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


Friday, November 17, 2017

On the Concept and Act of Genocide

Every November, in teaching my course on Eastern Christian encounters with Islam, we come to the dolorous history of Armenia, including of course the genocide of 1915. In our discussions, I discuss with students how it became necessary in the 20th century to coin a new term to describe a new form of evil and destruction, a term that comes to us from the life and work of Raphael Lemkin, to whom I have drawn attention in the past as books about him continue to appear.

Two more recent studies have appeared to examine further the legacy of Lemkin in coining that term including, first, Douglas Irvin-Erickson, Raphael Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 320pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Raphaël Lemkin (1900-1959) coined the word "genocide" in the winter of 1942 and led a movement in the United Nations to outlaw the crime, setting his sights on reimagining human rights institutions and humanitarian law after World War II. After the UN adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, Lemkin slipped into obscurity, and within a few short years many of the same governments that had agreed to outlaw genocide and draft a Universal Declaration of Human Rights tried to undermine these principles.
This intellectual biography of one of the twentieth century's most influential theorists and human rights figures sheds new light on the origins of the concept and word "genocide," contextualizing Lemkin's intellectual development in interwar Poland and exploring the evolving connection between his philosophical writings, juridical works, and politics over the following decades. The book presents Lemkin's childhood experience of anti-Jewish violence in imperial Russia; his youthful arguments to expand the laws of war to protect people from their own governments; his early scholarship on Soviet criminal law and nationalities violence; his work in the 1930s to advance a rights-based approach to international law; his efforts in the 1940s to outlaw genocide; and his forays in the 1950s into a social-scientific and historical study of genocide, which he left unfinished.
Revealing what the word "genocide" meant to people in the wake of World War II—as the USSR and Western powers sought to undermine the Genocide Convention at the UN, while delegations from small states and former colonies became the strongest supporters of Lemkin's law—Raphaël Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide examines how the meaning of genocide changed over the decades and highlights the relevance of Lemkin's thought to our own time.
The second book, from the same publisher and appearing a month after the one above, is by Berel Lang, Genocide: The Act as Idea (U Pennsylvania Press, 2016), 224pp.

About this book we are told:
The term "genocide"—"group killing"—which first appeared in Raphael Lemkin's 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, had by 1948 established itself in international law through the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Since then the charge of genocide has been both widely applied but also contested. In Genocide: The Act as Idea, Berel Lang examines and illuminates the concept of genocide, at once articulating difficulties in its definition and proposing solutions to them. In his analysis, Lang explores the relation of genocide to group identity, individual and corporate moral responsibility, the concept of individual and group intentions, and the concept of evil more generally. The idea of genocide, Lang argues, represents a notable advance in the history of political and ethical thought which proposed alternatives to it, like "crimes against humanity," fail to take into account.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

But Sir: By Now He Stinketh!

Apart from Susan Ashbrook Harvey's book, noted here, I know of no other works treating the sense of smell in particular apart from this new work: Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam
by Mary Thurlkill (Lexington), 212pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Medieval scholars and cultural historians have recently turned their attention to the question of “smells” and what olfactory sensations reveal about society in general and holiness in particular. Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam contributes to that conversation, explaining how early Christians and Muslims linked the “sweet smell of sanctity” with ideals of the body and sexuality; created boundaries and sacred space; and imagined their emerging communal identity. Most importantly, scent—itself transgressive and difficult to control—signaled transition and transformation between categories of meaning.
Christian and Islamic authors distinguished their own fragrant ethical and theological ideals against the stench of oppositional heresy and moral depravity. Orthodox Christians ridiculed their ‘stinking’ Arian neighbors, and Muslims denounced the ‘reeking’ corruption of Umayyad and Abbasid decadence. Through the mouths of saints and prophets, patriarchal authors labeled perfumed women as existential threats to vulnerable men and consigned them to enclosed, private space for their protection as well as society’s. At the same time, theologians praised both men and women who purified and transformed their bodies into aromatic offerings to God. Both Christian and Muslim pilgrims venerated sainted men and women with perfumed offerings at tombstones; indeed, Christians and Muslims often worshipped together, honoring common heroes such as Abraham, Moses, and Jonah.
Sacred Scents begins by surveying aroma’s quotidian functions in Roman and pre-Islamic cultural milieus within homes, temples, poetry, kitchens, and medicines. Existing scholarship tends to frame ‘scent’ as something available only to the wealthy or elite; however, perfumes, spices, and incense wafted through the lives of most early Christians and Muslims. It ends by examining both traditions’ views of Paradise, identified as the archetypal Garden and source of all perfumes and sweet smells. Both Christian and Islamic texts explain Adam and Eve’s profound grief at losing access to these heavenly aromas and celebrate God’s mercy in allowing earthly remembrances. Sacred scent thus prompts humanity’s grief for what was lost and the yearning for paradisiacal transformation still to come.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why We Secretly Hate Freedom and Health

In having to choose books for next year for a moral theology class, I've had occasion to go back to old works I've used in the past, beginning with the Orthodox thinker Christos Yannaras's The Freedom of Morality, which I have often used over the years, having first read it a dozen or more years ago now. Like many of his books, it contains occasionally wild claims and polemical allegations, and Freedom of Morality in particular is grossly swollen on its own verbosity and badly in need of severe editing. Nevertheless, the core arguments still remain important in refusing the temptation on the part of too many Christians--Catholics especially--to reduce "morality" to some kind of discrete system or, worse, an ideology.

Following Heraclitus' famous aphorism that you cannot step twice into the same river, so I find that picking up books one has read several times over the years necessarily entails reading them differently as the river of one's life continues to move. So this time, in coming back to Yannaras, I read him in light of more recent reading along similar themes, including the social critic and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom.

Fromm, in turn, let me to Nikolai Berdyaev's Slavery and Freedom. I don't know if anyone has ever read Fromm and Berdyaev together, let alone written and analyzed their similarities, but they are plainly there in both books for everyone to see. This is not entirely surprising as both men were near-contemporaries in living through both world wars. Both were also shaped by Marxism and existentialism in different ways.

