Archive for the 'Early Christianity' Category

Some contributions elsewhere

I’ve been catching up with blogging here, yes, but I’m also catching up with things I’ve been supposed to write for other sites as well. I did a writeup of some of what the Saint John of Damascus Society has been up to during the summer (TL,DR: quite a bit, actually), and I also posted part V of my “Notes from the Psalterion” series over at Orthodox Arts Journal.

Also, this morning, I got the offprint (that is, in this case, a pdf reproduction) for “‘Let Us Put Away All Earthly Care’: Mysticism and the Cherubikon of the Byzantine Rite”, which is showing up in Studia Patristica LXIV, Vol. 12: Ascetica; Liturgica; Orientalia; Critica et Philologica. This is my second peer-jockeyed article as a historian, and it came out of the paper I presented at my first big-boy conference two years ago. I’ve uploaded the pdf to my profile, so give it a look if you’re curious.


An opera singer, a public intellectual, and a talk show host walk into a bar…

chiasmusI’m in between instances of getting drafts of my dissertation outline back with my advisor’s comments, plus Theodore is asleep, so I’m trying to get some blog posts done that I’ve had on my mind but haven’t had a chance to actually write.

In the last 2-3 weeks there have been a number of incidents in the popular media that impact, on one level or another, things that I care about. They make something of a nice, thematically-related grouping, centering around the question of semi-esoteric (or even elite) disciplines being understood by mainstream Western media. One case is related, broadly speaking, to one of my current active professional activities; another couple of cases are related to my former professional activities.

First off, there’s the matter of Reza Aslan’s FOX News interview. The first time I watched that, there were two things that didn’t sit right with me about how he presented himself. Of course Lauren Green was being an idiot; that goes without saying. Still, there was an initial eyebrow raise on my part when he claimed “fluency” in biblical Greek. “Fluency?” Really? I was under the impression that, by definition, we can’t claim “fluency” in dead languages. A nitpicky point, absolutely, but it was a moment where he rang false. Then, there was the thought — boy, he sure is making a big show of playing, and re-playing, and re-re-playing, the “I HAVE FOUR DEGREES” card and saying, essentially, “I’m kind of a big deal”. Then I wondered — wait, if this is a scholarly monograph as he seems to be suggesting it is, why the heck does FOX care? Out of curiosity, I looked up the book on Amazon, and saw the publisher — Random House. He’s trying to sell a book published by Random House as a work of serious scholarship? Huh? This doesn’t make any sense.

So then, recalling his very specific claim to be “a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament… my job [is] as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually”, I Googled him to find out just what his four degrees actually were and what classes he taught, and what did I find? That his PhD was in sociology, one of his four degrees is a MFA in Creative Writing, and in fact his academic post at UC Riverside is in the Creative Writing department.

To be absolutely clear, in terms of academic standing, I don’t care if Aslan’s Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Shinto, atheist, or anything else, and neither should anybody else who has a clue about how scholarship works. Sidney Griffith is a Catholic scholar who has published on Islam; Steven Runciman was, I think, an atheist (correct me if I’m wrong — I’m going off of a statement from Met. Kallistos Ware that he was not part of any church whatsoever) who published extensively on Byzantine Christianity; and so on. It’s simply irrelevant what Aslan’s confessional leanings are; Ms. Green was way off the mark in making that the focal point of her interview.

Secondly, the issue is not the quality of the book itself. That also is basically a side issue.

The issue that I have with Aslan, who is without question somebody who can be labeled a “public intellectual”, might best be illustrated with a counterexample first. Bart Ehrman is another public intellectual, one who works in the Christian origins sphere and who publishes with trade presses and goes on The Daily Show and NPR and whatnot. Prof. Ehrman also has published peer-reviewed monographs, critical editions, and scholarly articles. So, yes, he takes all of the 3-syllable or more words out of monographs and repackages with a catchy title put out by mass-market publishers and makes a ton of money doing so, but he also has a demonstrable non-commercial scholarly record. His CV shows what qualifies him to do that. Think what you like about him, but he’s the real deal in terms of having done his homework, paid his dues, and then some.

Go to Aslan’s website and you see nothing of the kind. You see a string of popular books and articles; nothing, so far as I can tell, that’s peer-jockeyed or published with an academic press. In fact, according to Lisa Hajjar, a member of his dissertation committee, his dissertation was mostly an elaborated version of a trade press book he had already published. Now, to be clear, the point isn’t to suggest that Aslan “isn’t good enough” (whatever that means) to do what he says; the point is that what he says and what his CV and faculty page at UC Riverside say appear to be two different things.

