Patrick Sookhdeo, Islam: The Challenge to the Church, (Isaac Publishing: 2006), 125 pp. Paperback. ISBN 0-9547835-4-9. Price: £5.99 (plus 60p for UK postage & packing, available from The Barnabas Fund, The Old Rectory, River Street, Pewsey, Wiltshire, SN9 5DB).
Dr. Sookhdeo is an acknowledged expert on contemporary Islam, especially in its relations with Christianity, and this small but invaluable book is essential reading matter for anyone trying to understand the place and impact of Islam in our society. He quite rightly identifies the challenging nature of this relationship but, as a convert from Islam himself, he is never confrontational and always handles issues with tolerance and respect. Equally he does not shy away from discussion of the profound differences which characterise Islam and Christianity and is critical of Christians who, either out of a misplaced charity or a desire to assuage some ancestral “guilt”, misrepresent the integrity of both faiths.
Whilst it is always good to look for common ground, it is all too easy to make superficial and inadequate judgements. Dialogue can only be effective if there is a clear appreciation of where each faith stands. In quoting the Bishop of London’s observation that, “There is an immense sense in Islam of the superiority of Islam to everything else” we are reminded that this is a faith which believes itself to be God’s ultimate and final revelation; transmitted from a prophet who is revered as “the seal” or final and authoritative source of God’s purpose for mankind; through the Koran , a perfect and infallible revelation. It therefore deals in absolutes and tolerates no critical response. Faced with churches which are tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine and which embrace rather than oppose the advance of secularism, Islam – not unreasonably – sees itself as the champion of pure religion.
Dr. Sookhdeo’s approach is both to inform his readers (and the need for scholarly accuracy in dealing with both faiths is essential) and encourage us respond in an authentically Christian spirit, “The vulnerability and powerlessness that characterise the Christian must also define the relationship of Christians to Muslims. There can be no hate, bigotry or fear”.
Barnaby Rogerson, The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad and the Roots of the Sunni-Shia Schism (Little, Brown: 2006), 415 pp. + maps & genealogical tables. Price: £17.99. ISBN: 0-316-72729-6.
Mr. Rogerson is a travel writer specialising in North African and the former Ottoman Empire but he has also shown himself a sympathetic writer on Islamic history, having previously written a biography of the Prophet of Islam in 2003. He has a skill in making history accessible and this account of the early years of Islam is both readable and informative. He is also very much at home with the military development which enabled the rapid conquest of lands formerly under Persian or Byzantine rule and recounts the details of battles with excitement and an eye for the unusual. The inclusion of specially drawn maps showing the spread of Islam or the progress of decisive military encounters provides an informative support to his text.
Rogerson is clearly impressed by the simplicity of Muhammad and the early caliphs, and mourns the loss of innocence once his successors succumbed to the temptations of power and wealth. He also depicts domestic scenes with a vitality not lost through the passage of fourteen hundred years. The coquettish behaviour and jealous ambition of Aisha, Muhammad’s favourite wife, is accurately documented but its dire consequences for the unity of Islam is only superficially examined. Rogerson concerns himself with the personalities rather than the doctrines of Islam, though their motivation may not always be edifying. The characters of the Ansar (Muhammad’s earliest followers) are vividly presented: the modest and financial generous Abu Bakr; the brilliant but unlovable Omar; the efficient but nepotic Uthman and the morally inflexible but doomed Ali. Rogerson has read widely of original sources which he has woven together without lengthy footnotes for the general reader, but this should not suggest that the author is careless of historical accuracy. For the genealogist the clear family trees of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Uthman and Ali, as well as lists of their wives and progeny, assist immeasurably in unravelling the complexities of polygamous and incestuous relationships.
Christine Chaillot, The Coptic Orthodox Church: A Brief Introduction to its Life and Spirituality, (Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Paris: 2005), 224 pp. + illus. & maps. Paperback. ISBN 83-89396-15-7. Price: unknown.
When, in 1990, the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches recommended that there was a need for books giving some brief account, both historical and descriptive, of the churches comprising the two families, Christine Chaillot and her Inter-Orthodox Dialogue took up the challenge and over the past few years has produced an admirable series of books on the various Oriental Orthodox churches: the Syrian, the Malankara, the Ethiopian-Eritrean and now the Coptic.
