"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, August 26, 2016

Erich Fromm on Love and Freedom

The would-be psychoanalyst in me is always curious as to whether there are any patterns or discernible reasons for why the mind circles back at unexpected moments to books one read decades ago and had by now all but forgotten. In my case, I have been giving a great deal of thought to Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom, first published in 1941. Some twenty or more years ago now, I found an original copy in a wonderfully quiet and out-of-the way used bookstore in Ottawa that has, alas, long since closed.

This book of Fromm's seems perhaps freshly suited to understanding much of what is going on in our time, including in presidential politics here in Her Britannic Majesty's erstwhile American colonies.

As I have been thinking on that book again, and wondering about reading more of Fromm's life, I see, perusing the back-lists of Columbia University Press, that just such an intellectual biography was recently published: The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love's Prophet (CUP, 2014), 410pp.

About this book, which I'm looking forward to reading, the publisher tells us:
Erich Fromm was a political activist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, and one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century. Known for his theories of personality and political insight, Fromm dissected the sadomasochistic appeal of brutal dictators while also eloquently championing love—which, he insisted, was nothing if it did not involve joyful contact with others and humanity at large. Admired all over the world, Fromm continues to inspire with his message of universal brotherhood and quest for lasting peace.
The first systematic study of Fromm's influences and achievements, this biography revisits the thinker's most important works, especially Escape from Freedom and The Art of Loving, which conveyed important and complex ideas to millions of readers. The volume recounts Fromm's political activism as a founder and major funder of Amnesty International, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, and other peace groups. Consulting rare archival materials across the globe, Lawrence J. Friedman reveals Fromm's support for anti-Stalinist democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe and his efforts to revitalize American democracy. For the first time, readers learn about Fromm's direct contact with high officials in the American government on matters of war and peace while accessing a deeper understanding of his conceptual differences with Freud, his rapport with Neo-Freudians like Karen Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan, and his association with innovative artists, public intellectuals, and world leaders. Friedman elucidates Fromm's key intellectual contributions, especially his innovative concept of "social character," in which social institutions and practices shape the inner psyche, and he clarifies Fromm's conception of love as an acquired skill. Taking full stock of the thinker's historical and global accomplishments, Friedman portrays a man of immense authenticity and spirituality who made life in the twentieth century more humane than it might have been.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Assyrian Genocide

I gave a lecture last year on the centenary of the Armenian genocide, and took the occasion to note two coterminous but lesser known genocides at the time: that of Greek and Assyrian Christians in Anatolia. The Armenian genocide, as I have noted on here frequently, has occasioned a great deal of scholarly attention in the last two decades, but knowledge of the other two has largely been confined to a handful of scholarly articles in relatively recondite journals--until now.

Forthcoming later this year by Joseph Yacoub is Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide, A History 1st Edition Oxford UP, 2016, 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Armenian genocide of 1915 has been well documented. Much less known is the Turkish genocide of the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac peoples, which occurred simultaneously in their ancient homelands in and around ancient Mesopotamia - now Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The advent of the First World War gave the Young Turks and the Ottoman government the opportunity to exterminate the Assyrians in a series of massacres and atrocities inflicted on a people whose culture dates back millennia and whose language, Aramaic, was spoken by Jesus. Systematic killings, looting, rape, kidnapping and deportations destroyed countless communities and created a vast refugee diaspora. As many as 300,000 Assyro-Chaldean- Syriac people were murdered and a larger number forced into exile. The "Year of the Sword" (Seyfo) in 1915 was preceded over millennia by other attacks on the Assyrians and has been mirrored by recent events, not least the abuses committed by Islamic State.
Joseph Yacoub, whose family was murdered and dispersed, has gathered together a compelling range of eye-witness accounts and reports which cast light on this 'hidden genocide.' Passionate and yet authoritative in its research, his book reveals a little-known human and cultural tragedy. A century after the Assyrian genocide, the fate of this Christian minority hangs in the balance.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Christianity

The Orthodox scholar Scott Kenworthy alerted me to the publication of this hefty and impressive collection containing chapters on Orthodoxy by James Skedros and John McGuckin as well as Scott himself--in addition to articles on Middle Eastern Christianity and much else besides of interest to the Christian East: Lamin Sanneh and Michael McClymond, eds., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Christianity (2016), 784pp.

About this collection the publisher provides the briefest of blurbs:
The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Christianity presents a collection of essays that explore a range of topics relating to the rise, spread, and influence of Christianity throughout the world.
But we are also given a detailed table of contents:

Notes on Contributors ix
Abbreviations xxi
1 Introduction 1
Lamin Sanneh and Michael J. McClymond

I. Historical Section 19
A. The Roots (50–1750 ce)
2 Jewish and Hellenic Worlds and Christian Origins 21
John J. Collins
3 The “Triumph” of Hellenization in Early Christianity 32
Wendy Elgersma Helleman
4 Ancient Eastern Christianity: Syria, Persia, Central Asia, and India 43
Scott W. Sunquist
5 Christianity and the European Conversions 54
Tomás O’Sullivan
6 Byzantium and Islam in the Mediterranean World 67
James C. Skedros
7 The Medieval Synthesis: Religion, Society, and Culture 78
Joseph P. Huffmann
8 Early Modern Missions and Maritime Expansion 96
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
9 Bibles, Printing, Books, Churches 107
Lori Ferrell
10 The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Reformation 119
Jeffrey Klaiber

