Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on my "Fullness" paper

When my article "Fullness of the Spirit and Fullness of Catholicity in Ecclesial Communion" came out last month, I mentioned that I was interested in discussing a few points from it. My apologies for the delay, but I've at least stopped to jot down some thoughts by the end of the calendar month in which the issue appeared. You can find a draft version of the paper here that is pretty much the same text as the published version. You can email me (evan.f.kuehn [at] gmail.com) for a pdf of the published article.

I had mentioned that I was interested in discussing two aspects of the paper- its consideration of the rite of confirmation, and the relationship between official doctrinal teachings and the sensus fidelium. I'll give a brief summary of the whole article, and then get into these two points.


The idea for this article came from my reading of the June 2007 CDF responsa ad quaestiones on the doctrine of the Church. This document was written after Ratzinger's election to the papacy and exit from the CDF, but it carried on a good deal of his work in that body, which worked to clarify the ecclesial vision of Vatican II. Amongst other things, the document (or rather its accompanying commentary) quoted from the earlier Communionis notio, which stated, "the divisions among Christians prevent the Church from effecting the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her."

I have thought of my paper as in many ways a statement of "Why I am not (Roman) Catholic". It's purpose is to follow in the tradition of Melanchthon and others who have defended the full catholicity of the Reformation churches... to show that, far from holding a modernist, atomized understanding of the Church, the Protestant churches embrace a more robust sense of catholicity than those churches in communion with Rome insofar as its fullness is based on more dogmatically sound principles. Throughout my time writing the article, I went through moments of serious frustration with the ecumenical obstacle established by Rome's non-recognition of the Reformation churches as churches. At the same time, however, I attempted as much as possible to think through these problems from the perspective of post-conciliar Catholicism, in order to be fair about the terms upon which our unity and separation are based, from their perspective. I tried to show how catholicity as articulated in the postconciliar documents was problematic by an engagement with postconciliar thought rather than through a constructed Protestant ecclesiology that was set up in opposition to it. I believe one of the only Protestant sources I used for my argument was Wainwright, as an historical source on the rite of confirmation.

My basic argument was this: "fullness of the Spirit" and "fullness of catholicity" are two dogmatic notions of "fullness" that are helpfully considered alongside one another. The "fullness of the Spirit" is traditionally understood as being promised in the prophets and granted at Pentecost to the believers, and it is the inauguration of the Church in her fullest sense. Throughout the tradition (although there are numerous ambiguities in this history), the fullness of the Spirit has been tied to the initiatory rite of confirmation. Catholics recognize a common baptism with Protestants, though not the "fullness of the Spirit" as it is received in Protestant confirmation.

I then discuss the "fullness of catholicity", a concept introduced at Vatican II. The concept of "fullness" is tied to the understanding of catholicity as received by the Church from God. Vatican II asserted that the Church of Christ "subsists in" the Catholic Church, and this teaching has been met with a flurry of conflicting interpretations. I tend to agree with the stronger sense defended by Ratzinger and Communio thinkers, and I think this is pretty obviously reflected in my paper. While the Catholic Church is still recognized as the sole and full presence of the Church of Christ, there is a distinction between it, which is given the fullness of its catholicity, and the Church of Christ itself, which awaits consummation (Avery Dulles is especially keen on making this distinction). This distinction also allows for a recognition of relative participation in the Church of Christ by the Reformation communities, even though they are not recognized as "Catholic", or indeed even as "churches", by Rome.

My final section attempts to point out how this understanding of ecclesial fullness is flawed. I argue that it is circular because of its episcopal rather than pneumatological criterion. Reformation churches are not recognized as churches, nor their eucharist recognized as valid, because their rite of ordination is not recognized as valid. But it is the Spirit that grants fullness to the Church (in the sense of Pentecost), and the Spirit that grants fullness of catholicity. To grant that the Spirit is present in the Reformation churches and even that it works to effect a common baptism amongst Protestants, but not also the fullness of that baptism, must be defended by identifying an adequately pneumatological failing in the Reformation churches if it is to pass muster. Instead, the given reason for non-recognition is the lack of a legitimate episcopate.

