Tag Archives: Christianity

The Newest Doctor of the Church

gregory

This week, Pope Francis did something unprecedented. (One could perhaps write that sentence every week). He named, as a Doctor of the Universal Church, a tenth-century Armenian mystic called Gregory of Narek. Now, as the Catholic Church already recognizes 35 other Doctors of the Church, a designation that indicates saints who have made particular contributions to theological learning, you might wonder what’s so unprecedented about it. I’ll tell you.

(Readers who find theology, church history, and canon law boring should stop reading this post right now. You know who you are. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled posting presently).

Gregory was a priest in the Armenian Apostolic Church. As a formal matter, the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church have been out of communion since the fifth century. By the time Gregory was born, the two churches had already been divided for about 500 years. So Pope Francis has named, as a saint of particular theological distinction, someone from a separated church–someone who was not, in fact, a Catholic at all.

The churches separated over Christology. The Armenian Church declines to accept the Council of Chalcedon (451), which declares that Christ is one person with two separate, but conjoined, natures, human and divine, a position known as diophysitism. Like her sister Oriental Orthodox Churches, including the Coptic and Syriac churches, the Armenian Church holds instead that Christ has one combined human-divine nature, in which the human and divine nonetheless remain distinct, a position known as miaphysitism.

The disagreement does seem a rather technical one. Much turns on the proper fifth-century translation of Greek words like “physis” and “hypostasis.” For centuries, however, the two sides condemned each other as heretical. Chalcedonian Christians, including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants, dismissed Orientals as “monophysites.” That designation has been dropped in our lifetimes, though, both because it is incorrect (unlike miaphysitism, monophysitism is indeed a heresy, but not one Orientals espouse) and because it is rather insulting. Indeed, in 1996, Pope St. John Paul II signed a declaration with Catholicos Karekin I, the patriarch of the Armenian Church, that attributed the centuries of division to semantic and other misunderstandings and explained that, whatever the other differences, Christological controversies should no longer separate the two churches. In fact, current Catholic canon law allows Orientals to receive communion in a Catholic church.

Now, the Armenian Church–my own church, in case you are wondering–has long considered Gregory of Narek, who wrote a beautiful set of reflections called the Lamentations, a saint. Indeed, he’s a very prominent saint, whose prayers are included in our Lenten vigils. But he was not a Catholic. I imagine he himself would have been a bit surprised to find that Rome had declared him a Doctor of the Church, a saint whose theological writings bear special distinction. What’s the explanation?

As far as I can make out, it’s this. When Rome receives part of an Eastern church into full communion, it accepts all of the Eastern church’s saints, as long as they did not explicitly contradict Catholic doctrine. So, when part of the Armenian Church united with Rome in the 18th century to form the Armenian-rite Catholic Church, Rome accepted the Armenian saints, including Gregory of Narek. He was, as it were, grandfathered, and has been a Catholic saint ever since. That’s how, in light of his great contributions, he can be declared a Doctor of the Church today.

Pretty much everyone in the Catholic world seems happy, or at least not unhappy, about this turn of events (though not everybody), including the traditionalists at Rorate Coeli:

It is interesting to note that Gregory lived at a time when the Armenian Church, to which he belonged, was not formally in communion with Rome and Constantinople. However, as those interested in the extremely tangled history of Christianity in the first millennium are well aware, one cannot always speak straightforwardly of “schism” and “heresy” when dealing with the theological and ecclesiastical divisions of Christendom in that era.

Just so. Armenian Apostolic Christians, too, are genuinely pleased. Indeed, Pope Francis’s action is particularly welcome this year, the centennial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, including many Christian martyrs, lost their lives. The monastery of Narek on the shore of Lake Van, where Gregory once lived and taught, was itself a victim of the purge. The monks abandoned it during the genocide, a hundred years ago, never to return. Today, a mosque stands on the site.

