Red Egg Review

While this blog has been dead for a period of time due to the birth of my daughter Elisabeth and school – I have managed to get on board with a new project. The Red Egg Review. Here is our introductory essay:

Here it is: another anglophone Orthodox publication – on the Internet, no less! You may think you know what you’re in for here. Orthodoxy as Austrian economics, continuing Anglicanism, or the Lost Cause. Beard-measuring contests. Beauty as kitsch. You might think that – but you’d be wrong.

What you’ll find, we hope, is something else: a living faith, secure enough in its traditions to be constantly engaged with the world around it. The Orthodox tradition, as we see it, is deep and rich, and by its nature resists our attempts to impose programs, whether aesthetic or ideological. This resistance doesn’t free us from the demands of understanding and obedience, but does require that we remain humble as we attempt to understand both our faith and our world. In the face of a world beyond our ability to ever comprehend, we can never claim completion.

If we can’t programmatize, then, if we can’t ever hope to entirely comprehend, what can we do to be nourished by the Church? How should we approach its theological heritage, its liturgical life, and its long history of human experience? Too often, in the face of their bewildering richness, we flee. Instead of the difficult work of understanding, we take refuge in nostalgic visions. Often, though, these visions turn out to be fantasies alien to the experience of the Church.

The Red Egg Review stands against anything that reduces the Orthodox Church to a belligerent in cultural battles. We oppose the use of the Church as a cultural or liturgical nature preserve. The Church has no glorious past to recover, no more innocent or holy time to which we might return, because the Church is, as Fr. Georges Florovsky once said, ‘the continual manifestation of the beginning and the end.’ The Church, like the Magdalene’s red egg, will inevitably destabilize the established social, political, economic, and intellectual systems of the moment through its eschatological presence and witness.

If the Orthodox Christian faith – still in its infancy in America – is to mature into adulthood, we as Orthodox Christians need to be attentive to what our faith requires us to be as citizens and as neighbors. We should look forward, as well as backward; outward, as well as inward. We should engage the world around us fully, listening patiently to what it has to tell us: to late-night television, to dance music, to those who disagree with us. We are a hospital, and hospitals do not fight wars.

It is our hope that The Red Egg Review will move forward the discussion about the relationship between the Church and the world. We seek to stimulate conversation in universities, seminaries, parishes, homes, and workplaces. We will discuss the art, ideas, and challenges of everyday American culture, the Fathers and Mothers of the Church, and modern Orthodox voices. Our perspective is and will continue to be rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and in the tradition of His Church. Like our Fathers and Mothers, we remain open to the insights and experiences of other Christian traditions and of all human beings.

We invite you to join us, to read, to write, and to converse.

Neal Watson
Samuel Noble
Daniel Greeson
A.S. Parsons

Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, 2013

You can find my particular contribution in the form of a book review of Aristotle Papanikolaou’s recent book, The Mystical as Political.

Please read and join in!

Book Reviewing, Baby & Life, ‘Silly’ Pursuits, Revisiting Blog Goals

It has been a bit of time since my last post, so I feel in some way obligated to fill readers in on my absence.

BOOK REVIEWING

I wrote a brief review of C.D.C. Reeve’s Action, Contemplation, and Happiness for Englewood Review of Books. I highly suggest this book to those who are serious students of Aristotle, otherwise you may get way too bogged down in Aristotelian minutiae.

Today I received in the mail a copy of Jeffrey Bishop’s The Anticipatory Corpse. I hope to be reviewing this in the near future, again for Englewood Review. I am excited to begin book reviewing with some regularity and will hopefully be expanding into more areas, i.e. poetry.

BABY & LIFE

The past few weeks have been an occasion of preparation and increased work load. I have begun a part time job helping the Vanderbilt Divinity Library process a gift from a soon to be retiring professor. This has been helpful financially, and perhaps even career wise as I try to get SOME kind of library experience while I pursue this MTS degree.

