What I’m Reading: December 2015 Edition

David Russell Mosley

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

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve written these sporadically, but I’m going to try to write them a bit more regularly, at least once a month.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria

15106299This is one of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. If you’ve never read it, or if you’ve never read a book by an ancient Christian, then I recommend it, especially this translation. The Popular Patristics Series (patristic means relating to the early Christian theologians, often called the Church Fathers) by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press is a great series for getting translations of ancient texts in understandable English. However, it’s also a great series for the scholars out there. If you are a scholar or are interested in getting into the original languages then I’d recommend picking up this edition which has the Greek on page and English on the other. This book has been formative for me as a theologian. It’s one of the foundational pieces for understanding deification and it helps situate the Incarnation as the central cosmic event. It’s a must read for me every Advent to help prepare me for the coming of our Lord.

Theo-Poetics: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Risk of Art and Being by Anne Michelle Carpenter

25434467This is the other theological book I’m reading right now. I picked up at the recent AAR/SBL and have become acquaintances with the author. Now, my reading of Hans Urs von Balthasar has been fairly limited, but that’s not an issue with Carpenter’s book. She explains Balthasar’s thought very clearly so that you get a sense of what he’s saying without having read all the books and essays Carpenter has. That said, this is a definitely an important book in Balthasarian scholarship. Carpenter, so far anyway, is doing an excellent job explaining the importance of art and poetics to Balthasar’s theology. While she uses the word theo-poetics differently than I do in my thesis, her use is, I think still connected. For Carpenter, theo-poetics is about a poetic theology, poetic logic and images that help undergird and connect theological reflections (whereas my own use is to connect it directly theopoiesis or deification). So far the only glaring problem with this book is that it is making me want to buy more Balthasar books than I can presently afford.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

593985This is another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads. Tolkien, that wonderful sub-creator, began writing his children letters from Father Christmas in 1920 when his eldest son, John, was three years old. From that first simple letter comes many more with more and more characters and events each year for the next 26 years (he stopped when his daughter Priscilla was 17). These letters are full of wonderful stories, as you can well imagine, but also wonderful pictures. Tolkien was a rather good artist in his own way and the pictures as well as samples of the handwritten letters that adorn this book are wonderful in the truest sense of the word.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

5175x9z9v8LYet another of my annual Advent/Christmas reads, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is really a book everyone should read, full stop. In this book both the meanness, the grotesque, the worst of human nature and the best are on display. Dickens perhaps knew people, and possibly even humanity in general, better than almost any other author (Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, and a few others would perhaps also vie for this honor). In this book we get a glimpse into dark recesses of fallen human nature and even a reminder that we cannot crawl out of those recesses completely on our own. The story has, it’s true, become perhaps a bit too familiar to us with umpteen different versions of it in existence on the big and small screen. Still, if you can, try to read the story with fresh eyes and I will be much surprised if you don’t come away having been changed by the story.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

27402335For the last few years when I decided I wanted to read through the Sherlock Holmes stories, I would pull out a single-volume edition of the complete stories that I have (it’s a facsimile edition from the originals in the Strand Magazine) and attempt to read them. I say attempt because the book is massive and the pages fragile. So, this year, after reading half of A Study in Scarlet in this format I decided enough was enough, popped over to the library, and picked up several smaller volumes in order to read all the stories without the pain of using my beautiful, but unwieldy single-volume edition. If you’ve never read Holmes, I highly recommend it. These stories are witty, interesting, full of life. I will give a warning however, the majority of the second half of A Study in Scarlet is generally uncharacteristic for the rest of the Holmes stories, taking place in America and having nothing directly to do with the primary protagonists, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson.

On the Back Burner

Advent is a funny time of year for me when it comes to reading. I usually have, as you’ve seen above, several books that I like to read during Advent and Christmas time. In fact, all the books listed above as Advent/Christmas reads, are really books I’d prefer to read during Christmastide (from roughly Christmas Eve to Epiphany eve). But I’m also usually finishing books during this time and don’t like to wait before picking up a new book. But then I have to try and find books that I can actually read during Advent so that I’m done with them before Christmas, but not too much before so that I’m not just waiting around bookless for Christmas to come. For that reason, and others that make even less sense. I also have two other books that I’ve begun in the recent past but not finished and may not get back to until after Christmas.

543164The first of those books is The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. This is the first in a series of books that are collections of fairy-tales and folk stories from around the world. When I first started writing my novel 8 years ago, it was to this series of books that I turned reading every story about dwarves, goblins, elves, brownies, and more to try and ground my characters and creatures in the stories we have told ourselves about them.