I write,
For those who share in the unity of Christian baptism and confess faith in Christ, there is then no way to be recognizable as Catholic Christians unless they accede to an episcopal structure whose end they have already obtained in their faith and baptism. For the Roman Catholic understanding of catholicity to withhold recognition of the fullness of the Spirit in these communities, simply because the servant of this fullness (the episcopate) is lacking, fails to recognize that the Spirit who is present in the believers of the Reformation churches is also the one who makes catholicity. In this case, one might well fail to regard even the baptism administered by the Reformation churches as adequate, to say nothing of the fullness of the Spirit received by believers in confirmation. It is certainly not as if any progress has been made in the recognition of 'common' baptism, so long as the source of this grace is not recognized by the servants of the source of this grace (again, the episcopate). (IJST 11.3: 289-90)

This is already getting a bit long. I'll move on to my two points on confirmation and the sensus fidelium.

The rite of Confirmation: While my paper was going through the editorial process, I continued to feel some nagging about my use of the rite of confirmation in my argument. I had run across Aidan Kavanagh during my research for this paper and found him helpful, but for anyone who knows Kavanagh's work on confirmation, he is a provocative and challenging voice. Not least of my problems was the fact that Kavanagh disagrees with the mainstream understanding of the history of confirmation- that it arose (in Wainwright's words) from a "disintegration" of the initiation process of baptism and was separated to accomodate the infrequency of episcopal visits to any given parish. The bishop needed to administer the chrism, so it was axed from the unified sacrament and put on hold until the bishop was next in town, or later on, until a determined age of consent/decision, at which point the sacrament of confirmation was understood more as a rite of Christian maturity and strengthening.

Kavanagh makes a much different argument for the source of confirmation, asserts that the received view is mostly a matter of theologians botching the task of liturgics, and thus pulls a significant plank out of my argument. I set aside his dissent by punting to the centrality of theology itself for the current ecumenical situation, saying, "The main purpose of this study, however, concerns what the rite has come to represent on a theological level and how the rite has come to be structured on an ecclesiastical level with regard to the fullness of the Spirit and catholicity, so that Kavanagh’s account remains noteworthy without precluding the significance of the one below." (275 n.14)

I am personally not convinced by Kavanagh's argument, although he offers an important caution to theologians treading in liturgical territory. I hope to revisit his thesis on the history of confirmation at some point, and perhaps state my case on the matter in a fuller fashion. I have some ideas of where to go with such a project, but I have not adequately researched it at this point, and the Fullness paper simply wasn't the place for such a sustained argument to be made.

The Sensus Fidelium: During the review process, a reader commented that I might have also distinguished Catholic doctrine as presented by the hierarchy in official documents from its reception by the Church at large (sensus fidelium). I had my reasons for not making this distinction, but I think the point is an acute one and it's worth discussion.

I said above that I identified with the Communio perspective on Vatican II, and I think this is worth asserting again. It is often wrongly assumed that Protestants, because they are Protestant, would tend to fall on the Concilium side of the Concilium/Communio divide in postconciliar Catholic theology. I don't think this is a given. What one might call "Communio Protestantism" is a perfectly coherent stance; to be Protestant is not to be against hierarchy or the organic catholicity of the churches in communion. If anything, a Communio Protestantism is more compelling than a Communio Catholicism, which de facto affirms that the local church precedes the universal church (normally something that the communio program is assumed to be against) when it argues for the primacy of the bishop of the local church of Rome over the communion. A Communio Protestantism does not stumble over this distinctly Roman Catholic contradiction. (this is also why, although I'm very sympathetic to the program of Pro Ecclesia, I think the appeal by some of its Lutheran theologians to a Petrine primacy is a dead end)

So. I am not opposed in principle to the teaching of the curia or of Ratzinger as regards this question, and I do feel that the Communio structure is the most appropriate way to affirm postconciliar Catholic theology. I offer such stark criticisms of Ratzinger in my article precisely because I agree with him on so much concerning the catholicity of the Church.

I did not address the sensus fidelium (the "sense of the faithful") in my paper because whatever ecumenical reception might come "from below" in the fraternal bonds of lay or other Catholics, it is not this reception that ultimately matters in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church. The basis of the non-recognition of the Reformation churches as churches remains at the level of the episcopate and the eucharist administered by the episcopate or its ordained representatives. It's not that I don't respect or recognize the counsel of the laity in the Church, but rather that the current problem of the fullness of catholicity stands above that counsel. And I think this is as it should be, in the Reformation churches as well as the churches in communion with Rome. The problem is not with the episcopal hierarchy itself- I assert in my paper that this hierarchy is an evangelical service and that the Reformation churches should not be opposed to it (285). The problem with the episcopate is how it is used as a criterion for catholicity with no apparent foundation except itself, rather than basing catholicity in the gift of the Spirit under which the episcopate stands as a servant (see especially p. 289 where I deal with a block quote from Ratzinger's Called to Communion).

