"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).


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Chryssavgis on Climacus

Released this year is a Kindle edition of a book first published more than a decade ago by the well-known Greek Orthodox scholar John Chryssavgis: John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain (Routledge, 2017).

About this book we are told:
John Chryssavgis explores the ascetic teaching and theology of St John Climacus, a classical and formative writer of the Christian medieval East, and the author of the seventh-century Ladder of Divine Ascent. This text proved to be the most widely used handbook of the spiritual life in the Christian East, partly because of its unique and striking symbol of the ladder that binds together the whole book. It has caught the attention of numerous readers in East and West alike through the ages and is a veritable classic of medieval spirituality, whose popularity in the East equals that of The Imitation of Christ in the West. Chryssavgis follows the development and influence of earlier desert literature, from Egypt through Palestine into Sinai, and includes a discussion of the theology of tears, the concept of unceasing prayer, as well as the monastic principles of hesychia (silence) and eros (love).

Monday, April 24, 2017

Turkish Denials of Armenian Slaughters

The reviews I have read so far of The Promise, which opened in theatres on Friday, have been rather ambivalent, most of them noting that the movie subsumes treatment of the Armenian Genocide into a love story, and so blunts the force of the film.

Nevertheless, to the extent that it reawakens focus on the genocide, it is to be welcomed. That genocide has been fairly widely studied in the late 20th century. For some of the many books treating the genocide discussed or noted on here, go here.

In addition, see two recent studies, including Mass Media and the Genocide of the Armenians: One Hundred Years of Uncertain Representation, a scholarly collection of articles edited by Stefanie Kappler et al. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 241pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:

The role of the mass media in genocide is multifaceted with respect to the disclosure and flow of information. This volume investigates questions of responsibility, denial, victimisation and marginalisation through an analysis of the media representations of the Armenian genocide in different national contexts.

In addition, because no historical scholarship is done in a vacuum, and no historical memories are even remembered, let alone analyzed, except in a political context of some sort--which context then, as I have been showing on here the past few years in discussions of, e.g., Vamik Volkan's work and the uses and abuses of the Crusades by ISIS, shapes what is recalled and what forgotten--
this second collection merits some attention, too, for it shows scholars in situ, examining how their own disciplines have treated the genocide--or failed to treat it, as has often happened: The Armenian Genocide Legacy by Alexis Demirdjian (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

About this collection the publisher tells us:

This volume focuses on the impact of the Armenian Genocide on different academic disciplines at the crossroads of the centennial commemorations of the Genocide. Its interdisciplinary nature offers the opportunity to analyze the Genocide from different angles using the lens of several fields of study.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On Failing to Understand and Appreciate Marx and Freud

I have a long review essay coming out at Catholic World Report discussing Alasdair MacIntyre's latest book, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative. (A clear understanding of MacIntyre is more important than ever thanks to his having been traduced by a certain blogger hawking dégonflé tracts to fund his oyster habit while prattling fatuously about asceticism.) It is an extraordinary book for a man fast closing in on 90, showing that he has lost none of his formidable powers of synthesis and reason.

I will not repeat here what I shall say there, but let me at least note a few other things about that book and in particular two of the controversial "masters of suspicion" it treats, viz., Freud and Marx.

This latest book of MacIntyre's is in some ways a return to some of his earliest writings about Marx, as captured in, e.g., Marxism and Christianity. That title was a re-working of his earlier Marxism: An Interpretation, which is very hard to come by now.

Helpfully, however, many of MacIntyre's most recondite writings about Marx have been reprinted in a collection that got almost no attention, but without which Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity will be much harder for readers to comprehend: Alasdair MacIntyre's Engagement with Marxism: Selected Writings, 1953-1974, edited by Paul Blackledge.

That collection contains riches beyond counting. Part of its value comes from the fascinating glimpses it gives one into postwar British politics of the left, of socialist and Marxist parties and debates in which MacIntyre was heavily and intimately involved for some time before coming gradually to find himself estranged by and from those groups both politically and philosophically.

This new book is also a return to Freud, about whom MacIntyre published his first book in the 1950s when he was still in his 20s and a newly minted lecturer looking at the philosophy of psychology and of Freudian psychoanalysis in particular. That book, The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis was reprinted in 2004. In both this first book of his, and now his latest, MacIntyre does not hesitate to recognize both the problems of certain strands of psychoanalytic thought, but also the "greatness" of Freud.

What makes Freud useful for MacIntyre is his unparalleled insight into the nature of our desires, and how we fail to be good reasoners when our desires go astray or are corrupted by unconscious trauma; and what makes Marx still so important and useful is that he continues to offer those willing to listen a very powerful critique of how capitalism subtly exploits and fuels those desires Freud recognized.

It is, alas, a staple of too much cheap and grubby Christian apologetics for a century and more now to run down Freud and Marx alike without ever having seriously read either man in the original (or a scholarly translation) and to treat both as the greatest threat ever faced by Christianity. I count myself fortunate to have been introduced, as an undergraduate in psychology in Ottawa in the early 1990s, to the original writings of both Freud and Jung (and others in that first generation around Vienna) in several classes, including especially a class on psychoanalysis and religion taught by a professor who was himself a Christian and not threatened by what psychoanalysis had to offer.

That education allowed me not to assume "straightforward antagonism" between Freud and Christianity--whereas, MacIntyre says, such antagonism is too often assumed by too many Christians with regard to both Freud (and Marx). I have myself, in a very modest way, been trying on here (and elsewhere earlier in my life) to suggest certain areas where psychoanalytic thought and theology are simpatico as seen, e.g., in the work of the contemporary analyst Adam Phillips, who, like MacIntyre, comes out of the British left. In Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, in fact, MacIntyre confesses a debt to Phillips and the latter's biography of D.W. Winnicott, the pioneering English psychoanalyst who did so much to help us understand the mother-child relationship.

Those assuming Freudian-Marxist antagonism do a deep disservice not just to them both but also to Christianity, which has a great deal in common with both men and some (not all) of their ideas, and could be strengthened by a closer alliance with them. Alas, too many people are unwilling to hear this, let alone entertain such an alliance, and usually for one of two reasons: either because they rely on fourth-hand hearsay about what Marx and Freud actually said--a treatment that invariably turns either man into a comic-opera grotesque--or because they fail to appreciate the force of the maxim abusus non tollit usum.

Merely because Marxist thought was abused by and in "Kruschev Enterprises Inc." (one of MacIntyre's several sarcastic names for the Soviet Union) is no reason to write him off; that applies equally to Freud and whatever uses and abuses have been committed in his name. In his refusal to write either man off, and in his willingness, now in his late 80s, to confess that we still need to learn much from Freud and Marx (especially the Marx of the 1840s and his Theses on Feuerbach), MacIntyre is a superlative example of a consummate Catholic thinker who finds good wherever he can, regardless of its provenance and without regard for the fashionable prejudices that have been wreathed about either man for far too long thanks to the "spiritual-industrial complex."

Some of my students next fall will be looking critically at that spiritual-industrial complex and how deeply corrosive and corrupting it is of Christianity from within. And perhaps the weakest point of entry for the kind of commodification of Christianity that Marx foresaw is in the realm we label "spirituality," a term which drips with a repulsive bourgeois self-regard masking little more than straight-up narcissism the perfect companion to which, of course, is the purchase of this book or that program or some other commodity (a "Benedict option," say). In this task we will be aided by reading, inter alia, Vincent Miller's welcome and important book, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture, which I commend to your attention.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Russian Orthodox Just War Theories

It has long been alleged, with some justice, that the Orthodox tradition has not developed its own social teaching to the same extent that the Catholic West has; this includes questions of just war. Some within the East--e.g., Alexander Webster--have said that the Eastern tradition is, or should be understood as, pacifist, though Webster himself, more recently, has recognized that the East is not unequivocal on this question.

A forthcoming historical study will shed more light on how the largest Orthodox Church, the Russian, has developed its own understanding of war.

This summer, Bloomsbury Academic will release Betsy Perabo, Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War (2017), 240pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
How should Christians think about the relationship between the exercise of military power and the spread of Christianity? In Russian Orthodoxy and the Russo-Japanese War, Betsy Perabo looks at the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 through the unique concept of an 'interreligious war' between Christian and Buddhist nations, focusing on the figure of Nikolai of Japan, the Russian leader of the Orthodox Church in Japan.
Drawing extensively on Nikolai's writings alongside other Russian-language sources, the book provides a window into the diverse Orthodox Christian perspectives on the Russo-Japanese War – from the officials who saw the war as a crusade for Christian domination of Asia to Nikolai, who remained with his congregation in Tokyo during the war. Writings by Russian soldiers, field chaplains, military psychologists, and leaders in the missionary community contribute to a rich portrait of a Christian nation at war.
By grounding its discussion of 'interreligious war' in the historical example of the Russo-Japanese War, and by looking at the war using the sympathetic and compelling figure of Nikolai of Japan, this book provides a unique perspective which will be of value to students and scholars of both Russian history, the history of war and religion and religious ethics.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spiritual and Artistic Askesis

Given the ongoing iconoclastic crisis in the Latin Church, which has shown few signs of abating over the last half-century at least, it should not surprise us that the West is not only alienated from an incarnational understanding of imagery in keeping with Nicaea II, but also unaware of the fact that the very process of making icons is itself a spiritual process. Those who have produced images know that it is no mere "mechanical" or "technical" undertaking, though technical skill is of course essential. It is also a process of prayer, fasting, and contemplation.

Thus this latest book, though welcome, has, once again, the feel of the West having to "rediscover" something that was never really lost in the East: Sense and Spirituality: The Arts and Spiritual Formation (Cascade, 2015), 146pp. by James McCullough.

About this book the publisher tells us:
There is growing interest in the relationship between the arts and Christian faith. Much has been written about the arts and theology and the place of the arts in church life. Not as much has been written, however, about how the arts might actually advance spiritual formation in terms of the cumulative effect of religious experience and intentional practices. This book provides a modest step forward in that conversation, a conversation between theological aesthetics and practical theology. Understanding aesthetics as "the realm of sense perception" and spiritual formation as "growing capacities to participate in God's purposes" James McCullough suggests how these dynamics can mutually enhance each other, with the arts as an effective catalyst for this relationship. McCullough proposes an analysis of artistic communication and explores exciting examples from music, poetry, and painting, which render theoretical proposals in concrete terms. This book will engage both those new to the arts and those already deeply familiar with them.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Capital of the World

As I noted on here earlier this year, we have seen several recent studies of the great capital of the East-Roman Empire, and in February of this year a second edition was released of  Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (Bloomsbury, 2017), 304pp. by Jonathan Harris. Harris is also the author, inter alia, of a study of the Byzantine Empire to which I drew your attention here, and of a study on Byzantium and the Crusades.

About this newest book of his the publisher tells us:
Jonathan Harris' new edition of the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, Constantinople, provides an updated and extended introduction to the history of Byzantium and its capital city. Accessible and engaging, the book breaks new ground by exploring Constantinople's mystical dimensions and examining the relationship between the spiritual and political in the city.

This second edition includes a range of new material, such as:

* Historiographical updates reflecting recently published work in the field
* Detailed coverage of archaeological developments relating to Byzantine Constantinople
* Extra chapters on the 14th century and social 'outsiders' in the city
* More on the city as a centre of learning; the development of Galata/Pera; charitable hospitals; religious processions and festivals; the lives of ordinary people; and the Crusades
* Source translation textboxes, new maps and images, a timeline and a list of emperors

Friday, April 7, 2017

Married Catholic Priests

D.P. Sullins has written an important book that deserves careful attention amidst semi-regular papal chatter about possible relaxation of the celibacy requirement for presbyteral ordination in the Latin Church. In Keeping the Vow: the Untold Story of Married Catholic Priests (Oxford UP, 2016), 336pp., Sullins, himself both a married priest and a sociologist teaching at Catholic University of America, has given us a usefully detailed picture of a very select group of men in one country, the USA. Those interested in clerical life, those interested in the marriage-vs-celibacy debate, and those interested in the sociology of the Catholic Church will all find much that is informative in this welcome and tightly written book.

Sullins looks at the advent of married priests in the US from the early 1980s to the present, beginning with the Pastoral Provision, which allowed married Episcopalian clergy entering the Catholic Church the possibility of being ordained as Catholic priests notwithstanding their being married and having families.

As a sociologist, he has studied this group in some detail, and amassed in this book, in a number of tables and figures, the fruits of his research and statistical calculations. Via surveys and interviews, we learn much about the background of these married priests and their wives--education, formation, length of marriage, and location. Strikingly, the largest number of these men is to be found in just one state: Texas.

Sullins has also surveyed these men carefully on a number of controverted doctrinal issues, and all down the line these men are, compared to a comparable group of celibate Latin priests, much more "conservative" or "traditional" when it comes to such things as abortion, contraception, assisted suicide, etc. (Interestingly, however, their wives do not tend to be quite as conservative.)

He has also surveyed bishops to see what they know about these priests, about the Pastoral Provision, and now the Anglican ordinariates, asking them also about their support for married clergy and their views on celibacy.

Sullins has also usefully dispensed with some of the myths that are sometimes circulated to warn people off a married priesthood, especially the myth that it will cost dramatically more. By carefully crunching the numbers, he demonstrates that the average remuneration for a married man would only be slightly more than that of a celibate guy.

