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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy in the Academy Today (IV): The Sciences

Five years ago now, I interviewed Gayle Woloschak about her then-new book, co-edited with Daniel Buxhoeveden, Science and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

So it was no surprise to find her name appear again in the collection I have been discussing on here in several parts, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education,edited by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides and Elizabeth H. Prodromou.

Gayle's chapter, "Perspectives from the Academy: Being Orthodox and a Scientist," begins by noting the frequency with which "science" and "faith" are portrayed as radically different, if not incommensurate, but says that in her experience such a position is only held by fanatics on the extreme edges of both ideological camps. She reveres equally the wisdom that comes from science and Orthodoxy.

Gayle, a professor of radiation oncology at Northwestern University, notes that in general scientists are not believers, and are subject to peer pressure in this area just as other groups put pressure on their members. Sometimes they make prejudicial decisions about matters of religious belief without bothering to consider them with the same critical-rational skills they would consider any other matter--without, that is, using the same skills they would regard as the sine qua non of scientific method and research. But then she notes the same can sometimes be true of Christians, especially when they are debating topics such as evolution.

She notes how much "unscientific" reasoning goes into science--the role of creativity, e.g., in making discoveries, or the number of times someone in a lab follows a "hunch" or "gut instinct" and makes a discovery in a way that was not transparent to conscious, considered, logical reasoning at the time. No scientist, then, is totally "scientific" in everything if by that we mean a sort of crude empiricism.

If there are places where science and faith come close to one another, it is often, she notes, in the context of medical schools, where the concern today is on treating the whole patient, and where, therefore, there is often an openness to spiritual realities, not least in situations where one is dying.

She concludes by noting the number of outstanding questions where science and Orthodoxy, and Christianity more generally, could have a lot to learn from each other, not least as technology and pharmacology increasingly foist difficult questions on us.

That is very much an overriding theme of this volume as a whole: the fact that Orthodox interactions inside the American academy today remain new and rare, and a whole host of questions await both as these interactions grow and continue in the years ahead.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy in the Academy Today (III): Becoming Partakers of the Divine Nature

In our last installment, we looked at two chapters in this important new collection, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education: Theological, Historical, and Contemporary Reflections, edited by Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides and Elizabeth H. Prodromou. Let us consider some more of the contents of this thick tome.

Aristotle Papanikolaou's chapter begins by recounting the challenge he faced in starting to teach undergraduates theology at Fordham University, noting that for many such students today the "question...is not 'why God?' but 'why religion?'"

In such an environment, he suggests that Orthodoxy may have an advantage, or perhaps something of an edge, insofar as it can help students, and others, to appreciate the role not of "organized religion" but of personal freedom whose consummation is to be found in theosis, which he calls "the single greatest contribution that Orthodox scholars can offer to the academic world, no matter what the discipline" (263).

Theosis (divinization/deification) has come in for an enormous re-think in the last decade and more, with numerous books, collections, and articles published on the topic by a variety of authors from a variety of traditions and publishers. I draw your attention in particular to one of the richest such collections, Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification edited by Carl Olson (whom I interviewed here about this welcome book which I am using in a class this semester) and David Meconi.

Their collection draws on a wide array of Catholic sources, ancient and modern, East and West.

Other collections feature more intense focus on Greek patristic sources for theosis, as in Norman Russell's two valuable books, The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition along with the relatively more accessible and shorter Fellow Workers With God: Orthodox Thinking on Theosis.

Arguably the most important, and certainly most welcome, development of the last decade was the one that began to drive the nail in the coffin of the claim that theosis is purely some Eastern exotica, unconnected from, indeed opposed to, the rationalism of the West.

Such collections as Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, published in 2008 and edited by Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung, have been very helpful here. So too has the two-volume collection Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology, published in 2006 and edited by Stephen Finlan and Vladimir Kharlamov.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Did Early Martyrs Feel or Deny Their Pain?

The University of California Press, which has a number of series publishing works about early and Eastern Christian history, inter alia, has just sent me an intriguing new study by L.S. Cobb, Divine Deliverance: Pain and Painlessness in Early Christian Martyr Texts (UC Press, 2016), 264pp.

Amidst much chatter recently about the dim future of the Church in the West, and the various forms of "persecution" that are coming, this book raises an important question about how to respond to any form of "persecution," violent and otherwise, and where power ultimately lies.

The key question, in the words of the publisher's blurb, is this:
Does martyrdom hurt? The obvious answer to this question is “yes.” L. Stephanie Cobb, asserts, however, that early Christian martyr texts respond to this question with an emphatic “no!” Divine Deliverance examines the original martyr texts of the second through fifth centuries, concluding that these narratives in fact seek to demonstrate the Christian martyrs’ imperviousness to pain. For these martyrs, God was present with, and within, the martyrs, delivering them from pain. These martyrs’ claims not to feel pain define and redefine Christianity in the ancient world: whereas Christians did not deny the reality of their subjection to state violence, they argued that they were not ultimately vulnerable to its painful effects.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Smashing the Money Changers in the Church of Introverts or: Where is Christopher Lasch When You Need Him?

In high school, my friends and I got hold of a cheap, free personality inventory from some book or other which we all took with great interest, discovering how heavily some of us, myself included, tipped the scaled towards "introversion." It was amusing and interesting, and nothing more.

Since then, it seems we are bombarded more and more with articles and now books about introverts, including a recent one from a publisher I thought somewhat more serious than this: Introverts in the Church by A.S. McHugh, a revised and expanded version of which is apparently coming out in August of this year from Intervarsity Academic Press.

In seeing this listing in IVP's most recent catalogue, I was put in mind of this article which merely confirmed my cynicism that there is nothing that cannot be commodified by the economics of neoliberal capitalism. The author, having delivered herself of an apparently profitable book about introversion, has now set up a "nascent for-profit company, Quiet Revolution (stated mission: 'To unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all')."

That, as Bernard Wooley might say, is one of those irregular verbs:

I unlock the power of introverts
We make an obscene profit exploiting psychological theories of dubious weight
They engage in the "banality of pseudo-self-awareness."

This latter is the memorable phrase of one of the most interesting cultural critics and historians of the late 20th century, who died too early, but not before leaving us a number of important works: Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism. I slogged through that book as an undergraduate in psychology in Canada in the early 1990s. I didn't understand half of it, but what a thrilling book that demanded so much of the reader--psychoanalytic theory not uncritically applied, mixed in with heavy doses of Marxist socioeconomic criticism as well, none of it issuing in what one might expect. Lasch defied categories in many ways, not least the one that attempted to portray him as simply indulging in some cheap armchair analysis. He was far too deep and wide-ranging a thinker merely to sprinkle a few psychiatric labels about--but neither, unlike some Marxist critics, was he willing entirely to jettison what psychoanalysis and psychiatry might have to offer. 

