Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Coptic papyrus, a scholar's reputation on the line and Jesus' wife

Dr. Karen King from Harvard University is taking it on the chin, so to speak. A week after the brief media sensation over the alleged fourth century Coptic papyrus Karen King dubbed "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife," Dr. King and her papyrus are facing strong scholarly rejection of her findings published and publicized in numerous quarters (the Vatican, not surprisingly, included).

Once again, I must note that Karen King did not claim the papyrus had any relevance related to the historical Jesus - her claim was strictly related to the wide cache of beliefs circulating among early Christian communities. The debate circles around whether or not the papyrus itself is an obvious forgery that an experiences scholar or established university should have recognized. Francis Watson is one such scholar who has raised substantial claims against the material authenticity of the document - a complete index of his articles composed since the document was publicized can be found here.

The news cycle of "Jesus' Wife" has transformed at an alarming pace. As I mentioned above, Karen King is certainly taking it on the chin with this one. The story has gone from the "breaking news" a newly discovered historical document to questioning the integrity of an academic institution, salvaging a scholar's reputation and legitimate concern about the academic process itself.

Some scholars immediately questioned how Harvard University could have so readily given legitimacy to a document of unknown origin - one of at least three major red flags that should have come to mind when reviewing the document. Now there are conflicting reports that Harvard Theological Review has reneged on publishing Karen King's article on the fragment, largely based upon the scholarly rejection of the fragment's authenticity. No less an expert than Helmut Koester, King's colleague at HDS and a professor emeritus, has stated his opinion that the document is a forgery. Which would, in my mind, raise another question. Harvard University has numerous scholars in Early Christianity more than qualified to analyze the fragment. Given the university's own role in publicizing the fragment, it would have been a sensible decision to consult some of its other in house experts regarding the authenticity of the fragment. Granted, in academia this would violate long held notions of proprietary scholarship, however, in the real world this is a matter of quality control, the absence of which normally spells financial downfall for any given firm.

Karen King, though fully tenured at Harvard, has potentially entered a fight to salvage her scholarly reputation. King has had a long history of publishing solid articles and monographs on gnostic Christianity, although her recent book on the Apochyrphon of John entertained some interpretations that were less certain than earlier efforts. Nevertheless, she has long held a reputation as a reliable scholar, avoiding the existential/spiritual meltdown that ensnared Elaine Pagels (see, Pagels, Elaine. Beyond Belief.), her better known colleague in the field with a significant popular audience. King, unlike Pagels, seemed to shy away from a subjective interaction with the material, maintaining a proper distance so as not to skew her writings. How, then, could Karen King have allowed herself to be ensnared in such a mess? Academia, to be sure, can be unforgiving when the scent of blood is whiffed. The dogs are out and they, in a scholarly manner, readily tearing King's reputation to shreds. Early reports indicated that the presentation of the papyrus was timed with the premiere of a television special on the topic. Did the potential media crossover effect Karen King's scholarly process? At the very least, this incident as well as the previous media hoopla and resulting backlash over the Gospel of Judas have raised ethical questions as to the appropriateness of private media sponsors  backing or otherwise influencing the scholarly community. Academic propriety is one thing, corporate propriety, however, is of a far greater magnitude with a legal process to match. It is to be noted that details of what arrangement, if any, existed with the television company allegedly premiering a program on the same theme, Dr. King, or Harvard University have not, to the best of my knowledge, been published.

Media cross-over aside, the story raises substantial concerns over the academic process itself. That Karen King or any scholar of religion/theology would want to be associated with the "discovery" and publication of a previously unknown ancient work is not surprising. Most academics, especially in religion, will live and die in relative obscurity. Tenure is not, in of itself, a sure sign of reputation. Scholars must either steadily produce a body of scholarship that defines their field during their lifetime or pursue the avenues of popular publication or "discovery." In effect, both acquiring fame through popular publication, making it on to bestsellers lists like Ehrman or Pagels, and being associated with the discovery of some previously unknown text are the equivalent to sheer luck. No one knows what the publishing trends will be nor where the next previously unknown manuscript will come from. Although when the opportunity presents itself, one has to take it. There is a common opinion, spurred by such conspiracy books as the Sion Revelation and the Templar Revelation, that scholars are too stubborn to entertain or publish "evidence" that Jesus was married, had children, liked bowling, etc. In reality, any scholar would jump at the chance to publish material that either credibly suggested that Jesus was married or that at least demonstrated early Christians believed him to have been so. The news of the past week aptly demonstrates my contention to be true. Karen King, in effort that, plainly, reads as an attempt to save face, has said the backlash against her presentation is the scholarly process in action. True, to an extent.