1063075The second book on the back burner is The Shaping of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien. This is the fourth book in the History of Middle-earth Series put out by Christopher Tolkien. This particular volume takes through the stories as things begin to shift from Book of Lost Tales version of them to The Silmarillion version. This isn’t a great book (nor are any in the series) to serve as your “fiction read” if you divide up your reading like I do. That said, the stories in them are always fascinating, as is the insight we’re given into how Tolkien wrote and how his stories developed over time.

Well, that’s it, that’s everything I’m reading right now. What are you reading?

Sincerely,
David

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The Reunification of Heaven and Earth: In Honour of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Birthday

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
12 August 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In honour of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s birthday today, I give you a meaningful passage from the final volume in his Theo-Drama, The Last Act:

What is certain is that our earthly existence, though refined and transfigured in God’s fire, will enter into heaven; the new world will remain our world. In heaven, the life we have led on earth will be not only a memory but something like an abiding presence. How is this possible? We must again return to the reciprocity of heaven and earth: everything that is lived in a fragmentary and incomplete way on earth has always had its ultimate ground in heaven. No earthly moment can be fully exhausted (this is the problem with Goethe’s Faust); whatever eternal content it contains––and our temporal existence cannot bring it forth out of its depths––is “laid up” for us in heaven: in heaven we shall live the full and eternal content of what on earth was present only as a transcendent, unsatisfiable longing. This is at least one aspect of heavenly life. In heaven, therefore, our earthly existence––and we have only one existence––will be present in an unimaginable and unimaginably true manner.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Last Act, 413.

Yours,
David

Thesis Extract: ‘The Role of Humanity in Creation’

 David Russell Mosley

Commemoration of Bridget of Sweden, Abbess of Vadstena, 1373
23 July 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is another brief extract from the second chapter of my thesis on Creation and deification. I hope you enjoy.

The Role of Humanity in Creation

Creation of Eve

This brings us to role and place of humanity in creation. We will discuss more fully in the section below humanity being made in the image and likeness of God and how nascent humanity was both to serve as priest and to await its deifier. Here, however, we should look at the priestly role of humanity from creation’s point of view. That is, that creation is incomplete without humanity.

John Paul II writes, ‘So the very sacramentality of creation, the sacramentality of the world was revealed in a way, in man created in the image of God.’1 The world is revealed, in a sense to itself, in humanity. Since in creation, only humanity can accept creation as a gift, it is clear that humanity completes, in a qualified sense, creation. If we accept that God creates in order to deify, in order to return all things into himself, as argued above, then we must ask how this is to take place. For Maximus, it takes place through humanity’s interconnectivity and kinship to all creation:

For humanity clearly has this power of naturally uniting at the mean point of each division since it is related to the extremities of each division in its own parts. Through that capacity it can come to be the way of fulfilment of what is divided and be openly instituted in itself as the great mystery of the divine purpose. It proceeds harmoniously to each of the extremities in the things that are, from what is close at hand to what is remote, from what is worse to what is better, lifting up to God and fully accomplishing union. For this reason the human person was introduced last among beings, as a kind of natural bond mediating between the universal poles through their proper parts, and leading into unity in itself those things that are naturally apart from one another by a great interval.(Amb. 41.1305B-C).

What Maximus is arguing is that humans by being both material and spiritual have within them an aspect of every part of creation. This allows humanity to serve as a bridge between the material and the spiritual. A bridge that will unite the two realms, allowing all to return to God. Maximus goes on to say that the way Humanity effects this union by shaking off hindrances (like sexual difference) and seeks union with the undivided God. This unifies heaven and earth in the human person (Amb. 41.1305 C- D). Then, by attaining angelic knowledge humans unite the intellectual and the sensible (Amb. 41.1308A). Finally,

And finally, beyond all these, the human person unites the created nature with the uncreated through love (O the wonder of God’s love for human beings!), showing them to be one and the same through the possession of grace, the whole [creation] wholly interpenetrated by God, and become completely whatever God is, save at the level of being, and receiving to itself the whole of God himself, and acquiring as a kind of prize for its ascent to God the most unique God himself, as the end of movement of everything that moves toward it, and the firm unmoved rest of everything that is carried towards it, being the undetermined and infinite limit and definition of every definition and law and ordinance, of reason and mind and nature (Amb. 41.1308 B-C).

Thus, the human person in one sense deifies creation through its own deification. Just as Christ’s having deified his humanity reached through to all humanity,2 so that deification reaches to all creation, ‘except to the level of being.’ ‘[B]y being divinized, the world is perfected as world.’3 We have begun to encroach on an important aspect here, however, that I will deal with more fully below and in the fourth chapter. For now, however, note that just as creation, if its end is a return to God, cannot effect that end on its own without humanity, so too, humanity cannot affect that change on its own.

 

1 John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1997), 76.

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2 Gregory of Nazianzus Theological Oration  30.21.

3 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 257.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley