We’ve Moved

Dear Friends,

Thank you all for following me here at Letters from the Edge of Elfland. I’m happy to announce that I have happily move to Patheos Catholic. You can find me at patheos.com/blogs/elflandletters. Make sure to subscribe and see my first week’s worth of posts. Thank you again for all your support. 

Sincerely,

David

An Answer to the Call for the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything

David Russell Mosley

flammarion-woodcut

Eastertide
Octave of the Ascension
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago a new acquaintance (really a kindred spirit and therefore friend, though we’ve not yet met) of mine, Michael Martin, wrote an essay on the Angelico Press blog entitled, “The Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything.” For those unfamiliar with Martin, he is the Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy at Marygrove College and has written several works, the only one of which I have read thus far is The Submerged Reality: Ophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. Martin is like me, a believer in faërie, a poet (though a far better one as I understand it). I think we both can sign off on this line from an interview with theologian John Milbank, “I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches.” So I was overjoyed when Martin decided to put tires to pavement in a new way (he’s been living this stuff for some time now) when he wrote this essay.

Martin’s essay is a clarion call to those who are like minded in this endeavor which he calls the radical Catholic (and I would add catholic) reimagination of everything, or one might it even call it the C/catholic unveiling of sacramental ontology, for, ultimately, this is what Martin is driving at. At the beginning, Martin, a proponent of sophiology (something on which I hope to write more as I understand more), notes the call to Wisdom (Sophia) that appears at key moments in the Byzantine Liturgy. He then turns to another part of the liturgy, a hymn called  Megalynarion, “The Magnification of Mary.” You can read those for yourself in Martin’s essay. What I want to draw your attention to is this line from Martin:

“My investigation here is not about the liturgy, however, but about the ways in which phenomenology and sophiology discover the same phenomenon: the shining that illuminates the cosmos. This shining speaks in the languages of poetry, languages that take on a myriad of forms and are sometimes mistaken for science, sometimes for theology.”

Martin is calling us to a different way of seeing, but also a different way of doing, of being, simply put of living in reality. Martin understands that certain strains of theology do not allow for this kind of sight. He notes, via Hans Urs von Balthasar, that Neoscholasticism denuded itself of attention to the Glory of the Lord and that this proper attention was passed through certain poets, philosophers, and scientists while it was lost by the theologians. Even were one to disagree with this genealogy, one need only look at trends in theology today to see that this attention the Glory, to Sophia, to sacramental ontology has been ignored by many (though it is making something of return as theologians find themselves once again desiring to return to the sources).

In the end of his essay Martin issues a call to “poets, artists, scientists, adventurers, teachers, communitarians, distributists, scholars, and visionaries who hanker for something more living in Catholic culture.” He does not desire mere theory, men and women sitting in a room talking about how great it would be if. However, it should be obvious that Martin is not against the study of these issues in order to better inhabit these ideas and live this reality. Rather, Martin wants us to act as we talk. Theoretike and Practike must be united. Some may be Marthas and others Marys, but we need both and we need most of all those who are willing to live the hard life being both at once.

And so this is, in my own small way, my answer to Martin’s call. I am a poet, an author, a theologian, a gardener, a distributist, a husband, and a father (and more besides); I am all of those things bound up together and suspended as one made according to the Image. I am ready not simply to think about a sacramental ontology but to live it. This will be hard, already have I been confronting ways in which my habits did not accord with my beliefs and my knowledge, but I will answer this call. I must answer this call, I can feel it in the very blood that flows through me that this is right, that this is how reality really is. Confronting my son’s cancer was the first step for me in coming not simply to believe that these fantastic elements of the faith are true (I already believed), but to experience them. Yet I have let the shadows overcome me and make me believe that those moments are rare and that real life is lived without experience of the Glory. Well I say no more. I say that that way of living is ultimately damned (though we can be saved from it). Root and branch, twig and bough, I am in. Join me, as I join Martin and others and we radically (which remember means to return to one’s roots) and catholicly reimagine everything.