I should clarify a couple of things. First, why is the sociology thing a big deal? Isn’t sociology of religion a legitimate subfield, thereby qualifying you to talk about yourself as a scholar of religion? Well, sure. But even then, you have to be clear on what you’re qualified to talk about. A friend of mine is the son-in-law of a very well-known sociologist of religion, but he knows what he is and is not trained to do. One of the big differences is language training; another friend of mine wanted to go into academia studying Christianity but was turned off by the language overhead; Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, probably Syriac, maybe Coptic, etc. This well-known sociologist told him straight up: Do sociology. The language requirements are basically nonexistent. Aslan’s own PhD advisor said that the switch to sociology was made to eliminate some language requirements. This matters because, for the most part, reading a source in translation is a no-go for making serious arguments about it as a piece of evidence. That’s not to say there aren’t any exceptions, but Aslan claiming “fluency” in biblical Greek while also having changed departments to obviate language requirements is, at the very least, a major red flag.

It’s also entirely possible that what’s going on here is that Aslan is on a career track that isn’t really about academic scholarship, peer-reviewed articles, and the like — in fact, if he’s in a Creative Writing department, that’s probably the case. Not all academic jobs have the same tenure requirements, most certainly. For all I know, there’s a “public intellectual” career track where you’re supposed to be interviewed on a talk show a certain number of times per year, also have a Huffington Post column, and then you get to go up early for tenure if somebody picks a fight with you on FOX News. But, then, the issue is, you need to be clear about what authoritative claims you’re qualified to make.

Really, nothing here is a huge problem on its own. Claiming to be a historian is fine; that’s something reasonably broad. Pretty sure Herodotus didn’t have a PhD in History. Claiming to be a scholar of religion is fine; again, that’s a broad, interdisciplinary subject. Publishing with a trade press is fine (here I will note that one of the top five most influential books on me ever, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, was a popularizing work published by Random House). Leaving the world of academic scholarship as he seems to have done is fine. The trouble is that then he makes the far more specific claim that his “job [is] as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That’s what I do for a living, actually”, and the combination of all of these factors raises red flags (and again, picayune as this may be, as does saying he’s “fluent” in biblical Greek; it’s the use of a term of competency that, as he should know if he actually does have expertise in it, is not applicable to the subject named, just like it would be a bit eyebrow-raising for me to say I got a perfect 10 on my GPA. He is perhaps eliding the matter for FOX News, but it still clanks with his claim of academic authority). So, maybe he doesn’t have the CV of an academic scholar because he isn’t an academic scholar anymore, but he asserts the authority of an academic scholar in answering Ms. Green’s (admittedly stupid) questions? Is that not, at the very least, trying to have it both ways? What I’m happy to grant is that the situation was ridiculous and should have never happened at all, but if your response to questions — yes, even stupid ones from a FOX News interviewer — is going to be an arrogant trotting out of titles and credentials, make sure everything lines up, because if it doesn’t, people will notice and it will not reflect well on you. If he had left it at a vague statement of “I wrote the book because I have an academic and professional interest” rather than going for the soundbite of the list of degrees, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Further, I’d say that these things matter because it matters how you represent yourself to the public (see also the flap over Dr. Laura Schlesinger’s doctorate), it matters under what circumstances you trot out your credentials and titles to claim authority (even — maybe even especially — when stupid people are arguing with you), it matters that those things look like what you say they are when people go and check. It matters because the “I HAVE A DEGREE!” card makes you look like a real dick, particularly when you play it as early as he did and particularly to the anti-intellectual audience he knew full well he had. To me, it more and more comes across simply as peacocking for the NYT Book Review crowd he knew would be Tweeting the video clip within hours.

And if I seem to care a disproportionate amount about this — well, yeah, I do, and it’s because I’m a first-generation college graduate with close family members who think the sun rises and sets on FOX News. I already spend time trying to convince family members that academics aren’t mostly self-important, arrogant, d-bag jackasses who trot out their degrees principally for purposes of self-puffery, and it doesn’t help my case when something like this happens. From where I sit, Aslan’s behavior is bad for everybody.