Perhaps even more important and prescient than his landmark book on narcissism is a book published precisely two decades before last November's election, the ongoing relevance of which is indicated by the title alone: The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. That book was published posthumously in 1996, Lasch having died of cancer in 1994 at the age of 61.

I think, though, that his most penetrating critical analysis of modern American culture, with its endless eschatological foolishness, remains The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics, originally published in 1991. In any and all of these books, Lasch remains, at least for me, the kind of thinker whose ideas regularly pull one back and have considerable staying power. 

In 2010, I was glad at last that Lasch was finally the subject of a serious scholarly biography, which I read with great interest: Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch by Eric Miller.

To be sure, these otherwise repellent profit-makers exploiting "introversion" for their own gain may have an important point to make, but once again Christianity got in first: the necessity of silence and contemplation, of withdrawing from the noisy mob, of untethering ourselves from all the ways we are distracted and fill our heads with endless, and usually very banal, thoughts, of refusing to go along uncritically with the boosterism and faux optimism of businesses and other organizations prone to group think.

In this regard, I await with interest the forthcoming publication next month of Robert Cardinal Sarah's The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (Ignatius, 2017), 248pp.

An earlier history of silence may also be found in Diarmaid MacCulloch's book.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Assyrian Church

When it first appeared in 2006 in a handsome hardbound version, I read this book with great interest. It was one of several that appeared in that decade as part of an ongoing reassessment of the Church formerly and incorrectly called "Nestorian," a church once so vast that it spread all across Asia along the so-called Silk Road.

Now we have an updated edition of Christoph Baumer, Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity (I.B. Tauris, 2016), 344pp.

About this book we are told:
The so-called 'Nestorian' Church (officially known as the Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East, with its See in Baghdad) was one of the most significant Christian communities to develop east of the Roman Empire. In its heyday the Church had 8 million adherents and stretched from the Mediterranean to China. Christoph Baumer is one of the very few Westerners to have visited many of the most important Assyrian sites and has written the only comprehensive history of the Church, which now fights for survival in its country of origin, Iraq, and is almost forgotten in the West. He narrates its rich and colorful trajectory, from its apostolic beginnings to the present day, and discusses the Church's theology, christology, and uniquely vigorous spirituality. He analyzes the Church's turbulent relationship with other Christian chuches and its dialogue with neighboring world religions such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism. Richly illustrated with maps and over 150 full-color photographs, the book will be essential reading for those interested in a fascinating, but neglected Christian community which has profoundly shaped the history of civilization in both East and West.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vatican II and the Christian East

The indefatigable Matthew Levering, a good friend, prolific author, and great editor, e-mails all contributors last night to remind us that, the Kindle version of The Reception of Vatican II having been published in mid-February, this week marks the release of the paperback and hardback versions of that book, to which I contributed a chapter.

Edited by Levering and Matthew Lamb, and published by Oxford University Press, this wide-ranging collection treats each of the documents of the Second Vatican Council to scholarly scrutiny in light of the last half-century's developments within and without the Catholic Church. My own contribution comes in the chapter devoted to the decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches.

About this not-to-be-missed collection, the publisher tells us:
From 1962 to 1965, in perhaps the most important religious event of the twentieth century, the Second Vatican Council met to plot a course for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. After thousands of speeches, resolutions, and votes, the Council issued sixteen official documents on topics ranging from divine revelation to relations with non-Christians. But the meaning of the Second Vatican Council has been fiercely contested since before it was even over, and the years since its completion have seen a battle for the soul of the Church waged through the interpretation of Council documents. The Reception of Vatican II looks at the sixteen conciliar documents through the lens of those battles. Paying close attention to reforms and new developments, the essays in this volume show how the Council has been received and interpreted over the course of the more than fifty years since it concluded.
The contributors to this volume represent various schools of thought but are united by a commitment to restoring the view that Vatican II should be interpreted and implemented in line with Church Tradition. The central problem facing Catholic theology today, these essays argue, is a misreading of the Council that posits a sharp break with previous Church teaching. In order to combat this reductive way of interpreting the Council, these essays provide a thorough, instructive overview of the debates it inspired.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Politicization of Marian Devotion

I have for some time deplored the tendency of certain fundamentally unserious Catholics to treat Marian devotions and "doctrines" as magical playthings the doubling down on which, or the forced dogmatizing of which, will somehow "solve" the problems of Church and world alike. (In criticizing these jejune and insolent demands, one cedes nothing of one's own devotion to the Mother of God.) That is all great silliness of course, though it is sometimes the silliness of otherwise seemingly intelligent and apparently devoted people, whose impertinent demands for new dogmas are nothing other than a species of abuse of their fellow Christians (Catholics included!) in a manner reminiscent of what Newman felt at the time of Vatican I. In a famous letter to his bishop, which I read with my students this semester, Newman plaintively decries the advent of:
thunder in the clear sky, and we are told to prepare for something, we know not what, to try our faith, we know not how. No impending danger is to be averted, but a great difficulty is to be created. ... What have we done to be treated as the faithful never were treated before? When has the definition of doctrine de fide been a luxury of devotion, and not a stern painful necessity?
It is, then, with great interest that I learn of a new collection which analyzes modern Marian "apparitions" in light of the politics of their respective nation-states in the last two centuries: Marian Devotions, Political Mobilization, and Nationalism in Europe and America, eds. Roberto Di Stefano, Francisco Javier Ramón Solans (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 341pp.

About this book we are told:
This volume examines the changing role of Marian devotion in politics, public life, and popular culture in Western Europe and America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book brings together, for the first time, studies on Marian devotions across the Atlantic, tracing their role as a rallying point to fight secularization, adversarial ideologies, and rival religions.
This transnational approach illuminates the deep transformations of devotional cultures across the world. Catholics adopted modern means and new types of religious expression to foster mass devotions that epitomized the Catholic essence of the “nation.” In many ways, the development of Marian devotions across the world is also a response to the questioning of Papal Sovereignty. These devotional transformations followed an Ultramontane pattern inspired not only by Rome but also by other successful models approved by the Vatican such as Lourdes. Collectively, they shed new light on the process of globalization and centralization of Catholicism.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy in the Academy Today (II).