Sincerely,
David

What I’m Reading, Working On, and Have Coming Out

David Russell Mosley

 

Eastertide
21 April 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

My life has been a little busy as of late. Between my family, teaching online, applying for more jobs, trying to think of new projects, trying to come up with a proposal for the upcoming Patristics, Medieval, Renaissance Conference, and finalizing, sort of, things for my two forthcoming books, it’s been hard to find inspiration to write here. I tried to start blogging through Taylor’s A Secular Age and while I’m still reading it and taking notes, blogging through all 700+ pages of it feels overwhelming. That said, I am going to try harder to blog more often. So today, I’m going to give some updates on what I’m reading, what I’m doing/working on, and what I’ve got coming up.

What I’m Reading:

Along with Taylor’s A Secular Age, I’m reading Andrew Greeley’s The Catholic Imagination, which I am enjoying; Lord of the Rings; and Dante’s Paradiso. If you look at my goodreads page you’ll see several other books that are currently on the back burner. I’ll also be picking up several new review books over the next few weeks which I’ll write about here once I have them.

What I’m Working On:

So I have four main things I’m working on. First of all, I’m working on putting together an online intro theology course for Johnson University. I’m really enjoying putting this class together. Currently, I’m assigning McGrath’s Christian Theology Reader, Ron Heine’s Classical Christian Doctrine, and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I’m also working on three possible writing projects. The first is a project on Sacramental Ontology. I’m wanting to follow on from the work of Hans Boersma and connect sacramental ontology to actual sacraments. The second is a collection of essays. I’m working on pulling together some of the things I’ve written here along with some new essays on the relationship of Faërie and theology. Finally, I’m working on a proposal for the upcoming PMR (see above) conference at Villanova. I think I’m going to propose a paper on the relationship between the bread and wine in the Eucharist and bread and wine in daily consumption in Thomas Aquinas.

What I’ve Got Coming Up:

I have two books due at the end of this month. Well actually, I have one book (as in the manuscript) due at the end of the month and marketing stuff due for another book, whose MS has been submitted, also due at the end of the month. To be more specific: The MS for my novel, On the Edges of Elfland: A Fairy-Tale for Grown Ups, is due at the end of the month to Wipf and Stock publishers. Look out for more information on that over the next few months. My other book, the publication of my PhD thesis––Being Deified: Poetry and Fantasy on the Path to God––has the rest of its marketing stuff (I can’t really claim to understand it all) is due at the end of the month as well. Both books will, hopefully, be out this Autumn at the latest. I’ll post more about it as well as time goes on.

So, that’s what’s going in my life, aside from watching my adorable children grow up, spending time with my beautiful wife, and trying to deepen my faith and work with God to prepare myself for the Beatific Vision. I hope you all are well and hope to do better by you here on Letters from the Edge of Elfland.

Until then, I remain your Elfland correspondent.

Sincerely,

David

Returning to a Life of Pilgrimage

David Russell Mosley

michelino_danteandhispoem

Epiphanytide
Sts. Timothy and Titus
26 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
For I had wandered off the straight path.
-Dante, The Inferno, 1-3.

While I cannot claim to be quite midway through my life (or so I hope, though Dante proved to be wrong about this himself), I have recently begun my annual re-read of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’m doing it a littler earlier than usual for two reasons: First, I’ve just been dying to re-read it, and this year I bought myself individual volumes for each part. Second, Pope Francis has recommended Dante’s poem as beneficial reading for the Year of Mercy. While I’m not a Roman Catholic, I’m certainly not one to ignore the advice of those far holier than I. As I read it, perhaps even more closely this year due to its multi-voluminous nature, I’m struck rather forcibly by the notion of pilgrimage.