Preparation has been increasing for some time as my wife and I are expecting any day now. We do not know the gender, but we have some names picked out for either gender. I am looking forward to being a father and opening up this world to this child. Anyone who has already assumed the mantle of fatherhood, please direct any stories or advice my way. The Greeson party is about to start.

In other recent news, my wife and I had a splendid visit with the ever gregarious Aaron Taylor and his wife and sister. Besides Aaron’s genial nature, he has also been on a rampage in the blogosphere. I have found the most recent post on Maritain and Dionysius on poetic knowledge to be quite applicable to my recent forays.

‘Silly’ Pursuits

I have a condition of severe dissipation when it comes to disciplined and focused reading. I have almost finished Dante’s Inferno, as provided by Anthony Esolen. I can honestly say this will be the first real time I have read the entire work from first canto to last. I gave up in high school, despite my love for it, and I only got into the upper teens canto wise a few years ago. I am enjoying Dante immensely this time around and was lucky enough to stumble upon Esolen’s translations of the rest of the Commedia.

I have also been spending time with more modern poetry. I have been enjoying the incredibly hilarious essays of Randall Jarrell, a fellow Nashvillian, the work of John Hollander and even the philosophical poetics of Maritain. Beyond these I have been enjoying the poetry of Derek Walcott, Geoffrey Hill, and R.S. Thomas. My general idea is to read through Thomas and Hill’s corpus in order to maybe write my MTS thesis on something involving theology, theodicy, and modern poetry. In that vein I have also been reading Hill’s essays (which seem to mirror Cavell in style?) and some folks’ works on R.S. Thomas.

REVISITING BLOG GOALS

As you may already have seen from visiting the blog, I have done a bit of “summer cleaning”. I will be blogging in a bit about the header change.

I am going to go ahead and incorporate into this blog my meanderings into poetry and literature. I just can’t keep them separated. So this blog will deviate from its original goal. Now, I will more fully explore what is actually coming across my desk and not blip in and out of existence on this blog as I read specifically “theological” works.

Book Reviewing and What is On My Shelf

In the vein of book reviewing, I am hoping to receive a few books in a recent “gig” of reviewing for Englewood Review of Books. So far this hasn’t  come to fruition, but hopefully somethings will be coming down the pipe soon enough… and probably just in time for me to put on the shelf with the imminent coming of Wombmate Greeson. If any other publishers or authors would want me to review any book for them I am more than open to doing so.

In other news, I am currently processing a variety of books. Some for joint reading with friends, others for my own edification, and others for research oriented reasons.

Most recently I have returned to the The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Alphabetical version) for my own edification. I have always been drawn to the simplicity and praxis oriented nature of these sayings, but more especially I am drawn to the constant self critical appreciation and reception of the ascetical life (in all of its demands and eccentricities). This brings to mind certain essays of Thomas Merton, the insights of Fr. Staniloae (in Orthodox Spirituality) and a wonderful essay by +Kallistos Ware. I am also eagerly waiting the opportunity to peer into Nathan Jenning’s Theology as Ascetic Act.

Asceticism has received interesting attention in venues I would not have readily thought to be receptive. I first encountered this in a paper I wrote for an Islamic manuscripts class I had at Indiana University. This paper reflected on the aesthetics of asceticism as described in the treatise of one Sufi (or at least Sufi inspired) calligrapher in which asceticism was a way of inserting oneself into an authoritative role. Geoffrey Harpham and Richard Valantasis’s work was essential to the thesis – as was obviously Foucault.

I bring this up to reflect a different discourse I encounter in the Sayings that I do not find in most hagiographical work (e.g. in the Synaxarion). The Sayings seem to reflect more of a mode of self criticism and redirection than any specific sort of glorification of the monks reflected therein. The aim of the stories are more parables or pedagogical moments, than a posturing of the aesthetics of asceticism. I have not made it to the end of the Sayings, so I could possibly find some exceptions. I would be anxious for other’s views on this.