I think I'll end on that note; hopefully that has clarified a bit of where I was coming from in this paper. I might also add that my paper in the Ecclesiastical Law Journal on the current crisis in the Anglican Communion reveals more about my views on episcopacy, the Church, and the Gospel, and may be a good read for triangulating my position, since it concerns an intra-communal rather than an inter-communal dispute. In that paper I actually borrow from the Concilium thinkers as well as Communio thinkers- this has more to do with the fact that the Concilium group has generally been more active in discussions of canon law (although I don't think that's so much the case now as it used to be), rather than with any shift in general sympathies on my part.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The POINT Magazine


A promising new magazine from Chicago has put out its first issue. The POINT Magazine, "devoted to rigorous intellectual essays on contemporary life," features essays, symposia, and reviews twice a year in print, with shorter essays available online.

The first issue carries articles by Mark Lilla and Slavoj Žižek on "The Limits of Liberalism". A snippet of Lilla's contribution and a longer excerpt of Žižek's is available on the website.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A few items...

  • Following up on Fessio's firing at Ave Maria, I ran across AveWatch.com, a watchdog source of information on Tom Monaghan, the billionaire who developed the town Ave Maria where the university of the same name currently resides. The university was also founded by Monaghan. A telling quote from Monaghan: "If you can franchise pizza restaurants, why can't you franchise Catholic schools?" I cannot vouch for the reliability or objectivity of this site, but it does seem to provide some good information. Nor, in pointing out concerns of the sort that this site mentions, am I trying to dismiss Ave Maria as an institution. As I said in my previous post on Fessio's firing, there is a lot of good theology work being done at Ave Maria. But it seems valuable to me to remain cautious when questions like this arise.
  • Canterbury responds to the 2009 General Convention. The "two-tier" proposal for the Anglican Communion is discussed, as well as some decisive criticisms of TEC "progressives". Going from §7 (where he discusses the consensus and theological work needed to revise Church teaching on sexuality) to §8, he states abruptly, "This is not our situation in the Communion." Certainly the lack of consensus was always obvious, but here he seems to say that a lack of theological and exegetical rigor in arguments for the graced goodness of homosexuality is present as well. Also, Williams makes clear (§4-6, 9) that he is in disagreement with the assertion that same-sex blessings and ordinations of practicing homosexuals is a "justice" or "human rights" issue. He separates these concerns from the basic question of rights and justice for the LGBT community, which he points out is already binding (though not always practiced with success) in the Communion. From §9: "the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences."
  • Loome Theological Booksellers of Minnesota is putting its Saint Bellarmine Collection for the Study of Late Medieval and Counter-Reformation Theology up for auction. This collection of about 4000 rare books includes mostly Catholic and some Reformation sources, ranging from the 14th to the 19th century. Some books in the collection include a 1582 edition of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, the Koberger Bible, a 1537 edition of Melanchton's Loci Communes, and much more.
  • I just discovered this, though others may have already known about it. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica, an invaluable resource of historical sources of Germany (quite broadly conceived) is now available in digital format for all volumes that have been out in print longer than five years. Unfortunately I've had some trouble loading the MGH, but a number of the volumes are available at archive.org as well.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thoughts on Used Bookstores

During our time in Michigan this past weekend, we made sure to spend an afternoon in South Haven, a small port city down the road from where we were staying. We go there each year for the lighthouse, the blueberry store (blueberries are a big deal in Michigan), the antique shops, coffee, and of course, the bookstore. It was unfortunate, then, to find that the Hidden Room Book Shoppe was closing. We had enjoyed this place in years past- last year our finds included Micreae Eliade's History of Religious Ideas and Ernest Jone's The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. This year we found a gaping storefront view of empty shelves.

