Friday, December 26, 2008

Europeana relaunches

Tonight I've been playing around with Europeana, the new database of digitized cultural media for Europe. Last month Europeana went public to an enormous response... so much that the site crashed and had to be shut down for a reworking. Apparently they've been back up since Tuesday, though they never bothered to send me an email notification and I only happened across it today.

A significant increase in server capacity will hopefully solve previous problems, although the project commission warns that user experience may be less than ideal as they test and tweak. The "My Europeana" function will likely be helpful, but registration is not enabled at this time.

Have fun exploring, and let me know if you find anything interesting!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Peter Brown wins Kluge Prize

Peter R. L. Brown has been awarded the Library of Congress's prestigious Kluge Prize, an American honor often compared to the Nobel Prize and given for work in the humanities. Brown is recognized for his historical work on the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity and Augustine of Hippo. He follows the late Jaroslav Pelikan as the second church historian given the award already since its inception in 2003.

The prize was jointly awarded to Brown and Romila Thapar, the well-known historian of early Indian history. Thapar has also been a significant voice in the history of religions as a critic of what she calls "communal interpretation," revisionist accounts of the history of India framed largely by a narrative of Hindu-Muslim conflict.

The historical task in theology

In his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Hegel famously wrote that,

The most important sign that these positive dogmas have lost much of their importance is that in the main these doctrines are treated historically. As far as this historical procedure is concerned, it deals with thoughts and representations that were had, introduced, and fought over by others, with convictions that belong to others, with histories that do not take place within our spirit, do not engage the needs of our spirit.

He later describes the theologians of his day as "'countinghouse clerks' who keep the accounts of other people's wealth but have no assets of their own," and offers all of this as justification for his philosophical rescue effort of the theological content of the Christian faith.

On one level, Hegel is of course correct in his criticism. What he attacks is the same dead letter that St. Paul attacked, here shot through with the peculiarities of post-Enlightenment historical concern. If we as theologians do not concern ourselves with the witness that our own conviction and confession provides to the revealed truth of the Spirit of God, then we are "mere" historians, or clerks of the wealth of others.

But I have lately been wincing at Hegel's assertion here; if correct on some level, it also ignores the immense need for historical work by theologians. While we should always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us, it is also true that we stand firm only in the teachings that were passed on to us. Theologians must be curators of the Church's memory as much as they are preachers... I'd be bold enough to say that too much concern for preaching the Gospel amongst theologians has led them astray from another important part of their service to the Gospel-- not preaching, but edifying the understanding which has been formed by faith.

A corollary of this historical focus, of course, is that theologians must not confuse historical scholarship with the preaching of the Gospel itself. Just as we must find the humility to admit that the task of the theologian is not to win souls for heaven alongside the fiery prophet, we must also admit that what we do do as academics is very particular and limited in its significance. Theology on the level of Church Dogmatics and Summas and Sentences should not presume that they are of much consequence- at least direct consequence- to the common life of faith. And that is as it should be. Yet we do need theologians that are concerned with the history of long-dead disputes and decisions. We need them because the foundational memory of the Church is the home into which the faithful enter upon hearing the Gospel of truth, and if this earthly home is not prepared for such a reception, then we will fail to recognize each other within the great cloud of witnesses. In doing so we will fail to see Christ in each other, and so to grasp onto our salvation in its full unfolding throughout history.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dignitas Personae

On Friday, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the instruction Dignitas Personae on questions of bioethical concern, primarily dealing with sexual and reproductive technologies.  The statement has of course been met with both praise and controversy, as most Catholic declarations on bioethics encounter these days.  Dignitas Personae is also a quite appropriate tribute, recognition, and continuation of the legacy of PaulVI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, which was the subject of much celebration on its 40th year in 2008.

The instruction discusses adoption, gene therapy, fertilization methods, embryo experimentation, human cloning, and a number of other issues.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Faith in University Life

Two articles on faith and university life, from very different perspectives.

Ralph McInerny, the celebrated philosopher of Notre Dame, writes of the struggle between a Catholic liberal arts legacy and the tug of a corporate model in liberal arts institutions and college sports.  Eboo Patel, from quite a different perspective, writes about the growth in religious pluralism on campuses since 9/11 and the university's increased attention to the importance of faith in the lives of students.

