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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Secrets of the Soul and Body Politic

Peter Tyler's densely argued The Pursuit of the Soul: Psychoanalysis, Soul-making and the Christian Tradition, published last year, is, alone of the recent attempts at a Christian re-engagement with psychoanalytic thought discussed on here, the most intellectually sophisticated and serious. He draws on the patristic tradition, including Origen and Augustine, to look at the conceptualization of the "soul" in classical Christian spiritual traditions as well as modern psychoanalysis.

About this latter he makes a convincing case that those who supervised the "Englishing" of Freud, that first generation of such as Ernest Jones and James Strachey, zealously concerned to protect Freud and his tradition from charges of being "unscientific," and equally zealous to differentiate themselves from "spiritual healers" and other charlatans and quacks, coined a series of neologisms in English purposefully to get away from any language of the "soul" and to sound more "scientific."

That theme of the soul also comes up in a very good history I've just finished by Eli Zaretsky: Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis. Published in 2005 by an author whose earlier work, Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life, clearly informs the later work, Secrets of the Soul is the very model of the sort of careful cultural analysis that someone like Rod Dreher should have done if his new book (which I discussed here at length) were to be regarded as remotely intellectually serious. Zaretsky follows a similar narrative arc as Dreher, both tracing the rise and then gradual decline of a given tradition--Christianity in the West for Dreher, and the psychoanalytic tradition for Zaretsky--but what distinguishes Zaretsky is his careful and very detailed scholarship co-relating the socioeconomic conditions that facilitated first that rise and then more clearly still the gradual decline of psychoanalysis. Socioeconomic changes are not entirely responsible, but together with intellectual debates and other factors, they play a crucial role. Christians who wish to be taken seriously in staking out claims of decline cannot be taken seriously until and unless they also attend to socioeconomic changes in as careful and discerning a manner as Zaretsky has done.

Zaretsky's book would make a good companion for two works by George Makari: his Revolution in Mind: the Creation of Psychoanalysiswhich I reviewed in some detail here; and then his more recent Soul Machine: the Invention of the Modern Mind.

One thing that comes up in all these works is the painstaking efforts Freud took to stay out of secular politics in both Austria and Germany. This was clearly done for purposes of preservation and protection, especially after 1933. Given the treatment handed out to Freud and his daughter Anna at the hands of the Gestapo in 1938, and the treatment more broadly during the war of Jews (all of Freud's sisters were killed in Nazi death camps), such anxiety to avoid politics makes a great deal of sense. Freud was in fact eventually, and with great reluctance, forced finally to flee Bergasse 19 in Vienna for London, where he died in 1939; the tale of this flight is well told in David Cohen's surprisingly well-done and riveting Escape of Sigmund Freud.

Freud also repeatedly insisted that psychoanalysis as such not enter into political debates about various topics, especially during and after the Bolshevik revolution. The early Bolsheviks saw some use for psychoanalysis, but it was later denounced and banned in Russia for its bourgeois-capitalist and Jewish backgrounds. Nevertheless, Freud lives on today in part not for his clinical work, but precisely for the political application of his clinical insights, a point made in depth and detail in Zaretsky's newest book, released just this month, Political Freud: A History.

About this new book the publisher tells us:
In this masterful history, Eli Zaretsky reveals the power of Freudian thought to illuminate the great political conflicts of the twentieth century. Developing an original concept of "political Freudianism," he shows how twentieth-century radicals, activists, and intellectuals used psychoanalytic ideas to probe consumer capitalism, racial violence, anti-Semitism, and patriarchy. He also underscores the continuing influence and critical potential of those ideas in the transformed landscape of the present. Zaretsky's conception of political Freudianism unites the two overarching themes of the last century―totalitarianism and consumerism―in a single framework. He finds that theories of mass psychology and the unconscious were central to the study of fascism and the Holocaust; to African American radical thought, particularly the struggle to overcome the legacy of slavery; to the rebellions of the 1960s; and to the feminism and gay liberation movements of the 1970s. Nor did the influence of political Freud end when the era of Freud bashing began. Rather, Zaretsky proves that political Freudianism is alive today in cultural studies, the study of memory, theories of trauma, postcolonial thought, film, media and computer studies, evolutionary theory and even economics.
In this light, Political Freud clearly picks up where Zaretsky ends Secrets of the Soul: noting that while its clinical status continues to decline, psychoanalysis is far from dead as a cultural hermeneutic. As Zaretsky notes in his epilogue, by the time we arrive at about 1980, psychoanalysis "divided into two divergent projects: a quasi-medical therapeutic practice aimed at treating mental and emotional disorders, and a set of new approaches to the study of culture." If the former project seems increasingly eclipsed by psychopharmacology and other therapeutic traditions (the efficacy of which is not, as noted here, always so great), the latter remains vibrant and valuable.

But what, in the end, remains valuable in the psychoanalytic tradition? This is a question I am continuing to think about in preparation for a lecture I've been asked to give in Iowa in late September of this year which marks two significant anniversaries in the Freudian canon: 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Freud's most popular and widely translated work, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis.

It also marks the 90th anniversary of perhaps Freud's weakest but nonetheless one of his most controversial works, Future of an Illusion. This latter work purported to explain the origins and purposes of monotheistic religions certainly (and perhaps even all "religions" if such a thing can be defined at all); but it is not a good book, and it rather unnecessarily drew down upon itself a great deal of ire and opposition from Christians who were thereby handed an over-easy excuse for refusing to see what was valuable in Freud. (Having recently re-read Future of an Illusion, I must say, with all due respect to the great master, how much Terry Eagleton's opening line, reviewing Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, also applies to this book: "Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.")