All three--Yannaras, Fromm, and Berdyaev--have been on my mind lately because I have, since reading Adam Phillips, been especially taken with two of his insights: first, that most of us do not really want to be free because we find ourselves too much to bear. It is easier to restrict our freedom through submission to someone or something else--ideology, alcohol, authority figures--than it is to bear our freedom in all its uncontained unpredictability and ill-defined spontaneity.

I think our dis-ease with freedom is what led to D.W. Winnicott's powerful aphorism (quoted in Phillips' short biography of him, but originally found in his book on the child) that "health is much more difficult to deal with than disease." If we are suffering and diseased (spiritually, psychologically, physically) we are bound and unfree. Perhaps perversely, many of us seem to prefer it that way. That is both stranger and yet more widespread than many of us realize.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Rise of Scripture

My friend Bill Mills, whom I have often interviewed on here over the years, just alerted me to the new publication of a well-known and long-time Orthodox biblical scholar, Paul Nadiim Tarazi, The Rise of Scripture (OCABS, 2017), 482pp.

I'm waiting to hear from Tarazi about doing an interview with him about this new book. In the meantime, here is what the publisher tells us:
Those who experience the Bible as a living text understand that Scripture possesses a life and power all its own. Written by human hands, texts become sacred when they resonate with ultimate truths encountered in the direst of human circumstances. Paul Nadim Tarazi’s The Rise of Scripture offers a cogent argument for the particulars of how it is the Bible as we have it became Scripture. Avoiding futile speculation over Israelite textual and ethnic origins, Tarazi lays bare the Bible’s strategic defense against hellenistic urban hegemony over the fertile clay and desert environs of western Asia. With the help of biblical Hebrew—a “concocted language,” according to Tarazi—scribes wrote and shaped oral and textual materials into a manifesto of cultural resistance in response to the ethnocentric arrogance of the alien occupation. The successful accomplishment of such a defense relied upon a kind of leveling of the playing field, in which the writers of the Bible came to throw all their own false idols into the fire, resulting in the production of the most scathing collective self-examination in human history. It is the thesis of this book that the reading and teaching of Scripture brings human beings together in the barren wilderness of authentic human existence in obedience to, and under the care of the ultimate Shepherd, the God of Scripture.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Culture and Faith in a Greek Village

Twice in the past month this book, which I first mentioned on here in 2011, has come up unexpectedly in conversations: first when I was at Notre Dame College in Euclid, OH in early October giving a lecture, and was joined there by John Jillions, who was on my doctoral committee and is now the chancellor of the Orthodox Church of America, and just a lovely human being. I mentioned this book for some reason or other when we were in conversation over breakfast, and it turns out he knew the author from when he was in England teaching Orthodox theology at Cambridge and tending a parish.

Then last week a graduate student of mine returned from a trip to Greece that she just took, and was remarking on how often she saw layers of Orthodoxy superimposed on a still considerable "pagan" cultural substratum. So I take the liberty of drawing your attention anew to Juliet Du Boulay's Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village (Denise Harvey Publishers, 2009), 478pp.

It is a fascinating, textured work thick with descriptions and glimpses of lost worlds, and very moving, too, in unexpected ways. Her chapters, written without any sort of condescension, on certain customs and beliefs surrounding both marriage and death give clear evidence of the uneasy overlay of Christian and non-Christian beliefs and expectations--to say nothing of her unintentionally amusing discussion of villagers' reactions to news of the American moon landings in the 1960s. Those who think of Greece as full-throated, unadulterated Orthodox Christianity of the pure laine variety will be given frequent pause by what is described in this book by a graceful anthropologist who went on to become Orthodox herself, and is now married to an Orthodox priest.

In reading this book, I am repeatedly put in mind of a comment attributed to the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, in August 1914, as the chimes of Big Ben indicated the expiration of the ultimatum to Germany and the commencement of British hostilities against it: "the lamps are going out all over Europe and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." In reading this book, it is astonishing to me how much the world has changed in less than four decades--how many of the "lamps" of Greek culture have been extinguished, and for not very clear, still less good, reasons. Practices that du Boulay observed during her time in Greece in the late 1960s and early 1970s had already begun to fall into desuetude, a process that has only accelerated exponentially in the last several decades.

Some further details about this book from the publisher:
In 1974 Juliet du Boulay published her first work, Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village, now considered a classic text for the anthropology of Modern Greece. This sequel, the fruit of a lifetime’s reflection, adds new dimensions to this portrait, exploring the all-encompassing religious awareness of the same village community, and its rootedness in both Orthodox Christian and pre- or non-Christian ideas and practices. The story is told through a steady development of rich ethnographic detail in which the people come to life in all their vitality, contradictoriness, humour, realism and courage. From the particularities of life in the village a picture is built up in which the Byzantine legacy intertwines with fragments of antiquity, both Greek and Jewish, and with the universal themes, both tragic and hopeful, which confront man as he struggles to make sense of life. In this way a compelling pattern of symbols and images is revealed which underpin every action and event in the human and natural spheres, and is described here lucidly, convincingly and with great affection.
Excerpts may be read here. But do buy the book if you are at all interested. It is a lyrical and poignant read, at once anthropological and autobiographical, but edifying in any event.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Quest for a Usable Past

We are living in a time when questions of memory, memorialization, and forgetting are perhaps more prevalent and more controverted than ever. I have for several years been examining these questions, and continue to do so in a variety of venues and with regard to a number of incidents and periods in particular, as readers of this blog will know.

This month will see another volume join the discussion: Claudia Florentina-Dobre and Cristian Emilian Ghita, eds., The Quest for a Suitable Past: Myths and Memory in Central and Eastern Europe (Central European University Press, 2017), 164pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
The past may be approached from a variety of directions. A myth reunites people around certain values and projects and pushes them in one direction or another. The present volume brings together a range of case studies of myth making and myth breaking in east Europe from the nineteenth century to the present day. In particular, it focuses on the complex process through which memories are transformed into myths. This problematic interplay between memory and myth-making is analyzed in conjunction with the role of myths in the political and social life of the region. The essays include cases of forging myths about national pre-history, about the endorsement of nation building by means of historiography, and above all, about communist and post-communist mythologies. The studies shed new light on the creation of local and national identities, as well as the legitimization of ideologies through myth-making. Together, the contributions show that myths were often instrumental in the vast projects of social and political mobilization during a period which has witnessed, among others, two world wars and the harsh oppression of the communist regimes.