In part I, we gave a brief overview of the contents of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education: Theological, Historical, and Contemporary Reflections. I then focused on Michael Plekon's chapter.

Among the other contributors whom I count as friends, I turn next to Radu Bordeianu's chapter, "Ecumenism in the Classroom: an Orthodox Perspective on Teaching in a Catholic University." Bordeianu is a Romanian Orthodox scholar who has taught at Duquesne in Pittsburgh for many years now. He has invited me there to be part of the Holy Spirit Colloquium and Lecture; and we have often been at other conferences together across the country. I interviewed him a while back about his superlative book, Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology, which I thought, then and since, is the finest work in ecclesiology to appear so far in this century.

In his chapter in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher EducationBordeianu begins by explicitly turning again to Staniloae as a model and inspiration before turning to reflections in three areas: teaching, research, and service. In all three, Bordeianu contends, ecumenism is not an optional add-on, but an integral part of each. Given the realities not just of the modern academy, but of the world, at least in North America, where huge numbers of Orthodox are married to non-Orthodox, ecumenical sensitivity and ministry remain very important, no matter how many times fanatics fulminate against the very concept and word.

Academics, even when not explicitly teaching ecumenism, can model it, Bordeianu says, and in so doing make their own modest contribution to the search for Christian unity. To do anything other than that in the modern university would, I can readily attest, turn students off very quickly. Explicitly bashing other Christians in the classroom, especially in front of students who may be curious about but otherwise ignorant of or estranged from Christianity, is guaranteed to alienate them further and deepen their inclination to write off all Christians as crazy.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Omnium Gatherum: On the Centenary of the Russian Revolution

This weekend one of my favourite academic conferences is being held at Miami University in Ohio: the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture (ASEC). I have been going since the fall of 2009, when it was at Ohio State in Columbus and a much smaller affair led by the inimitable Jenn Spock of Eastern Kentucky University. I have watched the conference grow since then.

Unlike other conferences, which are often overwhelming in size (as, e.g., the AAR certainly is), ASEC remains a place where you can have a real exchange of ideas in a substantial fashion, and not merely pontificate or grandstand, but actually learn from each other. Papers tend to be works-nearing-completion (rather than condensed versions of some magnum opus you've just published), and presenters therefore tend to be more open to suggestions from other scholars in the audience. I fully expect that to be the case again this year at Miami University.

Miami University is where Scott Kenworthy teaches. Scott is the author of a wonderful, fascinating work The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825. If you have any interest in Russian history, Russian Orthodoxy and monasticism, and what the 1917 revolution did to the Church there, then this richly referenced book is for you.

This year's conference, whose details you may find here, is packed with fascinating topics. We meet in the shadow of several significant anniversaries, chief of which is of course the centenary of the Russian Revolution (to say nothing of the advent in 1517 of certain Lutheran theses). Many of the papers focus on the revolution, including a keynote lecture from Vera Shevzov, author of, inter alia, Russian Orthodoxy on the Eve of Revolution.

As you can see from the above-linked program, there are familiar and new names presenting this year. I look forward to hearing from all of them, and may try to live-blog some of the presentations.

Among the former are some whose works have been reviewed on here over the years, including Amy Slagle's groundbreaking work The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity.

Paul Valliere is a senior scholar who has been widely respected for his work on modern Russian theology as seen in his best-known work, Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov: Orthodox Theology in a New Key.

More recently, he has authored a suggestive book, Conciliarism: A History of Decision-Making in the Church. And more recently still, he has authored the preface to God as Love: The Concept and Spiritual Aspects of Agape in Modern Russian Religious Thought, written by Johannes M. Oravecz and published by Eerdmans.

Finally, I'm looking forward to seeing and getting caught up with Christopher Johnson, author of The Globalization of Hesychasm and the Jesus Prayer: Contesting Contemplation.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Eastern Orthodoxy in the Academy Today (I)

When, in 2004, I was invited to give a paper in Prince Edward Island at an international conference, "Faith, Freedom, and the Academy," I tried to address the topic from an Eastern Christian perspective. In doing so, I realized that little had been done at that point. Indeed, one of the rare essays I found, by Alexander Schmemann from the 1960s (shortly after the deplorable Land O' Lakes farrago), explicitly wondered aloud whether questions about faith and theology in the modern university were an exclusively Western problem, there being, then, no significant presence of Orthodox academics in Western institutions.

That has all changed, especially in the last two decades. Now there are dozens of Orthodox in several disciplines (most, but not all, in theology and history) teaching at institutions in Europe, Canada, and these United States. Some of them contribute to, and reflect on, that academic experience in a handsome (and rare hardback for this press) new book I just received this week in the mail: Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides and Elizabeth H. Prodromou, eds., Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education: Theological, Historical, and Contemporary Reflections (University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 454pp.

About this collection we are told:
Over the last two decades, the American academy has engaged in a wide-ranging discourse on faith and learning, religion and higher education, and Christianity and the academy. Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, have rarely participated in these conversations. The contributors to this volume aim to reverse this trend by offering original insights from Orthodox Christian perspectives into the ongoing discussion about religion, higher education, and faith and learning in the United States.
The book is divided into two parts. Essays in the first part explore the historical experiences and theological traditions that inform (and sometimes explain) Orthodox approaches to the topic of religion and higher education—in ways that often set them apart from their Protestant and Roman Catholic counterparts. Those in the second part problematize and reflect on Orthodox thought and practice from diverse disciplinary contexts in contemporary higher education. The contributors to this volume offer provocative insights into philosophical questions about the relevance and application of Orthodox ideas in the religious and secular academy, as well as cross-disciplinary treatments of Orthodoxy as an identity marker, pedagogical framework, and teaching and research subject.
"Seldom have so many scholars representing such a wide range of disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities (even the hard sciences) been brought together to address the important issue of faith and learning through the prism of various aspects of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The fact that all but one of these contributors are themselves Orthodox Christian scholars provides ample proof that most likely representatives of Orthodox Christianity will be active participants in the ongoing debate addressing the crucial question of faith and the academy, or Athens and Jerusalem, to borrow Tertullian's much abused epigrammatic description of the phenomenon. Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education will be useful to the growing number of classes on Eastern Orthodox history and culture taught in American colleges and universities." —Theofanis G. Stavrou, University of Minnesota.
If you peruse the table of contents here, you will recognize some familiar names but also some new ones. I am happy to count several of the contributors as my friends, and naturally turned to their chapters first.