But one badly considered book (especially in so vast a Freudian, to say nothing of wider psychoanalytic, canon) must not be allowed to detract us from seeing what remains valuable in psychoanalytic thought. Here Zaretsky's Secrets of the Soul offers us a useful list of "a set of understandings that we need to protect," including:
  • the reality of the individual's inner and unconscious life, part of which is not just hidden but repressed;
  • that such individuals exist not in the abstract but as "concrete, particular, and contingent";
  • relations with others, especially loved ones, are shaped by that unconscious life;
  • "psychologically, being a man or being a woman is the outcome of an idiosyncratic and precarious process, and that no one is simply one sex or the other" (a point I discussed at some length recently);
  • an "irreducible gap" between the individual's psychic life and "the cultural, social, and political world";
  • and finally that "society and politics are driven not just by conscious interests and perceived necessities but also by unconscious motivations, anxieties, and half-spoken memories, and that even great nations can suffer traumas, change course abruptly, and regress."

Friday, July 21, 2017

Theologies of Retrieval

Last week, when I was at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota at a fantastic conference, discussed here, I met the editor of a forthcoming collection of great interest: Theologies of Retrieval: An Exploration and Appraisal, Darren Sarisky, ed. (T&T Clark, 2017), 368pp.

About this collection, which features an impressive array of some of the most prominent names in theology today--East and West--the publisher tells us the following:

One of the most significant trends in academic theology today, which cuts across thinking from Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox points of view, is the growing interest in theologies of retrieval. Theology of retrieval is a mode of thinking that puts a special stress on giving classic theological texts a close reading, with a view toward using the resources that they provide to understand and address contemporary theological issues.

This volume offers an understanding of what theologies of retrieval are, what their rationale is, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The contributors to this volume are all well established theologians, who answer important questions that existing work raises, expand on suggestions that have not already been developed fully, summarize ideas in order to highlight themes that are relevant to the topics of this volume, and air new critiques that should spur further debate.

We are also given the table of contents:

Introduction, Darren Sarisky (University of Oxford, UK)

I. Genealogies of Modernity: The Role of Intellectual-Historical Judgments

1. 'There's Always One Day Which Isn't The Same As The Day Before': Christianity and History in the Writings of Charles Péguy, John Milbank (University of Nottingham, UK)
2. The Past Matters Theologically: Thinking Tradition, Stanley Hauerwas (Duke University, USA)

II. Different Inflections to Retrieval: Confessional Approaches

3. Orthodoxy, Andrew Louth (Durham University, UK)
4. Reformed Retrieval, Michael Allen (Reformed Theological Seminary, USA)
5. "Only what is rooted is living" A Roman Catholic Theology of Ressourcement, Jennifer Newsome Martin (University of Notre Dame, USA)

III. Twentieth-Century Figures

6. Georges Florovsky, Paul Gavrilyuk (University of St. Thomas, USA)
7. Karl Barth, Kenneth Oakes (University of Notre Dame, USA)
8. Henri de Lubac, David Grumett (University of Edinburgh, UK)

IV. Theological Sources

9. Scripture: Three Modes of Retrieval, Michael Legaspi (Penn State University, USA)
10. Tradition I: Tradition in Congar, de Lubac and Blondel, Gabriel Flynn (Dublin City University, Ireland)
11. Tradition II: Thinking With Historical Texts - Reflections on Theologies of Retrieval, Darren Sarisky (University of Oxford, UK)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Cyril Hovorun on the Church's Scaffolds

At the end of May I noted some initial thoughts on Fr Cyril Hovorun's new book, Scaffolds of the Church, which I was then half-way through reading. I have since not only finished the book, but publicly recommended it in two very different contexts, including to a class of Catholic teachers from the local Latin diocese who were taking a summer course with me in ecclesiology. As I said to them, if you buy and read no other book in ecclesiology this year, let it be this one. It is very much worth your while.

I will finish that review later this week, but in the meantime, I wanted to let you hear from the author himself, and so I e-mailed some questions to Fr. Cyril. Here are this thoughts.

AD: Tell us about the background to Scaffolds of the Church.

CH: My motivation to write this book was to give answers to the questions, which I asked myself at different administrative positions at the Moscow Patriarchate, and in the frame of various ecumenical dialogues, where I participated on behalf of my church. During my numerous journeys through the Eastern Christian oecumene, I observed many fascinating and sometimes strange phenomena in theology and church life. I did not find a satisfactory explanation for these phenomena in the existing literature. So I decided to explain them myself and to give them a theological sense, when there is a theological sense, of course. Even when I did not see any theological sense in what I observed in the Christian East, I tried to give a theological explanation why this sense is missing in the real life of the church.

AD: When we last spoke on here, it was about your book Meta-Ecclesiology. What links these two books?

CH: There is an intrinsic link between the two books. Actually, in the beginning they were supposed to constitute a single book. However, the manuscript I produced was too long for any publisher. Publishers suggested I cut it into two works. So I redrafted the manuscript to make two different books. They are indeed different, even though they deal with the same phenomenon of the church.

The approach of the first book, Meta-ecclesiology, is epistemological. I consider the church as a stream of consciousness, or as self-awareness of the church as church. I explore the church through various metaphors and ecclesiological theories, and in the end I apply to the church the epistemological methods of phenomenology and analytic philosophy.

By contrast, Scaffolds has a different approach to the church: through structuralism and poststructuralism. This approach is more analytic and relies on the traditional theological patterns of Aristotelian-Porphyrian logic. Unlike God and Incarnation, the church in the classical theological period was not described in the terms of nature, hypostasis, accidents, etc. I try to fill in this lacuna and to present the church through the juxtaposition, and sometimes counterposition, of its nature and structures.

AD: One of the main arguments you make is that sometimes ecclesial structures can act against the nature of the Church. Tell us a bit more about that, and give us an example.

In my earlier book, Meta-ecclesiology, I identified a chasm between the church as we believe in it, and the church we observe in our everyday life. The differentiation between the nature and structures of the church helps explain why this chasm exists. Indeed, what we believe about the church, that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, belongs to its nature. What we criticize in the church--in most cases--goes to its structures. The structures have been developed in the course of the history of the church to serve its mission. However, when the structures demand that the church serves them instead of serving the church, they deviate from their original rationale. Let us take, for instance, community, which I consider as church’s hypostasis, and hierarchy. Hierarchy was introduced to the church for the sake of the well-being of communities. When hierarchy makes communities an instrument of its own well-being, it goes against the nature of the church and betrays its own purpose.