Her books are invaluable in that they deal with the current church situation, whereas too often so-called “standard works” are long out of date. Mlle. Chaillot has based her study on numerous extensive visits, personal discussion with Copts from the highest to the simplest member and wide reading. Numerous small illustrations, scattered throughout the text, show either the places or the people being discussed and bring a refreshing directness to the work, whilst an extensive bibliography offers the basis for deeper study.
Introductory chapters on the history of the church, the development and current structure of its organisation (complete with helpful diagram) lead into a chapter of its mission and work in the diaspora. Unfortunately she pays little attention to the British (erected in 1994 not 1997) and French Metropolises of the Coptic Church, which are strong evidence of the Coptic Church’s real commitment to mission. Chapters on Sunday Schools and the Youth Movement; Language, Literature and Studies; Liturgical Life and Monastic Life enable the reader to gain a well-rounded picture of the ethos of the Church. Each chapter is packed with details and statistics, which makes this an invaluable and fascinating source book.
JAMES KIRBY TOMBLIN
Christine Chaillot (Editor), A Short History of the Orthodox Church in Western Europe in the 20 th Century , (Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, Paris: 2006)181 pp. Paperback. ISBN 83-89396-22-X. No price.
In continuation of her desire to make Orthodox communities in the West better known to other Christian communities, Christine Chaillot has gathered together a distinguished group of churchmen to write about the historical development of the Orthodox Church in the 2oth century in France, the British Isles, Germany, Austria & Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. This is an invaluable resource but the standard of the articles is not even whilst a chapter offering a wider overview might have provided greater cohesion. Sadly, the scope of the book does not encompass the Oriental Orthodox Churches and although the Armenian Church is the only one with a long established presence in Western Europe, the erection of Syrian and Coptic dioceses in more recent years shows considerable vibrancy. This seems a strange omission in the light of the commitment of the Inter-Orthodox Dialogue to providing education about both Orthodox families.
Bishop Kallistos, as an indigenous Englishman and distinguished historian, quite rightly places Orthodoxy in its wider historical context and briefly mentions pre-Conquest Orthodox Christianity as well as seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth ‘prehistory’. Other authors, especially Dr. Wassilios Klein writing about Germany find that Orthodoxy is not only something resulting from twentieth-century immigration.
Refreshingly, the book does not offer a sanitised version of history but confronts problems, both past and present. The chapter on France addressed very fairly the contentious issues surrounding the history of the Archdiocese of Russian Tradition (Rue Daru) and the ill-fated Ėglise catholique orthodoxe de France (ĖCOF) whilst that on Denmark reports the sad tensions between the Moscow and Exile (ROROR) jurisdictions. The short and disrupted history of Metropolitan Gabriel’s ‘Orthodox Church of Portugal’ is handled sympathetically.
Peter M. Doll (Editor), Anglicanism and Orthodoxy: 300 Years after the ‘ Greek College’ in Oxford , (Peter Lang, Oxford: 2006), 565 pp. + illus. ISBN 3-03910-580-9. USISBN: 0-8204-7957-8 Price: £60.00
This volume contains the papers origially presented at a conference held at Worcester College, Oxford, in September 2001 to mark the 300 th anniversary of the visit of Archbishop Neophytus of Philippopolis to Oxford to receive an honorary doctorate in divinity. This event marked the high point in the history of the short-lived Greek College (1699-1705), founded by Dr. Benjamin Woodroffe, under the auspices of Gloucester Hall, the precursor of Worcester College.
The eleven essays which form the core of this book are based around the events surrounding the short-lived Greek College and provide a rich source of new research on Anglican-Orthodox relations which has hitherto tended to concentrate on the correspondence with the Nonjurors. It is necessary to balance 18 th century high sacramentalism against fears of incipient Romanising tendencies. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash goes some way to exploring this by comparing Dr. John Covel’s aggressively polemical book on the Greek Church with his less well-known but compassionate travel journal. A rich cast of characters is revealed: the “Protestant” Patriarch Cyril Lucaris of Constantinople; Patriarch Metrophanes Kritopoulos of Alexandria; Joseph Geogirenes, one time Archbishop of Samos but of no fixed see, whose ‘French connections’ are expolored; the bookish linguist, Dr. Thomas Smith, known as ‘the Rabbi’; the Calvinist Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbott; the fiercely anti-papal Henry Compton, Bishop of London and the shadowy figure of Archbishop Marco Antonio De Dominis, later imprisoned by the Inquisition.