But, it all comes down to what one actually means by calling Aslan an “academic” or a “scholar”. This may be not entirely unlike the problem with people like Andrea Boccelli or Jackie Evancho being called “opera singers” — that is, if you mean somebody who actually sings roles in operatic productions staged by opera houses, they’re most certainly not. But, if you just mean somebody who appears on PBS specials or Oprah and sings with heavy vibrato a repertoire that tends to be accompanied by an orchestra track, well, then maybe you can call them that. If by an “academic” or “scholar” you mean somebody who does academic, scholarly research, then it’s really unclear whether or not Aslan fits that bill, at least to me, looking at his CV. But, if you just mean somebody who is, to use this term again, basically a public intellectual of sorts, well, okay.

Which brings me to the next incident in question, Thomas Hampson’s interview with the BBC’s Sarah Montague on HARDtalk on the question whether or not opera is an elite art form that basically needs to be allowed to die off. Sarah Montague is grating and aggressive in this interview in ways she clearly doesn’t have the chops to pull off, but Thomas Hampson — by remarkable contrast to Aslan — keeps his cool, and maintains grace and humility while still answering the questions with genuine, unassuming authority. He never pulls out the “I AM AN EXPERT!” card, and as a result, everything he has to say can simply speak for itself.

But then we’ve got something that kind of muddies the waters, and that’s the case of Sean Panikkar, a legitimate operatic tenor in his own right who happens to be very good (I saw him as Lensky in Eugene Onegin at Opera Theatre of St. Louis three years ago, and he was great), appearing as a member of “poperatic” men’s trio “Forte” (doesn’t get any more on the nose than that, ladies and gentleman) on America’s Got Talent. Our godchildren Matt and Erin had gotten to know him in 2010 a bit while singing in the OTSL chorus, and they had mentioned that he was not, as a husband, father, and Christian, entirely enamored with the life of an opera singer (which this seems to bear out a bit), which I can completely understand. But still — putting himself in a situation where Howard Stern is evaluating him? Really?

There’s also this from the Saline Reporter piece —

…[Panikkar] and his agent decided it would be a good idea for him to join because it would help bring exposure to opera considering the show has between 10 and 12 million viewers.  The exposure could also dispel some of the myths surrounding opera, like it is boring or just for the elite, he said. “What I’ve found is when people give it a chance they love it,” he said.

Here’s my question — does that actually work? Now, somebody like Sean Panikkar (i.e., the real deal) doing it is maybe a different case, but at least what I’ve seen amongst people close to me (and yes, these are some of the same people mentioned above who are FOX devotees) is that they get enamored with figures like Josh Groban or Andrea Boccelli or Charlotte Church or whomever (I think I just showed my age with the figures I named — at least I didn’t say Mario Lanza), and maybe you get them to go to one legit opera (or oratorio, or something) performance, only to have them say, “Yeah, I was disappointed because it wasn’t what I was expecting,” and they never go again.

A friend of mine who is herself on her way to being Very, Very Famous Indeed (seriously), and who I think knows Sean, said that part of what’s going on here is the opera world realizing they need to engage the popular TV audience more — that back in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, big opera stars appeared on the most popular television shows all the time, and people knew who they were — Beverly Sills showing up on Johnny Carson, for example. That’s certainly true; my dad, no opera fan he, says that everybody knew who Beverly Sills was in the ’60s and ’70s. The question with that, though, is this — was opera more mainstream because people like Carson had people like Beverly Sills on, or did he have people like Beverly Sills on because opera was more mainstream? Mario Lanza’s film The Great Caruso was one of the biggest movies of the year in 1951; while Lanza had considerable star power in his own right, the subject had to hold at least some built-in commercial appeal. Would it even be comprehensible today for somebody to propose, say, making a movie called The Great Pavarotti with somebody of any significant command of the box office?

I’d like to be wrong. I’ve just never seen somebody learn to like opera from this kind of thing; quite the opposite. What I’ve seen is that you probably aren’t going care about opera qua opera without somebody being up front with you about what it is as well as what it isn’t.

So, perhaps, a guy with a real operatic career doing something like this means that something different is being brought to the table. If so, great; I’ll be curious to see what that actually looks like. I still don’t like Howard Stern’s opinion of him actually mattering.

To close off what seems to have become a chiasmus, there’s Timothy Michael Law, a legit, Oxford-trained scholar of Jewish studies, whose book When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible is, it sounds like, an introductory scholarly work (not necessarily a popularizing work) published by an academic press, dealing with a concrete historical issue of Christian origins. Naturally, FOX doesn’t seem to have the slightest interest in him, and First Things seems to be the highest-profile coverage he’s getting, but he comes across basically the same way Thomas Hampson does — i.e., like he actually knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t have to show off to anybody to prove it. There’s a lesson here; I’m not sure exactly what it is.