AD: Alasdair MacIntyre's latest book, noted here, talks about how deeply hidden structures in neoliberal capitalist societies are so that we often don't even think to question them. In that light, I'm wondering if, like a lot of political structures, ecclesial structures do their work invisibly, and thus, when they act against the nature of the Church, we don't see them clearly enough to question them?

CH: I agree with this insight. In my book, I try to disclose some structures of the church, which mimic its nature. A number of Orthodox and other theologians identify the structures of the church with the church proper. We can call their approach ontotheology - the word coined by Kant and then used by Heidegger and Derrida. When I talk about ontotheology, I mean something different. I mean sacralisation of those services in the church, whose origin is profane, not divine. Their provenance is from the Greco-Roman world, not from the gospel. Hierarchy and primacy are some of these services.

AD: You argue in several places that hierarchy is useful in the Church but not necessary. Tell us a bit more about that.

CH: Hierarchy is useful, but not necessary as any instrument that the church has adopted in the course of its history. As with any such instrument, hierarchy is vulnerable to abuses, and indeed it often abuses the church and contradicts the church's nature.

In my book, I have scrutinized two sources from which hierarchy was borrowed to the church. These sources are not divine, but quite profane: Roman political culture and Neoplatonism. Even the word “hierarchy” is Neoplatonic and was introduced to the Christian theological lexicon in the 5th century. That hierarchy is not divine, however, does not mean it should be rejected altogether, as an alien element. It should be used in the church, and when necessary, repaired and restored to its original function.

The final chapter of the book is “From structuralism to poststructuralism and beyond.” The “beyond” is very important here. It means that my task is not just to deconstruct the ecclesial structures, something that structuralism and especially poststructuralism would do, but to suggest a way of re-construction of these structures - in accordance with their original meaning and with the nature of the church, which they are supposed to serve.

AD: Notions of autocephaly and canonical territory, so often invoked especially in Russian and Ukrainian contexts, are, you say, not really ecclesiological but nationalist in nature. Tell us a bit more about that.

CH: These notions were adopted by the church from the political culture very early, even before nationalism was invented in early modern Europe. "Canonical territory" brought about a transition from the original meaning of the church as particular to the local church. The earliest structures of the church were measured by communities. After the Roman empire embraced Christianity, they became measured by territories. The territorial principle of administration was appropriated by the church as a principle of canonical territory.

AD: You speak (p.127) about reinventing notions of autocephaly. Can you give us some indication of what you mean by that?

CH: The evolution of autocephaly was more complicated than the evolution of other ecclesial structures. It was invented in the Late Antiquity as an instrument that helped the church to resist its assimilation in the Roman state. It was countercultural, as it were. In the Middle Ages, from a counter-political phenomenon it turned to a means of further politicisation of the church. Autocephaly became an instrument of transitio imperii for the medieval Balkan and Moscovite states. In the nineteenth century, it was adjusted to the national awakening of the Orthodox peoples and facilitated their emancipation from the empires of that time. In our days, it is an instrument of decolonization for the states that emerged from the Soviet Union, particularly in Ukraine. This, I believe, is the latest version of autocephaly.

AD: In calling for its reinvention here, as in other places, you very commendably note the importance not of just dismantling structures or dismissing them, but of seeing their worth and revising them where necessary and possible, noting that there is no once and forever solution. From this, and from your book as a whole, I gather a clear sense that the Church and her structures really needs to be a lot more "portable" or "flexible" in many ways, a "field hospital" (to use Pope Francis's well-known image) that has some stability and structure but is not necessarily a permanent and fixed feature of the landscape. Is that a fair read?

CH: I think you have grasped the main idea of the book very well. I argue that to prevent the ecclesial structures from turning to simulacra, they need to be kept open. To remain useful, and not harmful, for the church, they have to be permanently readjusted, always with their original meaning as blueprint. I think the famous “ecclesia semper reformanda” should apply not so much to the church per se as to its structures.

AD: You and I seem to meet about once a year at ecumenical conferences--June 2016 in Vienna, June 2017 in San Felice del Benaco. From those conferences, your other travels, and your new position at the Huffington Ecumenical Institute, do you have an overall or global sense of where the search for Orthodox-Catholic unity is today?

CH: I have participated in many official and unofficial dialogues, and had many chances to see their power and limitations. I concluded that the most important issue on the plate of the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue is primacy. In my ecclesiological books, I always try to tackle this issue, and thus to contribute to the dialogues. I believe that equally, if not more, important for the Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement are all sorts of relations and networking between the two churches on all levels. I argue in my books that the nature of the church is relational. Therefore, the more there will be different relations between us, the closer we will get to sharing in the same nature of the church. I consider my new role at the Huffington Ecumenical Institute in fostering these relations.

AD: Having finished Scaffolds of the Church, what are you working on now?

CH: I am finishing a new manuscript for the Fortress Press. Its tentative title is “Unorthodox Orthodoxies.” This book will continue my previous ecclesiological studies. This time, I will consider some particular cases, when the idea of the church, and Christianity in general, get distorted in the Orthodox world. I will study the issue of nationalism, collaboration of the churches with the totalitarian regimes, their participation in modern culture wars and obsession with ideologies. I will pay a special attention to the issue of antisemitism among the Orthodox, and will argue that it is close to the classical Christological heresies.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Other Welsh Wizard

On a lark I picked up a copy of Brenda Maddox's Freud's Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis (De Capo, 2008), 372pp. at Hyde Brothers, a wonderful used book store here in Ft. Wayne. Neither the book nor my comments have anything to do with Eastern Christianity directly but it arises out of my ongoing interest in seeing what use psychoanalytic thought still offers us today 100 years after Freud's most popular work, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis were completed, and 90 years after his rather silly but nonetheless influential Future of an Illusion was published. That latter work was, of course, his broadside against religious belief, which is held to be nothing more then a species of wish-fulfillment and an illusory wish for a powerful father-figure to protect us from the vagaries and violence of a nature thought by Freud to be terrifyingly red in tooth and claw. I will have more to say about both in public lectures I've been asked to give later this year.