Sullins also sheds welcome light on other areas, noting that on average married priests perdure in the priesthood longer than their celibate counterparts, and have much higher levels of job satisfaction. At the same time, however, and most counter-intuitively, they tend to be lonelier than their celibate colleagues precisely because the married men have so few colleagues who can relate to them. Most of these men, entering a diocese, do so among a diocesan presbyterate that has, Sullins shows, its own internal groupings--the relative liberals, the arch-conservatives, those with certain interests or hobbies, etc. Married men find it hard to break into these pre-existing groups, and while their celibate colleagues are as a whole welcoming and friendly, they are also distant. So married clergy find developing friendships a challenge.

Only in a couple of places does he briefly mention married Eastern Catholic priests, a topic he does not seriously treat, and usually stumbles when doing so. Thus, e.g., he says that the Eastern Catholics driven out of the Catholic Church over married priests formed "today's Greek Orthodox Church in the United States" (175). It was actually the OCA that they largely formed, and the Orthodox Church of America has in fact canonized the formerly Catholic married priest, Alexis Toth, who led an exodus of Eastern Catholics into Orthodoxy thanks in part to the stupidity and intransigence of such as John Ireland. My friend D.O. Herbel gives the fullest, fairest account of all this in the first chapter of his splendid and vital study, Turning to Tradition: Converts and the Making of an American Orthodox.

A little earlier he implies (p.151) that the old rule prohibiting Eastern Catholics from ordaining married men in the United States is still in effect, but it is not.

These need not concern us insofoar as I am myself hoping finally to have movement from the publisher on my own book about married Catholic priests, which features a great deal of history and canon law around Eastern Catholics in North America, as well as chapters from married priests today, including several in the Anglican Ordinariates in England and the US.

In addition to not paying much attention to Eastern Catholic priests who are married--which, I must stress, is not a fault at all insofar as this book was clearly written to focus on another group, and so this is decidedly not a criticism, just an observation--there is one group I rather expected would be attended to more than they are: the phenomenon of the several Anglican Ordinariates.  But the book seems largely to have been centred on, and perhaps even written before, the advent of Anglican Ordinariates in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Sullins alludes to them a couple of times, but that is all.

Again, though, what he has given us is a rich, important study that fills a significant gap. Keeping the Vow: The Untold Story of Married Catholic Priests does indeed tell an untold story, and tells it extremely well. We are in Sullins' debt for this fine book.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Churches in the Ukrainian Crisis

Just released this month is a new collection from two editors who have collaborated in the past on another significant collection (noted here): Churches in the Ukrainian Crisis, edited by Andrii Krawchuk and Thomas Bremer (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 225pp.

The role of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, and other religious groups in Ukraine during first the Maidan and then the Russian invasion has been extremely significant, and a sign of not just ecumenical co-operation and mutual suffering, but also a sign of hope for the development of civil society in Ukraine. Scholars have been paying increasing attention to these developments in a number of articles in various journals, and now in collection such as this.

About this collection we are told by the publisher:
This volume explores the churches of Ukraine and their involvement in the recent movement for social justice and dignity within the country. In November of 2013, citizens of Ukraine gathered on Kyiv's central square (Maidan) to protest against a government that had reneged on its promise to sign a trade agreement with Europe. The Euromaidan protest included members of various Christian churches in Ukraine, who stood together and demanded government accountability and closer ties with Europe. In response, state forces massacred over one hundred unarmed civilians. The atrocity precipitated a rapid sequence of events: the president fled the country, a provisional government was put in place, and Russia annexed Crimea and intervened militarily in eastern Ukraine. An examination of Ukrainian churches’ involvement in this protest and the fall-out that it inspired opens up other questions and discussions about the churches’ identity and role in the country’s culture and its social and political history. Volume contributors examine Ukrainian churches’ historical development and singularity; their quest for autonomy; their active involvement in identity formation; their interpretations of the war and its causes; and the paths they have charted toward peace and unity.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Early Christian Family Life

The University of California Press, which regularly publishes new works in early Christian history, many of which have been noted on here over the years, has recently sent me a new collection of articles edited by Catherine Chin and Caroline Schroeder: Melania: Early Christianity through the Life of One Family (2016), 344pp.

Containing articles by well-known and respected scholars of the Christian East and of antiquity (e.g., Robin Darling Young, Stephen Shoemaker), this volume has articles grouped under thematic headings: aristocracy, body and family, gender and memory, wisdom and heresy, holy places, and "modernities."

About this book the publisher tells us:
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 their influence on late antique  Christianity and provides an insightful portrait of their legacies in the modern world. Departing from the traditionally patriarchal view, Melania gives a poignant and sometimes surprising account of how the rise of Christian institutions in the Roman Empire shaped our understanding of women’s roles in the larger world.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...