While the arguments of McInerny are oft-echoed but usually somewhat dystopian in their ring (conjuring up thoughts of Alan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind), I can't say I'm not significantly inspired by this narrative.  In many ways I find myself affirming the general thrust of McInerny's view, while I find my surrounding university experience (at UChicago, not so much at Wheaton!) to be similar to Patel's.  It's a constructive dichotomy, but also one that obviously brings up dilemmas of personal perspective.  While recognizing the value of a religious pluralism over against some secularized alternative, I think the ode to pluralism is itself usually embraced as a manifesto by those who hover birds-eye fashion over the lived religions themselves.  For the faithful, however, there is always McInerny's point to consider about the basis of the health of the religious life which is a sine qua non for those who would celebrate a healthy pluralism in society.

A snippet from McInerny,

Research has its native habitat in the sciences; its application to the liberal arts is more equivocal than analogous. A liberal education is far more a matter of catching up with the past than regarding it as in need of premature efforts to supplant it. The slow accumulation of the wisdom of the race is only begun in four years.

and from Patel,
Secularization theory emerged from lecture halls in the 1960s, advanced by scholars like Peter Berger and Harvey Cox who stated that as societies modernized they would necessarily secularize. Such scholars revised their theories a long time ago. But many of the intellectuals who came of age during that era, and who are now running the universities where they once read such books, continued to believe that religion, if it persisted at all, would do so in the privacy of a handful of homes and at the furthest margins of our public life. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

In Memoriam: Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.

News has come of yet another passing in the theological community. Avery Cardinal Dulles died early this morning. The cardinal had been struggling with post-polio medical problems for some time, though the Lord blessed him with a good, long life-- he celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this year.

There are quite a few tributes to him around the web already. Whispers in the Loggia provides a good one with links to others.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Forty Years Ago Today...

Karl Barth and Thomas Merton died.

I was aware of Barth's death anniversary, but was surprised to find out that Merton passed on the same day.

I trust that the two are now resting in peace.

New issues of Concordia Theological Quarterly are out

Concordia Theological Quarterly is a journal of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and fills a unique hole in the academic literature as a decidedly confessional Protestant publication. CTQ is also often rather behind in getting its volumes into print, but they've just now caught up with Volume 74, putting out all four issues of 2008 at once. (they've also changed their cover design, so the picture here is outdated)

Issue 1 features a number of articles, ranging from New Testament theology to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Issue 2 has a number of articles on the Eucharist. Issues 3 & 4 are both on the doctrine of the atonement (those Lutherans- go figure).

There seem to be some problems with the CTQ website- some links to articles are faulty or redundant, and issue 72:4 is listed incorrectly as 74:4. I imagine this will all get taken care of in time, and it seems that there are enough solid pdf links to make all of the contents available.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Theological Rawls

Eric Gregory had a great paper published last year in the Journal of Religious Ethics entitled: "Before the Original Position: The Neo-Orthodox Theology of the Young John Rawls". Gregory explored Rawls' 1942 senior thesis on sin, faith, and community against the later political liberalism characteristic of him. Worth the read. My very limited engagement with Rawls has instilled a sense that there is much to learn from his work even- and especially- where one might disagree with him on theological grounds. This increased attention to the thought of his student years will only put this point into sharper relief.

...and thankfully more attention can now be given to the earlier early Rawls. Harvard University Press has published his thesis, along with a late statement, "On My Religion," written towards the end of Rawls' life as an outline of his religious views and their development. The works are edited by Thomas Nagel, and analyses by Joshua Cohen and Robert Merrihew Adams are also included.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Possibilities for successor of Patriarch Aleksy II

As most are probably already aware, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church passed away last week. Here is an interesting article on the consideration of the next patriarch. May the Lord bring a leader faithful to the aim of concord and charity amongst the churches of Christ.

Patriarch Alexy II will be lying-in-state at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow (where the picture of the wooden cross at the top of this blog was taken) until tomorrow.

