Timothy Greenwood

title.none: Angold, Eastern Christianity (Timothy Greenwood)

identifier.other: baj9928.0711.013 07.11.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Timothy Greenwood, University of St. Andrews,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Angold, Michael, ed. The Cambridge History of Christianity: Eastern Christianity. The Cambridge History of Chrisitanity, vol. 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xx, 722. $180.00 978-0-521-81113-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.11.13

Angold, Michael, ed. The Cambridge History of Christianity: Eastern Christianity. The Cambridge History of Chrisitanity, vol. 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xx, 722. $180.00 978-0-521-81113-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Timothy Greenwood
University of St. Andrews

It is important to stress at the outset that this review draws a clear distinction between the evident strengths of the individually-authored chapters which collectively make up this volume on the one hand, and the remit and structure of the volume on the other. Any misgivings about the latter should not detract from the scholarship and erudition displayed in the former, which do much to introduce a broad range of Orthodox and eastern Christianities into a mainstream history of Christianity. Before considering the separate studies, it is however necessary to evaluate the collection as a whole.

This volume (henceforth Eastern Christianity) is the fifth in the nine-volume series, the Cambridge History of Christianity, comprising a chronological account and study of Christianity from its origins to the present day. It is also one of five volumes published in 2006. As is common across such series, the sequence of publication has not followed the numerical order of the volumes. Thus volumes 1, 5, 7, 8 and 9 appeared in 2006. The publication of volume 2, subtitled Constantine to c.600, was announced last month, in August 2007. Volume 3, Early Medieval Christianities c.600-c.1100, is due to appear in May 2008. The present state of volume 4, Christianity in Western Europe c.1100-c.1500, remains unclear.

This preamble may be somewhat tortuous but it establishes the context in which this review is set. Eastern Christianity appeared before the publication of the three volumes with which it will be most closely associated, at least in terms of medieval studies. If, as this reviewer had anticipated, Eastern Christianity was intended to be an extended, self-contained survey ranging from, for the sake of argument, Constantine until the present day, its temporary isolation from its three medieval companion volumes would be irrelevant. The absence of a chronological descriptor in its title--unlike all the other volumes --implied to this reviewer that Eastern Christianity encompassed a broad chronological sweep from Antiquity, with a significant medieval quotient. This is not the case. Thirteen of the twenty-four chapters are focused exclusively on events and circumstances pertaining to the period after 1500 and four others are weighted heavily or significantly towards the same period. Its shape suggests that the volume was designed to trace the historical trajectory of Orthodox Christianities from the later medieval period onwards. Although the publicity on the inside cover refers specifically to the late Middle Ages, it would have been helpful to indicate this in some way within the title. On this occasion, a simple title has proved to be unhelpful, if not misleading.

In these circumstances, it becomes more important to place Eastern Christianity in the context of the three earlier volumes. Without having had sight of these, other than through their proposed tables of contents, it is hard to judge how this volume fits into the overall schema. The chapter headings suggest that volumes 2 and 3 will offer an integrated approach to western and eastern Christianities, exploring their respective internal development as well as their mutual relationship. A similar balance can be detected, to a greater or lesser extent, across the subsequent volumes. This renders Eastern Christianity somewhat anomalous, for it advertises a regional particularity missing from the other volumes. Some may feel that this overstates the case and it is certainly true that several of its chapters do chart relations between one or more of the eastern Churches and the west. In focusing upon eastern Christianity, there is a sense in which this volume, however well-intentioned, goes against the comparative, thematic approach being developed and fostered across the series.

Of course, it is possible to mount a vigorous defence of Eastern Christianity as a separate volume in its own right, given the nexus of different churches, confessions and traditions which collectively are assumed to fall within its remit. There is however no introduction to the volume which might provide such a justification, why the volume has taken the shape that it has and how it relates to the other volumes. The thoughtful Foreword written by the Archbishop of Canterbury is not followed by any study, however brief, of what the volume is seeking to do, nor how it dovetails with other volumes, nor even exactly what is meant by Eastern Christianity--is it regional, linguistic, confessional, ecclesiastical? The other volumes which have been published contain either prefaces or introductions which outline and define the collection of discrete chapters. Eastern Christianity would have benefited from such an essay.

The absence of an Introduction does however have one clear merit for it avoids the need to establish, or even discuss, common themes or chronological parameters. Although one could argue that Jonathan Shepard's chapter on "The Byzantine Commonwealth 1000-1500" frames the volume, exploring the Orthodox Churches through the prism of Byzantium, this cannot disguise the lack of an overarching survey. As it is, there seems to be uncertainty about the chronological starting point. Despite its title, Shepard's chapter offers little on eleventh or twelfth-century affairs. Yet if the aim of the volume was to concentrate on the thirteenth century and beyond, it is surprising to find that Françoise Micheau's chapter on Copts, Melkites, Nestorians and Jacobites is focused on the eleventh to fourteenth centuries and Peter Cowe's first chapter is entitled "The Armenians in the era of the crusades, 1050-1350." By contrast, individual chapters on the Russian church open with Stella Rock's coherent chapter on "Russian piety and Orthodox Culture 1380-1589." It is unfortunate that an advertised chapter on the Russian Church between 1000 and 1400 is missing from the published volume, thereby explaining the abrupt and arbitrary start to the history of the Russian church from the end of the fourteenth century. With such a range of starting points, the lack of a chronological descriptor in the title becomes understandable.