In my opinion, and this is just an opinion, the quest for reputation, an intrinsic part of the academic process, may well have wielded undue influence over Karen King's methodology. This was an opportunity to be at the forefront of releasing a previously unpublished and unknown ancient text (with some possible media crossover). There were numerous indications that should have given King pause and appeal to her colleagues at Harvard - of course, the moment she did so she would no longer have sole discovery credits or initial publication. The tradition of academic propriety prevented necessary quality control from being applied. There are at least three red flags that should have popped up when reviewing the document. I would also add the old saying, "if something is to good to be true, it probably is." Of the cache of Coptic documents we have, nothing explicitly refers to Jesus' wife. Every supposed "proof" that Jesus had a wife is typically read into the text by a modern audience. The text of the recently published fragment seems to readily give the reader what he or she wants - there is something about it that reads a little too obvious, especially when compared to other Coptic texts. Even if the text didn't reveal anything about the historical Jesus, it would have an immediate audience because it so directly gets to subject matter that has captivated popular culture in the West for some time now. In my opinion, that is.

The final response to the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" has likely yet to be written. Barring incontrovertible evidence pointing to authenticity (in the form of chemical analysis of the ink), Karen King will provide some diplomatically worded additions to her already 52 page article on the fragment in a bid to save face. I suspect, however, she will let the fragment slip into obscurity after the January 2013 publication of her article. There is probably a story behind the story waiting to be told, if not for the production of the fragment itself, then one outlining the decision process behind Karen King's decision to pursue the research leading to the media expose of September 18th, 2012.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Real or Imagined Cultural Inheritance.

The place of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church has been subject to unending debate since the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium at the Second Vatican Council. The arguments have been made in the form of papal pronouncements, journal or magazine articles, popular blog literature, and the occasional erudite piece of publishing. The latest entry can be found here, courtesy of the National Catholic Reporter.

Of late, I've made it policy to avoid popularly available material on the subject of Latin in the Roman Church - the quality of the research and the disposition of the writer leaving much to be desired. However, the priest interviewed for this article seems well educated and even tempered, thus making him a good, albeit mediated,  dialogue partner. Fr. Gallagher makes two observations that are common place these days: the universal property of the Latin language and the cultural if nor ancestral heritage of the language.

The argument of the universal property of Latin is in some respects true. Among Romance countries or countries that eventually came under the control of the Roman Empire, Latin is a linguistic equalizer. It has been noted elsewhere, I believe by Hull in The Banished Heart, that among the Italians Latin is a neutral language. Having been the basis of the linguistic spectrum of Italy, whether Venetian, Sicilian, Calabrian, Neapolitan, or Tuscan (among others), Latin cannot be claimed by anyone one region of Italy. Where standard Italian is based off of Tuscan with some Sicilian influence (via the dominance of the Sicilian school of poetry and its influence on Dante) and, depending upon your perspective, displaced or heavily transformed many of the languages/dialects of the Italian south, Latin has no such historical baggage nor carry the cultural connotations common among the regions of Italy. Conversely, Latin IS a western European language; it has a cultural connotation all of its own and to adopt the language as one's own (liturgically speaking) makes the statement that one belongs to this linguistic culture. For persons of a cultural history outside of the influence of the Roman Empire, the adoption of Latin represents a rupture with their own cultural identity.

This leads directly into the second argument, that of cultural or even ancestral heritage. The idea that one could learn the language one's ancestors spoke has the potential to be a powerful motivator in learning a language. For my own part, that is why I learned Italian. Mr great-grandfather knew standard Italian after having been enrolled in the Italian army. The rest of my Calabrian relatives new a language that was, in my estimation, heavily influenced by the Italian koine and my Sicilian relatives knew the language that would provide the literary substrata to Standard Italian. It becomes somewhat more difficult to make the same argument for Latin. Once again, I will appeal to the Italian peninsula, but the argument applies well to most all of the Romance countries.