Apparently the owner of Hidden Room simply decided to retire, so at least the story isn't one of small booksellers being pushed out by a tough economy- quite the opposite, I suppose, if she is able even to make the decision to retire. But the loss is still felt. Similarly, Rare Finds, the little used book store across the street from our apartment here in Wheaton, is also closing up (I think again because of retirement). While I'll always have my walk along 57th Street to the divinity school for good book browsing, somehow it's more rewarding to look through a bookstore not particularly catering to a large student and faculty population, and find a gem in the least likely of places. That's what I think I'll miss the most about these places closing. I remember finding a first English edition of Gustaf Aulén's Christus Victor in a used bookstore in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Or an old hardback of Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith in a thrift store basement elsewhere in Michigan. Those are the times when you remember the actual moment of discovery, and it simply can't be compared to a search on Abe Books or a tidy-and-stocked specialty bookseller that surely has what you're looking for.

One pleasantly redeeming discovery in South Haven this year was another used bookstore that we had somehow missed in previous visits. On our way back from the South Pier Lighthouse we ran across Black River Books. When we walked in we almost stumbled over a huge, amiable labradoodle (named Booker), sprawled out half-asleep on the floor just within the front door. After stepping over him and chatting with the owner a bit, we looked around. Black River had a great religion section, with an impressive shelf of theology and a lot of old paperbacks of 20th century giants like Tillich, Bultmann, Brunner, and Reinhold Niebuhr. I was sorely tempted to get a few books, including Makintosh's Types of Modern Theology, a small old translation of the Theologia Germanica that I had never seen before, and a whole handful of Tillich books. Unfortunately (though much to my wife's relief) we were rushing home, and I left them for others to find.

On our way out I made sure to compliment the owner and let her know that I thought she had a wonderful religion section; she told me that her husband had been in the ministry for over three decades (I'm forgetting with which denomination, but some sort of mainline congregational background). She said that she had worked in mental health and so they also tended to have a good selection in this area.

So while it's been sad to see booksellers go, it is inspiring to find new ones popping up. It's an encouraging sign, and hopefully one that will continue.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A few items...

  • ...and speaking of the Wheaton theology conference, take a look at the flyer- Vanhoozer is (finally) listed as affiliated with Wheaton. I suppose that means it's official. I don't know when he starts here- I assume this fall semester.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New liturgical studies journal... Usus Antiquior

An exciting new journal will release its inaugural issue in January, 2010. Usus Antiquior follows Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum and a general liturgical renewal that is taking place within the Roman Catholic Church, promising to be a wonderful new venue for liturgical theology and ministry. New Liturgical Movement has an interview with the editors of the journal.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fessio fired from Ave Maria

Back from Michigan, and trying to retain a relaxed mode at least until tomorrow. But I thought I'd log in quickly to put up this bit of news. Joseph Fessio was fired from Ave Maria, where he was provost and theologian-in-residence. The Ignatius Press blog (Fessio was also an editor there) has a good description of the situation.

There may be more to say when I read into this a little more tomorrow. Sounds odd in the extreme, though unfortunately not unprecedented at Ave Maria. The school has some wonderful people in the theology department (Fessio being probably the most distinguished amongst them), but it's my understanding that they take a rather hard line, in the post-Ex Corde Ecclesiae sense. Their financial issues are well-known, as are the administrative concerns mentioned by Fessio.

Ave Maria also publishes the journal Nova et Vetera, which I mentioned a few days ago. This may be worth keeping in mind for those who are considering submissions to this venue; I'm not sure of how the editorial work is connected to the administrative work of the university, or whether the periodical is relatively independent.

Friday, July 17, 2009

vacationing and reading



We're heading for a long weekend to Michigan to see my family and some family friends. Aside from going out on the lake, I've been trying to figure out what book to bring.

I had resolved to culture myself and actually read some literature for once, but the tug of too much research-related stuff to learn won out (yet again), and I think I'm going to bring along Paul DeHart's The Trial of the Witnesses: The Rise and Decline of Postliberal Theology. I grew up with a generally postliberal Barthian theological background, but only put two and two together and learned that this was my pedigree when I was exposed to the nomenclature in college. I've been meaning to read DeHart's book since it came out (as usual, I cataloged the book for library patrons and posterity, but have had no time to actually read the thing), and even more so now that I'm at DeHart's alma mater, I imagine the exercise will be beneficial in orienting myself. Plus I'll actually be able to get back into theology a little bit, which will be a lot of fun. This past spring I've spent much more time in history and philosophy, and I do need to return to the queen of the sciences before those profane endeavors begin to rub off on me.