In concert with a friend, I am reading through Schillebeeckx’s Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God. I am not familiar with Schillebeeckx’s other work beyond a superficial understanding of some of his experimental Christology. So far I would heartily recommend this text to those interested in liturgical theology, sacraments, and who possess some background in the arguments surrounding Vatican II (natural desire for God, reassessment of Aquinas, the transcental turn (e.g. Rahner, Lonergan).

Schillebeeckx does a wonderful job of probing deeply into the Chalcedonian doctrine of Christ and the trinitarian reality of God and how this specifically plays out in the sacraments. Especially enlightening for me was the relationship between the eternal relations of the triune God and how the economic actions of Christ for our salvation can still be present in the sacraments today. For example:

“…in the sacraments there is nevertheless a certain presence in mystery, this is possibly only if, in Christ’s historical redemptive acts, thee already was an element of something perennial; an enduring trans-historical element which now becomes sacramentalized in an earthly event of our own time in a visible act of the Church. And indeed, in keeping with sound Christology, we must hold that this trans-historical element is unquestionably present in the acts of Christ’s life…

In the man Jesus God the Son is personally present. His human existence itself is wholly and entirely a presence of God among us. But it is in the activity of Jesus’ life alone that this personal presence of God the Son is fully realized. The historical redemptive acts of Christ, which as historical are irrevocably past, are personal acts of God the Son, although performed in a human mode. They are acts in time which are the personal acts of the eternal God the Son. Consider now that the man Jesus is not first a man and then God as well; he is God-man; not a mixture, but God existing in human form. In virtue of the Hypostatic Union we are confronted with a divine way of being man and a human way of being God. The man Jesus is the existence of God himself (the Son) according to and in the mode of humanity. For person and nature are never extrinsic elements separate from one another. The God-man is one person. Since the sacrifice of the Cross and all the mysteries of the life of Christ are personal acts of God, they are eternally actual and enduring. God the Son himself is therefore present in this human acts in a manner that transcends time. For of course we cannot conceive of the presence of a mere act; presence in this kind of context is always the presence of the person who acts; a personal presence which renders itself actual here and now, and active in and through an act. Jesus’ human act being the act of the Son of God in his humanity, cannot, therefore, be expressed merely in terms of time, as though the person who is man ware something quite extrinsic to the humanity of Christ. Precisely because the human acts of Christ are acts of God they share, in and according to humanity, in the mystery of God. Being radically the act of the eternal God, Jesus’ human act of redemption, in spite of its true historicity, cannot be merely something of the historical past. His human presence to his fellow men is permeated with his divine mode of being and of being present…

Considering that Christ’s entire human life on earth was the living out of that relationship in which, within God, he stands to the Father – so that it was his very sonship realized in human form – we must conclude that all the mysteries of the human life of Christ endure for ever even in the mode of glory. Passover and Pentecost are an eternal mystery of which the glorified body of Christ is the permanent sign, established for ever.

For this reason the Epistle to the Hebrews could speak of a “heavenly altar” and an “eternal sacrifice,” and on the same account the early Christians were deeply convinced of the “once for all” character of the redemption, of its being ephapax. As the realization in human form of the redeeming Trinity, the historical mysteries of Christ’s life, which were personal acts of the God-man, are a permanent, enduring reality in the mode of the Lord’s existence in glory. The mystery of saving worship, or Christ’s act of redemption is, in the mode of glory, an eternally actual reality, as the Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly stresses.” pg 57-59.

The heavenly high priesthood of Christ’s continued work on our behalf is stressed time and time again as is the essential ecclesial nature of the sacraments. As I progress through the book I will update my opinions and perhaps how beneficial it would be to read Schillebeeckx alongside Schmemann or Zizioulas.

To be continued…

Recent Publications from Holy Cross Press

I am a bit surprised that I am beating the two blogs that seem to keep the blogosphere up to date with recent Orthodox publications. I want to draw your attention to some of the recent activity of Holy Cross Press.