What I mean is this: Traditionally, the main character in the Divine Comedy is called the Pilgrim. This is to separate Dante the Pilgrim from Dante the author since he is a character in a story, similar to how there is Lewis the author and Lewis the character in Out of the Silent Planet. So we call the character the Pilgrim. But we do this also because he stands for us as a kind of Everyman. It is not only his pilgrimage from Hell to Heaven, but ours as we journey with him (Bilbo works in a similar way in The Hobbit, as do hobbits in general in The Lord of the Rings). In this sense, that the Pilgrim is a representative for me, can I say that I am the Pilgrim. This is not because there is anything special about me but precisely because I am interchangeable with any other. I am, in my own way, just as much an Everyman, just as Dante is also an individual. In a way, I replace the pilgrim. I am the one journeying through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. I am on a pilgrimage, not to Rome or the shrine of a particular saint (though I hope to make this kind of journey someday) but to God himself. The Pilgrim and I go on this journey together, our identities sometimes being blurred.

Augustine will often talk about our journey in life as one that is intended to end in our Patria, our Fatherland. The allusions to Philippians 3 are obvious, but Augustine also means that our journey in life is to the Father, the Beatific Vision. A misunderstanding of this view has, unfortunately, led some to the conclusion that this world itself does not matter. Of course this is precisely not true for our journey to the Patria is not a spacial one. We do not move from Earth to Heaven. Rather Earth itself, in fact the whole cosmos, is moved to both Hell and Heaven. It is this pre-resurrection life that is not our homeland, not our Patria, not creation itself. This is key, I think, to living the Good Life. We must recognize that it is not material existence in a material creation that we are journeying away from. Instead, it is sin, evil, death itself; these are the things we hope to leave behind as we journey to God. Even as we journey on, we bring the rest of creation with us, lifting it up as priests to God, but also offering thanks on its behalf.

So I am trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. I am trying to remember that this life is a preparation for the life to come when Christ returns and makes all things new. This should mean that everything I do in this life be done as if by a pilgrim. I ought not to tie myself to sin and death, to the corruptible, but to set my sights on things eternal. Only in this way can I have creation, including my own, as I ought. Only in this way can I be in right relationship with the world around me. I must remember first that I pilgrim journeying to the Patria, in the process of being deified. Christ has paved the way and journeys on with us; the Spirit guides us, corrects us, points us back to Christ and his saints; and the Father is our journey’s end. Join me, won’t you, in this pilgrim life?

Sincerely,
David

Is Narnia an Allegory?

Dear Friends and Family,

You may remember that a few years ago I wrote you concerning whether or not the Chronicles of Narnia is an allegory. I cam out firmly against it. Here, Brenton Dickieson goes into much greater detail, being the better (and proper) Lewis scholar, showing you what allegory is, what Lewis thought of it, and why Narnia is not an allegory. Do give it a read.

Sincerely,
David

A Pilgrim in Narnia

No. It’s not.

Allegory of Love CS Lewis new reprintWhile tempted to leave it at that and produce the shortest blog of history, I think it is important to let the Narnian himself address the question. C.S. Lewis was, after all, a literary scholar who had written an entire academic book about the development of medieval allegory (The Allegory of Love). He knows what allegory is, when it works well, and how to use it when it is the best genre to use. He liked Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and George Orwell‘s Animal Farm. He himself wrote an allegory, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and never chose to do so again.

When Lewis turned to writing for children and his earlier science fiction books, he could have easily chosen allegory. Instead, he wrote fairy tale and space romances. J.R.R. Tolkien hated allegory “in all its manifestations” (see his 2nd edition foreword to The Fellowship…

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Tetelestai for Good

David Russell Mosley

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Advent
12 December 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’m behind on sharing this news by a few days, but for those who don’t already know: I am completely done with my PhD! In many ways I still can’t believe. In other ways, this is an unbelievably underwhelming time for me. It’s difficult to get too excited since everything has happened while I’ve been physically removed from the University of Nottingham (where I did my PhD).