B. Issues in the Modern Period (1750–2000 ce) 129
11 The Legacy of Christendom 131
Philip Jenkins
12 Slavery, Antislavery, and Christianity: Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean 142
Christopher Schmidt-Nowara
13 Medicine, Agriculture, and Technology in the Missionary Enterprise 153
Christopher H. Grundmann
14 Schools and Education in the Missionary Enterprise 166
Norman Etherington
15 Conversion, Converts, and National Identity 176
J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu
16 Church and State Relations in the Colonial Period 190
Brian Stanley
17 Ideologies, the Quest for a Just Society, and Christian Responses 200
Govert Buijs
18 The Ecumenical Movement: Why Violence, Why Not Peace? 218
Jan van Butselaar
19 Vatican II: Renewal, Accommodation, Inculturation 231
Peter C. Phan
20 Christian Revival and Renewal Movements 244
Michael J. McClymond

II. Thematic Section 263
21 Bible Translation, Culture, and Religion 265
Lamin Sanneh
22 Christianity and Interreligious Encounters 282
Martin Ganeri
23 Women in Church, State, and Society 302
Angelyn Dries
24 Worship, Liturgy, Sacraments 318
Geoffrey Wainwright
25 Freedom, Persecution, and the Status of Christian Minorities 330
John Witte, Jr. and M. Christian Green
26 Christianity and “Western Classical” Music (1700–2000) 350
David Martin
27 Music in the Newer Churches 359
Brian Schrag
28 Visual Arts in World Christianity 368
Volker Küster
29 Church Architecture Worldwide since 1800 386
David R. Bains
30 Charismatic Gifts: Healing, Tongue-Speaking, Prophecy, and Exorcism 399
Michael J. McClymond
31 Changing Uses of Old and New Media in World Christianity 419
Jolyon Mitchell and Jeremy Kidwell
32 Global Evangelical and Pentecostal Politics 432
Paul Freston

III. Christianity Since 1800: An Analysis by Regions and Traditions 449
33 The Middle East and North Africa, I: Egypt and North Africa 451
George Berbary
34 The Middle East and North Africa, II: Christians in the Ottoman Empire and in Bilad al-Sham 458
Souad Slim
35 African Christianity: Historical and Thematic Horizons 468
Lamin Sanneh
36 Christianity in Western Europe 488
Simon Coleman
37 Russia and Eastern Europe 500
Scott M. Kenworthy
38 Latin America and the Caribbean 511
Stephen Dove
39 North America 523
Amanda Porterfield
40 South Asia 535
Chandra Mallampalli
41 China 546
Daniel H. Bays
42 Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia 561
J. Nelson Jennings, Yong Kyu Park, and Antolin V. Uy
43 Christianity in Australia and Oceania (ca. 1800–2000) 575
Stuart Piggin and Peter Lineham
44 The Historical Development of Christianity in Oceania 588
Manfred Ernst and Anna Anisi
45 Roman Catholicism since 1800 605
Thomas P. Rausch
46 Orthodoxy and Eastern Christianity 617
John A. McGuckin
47 Anglicanism 628
Kevin Ward
48 Protestantism 641
Alister McGrath
49 Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity 653
Allan H. Anderson
50 Indigenous and Vernacular Christianity 664
Michèle Miller Sigg, Eva M. Pascal, and Gina A. Zurlo

IV. Expansion and Secularization: A Demographic and Statistical Analysis 683
51 The Transmission of Christian Faith: A Reflection 685
Andrew Walls
52 The Demographics and Dynamics of the World Christian Movement 699
Todd M. Johnson
53 Christianity in Europe and North America: Decline, Transition, or Pluralization? 719
David Martin

Index 733

Monday, August 22, 2016

Antioch vs. Alexandria, Round #19824307

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Christian East, or patristic and exegetical history, has invariably and frequently encountered the famed, if not hackneyed, Antioch-Alexandria "divide" when it comes to hermeneutics and exegesis as well as Christology. Any nostrum that is repeated as often as this one deserves to come in for fresh re-examination, and it appears we have it in a recent study by Richard Perhai, Antiochene Theoria in the Writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret of Cyrus (Fortress, 2015).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Biblical scholars have often contrasted the exegesis of the early church fathers from the eastern region and “school” of Syrian Antioch against that of the school of Alexandria. The Antiochenes have often been described as strictly historical-literal exegetes in contrast to the allegorical exegesis of the Alexandrians. Patristic scholars now challenge those stereotypes, some even arguing that few differences existed between the two groups.
This work agrees that both schools were concerned with a literal and spiritual reading. But, it also tries to show, through analysis of Theodore and Theodoret’s exegesis and use of the term theoria, that how they integrated the literal-theological readings often remained quite distinct from the Alexandrians. For the Antiochenes, the term theoria did not mean allegory, but instead stood for a range of perceptions—prophetic, christological, and contemporary. It is in these insights that we find the deep wisdom to help modern readers interpret Scripture theologically.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Shared Spaces