Like a Pelican in the Wilderness by Stelios Ramfos

This was originally published in english in 2000, but has (in my recent memory) not been in print for awhile now. I have been bugging them for the past two years about its reprinting, after I was told via email about plans for reprinting. In my time spent with it during stints in the library I have found it worth the time and an insightful read. Not breaking new ground per se, but doing a good interpretive job with the phenomenon of the sayings of the Desert Fathers and their import for us today.

The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning there was Love, Dumitru Staniloae

“The dogma of the Holy Trinity has always been at the center of Orthodox theology, which is why it was an endless subjection of reflection for Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, may he rest in peace. The special place that the Trinity occupies in his teaching on the Church makes Fr. Staniloae the theologian par excellence of the Holy Trinity in the contemporary world. In fact, his entire corpus is a mammoth effort to place the unspeakable mystery of the Holy Trinity at the center of all recent Christian life and thought. As with St. Maximus the Confessor, whose work he has translated and commentated on in Romanian, this dogma does not represent an isolated theme for Fr. Staniloae. His exegesis of the Trinity glimmer throughout every chapter of his dogmatic theology. While identifying both a united absolute essence and distinct absolute hypostases at the heart of the Holy Trinity, in the most Orthodox spirit Fr. Staniloae always aimed to bring the living, dynamic personalism of Orthodox Christian theology into the light. Speaking as no one else in contemporary theology has about the infinite value of the person, about its unfathomable depths, and seeing “the undying face of God” in man, Fr. Staniloae can also speak about the perfect love whose only source is the Holy Trinity.” – From the foreword by His Beatitude Teoctist, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church”

I have always enjoyed any of the time I have spent with Fr. Staniloae. For those of an academic bent I will always quickly suggest his book, Orthodox Spirituality. Recent work on Staniloae by Fr. Radu Bordeianu (which I have not been able to consult yet (waiting for the library to get this one) seems to bring about some of the best aspects of Staniloae, one which presents an important contribution to ecumenical work (to be paired with the work of Metropolitan Zizioulas). I have ordered this new book by Staniloae and hope to do a book review when I have adequately read and processed it.

There has also been an upsurge recently from Holy Cross Press in the translation projects of Christos Yannaras’s work. A new book on “The Enigma of Evil” looks promising.

From the back cover :

“Nature’s logic makes no qualitative judgements: earthquakes, disease, fire, and flood destroy human beings just as they also destroy irrational animals – without distinction. Decay, pain, panic, and death constitute the same conditions of existence for both Aristotle and his dog. Why? How is this irrationality compatible – how does it coexist – with the wonderful rationality (the wisdom and beauty) of nature? Why is the only consciousness in the universe, the creative uniqueness of each human being, a provocatively negligible given in nature’s mechanistic functionality? And why do hatred, blind cupidity, sadism, and criminality spring from nature – why do they have roots in humanity’s biostructure? Can we perhaps bring some logical order, some principles of understanding, to questions concerning the nature of evil? This book attempts to respond to the challenge.”

I applaud the work of translation and publication of important contemporary theologians and thinkers from the Orthodox milieu. It seems to me that there is not enough “advertising” of Holy Cross’s work and thought that it would be worth my time and yours to direct your attention to these new publications.

…perhaps Holy Cross should put me on their list for reviewing to be able to provide a more permanent format of directing others to their work!

Melancholia: My Library in Transit, Or Wherein I Mourn My Access to My Extended Mind

Knowing that Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library” has spawned many a essay and reflection, I come to this state of melancholia well aware of the literary precedent and sit in great anticipation for the freeing of my bound progeny. I have been withdrawn from the “mild boredom of order” since early February, when my wife and I decided to quickly pack things up in order to get the hell outta Dodge. Our home had been broken into for the second time, so the restlessness of the unknown and the feelings of utter violation had driven my wife, and by extension myself, into action.

The packing took only a few hours. As I look back it was a bit unwise of me to pack up almost my entire collection. I feel the pain of the withdrawal from my wayward midnight wonderings. I am someone who reads, sometimes unsuccessfully to completion, at least a half a dozen books or so at the same time. I have always felt the ability to make simultaneous connections between various works essential to my education. Perhaps this is why I feel the ultimate pull towards being a generalist instead of a specialist.