Monday, November 6, 2017

In Praise of Robert F. Taft, S.J.

Taft wearing the rarely bestowed double pectoral insignia,
the second one from the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Word has reached me that the great Byzantine Jesuit historian Robert Taft is declining rapidly, being now past his 85th birthday and in retirement in Boston for several years now. It seems he will very soon stand before the "awesome tribunal of Christ," as the litany of the Byzantine liturgy, which Taft single-handedly has done so much to help us understand, puts it.

I last saw him when we were on a panel together at the Orientale Lumen conference in Washington, DC in June 2011. (The talks were recorded here.) He was still quite vigorous then, but clearly slowing down.

When I came on board with Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2002, we were at work on an issue that was published in tribute to Taft on what was then his 70th birthday. That issue included his blockbuster article "The Problem of 'Uniatism' and the 'Healing of Memories': Anamnesis, not Amnesia" as well as a shorter article "Remembrance and Hope."

In the editorial introduction to that volume, Fr Peter Galadza (pictured below at left, with his son Daniel on the other side of Taft: Peter having studied with Taft at Notre Dame in the 1980s, and Daniel in the last decade at the PIO in Rome, where he wrote the dissertation to be published next year, as I noted here) recognized that Taft was such a giant of Byzantine liturgical history that there would be no single successor to him, but there could only be many building on the legacy of "one who has given so much."

That is no exaggeration, either. Taft has written scores of articles (this bibliography, dated to 2011, is a good place to start) over the years, and many books. In the former category, I would especially draw attention to the Uniatism article just mentioned; and then three others I have often returned to and directed others to for lucid discussion of crucial historiographical issues: “Ecumenical Scholarship and the Catholic-Orthodox Epiclesis Dispute,” Ostkirchlische Studien 45 (1996): 204-226. I used that as the basis for an article I wrote in 2012 about the historiographical issues facing the telling of Eastern Christian-Muslim encounters.

And then, published in Antiphon in 2000 (and periodically popping up on various internet sites), “Eastern Presuppositions and Western Liturgical Renewal.” This latter article is especially useful in understanding how and why liturgical reforms in the Latin Church happened after Vatican II. A good bit of the game was already up before the reforms were implemented as people plundered Eastern traditions to justify what they had decided in advance to do to the Latin liturgy--albeit in often twisted and distorted fashion.

In 2003 he published a synopsis of an ecumenically vital process he was involved in behind the scenes: the recognition of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari.

When I began reading Taft nearly two decades ago now, part of what I greatly admired was his blunt speech. There is no greater illustration of this than his infamous interview with John Allen from 2004, which many of us read with almost horrified glee. Less notoriously and controversially, and more recently, here is another interview from 2014.

In this more recent interview, Taft, asked about books he wishes he might have written, picks two non-liturgical historians: Robert Louis Wilken (The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity) and Klaus Schatz (Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present, a book I drew on a great deal in writing my own Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy).

In addition to these interviews and to his articles, there are of course the books, and in the 2014 interview Taft talks a bit about the bibliographical history of some of those studies.

For what it's worth, I begin by admitting I have not read all of Taft's books. Of those that I have, I think the first book I read was the collection of articles published under the title Beyond East and West. Problems in Liturgical Understanding, published in 2001 by the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where Taft was a professor for nearly half a century. There are many gems in that book, including an autobiographical chapter in which Taft recounts some of his early formation.

With my students over the years, I have often assigned Taft's The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West (Liturgical Press, 1986). It's a dense book, and by Taft's own admission focused much more on the East than the West, but that detracts nothing from its value.

For those coming to the Byzantine tradition with no background whatsoever, Taft's  1992 book The Byzantine Rite: A Short History is a good place to start.

For those, by contrast, ready for an in-depth history, then there is of course Taft's magnum opus, the multi-volume history of the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I have not read all volumes, but those that I have are vintage Taft: an amassing of sources in a variety of languages, judiciously sifted to tell a history with all the best virtues of the academy: objectivity, fairness, discernment, and comprehensiveness. These are the virtues which are hallmarks of Taft's scholarship, marking him out as a scholar's scholar and an historian whose works we shall be drawing on for many years to come. Rightly has he been recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Catholicos of the Armenian Church, Harvard University's Dumbarton Oaks Centre, and the British Academy, inter alia.

Rather later in life Taft seemed to me to move somewhat towards a different way of doing history as suggested in his short 2006 book Through Their Own Eyes: Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It. There he recognized how much history, including that which he had done, was largely textual history, which is understandable and useful but also limited. What he said we needed more of was history through the eyes not of the scholars or clerics writing the books, but of those in the churches--more a social history of ritual enactment and engagement by the (to quote the always acerbic and droll Fr. John Hunwicke) "plebs sancta Dei, God's common ordinary folk, not of chaps with clever ideas who write learned papers about Inculturation but treat Liturgy like a gamesboard on which they and their chums are entitled to move the counters around."

Lest it be thought that I am here writing a hagiography before the man is dead, let me note that I disagreed, and disagree, with Taft's 2008 article lauding (uncritically, it seems to me) the Latin liturgical reforms of Vatican II which, with Ratzinger, I regard as having caused undeniably grave damage to the Latin church based, as Pickstock has memorably said, upon an entirely sinister conservative worldview of the fathers and reformers of the council that failed to challenge the pathologies of modernity (a point which, I think, owes not a few things to Mary Douglas's short, difficult but vital book Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology).

But unlike those whom Taft criticizes there in his 2008 America essay, I am in all other respects a staunch defender of Vatican II, especially for its ecclesiological and ecumenical advances, as I make abundantly clear in my chapter published this year in The Reception of Vatican II, edited by Matthew Levering and Matthew Lamb and published by Oxford University Press.

With Taft, in fact--not least in his 2011 Orientale Lumen lecture--I ardently wish for further implementation of the council's reforms to the Catholic Church's structures and ecumenical outreach, as I have argued, and continue to argue, in numerous places, not least my 2011 book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy

Taft's own ideas about Orthodox-Catholic rapprochement are contained in several places, but see in particular his chapter in Orthodox Constructions of the West, that invaluable collection edited by George E. Demacopoulos  and Aristotle Papanikolaou which I lavished some time on here, here (quoting Taft extensively), and here.