Forthcoming in October is a paperback version of a book previously published in hardback. Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey, Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution (Columbia UP, 2016; 440pp. + maps & photos) is an anthology that looks at numerous places where Eastern Christians have lived alongside Muslims, Jews, and other Christians. This book seeks, as the publisher tells us, to
explore the dynamics of shared religious sites in Turkey, the Balkans, Palestine/Israel, Cyprus, and Algeria, indicating where local and national stakeholders maneuver between competition and cooperation, coexistence and conflict. Contributors probe the notion of coexistence and the logic that underlies centuries of "sharing," exploring when and why sharing gets interrupted—or not—by conflict, and the policy consequences.
These essays map the choreographies of shared sacred spaces within the framework of state-society relations, juxtaposing a site's political and religious features and exploring whether sharing or contestation is primarily religious or politically motivated. Although religion and politics are intertwined phenomena, the contributors to this volume understand the category of "religion" and the "political" as devices meant to distinguish between the theological and confessional aspects of religion and the political goals of groups. Their comparative approach better represents the transition in some cases of sites into places of hatred and violence, while in other instances they remain noncontroversial. The essays clearly delineate the religious and political factors that contribute to the context and causality of conflict at these sites and draw on history and anthropology to shed light on the often rapid switch from relative tolerance to distress to peace and calm
The publisher also gives us the table of contents:

Introduction, by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey
1. Religious Pluralism, Shared Sacred Sites, and the Ottoman Empire, by Karen Barkey

Comparisons: Cyprus/Bosnia/Anatolia/Algiers:
2. Three Ways of Sharing the Sacred: Choreographies of Coexistence in Cyprus, by Mete Hatay
3. Religious Antagonism and Shared Sanctuaries in Algeria, by Dionigi Albera
4. Contested Choreographies of Sacred Spaces in Muslim Bosnia, by David Henig

Palestine/Israel:
5. At the Boundaries of the Sacred: The Reinvention of Everyday Life in Jerusalem's al-Wad Street, by Wendy Pullan
6. The Politics of Ownership: State, Governance, and the Status Quo in the Church of the Anastasis (Holy Sepulchre), by Glenn Bowman
7. Choreographing Upheaval: The Politics of Sacred Sites in the West Bank, by Elazar Barkan
8. The Impact of Conflicts Over Holy Sites on City Images and Landscapes: The Case of Nazareth, by Rassem Khamaisi

Museums:
9. Tolerance Versus Holiness: The Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance and the Mamilla Muslim Cemetery, by Yitzhak Reiter
10. Secularizing the Unsecularizable: A Comparative Study of the Haci Bektas and Mevlana Museums in Turkey, by Rabia Harmansah, Tugba Tanyeri-Erdemir, and Robert M. Hayden

Bibliography
Contributors
Index

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

On the Ecumenism of Exploding Heads

I shall let you in on three secrets:

1) In the 1990s, numerous evangelicals entered Orthodoxy, details of which are to be found in several studies, including the superlative one of D.O. Herbel, Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox Church. (I interviewed the author here.)

2) Some of those converts turned around and scorned their Protestant heritage, and indeed all non-Orthodox Christians of whatever tradition, loudly and virulently denouncing them as heretics and any efforts at working with them as guilty of the "pan-heresy" of "ecumenism," all phrases that nobody uses except tendentiously and as weaponry.

3) Some evangelicals repay the favour, as it were, if they even know anything at all about Orthodoxy, which they often regard as being in essence a version of Roman Catholicism: icon-worshipping, Mary-devoted, priest-confessing, works-righteous folks with too many statues in their churches and too much formality in that weird biscuit ceremony they call 'Mass' or 'liturgy.'

What, then, will past and present evangelicals and Orthodox alike make of the co-operative efforts of a new book that brings both together in missionary efforts? Will we see an ecumenical explosion of heads?

Edited by Mark Oxbrow and Tim Grass, The Mission of God: Studies in Orthodox and Evangelical Mission (Wipf and Stock, 2016), 270pp. is a collection of essays which has garnered a variety of positive blurbs from evangelical and Orthodox folks:

This is a 'must read' collection of essays that are rooted in prayer, in the Scriptures and in the rich histories of two very different traditions. The variety of topics and perspectives are presented by senior scholars and leaders, giving the reader an excellent glimpse into the ways in which Orthodox and Evangelical Christians around the globe have come together to participate in God's transforming mission. I highly recommend it for all pastors, seminary and Bible college students and staff. (Dr. C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell, PhD, Executive Director, Theological Commission, World Evangelical Alliance.)
The wealth of material in this extraordinary symposium is indicated by the widely dispersed backgrounds - geographical, cultural, and theological - of its contributors. I cannot think of a comparable example in which the evangelical mission of the Church is placed so firmly in the varying contexts of theology, ethics, exegesis, ecumenism, and spiritual transformation. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Orthodox Pastor in Chicago and Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 
Can Evangelical and Orthodox Christians move from exclusion and competition of the past to mutuality and complementarity in the present? Can the depth of a powerful spiritual tradition be (re)discovered and in some ways appropriated by modern activistic evangelizers and can they both be enriched by each other's strengths? The amazing recent dialogues in the spirit and under the umbrella of the Lausanne Movement for world evangelization - as documented by this extraordinary book - provide us with promising answers to these questions. Diversity, quality and experience of the contributors assure the reader that this compendium points the way toward a future of greater understanding and desirable partnerships in the mission of the Triune God in our complex world. Ecumenism at its best! (Dr. Peter Kuzmic Eva B. and Paul E. Toms Distinguished Professor of World Missions and European Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Can a Blind Man See?