UPDATE: Apparently, at the writing of this post Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad had already been elected as the interim patriarch, until a permanent one is elected by synod within the next six months. I am unclear about whether the choice of Kirill as interim makes him less likely or more likely to be chosen as the next patriarch.

In this photo from November, Metropolitan Kirill is on the left and Patriarch Alexy II on the right:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

UPDATE on tonight's Anglican gathering

Apparently there is an Anglican TV station, and they're broadcasting the event tonight for those who can't attend.

Stream Starts around 5:15pm CST.
5:30 CST Press Conference
7:30 CST Worship Service

I was hoping to attend, and if I do I'll share my thoughts about the event. But the family is a little under the weather and a lot overwhelmed with to-do's, so this live stream might be the perfect alternative for us tonight. If you're able to watch, I'm sure it will be worth your time. Conservative Anglicanism has been so stereotyped (just as liberal Anglicanism has, to be sure), and experiencing an actual time of worship and confession would benefit those who want to understand the Anglican crisis in greater depth.

Centre for Early Christian Studies

More patristic sources from another smaller publisher. I'm currently cataloging George Kalantzis' translation of Theodore of Mopsuestia's Commentary on the Gospel of John for one of Kalantzis' spring semester courses. This is volume 7 in the series Early Christian Studies, put out by the Centre for Early Christian Studies at the Australian Catholic University. The Centre began in 1994 as a small research group and has since expanded to include funded research, three monograph series, and teaching faculty. In its Early Christian Studies series are included some texts in translation like Kalantzis, as well as patristic studies. The website offers a short description of the translation:

The Commentary on the Gospel of John is the only surviving, primarily christological work of Theodore of Mopsuestia to have reached our time. The original Greek fragments of The Commentary on the Gospel of John are an invaluable guide in the discussion of Theodore’s christology, bridging the gap between the hostile florilegia and the Syriac hagiographies that have dominated the field for so long. Written in the early fifth century, this commentary reflects the author’s ongoing attempts to interpret and support the Nicene and Constantinopolitan definitions of faith in a time when theological language was still in flux.

...and below is a list of all volumes in the series:

1. Proclus Bishop of Constantinople: Homilies on the Life of Christ
by Jan Harm Barkhuizen

2. Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Song of Songs
by Robert C. Hill

3. The Hymn of the Pearl: The Syriac and Greek Texts with Introduction, Translations, and Notes
by Johan Ferreira

4. The Life of Polycarp: An Anonymous vita from Third-century Smyrna
by Alistair Stewart-Sykes

5. Quodvultdeus of Carthage: The Apocalyptic Theology of a Roman African in Exile
by Daniel Van Slyke

6. The Life of Maximus the Confessor (Recension 3)
by Bronwen Neil and Pauline Allen

7. Theodore of Mopsuestia: Commentary on the Gospel of John
by George Kalantzis

8. John Chrysostom: Bishop - Reformer - Martyr
by Rudolf Brändle
English translation by John Cawte and Silke Trzcionka with revised notes by Wendy Mayer

9. A Twofold Solidarity- Leo the Great’s Theology of Redemption
by J. Mark Armitage

10. The Apostolic Church Order: The Greek Text with Introduction, Translation and Annotation
by Alistair Stewart-Sykes

11. Cyprian and the Bishops of Rome: Questions of Papal Primacy in the Early Church
by Geoffrey D Dunn

12. “I Sowed Fruits into Hearts” (Odes Sol. 17:13). Festschrift for Professor Michael Lattke

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Memoriam: William Placher

John P. has alerted us to the unfortunate news of the passing of William Placher, renowned theologian from Wabash College. Here is a short news item on Placher discussing his work and his untimely death.

Two upcoming conference CFP's

Submissions are due soon for two upcoming regional conferences:

  • The Midwest AAR 2009 meeting will be held at Dominican University in Illinois on April 3-4. The theme for this year's conference is "religion and play". Here is the call for papers.
  • The graduate school and Nanovic Insitute at Notre Dame are hosting a graduate student conference on Hegel and German Idealism on March 6-8, 2009. Here is the call for papers.
In both cases, submissions are due in two weeks, on Dec. 15th. The AAR conference only requires an abstract, while the Hegel conference needs an entire paper.