Let me end, as Taft's life is coming to its end, with his book on prayer, which he says in his 2014 interview is one he himself returns to with some regularity. For those of us who only knew and know Taft as this formidable scholar of gruff, uncompromisingly blunt demeanor, this book comes as something of a surprise. For here we see that he is after all a priest with a tender (if unsentimental) care for souls. (I've heard over the years from some of his former students such as Daniel Galadza and Sr Vassa Larin that Taft would surprise people, including students, with pastoral visits to them in hospital.)

For such tenderness, as well as his fierceness in investigating sources, inveighing against bad history that propagates Christian division, and pushing Eastern and Western Christians alike to face up to our history in all its messiness, may the Lord count it all unto him as righteousness! And may his memory, when that time comes, be eternal.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Crazy Communistic Christians

In one of the first books he published over his long, distinguished career as the most important moral philosopher of our time, Alasdair MacIntyre bluntly argued in Marxism: An Interpretation (which was later revised and republished as Marxism and Christianity) that “the two most relevant books in the modern world are St. Mark’s Gospel and Marx’s National Economy and Philosophy; but they must be read together.” (For those unfamiliar with MacIntyre, I give something of a retrospective of MacIntyre's writings here; I show here how revoltingly he has been traduced by some oversharing blogger; and discuss something of his use of Marx and Freud here.)

MacIntyre has returned to a new engagement with Marx in his newest book, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative (Cambridge UP, 2016). Here, MacIntyre says, we must learn “from Marx just what it was about capitalism—that appropriation of surplus value—that transformed the relationship of the cultural and social order so radically." While recognizing the prosperity capitalism has brought some, MacIntyre also insists in his latest book on recognizing that it has also “destroyed…traditional ways of life, created gross and sometimes grotesque inequalities of income and wealth, lurched through crisis after crisis, creating recurrent mass unemployment and left those areas and those communities that it was not profitable to develop permanently impoverished and deprived.” All this Marx had clearly foreseen two centuries ago.

The deceptive and destructive power of capitalism today is such that we often fail—at least, ironically, until Donald Trump came along—to take seriously those inequalities and those deprived and destroyed areas that have been increasing in the last several decades. And it is not just politicians who fail to own up to this: many churchmen have also often gone along with, or at least failed to criticize, these developments, which MacIntyre, in an updated 1995 preface to his Marxism and Christianity, sees as a dereliction of ecclesial duty: “Capitalism is bad for those who succeed by its standards as well as for those who fail by them, something that many preachers and theologians have failed to recognize. And those Christians who have recognized it have often enough been at odds with ecclesiastical as well as political and economic authorities” (here one thinks immediately of Dorothy Day, as Lance Richey and I tried to show in our book).

MacIntyre’s earliest published writings on Marx were from the 1950s and 1960s. Those writings were reprinted in 2008 in the collection, Alasdair MacIntyre's Engagement with Marxism: Selected Writings 1953-1974, edited by Paul Blackledge and Neil Davidson.

All these thoughts came back to me today in reading David Bentley Hart's op-ed in the New York Times, "Are Christians Supposed to be Communists?" Hart's work on re-translating the New Testament has forced this question upon him again, as he notes in this op-ed and elsewhere.

It is certainly a question worth considering again and seriously because it's never been adequately answered by Christians of the last century and more. The capture of the Christian imaginary and its colonization from within by advanced capitalism remains, to my mind, one of the most insidious problems of our time. Certainly my students this semester, reading, inter alia, Vincent Miller's Consuming Religion have, with great diffidence and discomfort, raised this question of whether we should be "communists." I have no great answers to this, but when men like Hart and MacIntyre say we need to be asking such a question anew, it behooves all of us to sit up and listen.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Bulgakov on the Theotokos

In 2012, as editor of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, I accepted an article from a newly minted young scholar, Walter Sisto, "On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit: Sergius Bulgakov and the Theotokos." After blind review, it was very gladly accepted for publication in 2013, and thus took its place in the very long list of publications focusing on Bulgakov that we have been seeing for some time, some of which I have noted on here since the very beginning.

Now Sisto is out with a new book, The Mother of God in the Theology of Sergius Bulgakov: The Soul Of The World (Routledge, 2017), 270pp.

The publisher tells us the following about this book:
This book explores the Mariology of one of the most unique and fascinating thinkers in the Russian Orthodox tradition, Father Sergius Bulgakov. Bulgakov develops the Russian sophianic mariological tradition initiated by Vladimir Solo’ev and argues that Mary is the "soul of the world" or the pneumatological hypostasis. Mary is the first and greatest disciple to be adopted by the Holy Spirit. By situating Mary within the life and mission of the Holy Spirit, Bulgakov maintains the respect and veneration that Orthodox Christians have for Mary, but also places Mary squarely within the community of disciples. Mary is a model disciple, who reveals that the goal of the spiritual life, spiritual motherhood. In addition, this text reveals the relevance and importance of Bulgakov’s contribution to the contemporary discussion about the role of Mary in the history of salvation.
I have written to the author to see if he would be interested in doing an interview about this book. I shall let you know if he is.

Incidentally, in perusing the back issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies from 2012 (vol. 54, nos.1-2) in which Sisto's piece was published, I note that we also published other significant pieces, including Thomas Weinandy's review of Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: the Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine, which is a splendid book I have used in courses over the years; and then we also published Matthew Levering's review of Marcus Plested's absolutely landmark and not-to-be-missed book Orthodox Readings of Aquinas.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Against Marcellus

Set for release early in the new year, Against Marcellus and On Ecclesiastical Theology, trans. Kelly McCarthy Spoerl and Markus Vinzent (Catholic University of America Press, 2018) will appear in the ongoing and prestigious Fathers of the Church series from CUA Press.

