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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: Dissertating; The Avengers; Fortunate's Dissertation Defense 
22nd-Nov-2008 08:44 am
Today's the Feast of Lewis, being the 45th anniversary of his death, as well as those of Kennedy and Huxley.

My birth certificate showed up in the mail, which was a relief. My identity remains my own for another day. So all my paperwork is in order, and my files can be put away for another decade. The day was spent digging back into Chapter 1 of the dissertation, refreshing myself with what I had done there so that I could clarify in my mind what remained to do in this next chapter. I had a headache through most of Friday, though, which was discouraging. Still, over meals I watched a few episodes of the 1965 season of The Avengers, which I had found on sale the other day for a mere dollar. I hadn't seen these since I was in junior high, when they were my first exposure to quirky British television and intrinsic British coolness, as well as the more fundamental fascinations of Mrs. Emma Peel in a leather catsuit. The music, the camerawork, the locations: it was all great fun to watch now as an adult, and to remember 1965's contradictions from a 2008 perspective – of people who moved between upscale London buildings with their modern amenities and open-fire village pubs and houses, as both being "normal." The countryside village conditions, from my eye, though, were hardly removed from what I grew up considering "camping," they were so basic. Ireland was the last of the European nations to so modernize, with a lot of folks describing to me in 1997 how different things had been just a few years earlier, and how much more prosperous everyone was feeling in that "Celtic Tiger" economy as it made fundamental changes in the popular standard of living. So watching these were both fun "spy-fi" in themselves, as well as interesting historical documents in indirect ways.

The other morning I attended Fortunate's dissertation defense with Mike and Ellen, which was quite fun because this was one defense where I already knew the material in great depth, which is not often the case in our diverse and specialized dissertations. But Fortunate is an Augustine scholar, among other Early Christianity interests, who dissertated under Barnes, and did an historical project that he nevertheless tied in interesting ways to struggles today in divisions among African Christians, offering his work as a model of an historical pattern worth trying to avoid. The rest of the committee – Zemler-Cizewski, Dempsey, Johnson and Carey – all asked potent and interesting questions from their various specialties and perspectives. Mine was the only "public" question. In my own work, touching on the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, I had been struck by the fact that, as with many Church councils, no one had ever attended a council before, since there had been none in their lifetimes. So they sort of had to make up their own way of having a council. Since Fortunate's dissertation, and the faculty conversation regarding it, was more explicit about the African cultural elements Augustine and the other African council leaders were trying to rein in or modify, I asked about any particularly African characteristics in their councils themselves that Fortunate might have noticed. Most of that conversation seemed to stay in the moral mode, as well as mentioning the African concern with universal perspective or function in the Church, which one can see back to Cyprian in particular.

"Broken Nets": Augustine, Schisms, and Rejuvenating Councils in North Africa
Fortunate Ojiako, B.A., B.Th., M.A., M.A.
Marquette University, 2008.

This dissertation studies the schisms ("broken nets" according to Augustine) [he was using the image of the story of Jesus instructing disciples where to fish, with one casting of their nets resulting in a catch that burst the nets] that bedeviled the North African Church, as well as its moral conditions during the late fourth and early fifth centuries. This study equally shows the rejuvenating nature of the Aurelian/Augustinian councils. These councils sought to regenerate debased and erroneous aspects of North African customs. The sanative nature of the Aurelian/Augustinian councils is not only buttressed from Augustine's Letter 22, but also from the content of the conciliar decrees emanating from the North African councils. These reforms were liturgical, moral, as well as disciplinary in nature. In correcting the African Church customs, Augustine sought to align them with those of the universal church.

The trademark moral rigorism of the African Church that had dire consequence for her is likewise highlighted in this work. Rigorist views were espoused by Tertullian, Cyprian, the Donatists, and even Augustine's Catholic Church. Rigorism is also present in the consuetudo or the so-called African theology that sought exclusion for apostates and also rebaptized former heretics and schismatics. This work adumbrates that nets and broken nets were products of the time. While the Decian persecution of 251 AD gave rise to the lapsi, (and in extension Novatianism) the Diocletian persecution of 312 produced the traditores, which in turn aided the Donatist schism.

Part two of this work explores the state of the North African Church that Augustine and his cohorts sought through councils to reform. This section also examines the Cyprianic councils and the impact of customs and scriptural interpretations on the controversy in the North African Church.

The result of this dissertation will not only show the rejuvenating nature of the Aurelian and Augustinian councils, but also adds its voice to those among Augustinian scholarship that see a greater need and importance of studying Augustine more from his African environment. This is not in any way an attempt to discountenance the importance of other paradigms that go a long way toward a better understanding of Augustine.
22nd-Nov-2008 04:49 pm (UTC)
I signed "The Last Battle" out from the library yesterday. I stole your Feast of Lewis idea last year and even put it in my Facebook calendar (as the Feast of C.S. Lewis - if anyone else reads my calendar, they'll think I'm crazy). Not that Lewis should only be read once a year, but I like the idea of having a personal day where no matter what else is going on that I (and the girls when they are old enough) celebrate him and his works.
22nd-Nov-2008 05:50 pm (UTC)
That's the way it evolves. And I think our "innovating" our own feasts like this keeps it all – the communion of the saints, the liturgical year, church history – real for us.
22nd-Nov-2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
Some of our family "sepecial days" are feasts in the liturgical sense, like Dr. Seuss's birthday on March 2 (complete with the reading of his books and green eggs and ham for supper). I do think family rituals and traditions are important. I'm also pretty much a syncretist at heart - if it isn't against Christianity, then I have no problem celebrating secular holidays.
23rd-Nov-2008 09:29 am (UTC)
Well, and you might remember, too, that many Christian holidays, like Christmas, were already standing pagan festivals of one sort or another that Christians then "baptized" for the social/cultural ease of converts, so that their ritual rhythms wouldn't be too disrupted. It's the same thing you see with other traditions now trying to create a non-Christian Christmas, which brings a certain sense of irony to the effort....
23rd-Nov-2008 11:31 pm (UTC)
Definitely, Christmas and Eastern have lots of elements of syncretism. I have a friend who won't allow his family to have a Christmas tree because it is of pagan origins.

I used to try, when I did more Sunday school work, to talk about or celebrate any secular holiday that landed on a Sunday (Earth Day, Canada Day, Remembrance Day) as well as nominally Christian days (Valentine's, St Patrick's day, Mother's Day.) I was all about the teachable moment and finding God in all of these celebrations.

And then there is my on-going rant about how the vast majority of people in the Anglican church and the Lutheran church don't understand the church year. Today was alternately The Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday and no one mentioned it at church. I worked my butt off to pick out worship music that all related thematically and taught it to the teens ... and no one got it. Which is a shame. This is the day we look to the future, to our hope, the the second coming, the new Jerusalem. All our images of the kingdom of God are party ones - it's like a feast, it's like the wedding with the church as the Bride of Christ. This was a chance to have a small taste of the celebration to come and we (at least my church) blew it.
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