Last time I wrote you was right after I had passed my Viva. Since then, I had to resubmit my thesis with all the necessary corrections in October. I found out in mid-November that my corrections had been accepted. I was overjoyed at that news. There was a not-so-small part of me that worried I had not done enough, but evidently I had, for Rev. Dr. Alison Milbank (my internal examiner) emailed me a few days before the official word, telling me that she was happy to pass my thesis with the corrections I had made. Once I got the official word I had to get my thesis printed and bound and submitted to the appropriate people at the University. That was slightly difficult to manage from the States, but in the end it got done and I graduated, in absentia, on 8 December 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

As I said, I am overjoyed, but it has been a strange process. In a way, it has been a bit like becoming a husband or a father for me. That is, it is something that comes on gradually with new complexities at each stage. When does one become a father, after all? Is it when you find out your wife is pregnant? Is it when the baby is born? Or what about becoming a husband, after all, the process starts when you begin dating your spouse and changes once you become engaged, and changes again during the wedding ceremony, and changes once again on your wedding night. Becoming a doctor has been something like that. Was I a doctor when I passed my viva? Or when my corrections were accepted? Or when I graduated? And let’s not forget all the writing that went on before that, like dating before marriage, or having sex before conception. Becoming a doctor, of course, is not exactly the same as becoming a father or a husband, but the process, the gradualness of slowly passing stages that further your steps toward the end goal, that is the same.

Whatever the case, I am, unequivocally, and irrevocably, Dr. David Russell Mosley. I thank you all for your support, for your love, prayers, and interest during this process and while I wrote this blog, occasionally updating you on what I was doing toward getting my doctorate.

A final piece of news: As you already know, I am publishing a work of fiction with Wipf and Stock Publishers.
I am also pleased to announce, though this has been the case for some time, that I will also be publishing my thesis12304154_908706462544609_6750187958427026235_o, Being Deified: Poetry and Fantasy on the Path to God, with Fortress Press in their Emerging Scholars series.

In light of all this good news, I could still use your prayers. I am still applying for jobs, teaching theology at the undergraduate and/or graduate level(s), but have not landed one yet. Please pray that one of the jobs I have already applied for, or, if not one of those, then one I will apply for in the near future, will come through and that I will be employed at an academic institution for the 2016/2017 school year. This is, perhaps, ambitious as many of my colleagues from Nottingham and elsewhere who have finished before me are still looking for work. Nevertheless, I pray for it for myself and for them and I ask that you do the same. In the mean time, I will continue to apply for jobs, write letters to you all here, and attempt to move forward with some new research topics. Until next time I remain,

Sincerely yours,
Dr. David Russell Mosley

What Does It Mean To Be a Theologian

David Russell Mosley

saint-athanasius-of-alexandria-icon-sozopol-bulgaria-17century

Advent
3 December 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

As I continue to apply for jobs, applying for nearly three for every one I don’t get, I can’t help but reflect on what it means to be a theologian. Whenever I meet new people and they ask the inevitable question, “What do you do?” I always end up answering, somewhat bashfully, “I’m a theologian.” It was easier when I was still working on my PhD. I could just tell them that I was a PhD student in theology. But I’m not anymore, and that complicates the matter. After all, I don’t have a full-time job teaching theology. So I’m not a professional theologian in the sense that I get paid regularly, and enough to make a living, to teach theology. I remember in undergrad there was a professor in our seminary, Dr. Bob Lowery, who wrote once concerning what it means to be a scholar. Did it mean publishing journal articles, writing many books?  Did it mean having a PhD or a teaching position at a university? Or did it mean being something more, something about being driven to learn and research regardless of whether one had met all the “proper requirements.” Dr. Lowery seemed to think it was the latter far more than the former. He thought that being a scholar was something much deeper than having a PhD and writing books and teaching at a university. But this is precisely what causes me to wonder what it means to be a theologian. I have academic training, the highest you can get, but does that make me a theologian? I think the answer is both yes and no. Let me explain.