I began with Michael Plekon's chapter, "In the World, for the Life of the World: Personal Reflections on Being a Professor and Priest in a Public University." Fr. Michael, for those who don't know him, has taught at Baruch College in the City University of New York since 1977. (A recent piece about his life there may be found here.) In that time, he has published a long list of books and articles, and I have interviewed him on here several times about some of his recent books.

He begins on what I would call a quintessentially Plekonian note, by arguing that in addition to being a priest, he has spent his whole working life as an academic, and that the latter is not merely an adjunct to the former, a way of paying the bills so he can concentrate on "spiritual" matters: rather, as he says, the university is "my primary location for Christian vocation and ministry" (p.315).

That primary location is an enormous school (17,000 students and faculty) of the greatest diversity anywhere in the country. That diversity shows itself in the classroom with the type and range of questions asked and issues examined.

That diversity all but requires a gracious hospitality on the part of professors, as Plekon notes. I can attest, having been graced by his friendship for a decade now, that he is indeed an enormously hospitable person, and so is the parish, St Gregory's in Wappinger Falls, NY, to which he is attached. (I have often said that were I to find myself living in the lower Hudson Valley, the first thing I would do would be to join St. Gregory's, whose wonderful community has numerous times been wonderfully welcoming to me.)

How, Plekon asks in the latter part of his essay, are we to balance hospitality and ecumenical sensitivity in public settings while being faithful to Orthodoxy? This is a question he has elsewhere addressed, perhaps most importantly in a collection edited by his Doktorvater, the eminent sociologist Peter Berger, ed., Between Relativism and Fundamentalism: Religious Resources for a Middle Position (Eerdmans, 2009).

He cites a number of familiar examples of people who have grappled with earlier versions of that question--Schmemann, Meyendorff, Skobtsova, et al. In a move that is typical of all such figures, and faithful to Orthodoxy's liturgical ethos, Plekon ends by noting that perhaps the greatest way Orthodoxy can teach the truth and exercise hospitality at the same time is through the Eucharist.

In future installments, we shall look at some of the other chapters. In the meantime, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and American Higher Education: Theological, Historical, and Contemporary Reflections is a landmark collection not to be missed.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Russian Freud

We seem to be in the midst of a sustained period of re-evaluation of Freud and the psychoanalytic movement he founded. I have myself reviewed some of those efforts, and contributed to them also, as you can see beginning here. After its fortunes clearly began to flounder in the latter decades of the 20th century (the history of which is discussed here), and psychoanalysis seemed to reach its nadir, the first decades of this still-young century have seen a number of books published re-evaluating and re-assessing not only the great man and his life, but any number of other protagonists--Fromm, Erickson, Jung, and many others. (So too have we been seeing evidence that the efficacy of psychoanalysis has been greatly underestimated by those eager to seek faster and cheaper alternatives.)

One thing we have not seen until now is an exploration of Freud's interactions with the country, church, and culture that figures so large in so many of his writings: Freud's Russia: National Identity in the Evolution of Psychoanalysis by James L. Rice (Transaction, 2017), 298pp.

About this book we are told:
Freud's lifelong involvement with the Russian national character and culture is examined in James Rice's imaginative combination of history, literary analysis, and psychoanalysis. Freud's Russia opens up the neglected "Eastern Front" of Freud's world—the Russian roots of his parents, colleagues, and patients. He reveals that the psychoanalyst was vitally concerned with the events in Russian history and its nineteenth-century cultural greats. Rice explores how this intense interest contributed to the evolution of psychoanalysis at every critical stage.
Freud's mentor Charcot was a physician to the Tsar; his best friends in Paris were gifted Russian doctors; and some of his most valued colleagues (Max Eitingon, Moshe Wulff, Sabina Spielrein, and Lou Andreas-Salome) were also from Russia. These acquaintances intrigued Freud and precipitated his inquiry into the Russian psyche. Rice shows how Freud's major works incorporate elements, overtly and covertly, from his Russia. He describes Freud's most famous case, the Wolf-Man (Sergei Pankeev), and traces how his personality fused, in Freud's imagination, with that of Feodor Dostoevsky. Beyond this, Rice reveals the remarkable influence Dostoevsky had on Freud, surveying Freud's extensive library holdings and sources of biographical information on the Russian novelist.
Initially inspired by the Freud-Jung letters that appeared in 1974, Freud's Russia breaks new ground. Its fresh perspective will be of significant interest to psychoanalysts, historians of European culture, biographers of Freud, and students of Dostoevsky in comparative literature. It is a major work in fusing European intellectual history with the founding father of psychoanalysis.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Early Modern Theology

As I have often noted on here, we are living in a happy period when major publishers of "handbooks of" or "companions to" or other comparable anthologies treating some Christian theme, period, or topic, can no longer blithely overlook the East. Today inclusion of chapters treating Eastern Christianity are de rigueur, and rightly so.

This is true of another such collection released a few months ago: The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800, eds.Ulrich L. Lehner, Richard A. Muller, and A.G. Roeber (Oxford UP, 2016), 688pp.

One of the editors, A.G. Roeber, is himself Orthodox and was interviewed on here several years ago. He contributes one of several chapters treating the East or themes closely connected to the East, as here:

30) Western Theologies and Judaism in the Early Modern World - Stephen G. Burnett
31) Western Theologies and Islam in the Early Modern World - Emanuele Colombo
32) The Churches of the East and the Enlightenment - Dimitrios Moschos
33) Orthodox Influences on Early Modern Western Theologies - A.G. Roeber

About this book the publisher further tells us:
The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, 1600-1800 offers a comprehensive and reliable introduction to Christian theological literature originating in Western Europe from, roughly, the end of the French Wars of Religion (1598) to the Congress of Vienna (1815). 
Using a variety of approaches, the contributors examine theology spanning from Bossuet to Jonathan Edwards. They review the major forms of early modern theology, such as Cartesian scholasticism, Enlightenment, and early Romanticism; sketch the teachings of major theological concepts, along with important historical developments; introduce the principal practitioners of each kind of theology and delineate their particular theological contributions and stresses; and depict the engagement by early modern theologians with other religions or churches, such Judaism, Islam, and the eastern Church. 
Combining contributions from top scholars in the field, this will be an invaluable resource for understanding a complex and varied body of research

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

On the Life of Vladimir Lossky

I have elsewhere described the English Dominican Aidan Nichols as the most perceptive and sympathetic Roman Catholic theologian live today writing about the Christian East, as he has been doing for decades now. One of his earliest such studies, published by Cambridge in 1989, remains in print today as Theology in the Russian Diaspora: Church, Fathers, Eucharist in Nikolai Afanas'ev (1893-1966).