As I have noted on here over the years, few figures from Christian antiquity continue to incite as much interest or controversy as Origen of Alexandria. A recent study looks at someone working within and struggling with his legacy: Grant D. Bayliss, The Vision of Didymus the Blind: A Fourth-Century Virtue-Origenism (Oxford UP, 2016), 304pp.

About this book we are told:
An independent teacher, based in Alexandria throughout the second half of the fourth century, Didymus appealed to many within the broadly Origenist currents of Egyptian asceticism, including Jerome, Rufinus, and Evagrius. His commentaries, lecture-notes, and theological treatises show him specifically committed to the legacy of Origen and Philo, rather than a broader "Alexandrian" or noetic reading of Scripture. Yet his concern was not to answer classic "Antiochene" critique but rather offer a faithful continuation of many aspects of Origen's thought and exegesis, now made consistent with the broader anti-subordinationist developments in Nicene faith from the 350s onwards. In doing so he made virtue a primary category of reality, human existence, and life, in ways that go beyond the traditional philosophical tropes.
This "turn to virtue" draws parallels with wider fourth-century trends but it sets Didymus' own Origenism apart from those of other Origenists, such as Eusebius of Caesarea or Evagrius of Pontus. Thus detailed discussion focuses on Didymus' portrayal of virtue, sin, and passion, which together form the constant hermeneutical terrain for his anagogical exegesis and exhortation to a dynamic process of ascent. Speculative comments of Origen on the pre-existence of the soul, salvation of the devil, pre-passion, and the sin of Adam are shown to be reframed, both to aid the individual's navigation of the return to virtue and to answer the challenge of contemporary Manichaean and Apollinarian beliefs.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On the Falling Asleep and Rising to Glory of the Glorious Mother of God

With Vespers tonight the fast shall end and the great feast of the Dormition/Assumption of the Mother of God begin, showing all of us who follow her Son what awaits us in the resurrection to come.

As we anticipate this lovely feast, I call your attention again to several books noted on here over the years.

For patristic devotions, see the fine collection amassed and translated by Brian Daley, On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies.

For historical scholarship on the feast the go-to man is Stephen Shoemaker. His first book, from 2006, is The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption.

In 2012, he published a translation of Maximus the Confessor's The Life of the Virgin.

And then, just last month, also from Yale University Press, we have his latest study: Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion (2016), 304pp.

About this most recent book we are told:
For the first time a noted historian of Christianity explores the full story of the emergence and development of the Marian cult in the early Christian centuries. The means by which Mary, mother of Jesus, came to prominence have long remained strangely overlooked despite, or perhaps because of, her centrality in Christian devotion. Gathering together fresh information from often neglected sources, including early liturgical texts and Dormition and Assumption apocrypha, Stephen Shoemaker reveals that Marian devotion played a far more vital role in the development of early Christian belief and practice than has been previously recognized, finding evidence that dates back to the latter half of the second century. Through extensive research, the author is able to provide a fascinating background to the hitherto inexplicable “explosion” of Marian devotion that historians and theologians have pondered for decades, offering a wide-ranging study that challenges many conventional beliefs surrounding the subject of Mary, Mother of God.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Word from Adrian Fortescue

I was invited to be keynote lecturer at the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary's annual conference this past weekend at the lovely Catholic college in Newburgh, NY.

I chose as my topic a question that has long perturbed me: why did Pope Pius IX feel he had the right to proceed with a unilateral dogmatic declaration in 1854 concerning the conception of the Theotokos when:

a) no pope before had dared to dream of doing such a thing; and
b) no dogmatic crisis--whether in Mariology or theology proper in the strict sense--was at hand, and thus the old rule of "nothing is defined until it is denied" was not applicable.

Various traditions and scholars agree that there was no crisis to hand, and thus no obvious dogmatic or theological reason to proceed with a definition. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, in several places between 1981 and 2004 (helpfully studied in Studying Mary: The Virgin Mary in Anglican and Catholic Theology and Devotion) agreed that the Immaculate Conception arose when there was no crisis to hand.

The great Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov says the same thing, rather wearily and acerbically, in his book The Burning Bush: On the Orthodox Veneration of the Mother of God. And even conservative Catholic scholars such as Sr. Sara Butler agree that there was no crisis to hand, and thus the justification for a definition must be sought on quite other than theological grounds.

The short answer I proffered, drawing on an article I published last year (“Sovereignty, Politics, and the Church: Joseph de Maistre’s Legacy for Catholic and Orthodox Ecclesiology,” Pro Ecclesia 24 [2015]: 366-389), was that the French Revolution, combined with widespread revolutionary turmoil in 1848, led the pope to realize that there was a crisis to hand, a crisis centred precisely on papal power in the temporal realm, which was rapidly coming to a disastrous end, and therefore some new modus operandi in the world and Church must be sought. Thus we see 1854 as the beginning of the popes as global teachers, a notion well described by the irreplaceable studies of Eamon Duffy and Owen Chadwick.

It would, of course, be too much of a stretch, especially in a short lecture, to suggest there is a direct route between 1854 and 2016, but I did sketch out enough evidence, I thought, to indicate some highly probable links between the 1854 definition, the 1950 definition of the Assumption by another pope named Pius, and also the burgeoning papacy commenting on everything under the sun and inserting itself into all manner of thing well and truly beyond its brief. This problem began with Pius IX in 1854, increased under Leo XIII, and then became more and more acute with every pope from him to the current incumbent of the Roman bishopric who seems to have missed all the warnings in the Apophthegmata Patrum about the importance of bridling one's tongue lest that organ become a σκάνδαλον to the brethren.