Let us now turn, more briefly, to the individual chapters which collectively make up this volume. Eastern Christianity is divided into four parts: "The Ecumenical Patriarchate;" "The Russian Church;" "Eastern Christianities;" and "The Modern World." As observed previously, thirteen of the twenty-four contributions contemplate circumstances and themes relating wholly to the period after 1500 and so fall outside the purview of this study.

Part I explores the ecclesiastical, liturgical and spiritual development and inheritance of Byzantine Christianity. Shepard's chapter demonstrates great insight and considerable knowledge of the ecclesiastical traditions in the orbit of Constantinople, and applies modern anthropological theory to their mutual relationships, with impressive results. Its thematic approach has much to recommend it, marking a welcome departure from a more conventional historical narrative of the Byzantine Church or the patriarchate of Constantinople across these centuries. Judging from its table of contents, volume 3 will complement Shepard's chapter down to 1100; the twelfth century may not however be as well-served. Michael Angold's elegant, deft study of Byzantium and the West between 1204 and 1453 provides a clear reassessment of a complex relationship; the ease with which leading figures realigned and reinvented themselves is particularly well-explored. Sharon Gerstel and Alice-Mary Talbot investigate the culture of lay piety within Byzantium between 1054 and 1483, sketching the physical, temporal and spiritual matrices of the Byzantine religious landscape. In a fresh and highly illuminating piece, Dirk Krausmüller examines the rise of hesychasm, outlining the origins of the spiritual exercises, the principal figures involved in the controversy and the academic proofs they employed. Nancy Sevcenko's study, "Art and liturgy in the late Byzantine Empire," provides an exemplary treatment of the Byzantine rite and its artistic expression, both in terms of manuscript illumination and church decoration. Her chapter is accompanied by five black and white illustrations. These are extremely helpful and it is a pity that more illustrations could not have been included. This reviewer would make a plea for the use of colour plates as well. Elizabeth Zachariadou offers two short studies on the contrasting fortunes of the monasteries of Mount Athos and the Great Church in Constantinople under Ottoman rule. The three subsequent chapters-- two by Paschalis Kitromilides titled "Orthodoxy and the west: Reformation to Enlightenment" and "The legacy of the French Revolution" and one by Alexander Grishin on "Bars'kyj and the Orthodox community"--have not been included in this review.

Part II is focused upon the history of the Russian Church only from the end of the fourteenth century. The loss of the advertised history of the Russian Church between 1000 and 1400 is to be regretted. Nevertheless Stella Rock supplies an excellent survey of, and important corrective to, the traditional model of an Orthodox nation, united under tsar and patriarch, emerging between 1380 and 1589. Lindsay Hughes explores Russian religious art and architecture across the same period, distinguishing different trends in Novgorod and Moscow and concentrating upon the career, and influence, of Andrei Rublev, active in the first three decades of the fifteenth century. Again, Robert Crummey's study of "Eastern Orthodoxy in Russia and Ukraine in the Age of the Counter-Reformation," Simon Dixon's treatment of the "Russian Orthodox Church in imperial Russia 1721-1917," and the investigation of Russian piety from Peter the Great to 1917 by Chris Chulos, all lie outside the scope of this review.

Moving away from the Byzantine and Russian patriarchates, Part III is entitled "Eastern Christianities." In a long and admirable study, referred to previously, Françoise Micheau traces the historical profiles of the several minority Christian communities which persisted within the lands of Islam, between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. She succeeds in drawing out common features and developments while at the same time recognizing their distinctive elements. S. Peter Cowe examines the Armenian experience between 1050 and 1350 in more detail, tracing relations with Byzantium, the Papacy and the Mongols. This is a very detailed analysis which stresses the range of Armenian reactions to external stimuli; it repays careful reading. The survey of the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahedo Church by Donald Crummey extends from its fourth-century origins down to the present day. Whilst it is necessarily outline in character, it provides a useful introduction to this significant strand of Christian experience. The remaining three chapters--"Church and diaspora: the Armenians' by S. Peter Cowe, "Coptic Christianity in modern Egypt," and "Syriac Christianity in the modern Middle East," both by Anthony O'Mahony-- again focus on exclusively post-medieval times. The same is true of the three chapters which together make up Part IV, "The Modern World:" "Diaspora problems of the Russian emigration" by Sergei Hackel; "The Orthodox Church and Communism" by Michael Bourdeaux and Alexandru Popescu; and "Modern Spirituality and the Orthodox Church" by John Binns.

In summary, Eastern Christianity contains a number of valuable contributions on key themes in the history of Orthodox and eastern Christianity broadly in the later medieval period and beyond. It seems highly likely that it will complement themes previously developed across volumes 2, 3 and 4 of the Cambridge History of Christianity. However, as a stand-alone volume which appeared before these earlier volumes were published, for the several reasons outlined above, it is slightly disappointing. The lack of a chronological descriptor in the title and of an introduction defining what is understood by "Eastern Christianity" or establishing the rationale behind the collected articles, are particular weaknesses. Without a careful prior study of its contents, this reviewer believes that many will purchase Eastern Christianity in anticipation of a much wider survey, especially from a chronological perspective. Whilst the volume has many delights, they may not be buying quite what they had intended.