There are substantial debates as to when Latin was no longer understood outside of clerical or administrative circles. By about 900, a language distinct from Latin is attested to in writing in Italy.  Retrospectively, we might term it an "Italian Koine", a basic model of Italo-Romance that is at that time breaking off into the many regional variants found in Italy. Some scholars have (notably, Clackson and Horrocks) have postulated the existence of a simplified Latin used in normal speech in addition to the distinctive regional vernaculars of Europe. This hypothesis is based upon hagiographical accounts which seem to imply some largely common tongue among Western European countries around the period of 900-1000, the period during which the first written evidence of Romance languages emerges in the historical narrative. This would, if true, extend into the turn of the second millennium the use of Latin as a spoken language outside of clerical or royal classes. Clackson and Horrocks are not the only scholars to have posed the existence of some form of lingua-franca around the year 1000. If you recall my review of Before the Normans, the accounts of interactions between Arabs and "Latins" in Naples and Greeks in Calabria and Sicily or the interactions between "Latins" and Greeks suggest to some historians the existence of a now lost pan-Mediterranean language. However, the existence of some simplified form of Latin used throughout Europe or a pan-Mediterranean dialect remains hypothetical. Additionally, we know from property registers of the late ninth and early tenth century that Sicily has demonstrable indications of Sicilian, Greek and Arabic all being used on the island, presumably for a substantial period of time prior to the compiling of the registry material. Latin, it seems, did not see use in Sicily from the loss of the island to Byzantium until the Norman period, although Sicilian, being derived from Latin, may have had a substantial presence on the island as a spoken language for some time, hence it's ready application in the form of glosses in the early Norman property registers.

The rise of the Italian languages/dialects in Italy is comparable to that of other Romance languages. In all cases, the historical evidence suggests that Latin had become largely unintelligible as a spoken language. Liturgically, it is unknown how much praying was done in Latin outside of the clergy, both on account of the linguistic divide and the degree to which the liturgy in the Latin west became an increasingly private affair of the priest. It is possible people memorized a Pater Noster, the content of which is easily translatable to most Romance languages. However, the majority of the liturgy, sung hymns included, remained obscured by the distinction between Latin and Romance. Although, it must be noted that Latin texts contain variable proximity to the Romance languages. The Old Latin text of the Bible, being written in Late Latin and typically reflecting patterns of Latin speech (though by no means a written record of vulgar Latin) provides a linguistic link to the Romance languages as they reflect many of the errors of proper Latin that would become standard in Romance.

It is true, however, that there is a degree of connotative content in the Latin text that is not readily translated, especially into non-Romance languages. Connotative qualities aside, there is also a matter of theological quality to much of the traditional Latin texts. At a fairly early stage, the Latin west becomes divorced from Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic. Even Jerome's work is subject to substantial debate among linguists, his knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek coming into question. It seems Jerome may not have been as able in those languages when he produced his Latin translation of the Bible as he was later in life commenting on some of the Biblical texts. The Vulgate became foundational to subsequent Latin prayer and theology. It is worth noting that said prayer, including liturgical prayer, was often based off of poor theology stemming from improper translation in both Jerome's text and/or the Old Latin recension. Quick example: it's the difference between penance in the traditional Latin translation and repentance in most modern translation. The two are very different concepts, but only one accurately translates the Greek of the New Testament.

This does not mean, however, that I would advocate a whole sale abandonment of Latin. There are reasons to retain it. As mentioned above, the Old Latin text offers us a rare window into Latin's eventual development into the Romance languages. Medieval Latin supplied much of the aesthetic foundation for Medieval European culture, reflected in both literature and art. As a language of artistic medium, Latin is more relevant today than it has been in perhaps the last two centuries, although Latin's contemporary artistic expression largely comes from some non-conventional and perhaps even non-Catholic sources. The popularity of Hildegard von Bingen's works among new agers and goths, traces of Latin chant in such groups as Dead Can Dance or indeed the full usage of the language for lyrical content by bands such as This Ascension, Medieval Babes and My Dying Bride demonstrates that the Latin language has had a renewed surge among contemporary and largely non-Catholic artists and audiences. There has been something of a resurgence among younger priests and religious, this is true. Although, the liturgy and prayer are more than the priests and religious. Indeed, it is such an emphasis on the clergy that led to the impoverishment of the Roman liturgy in the middle ages.

It is tempting to say that Latin has scarcely any practical relevance. To some degree it's true; Latin is largely relevant to specialists of language, history, theology, or (nowadays) music. I would argue, however, that Latin is relevant when freely chosen. As a person with a back ground in Biblical Studies, if I use Latin it is with full knowledge of many of the textual errors and resulting theological problems from said text. I freely choose to suspend that critical knowledge in order to enter into the world of the language itself. The challenge I would put before Latin advocates is to let Latin be similarly freely chosen in the liturgical context with full the community being fully informed and fully consenting. Of course this would require Roman Catholic parishes adopting the model of intentional religious communities. As history tends to show, the Roman Catholic church often follows the principle of conserving energy or, in more blunt terms, if the opportunity to be lazy presents itself, Roman Catholics will more often than not choose it. This is not me Catholic bashing, rather, I am making a disheartening but sobering commentary on my own religion - mediocrity is more often than not the norm.