Robinson, “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”

In April, Wayne State University Press will release “Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit”  by Julia Marie Robinson (University of North Carolina at Charlotte). The publisher’s description follows:

During the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the local black church was essential in the making and reshaping of urban areas. In Detroit, there was one church and one minister in particular that demonstrated this power of the pulpit—Second Baptist Church of Detroit (“Second,” as many members called it) and its nineteenth pastor, the Reverend Robert L. Bradby. In Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit, author Julia Marie Robinson explores how Bradby’s church became the catalyst for economic empowerment, community building, and the formation of an urban African American working class in Detroit.

Robinson begins by examining Reverend Bradby’s formative years in Ontario, Canada; his rise to prominence as a pastor and community leader at Second Baptist in Detroit; and the sociohistorical context of his work in the early years of the Great Migration. She goes on to investigate the sometimes surprising nature of relationships between Second Baptist, its members, and prominent white elites in Detroit, including Bradby’s close relationship to Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford. Finally, Robinson details Bradby’s efforts as a “race leader” and activist, roles that were tied directly to his theology. She looks at the parts the minister played in such high-profile events as the organizing of Detroit’s NAACP chapter, the Ossian Sweet trial of the mid-1920s, the Scottsboro Boys trials in the 1930s, and the controversial rise of the United Auto Workers in Detroit in the 1940s.

Race, Religion, and the Pulpit presents a full and nuanced picture of Bradby’s life that has so far been missing from the scholarly record. Readers interested in the intersections of race and religion in American history, as well as anyone with ties to Detroit’s Second Baptist Church, will appreciate this thorough volume.

Barua, “Debating ‘Conversion’ in Hinduism and Christianity”

In April, Routledge will release “Debating ‘Conversion’ in Hinduism and Christianity” by Ankur Barua (University of Cambridge, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

Hindu and Christian debates over the meanings, motivations, and modalities of ‘conversion’ provide the central connecting theme running through this book. It focuses on the reasons offered by both sides to defend or oppose the possibility of these cross-border movements, and shows how these reasons form part of a wider constellation of ideas, concepts, and practices of the Christian and the Hindu worlds.

The book draws upon several historical case-studies of Christian missionaries and of Hindus who encountered these missionaries. By analyzing some of the complex negotiations, intersections, and conflicts between Hindus and Christians over the question of ‘conversion’, it demonstrates that these encounters revolve around three main contested themes. Firstly, who can properly ‘speak for the convert’? Secondly, how is ‘tolerating’ the religious other connected to an appraisal of the other’s viewpoints which may be held to be incorrect, inadequate, or incomplete? Finally, what is, in fact, the ‘true Religion’? The book demonstrates that it is necessary to wrestle with these questions for an adequate understanding of the Hindu and Christian debates over ‘conversion.’

Questioning what ‘conversion’ precisely is, and why it has been such a volatile issue on India’s political-legal landscape, the book will be a useful contribution to studies of Hinduism, Christianity and Asian Religion and Philosophy.

Iyigun, “War, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God: The Ottoman Role in Europe’s Socioeconomic Evolution”

In April, the University of Chicago Press will release “War, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God: The Ottoman Role in Europe’s Socioeconomic Evolution” by Murat Iyigun (University of Colorado Boulder). The publisher’s description follows:

Differences among religious communities have motivated—and continue to motivate—many of the deadliest conflicts in human history. But how did political power and organized religion become so thoroughly intertwined? And how have religion and religiously motivated conflicts affected the evolution of societies throughout history, from demographic and sociopolitical change to economic growth?

War, Peace, and Prosperity in the Name of God turns the focus on the “big three monotheisms”—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—to consider these questions. Chronicling the relatively rapid spread of the Abrahamic religions among the Old World, Murat Iyigun shows that societies that adhered to a monotheistic belief in that era lasted longer, suggesting that monotheism brought some sociopolitical advantages. While the inherent belief in one true god meant that these religious communities had sooner or later to contend with one another, Iyigun shows that differences among them were typically strong enough to trump disagreements within. The book concludes by documenting the long-term repercussions of these dynamics for the organization of societies and their politics in Europe and the Middle East.

