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The Theology of St Cyril of Alexandria. A Critical Appreciation, Edited by Thomas G. Weinandy and Daniel A. Keating T & T Clark ISBN 0 567 08901 0 HB ISBN 0 567 08882 0 PB First published 2003

This volume contains a useful collection of articles about various aspects of the theology of St. Cyril of Alexandria. The preface describes the lack of a real understanding of St. Cyril in the modern English- speaking church, and puts this work forward as a step towards remedying that situation.

The authors are all described as being ‘as feisty as St. Cyril’, and it is a pleasure to take in hand a collection containing papers written by eminent scholars who enjoy and appreciate their subject. There are nine varied and interesting topics covered in this relatively concise book, which does cost £35 for only 270 pages. Many of the writers are immediately recognised from other published work, such as Frances Young, author of From Nicaea to Chalcedon; John McGuckin, author of St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy; and Norman Russell, author of Cyril of Alexandria, which is a collection of some of his translated writings.

The mere list of authors and the titles of their essays makes one eager to believe that a theological treat lies before the reader, and this is indeed the case. The nine articles cover the work of St. Cyril as biblical exegete and theologian, as pastor and head of the Alexandrian Church, and as spiritual writer.

The academic level of this collection is set at that of a serious student of theology. None of the articles could be considered as being focused on the more abstruse matters which often comprise the topics of papers in theological journals. Rather they are well written, and interesting explanations of important aspects of St Cyril’s life and thought.

An example is the chapter by John A. McGuckin, ‘Cyril of Alexandria: Bishop and Pastor’. McGuckin begins his chapter by describing the caricature of St. Cyril which is most often portrayed in Western literature. He defends St. Cyril against charges of anti-semitism and ecclesiatical violence, and condemns the reduction of St. Cyril’s thought to a few decontextualised proof texts. McGuckin then proceeds to explore the activities and writings of St. Cyril in response to the ‘Anthropomorphite controversy’, his activities as liturgist, and finally as pastor. This positive, yet always scholarly and appropriately critical, approach to the life of St. Cyril is reflected in the other articles. And just as McGuckin illustrates his topic through the investigation of less well-worn aspects of St. Cyril, so the other authors also prove themselves able to find in the life of St. Cyril more than the Council of Ephesus and his controversy with Nestorius.

This is a well written collection, and every article is of interest. There is much to provoke thought and further study whilst the reader is not left feeling short-changed or overwhelmed by academic minutiae. I am certainly glad to have been able to add this volume to my library.


John Wetherell, Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: An Examination of the Ethos of the Tridentine Mass and that of the Novus Ordo of Pope Paul VI (St. Joan Press, P.O. Box 497, Cambridge, CB1 0AF), 79 + lxix pp. & illus. ISBN 0-9550707-0-8 Hardback. Price: £9.99 plus £2.50 postage & packing per copy (until April 2006).

The late twentieth century will be remembered, among other things, as the era of liturgical vandalism with the linguistic and cultural spoliation which accompanied it. Whether or not old forms have survived alongside newer ones, the fact remains that a whole generation of Anglicans have grown up who have never experienced Prayer Book worship whilst the same is true for Catholics and the loss of the Latin Mass. John Wetherell’s very readable study presents, with depressing familiarity, an analysis of the process by which the Roman Catholic Church supplanted the Tridentine Rite of Pope Pius V with the Novus Ordo of Pope Paul VI, one of the “fruits” of the Second Vatican Council. This book is measured and balanced in tone, using quotations from both sides of the argument, but the author’s frustration – like so many of his co-religionists – is palpable as he wades through the morass of specious reasons for preferring the new over the old.