Then, for effect on a hot summer evening after three days of a conference, I threw in some spicy bits at the end calling for an overhaul of the papacy to prevent any future popes not only from proceeding with unilateral dogmatic definitions, but also from hosting flying press conferences, having Twitter accounts, giving interviews to anyone for any reason about any topic, and much else besides. I concluded with an especially bon mot from Adrian Fortescue, the English priest-scholar and Orientalist whose views on the papacy were much more acerbic, and much more polemically conveyed, than anything I have ever done in, e.g., my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy. (It seems a great pity that many of his choicest phrases are to be found in his correspondence, very little of which seems to have been published except in excerpts here and there--as in Aidan Nichols intellectual biography, The Latin Clerk: The Life, Work and Travels of Adrian Fortescue.)

Writing--note well--in 1920, Fortescue, a stout defender of the papacy and Church in other contexts, was forced to admit, “I wish to goodness that the pope would never speak at all except when he means to define ex cathedra. Then we should know where we are.”

To which let all the weary brethren say: Amen, Amen!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Byzantium's Saintly Spectacular Empire

Interest in all things Byzantine remains constantly high, not least when it concerns Byzantine art, subject of two recently released books, the first by Carolyn L. Connor, Saints and Spectacle: Byzantine Mosaics in their Cultural Setting (Oxford UP, 2016), 232pp.

About this book we are told:
Saints and Spectacle examines the origins and reception of the Middle Byzantine program of mosaic decoration. This complex and colorful system of images covers the walls and vaults of churches with figures and compositions seen against a dazzling gold ground. The surviving eleventh-century churches with their wall and vault mosaics largely intact, Hosios Loukas, Nea Moni and Daphni in Greece, pose the challenge of how, when and where this complex and gloriously conceived system was created.
Using an interdisciplinary approach, Connor explores the urban culture and context of church-building in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, during the century following the end of Iconoclasm, of around 843 to 950. The application of an innovative frame of reference, through ritual studies, helps recreate the likely scenario in which the medium of mosaics attained its highest potential, in the mosaiced Byzantine church. For mosaics were enlisted to convey a religious and political message that was too nuanced to be expressed in any other way. At a time of revival of learning and the arts, and development of ceremonial practices, the Byzantine emperor and patriarch were united in creating a solution to the problem of consolidating the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire. It was through promoting a vision of the unchallengeable authority residing in God and his earthly representative, the emperor. The beliefs and processional practices affirming the protective role of the saints in which the entire city participated, were critical to the reception of this vision by the populace as well as the court. Mosaics were a luxury medium that was ideally situated aesthetically to convey a message at a particularly important historical moment--a brilliant solution to a problem that was to subtly unite an empire for centuries to come. Supported by a wealth of testimony from literary sources, Saints and Spectacle brings the Middle Byzantine church to life as the witness to a compelling and fascinating drama.
The second book is a collection edited by Robin M. Jensen and Lee Jefferson: The Art of Empire: Christian Art in Its Imperial Context (Fortress Press, 2015), 368pp.

About this collection we are told:
In recent years, art historians such as Johannes Deckers (Picturing the Bible, 2009) have argued for a significant transition in fourth- and fifth-century images of Jesus following the conversion of Constantine. Broadly speaking, they perceive the image of a peaceful, benevolent shepherd transformed into a powerful, enthroned Jesus, mimicking and mirroring the dominance and authority of the emperor. The powers of church and state are thus conveniently synthesized in such a potent image. This deeply rooted position assumes that ante-pacem images of Jesus were uniformly humble while post-Constantinian images exuded the grandeur of power and glory.
The Art of Empire contends that the art and imagery of Late Antiquity merits a more nuanced understanding of the context of the imperial period before and after Constantine. The chapters in this collection each treat an aspect of the relationship between early Christian art and the rituals, practices, or imagery of the Empire, and offer a new and fresh perspective on the development of Christian art in its imperial background. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Classifying Christians and Heretics

The University of California Press continues to publish impressive and important studies in early Christian history, not least, as I noted earlier, the Syriac Christian tradition.

From California I recently received in the mail a new study: Classifying Christians: Ethnography, Heresiology, and the Limits of Knowledge in Late Antiquity by Todd S. Berzon (2016), 320pp.

About this book we are told:
Classifying Christians investigates late antique Christian heresiologies as ethnographies that catalogued and detailed the origins, rituals, doctrines, and customs of the heretics in explicitly polemical and theological terms. Oscillating between ancient ethnographic evidence and contemporary ethnographic writing, Todd S. Berzon argues that late antique heresiology shares an underlying logic with classical ethnography in the ancient Mediterranean world. By providing an account of heresiological writing from the second to fifth century, Classifying Christians embeds heresiology within the historical development of imperial forms of knowledge that have shaped western culture from antiquity to the present.

Monday, August 8, 2016

In the Beginning Was the Image

As I have often noted over the years, interest in icons is at perhaps an all-time high as Protestants, Roman Catholics, and others have "discovered" icons in the last two decades, with many books written by authors from these traditions about icons, and many classes in icon painting being taken by them in parish workshops across the country. To the extent that this helps the West over come its ongoing difficulty with Nicaea II's theology of images, and thus its iconoclasm (an ongoing problem even today), these must be counted encouraging developments.