My reading fancies might lead me to reviewing some of Lonergan or poking through an assortment of modern philosophy or medieval art. But typically I am lead to the category of “MISC.” – which includes the alluring genre of the essay. Cheap collections of essays from minds of the near distant past and even further seem to be a favorite go to. I see a genetic link between the books I take to the bathroom and the books I pick up in my midnight wonderings. It must be the desire to be entertained. Long arduous reads, when I am taking short vacations (my wife may argue about my privy time, which I like to retort with resorting to W.H. Auden’s poem “The Geography of the House”) or trying to put off the resignation that comes when finally climbing into bed, are not adequate. The essay is the perfect format for the WC vacation or late night excitement. I have my favorite authors for this purpose: Herbert McCabe, OP, Montaigne, Paul Evdokimov, Adam Zagajewski, Geoffrey Hill, Alberto Manguel, something on a particular artist that is a favorite of mine (e.g. Stanley Spencer or El Greco), and (surprisingly for his typical longwindness) Hans urs Von Balthasar. This is of course not a real catalogue, but more of my ideal go to list. I probably typically grab whatever shorter book is closer at hand, or that is currently affixed by my fancy (I tend to go in cycles of interests, as those closest to me know (probably to their chagrin)).

I am ashamed to say that I used to spend an inordinate amount of time with books from the library that would be considered introductory. Drawn from a typical stack that would be perched in various precarious positions from the local university. I averaged around 150 or so when I was in school at Indiana Univ. and a bit less when I had access to Western Kentucky’s. In some ways I have felt this kind of voyeuristic and exploratory probing (prefaces, introductions, choice chapters or essays) has given me a great overview of a lot of subjects that otherwise I would not have deigned to spend significant amounts of time. Subjects such as: liberation theology, Karl Rahner, Reformed theology, poetics, Catholic moral theology, poststructuralism, and most definitely phenomenology in all its amorphous forms.

I digress…

I did keep a box or two out for the purpose of keeping my sanity on the horizon. At the time, honestly, theology and I were on break. The short of it: wrestling with whether or not pursuing theology academically has haunted me for at least the past 7 years. I have learned sustained breaks from serious reading in theology has maintained my sanity. Instead, I packed for my perusal in the interval, a ton of german lit., philosophy, and poetry. Montaigne, Böll, Bernhard, Plato, Sebald, Nietzsche, Heidegger, various biographies, and some contemporary anglo literature were to keep me company.

Of course, the pendulum swings, and now I am on track to begin graduate study of theology in the fall bringing back my desire to browse and work through some texts that are now hiding away in a storage unit in Kentucky. Perhaps some incredibly decent souls would care to donate a few texts for my edification? I am attempting to break into reviewing books in order to swell my progeny (more on that hopefully to come).

Has my collecting (which is usually progresses at a good clip) abated due to lack of shelves? Nope. “To a book collector, you see, the true freedom of all books is somewhere on his shelves” – Benjamin. Despite that drive, my budget limits my collecting, and thus my melancholia survives unabated yet sedated by my weekly sojourns in the Divinity library. I feel as if I am not alone in this state when disconnected from my extended mind?

Retrieving Patristic Social Thought – A Book Review

St John Chrysostom Denouncing Empress Eudoxia

I recently came across a quite pertinent and interesting volume in my recent “vacations” in the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. It represents a meeting held in Leuven in 2007 as part of a research program at the Catholic University of Leuven during the years 2005 to 2009. The seminar and subsequent volume proposed to “investigate[s] the potential for a dialogue between the social teachings of the Fathers and the living theology of Catholic social thought today”. It has been published as – Reading Patristic Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for Twenty-First-Century Christian Social Thought edited by Johan Leemans, Brian Matz, Johan Verstraeten.