But back to Maddox's book, which was a wonderfully fun book to read and so I want to draw attention to it for those who may be interested, not merely for what it reveals about the politics of the first generation around Freud, but also for some interesting, and often amusing, potted histories of, e.g., the early Canadian medical establishment and the arrival of psychoanalysis to Toronto, and then especially of Wales. He felt that the Welsh were far more open about sex, and far less preoccupied with capitalist pursuits, than either the English or the North Americans.

Jones was Welsh, and while he lived for a time in Canada (in exile, it seems, after charges of sexual harassment began piling up in London) and England, he returned to Wales and kept a house there, and saw that Welsh history could be useful in resisting some of the imperial depredations of the English.

As non-Americans, both he and Freud shared a kind of envious disdain of the newly emerging great power, which in their correspondence they both mocked for its sexual prudery. Jones was very much someone who saw himself as spreading Freud's greatness in North America, and so he arranged the famous 1909 trip for the great man from Vienna to give a series of lectures at Clark University. After this, when safely back in Vienna, Freud did not look fondly on America for its obsession with money, its fast-pace, its food, its attitudes towards sex and drink, writing to Jones: "Yes, America is gigantic. A gigantic mistake"!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Remembering, Repeating, Reconciling, Reuniting, and........Forgetting?

I'm at a conference this week at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, organized in part by Paul Gavrilyuk, whose book on Florovsky I discussed extensively here.

The conference is bringing together Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant scholars on the themes of remembering, reconciling, reuniting, ressourcement, and--as I'm adding in my paper--forgetting also. The respondent to my paper, "Some Salutary Theses on Oubliance," is Sarah Coakley of the University of Cambridge and author, inter alia, of the fascinating God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity'.

It looks to be a fascinating conference and I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and making some new ones.

Among some of those who will be there, my friend Nick Denysenko, whom I have interviewed here, here, and here about some of his books, will be among them.

Will Cohen, whose book on Orthodoxy and Catholicism and the notion of sister churches is a splendid one, was interviewed here; he will also be at the conference. I assigned his book to a graduating student this past semester and he found it invaluable in writing his undergraduate honours thesis.

Edith Humphrey will be there, giving a paper on Orthodox biblical scholarship. I interviewed here here about her book on Scripture and tradition.

The indefatigable and prolific Matthew Levering will be giving a fascinating paper on remembering and eyewitness testimony in the gospels and the fate of the latter in modern biblical scholarship. Discussions of several of his books, and an interview about one of them, may be found starting here.

George Demacopoulos, author of a number of important books on the early papacy and popes, will be there. I interviewed him here about his book on Gregory the Great. He is also editor, with Aristotle Papanikalaou, of the very valuable collection Orthodox Constructions of the West, which I discussed in several parts.

Marcus Plested will also be there. He's the author of the utterly invaluable and fascinating Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, about which he was interviewed here.

Hans Boersma, whose Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry I have used for several years now in classes, will also be there. I interviewed him here about that book.

There are numerous others, not known to me, and mostly Protestants, who will also be there. I have read the papers and they are a fascinating, eclectic lot. I'm quite sure the discussion will be very rewarding indeed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Crusades, Part MMCCXVIII

The local Catholic radio station, Redeemer Radio, is interviewing me later this morning (tune in at 7am!) about my article last month in the Catholic Herald about ISIS propaganda and Crusades history.

So, for those who are seeking some places to begin in reading Crusades history, I suggest you start here with the works of Jonathan Riley-Smith, arguably the pioneer in contemporary Crusades scholarship until his death last year. Of his many books noted in that review essay, I would, if you pressed me to recommend only one, suggest--because it is both accessible and short, but with enough detail to point you onward to other sources if you wish--his The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam, from 2008.

One of Riley-Smith's students, now teaching and well respected in North America, is Thomas Madden, and his book, The Concise History of the Crusadesnoted here, is also a good place to begin, though it does not focus on the contemporary historiographical issues as much as Riley-Smith. Madden also authored this short but useful article.

For those wanting an introduction to Arab views of the Crusades, which are fascinating and highly counter-intuitive, go here. For more generally Islamic views of the Crusades, go here.

For much more specialized scholarship, follow the links here.

Finally, for those interested in the very challenging and ever-changing historiography of the Crusades, then Giles Constable's article is very valuable indeed.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

On Political and Sexual Epistemological Crises

I have several times previously drawn attention to Adam Phillips, the English literary scholar and psychoanalyst, certainly the most prolific and quite likely also the most interesting analytic writer today. There is, I have suggested, a clear "apophatic" theme and impulse in much of his writing, and that is perhaps nowhere so clear as in one of his early, short books I have just finished: Terrors and Experts (Harvard University Press, 1997), 128pp. I hope to develop this apophatic connection in more detail elsewhere, showing how much in Phillips is very sympathetic to, and thus useful for dialogue with, Eastern Christian spirituality.

It is sometimes a cheap trick to claim that a book or an idea from decades or centuries ago is directly "relevant" in light of the headlines of today. But I would suggest that this book is not so much relevant now as superfluous, but in a good way, that is, as having fulfilled its purpose, albeit belatedly: the very thing it calls for is now to be found in abundance. Thus, with ongoing eruptions of "fake news," the uses and abuses of propaganda of all sorts--whether from Russia, ISIS, or others--and the widespread scorn for, and collapse of the authority of, "experts" (whether in politics, the media, Church, climate change science, and elsewhere), we seem more than ever to live in an age where "experts" are treated with skepticism at best, and scorn at worst.