Along comes another development in Western uses of iconography. Released this year in paperback is a book first published two years ago in hardback: Sigurd Bergmann, In the Beginning is the Icon (Routledge, 2016), 320pp.

About this book we are told:
Icons provide depictions of God or encounters with the divine that enable reflection and prayer. 'In the Beginning is the Icon' explores the value of these images for a theology of liberation. Iconology, art theory, philosophical aesthetics, art history and anthropology are integrated with rigorous theological reflection to argue that the creation and observation of pictures can have a liberating effect on humanity. In presenting art from across the world, 'In the Beginning is the Icon' reflects the ethnocentricity of both art and religious studies and offers a new cross-cultural approach to the theology of art.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Transfigured in Glory

With Vespers tonight, we begin to celebrate what is the loveliest of the summer festivals, the luminous and splendid feast of the Transfiguration. I am put in mind again of the collection amassed by the great patrologist Brian Daley, Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord. Published in 2013 in the Popular Patristics Series of St. Vladimir Seminary Press, this rich collection repays careful reading and meditation from year to year.

As the publisher tells us:
The episode of the Transfiguration of Jesus plays a key role in the narrative of the Synoptic Gospels. Peter and his fellow Apostles have just acknowledged Jesus to be Israel s long-awaited Messiah, and have been shocked by Jesus immediate prediction of his coming passion and death. Now Peter, James and John are allowed to share an extraordinary vision, marking him out as truly God s own Son, radiant with divine glory. Early Christian commentators and preachers recognized the crucial importance of this incident for Christian faith and discipleship, as pointing in advance to the power of the cross and resurrection of Christ. The liturgical feast of the Transfiguration, anticipating that of the Exaltation of the Cross by forty days, came to be celebrated in the Eastern and Western Churches, beginning in the seventh century; yet since at least the third century, theologians have reflected on the significance of this event for the life of faith.
This volume brings together, in a new translation, a comprehensive collection of homilies on the Transfiguration of Christ from the Greek Patristic and Medieval Church, from Origen in the third century to St. Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth. Together they form a profound and moving set of meditations, from many perspectives and in many voices, on the light of the recognition of the glory of God in the face of Christ (II Cor 4.6), and on its importance for our lives.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Orthodox and Catholic: Sisters Temporarily Separated

I count it as a joy to know the author of a new study whose timeliness, especially in view of ecclesiological debates and controversies at the recently concluded Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Churches, could not be greater. We were doctoral students at the same time a decade ago working in closely overlapping areas, and began communicating then, exchanging draft chapters and bibliographic suggestions. Since that time we have had the great good fortune to meet several times, usually at OTSA gatherings in New York and Boston, and I have always found Will to be an enormously gracious human being.

His new book has just been published in a prestigious series from one of the leading European presses devoted to ecumenism, and I am greatly looking forward to reading Will T. Cohen, The Concept of ""Sister Churches"" in Catholic-Orthodox Relations since Vatican II (Aschendorff Verlag, 2016),

About this book the publisher tells us:
Often used from Vatican II to the end of the 20th century by both Orthodox and Catholic officials, the expression “sister churches” reflected their growing rapprochement, as well as a shift on the Catholic side from a more centralized ecclesiology to one more attentive to the local church and conciliarity.  But in the year 2000, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put strict limits on how the expression could be used by Catholics.  The move coincided with a bold reassertion in official Catholic documents of the unique identity of the Catholic Church as the only one in which the Church of Christ “subsists” and of the crucial importance of Rome’s primacy for the universal church.  In the Orthodox world, meanwhile, use of “sister churches” in ecumenical exchanges with Rome had always had adamant detractors for a different reason, namely, that the Roman Catholic Church in their view (not shared by all Orthodox) had been in heresy since the schism.  In his comprehensive treatment of the rise and fall of the expression “sister churches” over half a century of Catholic‐Orthodox relations, Dr. Will Cohen explores why the concept developed as it did, why it was so fiercely contested, and what remains vital about the concept today.  In the process, Dr. Cohen illuminates pitfalls of both Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology in mutual isolation and the promise each holds when open to the authentic gifts of the other.  
I also hope, with the press of the academic year about to begin, that I shall have a chance to interview Will on here, and will post that in due course.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Arab Views of the Crusades

I taught a course this past summer entitled "ISIS and the Crusades," looking at the uses and abuses of history by ISIS in its talismanic invocations of "the Crusades." The scholarship on those centuries-long highly complex series of events has been expanding for some time now, but that has not touched at all the tendentious invocation of them by terrorists.

We are still in need of further work in Arab and Islamic views of them, and as of September we will have an affordable paperback edition of an important study first published in 2014: Paul Cobb, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford UP, 2016), 360pp.