The assembled papers and research followed Brian Matz’s study that catalogued 110 patristic citations or allusions in twenty-one Catholic social teaching documents (Patristic Sources and Catholic Social Teaching), which concluded that the patristic sources are second class citizens in contemporary Catholic Social Teaching’s consideration, e.g. Augustine’s Confessions is used eight times, but not specifically as socio-ethical commentary.

Over view

The book is divided into four sections, each with differing focuses. Part I is suggestive of a renewed appreciation for the texts of the Fathers while also expressing concern for a too casual and hermeneutically reductive approach to the Fathers. Part II commends a nuanced approach by paying attention to different contexts, namely: moral discourse in late antiquity, early Christian eschatology and the audiences of the era.

Part III provides examples of a dialogue between patristic social thought and the Christian social tradition. Susan Holman explores the idea of the “common good” in the Greek Fathers augmenting the typical historiography that begins with Aristotle, flows to Augustine, and skips Aquinas. Brenda Ihssen explores the patristic understanding of usury showing us how in our blurring of the lines between usury and interest we have fallen down the same slippery slope the Fathers denounced. Brian Matz explicates St. Basil’s views of detachment regarding private property in the Graeco-Roman context and how these theological principles could inform current thought. Thomas Hughson, coming from a systematic theologian’s perspective, addresses the use of justice in Lactantius and how it compares with contemporary Catholic social teaching and social thought. He concludes wondering if the Catholic Church has neglected a rapprochement with the early church to its own detriment.

Part IV contends for room for dialogue between patristic and contemporary Christian thought, in a way meeting and moving on from skepticism of the essay in Part I. Richard Schenk, O.P. employs Ricoeur’s “ideas about memory and constructive forgetting in suggesting that a healthy dialogue between the past and present social teachings should being by acknowledging what is worth remembering and forgetting”. Remembering what articulates common principles, that bring up marginal voices, and that expose radical expressions of discipleship from beneath layers of institutionalization. The book ends with two of the editors reviewing the overall contribution to the goal of the research program at Leuven.

The real struggle of the volume is the hermeneutical gap between late antiquity and late modernity. How do we categorize and then apply the theological and practical concerns of the Fathers, which come from a completely different socio-political context. For a quick and simple example: slavery and usury, both of which were viewed quite differently in late antiquity then they are in our age. How does a homily by St Gregory the Theologian, which advocates for the obligation of Christians to meet the needs of lepers, actually work for us today?

Fr. Schenk’s reflections
(supplemented by my own)

Instead of plotting through each essay, which honestly I have not read each essay in full detail (the pitfalls of not having library lending privileges yet), I thought the most beneficial essay reflecting on the hermeneutics of retrieval, which expresses a perennial concern of mine, would be Fr Schenk’s essay. I will be outlining the major parts of the article as well as including my own explication and commentary. I apologize in advance if this is confusing to any reader.

Fr Schenk reflections take two routes: a restatement of the argument for patristic retrieval and then the sources of suspicion about the cogency of projects of retrieval.

The symposium’s mood had been set by the opening remarks by reflecting on the hermeneutical thought of the late French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur stressed a dual hermeneutic of suspicion and of retrieval. As no one is an innocent and entirely correct storyteller, we need to implement “strategies of self-examination as part of an ars memoriae”. We must not drown in the suspicion but endure the tutelage of the “schools of suspicion” in order to clear the dross and still narrate and speak of our ethical responsibility, however complicated that may be. This ethic of reading and narrative is supplemented by Ricoeur’s explication of Heidegger’s enigmatic statement in Being and Time that “remembering is possible only on the basis of forgetting”. At this point Fr. Schenk quotes Gadamer in order to further elucidate Ricoeur’s insight:

“In ways that are largely overlooked, forgetting belongs to the relation between retaining and remembering. Forgetting means not merely loss and privation, but as F. Nietsche stressed, it is a necessary condtion for the life of our mind. It is only by forgetting that our mind receives the possibility of a thorough-going renewal, the ability to see things anew with a fresh look, so that what was old an familiar now blends with what is newly seen into a multidimensional unity” Truth and Method, pg.13.