This is precisely the sort of thing Phillips would seem to encourage: "psychoanalysis...radically revises our versions of competence." Here, as in his many other books, he sees the usefulness of psychoanalysis precisely insofar as it undermines unhealthy (neurotic) certainties and loosens things up, allowing people new thoughts and new freedom, including the freedom to forget about themselves. To the extent that psychoanalysis itself becomes an ideology enforcing various lines of authority and various forms of orthodoxy, it has, Phillips says, lost its usefulness and deserves to be ignored: "Psychoanalysts run the risk of believing that there is a King's English of the psyche and everybody is, or should be, speaking it." Psychoanalysis is, rather, at its best when it ranges itself "against the enemies of ambiguity" and gives free reign to its capacity "to both comfort and unsettle."

We have recently seen several attempts at understanding Western politics and politicians via psychoanalytic categories, including this very interesting article, as well as regular, and by now tedious, discussions of Donald Trump's "vulgarity" and his "id." Regardless of what one thinks of all this, Phillips argues that once one accepts the reality of an unconscious mind, all attempts at certainty and "dignity," at acting authoritatively or expertly or "presidentially," at speaking unequivocally, are perpetually undermined: "the unconscious, at least as Freud described it, is another word for the death of the guru." A guru claims to offer us a solution to a problem he has himself largely invented, and further claims there is only one solution, his, which will solve the problem. But the unconscious, Phillips reminds us by quoting Freud's The Claims of Psycho-Analysis to Scientific Interest, "'speaks more than one dialect'." It is an unruly cacophony, and it mocks all gurus and bourgeois mandarins and prissy etiquette experts with their notions of what constitutes "appropriate tone" or "appearing presidential" rather than "vulgar."

Radically unsettling and undermining notions of competence, expertise, and authority are not things that most of us encourage others to do: "politicians in Western democracies do not get elected on the basis of their capacity for hesitation, or their willingness to sustain contradictory points of view, or their ability to change their minds, or their impassioned support for the opposition's point of view," Phillips notes. That is greatly to be pitied, for as Alasdair MacIntyre has often noted, the greatest need today is precisely the ability radically to put to the question all the claims of Western politicians on behalf of the structures of neoliberal capitalism, which too often largely remain hidden from us, offering us only a chimera of choice between alternatives that are, on closer examination, the same: conservative liberalism, liberal liberalism, or radical liberalism.

In such a context, the role of both a moral philosopher such as MacIntyre and an analyst such as Phillips (who both come out of the British left, and know each other's work) is to become, ironically, an "expert on the truths of uncertainty" and to resist the tendency, much in evidence in this country since 9/11, to defer to "experts" in the name of what I think has become the most pernicious American idol today, viz., "security." For part of the problem here is that, at least sometimes, "the expert constructs the terror, and then the terror makes the expert."

If Phillips, here and in other books (especially his Unforbidden Pleasures:Rethinking Authority, Power, and Vitality, which I reviewed here) offers much that is useful to undermining contemporary politicians and politics, with their bogus claims to certainty and authority, then in the latter parts of Terrors and Experts he offers much to put to the question the politics and ideologies of sexuality, not least in the grotesques of "gender ideology." Too much of what passes for discussion of these issues today is a cheap amalgam of essentialism, romanticism, and nostalgia; too much nonsense is spread about by those unwilling to recognize the legitimate differences between culturally conditioned and contingent gender roles on the one hand, and the sexual differentiation given by the Creator on the other. Here there is plenty of fault to go round: those demanding that nobody be permitted to deviate from preferred pronouns and nomenclature, and those resisting that with equal hostility and certainty. When it comes to sex and gender, most people, it seems, are, as Phillips might put it, themselves both terrors and experts! In a slightly different idiom, found in his book On Balance, when it comes to things we are most passionate about, including our sexual identities, we become unbalanced and instead emerge as intolerant fanatics.

As I have argued elsewhere, Catholic and Orthodox Christians are guilty of making the tradition say what it has not, of pulling the fabric too far to patch holes of their own making, when they attempt to argue that, from the premise "God created us male and female," certain prescriptive conclusions for how men and women are to act and think must inexorably follow. (It's the same slippery and over-hasty procedure used by those who assume that from a few vague buzzwords in Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I, the pope can do whatever he wants in any and all matters. Not so. Not in a month of Sundays.)

This is not to cast doubt on historic Christian teaching about sexual morality, which I support, but only to suggest that much of the contemporary theological debate on these issues is often unconsciously bound up with many other issues, especially those of social class, economic standing, and cultural conditioning, almost all of which go unrecognized. Moreover, it pretends to a certainty that I think few of us have, and then it attempts to enforce that certainty on others. From the Creator's "is" we are over-hasty in trying to draw our own "oughts." What and whom does that really serve well?

Instead of racing to unsustainable and intellectually vacuous "answers" about sexual differentiation, we need to be much more careful here about getting some of the questions right. My friend the Orthodox biblical scholar Edith Humphrey, whom I look forward to seeing next week at a conference in Minnesota, has recently done some of that here in a piece I commend to your attention.

Phillips will be radically unsettling to those who like their sexual roles and regulations highly detailed and prescriptive. Good luck with that. As he repeatedly notes, "there is nothing like sexuality...for making a mockery of our self-knowledge. In our erotic lives, at least, our preferences do not always accord with our standards." Moreover, Phillips rescues Freud's original insight into human bisexuality, and reintroduces Ferenczi's idea of "ambisexuality."

The result of all this is to note that "from a psychoanalytic point of view, nobody can know about sexuality" in part because "we are never one thing or another, but a miscellany. (For how long in any given day is one homosexual or heterosexual, and can you always tell the difference?)" We seek to be one thing and never another, and certainly Christians try to prescribe this, but that, at the very least, is, Phillips suggests, merely an expression of our "wish to be defined [which] is complicit with the wish to be controlled."

Rather than always and everywhere seeking control and certainty, seeking refuge from the terrors of the world and of love (including God's love, perhaps the most terrifying of all, though Phillips does not suggest this) in the shadow of the expert, the healthy mind is one that is free to forget, free not to focus on itself, free to avoid making a "fetish of memory," and free to kick out its own resident "enraged bureaucrat" who is always trying to organize, structure, and control thoughts. In the end, Phillips says that psychoanalysis, theology, politics, and anything else has to resist the descent into what he calls "Cartesianism," that is, into highly and tightly structured systems of thought in which we think we have thought everything there is to be thought, and no new or free thoughts are to be had. Psychoanalysis, like Christianity, works best when it reminds us that "too much definition leaves too much out."