Ben Myers wrote an extensive review of the book when it came out, if you'd like to get a sense of DeHart's thesis.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

John Marenbon elected to the British Academy

Brian Leiter notes Marenbon's election to the Academy. Be sure to read Marenbon's bio page; I think he brings up some important points about the significance of historical consideration in fields like philosophy (and the same point should of course be made in theology):

I arrived at Cambridge as an undergraduate fascinated by philosophy, and fascinated also by the Middle Ages. My initial attempt to put the two interests together by studying philosophy failed: philosophy at Cambridge was then (even more so than now) taught without regard for its history. And so I ended by taking a medley of medieval language and literature courses, and finally doing a rather unphilosophical doctorate on philosophy in the early Middle Ages. In the years since, I have tried to learn more philosophy, of all types, as well as to understand better and write about some parts of medieval philosophy (which I take in a very broad sense, as stretching from c.200 to c. 1700). Although I have many other interests, such as literature, music, art and cooking, my passion is my subject. It’s a subject one needs to pursue with passion, because – strangely for so large a field of intellectual endeavour – it still falls outside what is regularly studied in universities, at least in the UK. My main task is try to make others share my enthusiasm.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Journal acceptance rates

One thing that I've thought academic theology could benefit from is some more transparency concerning the article acceptance rates in journals. I'm thinking of something like this, published by the APA every year for psychology periodicals. Many journals post these statistics themselves, but I don't think I've ever seen any theology titles with such information.

The benefit of such published rates is that you get to see at least a glimpse of how much rigorous editing is being done. While one journal could always conceivably attract stellar research that never needs to be substantially revised, the presumable trend would be that more rigorous journals reject more articles and send more articles back with a "revise & resubmit" stamp on them. I know that personally, when I send an article to one journal that sails through the editorial process while another article in another journal receives a raking over the coals before it makes it to print, I tend to have a sense that the more demanding journal is probably a better place to publish. This isn't always the case, of course, but it's a decent rule of thumb. Especially for us young scholars (who quite simply have a lot to learn), it's important to be wary when the first you see of your manuscript after initial submission (your manuscript... not editorial comments about your manuscript) is a proof to review.

I imagine that many journals keep these acceptance stats and would be able to provide them upon solicitation. But a more organized approach would be beneficial, especially in a humanities discipline like theology where a numerical ranking can be more subjective and relative to the currently prevailing schools of thought.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All philosophy departments should be disbanded immediately.


This is, of course, simply a hyperbolic title meant to get your attention. Especially you readers that have a philosophy background. (Socrates would also likely avoid the critique I'm about to make, so the Jacques-Louis David painting above is merely meant to conjure up an allegorical point rather than to implicate the poor old man himself)



But in seriousness, I have been thinking lately about the disciplinary status of "philosophy". What led me down this road was some commentary on the National Endowment for the Humanities' "Enduring Questions" grant program (IHE has just published a good piece on it here). Ben Bradley of Pea Soup writes,
According to the announcement, questions such as “is there such a thing as right or wrong?” are “predisciplinary.” I have never seen this “word” outside of this grant announcement. OED turns up no results. They seem to mean that these questions arose before any academic discipline began studying them. Perhaps this is true. Nevertheless, an academic discipline arose to discuss them: philosophy. What is to be gained by pretending that this discipline does not exist?
and...
The NEH is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to help non-philosophers teach courses on philosophical questions.

I don't have a problem with Bradley's point that these enduring questions are philosophical (others raised by the grant include "What is beauty?"... "Is there a human nature, and, if so, what is it?"... "What is the relationship between humans and the natural world?"). But they are just as often considered in theology departments by theologians. Some of the questions are considered in political science departments, or art departments, or biology departments. There seems to be no reason why a philosopher should object to these "enduring questions" being characterized as predisciplinary, and no reason to think that a grant competition of this sort amounts to an affront against philosophy as a discipline.

I speak only from my very limited impressions, but I have encountered territory-marking commentary of this sort from philosophers in a way that just isn't seen on the same scale elsewhere. Michèle Lamont has spoken to this issue recently. Despite all the hub-bub, I think that philosophers might have the weakest claim to disciplinary coherence of all academics... though perhaps this is precisely why their temper tantrums on the matter can be the most prominent. A cornered rat and all that.