His 1990 book (updated and much improved in 2010, as noted here), Rome and the Eastern Churches is perhaps the most sober look at ecumenical relations, including the plight of Eastern Catholics in-between Roman Catholics and Orthodox. I demurred slightly from his conclusions about the "eschatological" nature of Orthodox-Catholic unity which I thought perhaps overly pessimistic, but perhaps not given where things stand today, not least with the Russians.

His recent biography of Adrian Fortescue, whom I discussed here, offers tantalizing glimpses into the rapier-witted scholar, whose droll and acerbic correspondence I really hope to see some day published in full.

His 1993 book, Byzantine Gospel, was the first in a very long series of books at the end of the last century and start of the present one to focus on Maximus the Confessor, about whom much has been published, as I have noted on here many times.

His 2005 book, Wisdom from Above: A Primer in the Theology of Father Sergei Bulgakov, bore a preface from another leading English scholar of Russian Orthodoxy, Rowan Williams.

Along the way he has also written books about iconography, liturgy, beauty, and aesthetics; and covered all those topics, and much else besides, in his 1999 book Christendom Awake, which calls for Orthodox-Catholic unity so that the former may help the latter by reintroducing to the weakened Western Church a more robust sense of monasticism, asceticism, and liturgical mysticism, inter alia.

As if the foregoing were not enough, he has also written a number of studies of the lives of such giants as Chesterton, Aquinas, and others, including Bulgakov, as noted above.

Now he has turned his attention to another outsized figure of Russian Orthodoxy in the 20th century, Vladimir Lossky, on whom Nichols has focused his latest book: Mystical Theologian: The Work of Vladimir Lossky (Gracewing, 2017).

Given the prolific prominence and astute judgments of the author, and given the equal but different prominence of the subject, Lossky, this is a book to which attention must be paid.

About this book we are told:
Vladimir Nikolaevich Lossky, born in 1903, was not only seminal in the development of Orthodox theology in its Diaspora after the Russian Revolution, and a major figure in twentieth-century European theological history, but also one of those whose work can inspire a serious Christian life. This book is not so much preoccupied by 'placing' Lossky within the world of patristic scholarship or the history of Russian religious thought, but rather, on Lossky's substantive spiritual teaching - and, accordingly, that of the teachers, especially ancient and mediaeval, he commended. Its principal intention is of communicating this teaching.
The title echoes Lossky's own in his best known book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, a work choc-A-bloc with doctrinal reflection. However it concentrates perhaps more on his final, posthumously published, lecture course, Theologie dogmatique. Born in Wilhelmine Germany, brought up in Tsarist Russia, educated at universities in St Petersburg, Prague and Paris, deeply influenced by early study of the writings of the mediaeval Latin West, and living and working in France, Vladimir Lossky was ideally placed to provide a link between Orthodoxy and the Christian West. To go deep into Lossky, cordial concern for the spiritual and intellectual concern for the propositional must walk hand in hand. The consequent initiation into the depths of divine revelation Lossky can supply will be likely to profit in both heart and mind anyone who hears his message and seeks in coherent fashion to put it into effect.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ascetic Psychology and Physical Practices for Lent

Just in time as we all enter the ascetical contest of the Great Fast this year is a recent collection in an on-going series from Peeters: D.T. Bradshaw, ed., The Spiritual Tradition in Eastern Christianity: Ascetic Psychology, Mystical Experience, and Physical Practices

A very detailed PDF, giving the table of contents, is here.

The publisher tells us The Spiritual Tradition in Eastern Christianity:
is a comprehensive survey of the means, goals, and motivations of the ascetic life as represented in texts spanning the fourth and the nineteenth century. Contemporary examples are also included. The main themes are the dynamics of the soul, the disabling effects of the passions, mental and physical ascetism, the desirable condition of dispassion, and the experience of deification. A variety of topics are addressed, including hesychast prayer, religious weeping, the spiritual senses, dream interpretation, luminous visions, the holy 'fool', ascetic demonology, and pain in ascetic practice. Typical ascetic and mystical experiences are interpreted from the psychological and the neuroscientific perspective. Comparative analyses based on Sufism, Vedantic mysticism, and especially early Buddhist psychology highlight distinctive features of the Christian ascetic life. Major figures such as Evagrius Ponticus, Maximos the Confessor, Isaac the Syrian, and Symeon the New Theologian receive extensive individual consideration.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Theology as a Way of Life

Last fall, in teaching a course on sacraments, I had my students read, inter alia, Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry, one chapter of which argues that the very study of theology itself can be a sacramental practice if undertaken properly, that is, if undertaken as more than a mere academic exercise.

Boersma's book came back to mind in reading of a recent release that furthers the same theme: The Practice of the Presence of God: Theology as a Way of Life, eds. Martin Laird, Sheelah Trefle Hidden (Routledge, 2016),168 pp. This book features such senior scholars of the Christian East as Sebastian Brock and Andrew Louth, along with others familiar with the East such as Rowan Williams.

About this book we are told:
Exploring the unity of the practice of prayer and the practice of theology, this book draws together insights from world-class theologians including Rowan Williams, Andrew Louth, Frances Young, Luigi Gioia, Margaret R. Miles, Enzo Bianchi, Sebastian Brock, and Nicholaï Sakharov. Offering glimpses of the prayer-life and witness that undergirds theological endeavour, some authors approach the topic in a deeply personal way while others express the unity of prayer and the theologian in a traditionally scholarly manner. No matter what the denomination of the Christian theologian - Greek or Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist - authors demonstrate that the discipline of theology cannot properly be practiced apart from the prayer life of the theologian. The prayer of the theologian shapes her or his approach to theology. Whether it be preaching, teaching, writing or research, the deep soundings of prayer informs and embraces all.
We are also given the table of contents:

Introduction:Oracles, Prophets, and Dwellers in Silence James Alison

Part 1. Foundational Soundings
1 Theology as a Way of Life Rowan Williams
2 Undergoing Something from Nothing Brian D. Robinette
3 The Trinity as our Ascetic Programme Nicholaï Sakharov

Part 2. Personal Accounts of a Theological Life
4 Ecumenical Confessions of an Unconventional Protestant Frances Young
5 Augustine on Practicing the Presence of God Margaret R. Miles

Part 3. Theological and Liturgical Retrievals
6 The Liturgy, Icons and the Prayer of the Heart Andrew Louth
7 To Feel so as to Understand: Hadewijch of Brabant and the Legacy of St. Anselm Rachel Smith
8 Etching the Ineffable in Words: The Return of Contemplation to Theology Martin Laird
9 The Guidance of St. Ephrem: a Vision to Live by Sebastian Brock
10 The Threat of Death as a Test for Theological Authenticity Luigi Gioia

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Iconoclasms Past and Present

Though Byzantine Christians may be forgiven for thinking they have a monopoly on the concept of iconoclasm, in fact the destruction of images is ecumenical in the worst sort of way: it may be found throughout the whole inhabited world, almost invariably connected to a major political change, as James Noyes has convincingly argued. We have, accordingly, been seeing a number of books over the last several years devoted to exploring iconoclasm more widely, within and beyond its Byzantine expressions.