About this book we are told by the publisher the following:
In 1099, when the first Frankish invaders arrived before the walls of Jerusalem, they had carved out a Christian European presence in the Islamic world that endured for centuries, bolstered by subsequent waves of new crusaders and pilgrims. The story of how this group of warriors, driven by faith, greed, and wanderlust, created new Christian-ruled states in parts of the Middle East is one of the best-known in history. Yet it is offers not even half of the story, for it is based almost exclusively on Western sources and overlooks entirely the perspective of the crusaded. How did medieval Muslims perceive what happened?
In The Race for Paradise, Paul M. Cobb offers a new history of the confrontations between Muslims and Franks we now call the "Crusades," one that emphasizes the diversity of Muslim experiences of the European holy war. There is more to the story than Jerusalem, the Templars, Saladin, and the Assassins. Cobb considers the Arab perspective on all shores of the Muslim Mediterranean, from Spain to Syria. In the process, he shows that this is not a straightforward story of warriors and kings clashing in the Holy Land, but a more complicated tale of border-crossers and turncoats; of embassies and merchants; of scholars and spies, all of them seeking to manage a new threat from the barbarian fringes of their ordered world. When seen from the perspective of medieval Muslims, the Crusades emerge as something altogether different from the high-flying rhetoric of the European chronicles: as a cultural encounter to ponder, a diplomatic chess-game to be mastered, a commercial opportunity to be seized, and as so often happened, a political challenge to be exploited by ambitious rulers making canny use of the language of jihad.
An engrossing synthesis of history and scholarship, The Race for Paradise fills a significant historical gap, considering in a new light the events that distinctively shaped Muslim experiences of Europeans until the close of the Middle Ages.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Desert Mothers, Daughters, and Granddaughters

I have often noted on here collections devoted to the Desert Fathers and Mothers. In October of this year we will have another scholarly collection devoted to a desert mother and her daughter: Catherine M. Chin and Caroline T. Schroeder, eds., Melania: Early Christianity through the Life of One Family (U California Press, 2016), 314pp.

About this book we are told:
Melania the Elder and her granddaughter Melania the Younger were major figures in early Christian history, using their wealth, status, and forceful personalities to shape the development of nearly every aspect of the religion we now know as Christianity. This volume examines the influence that these two women had on the development of Christianity and provides an insightful portrait of the their legacies in the modern world. Instead of the traditionally patriarchal view, this perspective gives a poignant and sometimes surprising view of how the rise of Christian institutions in the Roman Empire shaped the understanding of women's roles in the larger world.

Friday, July 29, 2016

How Foul the Flatulence of Heretics?

For some reason or other, the role of the body, and of particular senses, continue to come in for scholarly study in the last many years, perhaps because of the groundbreaking work of Peter Brown from 1988,The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity.

A decade ago now, the Orthodox scholar Susan Ashbrook Harvey gave us her well-regarded study Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination, released in paperback last summer.

Now, just released this month, we have Mary Thurlkill's new book, Sacred Scents in Early Christianity and Islam (Studies in Body and Religion)

About this book we are told:

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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Epiphanius of Cyprus

July must be the month for books about Epiphanius of Cyprus. This month, from the University of California Press, we have Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity by Andrew S. Jacobs (352pp.).

About this book the publisher tells us:
Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia on Cyprus from 367 to 403 C.E., was incredibly influential in the last decades of the fourth century. Whereas his major surviving text (the Panarion, an encyclopedia of heresies) is studied for lost sources, Epiphanius himself is often dismissed as an anti-intellectual eccentric, a marginal figure of late antiquity. In this book, Andrew Jacobs moves Epiphanius from the margin back toward the center and proposes we view major cultural themes of late antiquity in a new light altogether. Through an examination of the key cultural concepts of celebrity, conversion, discipline, scripture, and salvation, Jacobs shifts our understanding of "late antiquity" from a transformational period open to new ideas and peoples toward a Christian Empire that posited a troubling, but ever-present, "otherness" at the center of its cultural production.
A year ago at this time, we had Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World by Young Richard Kim (U Michigan Press, 2015), 296pp.

About this study we are told:
Epiphanius of Cyprus offers the first complete biography in English of Epiphanius, lead bishop of Cyprus in the late fourth century CE and author of the Panarion, a massive encyclopedia of heresies. Imagining himself a defender of orthodoxy, he became an active heresy-hunter, involving himself in the most significant theological and ecclesiastical debates of his day.
Young Richard Kim studies the bishop as a historical person and a self-constructed persona, as mediated within the pages of the Panarion. Kim’s “micro-readings” of the Panarion present a close look at autobiographical anecdotes, situated in historical contexts, that profoundly shaped both Epiphanius’ character and how he wanted his readers to perceive him. “Macro-readings” examine portions of the Panarion that reflected how Epiphanius imagined his world, characterized by an orthodoxy that had existed since Creation and was preserved through the generations. In the final chapter, Kim considers Epiphanius’ life after the publication of the Panarion and how he spent years “living” the pages of his heresiology.
Kim brings a more balanced perspective to a controversial figure, recognizing shortcomings but also understanding them in light of Epiphanius’ own world. The bishop appears not as a buffoon, but as someone who knew how to use the power of the rhetoric of orthodoxy to augment his own authority. Quintessentially late antique, he embodied the contentious transition from the classical past to the medieval and Byzantine worlds.
This book will be of broad interest to students and scholars of ancient history, classics, and religious studies.
And then half-way between these two books, in January of this year, the Society of Biblical Literature published Frank Williams, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I (Sects 146).

About this work, we are told:
Epiphanius, monastic founder and bishop of Salamis on Cyprus for almost forty years of the fourth century, threw heart and soul into the controversies of the time and produced the Panario or Medicine Chest, a historical encyclopedia of sects and heresies and their refutations. Book I deals with material that is also found in Nag Hammadi, other Gnostic writings, and in such patristic authors as Irenaeus and Hippolytus. Students of Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism, patrologists, historians of religion, church historians, and Judaism have found this translation useful.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In the Beginning Was the Beginning of Genesis

For those of you who read books on a Kindle, it is worth noting that a Kindle edition of a book by Andrew Louth, one of the leading Orthodox scholars of our time, was issued earlier this year, some fifteen years after it appeared in print: Genesis 1-11 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture).