To make my point, it's worth looking at the etymologically similar discipline of philology. Consider the wonderful statement from Richard Strier, editor of the journal Modern Philology:
The question that immediately confronts any editor of Modern Philology is what the title of the journal means. In 1903, when the journal was founded, the idea of a modern philology might have seemed quite daring, since "philology" implied only or primarily the study of ancient and medieval languages and texts. Over a century later, the idea of a modern philology is foreign. The term has only the most limited circulation and has basically returned to its initial scholarly sense. My aim, in assuming the editorship of the journal, is to return the term to its etymological sense: love of words. Emily Dickinson saw the moment when a word is fully understood, fully realized in all its power and distinctiveness, as a kind of Incarnation, a moment when an idea truly becomes flesh and dwells among us. In a series of astonishingly rich puns, she called this miraculous "consent of language" a "loved Philology." I would like to bring this sense of awe and appreciation in the face of powerful and exact language to the journal that bears the name of Modern Philology.
You don't see many philology departments around anymore- the discipline as a discipline hasn't fared as well as philosophy. A google search for philology department turns up mostly ".ua" (Ukraine) and ".ru" (Russia) addresses; its subsistence as a discrete discipline is very much determined by regional variations and changing schools of thought in academia. And yet philology is certainly with us, in what the NEH might call a "predisciplinary" sense as well as in a scattered form amongst various departments of languages and literatures. Strier seems to understand the evolutionary changes in philological work very acutely, and his attention to this will surely be a benefit to Modern Philology under his editorship.

It seems that, while philosophy has enjoyed a much more sustained existence within the taxonomy of university departments, in actual philosophical work it shares many of the same characteristics as philology understood broadly as the "love of words". The questions that are asked in departments of philosophy are also asked elsewhere- sometimes overlapping a good deal with the work of professors in philosophy departments, and sometimes not so much.

Questions like "is there such a thing as right and wrong?" are simply not exhaustively or exclusively discussed by philosophy professors, and it's absurd that someone would be surprised or offended by the fact that these questions would be the basis of a solicitation for course syllabi from professors in other disciplines.

For a substantial chunk of the scholarly world, the terminal degree is a doctorate of philosophy. Granting that formalities are carried over from previous eras without the original meaning remaining, it isn't unhelpful to consider this nomenclature as an illustration for the status of philosophy as a mode of academic reflection. If anything, I think that the work done within philosophy departments has less rather than more claim to its own partitioned territory than other disciplines do. I find this essay, titled "What is Philosophy?" and posted on the Dartmouth philosophy department page, to be prototypical of the inadequacy I'm trying to point out. It begins by saying,

Philosophy, like all other fields, is unique. But the uniqueness of philosophy seems more impressive. Whereas historians, physicists, etc., generally agree about what constitutes their proper field of study, philosophers do not. Some philosophers have even maintained that there is no proper field of study for philosophers.

This extreme position fortunately is not held by too many philosophers, but it illustrates perhaps the most distinctive feature of philosophy, namely that it leaves nothing unquestioned. This explains why philosophers do not accept any authority but their own reason. Philosophers have even questioned whether it is possible to question everything.


So... the uniqueness of philosophy seems more impressive, even though some philosophers have even maintained that there is no proper field of study for philosophers, and the best description of the distinctiveness of the discipline that can be mustered is, that it leaves nothing unquestioned.

I'm sorry. That is just too much.

I get that philosophers are rigorous and want everyone to know it. It seems a bit pathological to need to assert that this rigor is a distinctive of philosophy in particular, but we'll leave the question of ugly hubris departmental pride to one side. I'm not denying that philosophers ask a lot of questions in a careful manner, or that their discipline turns out worthwhile scholarly results. But this tendency to insist upon a unique place in the disciplinary pantheon all while not being able to articulate a clear sense of what philosophers do besides saying that "we ask a lot of questions" (one wonders what they think the rest of us do!) strikes me as silly, and petty.

I'm not saying that all philosophers do this. But those who are engaged in the sort of gatekeeping that turns up its nose at any other scholars who appear to be encroaching upon philosophical territory strike me as misguided, especially given how poorly this territory's borders are demarcated by its nationalists and apologists.

That said, theologians should be careful that they don't do the same sort of thing. Anthony Paul Smith recently offered a good critique of this sort of disciplinary imperialism by theologians at An und für sich, and I'm inclined to agree with his basic point.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two new articles...

I thought these two articles were worth mentioning. They don't concern theology directly but might be good citations to have on file in case they're pertinent at some point.