People of the Cross

people-of-the-crossFrom Patheos:

 ISIS released its first video of mass beheadings last Saturday.

The victims of this murder were 21 Christian Egyptian men who ISIS marched onto a beach in Libya and then beheaded en masse. A CBS senior news analyst commented “They are targeting the people of the cross,” the Copts, which is an ancient Christian communion located mostly in Egypt. This isn’t much of an analytical leap, considering that ISIS named the video “A Message to the Nation of the Cross.”

France and Egypt have called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to deal with the “spiraling crisis of ISIS.” Meanwhile, Italy has closed its embassy in Lybia and also appealed to the United Nations as it attempts to deal with a huge influx of refugees who are fleeing Libya.

“This risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national defense needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us,” Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told Il Messaggero newspaper. She added that the risks of Jihadists entering Italy along with the refugees “could not be ruled out.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, said, “We have told Europe and the international community that we have to stop sleeping. The problems cannot all be left to us because we are the first, the closest.”

Egypt’s government has responded to the video with bombings of ISIS locations inside Lybia. Egypt has also asked for American assistance in this war.

At an academic conference a couple of years ago, a prominent scholar with impeccably elite credentials scoffed when I referred to the worldwide persecution of Christians. “Next you’ll be telling us about the persecution of the one-billion-plus Chinese,” he said. I’m sure his opinion hasn’t changed.

 

Fine, “Political Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: From Holy War to Modern Terror”

In April, Rowman & Littlefield will release “Political Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: From Holy War to Modern Terror” by Jonathan Fine (Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzlyia). The publisher’s description follows:

Religious political violence is by no means a new phenomenon, yet there are critical differences between the various historical instances of such violence and its more current permutations. Since the mid-1970s, religious fundamentalist movements have been seeking to influence world order by participating in local political systems. For example, Islamic fundamentalism is at the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Christian fundamental right wing has seen a resurgence in Europe, and Jewish fundamentalism is behind the actions of Meir Kahane’s Kach movement and the settler movement. The shift in recent years from secular to religious political violence necessitates a reevaluation of contemporary political violence and of the concept of religious violence.

This text analyzes the evolution of religious political violence, in both historical and contemporary perspectives. Since religious political violent events are usually associated with the term “terrorism,” the book first analyzes the origins of this controversial term and its religious manifestations. It then outlines and highlights the differences between secular and religious political violence, on ideological, strategic, and tactical levels before comparing the concept of Holy War in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Lastly, it shows how modern radical monotheistic religious groups interpret and manipulate their religious sources and ideas to advocate their political agendas, including the practice of violence. A unique comparative study of religious political violence across Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, this text features many international case studies from the Crusades to the Arab Spring.

Mutch, “Religion and National Identity”

This March, Edinburgh University Press will release “Religion and National Identity: Governing Scottish Presbyterianism in the Eighteenth Century” by Alistair Mutch (Nottingham Business School).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and National IdentityPresbyterianism has shaped Scotland and its impact on the world. Behind its beliefs lie some distinctive practices of governance which endure even when belief fades. These practices place a particular emphasis on the detailed recording of decisions and what we can term a ‘systemic’ form of accountability.

This book examines the emergence and consolidation of such practices in the eighteenth century Church of Scotland. Using extensive archival research and detailed local case studies, it contrasts them to what is termed a ‘personal’ form of accountability in England in the same period. This supports the contrast that has been made by other authors between a focus on system in Scotland, character in England. The wider impact of this approach to governance and accountability, especially in the United States of America, is explored, as is the enduring impact of these practices in shaping Scottish identity.

This book offers a fresh perspective on the Presbyterian legacy in contemporary Scottish historiography, at the same time as informing current debates on national identity.