About this collection we are told:
This is the first English translation of the last two theological works of Eusebius of Caesarea, Against Marcellus and On Ecclesiastical Theology. The first text was composed after the deposition of Marcellus of Ancyra in 336 to justify the action of the council fathers in ordering the deposition on the grounds of heresy, contending that Marcellus was "Sabellian" (or modalist) on the Trinity and a follower of Paul of Samosata (hence adoptionist) in Christology. Relying heavily upon extensive quotations from a treatise Marcellus wrote against Asterius the Sophist, this text provides important information about ecclesiastical politics in the period before and just after the Council of Nicea, and endeavors to demonstrate Marcellus's erroneous interpretation of several key biblical passages that had been under discussion since before the council. In doing so, Eusebius criticizes Marcellus's inadequate account of the distinction between the persons of the Trinity, eschatology, and the Church's teaching about the divine and human identities of Christ.
On Ecclesiastical Theology, composed circa 338/339 just before Eusebius's death, and perhaps in response to the amnesty for deposed bishops enacted by Constantius after the death of Constantine in 377 and the possibility of Marcellus's return to his see, continues to lay out the criticisms initially put forward in Against Marcellus, again utilizing quotations from Marcellus's book against Asterius. However, we see in this text a much more systematic explanation of Eusebius's objections to the various elements of Marcellus's theology and what he sees as the proper orthodox articulation of those elements.
Long overlooked for statements at odds with later orthodoxy, even written off as heretical because allegedly "semi-Arian," recent scholarship has demonstrated the tremendous influence these texts had on the Greek theological tradition in the fourth century, especially on the orthodox understanding of the Trinity. In addition to their influence, they are some of the few complete texts that we have from Greek theologians in the immediate period following the Council of Nicea in 325, thus filling a gap in the materials available for research and teaching in this critical phase of theological development.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sacramental Theology

I am delighted to see that Oxford University Press is, early next year, bringing out a paperback version of a book in which I have a chapter: The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology, eds. Hans Boersma  and Matthew Levering (OUP, 2018), 736pp.

The Christian East is amply represented in this collection not only in my chapter, but also in chapters by Andrew Louth, Edith Humphrey, Khaled Anatolios, Yury Avvakumov, Brian Butcher, and Peter Galadza.

About this not-to-be-missed collection, the riches of which you will not find elsewhere (and I really do mean that, having taught courses on sacraments for a decade now, and never before having had such a comprehensive volume of such high quality--a claim I make without getting any royalties whatsoever!), the publisher tells us:
As a multi-faceted introduction to sacramental theology, the purposes of this Handbook are threefold: historical, ecumenical, and missional. The forty-four chapters are organized into the following parts five parts: Sacramental Roots in Scripture, Patristic Sacramental Theology, Medieval Sacramental Theology, From the Reformation through Today, and Philosophical and Theological Issues in Sacramental Doctrine.
Contributors to this Handbook explain the diverse ways that believers have construed the sacraments, both in inspired Scripture and in the history of the Church's practice. In Scripture and the early Church, Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics all find evidence that the first Christian communities celebrated and taught about the sacraments in a manner that Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics today affirm as the foundation of their own faith and practice. Thus, for those who want to understand what has been taught about the sacraments in Scripture and across the generations by the major thinkers of the various Christian traditions, this Handbook provides an introduction. As the divisions in Christian sacramental understanding and practice are certainly evident in this Handbook, it is not thereby without ecumenical and missional value. This book evidences that the story of the Christian sacraments is, despite divisions in interpretation and practice, one of tremendous hope.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Pope and the Professor (II)

As I noted here, this new book, The Pope and the Professor:Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age, is a splendid and deeply fascinating one both on its own merits but also as a useful text to consider amidst ongoing challenges to and about papal authority in this Franciscan era.

Howard begins from the premise that the "modern age" really begins with the very long 19th century, a century he and others see as running from 1789 to 1914, that is from the Bastille in France to the trenches of France and Flanders during the Great War. This was a period marked, inter alia, by the return of "religion" after many were predicting its demise, not least because of the massively bloody and utterly shattering attack on the Catholic Church unleashed by the French Revolution.

Those predicting secularization during this period because of the collapse of Catholic life and faith gave short shrift to examining actual Catholic practices, then and since. And thus much history of the period is written from a perspective that presupposes the good of ongoing secularization and consequently does not bother to inquire into the details of Catholic debates. This is one of the tasks Howard sets out for himself, remedying the lack of detailed examination of how Catholics themselves actually viewed the world of this long century, and whether they were united in either pro-secularization narratives, or narratives of reaction and revanchism. He attempts to take Catholic arguments seriously on their own terms, refusing to dismiss theological claims merely because they are theological. In so doing he has written an immeasurably stronger book.

It is, in fact, on debates about history, historiography, and "historical mindedness" that so much of this story turns. Much of the conflict between Ignaz von Döllinger, on the one hand, and Pope Pius IX (and his erstwhile court and followers) on the other comes down to the relationship between theology and history and the relativizing the latter was thought to do of the truth-claims of the former. Any such relativizing was heavily disdained by the papal court and hangers-on. Döllinger, by contrast, refused to see how historical evidence could be treated so disdainfully and dismissively, and stood by it (or at least his perception of it) even when it resulted in his excommunication.

Virtually alone of all the controversial Catholic figures of the long 19th century, Döllinger remains excommunicated and unrehabilitated. It is the burden--but only one of several--of Howard's book to examine why this is so, and to show us the uncomfortable challenges of conscience and authority that the German scholar's life still poses for Catholics today. These challenges are especially brought to the fore in chapter 3, treating the immediate ante-conciliar period as well as the First Vatican Council itself and its immediate aftermath. Döllinger refused to submit to its decree on papal primacy and infallibility, and was as a result excommunicated. He refused because as an historian he saw--quite rightly--that the evidence for anyone believing in papal jurisdiction and infallibility as was debated in 1869-70 was virtually non-existent for the entire first millennium and most of the second. He refused, moreover, because he was an ecumenist avant la lettre, and saw that infallibility and universal jurisdiction were not just impossible to ground historically but impossible to justify ecumenically.