Markus Frierich, "Government and Information-Management in Early Modern Europe: the case of the Society of Jesus (1540-1773)", Journal of Early Modern History 12.6 (2009), pp. 539-563. (link here)
This paper uses the Society of Jesus as a case study to examine important developments in the early modern history of administration. It starts by analyzing the conceptual framework of Jesuit government, especially its centralized government. From here, the article moves on to examine the routines of administrative information-management, including the different forms of letter writing and the use of printed questionnaires. Special attention is then paid to every-day decision-making and the information acquired through it. The order's central archive is treated in a separate section. The archive is regarded as a key element of Jesuit administration, both in theory and daily routines. To balance the 'central' perspective of the first sections, the paper finally focuses on several critical voices that were part of a larger Jesuit administrative counter-discourse.

Ekaterina V. Haskins, "Russia's Postcommunist Past: the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Reimagining of National Identity", History & Memory 21.1 (2009), pp. 25-62. (link here)
National monuments typically serve as aesthetic manifestations of dominant visions of history and collective identity, but they can also generate a contestation of the past they are intended to cement. Defending this two-pronged interpretive approach, this essay attends to the changing symbolic power of a unique national monument—the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The study traces the cathedral’s historic role in Russia’s national self-definition during the last two centuries. The cathedral’s construction under tsars, destruction under Stalin, and the postcommunist rebuilding accompanied and justified a particular version of national identity. The role of the cathedral as a magnet for competing versions of Russia’s traumatic past is illustrated by the controversy over its rebuilding after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wordpress v. Blogger

I was fooling around with Wordpress the other day and imported a copy of Clavi Non Defixi over there. I don't have any plans to make a move, but I thought I'd try it out and see what the grass is like on the other side. I also may make some posts over at Wordpress and import them here over the next few weeks, just to get the experience from the other side.

Even if Wordpress offers a bit more than Blogger, I just don't see the use of moving over there and either forcing readers to update links or to lose track of me. Never mind all of the older links and what will happen to them... of course I could (probably would) leave this site up so as not to contribute to link rot, but I would prefer to delete everything here and clean up after myself a bit... not leave too much clutter in the blogosphere.

So, I'm not planning to move clavi non defixi, although if I ever have reason to start another blog it might be at Wordpress, just for a change of scenery. Does anyone have opinions on the comparison?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Open Access-- Revue d'Etudes Augustiniennes et Patristiques

Just found this last night.

Revue d'études Augustiniennes et Patristiques, a publication of the Institut d’études augustiniennes, has full-text available through I-Revues. Volumes 1 (1955) through 46 (2000) are up. I don't know whether there's a moratorium whereby more recent volumes will be added over time, or whether the cut-off is permanently at v.46.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sins of the Fathers

John Witte Jr., director of Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion, has a noteworthy new book out- The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered, traces the history of illegitimacy in Western law and offers what might be considered a prophetic proposal for its reconsideration in the American context. From the publisher's blurb:

For nearly two millennia, Western law visited the sins of fathers and mothers upon their illegitimate children, subjecting them to systematic discrimination and deprivation. The graver the sins of their parents, the further these children fell in social standing and legal protection. While some reformers have sought to better the plight of illegitimate children, only in recent decades has illegitimacy lost its full legal sting. Yet the social, economic, and psychological costs of illegitimacy still remain high even in the liberal, affluent West. John Witte analyzes and critiques the shifting historical law and theology of illegitimacy. This doctrine, he argues, misinterprets basic biblical teachings on individual accountability and Christian community. It also betrays basic democratic principles of equality, dignity, and natural rights of all. There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents, Witte concludes, and he presses for the protection and rights of all children, regardless of their birth status.

Witte wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last August, that offers a wonderful summary of the book's contemporary proposal (though the bulk of the book is historical, while the op-ed is not). He advocates for stricter laws concerning parental responsibility in extramarital and noncustodial situations, pointing out that "The state imposes child support obligations automatically if the child is born to a married couple", and the same should be true for illegitimate parents. He advocates more complete information to be required for birth certificates so that delinquent parents can be better tracked down and held to account, as well as the garnishing of wages, putting liens on property, and forced inclusion of children on health insurance and wills when noncustodial parents do not support their children.

This book deserves a lot of attention and discussion. The issue of parental responsibility isn't often examined with close scrutiny; it's the ugly side of a culture that has done its best to put a good face on rampant divorce, infidelity, and cohabitation. Witte is determined to make sure that the lack of permanent responsibility for couples to one another is not visited upon their children, who have to deal with the aftermath.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More on commercial publishers of journals- SAGE, Political Theory, etc.

