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…

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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!