Bishop Kallistos Ware’s chapter on the fifth Earl of Guilford’s (1766-1827) secret conversion is a thoroughly documented update of an earlier article but with the discovery that he not only lived but also died in the Orthodox faith we have a narrow bridge linking the 18 th and 19 th centuries as a precursor of the nineteenth century “rediscovery” of Eastern Christendom.
These admirable essays are augmented by a further five dealing with continuing Anglican-Orthodox dialogue, especially the amusing and highly anecdotal contribution by Chad Coussmaker on ‘The Role of the Apokrisarios in Modern Anglican-Orthodox Relations.’ Seven valuable appendices provide a more detailed documentary background as well the text of Thomas Rattray’s Liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem.’
These book is both scholarly and readable and a significant contribution to the study of a period of both English and Orthodox church history which has only recently been revisited. Although rather highly priced, it is undoubtedly a worthwhile investment.
Gawdat Gabra, Christianity and Monasticism in the Fayoum Oasis : Essays from the 2004 International Symposium of the Saint Mark Foundation and the Saint Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society in Honor of Martin Krause , (A Saint Mark Foundation Book, American University in Cairo Press, Cairo: 2005), xxxiv + 322 pp. + illus. ISBN 977-424 892 9 Price: £17.50.
Professor Dr. Martin Krause, regarded by many as the father of modern Coptology, passed five years (1958-1963) in his early career in Egypt where he began the work of preserving and listing the contents of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic library in the Coptic Museum. His work in this field led to his appointment to teach Coptology at Westfalischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster (WWU) in West Germany, which, through his efforts, over three decades has become the world’s largest library of Coptic Studies.
This collection of 25 essays begins with an overview, explaining the importance of the Fayoum for Coptic Studies. Christianity began in this large, fertile oasis as early as the third century and the Coptic Church has maintained an uninterrupted and active presence there to the present day. Eight essays deal with ‘Language and Literature’, fourteen with ‘Art, Archaeology and Material Culture’ and two with ‘Preservation’. Whilst this is undoubtedly a scholarly book, the general reader can find many fascinating articles of wider interest, especially the two articles on preserving the wall paintings of the Church of the Archangel Gabriel at Naqlun (with helpful illustrations) and the relation between the Fayoum and the Monastery of Al-Suryan in the late Medieval Period. I also found the articles on the influence of the Fayoum Mummy Portraits on early Coptic Ikons and the shrine and iconography of the early twentieth century Saint Anba Abraam, Bishop of Fayoum, particularly interesting.
Patrology: The Eastern Fathers from the Council of Chalcedon (451) to John of Damascus (750) ; Edited by Angelo di Berardino; Translated by Adrian Walford; (Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, James Clarke & Co.) 702 pp. ISBN 0 227 67979 2. Price: £80.
Any student of theological controversy, indeed of history in general, soon becomes aware of the vast numbers of characters, dates and ideas which must be kept in some sort of order in one’s mind. This is never easy for the ordinary student, especially when many historical figures have similar names, live at the same time, and participate in the same controversies.
A volume such as Patrology is absolutely necessary, and this particular volume cannot fail to be of immediate use to any student of the period in question.
After a brief introductory chapter, this encyclopaedia of Eastern Christian writers is divided into nine distinct sections. These are concerned in turn with the literature of the Constantinople area, the Greek writers of Syria, writers in the Palestine region, Alexandrian and Egyptian writers, Syriac literature, Coptic texts, Armenian literature, Greek exegetical works, and finally Canonical and Liturgical materials.
Each section contains many articles which describe the history, and especially the literary activities, of those writers at work in the area in question. These articles vary from lengthy essays about important figures such as Justinian, Severus and Maximus the Confessor, to short paragraphs about those who are virtually unknown. As examples, Severus has an entry covering six full pages, while that of Zosimas, an obscure monk of Palestine, receives only five lines and some bibliographical references.
Indeed the bibliographic material provided for each of these entries is perhaps more important than the entries themselves, since it allows the student to find the original sources of information for themselves. The entry on Jacob of Serug, for instance, has more space dedicated to the bibliographical material than to the brief description of his life, and contains information about all the editions of his work, in a variety of languages, as well as references to all of the published studies about him.
