This massive work, one of nine projected volumes, covers the Eastern Christian period from the late Middle Ages (ca. AD 1000) to the close of the second millennium. In all, 22 authors (15 men and 7 women), mostly British and American plus two from Greece and one each from France and Australia, contribute to this scholarly reference collection. The 24 chapters are divided into four main sections: the Ecumenical Patriarchate (10 essays); the Russian Church (5); Eastern Christianities covering Melkites, Nestorians, Jacobites, as well as Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, and Syriac Christians (6); and the Modern World (3). Each chapter extends to some 25 pages and provides convenient footnotes rather than endnotes. An especially valuable section is the specialized, multilingual, 79-page bibliography organized according to each chapter's topic. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has written a foreword that bemoans the widespread lack of understanding throughout the Christian West of the "commonwealth of Byzantine Christianity." The scope of the volume actually extends beyond Byzantium proper to include Eastern Christianity's presence in Arabic and Armenian speaking regions, and of course its large presence in the diaspora.
The essays provide extensive accounts of the political, diplomatic, and social life in these vast regions, but also attend to theological, artistic, cultural, literary, and liturgical issues. The examples and discussions about how Muslims and Christians lived together in a generally harmonious relationship are instructive, especially in the face of present-day challenges. Close attention is given to the Fall of Constantinople in 1204, the Council of Lyons II in 1274, as well as to the failure of the Council of Florence to reunite Christianity of the East and West. As a systematic theologian with specialized interests in ecclesiology and ecumenism, I found the following chapters especially rich in their comprehensive discussion of doctrinal issues: "The Culture of Lay Piety in Medieval Byzantium" (Sharon Gerstel and Alice-Mary Talbot); "Art and Liturgy in the Later Byzantine Empire" (Nancy Sevencko); "Russian Piety and Culture from Peter the Great to 1917" (Chris Chulos); "Syriac Christianity in the Modern Middle East" (Anthony O'Mahony); and "Modern Spirituality and the Orthodox Church" (John Binns).
The complex origins and developments of the Ancient Oriental Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East are perhaps less successfully described (in section 3). Some contributors who are not sensitive to shifts in vocabulary in the light of recent consensus statements and official dialogues continue to use problematic descriptions such as Nestorian, Jacobite, Monophysite, and so on, that are now considered misleading.
One group receiving scant attention (except for O'Mahony's coverage) is the Eastern Catholic Christians both in their countries of origin and in the diaspora. Although admittedly a smaller population and a source of annoyance to many Orthodox, they are an important piece of this historical quilt. The volume's consistent reference to them as "Uniates" is somewhat contentious. (Readers wanting to supplement their knowledge of this rocky relationship could consult the splendid collection published by the Comite Mixte Catholique-Orthodoxe en France under the title: Les Enjeux de l' Uniatisme ).
The book's layout is generally first rate with a few exceptions. From such a distinguished publishing house I would have expected higher quality reproductions of the various paintings, photos, and maps. The Greek type font has a makeshift look about it. But the editor and publisher are to be warmly congratulated for having enlisted such a stellar group of specialists to collaborate on describing the "second lung" of Christianity which is neglected at our own loss.
MICHAEL A. FAHEY, S.J.
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|Author:||Fahey, Michael A.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2007|
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