About this book the publisher tells us:

The rich tapestry of the creation narrative in the early chapters of Genesis proved irresistible to the thoughtful, reflective minds of the church fathers. Within them they found the beginning threads from which to weave a theology of creation, fall and redemption. Following their mentor, the apostle Paul, they explored the profound significance of Adam as a type of Christ, the second Adam. The six days of creation proved especially attractive among the fathers as a subject for commentary, with Basil the Great and Ambrose producing well-known Hexaemerons. Similarly, Augustine devoted portions of five works to the first chapter of Genesis. As in previous volumes within the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, the range of comment contained in Genesis 1--11 spans from the first century to the eighth, from East to West, and from Greek and Latin speakers to Syriac. Especially helpful in this volume is editor Andrew Louth's supply of Septuagintal alternative readings to the Masoretic text, which are often necessary to understanding the fathers' flow of thought. Genesis 1--11 opens up a treasure house of ancient wisdom--allowing these faithful witnesses, some appearing here in English translation for the first time, to speak with eloquence and intellectual acumen to the church today.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Eastern Christian Suffering in the Violent Decline of the Ottoman Empire

I've just had a chance to finish Eugene Rogan's splendid study, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (Basic Books, 2015), 512pp.

It is a very cogently written study that begins in the late 19th century, but is of course largely concentrated on the First World War, though with considerable attention paid to the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.

Parts of the book revisit well-trod territory for those who have some background in the history of the Great War--e.g., the chapter on the Allied attempt to invade by the Dardanelles and the related Gallipoli campaigns in 1915.

Parts of the book also show the great (and relatively underwhelming and only partially successful) attempts made by the Young Turks and their German patrons to arouse Muslim hatred against the Entente Powers by repeated calls for jihad, a term with which, alas, we have only become ever more familiar in the last hundred years. In the case of British India, this campaign produced almost no uprisings, so loyal were Indian subjects to the king-emperor George V. In most other places, it aroused only minimal attention for a variety of reasons. In all places, it seems, it was recognized by Arabs, Turks, Germans, and Brits alike as a political tool to be trotted out when convenient and retired when necessary. It does not seem to have had quite the same purchase as it does today in the hands of some (e.g., ISIS). Once again one sees the ease with which all parties--Muslim and non-Muslim alike--are able to use Islamic terminology, concepts, and practices as ideological tools in the service of empires and would-be nation-states.

The chapters on the Arab Revolt, which began 100 years ago this past June, are very interesting to watch the intrigue between Britain and the Hashemite tribes of Arabia. This gives rise to plots between Arabs and Brits against the Ottoman Turks; between Arabs and the Turks against the British; between the British and the French (e.g., the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement) against the Arabs; and then between the British, French, and Russians against the Turks and possibly with the Arabs onside, but clearly in a dependent role. Fascinating too is the sudden creation of a "king" in the Arab world in the person of Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, who gave himself the regal title and status. Most monarchies tend to be shabby (if disguised) ramshackle affairs of sordid origins, but this one is especially déshabillé.

There is also a very well done chapter on the Armenian Genocide which also gives considerable attention to the slaughter of the Assyrian Christians at the same time--to say nothing of the campaign to drive the Greeks out of western Anatolia. For those who want to understand the genocide in its wider context, this book does a very good job. But for those who want the genocide summed up without reading any number of the many lengthy studies of it, this book's chapter does a good job in conveying the details succinctly without sparing the reader some of the details of the horrors faced--horrors that stagger one to this very day.

Rogan's treatment of the slaughter of Armenian Christians draws considerably on a first-hand eye-witness report, Armenian Golgothaone of the first ever written, by Grigoris Balakian, an Armenian priest who barely survived, and who was forced to witness the genocide in all its manifold horrors

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bartholomew's Authorized Biography

I confess that I am not indifferent to the author of this forthcoming biography of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew insofar as John Chryssavgis asked me last year to write a chapter for a book that he edited and has just appeared in print, about which more soonest. He has always been very gracious to me over the years in a number of other capacities. He is the author of numerous other well-received books, and if the forthcoming biography (set for release early October) is at his usual standards, it will be a major accomplishment indeed. Thus I greatly look forward to reading John Chryssavgis, Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary (Thomas Nelson, 2016), 272pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
The Orthodox Church, that great beacon of the East, now boasts 300 million members worldwide. In one of the most remarkable tenures of the patriarchate it has been more than twenty-five years since Bartholomew first accepted this ministerial position, which is considered “first among equals” of all Orthodox leaders around the world. He is viewed by many to be a strong, humble leader who is well-loved across a wide variety of political and religious boundaries.
With unfettered access to church files, Bartholomew’s personal notes, and the patriarch himself, author John Chryssavgis has woven together a picture of a man who has longed to serve God, the Church, and the world his entire life. Through personal and institutional challenges, Bartholomew continues to strive toward unity within the Orthodox community and build bridge to others. It is a task that can be as daunting as it is important. This book removes the veil that some may have placed upon this joyful man of God who is anything but mysterious, as evidenced by the heartfelt contributions to the book from world dignitaries, influencers, and religious leaders:
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