Another such book--first published in 2014--has recently been released in a Kindle version: Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity, eds. Kristine Kolrud and Marina Prusac (Routledge, 2016).

About this book we are told:
The phenomenon of iconoclasm, expressed through hostile actions towards images, has occurred in many different cultures throughout history. The destruction and mutilation of images is often motivated by a blend of political and religious ideas and beliefs, and the distinction between various kinds of ’iconoclasms’ is not absolute. In order to explore further the long and varied history of iconoclasm the contributors to this volume consider iconoclastic reactions to various types of objects, both in the very recent and distant past. The majority focus on historical periods but also on history as a backdrop for image troubles of our own day. Development over time is a central question in the volume, and cross-cultural influences are also taken into consideration. This broad approach provides a useful comparative perspective both on earlier controversies over images and relevant issues today. In the multimedia era increased awareness of the possible consequences of the use of images is of utmost importance. ’Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity’ approaches some of the problems related to the display of particular kinds of images in conflicted societies and the power to decide on the use of visual means of expression. It provides a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of the phenomenon of iconoclasm. Of interest to a wide group of scholars the contributors draw upon various sources and disciplines, including art history, cultural history, religion and archaeology, as well as making use of recent research from within social and political sciences and contemporary events. Whilst the texts are addressed primarily to those researching the Western world, the volume contains material which will also be of interest to students of the Middle East.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Liturgy of Death

Two years ago this month I was invited to the Wilken Colloquium at Baylor University, where I gave a lecture on contemporary eschatological heresies in light of Byzantine liturgical tradition. I have, before and since, remained very interested in how our culture treats death, and how Christians should respond to that, noting over the years some of the problems with contemporary funeral practices and the strange, curious new practices that are supplanting some older ones.

It was, then, with great interest that I received notice from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press of a new publication of recently discovered lectures by the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann, on whom I have often commented on here over the years: The Liturgy of Death (SVS Press, 2017), 234pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In these previously unpublished talks, Fr Alexander Schmemann critiques contemporary culture s distorted understanding of death. He then examines the Church s rites for burial and her prayers for the dead. Though they are often misunderstood, at the heart of the services Fr Alexander finds the paschal proclamation: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
For the Orthodox Church, the time has arrived not to reform the liturgy of death, nor to modernize it (God forbid!), but simply to rediscover it. To rediscover it in its truth and glory means in its connection with the faith of the Church, with the meaning for the dead, for us, for the whole world and the entire creation of Christ s deathless death, and in connection with baptism and Eucharist, with Lent and Pascha, with the whole life of the Church and each one of us, her members. This rediscovery is needed first of all by the Church, but also by our secular culture, for which, whether we know it or not, we are responsible. How are we to rediscover it?
Introduction by Alexis Vinogradov
Chapter 1 The Development of Christian Funeral Rites
Chapter 2 The Funeral Rites and Practices
Chapter 3 Prayers for the Dead
Chapter 4 The Liturgy of Death and Contemporary Culture
The Order for the Burial of the Dead

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bright Sadness

Slowly we can feel, not without a little dread, that the Great Fast of Lent draweth nigh at month's end. But in dread of what we shall give up we must not overlook what we gain: Lent is a time of such splendid and diverse liturgical riches--the Canon of St. Andrew, the Akathist hymn, the life of St. Mary of Egypt, the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, and crowning it all the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy.

As we begin to think on our forty days in the desert, I draw your attention to something I wrote three years ago about making fasting perhaps a bit more practicable in our own day. 

I also reprint something I wrote on here more than five years ago now, offering some very rich readings as we prepare for, and then enter into, the mystery of the Lord's passover. 

Perhaps my favourite of his Alexander Schmemann's books, which every year I re-read at this time, is Great Lent: Journey to Pascha (SVS Press, 1974), 140pp.

This book, I think, is Schmemann at his best: serious but light, indeed lyrical; never letting the season of penitence and the tears of sorrow overwhelm the joy of knowing that Christ's Pascha has already happened, that death has been defeated, and that life will be given to those in the tombs.

One year I read the above work with his then just-released Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, and you can see in these latter reflections how much he loved the Lenten season and how he could, in spite of it all, never fail to see that Pascha really does stand at the heart of everything.

There are other books that come to mind here as well: Frederica Mathewes-Greene, First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew (Paraclete Press, 2006, 195pp.).

If you are not celebrating the Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete in your parish, or cannot attend, then her little book is a good way of reading a short passage from the canon for each of the forty days. 

Lev Gillet's book The Year of Grace of the Lord: A Scriptural and Liturgical Commentary on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church also has much good food for thought in meditating on the liturgical cycle of Lent, and in offering practical recommendations for askesis in addition to the customary fasting.

Equally edifying is the little book by the prolific pastoral theologian and Orthodox priest William Mills: The Prayer of St. Ephrem: A Biblical Commentary, on which I commented previously, and whose author I have interviewed several times about his other books.

Similarly, this splendid CD is a wonderful resource if you are on the road a lot or sitting at your desk: Have Mercy on Me, O God: The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (Schola Cantorum of St. Peter the Apostle). Under the expert direction of J. Michael Thompson, this schola's rendering of the canon is sublime. I received from Thompson a version of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified gifts performed by the Schola under his direction. I have to confess that its lovely prostopinije setting has forced me to reconsider a chant system I had previously considered a poor cousin to the Galician and Kyivan. (This latter CD is available from the Sisters of St. Basil in Uniontown, PA.)

For those who want a serious scholarly understanding of the liturgical heart of Lent as it were, the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy, see Stefanos Alexoupolos, The Pre-Sanctified Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite: a Comparative Analysis of its Origins, Evolution, and Structural Components (Peeters, 2009), xvi+355pp. 

In his expert review of Alexoupolos in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, the Byzantine liturgical scholar Peter Galadza lauded his book and said that his work is sure to become the scholarly standard for years to come.