Putting aside nostalgia, aesthetics, or papal pronouncements, Latin, I believe, does have a place. One can find no better proof than when comparing the euchological corpus of the Missale Romanum to some of the contemporary intellectually scattered and emotionally overladen drivel produced in vernacular worship today. While Latin liturgical prayer is paltry when compared to its Greek and oriental counterparts, the reserved cool and theological density of the Latin text serves to correct some of the more, if I may say, noxious trends in contemporary Christian worship.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jesus' Wife - Mr. and Mrs. Jesus Christ and the drama of Biblical studies.

Biblical studies is a strange field. On the one hand, there are scholars who spend their lives immersed in the original language of the text, retracing, if possible, the cultural and linguistic influences upon the canon of Scripture. On the other hand, you have the scholars who spend their careers caught up in the archaeological race to discover or have first publishing credits of "something new and thus far unseen." For persons interested in the cultural and linguistic questions, the Anchor Bible commentary series is a fine place to start. It's the trademark of the series; biblical texts set to at times linguistically tortuous commentaries. If you have an academic background in theology or biblical studies, you likely find the series a rewarding read - there is always some obscure element to the text one can walk away with. However, for the general reading market, works purporting explosive archaeological discoveries or manuscript finds dominate the field.

The trend began in the 1945 with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Codices, a cache of Christian Gnostic documents found in Egypt which supplied scholars with a collection of previously unknown documents from the early stages of Christianity's formation. The trend was solidified in place by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, a large collection of canonical and extra canonical texts and, technically speaking, the earliest manuscript evidence of many of the books in the Hebrew Bible. Both discoveries were anything but humdrum academic affairs. The Nag Hammadi Codices were subject to an interesting chain of custody, starting with the individual alleged to have found the manuscripts and their eventual appearance on the antiquities market. The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, were the subject of legend. Locked away from public access behind agreements with major universities, publishing contracts and academic egos, it took an active campaign by a new generation of scholars in the early 1990s to get all of the material published in facsimile format for universal access. The drawn out process spawned rumors of a secret Vatican cover-up and the discovery of potentially explosive revelations with regard to the origins of Christianity. The end result is that discovering new texts  or being associated with the first publication of new texts is the goal of every scholar. To the degree that it can result in flashy headlines regarding the origins of Christianity or the real Jesus, the better. One's career and future publication deals will be set.

In 2006 the whole process came under scrutiny with the publication of the so-called Gospel of Judas by the National Geographic Society. The manuscript was subject to a somewhat suspicious chain of custody and access to the manuscript was limited to National Geographic's select group of scholars. There was no opportunity for peer review when the Gospel of Judas was published. The community of international Coptic scholars severely critiqued the translation supplied by the Nat Geo. team, some going to far as to say the whole thing was a mistranslation. The story behind the first appearance of Gospel of Judas questioned the long standard manner by which ancient texts come light in biblical studies - normally through private, and illegal, dealings on the antiquities market.

Flash forward to September 19th and 20th 2012. On September 19th, Harvard scholar Dr. Karen King announced the publication of a new Coptic fragment mentioned Jesus' wife. King cautioned that the fragment could not be used to argue whether or not Jesus was married. In fact, composed so late as it was, the text had no value for research into the historical Jesus, it was however an indicator of the wide variety of early Christian beliefs. Twenty-four hours later, the scholarly community has expressed its collective skepticism over King's alleged findings. Put bluntly, something stinks about the "discovery" of this text in the estimation of many scholars. The text has no known provenance, no traceable history to speak of. There is no record in any ancient sources that allude to anything like the text in Egypt. The grammar, according to some Coptic scholars, does not read as it should and the letters themselves do not coincide with the date deduced by King. Finally, there is the suspicion as to the motives for the private owner of the text suddenly appearing. To her credit, Karen King, aside from cautioning anyone from over estimating the value the text has for discovering the Jesus of history, had the text examined by two papyrologists who concluded the the papyrus was authentic. King has also stated she welcomes any criticism from her colleagues to determine the origin of the fragment.