A new acronym – ABD

I suggested three and a half months ago, right after I passed my exams, that I might defend my dissertation proposal by the beginning of May. Well, for reasons of the availability of committee members, it didn’t get scheduled until 10 July, this last Wednesday. Between 29 March (my oral exam) and 10 July, I finished out the semester, presented part of an earlier draft of the proposal at the International Medieval Congress in at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI, started a 9-week intensive summer Arabic course, and did a page 1 rewrite of the dissertation proposal about two and a half weeks before the defense.

I’m not even going to suggest that Wednesday was a smooth ride. They grilled me so thoroughly I felt like St. Laurence of Rome by the end — black and crispy on both sides. Still, I passed, which means I’m now a Ph. D. candidate and not just a student — ABD, “all but dissertation”. I’ve gotten over all the hurdles I’ve needed this year (although it might fairly be said that I caught my toe on one or two of them in the leap), and now it’s time to actually demonstrate I can write a dissertation — “Civic Devotions to the Mother of God in Late Antique Constantinople” is the working title right now, although that will likely change. In a nutshell, I’m foregrounding liturgical issues in the growth of Byzantine Marian devotions between the Council of Ephesus and the Persian/Avar siege of 626 and trying to see what that can tell us about why the Constantinopolitan cult of the Theotokos develops the way it does.

That said, my first task as a newly-defended candidate is to rewrite my proposal from scratch (again) by the beginning of August. Yeah. There’s a story there that I’ll have to save for another time; suffice to say that, like I said, I was black and crispy on both sides by the time we were all done on Wednesday. Still, we’re all shooting for me to be done by the end of the 2014/15 academic year, and I think that’s going to be very doable, God willing.

I’d like to take a moment to thank two people in particular (not that they will ever see this blog, but never mind): Professors Edward Watts and Deborah Deliyannis. I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with both a wonderful Doktorvater as well as Doktormutter in this crazy experience of getting into (and checking the boxes to then get out of) grad school, and without their advice, guidance, and occasionally pugilant advocacy since before I even got admitted to the department, I’d have been up a creek from the start. I’m thankful for both of them, to say the least.

More a bit later.

Book review: The Typikon Decoded by Archimandrite Job Getcha

French is, truthfully, not the hardest research language in the world to learn for an Anglophone, but there can be other issues of access that a translation put out by an Anglophone publisher can help minimize — like, well, access. For example, I don’t really think I would have too much of a problem with the French in Archimandrite Job Getcha’s Le typikon décrypté: manuel de liturgie byzantine (Paris: Cerf, 2009), but a quick consultation of WorldCat tells me that, were I to try to get it via interlibrary loan, my home library would have all of three options in the entire world from which they could try to acquire it. Were I to try to buy it, it would be probably close to $70 once all shipping charges and currency conversions had taken place. By contrast, even if I don’t have a problem with the French, getting Paul Meyendorff’s translation, The Typikon Decoded: An explanation of Byzantine liturgical practice (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012), for $23 and free shipping is just a lot easier all around. That may not be the most scholarly attitude in the world, but I’m over it.

I will admit that I am first and foremost a bit befuddled by the title of this book. I assume it is intended to evoke Schmemann, who in Introduction to Liturgical Theology criticized the modern implementation of liturgical rubrics, arguing that liturgical taxis

was fettered and became the private possession of the typikonshckiki precisely because the ecclesiological key to its understanding and acceptance had been lost and forgotten. It is only necessary to read over the “rubrics” and prescriptions with new eyes, and to meditate on the structure of the Ordo, in order to understand that its major significance lies in its presentation of worship as the service of the new people of God… [E]verything that is important and basic in the Ordo is a Byzantine “transposition” of the original meaning of worship as the corporate act and “fulfillment” of the Church. (pp.218-19)

In other words, Schmemann is saying, the Typikon is best understood as a descriptive document of how the Church worships, not a prescriptive document of how churches should worship. I’m not here to argue or side with Schmemann; my point is simply that the title appears to be referencing this critique and suggesting that the author has taken Schmemann’s call-to-arms as his mission. The preface suggests something of this approach in talking about about how the Typikon, “…far from being merely a collection of dry and legalistic rules, is in fact a summary of two millennia of the Church’s experience… It is living Tradition and the foundation of Orthodox spiritual life” (p.7). Despite comments like that, Schmemann’s manifesto doesn’t really seem to be the practical trajectory of the book, however — which, I should hasten to say, is fine, because there are lots of other merits that make the book worthwhile, but perhaps a title less laden with baggage would have been more to the point.