Here Fr Schenk remarks, “…precisely because a certain kind of forgetting is necessary for there to be genuine recollection, forgetting, too like remembering, needs direction and self examination; it too, must be raised to the level of an art”. This artful forgetting and remembering is part of the practice of tradition. Riceour did demur about those who too quickly jump to reading history for particular goals, which “can lead to revisionist histories and to a selective amnesia about the more troubled aspects of the past”. Coming to the texts of the Fathers in order to read for contemporary social teachings implies a preliminary reinterpretation of that text, that being that we already pretty much have an idea where the text could take us. We have chosen certain texts over others. Fr Shenck follows Riceour further to recommend that “we must first somehow accept the story or history for what it is and only then try to elicit its future possibilities, even if it means living with an uncomfortable memory”. For an easy example, to my knowledge St. Gregory of Nyssa is one of the few Fathers who speak out against slavery. Our relationship to our past is a difficult one, parts of which are to be set aside or gotten past, that which we still need to forget, or what we need to remember in order to be guarded against, and therefore calling for forgiveness and not for our emulation.

Fr. Schenk then turns to a contribution from Johann Baptist Metz adapted from Ernst Bloch, the idea of “productive noncontemporaneity”. The products of noncontemporaneity can be destructive; where some theologians develop ways of being sectarian as badges of honor or, on the flip side, assimilated theologians in shamefulness of their community’s otherness seek to minimalize all distinctions. Productive noncontemporaneity approaches with a “chronic vigour” (J.H. Newman) that “liberates from servile adherence to both stagnation and modish fads, to continually bring the memory of the past into reflective conversation with the better movements of the times”. If we are going to approach the Fathers in order to frame our positions on social ethics, an awareness of the dangers of retrieval need to be on our horizon. Instead of an assumption of the perennial sameness of patristic teaching, which creates barriers for creative and productive grappling with modern issues, we could look to apply the teachings in our current globalized context. Here Fr Schenk suggests “migration, labor, communication, commutative and distributive justice”. This way of reading is in “hope for not yet domesticated insights prefigured in an uneven but provocative patristic literature”.

Fr Schenk then turns to the case for “suspicion”. As is the typical hermeneutical point, the work must be done for the context of then and then its application to the here and now. Recollection of patristic writers without context and with the pretext of obvious agreement and then uniting it to contemporary wisdom is dangerous. Obviously, in academia, there has been a strong tide going the other way, arguing for the particularity and incommensurability of each. The maxim “If you have read one church father, you have then read just one father” applies. At play here is obviously also the contest of the faculties, each vying for their own expertise and domain. But this heightened suspicion can all too easily push all texts to the periphery in an unending receding horizon. Memory can be blocked when it is stuck in recollection. This misuse of memory, following Ricoeur, skips the work of mourning “which comes to accept the loss of the past, falling instead into a debilitating form of melancholic or morose attachment to a past with no future”. A work of mourning that seems to be lost on certain segments of North American Orthodoxy.

Pace the suspicion of distance, otherness, and conflicting concerns Fr Schenk recommends that coming to the texts provides the ability to also revisit our modern presupposition and evaluate them accordingly.

Fr Schenk concludes his essay by suggesting that the present volume is indicative of the future dialectic of Christian social thought’s use of patristic thought. Neither direction, suspicious or overly ambitious, presented a grand, harmonious synthesis. A future sourcebook should be attentive to all of the nuances:

“…by showing the past and present state of Christian social teaching as an ever searching form of practical wisdom, growing in its treasury of articulated convictions and motivated by common principles, but also appropriated by many persons, in many times and places, for often disparate needs and with varying degrees of merit, guilt, and what has been called “moral luck”…Aware of its own past and present fragility, it should look for those overlooked impulses among patristic writings, suggestions of a more radically genuine discipleship hidden meanwhile beneath layers of otherwise defensible domestication and institutionalization…In an age tempted towards the extremes of secular and religious identities, each styled as self sufficient, glorious and universally liberating, this admission of a sometimes halting, partial and mendicant progress might be the greatest social teaching of all.”