Several things must be noted stemming from the whirlwind of news surrounding this fragment. First, the antiquities market from which so many texts in biblical studies derive is ridden with ethical violations, sketchy characters, and shady motives. The acquisition of these texts often involves violations of law, dubious chains of custody and mysterious private collectors whose motives, origins and relationship to manuscript are unknown. Second, and related to the first, is the motivation behind these manuscripts suddenly appearing. Financial gain is an obvious reason, although it seems to me that many of the figures responsible for bringing certain manuscripts to light spend an inordinate amount of time trying to forge them. It is tempting to think that the unknown provenance, the characters of the collectors involved and the tangled web of international law violations involved in acquiring the manuscript point towards concerted attempts to get certain material out all the while leaving the question of where the material comes from hanging in the air. Third, while I doubt Karen King's scholarly reputation will be seriously damaged by this fiasco, it does necessarily question the integrity of the university and the scholarly process. In biblical studies and theology in general, professors fight for tenure and the professional recognition, all for a salary that is comparatively low when examined along side other fields. One may legitimately ask if the American way of doing tenure has finally begun to get in the way of good scholarship. Fourth, there is a cultural appeal to the notion that Jesus may have experienced the full spectrum of human existence, including sexuality. The notion that the culture is becoming secular and thus disdainful of religion is, to my mind, proven a somewhat fallacious idea. The traditional forms of religion are coming under scrutiny, but the interest surrounding any theory of who Jesus really was or is demonstrates that a peasant Jew from Nazareth remains the figure upon which the Western world pivots.

It is, admittedly, impossible not to run with the speculation that maybe, just maybe, this papyrus reveals something about the real Jesus, even if Dr. Karen King has protested to the contrary. Invariably, a story like this, rather than focusing on the underbelly of biblical scholarship, leads certain religionists to pathologically, if not neurotically, defend their denomination's prescriptions regarding marriage and sexuality - specifically if mandatory celibacy is a feature. The papyrus, if authentic, provides yet another attestation to the variety of early Christian conceptions of Jesus, some of which have been preserved in canonical texts, others expunged, one becoming the dominant model of orthodox Christianity. If authentic, the significance has little to do with the real Jesus, a man who is largely lost to history. Rather its significance resides in the way in which the text represents the varied memories early churches had of Jesus. This does not mean that the dominant model is untrue as far as objective historical fact is concerned. The Jesus of history is largely obscured under an avalanche of orthodox and heterodox confessions. This latest papyrus, if authentic, is yet another example of creedal confession over historical data about Jesus. It is thus impossible, from a historian's perspective, to make a definitive judgment regarding who the historical Jesus is - there is almost nothing left of the historical Jesus preserved in the available early Christian texts. What remains is the Jesus of faith and one can either say the married Jesus is as good as any other, or one can attempt to identify the earliest creedal interpretations of Jesus and compare all subsequent development with the earliest available material. The dominant model as well as rejected models must be compared in the continuum of Christian belief, compared with the earliest articulations of belief - it is there where one can find truth and falsehood.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Morris Berman at Clark University - it is consummated.

There is a manner in which Christ's last words from the cross in John's gospel can be interpreted as  symbolizing not only the completion of the act of atonement, but indeed the closure of one epoch and beginning of another. The ruler of the world is cast out and the Son is glorified. The world, for the author of the Gospel of John, has changed. For Morris Berman, the reign of capital and the rule of modernity have begun to break and the precipitous economic decline of the United States and Europe mark the beginning of an irreversible transition to a new historical epoch.

The notion of the consummation of an age brings with it a certain amount of dread. The old order with which we are familiar, the construct by which we have encoded our lives with meaning and purpose, threatens to collapse. When ashes lay scattered and the soot dissipates from the air, an unknown scape lay in front of us, even if only a reflection of our psyche now bereft of meaning and left with the mammoth task of  re-codifying existence.

The consummation of an age has happened in history; epochal change has brought one world to birth and another to dissolution. Comparatively few are those who live through such times. According to Morris Berman, radical social historian extraordinaire, we are living amid such change. Berman's basic thesis states that capitalism is undergoing its collapse and with it coincides the end of modernity or, as Romano Gaurdini famously titled it in his influential work in 1932, the end of the modern world. Capitalism cannot continue, however, rather than undergoing a self-initiated change, the United States will persist with the capitalist model until the model is exhausted. The crash of 2008 will not be the last and the stagnate economy will not likely return to form as we reach limits of consumption. Many factors will facilitate the collapse: the persistence of financial practices that facilitated the crash of 2008, the inevitability of peak oil, misguided war ventures, and the continued consolidation of wealth to name a few. Capitalism, having been left unchecked and becoming the dominant financial model across the globe, collapses and brings the modern world with it. It is, according to Berman, the break in the arc of capitalism, the death throes of declining age and the birth pangs of another, the total shifting of paradigms. The financial pitfall undergone in the global economy has no tenable exit as the socio-economic system declines steadily towards dissolution prior to redefinition.