Over the past few weeks there has been some buzz about a possible editorial coup at the journal Political Theory. The sitting editor was apparently replaced with a new one, who withdrew his application/resigned from his new position when he became aware of the controversy surrounding the transition. SAGE says that everything is now straightened out and that the editorial board has not changed, but they are still short on any substantive answers to what went on. Inside Higher Ed has a good article on the affair, with attending comments about the American Sociological Association's recent move to the commercial press:

As more journals shift from being run by university presses and scholarly societies to corporate entities, the goal is better management, better sales (since packages of journals are frequently sold together) and economies of scale. The fear of some involved in journal publishing is that corporate interests will limit the role of scholars in making key decisions.

It's advisable not to go too far down the road of conspiracy theories about the evil commercial publishing industry, but SAGE, Elsevier, et al. do bring suspicions upon themselves when brouhahas of this sort surface.

In an earlier post I had spoken about Elsevier at greater length, and have since sent a letter of concern to the journal History of European Ideas, which is owned by Elsevier. I received a kind reply from the editor, who is apparently in touch with Elsevier about some of the concerns but does not plan on making any moves away from the publisher.

In order to bring this somewhat back to theology, SAGE does publish a number of journals that would be of more immediate interest to readers of this blog, including Irish Theological Quarterly, Communio, and Currents in Biblical Research. Most of the religion journals carry institutional pricetags north of $300, although Communio is notably a $137 institutional subscription. I am not familiar with the editorial boards of any of these journals and don't know any details about their satisfaction with SAGE.

Monday, July 6, 2009

How to Study Hegel

A helpful instructional video that I just ran across on youtube--






And another good one!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A great resource for secondary literature on Augustine

I just ran across this nifty little tool yesterday, and it's a great help in discovering secondary literature on Augustine. The Zentrum für Augustinus-Forschung, which publishes the Augustinus Lexikon, has a secondary literature database that pulls relevant bibliographical information from the Lexikon articles themselves. This database is available for free on-line, and selects sources based on author, title, fulltext, etc. searches. It is updated alongside the Lexikon itself.

I tried my hand at it a bit yesterday, and it pulled up some helpful stuff. There are also a lot of superfluous results, and I'm sure there are a significant amount of holes in the bibliography as the Lexikon is both 1) not finished and 2) not an exhaustive source of new bibliographical references. But this database seems to be a great place for discovering articles that are more obscure and that you might not run across from personal knowledge of the literature. What I found for my own reading were articles that were a half-century old, that probably are not often read these days (and don't especially need to be), but that perhaps will offer the odd gem of information that might be otherwise overlooked.

The search function is here, and you can also reach it through the above link, which gives an explanation of the database.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Update on the academic review of Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization by Wiley-Blackwell

I was just forwarded an email that was sent out by a Wiley-Blackwell representative concerning the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization and its current status:


Dear Contributor,

We are writing to up-date you on the situation regarding the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization.

You are aware that over the past few months, there has been a comprehensive academic review of the content of the Encyclopedia. The review, undertaken by members of the editorial board, is now complete. The reviewers have arrived at a general assessment of the project. This may be summarized as follows: that the majority of the content of the Encyclopedia is of good quality and some of the articles are outstanding.

However, a relatively small number of articles have been identified as problematic on a range of grounds. Specifically, these articles

• demonstrate a singular orientation which affects the
objectivity necessary for a reference work; in this these articles
fail the guidelines for objectivity which Mr Kurian, as Editor,
supplied for the contributors;

• offer insufficient material on non-western Christianity;

• are of a poor academic standard in one or more ways, e.g. that
these articles omit key material, are idiosyncratic in their approach
to the topic, have incomplete or out-of-date bibliographies, etc.

In order to ensure the academic quality of the overall work and to make the Encyclopedia a reliable and valuable resource for students and scholars, we think it important that the problems with these entries are resolved.

We have sent the reports to Mr Kurian and advised him of the revisions thought necessary by the reviewers in order to publish the Encyclopedia.

As before, we thank you for your patience and assure you that we are doing all that we can to move forward. We will be in touch with you again in the near future to set out the next steps, and at that stage we will contact those contributors whose articles are affected by the review.

With best wishes,

Rebecca Harkin