So, what is the book doing? The first chapter is a very nice introduction to liturgical books used in the Byzantine rite; he uses Velkovska’s chapter “Byzantine liturgical books” in Liturgical Press’ Handbook for Liturgical Studies (1997) as a starting place, which has been a standard reference (to say nothing of the only real resource for Anglophone scholars available) up till now, but he’s able to bring a number of points up to date, which is most appreciated. It’s an excellent summary of what the different books are and the historical issues surrounding them. Following that discussion, the second chapter outlines the services of the Hours, the services celebrated daily apart from the Divine Liturgy — the Midnight office, Orthros, the Hours themselves (First, Third, Sixth, Ninth, the “Intermediary” Hours, Typika), Vespers, and Compline. Again, Archimandrite Job does a lovely job giving an introductory explanation of what the individual offices are and a brief account of where they come from.

The third, fourth, and fifth chapters are largely matters of application, dealing with the Typikon is applied for services governed by the Menaion, that is to say the observances tied to fixed calendar dates, then the Triodion, the observances leading up to Great Lent and going up through Holy Week, and finally the Pentecostarion, the services throughout Paschaltide, ending with the Feast of All Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. As with the first couple of chapters, there are brief, useful summaries of historical matters throughout.

The Typikon Decoded is quite useful as an introductory treatment of Byzantine liturgical issues; one gets a sense of the various historical poles at work — city and monastery, Jerusalem and Constantinople, Studite vs. Sabaite, contemporary Greek practice vs. contemporary Slavic practice, etc. — and how these factors are synthesized over time. In conjunction with something like Robert Taft’s The Byzantine rite: a short history, a similarly accessible treatment of some of these issues, albeit from a bit of a different angle, Archimandrite Job’s book could serve as an excellent initial reference point. One also gets a picture of the foundational scholarship that is still yet to be done for Byzantine liturgy; critical editions of the liturgical books, for example. This is a baton that somebody needs to pick up and run with; there’s a lifetime’s worth of work out there for the textual scholar interested in Byzantine liturgy (and, it should be noted, Archimandrite Job is hardly the first person to try to encourage some reader somewhere to take it on).

Some caveats must be noted, however. Other reviewers have already noted the near-total absence of Greek language liturgical scholarship by important figures such as Gregorios Stathis; besides that oversight, with the exception of a small handful of significant references — the aforementioned Velkovska, for example, and Peter Jeffery’s work on the Georgian recensions of the Jerusalem liturgical books in relation to the Oktoechos — Archimandrite Job effectively treats Anglophone scholarship as so much chopped liver. It seems very odd to this reviewer, for example, in a discussion of the state of the question of psalmody in the Cathedral Rite of Hagia Sophia, to ignore Alexander Lingas’ studies of the Great Church’s Vespers and Matins services. Granted that the Matins study remains unpublished as a book (“yet”, I am assured), but the dissertation is readily available as a PDF with a simple Google search. In Archimandrite Job’s treatment of the historical circumstances surrounding Akathistos Saturday during Great Lent in particular, his representation of the current state of the discussion was very surprising, omitting entirely the recent work of Leena Peltomaa and Vasiliki Limberis. That said, the other side of this problem is that the book is a great bibliographic reference for the Anglophone scholar for non-Anglophone research, particularly French and — perhaps more important — Russian. As much as we English speakers may have no excuse when it comes to French (and vice-versa), many of us still make excuses where Russian is concerned (myself included!), and The Typikon Decoded is an excellent reference with respect to that particular language barrier.

Other caveats are more cosmetic; I know we’re not supposed to talk about copyediting issues in book reviews, but persistent errors become distracting. Meyendorff universally chooses the verb “incense” rather than “cense” to describe the ritual action of swinging a smoking thurible, and while the dictionary tells me that’s a perfectly acceptable option, I can’t help but instinctively feel, when I read a phrase like “The priest incenses the entire congregation”, that I’m reading about a cleric giving a particularly bad homily rather than filling the room with aromatic smoke. There’s also the matter of the page header for the fifth chapter giving the chapter title as “The Services of the Pentecostarian” (as opposed to “Pentecostarion”) on every page.