The other challenge which Döllinger refused to look away from was that of the motives behind the conciliar definition, a problem I have myself addressed elsewhere. As Howard notes, "to understand how the teaching on infallibility came bursting to the forefront of theological conversations in the late 1860s, one must take into consideration the severe threat that the papacy experienced by forces of Italian unification" (118)--to say nothing of earlier, but still potent, threats from the French Second Empire and the various European revolutions of 1848. In the face of all these threats, "infallibility became not only the desired instrument of a counter-offensive, but also simply the right and proper theological thing to do" (119).

At the same time, however, one must not be so reductive and simplistic as to see this decree as solely the result of and reaction to external threats. As Howard goes on very rightly to insist, "papal infallibility, it merits reiterating, could hardly have succeeded if it did not enjoy broad international support from the lay faithful."  One must, therefore, resist the temptation to see "that infallibility was...cooked up by ultramontane polemicists of the Pope in a time of political crisis; it possessed much deeper sanction in the Catholic intellectual tradition" (122).

Continues. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Orthodox Renewal in Eastern and Southern Europe

It is of course a self-congratulatory staple of some Orthodox apologists that their tradition alone has not changed, while various Catholic and Protestant traditions have changed out of all recognition, becoming ever worse heretics in the process. Needless to say, this is a piece of myth-making that does not enjoy intimate congress with the historical evidence, some of which is newly recorded in a book released this month: Orthodox Christian Renewal Movements in Eastern Europe, eds. Aleksandra Djurić Milovanović and Radmila Radić (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 339pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This book explores the changes underwent by the Orthodox Churches of Eastern and Southeastern Europe as they came into contact with modernity. The movements of religious renewal among Orthodox believers appeared almost simultaneously in different areas of Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth and during the first decades of the twentieth century. This volume examines what could be defined as renewal movement in Eastern Orthodox traditions. Some case studies include the God Worshippers in Serbia, religious fraternities in Bulgaria, the Zoe movement in Greece, the evangelical movement among Romanian Orthodox believers known as Oastea Domnului (The Lord’s Army), the Doukhobors in Russia, and the Maliovantsy in Ukraine. This volume provides a new understanding of processes of change in the spiritual landscape of Orthodox Christianity and various influences such as other non-Orthodox traditions, charismatic leaders, new religious practices and rituals.
For those who wish to pursue the questions of how and where Orthodox traditions have changed in the past century, I would also direct you to the fascinating collection I reviewed elsewhere, which has recently been released in a more affordable paperback edition:  Innovation in the Orthodox Christian Tradition?: The Question of Change in Greek Orthodox Thought and Practice, eds. Trine Stauning Willert and Lina Molokotos-Liederman (Routledge, 2017), 298pp.


Friday, October 27, 2017

The Pope and the Professor (I)

T.A. Howard's newest book is a magnificent study: The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age (Oxford UP, 2017), 312pp.

I'm about half-way through it, and will have more to say about it later. But it is church history at its best: sustained focus on two key figures--Döllinger and Pius IX--through whom much larger issues are sifted and assessed, not least the massive problems of the Papal States, European revolutions of 1848, and of course the First Vatican Council. In all these areas and more, the book is a fascinating study into the longstanding problem of the relationship between history and theology.

Students of the papacy, of ecclesiology more generally, and of 19th-century intellectual history will not want to miss this book.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On Hoarding and Saving

A forthcoming study puts me in mind of an interview I did with Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen about her book They Who Give from Evil: The Response of the Eastern Church to Moneylending in the Early Christian Era, which treats how the Greek Fathers viewed questions of money, possession, usury, and related social teachings.

This new study, Managing Financial Resources in Late Antiquity: Greek Fathers' Views on Hoarding and Saving, is co-authored by Gerasimos Merianos and George Gotsis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 256pp.

About this book we are told by the publisher:
This book examines the views of Greek Church Fathers on hoarding, saving, and management of economic surplus, and their development primarily in urban centres of the Eastern Mediterranean, from the late first to the fifth century. The study shows how the approaches of Greek Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Isidore of Pelusium, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus, to hoarding and saving intertwined with stances toward the moral and social obligations of the wealthy. It also demonstrates how these Fathers responded to conditions and practices in urban economic environments characterized by sharp inequalities. Their attitudes reflect the gradual widening of Christian congregations, but also the consequences of the socio-economic evolution of the late antique Eastern Roman Empire. Among the issues discussed in the book are the justification of wealth, alternatives to hoarding, and the reception of patristic views by contemporaries.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Of Peasants and Spinsters and Old Believers

John Bushnell has just this month published what looks to be a fascinating study into a little known group of Russian Peasant Women Who Refused to MarrySpasovite Old Believers in the 18th-19th Centuries (Indiana University Press, 2017), 400pp. 4 maps, 22 tables.

About this book we are told:
John Bushnell’s analysis of previously unstudied church records and provincial archives reveals surprising marriage patterns in Russian peasant villages in the 18th and 19th centuries. For some villages the rate of unmarried women reached as high as 70 percent. The religious group most closely identified with female peasant marriage aversion was the Old Believer Spasovite covenant, and Bushnell argues that some of these women might have had more agency in the decision to marry than more common peasant tradition ordinarily allowed. Bushnell explores the cataclysmic social and economic impacts these decisions had on the villages, sometimes dragging entire households into poverty and ultimate dissolution. In this act of defiance, this group of socially, politically, and economically subordinated peasants went beyond traditional acts of resistance and reaction.

Monday, October 23, 2017

God, Hierarchy, and Power

The older I get the more I find my younger self's idealization of ecclesial hierarchy not just impossible to understand, but almost a little obscene. I was, to use Richard John Neuhaus's memorable phrase, among those who "exult in the freedom to submit to authority with wild abandon"--and this even in my Anglican days long before the thought of becoming Catholic crossed my mind. By early adolescence I was convinced that hierarchy and apostolicity were the sine qua non of the most sophisticated forms of Christianity, and congregationalism was only for the lower classes.

Since then I have become far more aware of the dangerous and destructive tendencies of all human institutions to use and abuse power and to protect themselves often at all costs from even the most elementary forms of accountability. The trick becomes holding this recognition in tension with a proper theology of authority that does not deny human weakness but still insists that fallible human beings are owed respect and even obedience for the offices they bear in the name of God. As Eamon Duffy nicely titles it in his great one-volume history of the papacy, the Church is led by Saints and Sinners.