Finally, this video comes to us from Russia and features the Patriarch of Moscow leading the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete with a fine choir behind him and everyone resplendent in black vestments--which some may dismiss as a "Latinization" but if so, it is one I heartily support. The abandonment of black vestments for funerals is greatly to be deplored. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Orthodoxy and Islam in Greece

We are fortunate to be living in so fruitful an era when study of the many and messy encounters between Eastern Christians and Muslims continue to produced by scholars around the world focusing on different periods and places. To released in May is a new study by Greek author, Nikolaos-Nikodemos Anagnostopoulos: Orthodoxy and Islam: Theology and Muslim-Christian Relations in Modern Greece and Turkey (Routledge, 2017), 240 pages.

About this collection the publisher tells us:

Church History reveals that Christianity has its roots in Palestine during the first century and was spread throughout the Mediterranean countries by the Apostles. However, despite sharing the same ancestry, Muslims and Christians have been living in a challenging symbiotic co-existence for more than fourteen centuries in many parts of South-Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
This book analyses contemporary Christian-Muslim relations in the traditional lands of Orthodoxy and Islam. In particular, it examines the development of Eastern Orthodox ecclesiological thinking on Muslim-Christian relations and religious minorities in the context of modern Greece and Turkey. Greece, where the prevailing religion is Eastern Orthodoxy, accommodates an official recognised Muslim minority based in Western Thrace as well as other Muslim populations located at major Greek urban centres and the islands of the Aegean Sea. On the other hand, Turkey, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is based, is a Muslim country which accommodates within its borders an official recognised Greek Orthodox Minority.The book then suggests ways in which to overcome the difficulties that Muslim and Christian communities are still facing with the Turkish and Greek States.Finally, it proposes that the positive aspects of the coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Western Thrace and Istanbul might constitute an original model that should be adopted in other EU and Middle East countries, where challenges and obstacles between Muslim and Christian communities still persist.
This book offers a distinct and useful contribution to the ever popular subject of Christian-Muslim relations, especially in South-East Europe and the Middle East. It will be a key resource for students and scholars of Religious Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.
We are also given the table of contents:

 1. Introduction 2. Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople 3. The Development of the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church 4. Modern Historical Context of the States of Greece and Turkey as it Relates to the Minority Question 5. Methodology 6. Conclusion, Appendix 1 & 2

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Nearly five years ago now when the hardcover version was released, I drew attention to The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism edited by Julia Lamm. This month, Wiley has released a much more affordable paperback version of the collection, which contains contributions from a number of noted Orthodox authors, including Bogdan Bucur, Augustine Casiday, George Demacopoulos, and Paul Gavrilyuk; and a number of chapters on Eastern periods or areas, including the Syriac tradition.

This collection, the publisher tells us,
brings together a team of leading international scholars to explore the origins, evolution, and contemporary debates relating to Christian mystics, texts, and the movements they inspired.
  • Provides a comprehensive and engaging account of Christian mysticism, from its origins right up to the present day
  • Draws on the best of current scholarship by bringing together a collection of newly-commissioned readings by leading scholars
  • Considers examples of mysticism in both Eastern and Western Christianity
  • Offers a brilliant synthesis of the key figures and historical periods of mysticism; its core themes, such as heresy, gender, or aesthetics; and its theoretical considerations, including theological, literary, social scientific, and philosophical approaches
  • Features chapters on current debates such as neuroscience and mystical experience, and inter-religious dialogue

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Riddle of Rasputin

I've read my share of books and articles about Rasputin over the years, and confess that I am no further ahead in understanding much of the man and the events he shaped. If nothing else, his life is a useful illustration and reminder of how often history functions as a cipher, and how unreliable it can be save for its reliably contradictory claims ostensibly about the same person and events. Those who think that "eyewitnesses" to people and events in history are always to be trusted have not read their Elizabeth Loftus closely or often enough.

This article gives a good foretaste of a new book by Douglas Smith, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), 848pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure
A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confidant and the guardian of the sickly heir to the Russian throne. His debauchery and sinister political influence are the stuff of legend, and the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was laid at his feet.
But as the prizewinning historian Douglas Smith shows, the true story of Rasputin's life and death has remained shrouded in myth. A major new work that combines probing scholarship and powerful storytelling, Rasputin separates fact from fiction to reveal the real life of one of history's most alluring figures. Drawing on a wealth of forgotten documents from archives in seven countries, Smith presents Rasputin in all his complexity--man of God, voice of peace, loyal subject, adulterer, drunkard. Rasputin is not just a definitive biography of an extraordinary and legendary man but a fascinating portrait of the twilight of imperial Russia as it lurched toward catastrophe.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A.E. Siecienski on the Papacy and the Orthodox

It is a great delight to see in print a book whose mss I reviewed for the publisher, Oxford University Press: A.E. Siecienski, The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate (2017), 528pp. This is a grand history told with great cogency and insight. The author manages to cover a vast terrain without ever losing control of the overall focus. It truly is a book that belongs on the shelf of everyone interested in papal history, ecumenism, intellectual history and debate, and Orthodox-Catholic relations.

When I was, more than a decade ago now, working on my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy, I made a deliberate decision to concentrate only on the 20th and 21st centuries, knowing the history of earlier discussions and debates would have to await another book. In Siecienski's new tome, we have not waited in vain: our patience is richly rewarded.

As I did for his previous book, The Filioque: History of a Doctrinal Controversy, so for this one about the papacy I sent him some questions for an interview. Here are his thoughts.

AD: For readers new to your work, tell us about your background

I am a native of New Jersey, and received my BA in theology and government from Georgetown University in 1990. After graduation I attended St. Mary’s Seminary and University, where I received a STB and MDiv in 1995.  After several years teaching at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, CA I studied at Fordham University, earning my PhD in historical theology in 2005.  I worked for 2 years at Misericordia University and have been teaching theology and Byzantine history at Stockton University in New Jersey since 2008.

I am married with two children, ages eleven and nine.

Religiously I am usually reluctant to talk about my background because once people find out where you go to church they immediately begin to suspect biases.  For example, when I tell people that I was raised Roman Catholic, but that I am now Orthodox, many immediately assume that I must have an axe to grind against the RC Church.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  And while I suppose some will inevitably say, “Ah, he’s Orthodox, that’s why he believes X or denies Y,” the hope is that most will see my real effort to examine all the material objectively.

AD: What led you from your previous book on the filioque to The Papacy and the Orthodox: Sources and History of a Debate?