Monday, June 26, 2017

15th Century Crusades

As I have been arguing on here, as well as here, and in other places for years now, the propaganda of ISIS about the Crusades traffics in, inter alia, general Western ignorance, and blatant Western political abuse of, Crusading history. A recently published collection, edited by a sometime student of Jonathan Riley-Smith, looks at The Crusade in the Fifteenth Century: Converging and Competing Cultures, ed. Norman Housley (Routledge, 2016), 220pp.

Housley is the author of a number of other studies on the Crusades, including Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land (2008) and Contesting the Crusades, which is a good place to begin for those new to Crusading history. 

About this new collection we are told:
Increasingly, historians acknowledge the significance of crusading activity in the fifteenth century, and they have started to explore the different ways in which it shaped contemporary European society. Just as important, however, was the range of interactions which took place between the three faith communities which were most affected by crusade, namely the Catholic and Orthodox worlds, and the adherents of Islam. Discussion of these interactions forms the theme of this book. Two essays consider the impact of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 on the conquering Ottomans and the conquered Byzantines. The next group of essays reviews different aspects of the crusading response to the Turks, ranging from Emperor Sigismund to Papal legates. The third set of contributions considers diplomatic and cultural interactions between Islam and Christianity, including attempts made to forge alliances of Christian and Muslim powers against the Ottomans. Last, a set of essays looks at what was arguably the most complex region of all for inter-faith relations, the Balkans, exploring the influence of crusading ideas in the eastern Adriatic, Bosnia and Romania. Viewed overall, this collection of essays makes a powerful contribution to breaking down the old and discredited view of monolithic and mutually exclusive "fortresses of faith". Nobody would question the extent and intensity of religious violence in fifteenth-century Europe, but this volume demonstrates that it was played out within a setting of turbulent diversity. Religious and ethnic identities were volatile, allegiances negotiable, and diplomacy, ideological exchange and human contact were constantly in operation between the period's major religious groupings.
And we are given the Table of Contents:

List of figures and maps

List of abbreviations
Notes on contributors



1 Introduction: Norman Housley

Conquerors and conquered

2 Crusading in the fifteenth century and its relation to the development of Ottoman dynastic legitimacy, self-image, and the Ottoman consolidation of authority: Nikolay Antov

3 Byzantine refugees as crusade propagandists: the travels of Nicholas Agallon: Jonathan Harris

The crusading response: expressions, dynamics and constraints

4 Dances, dragons and a pagan queen: Sigismund of Luxemburg and the publicizing of the Ottoman Turkish threat: Mark Whelan

5 Alfonso V and the anti-Turkish crusade:Mark Aloisio

6 Papal legates and crusading activity in central Europe: the Hussites and the Ottoman Turks: Antonin Kalous

7 Switching the tracks: Baltic crusades against Russia in the fifteenth century: Anti Selart

Diplomatic and cultural interactions

8 Tīmūr and the ‘Frankish’ powers: Michele Bernardini

9 Venetian attempts at forging an alliance with Persia and the crusade in the fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries: Giorgio Rota

10 Quattrocento Genoa and the legacies of crusading: Steven Epstein

Frontier zones: the Balkans and the Adriatic

11 The key to the gate of Christendom? The strategic importance of Bosnia in the struggle against the Ottomans: Emir Filippović

12 Between two worlds or a world of its own? The eastern Adriatic in the fifteenth century: Oliver Jens Schmitt

13 The Romanian concept of crusade in the fifteenth century: Sergiu Iosipescu

14 Conclusion: transformations of crusading in the long fifteenth century: Alan V. Murray


Housley, a busy man, has another even newer collection released just this spring: Reconfiguring the 15th-Century Crusade (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 344pp.

About this book we are told:
This collection of essays by eight leading scholars is a landmark event in the study of crusading in the late middle ages. It is the outcome of an international network funded by the Leverhulme Trust whose members examined the persistence of crusading activity in the fifteenth century from three viewpoints, goals, agencies and resonances. The crusading fronts considered include the conflict with the Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean and western Balkans, the Teutonic Order’s activities in the Baltic region, and the Hussite crusades. The authors review criticism of crusading propaganda on behalf of the crusade, the influence on crusading of demands for Church reform, the impact of printing, expanding knowledge of the world beyond the Christian lands, and new sensibilities about the sufferings of non-combatants.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lost Kingdom of Russian Nationalism

A new book from Serhii Plokhii always commands attention, and rightly so. Author of various and well-received studies on the history of Ukraine, of Cossack history, of the Yalta conference of 1945, and many other works, he has a new book forthcoming this fall which could not be more timely: Lost Kingdom: A History of Russian Nationalism from Ivan the Great to Vladimir Putin. That is the title given the book by its European publisher, while, most curiously, the North American version is to be titled Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation (Basic Books, October 2017), 416pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea and attempted to seize a portion of Ukraine. While the world watched in outrage, this blatant violation of national sovereignty was only the latest iteration of a centuries-long effort to expand Russian boundaries and create a pan-Russian nation.
In Lost Kingdom, award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues that we can only understand the confluence of Russian imperialism and nationalism today by delving into the nation's history. Spanning over 500 years, from the end of the Mongol rule to the present day, Plokhy shows how leaders from Ivan the Terrible to Joseph Stalin to Vladimir Putin exploited existing forms of identity, warfare, and territorial expansion to achieve imperial supremacy.
An authoritative and masterful account of Russian nationalism, Lost Kingdom chronicles the story behind Russia's belligerent empire-building quest.
I was gratified to learn just this week of the forthcoming advent of this book for the topic of Russian nationalism has been much on my mind. I was in Italy last week, in the wonderful Alpine town of San Felice del Benaco, half-way between Brescia and Verona, attending the congress of the Russian Greek Catholic Church, where I was keynote lecturer. Organized by the splendid Fr. Lawrence Cross of Australia, it was an important gathering whose resolutions you may read here.