One irritating feature of the volume is the use of the term ‘mono-physite’ throughout. It could have been expected that a serious work such as this would have chosen to use the term ‘mia-physite’. It is not clear at which point in the production of the book that the term was introduced, either in the original texts or in the translation.
It is also necessary to read the individual entries with the usual caution. These are themselves opinions and descriptions, not primary sources, and they therefore reflect certain points of view. The entry on Severus, for instance, states that he was born of Christian parents, yet this is doubted by many writers. And the entries on Timothy Aelurus and Proterius tend to display a rather Chalcedonian tone in some parts and should not be read as being entirely neutral. However, with this proviso in mind these entries are not generally or seriously biased, and all are of great value.
This volume will be of inestimable value to any student of the period, and especially students of the Christological controversies of the 5 th, 6 th and 7 th centuries. It can be wholeheartedly recommended. The editor and contributors are to be thanked for having produced something which is of real use, and I am sure that it will always be on hand to aid the studies of a great many people in the future.
PETER THEODORE FARRINGTON
Cornelia B. Horn, Asceticism and Christological Controversy in Fifth-Century Palestine – The Career of Peter the Iberian; ( Oxford Early Christian Studies: 2006), 509 pp. Hardback: ISBN-10: 0-19-927753-2. Price: £95.00
Students of Oriental Orthodoxy who are reliant on the English language might well have thought that the Oriental Orthodox tradition was less substantial than that of Eastern Orthodoxy. But in fact this is almost entirely a reflection on the quantity of material which has been translated into English. Indeed even a cursory investigation of an Oriental Orthodox bibliography would show that though a significant corpus has been translated into French, German and Latin, it is only recently that a growing interest has resulted in the publication of increasing numbers of English language translations.
Many of us will have heard of St Athanasius, St Cyril and St Severus, but the Oriental Orthodox tradition comprises many other important writers who are virtually invisible to an English audience. But things are changing. In front of me I have the texts of the Life of John Bar Apthonia, one of the biographers of St Severus; excerpts from the Plerophories of John Rufus; and several homilies of St Severus. All of these texts had been translated into French at the beginning of the last century, but all are also now being translated into English by a variety of scholars, in many cases Roman Catholics, who have decided to dedicate their academic life to the Oriental Orthodox tradition.
In just the last decade there appears to have been a marked change in the manner in which scholars approach Oriental Orthodoxy. This particular volume by Cornelia Horn is just one of the fruits of this increased interest. Peter the Iberian is an important figure in the period just after Chalcedon. Not only was he significant in his own right as a member of the Georgian royal family, and as a monastic founder; but he was also a mentor of St Severus, who probably met him once or twice as a young man, and is therefore a link between the generation which withstood the persecution of the Orthodox after Chalcedon, and the generation of St Severus, who also had to stand firm against Imperial opposition.
The biographer of Peter the Iberian was John Rufus, one of the friends of St Severus, and this volume by Cornelia Horn draws extensively on his writings, and seeks to uncover some of the environment in which John Rufus wrote, and the purpose to which his writings were put. But the value of this study is greatly increased by her consideration of Peter’s place as a member of Georgian aristocracy, and by her drawing on the archaeological and wider written record to place Peter the Iberian in his context.
The text contains sections on the main sources concerning Peter the Iberian and then his life and career. Horn then focuses on Peter as having authority in Palestine and within the anti-Chalcedonian movement due to his being a leading ascetic. She also produces an interesting account of the place of pilgrimage in the life of Peter the Iberian, and as a motif in anti-Chalcedonianism. A final chapter examines the place of relics, and especially the relics of the Cross, in Palestine and in anti-Chalcedonianism, using the idea of the monk as a ‘bearer of the Cross of Christ’.
Cornelia Horn suggests that this volume is only an introduction, and certainly an English translation of the Life of Peter the Iberian is in hand. But it is a significant introduction, and suggests that over the next decades the greater interest in figures from the Oriental Orthodox tradition will result in a great increase in English materials about them, and in English translations of their works. This can only be commended and encouraged.
Michelle P. Brown, How Christianity Came to Britain and Ireland (Lion Hudson, Oxford: 2006), 208 pp + illus & maps. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-7459-5153-9. Price: £16.99.
