with social and political circumstances. Any theory of the church based on a single snapshot of its self-perception is incapable of catching the invariable 'self' of the church and describing it without reduction. By examining the church's self-perception at different periods, from the first century through to the present day, this book offers a framework through which the church can be better comprehended in our time. On the basis of his historical survey of the evolution of the church's self-perception, Cyril Hovorun distinguishes between changeable and unchangeable components of the church. He also identifies a permanent system of coordinates that help us to trace and evaluate the trajectories of the church's self-awareness.
I hope in the coming weeks to be able to arrange an interview with the author. Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Imagining Byzantium

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

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