Russian nationalism came up insofar as it plays a role in Rome-Moscow relations over the vexed question of Eastern Catholics ("uniates") in both Russia and Ukraine. But much more than that was discussed at the congress, and in the coming days I shall have more to say about it at Catholic World Report. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Search of Catholic Propaganda

Having spent the better part of two years analyzing, lecturing on, and writing about ISIS propaganda, it has become clear to me that what is needed now is Catholic, and more generally Christian counter-propaganda about the Crusades, as I argued in a new piece in the Catholic Herald of London, which you may read here.

For those who want to do more reading on the Crusades, I direct your attention to dozens of discussions of them on here. You may want to begin here with Jonathan Riley-Smith's works. The other books are linked here.

The Church in Iraq

The recent and appalling news that certain Chaldean Christians from Iraq may be deported from the United States is an outrage of the first order. But it is not a surprise. The foreign policy of this country, as with most other historically identified "Christian" countries, has rarely if ever given two hoots about the plight of Eastern Christians. That was as true during, e.g., the Crimean War of the 19th century through any of the conflicts of the 20th, and now 21st, centuries.

The Christian communities in Iraq have, for a very long time now, been living under less than ideal circumstances, but since the 2003 war, which the Catholic Church rightly opposed, their plight has been almost unbelievable. But prior to the recent violence, Christianity in Iraq has a long and noble history, some of which is told in a book set for release this coming September: The Church in Iraq by Fernando Cardinal Filoni, trans. Edward Condon (Catholic University of America Press, 2017), 216pp.

About this book we are told:
The persecution of the church in Iraq is one of the great tragedies of the twenty-first century. In this short, yet sweeping account, Cardinal Filoni, the former Papal Nuncio to Iraq, shows us the people and the faith in the land of Abraham and Babylon, a region that has been home to Persians, Parthians, Byzantines, Mongols, Ottomans, and more. This is the compelling and rich history of the Christian communities in a land that was once the frontier between Rome and Persia, for centuries the crossroads of East and West for armies of invaders and merchants, and the cradle of all human civilization. Its unique cultural legacy has, in the past few years, been all but obliterated.
The Church in Iraq is both a diligent record and loving testimonial to a community that is struggling desperately to exist. Filoni guides the reader through almost two thousand years of history, telling the story of a people who trace their faith back to the Apostle Thomas. The diversity of peoples and churches is brought deftly into focus through the lens of their interactions with the papacy, but The Church in Iraq does not shy away from discussing the local political, ethnic, and theological tensions that have resulted in centuries of communion and schism. Never losing his focus on the people to whom this book is so clearly dedicated, Cardinal Filoni has produced a personal and engaging history of the relationship between Rome and the Eastern Churches. This book has much to teach its reader about the church in the near East. Perhaps its most brutal lesson is the ease with which such a depth of history and culture can be wiped away in a few short decades.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Early Pavel Florensky

Eerdmans yesterday put into my hands a book so new Amazon lists its official release only later this month: Pavel Florensky, Early Religious Writings 1903-1909, trans. Boris Jakim, 240pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

Profound writings by one of the twentieth century's greatest polymaths

"Perhaps the most remarkable person devoured by the Gulag" is how Alexandr Solzhenitsyn described Pavel Florensky, a Russian Orthodox mathematician, scientist, linguist, art historian, philosopher, theologian, and priest who was martyred during the Bolshevik purges of the 1930s.
This volume contains eight important religious works written by Florensky in the first decade of the twentieth century, now translated into English—most of them for the first time. Splendidly interweaving religious, scientific, and literary themes, these essays showcase the diversity of Florensky's broad learning and interests. Including reflections on the sacraments and explorations of Russian monastic culture, the volume concludes with "The Salt of the Earth," arguably Florensky's most spiritually moving work.
For those new to the genius that was Florensky, you could do well to start with Pavel Florensky: A Quiet Genius: The Tragic and Extraordinary Life of Russia's Unknown da Vinci by Avril Pyman (Bloomsbury, 2010).

One of the earliest studies in English by one of the most perceptive scholars of the Slavophile and Silver Age scene in Russia remains Robert Slesinski's Pavel Florensky: A Metaphysics of Love, published in 1984 by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, and still widely available.

Jakim has translated several other works of Florensky, some of which you may find here.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

All the Saints of God

Apologies for the gap in posting: I was in San Felice del Benaco last week to give a paper at a Russian Catholic congress, and working simultaneously to finish another paper at another conference next month. I will, in several places, have much more to say about this congress and the plight of Russian Byzantine Catholics today, whose treatment by Rome is, and has for decades been, an absolute scandal and utter disgrace. They, more than any other Eastern Catholic Church, illustrate the truth of Flannery O'Connor's observation that one is called upon to suffer ever so much more from the Church than for her.

But on this All Saints day, I pause to record a few thoughts by way of introducing a new book that arrived on my desk some weeks back:

I confess to a rather pronounced dislike of most of what passes for popular hagiography, that is, story-telling about those called saints. For too much of that literature has rendered too many men and women into little more than what Cardinal Newman called “clothes racks for virtues.” They seem, improbably, to be dripping with all the right attitudes and behaviors; they have primly checked all the proper boxes; they seem not even so much as to have sworn at stubbing their toe, never mind to have violated a single moral precept. They do not, as it were, have a single hair out of place on their perfectly sculpted, halo-bedecked heads. They are bloodless portraits of humourless and tedious bores. If you were seated beside one such as this at a dinner party or on a bus, you would curse your bad luck and move as fast as possible.

