Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity

General Editor,  Angelo Di Berardino

(InterVarsity Press, 2014)

Reviewed by Colin Kerr

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The Review has received a ‘sampler’ of the soon-to-be-released Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity (Second English Edition), produced by the Institutem Patristicum Augustinianum. The three-volume, 3200 page work will be released in March, and will retail for about $450 (but it looks like you can find it for about $300 from various retailers – so look carefully first).

Judging from the sample we have received of the first thirty pages, it looks like it will be a magnificent work, a ‘must-have’ for any library and for the lucky researcher and lover of the Ancient Church. The contributing authors are a veritable who’s-who of Early Christian scholarship. As an example of its specificity, it includes eleven different entries for figures with the name ‘Abraham.’ How many Abrahams from Christian history can you name?

The publisher, InterVarsity Press, has greatly distinguished itself already as a publisher in Ancient Christianity with its series, Ancient Christian Texts (about 10 volumes so far), which publish entire commentaries by Ancient writers, arranged by book of the Bible; and by its series, Ancient Christian Commentaries on the Scriptures (about 30 volumes so far), which break-down Biblical books, verse by verse, with corresponding commentary by Ancient writers (kind of like Aquinas’ Catena Aurea, but much more comprehensive). I have worked profitably with the latter series, but will be very anxious to see what hitherto untranslated texts they offer to the English reader in their Ancient Christian Texts series. Hopefully we will be able to review these in time to come.

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Thoughts on Epiphany and Evelyn Waugh

Written by Adam DeVille

I prefer Theophany over Christmas. At one level, that is perhaps a reflection of my inner contrarian. The masses stampede towards Christmas in an orgy of spending garlandedwith tinsel and treacle so I must stand far from this madding crowd.

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At another level, and playing the academic snob—a role I am not at all averse to (Flannery O’Connor once said that snobbery is the besetting sin of Catholics)—I could say that I prefer Theophany (or Epiphany, as it is known in the West) over Christmas because the former is older as a feast than the latter, and still today retains a certain pride of place in Eastern Christian liturgical celebrations, especially among the Armenians, who celebrate both Christmas and Theophany on January 6th. In this light, Christmas is a puerile parvenu pushing in on a venerable celebration.

 Or perhaps it is the inner Scot in me: my Glaswegian grandmother told me that in Scotland until after World War II, Christmas was not a holiday but a regular work day. The fear of making it a holiday was that it was really just a “papist” festival, and dour Scottish Presbyterians would have none of that. (Oddly, however, Presbyterians had no cavil with all the superstitious practices surrounding New Year’s Day, which was, and is, a very big holiday in Scotland reeking of paganism.)

There are, as with all good feasts, many ways to celebrate. But in both East and West there is a common spirit of, well, Theo-phany, that is, God-revealing. In the West the tiny baby Jesus is revealed as God; in the East it is the man Jesus being baptized in the Jordan; but in both cases He is clearly God. The feast is thus strongly Christological—and, in the East, strongly Trinitarian also with the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descending to speak the Father’s word: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

In the West, Epiphany usually marks that time when the magi brought gifts and paid homage to the baby Jesus, and it is this aspect that is captured by the great English novelist Evelyn Waugh. Waugh, who died on Easter Sunday in 1966, is best known for his Brideshead Revisited, which was turned into a wonderful television series in Britain in the early 1980s featuring a young Jeremy Irons, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Lawrence Olivier, and others—a real tour de force. (One passes over in near-silence on that abominable film bearing the same title that Hollywood meretriciously manufactured in 2008 for transparently tendentious reasons.)  But though Brideshead won fame for Waugh, and made him a wealthy man, it was not his favourite novel. Rather, his later work, from the 1950s, was a short novel called Helena, which Waugh regarded as his magnum opus.

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It is an historical novel centred on the life of St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine (whom the East calls “co-equal to the apostles”) and dowager empress of the Roman Empire. Waugh used the novel to put forward a new understanding of sanctity, saying in one of his letters that “I liked Helena’s sanctity because it is in contrast to all that moderns think of as sanctity. She wasn’t thrown to the lions, she wasn’t a contemplative, she wasn’t poor and hungry, and she didn’t look like an El Greco. She just discovered what it was God had chosen for her to do and did it.”

I like to re-read Helena in late December or early January each year, not least for this magnificent passage about Epiphany, a passage which, academic snob that I am, offers even me the hope of salvation:

     “Like me,” she said to [the Magi], “you were late in coming… . Yet you…were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too….

     “You are my especial patrons,” said Helena, “and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents”….

     “For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.”

Divergent

Written by Veronica Roth

(Katherine Tegen Books, 2011)

Reviewed by Amy MacInnis

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Veronica Roth’s young adult novel, Divergent, is the first in her bestselling dystopian trilogy. Published a couple years after The Hunger Games, and with the first movie instalment set for release in March, it may seem like Divergent is simply riding the coattails of a successful series in the same genre. We certainly see this pattern a lot in young adult fiction: when a series sells well, publishers tend to print many similar books, even if they’re not that great. While this may be true, Divergent does not owe its popularity to Suzanne Collins; it’s a good read in its own right. All the qualities of the can’t-put-it-down page-turner are there—compelling characters, an exciting plot, and an intriguing thought-world set in future Chicago.

In Divergent, we meet sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior. She has been raised in a society divided into five factions whose members praise and practice a particular virtue: for Abnegation, it’s selflessness, for Amity, kindness, for Candor, honesty, for Dauntless, courage, and for Erudite, knowledge. Early on, we learn that the factions were founded to eradicate underlying human qualities thought to be responsible for war, namely selfishness, aggression, duplicity, cowardice and ignorance. We also find out about the factionless, outcasts who live in poverty because they failed initiation into a faction—the greatest fear of those dependent on community to define their identity and give their life purpose. Continue reading