Still, I should stress that these issues are cosmetic rather than substantive. In terms of substance, SVS Press and Meyendorff’s efforts are well worth it, making a very useful introductory treatment of Byzantine liturgy accessible to a wider audience, and giving a much-needed initial glimpse into Russian scholarship for English speakers.

Update, 10:34pm 26 May 2013: Sorry, two other points — a confusing reality of translating this kind of work is that hymns tend by convention to be referred to by incipit; Χριστὸς ἀνέστη, for example, instead of the Apolytikion for Pascha. Well, you have three choices as to how to do that in the target language; if they’re in a liturgical language that you expect your audience to be familiar with, like Greek, you can leave them in Greek. Or, you translate the incipits anew; maybe I refer to Χριστὸς ἀνέστη as “Christ stood up”. Or, you can decide that you’re going to use the incipits of a commonly used set of liturgical books in the target language; the Triodion and Festal Menaion of Met. Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary, maybe, and you make that point of reference explicit in a translator’s foreword. Meyendorff does not leave them untranslated, but I’m not entirely sure what he is doing; the incipits are not what I’m used to, and while I’m able to identify them from context most of the time, he doesn’t explicitly identify a schema that he’s adopting (there is no translator’s foreword or notes, and more’s the pity).

The other point is reasonably brief: a topical index would have been most welcome. Alas.

Update #2, 10:52pm 26 May 2013: One other thing that occurred to me that I really appreciate about Archimandrite Job’s treatment of the Byzantine liturgical aesthetic vis-à-vis the application of the Typikon’s rubrics: he treats it as, in fact, a multisensory aesthetic, rather than strictly as a manipulation of texts. He makes reference to singing, to censing, to lighting of lamps, to ritual movement — he does a very nice job of presenting the services as a bodily experience of worship; it is not simply a cold transmission and reception of texts. He does this without drawing any particular attention to it, it’s simply assumed as being the case, which is why it just occurred to me that it’s one of the positive features of the book.

New journal article: “Sensory Experience and the Women Martyrs of Najran”

A bit over a year ago, I announced, along with an impending next generation, that my first peer-reviewed article in my more-or-less official field (late antique Roman history) had been accepted for publication. Well, the issue of Journal of Early Christian Studies arrived in my mailbox today, and they have also posted it online. If you’re interested in the piece, you can either access the entire issue via a research library’s subscription, or I’ve posted the pdf to my profile. Onward and upward.

I should note that the issue includes an article by Jonathan Zecher, another former Seattleite and all-around cool guy whom I met via some mutual friends at North American Patristics Society last year (and with whom I had some other, unexpected friends in common); besides us punk kids, there is also an article by NAPS president Dennis Trout (it’s actually his address from last year’s conference), as well as Oxford legend Fergus Millar. All of that is to say, I find myself in unexpectedly good company — there goes the neighborhood, I guess.


In which St. John Chrysostom shows up on another digital bumper sticker

This has been one of the more stressful semesters of my college career. Not quite the most stressful, but there has definitely been plenty of pressure.

I started off with my Latin exam. Then I was going to have a relatively nice and easy semester preparing for my quals, for which I sit on 29 March. Flesh of My Flesh had a cushy-ish research assistantship that could be done from home, so there was supposed to be very little going on to distract from what we needed to do to get through the term.

Er, well, no.

Megan got a last-minute teaching assignment right after I took my Latin exam; one of her faculty members had a personal concern that took him out of the classroom on literally a couple of hours’ notice, and she got handed his class — a 400-level content course in German. It meets an hour before the class I’m assisting with on Monday and Wednesday, and then at the same time as one of my lecture sections on Friday. This means every day is a juggling act with Theodore Harvey Barrett The Second The Bouncing Baby Boy, and has effectively meant that for either of us to get anything done, we either have to have a babysitter or the other person has to get nothing done. In a way, this really has turned out to be an ideal semester to give up having four services a week to chant (although I am chanting at Holy Apostles now, which has been really nice on several levels), but it’s still been, shall we say, less than restful.

I’m also in full-blown “Hi, I’m a professional late antique Roman historian” mode, which means that when I see quotes that purport to be from somebody I study but with no citation, I instinctively start asking questions, as I’ve done before.