Yet this is not simply an apologia for those who merely resist change for change sake but is founded rather on deep concerns that the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church have been undermined by the new rite. The analysis of differences between the two rites in Appendix III refers repeatedly to the liturgical changes made by Archbishop Cranmer in drafting the early editions of the Book of Common Prayer , of which the authoritative study is still Cardinal Gasquet & Edmund Bishop’s Edward VI and the Book of Common Praye r (1928). The late Michael Davies’ trilogy the Liturgical Revolution is a scholarly and detailed comparison of the changes, which Wetherell acknowledges by his dedication of his own study to Davies. Unless one adopts a completely closed mind it is difficult not to see a diminution of traditional emphasis on the saints and angels, the Real Presence and a sacrificing priesthood.

Wetherell is unimpressed by claims that the changes owe some of their inspiration to the rites of the Eastern and Orthodox churches as he laments the loss of the numinous, which is characteristic of all Orthodox worship. Sadly, many of the Eastern Catholic rites as well as liturgical rarities such as the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites have succumbed to the spirit of the Novus Ordo rather than retained their distinctive qualities.

Whilst sympathising with his broader thesis, one might wish to draw attention to certain Orthodox liturgical traditions which are ancient and certainly owe nothing to Protestantism. The Orthodox believe no less in the Real Presence but do not employ the language and liturgical devotions fostered by the doctrine of Transubstantiation; communion in both kinds is a universal Orthodox practise; one has only to observe the meticulous ablutions of the Coptic rite to witness the respect showed towards the Sacred Elements; circumambulation of the altar does not require a westward position for the celebrant; emphasis on the Priestly vocation of the faithful (see the Coptic tradition of ‘crowning’ boys at their baptism or the marital ‘coronation’ common to all Eastern rites) does not diminish the unique rôle of the ordained priesthood.

The ignorant and pastorally insensitive response of many local bishops in bullying and demonising those who desire to worship according to the old rite is touched on. One wishes a more fully documented dossier could be published to shame these ‘hirelings’ who must accept great responsibility for the decline in church membership. Several times he quotes sympathetic statements made by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and it is evident that those who yearn for the Tridentine Rite have placed their hopes in his more informed liturgical concerns and encouragement of diversity. One must hope that they will not be disappointed and that a prompt solution may be forthcoming in a Papacy which it not likely to be long.

The book is exquisitely bound and beautifully printed, with delightful reproductions of Madeleine Beard’s charming rendering of illustrations inspired by ancient Books of Hours. The inclusion of Latin and English texts of both rites is a valuable resource although the English translation of the Novus Ordo here is in dignified liturgical English rather than the jarring ‘supermarket’ language which characterised some of the earliest versions.


Stephen, J. Davis, The Early Coptic Papacy: The Egyptian Church and Its Leadership in Late Antiquity, Volume I of The Popes of Egypt: A History of the Coptic Church and its Patriarchs from Saint Mark to Pope Shenouda III ( American University in Cairo Press: 2004); xvii + 251 pp. + illus. ISBN: 9774248309 Price:

When I became Orthodox, over eleven years ago now, I determined to learn as much about my new spiritual home, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, as I could. I must admit to having experienced a certain frustration that it has proved more difficult to find reliable and scholarly sources of information than I had expected, especially for someone, as I was, just beginning to discover the Coptic Orthodox history and tradition.

This volume would have been an excellent introduction for me to the early history of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate until the Arab invasion. As it is, I am slightly more knowledgeable, after ten years of reading whatever I have been able to find in a language I can understand, and I am able to commend this book even more than I might have with no knowledge at all.

I find that, as with many subjects, if I turn to the passages dealing with the most controversial periods and personalities and find it to be fair and balanced, even if not exactly matching my opinions, then the author can usually be trusted in the less controversial chapters.

I found this to be the case with Davis in this work. He treated Pope Dioscorus fairly, represented the Christological controversies simply but in a balanced manner, and does not accuse the subjects of his study of being ‘monophysite heretics’.

The author describes the history of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate from its beginnings through to the Arab invasion. The text is well annotated and there is an extensive bibliography to assist further study.

It is interesting, from our own Coptic Orthodox perspective, that the author tends to the view that much of the later problems within the Church in Egypt were the fruit of an imperialist mentality in Constantinople, and that schism and the creation of two parallel jurisdictions were not the only possible outcome of the Christological controversy, which could have been handled in a different manner and not produced the lasting division we still experience today.