This is an attractive and accessible history of pre-Conquest Christianity. Michelle Brown, who was Curator of Medieval & Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library for 18 years as well as serving as a Lay Canon and member of the Chapter at St. Paul’s Cathedral, offers sound scholarship without ignoring ancient legends. She deals with what she calls the ‘Glastonbury Grail Legend’ in a balanced way, recognising the role of the Abbey in fostering mediaeval myths but without examining Glastonbury’s genuine antiquity.
Lavishly illustrated with numerous coloured plates of historic sites, ancient artefacts and illuminated manuscripts, the opening chapter chronicles pagan Prehistoric Britain and Ireland, examining their Deities, their myths, their monuments and their beliefs. In chapter 2 the religious transition under Roman rule is examined, with the introduction of Eastern Mystery Cults leading to the first signs of Christianity. She also gives priority to Britain’s early martyrs: Alban, Julius and Aaron and the place of Constantine and toleration of Christianity In the development of the local church. Chapters on Early Christian Ireland the Growth of Monasticism recognise the continuity of the Egyptian ascetic tradition but sadly fail to explore the more direct links with Coptic Egypt. She handles controversial issues such as Pelagianism and the Council of Whitby in a measured manner and places colourful figures within their correct historical context. Extensive use of quotations from original texts is an attractive way of enabling voices from the past to speak to the reader direct and will, hopefully, encourage some to return to the primary sources for further study.
Christoph Baumer, The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity , (I.B. Taurus, London: 2006), 328 pp. + illus. & maps. ISBN 1 84511 115 X EAN 978 1 843511 115 1. Price: £25.00
For many years anyone interested in reading about the history and life of the ancient Assyrian Church of the East (or so-called ‘Nestorian’ Church has had to depend on texts dating from the period immediately following the Great War but in recent years this deficiently has been amply rectified, firstly by Dr. Coakley’s history of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assyrian Mission; Samuel Moffett’s two-volumed History of Christianity in Asia ; Baum & Winkler’s The Church of the East and now Christoph Baumer’s impressive tome lavishly illustrated with maps and over 150 full-colour photographs, many themselves of artistic merit. As the author himself has travelled to many of the historic sites he mentions, the majority of the photographs are his own.
The Church of the East was one of the most significant Christian communities to develop east of the Roman Empire. In its greatest extant, the Church had ten million adherents and stretched from the Mediterranean to China. Baumer narrates its rich and colourful history, from its apostolic beginnings to the present day. Although he discusses the Church’s theology and Christology this is an area where, as an explorer and archaeologist, he is on less sure ground. Whilst he admits that the name ‘Nestorian’ is tainted with the odium of heresy he objects to the Church being designated thus as Nestorius had no personal association with it and the ‘Nestorian’ dogma is more accurately the work of Diodore of Tarsus or to a greater extent, Theodore of Mopsuestia, for which reason the designation ‘Theodoran’ would be more appropriate. That Theodore was the source of much of Nestorius’ theology is not disputed but only reinforces the doubts of the church’s teachings. Baumer rather superficially defends Nestorius of the accusation of heresy and repeats the old canard that St. Cyril of Alexandria “deliberately falsified his views.” He does, however, refer to the West Syrians and Copts as Miaphysites.
He analyses the Church’s turbulent relationship with other Christian churches and its dialogue with neighbouring world religions such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism. It is especially strong on the expansion of the Church in Central and East Asia, making excellent use of historical and archaeological finds. There are extensive chapters dealing with the incredible missionary outreach and the spread of the Church of the East to the Arabian Gulf, Central Asia, China and India, chronicling how it suffered under Islamic Rule as well as its renewal among the Thomas Christians of South India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The period of almost terminal decline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when confronted with Catholic proselytism; genocide in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the political upheavals following that Empire’s dismemberment led to a time of trials but also renewal. Although reference is made to the problems during the late Mar Eshai Shim’un XXI’s 55-year tenure of the hereditary patriarchate, this was also the beginning of the church’s revival and the beginning of the modern era. There is an extensive bibliography which will benefit the general reader and the scholar alike. Annexes contain lists of Patriarchs and civil rulers as well as the genealogical charts of the various khanates. It is a shame that the recently researched pedigree of the hereditary patriarchs was not also included.
J.F. Coakley, The Church of the East and the Church of England (Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1992), reviewed in The Glastonbury Bulletin No. 83, pp. 143-144.
Vide: Book review in TheGlastonbury Review No. 111 (pp. 128-129)