So, yesterday, I see a few people start to post this on Facebook:

“A young husband should say to his bride: ‘I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us.’” — St. John Chrysostom

That’s a lovely sentiment, it truly is, and it is one that I would never want to slap down, exactly. If Chrysostom said it, that’s fantastic. Still, something about it felt “off”, and without the citation, it seemed like it would be worth seeing if I could track it down. Part of it was that I’m sure my previous effort likely struck some as an ideological project; I tried to make it clear that it wasn’t an ideological project at all, but rather an accuracy project. If that “quote” about how the rich “will joyfully share their wealth” isn’t legitimate (and so far nobody has come up with anything substantial to indicate that it is), then it doesn’t help anybody’s side to continue to circulate it under Chrysostom’s name. (No, I’m not going to tell you which side I agree with on that — i.e., whether or not I wish it were authentic. My politics are my own business, and current politics are actually among the things in the world in which I am least interested.) So, anyway, if that wasn’t ideological, then I should be willing to do that kind of work even when it’s a greeting-card sentiment that surely everybody should unambiguously approve of, right? Exactly.

Off to Google I went. I couldn’t come up with anything searching on that text except for, well, the quote presented as the quote. A TLG search on Greek keywords like νύμφη (bride) and ὄνειρος (dream) came up with nothing that looked anything like it. I also didn’t find anything in Chrysostom on Marriage and Family Life that resembled the passage in question. None of this necessarily meant anything except that I hadn’t found the right keywords, of course.

Finally, somebody pointed me to this page, which presented the text this way:

The words of one of the greatest-ever preachers, St John Chyrsostom, might deepen the question. He said that a young husband should say to his bride: “I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us” (Homilies on Ephesians, 20,8).

There are a couple of useful bits of information there. There is the citation, of course. There’s also the incipit of the quote as it appears on Facebook, “…a young husband should say to his bride”, except it’s not actually in the quoted text. It’s the introduction to the quote, not part of the quote itself. By the time it gets to Facebook, however, it’s part of the quote. Someday, I’m sure, textual criticism of the Internet will be its own scholarly field. Things like this will be among the phenomena to study, I’m sure.

The citation allowed me to look up the Greek text on TLG. I have to say, at best, the quote is a rather, uh, free paraphrase of the Greek, and it’s also somewhat out of context. Here it is with some context (translation mine):

“For if Paul did not refrain from saying, ‘Do not deceive each other,’ and he was speaking the words of a bridesmaid, or rather not of a bridesmaid but a spiritual soul, by much more we will not refrain from saying [the same thing]. What, then, is it necessary to say to her? With great grace indeed [it is necessary] to be saying to her: ‘I took you, child, as a sharer of life, and I led you in to the most serious and necessary things as one sharing them with me, [namely] in the begetting of children and the leadership [or protection — the word is προστασία, the same word we call the Mother of God in the usual Sunday kontakion — “Protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame…” etc.] of the household. How, then, will I encourage you?’ Rather, before this, speak of the matters of love [ἀγάπη]. For there is nothing that thus avails to persuade the ones hearing to welcome the things said [to persuade one to listen to what you’re saying] than to learn that it is spoken with much love [ἀγάπη]. How then do you show love [ἀγάπη]? If you say, ‘Being able to take many women, both more well-provided-for and of clear lineage, I didn’t choose [them], but I was longing for you, and your conduct, your propriety, your graciousness, your prudence.’ Then immediately from these things prepare a way of words concerning philosophy, and in a roundabout way [lit. ‘with a way around’] denounce wealth. For, on the one hand, if you simply prolong your speech against wealth, you will be burdensome; but on the other hand, if the subject is taken up, you will finish quickly. For you will seem to do this thing in the manner of explanation, not as somebody strict and graceless and of small account. But when you take up this subject in a way related to her [lit. ‘from her things’], it will even be enjoyable.