Haselby, “The Origins of American Religious Nationalism”

This March, Oxford University Press will release “The Origins of American Religious Nationalism” by Sam Haselby (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Origins of American Religious NationalismSam Haselby offers a new and persuasive account of the role of religion in the formation of American nationality, showing how a contest within Protestantism reshaped American political culture and led to the creation of an enduring religious nationalism.

Following U.S. independence, the new republic faced vital challenges, including a vast and unique continental colonization project undertaken without, in the centuries-old European senses of the terms, either “a church” or “a state.” Amid this crisis, two distinct Protestant movements arose: a popular and rambunctious frontier revivalism; and a nationalist, corporate missionary movement dominated by Northeastern elites. The former heralded the birth of popular American Protestantism, while the latter marked the advent of systematic Protestant missionary activity in the West.

The explosive economic and territorial growth in the early American republic, and the complexity of its political life, gave both movements opportunities for innovation and influence. This book explores the competition between them in relation to major contemporary developments-political democratization, large-scale immigration and unruly migration, fears of political disintegration, the rise of American capitalism and American slavery, and the need to nationalize the frontier. Haselby traces these developments from before the American Revolution to the rise of Andrew Jackson. His approach illuminates important changes in American history, including the decline of religious distinctions and the rise of racial ones, how and why “Indian removal” happened when it did, and with Andrew Jackson, the appearance of the first full-blown expression of American religious nationalism.

“Religion and the Politics of Development” (Fountain et al. eds.)

This April, Palgrave Macmillan will release “Religion and the Politics of Development: Critical Perspectives on Asia” by Philip Fountain (National University of Singapore), Robin Bush, and Michael Feneer (National University of Singapore).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religion and the Politics of DevelopmentEschewing tired doctrines of strict demarcation between development, religion and politics, this volume takes up the task of critically analysing this triple nexus. The chapters brought together in this landmark collection draw on detailed empirical studies from around contemporary Asia. Through their engagements with Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and secularism, among other traditions, the chapters argue persuasively for a new research agenda that attends to the ways in which development, religion, and politics are dynamically interconnected. In doing so, they deploy innovative conceptual approaches that rework taken-for-granted frames.

Kittelstrom, “The Religion of Democracy”

This April, Penguin Press will release “The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition” by Amy Kittelstrom (Sonoma State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Religion of DemocracyToday we associate liberal thought and politics with secularism. When we argue over whether the nation’s founders meant to keep religion out of politics, the godless side is said to be liberal. But the role of religion in American politics has always been far more nuanced and complex than today’s debates would suggest and closer to the heart of American intellectual life than is commonly understood. American democracy was intended by its creators to be more than just a political system, and in The Religion of Democracy, historian Amy Kittelstrom shows how religion and democracy have worked together as universal ideals in American culture—and as guides to moral action and the social practice of treating one another as equals who deserve to be free.

The first people in the world to call themselves “liberals” were New England Christians in the early republic, for whom being liberal meant being receptive to a range of beliefs and values. The story begins in the mid-eighteenth century, when the first Boston liberals brought the Enlightenment into Reformation Christianity, tying equality and liberty to the human soul at the same moment these root concepts were being tied to democracy. The nineteenth century saw the development of a robust liberal intellectual culture in America, built on open-minded pursuit of truth and acceptance of human diversity. By the twentieth century, what had begun in Boston as a narrow, patrician democracy transformed into a religion of democracy in which the new liberals of modern America believed that where different viewpoints overlap, common truth is revealed. The core American principles of liberty and equality were never free from religion but full of religion.

The Religion of Democracy re-creates the liberal conversation from the eighteenth century to the twentieth by tracing the lived connections among seven thinkers through whom they knew, what they read and wrote, where they went, and how they expressed their opinions—from John Adams to William James to Jane Addams; from Boston to Chicago to Berkeley. Sweeping and ambitious, The Religion of Democracy is a lively narrative of quintessentially American ideas as they were forged, debated, and remade across our history.