I am pleased to see that over the last ten years I have been slowly accumulating many of the volumes referred to by Davis. It would seem that I have been reading the right books, but the bibliography and notes provide an excellent reading list for all English speaking students of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, and I will certainly be referring to this work again and again to keep my own studies in a coherent historical framework.


Suha Rassam,. Christianity in Iraq: Its Origins and Development to the Present Day , (Gracewing: 2005), xxxix + 203 & maps + illustrations. Paperback. ISBN 0 85244 633 0. Price: £9.99.

Ignorance of Christianity in the Middle East is still prevalent despite occasional references to the part of ancient Christian communities in the trials and tribulations of this suffering area; so any book highlighting their historical, spiritual and cultural contribution is to be welcomed. Dr. Rassam, however, is to be congratulated on writing a book which is both historical detailed and easily accessible.

A native of Mosul in Northern Iraq and a devout member of the Chaldean Catholic community, she traces her country’s spiritual heritage from ancient Mesopotamia through the traditions of early Christianity in Edessa and the story of King Abgar. Her own experience also enables her to write about the linguistic context of Aramaic/Syriac and its lasting impact on the cultural life of the Christian communities. Set against the differences with Zoroastrianism and the extraordinary missionary outreach to India and of the East Syrian Christians into Asia, she traces events through the early Church councils and Christological controversies leading to subsequent confessional fragmentation, which she addresses sympathetically. The great age of saints, ascetics and mystics recalls the glories of Syriac Christianity before the churches sank under the oppressive domination of Islam.

The chapter on the Christian churches in modern Iraq are the most valuable as this offers an informed view of life under the British mandate (1918-1932), the Hashemite monarchy (1932-1958) and the Ba’ath party. The final chapter examines each of the communities at the outset of the twenty-first century and discusses some of the changes and problems arising from the American led invasion of 2003, detailing incidents as recent as January 2006.

Despite the iniquities of Saddam’s rule, Christian-Muslim relations were good, but in the power vacuum following his overthrow, sectarian strife, fuelled by extremists, has increased. Condemned equally by Muslim and Christian clerics, the result nevertheless has been the migration of some 40,000 Christians which is likely to increase as Christians become victims of the cross-fire of political instability.

Apart from being a most informative book, purchasers will be encouraged to learn that the author’s royalties from this publication will be donated to Christian Education in Iraq.


Abba Seraphim, Flesh of Our Brethren: An historical examination of Western episcopal successions originating from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. iv + 310 pp + illus. Hardbound ISBN 1-4116-7836-2. Price: US $ 49. Paperback ISBN 1-4116-7037-X. Price: US $ 39.

The writing of the history of Orthodoxy, Eastern or Oriental, for (rather than in) the West, no less than the history itself has given little encouragement for optimism. If the Orthodox Churches have almost universally ignored the West as a field in which the seeds of the Orthodox faith might be sown, keeping it as territory for the religious and cultural ghettoes, historians considering attempts at Orthodox evangelism for the West have sought to treat their subjects with little more than contempt. In part, this has been a result of inadequate research by lazy authors who tended to pick up bits and pieces of material from a variety of sources, many of them of dubious authority and authenticity. In part, it has also been a result of the writers appearing to accept the unorthodox (and quite probably heretical) approach taken by Orthodox authorities: Orthodoxy is Eastern and restricted to specific cultures, and anyone claiming to be Orthodox who does not comply with the cultural (possibly even genetic) prerequisites is either self-deceived or fraudulent. Attempts at establishing an Orthodoxy for the West can therefore be ridiculed as, at best, curiosities doomed to fail, or, at worst, fraudulent schemes promoted by the deluded or the deluding.