A book set for November release will take up all these questions and then some, and thus is something I greatly look forward to reading: God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium by Ashley M. Purpura (Fordham University Press, 2017), 240pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the current age where democratic and egalitarian ideals have preeminence, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, among other hierarchically organized religious traditions, faces the challenging questions: "Why is hierarchy maintained as the model of organizing the church, and what are the theological justifications for its persistence?" These questions are especially significant for historically and contemporarily understanding how Orthodox Christians negotiate their spiritual ideals with the challenges of their social and ecclesiastical realities.
To critically address these questions, this book offers four case studies of historically disparate Byzantine theologians from the sixth to the fourteenth-centuries--Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Niketas Stethatos, and Nicholas Cabasilas--who significantly reflect on the relationship between spiritual authority, power, and hierarchy in theoretical, liturgical, and practical contexts. Although Dionysius the Areopagite has been the subject of much scholarly interest in recent years, the applied theological legacy of his development of "hierarchy" in the Christian East has not before been explored.
Relying on a common Dionysian heritage, these Byzantine authors are brought into a common dialogue to reveal a tradition of constructing authentic ecclesiastical hierarchy as foremost that which communicates divinity.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Julian the Apostate

Evelyn Waugh's satirical portrait of the Emperor Constantine, noted here, is a wonderful mockery of the tendency of some Christians to glamorize the "co-equal to the apostles." No such mockery is necessary for, nor does that grandiose title apply to, one of Constantine's near successors, treated in a new book by H.C. Teitler: The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford UP, 2017), 312pp.

About this new study the publisher tells us this:
Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last pagan to sit on the Roman imperial throne (361-363). Born in Constantinople in 331 or 332, Julian was raised as a Christian, but apostatized, and during his short reign tried to revive paganism, which, after the conversion to Christianity of his uncle Constantine the Great early in the fourth century, began losing ground at an accelerating pace. Having become an orphan when he was still very young, Julian was taken care of by his cousin Constantius II, one of Constantine's sons, who permitted him to study rhetoric and philosophy and even made him co-emperor in 355. But the relations between Julian and Constantius were strained from the beginning, and it was only Constantius' sudden death in 361 which prevented an impending civil war.
As sole emperor, Julian restored the worship of the traditional gods. He opened pagan temples again, reintroduced animal sacrifices, and propagated paganism through both the spoken and the written word. In his treatise Against the Galilaeans he sharply criticised the religion of the followers of Jesus whom he disparagingly called 'Galilaeans'. He put his words into action, and issued laws which were displeasing to Christians--the most notorious being his School Edict. This provoked the anger of the Christians, who reacted fiercely, and accused Julian of being a persecutor like his predecessors Nero, Decius, and Diocletian. Violent conflicts between pagans and Christians made themselves felt all over the empire. It is disputed whether or not Julian himself was behind such outbursts. Accusations against the Apostate continued to be uttered even after the emperor's early death. In this book, the feasibility of such charges is examined.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Romanian Church and the Holocaust

Just released last month is a book that is sure to revive controversy over questions of collusion and assistance on the part of the Romanian Orthodox Church during World War II: Ion Popa, The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Holocaust (Indiana University Press, 2017), 226pp.

About this book we are told:
In 1930, about 750,000 Jews called Romania home. At the end of World War II, approximately half of them survived. Only recently, after the fall of Communism, have details of the history of the Holocaust in Romania come to light. Ion Popa explores this history by scrutinizing the role of the Romanian Orthodox Church from 1938 to the present day. Popa unveils and questions whitewashing myths that concealed the Church's role in supporting official antisemitic policies of the Romanian government. He analyzes the Church's relationship with the Jewish community in Romania and Judaism in general, as well as with the state of Israel, and discusses the extent to which the Church recognizes its part in the persecution and destruction of Romanian Jews. Popa's highly original analysis illuminates how the Church responded to accusations regarding its involvement in the Holocaust, the part it played in buttressing the wall of Holocaust denial, and how Holocaust memory has been shaped in Romania today.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bloody Byzantine Streams

Interest in all things Byzantine is as high as ever, and students of the empire's history will want to take note of a book released just in June: Anthony Kaldellis, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade (OUP, 2017), 440pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In the second half of the tenth century, Byzantium embarked on a series of spectacular conquests: first in the southeast against the Arabs, then in Bulgaria, and finally in the Georgian and Armenian lands. By the early eleventh century, the empire was the most powerful state in the Mediterranean. It was also expanding economically, demographically, and, in time, intellectually as well. Yet this imperial project came to a crashing collapse fifty years later, when political disunity, fiscal mismanagement, and defeat at the hands of the Seljuks in the east and the Normans in the west brought an end to Byzantine hegemony. By 1081, not only was its dominance of southern Italy, the Balkans, Caucasus, and northern Mesopotamia over but Byzantium's very existence was threatened.
How did this dramatic transformation happen? Based on a close examination of the relevant sources, this history-the first of its kind in over a century-offers a new reconstruction of the key events and crucial reigns as well as a different model for understanding imperial politics and wars, both civil and foreign. In addition to providing a badly needed narrative of this critical period of Byzantine history, Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood offers new interpretations of key topics relevant to the medieval era. The narrative unfolds in three parts: the first covers the years 955-1025, a period of imperial conquest and consolidation of authority under the great emperor Basil "the Bulgar-Slayer." The second (1025-1059) examines the dispersal of centralized authority in Constantinople as well as the emergence of new foreign enemies (Pechenegs, Seljuks, and Normans). The last section chronicles the spectacular collapse of the empire during the second half of the eleventh century, concluding with a look at the First Crusade and its consequences for Byzantine relations with the powers of Western Europe. This briskly paced and thoroughly investigated narrative vividly brings to life one of the most exciting and transformative eras of medieval history.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Exploring the Life of the Soul

I noted in July a recent book by Peter Tyler that attempts to link patristic spiritual theology with modern psychoanalytic thought around questions of the "soul." Now we have another, similar book just published: John Hanwell Riker, Exploring the Life of the Soul: Philosophical Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Self Psychology (Lexington, 2017),194pp.