Evagrius of Pontus, a fourth century theologian who is sometimes frowned upon in Western Christian circles has written, “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian” (Treatise on Prayer, 61). So there is a sense in which every Christian is called to be a theologian. Being a theologian, in this sense, is one who is dedicated to life in Christ and the contemplation of the Holy Trinity. Even that can sound daunting to many lay Christians, but if you pray, you are a theologian, you are engaging in theology because you are engaging in thinking about and even talking to God.  Yet even within this understanding, there are clearly some who spend more of their time engaged with thinking about and communicating both about and to God. There are levels, gradations, of being this kind of theologian. But these gradations are not inherently tied to education. No one would deny that St. Anthony was a great theologian, but he wrote no books and had little to no formal theological training. Nevertheless, St. Athanasius views Anthony as his superior both in the faith generally and as a theologian, which is why St. Anthony was appealed to during the Council of Nicaea.

So if every Christian is a theologian and this isn’t necessarily tied to formal education, what does it mean when I call myself a theologian in the same way a cleric might call him or herself a priest, a vicar, a parson, a preacher, or a pastor? Here I have to introduce the language of vocation. Today vocation has typically come to mean training in skilled labor. This is why we have “vocational schools” which train people to be electricians, plumbers, mechanics, etc. (worthy and wonderful things). Other times it simply means the career path one has chosen. But originally, to have a vocation meant to have a calling from God to a certain way of life (the priesthood, monasticism, etc.). The word vocation itself comes from the Latin vocare: to call. I believe that I have a vocation to be a theologian, and this required for me formal and academic training.

I remember having some interactions with a former student at the University of Nottingham. He had trouble with some of the theologians in our department who often focused on issues he determined not strictly theological but philosophical (that’s as specific as I care to be, but I’m sure many of you can figure out the kind of stuff I’m talking about). He once told me that he’d rather pray in the gutter with me than read the work of some of our theologians. The Philokalia was his primary guide for what it meant to be a theologian. I don’t want to denigrate some of these opinions. Praying with the downtrodden is an immensely holy thing to do, and there are worse guides for one’s spiritual and theological life than the Philokalia. However, my issue was that this student had no room for academic training which included philosophy and critiquing modern society. He had no real room for theology as an academic discipline. And while I am sympathetic that there is a kind of theology which does not require academic training, and firmly believe that there is another kind that does.

One of my PhD supervisors, Simon Oliver, has two sayings that I often return to. He says that we know we are a royal priesthood because there are priests, that is that there are a class of people set aside for the priestly office. Similarly, he says that we know the world is sacramental because there are sacraments. The particular instantiation of the latter, priests and sacraments, allows us to understand the general instantiation of the former, royal priesthood and the sacramental nature of the cosmos. I think this applies to theologians as well. We know that all Christians are called to be theologians because there are theologians. We need people set apart to spend their lives studying theology, studying the deep things of God and his creation, for in this way can we understand that all Christians are called to some level of being theologians.

I do want to make one caveat here before I conclude. I want to return to Evagrius. Prayer, that is an active “devotional” life, and by that I mean a life of prayer and contemplation, a life of worship of the Holy Trinity, is necessary to be a theologian of any stripe. If that is missing, then one is certainly not a theologian, at least not in the Christian understanding of that word. One might study religions or a particular religion or even doctrines, but if one is not living a life of worship, participating in the rites and rituals of the Church (whichever tradition) then one is not a theologian. Another former professor of mine once told me that he never trusted, and nor should I, a theologian who doesn’t pray. I think there is much wisdom in this and the history of Christianity would certainly agree.

So, if you and I have never met and one day we do and you ask me what I do, I will tell you that I am a theologian. It has become as fundamental to me as being a husband and a father. Part of that is simply because I am a Christian and part of it is because I have trained and worked and continue to read and study and write. I am a theologian. I am a theologian because I pray. I am a theologian because I have studied to be one and continue to study. It is my calling, my vocation. At least for me, but I think more broadly as well, this is what it means to be a theologian.

Sincerely,
David