You, then, will say (for again it is necessary to take up the speech)…”

Here I must pause to note that everything up to this point is what the Facebook quote glosses as “A young husband should say to his bride…”, and we’ve still got some other stuff to go:

“…’it was possible and easily done to marry a rich woman [or, “it was was possible to marry a rich and well-provided for woman”], but I did not suffer it. Why, do you suppose? Not simply, or haphazardly, but I was educated well, that wealth is no possession but a contemptible thing, belonging to thieves and prostitutes and grave-robbers. On which account giving up these things, I came upon the virtue of your soul, which I value above all gold. For an intelligent and free young woman cultivating the fear of God is worthy of the entire known world [οἰκουμένη, which strikes me as also being something of a pun on the idea of the household]. On account of these things…”

…and now we finally get to what the quoted passage says:

“I embraced you for my own, and I am giving you affection [φιλῶ], and I am setting you over my own soul [προτίθημι is the same word used to denote a liturgical offering to God, so Chrysostom may be suggesting something of the sacramental nature of marriage here]. For the present life is nothing, and I pray and I request and I do everything so that we are counted worthy to stand this present life, and to be able to be with each other there in the age to come with much freedom from fear.”

And that’s the end of the quotation. As I said, what’s on Facebook is a rather free paraphrase that shades it more towards notions of romantic love that, while not necessarily wrong, aren’t really what Chrysostom is talking about. The next little bit also seems quite relevant:

“For on the one hand this time [χρόνος, earthly time] is short and perishable; on the other hand, if we, being pleasing to God, are counted worthy to change this life for that one, we will be always both with Christ and with each other with the fullness of pleasure. I set your love [ἀγάπη] before everything, and nothing is thus difficult or burdensome to me as when I quarrel with you. Even if it should be necessary that I lose everything, that I become poorer than Irus [a beggar in The Odyssey], that I endure extreme dangers, that I suffer anything whatsoever, to me everything is tolerable and bearable, as long as matters for you are well-ordered for me. And children will then be desirable for me, as long as you are favorably disposed towards me. But it will be necessary that you do these things too.'”

The whole homily is very much worth reading, but again, it’s pretty clear to me that what Chrysostom is saying is very different than what the short paraphrase suggests. The old Schaff Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translation can be found here; if you read Greek, you can find it in TLG (PG 62.146-147).

So, yeah. Don’t trust greeting-card-style quotes that are attributed to Chrysostom, I guess. He was a pretty grumpy saint for such quotes to be reliably authentic.

Back to exams…

Places I wish I could be: Cappella Romana goes to Hagia Sophia by way of Stanford

Something that I’ve been paying a good deal of attention to in the last year is the Icons of Sound project at Stanford University. Art historian Bissera Pentcheva has been involved in piecing together a working model of the aesthetic environment of Hagia Sophia, and the work has involved a recreation of the Great Church’s acoustics. Strategically placed (to say nothing of carefully negotiated with the Turkish government) balloon pops in the cathedral provided an audio sample sufficient to generate a computer model of the building’s resonance and decay, and they called in the big guns, Cappella Romana, to record some things that would demonstrate the model’s efficacy. An initial proof of concept of the project was published in the form of the stunning video found on this page.

The project has proceeded from there, and this weekend is a huge development — Cappella Romana doing a weekend residency at Stanford and presenting two concerts in the university’s new state-of-the-art Bing Hall. These concerts will involve setting up a sound system that uses the computer model of Hagia Sophia’s acoustic; the ensemble and the audience will, in theory, experience the music as though it were being sung in the Great Church itself.

I really wish I could be there, no question about it; if you live anywhere near Stanford, tickets are still available for Saturday evening’s performance. More information is at the Cappella Romana blog, and there’s also a fascinating article about the project in Stanford Live Magazine.

Since the ideal acoustic environment for churches, particularly Orthodox churches, is a topic about which I find myself constantly trying to evangelize to others, I would like to note the following excerpt from the magazine article:

“We learned that spaces have their own particular sound, created by the reverberation and patterns of the reflections that interact with the performer,” says [Jonathan Abel, a consulting professor at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics in Stanford’s Music Department]. “Singers vary tempo and even subtly vary pitch to hit resonances of the building. There’s an interaction that happens in the field of the space, to the point where it’s difficult to separate the acoustics of the space from the performance of the music. When you perform a piece of music that was written for a particular acoustic in that very same space, it conveys something unique to the listener.”

CR’s Artistic Director, Alexander Lingas, follows up on this a bit later in the piece:

“As singers,” says Lingas, “we’re used to making adjustments for specific acoustics. We can feel and hear the resonances where harmonics lock in between each other, which affects tempo and tuning. So we’re very interested in seeing how it will work when we unite all the parts together in Bing Hall.”

If you’re somebody who is going to be at one of these concerts, I’d love to hear about your experience.

CORRECTION, 8:04pm — I am told that Saturday’s concert is in Memorial Church, not Bing. Thank you for letting me know!


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