Such approaches are manifest in the two standard works dealing with the subject: Brandreth’s Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church and Anson’s Bishops at Large. Brandreth’s book is further flawed by an enthusiastic and bitter hostility towards any Orthodox “invasion” of the West, and needs to be understood in the historical context of desperate, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempts by the Anglican authorities (in which Brandreth was involved) to gain approval from the Orthodox Churches as some sort of British equivalent to the Orthodox national churches. This necessitated the preservation of the ethnic mission model of Orthodoxy in the West, and opposition to any alternatives.

Anson’s work was flawed, if made highly entertaining, by his strong sense of irony and sarcasm, but also by his zealous commitment (perhaps more zealous because he was a convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism) to the view that the Roman Catholic Church solely represented the entirety of true Christianity. Those he described as seeking to promote an Orthodoxy for the West could thus simply be written off as “failed” Roman Catholics.

One of the problems confronting those trying to take a seriously scholarly approach to the history of attempts at establishing an Orthodoxy for the West, and most especially an Oriental Orthodoxy for the West, has been the apparent lack of accessible primary sources. Most writers have simply relied on repeating what other writers have written, often without identifying their sources.

Abba Seraphim’s Flesh of Our Brethren breaks with the tradition of such. He has written a study of attempts to establish an Oriental Orthodoxy outside its traditional territories and cultures which derive from the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, basing it not only on some forty years of research, but also on previously unknown and unpublished primary sources. His published work on the subject goes back to 1971 when he produced Julius Bishop of Iona: An investigation of the claims of Jules Ferrette (1828-1904) and includes many journal articles.

Inevitably, Abba Seraphim has been unable to locate all the sources that could enlighten his subject. A photograph of Ferrette, for example, remains to be found. Also inevitably, while Abba Seraphim has solved some of the historical mysteries which had baffled previous writers in the field, some remain yet to be resolved. But his work is based in serious and sound scholarship, with an appropriate emphasis on primary sources, and with all sources, primary and secondary, clearly identified. He provides, as previous writers have not done, illuminating information on the critical historical and cultural contexts within which the events of which he writes occurred. His writing provides extensive quotations from primary sources, copious footnotes, a number of fascinating illustrations and a substantial bibliography.

Flesh of Our Brethren examines the careers of three men who sought to bring Oriental Orthodoxy to the West and in a Western form – Julius Ferrette (1828-1904), Rene Joseph Vilatte (1854-1929) and Theodosius Stephanus de Nemeth (1890-1969) – and one who sought to do likewise in India – Antonio Francisco Xavier Alvares (1836-1923). The first chapter, “The Syrian Orthodox Church in the Nineteenth & Early Twentieth Centuries”, provides a fascinating and illuminating account of the historical context, and can stand alone as an excellent overview of the subject.

Ferrette, a former Roman Catholic Church Priest, was consecrated as a Bishop by Mutran Boutros, the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Emessa, in 1866. The fact of that consecration, long denied by various church authorities, no less than by writers like Brandreth and Anson, has been established beyond doubt by the historical research of Abba Seraphim. The reason for the consecration and the nature of the mission to Western Europe which Ferrette was given by his consecrator remains lost in the mists of the past and the lack of clear historical evidence. Ferrette certainly sought to establish an Orthodoxy for the West in England, and won support from some Anglicans, but strong opposition from many others. His mission cannot be said to have been effective or to have left any substantial legacy, and he retired to Switzerland, where he died in 1904.

Alvares was an Indian Christian and Roman Catholic Priest in the Portuguese colony of Goa on the south west coast of India. He was consecrated as Bishop by Joseph Mar Dionysos V, Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, in 1889 to provide for the needs of a substantial community of Indian Roman Catholic clergy and laity who broke with Rome and sought to establish a local Orthodox Church. It was Alvares who consecrated Vilatte, a French Roman Catholic who migrated to Canada where he established an Old Catholic Mission and was ordained a Priest by the Old Catholic Bishop of Switzerland. Attempts by the Anglican Bishop of Fond du Lac to take control of Vilatte’s Mission led to the loss of support from the Anglicans, who thereafter became hostile towards Vilatte. Vilatte was consecrated a Bishop by Alvares in Ceylon in 1892 and returned to North America to provide episcopal oversight for his community. The Mission was not a long-term success, and Vilatte left Canada, working with various churches in the United State and Europe. He returned to France in 1925, where he was reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church and died in a Cistercian Abbey in 1929.

De Nemeth was a Hungarian Roman Catholic Priest who came to lead a community which sought to establish an independent Hungarian Orthodox Church. He was consecrated a Bishop by Mor Ignatius Ephrem I, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, in 1934. Limited sources exist as to de Nemeth’s later history. It seems that he was captured by the Nazis and then the Russians, and he is said to have died in 1969.

In the case of each of the four bishops studied by Abba Seraphim, there was a local situation requiring ecclesiastical and pastoral oversight, an appeal to the Syrian Orthodox Orthodox Church, and a response from that Church which led to the appointment of a bishop for work outside the traditional boundaries of the Syrian Church. In each case it would seem that the bishops were men of vision, albeit less than realistic and practical vision. In each case, the bishop faced serious attack by Anglicans, Roman Catholics and even other Orthodox.

Also in each case, the initial consecration of a bishop was not accompanied by the establishment of a clear relationship between the resulting church and the Syrian Orthodox Church from which it drew its episcopate. The lack of documentation, clear channels of communication, and the absence of appropriate procedures and protocols defining the relationship between Antioch and the new bishop are deficits which, with the benefits of hindsight and from a position in the new world of easy international communication, computers and ready world-wide travel, are easy to criticize. It is also easy to judge the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on the basis either of its highly bureaucratized and internationalized Roman Catholic equivalent, the Vatican, or of a modern multi-national corporation. Such judgments are as naïve and historically uninformed as it is unfair.

Abba Seraphim has made a major and significant contribution to the history of Oriental Orthodoxy in his research for and publication of Flesh of Our Brethren. That the book relates to what might be thought of as a minor by-way of such history in no way detracts from its significance. The history of small parts often provides greater insight into the whole than does the broad-brush approach. Certainly there are important lessons to be learned from efforts – as flawed and imperfect as they may have been – of Ferrette, Alvares, Villate and de Nemeth. One such lesson is that the Oriental Orthodox need to find ways of meeting the needs of those in the West who seek to be Oriental Orthodox but to remain Western.

One can but hope that Abba Seraphim will apply his outstanding skills as an historian and writer to an equivalent study of attempts at the establishment of an Eastern Orthodoxy for the West, a subject on which he has already published a number of important papers. His work on the valiant efforts of Stephen Hatherly (1827-1905) and Joseph Overbeck (1820-1905) to establish a Western Orthodox church in Great Britain, and his research into the sad history of the French Orthodox Church established by Louis Winnaert (1880-1937) may provide the basis for such a work..


William Henry Taylor, Antioch and Canterbury: The Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of England 1874-1928 (Gorgias Press, 2005), ix + 135 pp. & illus. Hardbound. ISBN 1-593333-312-9. Price: £25.

Although William Taylor’s opening chapter covers the pre-history 1800-1874, his narrative begins with a detailed account of the visit to England of Mar Ignatius Peter III, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and chronicles the half-century of fruitful Anglican-Syrian Orthodox relations which followed.

Thorough research in the Lambeth archives and Foreign Office papers at the National archives show the delicate issues the Patriarch’s unannounced visit obliged both the religious and spiritual leaders to confront. Archbishop Tait had allowed his views on the problems among the Patriarch’s spiritual subjects in South India to be formed by the advice of Anglican colonial bishops and British civil servants and remained stubbornly adamant in his views. Nevertheless, due to the Patriarch’s diplomatic skills and refusal to yield from his own, more soundly formed, convictions Tait finally moved to the position that it was inappropriate for him to attempt to “exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction over an independent native church in India” and that the resolution of matters must rest with the “local authorities in India”. When the Foreign Office refused the Patriarch’s request for a meeting with Queen Victoria lest it should create diplomatic embarrassment, Archbishop Tait was sufficiently conscious of his neglect of the Patriarch as to push successfully for an audience on his behalf.

It is quite evident that during his stay the Patriarch made some good friends who assisted him in his correspondence with officials and in the apologia for his concerns, ‘The Case of the Syrian Patriarch fully stated.’ The energetic prosecution of his position in the face of an intransigent British Establishment as a previously untravelled Syrian churchman testifies both to impressive intellectual and spiritual authority.

One tangible result of these encounters – which survived several Patriarchs and Archbishops – was the establishment in 1875 of the Syrian Patriarchate Education Fund and a commitment to offer financial support to support the Patriarch’s desire to found schools and establish a printing press. It is not surprising that the Patriarch, when “he saw with his own eyes the riches and prosperity of the nation” felt like the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon nor, with a importunity stimulated by generations of Ottoman patronage, to solicit a pension from Queen Victoria.

Despite receiving rather short shrift from the Anglican hierarchy, the Syrian Patriarchs still hoped that they might secure a special relationship with Great Britain to parallel the protection offered by France to Catholics and by Russia to Byzantine Orthodox. Taylor notes that Tait’s successor, Archbishop Benson, “had not been noted as a man with great interest or time for the Eastern Orthodox” and his actions during his primacy suggest that nothing much was to change. In Archbishop Frederick Temple this reluctance was even more noted. Even Benson had at least approved of and taken a friendly interest in the Syrian Patriarchate Education Society established in his predecessor’s time by Temple’s response in described at best as insouciant ! Although Archbishop Davidson was the best informed of all Archbishops and was involved in extensive correspondence about Syrian Orthodox issues during his long primacy (1903-1928), for all the positive achievement made as a result of his influence, he might just as well have been as ill-informed as his predecessors.

The political deterioration and the instability of ethnic minorities during the last years of the Ottoman Empire made sustained contact with Anglicans erratic, but the involvement of Archbishop Severios Barsoum in the 1919-1920 Peace Conference paved the way for renewed contacts. Archbishop Davidson was sympathetic to the plight of the Syrian Orthodox but he was unable to deliver any tangible support although Taylor believes the Syrians had a far greater estimation of his political influence than existed in reality. In 1921 Patriarch Elias III made tentative enquiries about the terms for establishing intercommunion with the Anglican Church and for the next seven years possibilities for closer relations between the two churches remained on the agenda. The resignation of Davidson in 1928 and the death of Patriarch Elias in 1932 caused discussions to be disrupted by which time Archbishop Severios Barsoum had been elected as Patriarch Mar Ephrem I. Although Patriarch Ephrem pursued a more independent line than his predecessors there is evidence of continued contact between individual Anglicans and the Syrian Patriarchate. The insidious influence of Canon J.A. Douglas and his part in the repudiation of the Vilatte succession (p.123) as late as 1938 is a subject for further exploration although outside the timescale set for this study.

Father Taylor is to be congratulated on having skilfully documented these little known ecumenical contacts, his even-handed assessment of the material and his engaging narrative; whilst the admirable Gorgias Press has made an invaluable contribution to scholarly studies.


Brandreth, H.R.T.: 1947 Episcopi Vagantesand the Anglican Church, SPCK, London, 1st Edition; 2nd edition, 1961; Anson, Peter: 1964 Bishops At Large. Some Autocephalous Churches of the Past Hundred Years and Their Founders, Faber & Faber, London.

Cf. Abba Seraphim, “Ex Oriente Lux” serialized in Glastonbury Bulletin, Nos. 50 (July 1978), 51 (Octr. 1978), No. 52 (Decr. 1978); No. 55 (Oct. 1979); No 56. (Feby. 1980) also “Hatherly, Stephen” in Ken Parry, David Melling, Dimitri Brady, Sidney Griffith and John Healey TheBlackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity Blackwell Publishers, London, 1999: 228; and Abba Seraphim “Overbeck, J.J.” in ibid: 364-5.

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