St. Nicholas saving innocents - Artist: Elisabeth Jvanovsky

Reflections

My interests in such a long overview is due mostly to the fact that I found this volume to be a fascinating and practical application of the tensions of the Orthodox ideal of “Neo-Patristic Synthesis”. I am aware of the baggage this “movement” and phrase have, but I move forward nevertheless. There have been numerous attempts of developing various sides of the Neo-Patristic project, but to my mind not many successful moral or ethical works that take their cue from the project (excepting maybe Staniloae’s Orthodox Spirituality as a great handbook for personal ascesis). It seems most of the work has been warmed over accomodationist material that seems regulated to the demands of this age and certain modish fads, i.e. why the focus on “green” theology at the loss of the development of the Greek Father’s view of natural law? I do not say this because I think we should rape and pillage the earth because of some horrible understanding of “having dominion”, rather I say that we need to attend to our tradition in all of its aspects, not just sexy fads (and by all means, I am in favor of a prophetic critique of our indiscriminate relationship to our environment).

My casual acquaintances with various Orthodox websites and the arguments had on blogs, comment threads, and even Facebook with a certain lovable Hierarch, show an adversity to some of the basic teaching of the Fathers, mostly due to the hermeneutical jump from then to now, or to too simple reductions and simplifications of the “Christian”ness of various socio-political positions (libertarianism not being the only target here). From the other direction, comes the overly simplistic jump that Aaron documents here in a review of a volume of St. Basil’s homilies. Perhaps I am too indebted to my agrarian/Hauerwas-MacIntyre/distributist/anarcho-syndicalist leanings, which should be the topic of a future blog post as a way of historically/biographically situating my own struggling with the tradition (i.e. how I needed St. Silouan in order to finally push me into Orthodoxy).

Anyway, I opened this volume to read some excellent essays, and came away specifically with Fr. Schenk’s great overview of the very basic tensions of any retrieval of the Fathers. I am and will be blogging specifically in the direction of Orthodox moral theology and welcome any complaints, comments, or suggestions in future reviews/topics.

For now, to be continued….

Attempting to blog… again.. (or) is blogging dead?

Various blogs of my own creation have cropped up on the internet over the past decade or so… some I would be more ashamed to own than others, but nevertheless I am going to attempt the blogging game again. For the past few years, as I since been married, finished a masters degree in library science, and took small vacations from serious theological study (to pursue silly ventures like poetry) I have maintained a tumblr blog, Paideia, which was a sporadic linkage of pictures, poems, quotes.

I wonder (aloud) as I attempt to grapple again in a somewhat public venue with various theological topics whether this type of venue has already seen its zenith? I remember when certain blogs (5 or 6 years ago) were highly visited, argued, debated, and even gathered the attention of various professors who joined the foray (this brings to mind Hunsinger’s appearance on Ben Myer’s blog, Faith & Theology).

In the Orthodox world there was much action/debate/gossip/news/etc. to be found on a few blogs, which have now switched venues or even ecclesiastical association.

So, why this blog?

My hope is to actually highlight certain Orthodoxy theological positions, debates, tensions, and interests in a fairly balanced and nuanced manner that I am currently not aware exists on the internet (with obvious nods to Aaron of Logismoi for his constant stream (perhaps dribble recently😀 ) of quality posts). I am hoping for the type of conversations and insights notable from such blogs as the aforementioned Logismoi, Ora et Labora, A Vow of Conversation, and even the cantankerous but ever lovable Ochlophobist. However, as my temperament is not the same as the above I hope this blog will still present something of value.

This quote from Fr. Georges Florovosky will be a constant theme:

“Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world… The ‘old polemical theology’ has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western ‘textbooks.’ A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new ‘polemical theology.’ But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.” – Georges Florovsky, Ways of Russian Theology II, pp. 302-304 — h/t to Fr. John Schroedel