At first I had actually planned something bigger — a book that would deal with all the other issues (aside from the filioque) that have divided East and West.  However, I soon realized that there was so much out there on the primacy of Rome — primary sources and secondary studies, histories and theological works (like your own) — that the papacy demanded its own book.  The hope was to try and put all that information together into a coherent whole so that it could be more easily understood, even by the non-specialist.

AD: It’s often the case that both Catholics and Orthodox think that “history” somehow “proves” their position on any given topic to be right. But history, like Scripture, is not one giant proof-text, and handling historical texts requires a great deal of judicious insight. Give us a sense of how you approach Christian history and why. 

History is fluid, and the problem with most debates between Catholics and Orthodox is that there is a failure to appreciate that.  There is usually a desire to “pick a century” or “pick a moment” that allegedly captures the view of the undivided church, forgetting completely that the papacy was (and still is) always in the process of developing, just as the Eastern response to it was.  Of course the other problem, and Catholics and Orthodox are equally guilty here, is the desire to read the present into the past and interpret 4th-9th century statements using a 21st century understanding of what you think the papacy should be.  For example, if I believe that the pope has universal jurisdiction as defined by Vatican I, then I am probably tempted to read Maximus the Confessor’s statements on the place of Rome as upholding that view.

AD: Attempting to “prove” or “disprove” Peter’s primacy on the basis of scriptural and patristic texts has often been done—badly—by Catholic and Orthodox apologists alike. In leaving aside apologetical and polemical methods, your historical scholarship examines Peter in the Scriptures and Fathers serenely and fairly. In doing so, did you find points of convergence or consensus? Did you find any surprises about Peter and his role along the way? 

I think here is where you see the biggest progress in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue thus far.  Over the last seventy or so years biblical scholars, historians, and theologians on both sides of the East-West divide have begun to look at the sources of the debate in a new way.  Oh sure, you can go online and still find hundreds (and I do mean hundreds) of blogs and forums where people still throw around the prooftexts in order to demonstrate the truth of the Catholic or Orthodox position.  Yet I think that among scholars an objective reading of the evidence has led to a far greater degree of consensus, causing both sides to question the older (and far more polemical) reading.

So take Peter for example.  Today there are few Catholic scholars who would maintain that Peter either founded the church of Rome or ever served as its bishop (as we would understand that term).  At the same time, most Orthodox scholars, with some important exceptions, now accept that Matthew 16:18 does actually intend to call Peter himself “the rock” upon which the Church is built.  These are not insignificant developments.

However, for me the biggest insight into Peter concerned how the fathers dealt with him.  Obviously there is the long-standing debate about who or what the fathers believed “the rock” to be in Matthew 16:18, and I do deal with that.  Yet the truth is that this question was not the fathers’ biggest concern.  They far more often dealt with Peter as a figure of the Church — the shepherding, forgiving, Christ-loving Church who itself was in constant need of forgiveness and grace.  Sadly all the debates about “the rock” made people forget that.

AD: You give some fascinating glimpses into such controverted Western councils as Constance (which I discuss here) and various attempts to draw the “Greeks” to support either the new pope or the “conciliarists.” Tell us a bit more about those machinations. 

The conciliarist debate is fascinating because in many ways the Western conciliarists were saying exactly what the East had been arguing for centuries.  It almost seems like a “no brainer” that given the choice between Pope Eugene IV and the conciliarist bishops gathered at Basel, the Byzantines would choose the latter.

And yet they don’t.  It doesn’t make sense.  The fact that the Holy Roman Emperor switched sides probably had something to do with it, but I think Gill is correct in saying that the East had been dealing with popes for centuries, and recognized him as chief bishop of the West.  An ecumenical council needed representatives from all five patriarchates, including Rome, and if Basel couldn’t provide that, then it was off to Ferrara.

AD: In treating Florence, you quote Bessarion who said Orthodox views of the papacy were “more an expression of oriental politeness than inner conviction.” Given that, were Catholics then and now (following Gill’s “optimistic” assessment of Florence: p.380 in fn. 63) too sanguine about the chances for Florentine success? How else to explain how things unraveled so quickly after the delegation returned to Constantinople in February 1440? 

There is a part of me that would like to think that Florence could have worked.  As I said in the filioque book, even at Florence Maximus offered a theology that could have worked if only both sides could have read his work as something other than a prooftext.

However the reality is that even if that was possible (which it wasn’t) the Greeks had arrived at precisely the wrong moment in history.  Eugene IV had just beaten the conciliarists, a group who, more or less, shared the Greeks’ own vision of the Church, and the pope was not about to surrender his victory so easily.  This explains why the Greeks’ rejection was inevitable — they had agreed to his vision of the Church, not their own.

AD: You end your epilogue, and so your book, rather soberly by noting that Orthodox-Catholic unity is not likely to come soon, in part because of an “anti-Roman affect” in certain parts of Orthodoxy. Much of that affect, it seems to me, while drawing on older polemics, is a post-Soviet phenomenon. Do you have any thoughts on why it seems that some Orthodox have become so reactionary over the last quarter-century when it comes to relations with Catholicism in general and the papacy in particular? 

It is sad that the ecumenical progress that has taken place among scholars and many Orthodox hierarchs has not penetrated beyond Western Europe.  I honestly don’t know why. Is it an internal thing related to the tension between Moscow and Constantinople — i.e., does Moscow want to be seen as “holding the line” while Constantinople is more open?  I don’t know the reasons, but the anti-Roman affect is real.  Too often Orthodox in the West are tempted to forget, in our atmosphere of ecumenical goodwill, that we are the minority.  If ever there is to be real progress toward the restoration of communion, a way must be found to bring the majority with us, and frankly they haven’t expressed much of an interest.  The recent Great and Holy Council proved that.

AD: Sum up what your hopes are for the book, and who especially should read it. 

Well, from a purely selfish perspective I think everyone should read it!  But the more realistic part of me merely hopes that the book can be of use to lots of people.  For example, scholars working on a certain historical period may find in the book a resource for understand the larger context.  Theologians and ecumenists may find a place to understand what has been before trying to decide what can come next.  However, my real hope is that anyone, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, who wants to discover how this debate got started and where things are now will find a really interesting story, told without prejudice or polemical intent.

AD: Having finished now two grand histories of the major East-West debates about the filioque and the papacy, what’s your next project? 

As I said before, this book was originally undertaken as part of a larger project to deal with “the other issues” that divide East and West.  Once I decided to deal with the papacy in a separate book, it meant that I had to put aside the other three issues I hoped to deal with — purgatory, azymes, and beards.  I have already begun the research, and I plan to begin writing soon.  We’ll see how it goes.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...