But the vision in the letter to the Hebrews used in the Byzantine lectionary on today's feast is much livelier and more exciting: “so great a cloud of witnesses.” Here I think immediately and vividly of a great crowd of the most diverse people, all pressing around, huddling in ever closer and cheering ever more boisterously at the finish line of a race on a bright, sunny, warm day as each of us—some huffing and puffing, most walking awkwardly and lamely in some pain, and only a very few racing smartly across the finish line—makes it to the end. That cloud of witnesses is filled with liveliness, with hope, with great good cheer, and above all with a love that overflows: they love us enough to want us to finish the race set before us so that we can join them in their endless feasting. They love us and so do not laugh at our funny walk, or strange running style, or badly misshapen bodies. They love us and so only want us to win the crowns of eternal life spoken of in today’s gospel.

How do we run this race? Some may be called to heroic achievement, to spiritual Olympics, as it were. But most of us are not--and we have, inter alia, Michael Plekon most recently to thank for his tireless reminders of ordinary and hidden holiness, and for showing us saints as they really are.

Beyond Plekon, the greatest figure of 19th-century English Christianity, John Henry Cardinal Newman, in a short meditation from 1856, argues that “it is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well.” That, Newman says, is  “a short road to perfection—short” but not always easy. For sometimes daily work seems like drudgery and we crave excitement. But Newman, with the whole weight of the desert fathers and mothers behind him, reminds us to resist those desires for adventure, saying instead:
If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first—Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; say the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
All of which is just a homiletical introduction to the book I mentioned by Leonard J. DeLorenzo: Work of Love: A Theological Reconstruction of the Communion of Saints (University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 362pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The saints are good company. They are the heroes of the faith who blazed new and creative paths to holiness; they are the witnesses whose testimonies echo throughout the ages in the memory of the Church. Most Christians, and particularly Catholics, are likely to have their own favorite saints, those who inspire and “speak” to believers as they pray and struggle through the challenges of their own lives. Leonard DeLorenzo’s book addresses the idea of the communion of saints, rather than individual saints, with the conviction that what makes the saints holy and what forms them into a communion is one and the same. Work of Love investigates the issue of communication within the communio sanctorum and the fullness of Christian hope in the face of the meaning—or meaninglessness—of death. In an effort to revitalize a theological topic that for much of Catholic history has been an indelible part of the Catholic imaginary, DeLorenzo invokes the ideas of not only many theological figures (Rahner, Ratzinger, Balathasar, and de Lubac, among others) but also historians, philosophers (notably Heidegger and Nietzsche), and literary figures (Rilke and Dante) to create a rich tableau. By working across several disciplines, DeLorenzo argues for a vigorous renewal in the Christian imagination of the theological concept of the communion of saints. He concludes that the embodied witness of the saints themselves, as well as the liturgical and devotional movements of the Church at prayer, testifies to the central importance of the communion of saints as the eschatological hope and fulfillment of the promises of Christ.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia

I have long been fascinated by all aspects of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia--her vibrant and uniquely colourful iconography, her singular liturgical traditions, her close proximity to Judaism in certain disciplinary aspects, and her relations, not always amicable, between her mother-church of Egypt and her daughter (sister?) church of Eritrea.

But good, reliable studies in English of Ethiopian Christianity have been relatively few and far between--until quite recently. Now John Binns, a respected scholar and author of the study (which was favourably reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christianity), An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches (Cambridge UP, 2002) has published earlier this year a major new work, The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia: A History (IB Tauris, 2017), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us
Surrounded by steep escarpments to the north, south, and east, Ethiopia has always been geographically and culturally set apart. It has the longest archaeological record of any country in the world. Indeed, this precipitous mountain land was where the human race began. It is also home to an ancient church with a remarkable legacy. The Ethiopian Church forms the southern branch of historic Christianity. It is the only pre-colonial church in sub-Saharan Africa, originating in one of the earliest Christian kingdoms-with its king Ezana (supposedly descended from the biblical Solomon) converting around 340 CE. Since then it has maintained its long Christian witness in a region dominated by Islam; today it has a membership of around forty million and is rapidly growing. Yet, despite its importance, there has been no comprehensive study available in English of its theology and history. This is a large gap which this authoritative and engagingly written book seeks to fill.
The Church of Ethiopia (or formally, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) has a recognized place in worldwide Christianity as one of five non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches. As Dr. Binns shows, it has developed a distinctive approach which makes it different from all other churches. His book explains why this happened and how these special features have shaped the life of the Christian people of Ethiopia. He discusses the famous rock-hewn churches; the Ark of the Covenant (claimed by the Church and housed in Aksum); the medieval monastic tradition; relations with the Coptic Church; co-existence with Islam; missionary activity; and the Church's venerable oral traditions, especially the discipline of qene-a kind of theological reflection couched in a unique style of improvised allegorical poetry. There is also a sustained exploration of how the Church has been forced to re-think its identity and mission as a result of political changes and upheaval following the overthrow of Haile Selassie (who ruled as Regent, 1916-1930, and then as Emperor, 1930-74) and beyond.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Incorruptible Jesus

Every Ascensiontide, the question arises: where is Jesus' body? If in heaven, as one is inclined to answer with irritated alacrity, how is that possible given what is claimed about the nature of heaven? Is this, in fact, a question that admits of so ready an answer as we may wish to supply with indecent haste? Or is it a question to which we cannot come to a final answer with total certainty now?

In any event, such questions are not new, and not uncontroversial, as a recent publication reminds us: Yonatan Moss, Incorruptible BodiesChristology, Society, and Authority in Late Antiquity (U Cal Press, 2016), 264pp.

About this book we are told:
In the early sixth-century eastern Roman empire, anti-Chalcedonian leaders Severus of Antioch and Julian of Halicarnassus debated the nature of Jesus's body: Was it corruptible prior to its resurrection from the dead? Viewing the controversy in light of late antiquity’s multiple images of the ‘body of Christ,’ Yonatan Moss reveals the underlying political, ritual, and cultural stakes and the long-lasting effects of this fateful theological debate. Incorruptible Bodies combines sophisticated historical methods with philological rigor and theological precision, bringing to light an important chapter in the history of Christianity.
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