Sunday, January 20, 2008

Recent Reading

Here are some of the works I've recently completed reading:

God's Human Face, by Christoph Schonborn
Artists and theologians have meditated upon the mystery of God's human countenance and tried to express it. This book seeks to present the great sources of this meditation--sources which today are widely unknown, or have become foreign or obscure. These sources are above all the great masters of early Christianity. In their meditation upon Christ, Bishop Schonborn seeks the sources of the art on the Icon. The reader will find not only an engaging introduction to the meaning and beauty of Icons, but an invitation to draw closer to the One who inspired these Masters of theological expression and holy art.
This is an interesting book which provides insight into the iconoclast controversy culminating in the seventh ecumenical council. Although the Roman Catholic author deviates somewhat from an Orthodox view of icons, the historical analysis warrants the read.

Hesychian Sobriety, a commentary on the St. Hesychios text by Fr. Theophanes
The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart is a three-volume work dedicated to the the study of the foundations of the Jesus Prayer. It has been written by an Orthodox monk, Fr Theophanes (Constantine). The complete text has been published on-line on the Internet, and the links given below are to the actual transcribed texts of the volumes.

The third volume, Hesychian Sobriety, comprises a new translation of a text of St Hesychios, On Sobriety, taken from the first volume of the Philokalia, and a very detailed commentary on that text. This commentary draws extensively on the texts of Evagrius that were discussed in Volume II.

This volume ends with an epilogue which summarizes the three-volume work as a whole.
This is the fascinating third volume of the trilogy: The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart. This is the most interesting book I've read on Orthodox asceticism and prayer. The epilogue of this book provides the best summary of the discussion contained therein.

Partakers of the Divine Nature, by Normal Russell
The deification of man is the characteristic Byzantine way of expressing the goal of human life. Far from implying a heretical notion of man's absorption into God, as Western writers sometimes assume, the term encapsulates a number of widely differing approaches to the doctrine of salvation. Among the Greek Fathers deification is expressed variously as filial adoption through baptism, as the attaining of likeness to God through gnosis and dispassion, as the ascent of the soul to God, as the participation of the soul in the divine attributes of immortality and incorruption, as the transformation of human nature by divine action, as the eschatological glorification of both soul and body, and as union with God through participation in the divine energies(1). In Byzantine writers the emphasis falls on the Pauline aspect of filial adoption and incorporation into Christ, the sacraments becoming all-important as the means by which divine life is communicated to the believer. With Palamas the chief focus of deification settles on participation in uncreated grace, which enables the human person to transcend himself and live with the life of Christ, so that he becomes 'uncreated through grace'(2).
A good article on the history of 2 Peter 1:4 in the Byzantine tradition. Some worthwhile blog posts on the essence / energies distinction can be found here.

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