Charles Strozier, a highly respected historian and psychoanalyst, has written appreciatively of Riker's new book. Strozier is the author not just of historical works about Abraham Lincoln but other books, including a fascinating biography I recently finished of Heinz Kohut, who was such a significant figure in Chicago psychoanalytic circles in the latter decades of the 20th century.

About Riker's book the publisher tells us:
In this book, John Hanwell Riker develops and expands the conceptual framework of self psychology in order to offer contemporary readers a naturalistic ground for adopting an ethical way of being in the world. Riker stresses the need to find a balance between mature narcissism and ethics, to address and understand differences among people, and to reconceive social justice as based on the development of individual self. This book is recommend for readers interested in psychology and philosophy, and for those who wonder what it means to be human in the modern age.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Religion, Authority, and the State: Constantine and Beyond

Debates about religious freedom are by no means unique to the United States in these early years of the 21st century. So too debates about the legacy of Constantine are not new developments either. Two recent books shed light on both questions, giving them wide context.

The first, Religion, Authority, and the State: From Constantine to the Contemporary World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 249pp. is a collection edited by Leo Lefebure.With at least two chapters focusing on Slavic Orthodox debates around religious freedom, this book promises to be of interest to Eastern Christians.

The publisher further tells us about this book:
In commemoration of Constantine’s grant of freedom of religion to Christians, this wide-ranging volume examines the ambiguous legacy of this emperor in relation to the present world, discussing the perennial challenges of relations between religions and governments. The authors examine the new global ecumenical movement inspired by Pentecostals, the role of religion in the Irish Easter rebellion against the British, and the relation between religious freedom and government in the United States. Other essays debate the relation of Islam to the violence in Nigeria, the place of the family in church-state relations in the Philippines, the role of confessional identity in the political struggles in the Balkans, and the construction of Slavophile identity in nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox political theology. The volume also investigates the contrast between written constitutions and actual practice in the relations between governments and religions in Australia, Indonesia, and Egypt.  The case studies and surveys illuminate both specific contexts and also widespread currents in religion-state relations across the world.
The second study, by Kyle Smith, is Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 2016), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
It is widely believed that the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity politicized religious allegiances, dividing the Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire and leading to the persecution of Christians in Persia. This account, however, is based on Greek ecclesiastical histories and Syriac martyrdom narratives that date to centuries after the fact. In this groundbreaking study, Kyle Smith analyzes diverse Greek, Latin, and Syriac sources to show that there was not a single history of fourth-century Mesopotamia. By examining the conflicting hagiographical and historical evidence, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia presents an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor, uncovering how Syriac Christians manipulated the image of their western Christian counterparts to fashion their own political and religious identities during this century of radical change.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

On Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology and Related Matters

In late August I first drew attention to this book, and noted a few other sources of relevance to the life of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.

I have now had a chance to read A Communion in Faith and Love: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's Ecclesiology (2017, 176pp), edited by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson.

It is, as with all such collections, very mixed. The first three chapters revisit a lot of Behr-Sigel's biography, and for those who are familiar with this material, as I am, these chapters offer little that is new and fresh.

The fourth chapter, by Antoine Arjakovsky, whom I have often discussed on here and interviewed in the past, is an interesting reading of Behr-Sigel in dialogue with Celia Deane-Drummond, especially her 2000 book, Creation Through Wisdom: Theology and the New Biology.

Teva Regule's chapter, the fifth, is the first one to really deliver on the promise of the title, focusing as it does on Behr-Sigel's "ecclesiological vision."

Valerie Karras writes an interesting but by no means original chapter on the questions of sex, gender, the Trinity, and ordination of women in Orthodoxy in light of Behr-Sigel. This is a helpful synthesis of questions she and others have engaged elsewhere, and for those new to those debates, this would not be a bad place to start. I'm not entirely convinced of some of her conclusions, but she certainly raises some of the right questions.

Amal Dibo's chapter is perhaps the weakest of the book, and I confess to being rather cross with it insofar as it is content yet again to repeat that tiresome slogan about the Orthodox Church not being "an institution; it is a new life with Christ." One hears this constantly, though one almost never detects the slightest effort on the part of the one making this claim to actually defend it with the necessary detail and elaboration it requires to be anything more than an empty, romanticizing, self-congratulatory assertion. (Certainly my students, coming fresh to Orthodoxy, find it the most heavily and ponderously institutional of all Christian expressions they have every encountered--regularly saying they thought Catholics were bad enough, but Orthodox are much worse!)

The editor's chapter, "Behr-Sigel's New Hagiography and its Ecumenical Significance" is a treat--indeed, the true highlight of the volume. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson writes with grace and insight and knows what the really important questions are to ask. Noting the connection between hagiography and ecclesiology whereby nobody is saved alone--that is, that we are all saved together, as part of the communion of saints, that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews--Wilson shows how these twin themes were developed in Behr-Sigel who, though she moved from Lutheranism and the Reformed Church into Orthodoxy, nonetheless retained what Wilson calls a "characteristically gracious attitude: she always insists on validating what she finds good and worthy in other communities, even in the one she has chosen to leave." Given the shrill slandering one finds in so much of Orthodox apologetics today, especially among on-line converts who have nary a good word about their now-despised Protestant (or Catholic) pasts, this is a model worthy of holding up again and again.

Behr-Sigel's approach to hagiography was first pioneered in some of her writings in her Master's thesis, Prayer and Holiness in the Russian Church, a translated excerpt of which Wilson offers as the final chapter to this book. Behr-Sigel focused on a married woman about whom little was known: Juliana Lazarevskaya, the telling of whose life advanced a new approach to hagiography much closer to modern biography, that is, an approach that does not drown its subject "in a fog of golden legend." Among other things, Juliana was noteworthy for being married and nobody's idea of pious or "monastic."

In this--as well as in telling the life of Mother Maria Skobtsova and Tikhon Zadonsk--Behr-Sigel's hagiographic methods become something of a model for the work of Michael Plekon, a close friend of Wilson (and of me) whom she mentions with gratitude several times in A Communion in Faith and Love.

Fr. Michael's books, including Hidden Holiness as well as Saints as They Really Arehave rightly won several awards and I know students to whom I recommend them have found them very valuable and insightful. I have interviewed him over the years about most of these books, and the most recent interview is here.

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