Berman's model is indeed, depending upon one's perspective, the most pessimistic or optimistic casting of the future (a process he believes will be complete by 2100, the first year after the modern world). Depending upon one's perspective, he notes, one has either the fortune or misfortune to live through such epochal change, though for many the immediate experience is one of internal anxiety, crushing necessity, and hopelessness as one struggles to retain prescribed life patterns within a society in which they are increasingly obsolete.

Berman's thesis is an example of talking about "great ideas," ideas which are colossal in scope. It is admittedly impossible to fully wrap one's mind around the notion of epochal change, that in forty years capitalism and capitalist society will no longer exist and that be the beginning of the next century society will have as much in common with our own as we do the medievals. Nevertheless, Berman sticks by this and he offers some compelling proofs of his diagnosis.

Is Berman correct? This is another matter entirely. Since at least Gaurdini's work, if not before, observers had commented the the rise of the mass production of financial capital signaled the decline of capitalism if not the modern world as whole due to forces effecting the culture as whole. Berman is not, therefore, alone in his analysis. Even this election cycle has played upon theme to some extent, or, at the very least, the theme of transition. Republicans offer the possibility of restoring a bygone era of the American economy while Democrats pursue the re-engineering of society believing the past to be irretrievable. In some sense, then, I think Berman is correct in his estimation that people have begun to sense that transition is taking place, though it is a transition to something entirely unknown.

There are certain cultural indicators that would make one intuitively feel Berman is on to something in his analysis. All economic indicators suggest upward mobility has come to an end in American society, intimating an end to the economic promise of capitalism and in turn the pragmatic cessation of one of modernism's philosophical presuppositions. There is also, as Berman himself noted, the absurdity of the "bottom 90%." Fiscal capital is in a period of being generated among and coalesced into a limited percentage of economic participants and creating striking examples of disproportionate earnings. The consolation of wealth increasingly occurs through practices which violate the common ethical presuppositions of the Western world, democratic-capitalist societies in particular.

The above circumstances, according to Berman, occasion the rise of social protest movements, most recently seen in Occupy Wallstreet. In Berman's analysis, Occupy Wallstreet is a failure and had little hope of succeeding for two reasons. First, the movement lacked the political structure and necessary hierarchy to become a component of the political process, eventually leading to social and economic reform. Second, Occupy Wallstreet's expressed goal looks to do little more than change the window dressing of the system. But as much as we should expect future economic crashes in our lifetime, we should also expect future protest movements; the social conditions are ripe, in Berman's estimation, for continued future unrest.

Berman compares the magnitude of the change he sees encroaching upon us as comparable to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West and the formation of the Medieval world. Berman looks to the example of the ancient Monastic communities as exemplars for how culture, learning and indeed civilization would survive the transition of epochs. The ancient monasteries were the repository of learning during and after the collapse of Rome and preserved much of classical culture, as well as serve as the focal point of economic activity for the community. IF we are truly heading for the dissolution of modernity as Berman prognosticates, then it is necessary to find communities with such intention and integrity to preserve our culture into the new historical cycle. Berman does not, and I think correctly so, assume that today's Christian monastic communities would once again fulfill that role: many are either uncultured or are themselves too dependent upon modernity themselves. Thus, the challenge is to find communities with the ancient monastic ethos.

The scenario Berman outlined is, of course, a big IF; I know of historical examples of persons who successfully prognosticated epochal change. Although, as mentioned, Berman is not the only person to come to this conclusion and the history of intellectual thought strongly implies that the prognostications of the end of an age are not solely conditioned by today's economic circumstances. As a theologian, one cannot help but try to identify the significance for religion in such a transition. Berman's scenario implies a socio-economic tumult in which everything we know if potentially risked with dissolution. The dissolution of the Roman Empire brought with it the dissolution of the Roman religious world. Christianity, however, survived into the medieval period, a period defined by Christianity. Modernity revolted against the Medieval Christian world, although Christianity nevertheless transitioned into the modern world, although not without change. Protestantism was the Christianity produced by modernity. Roman Catholicism largely resisted modernity, although the last fifty years has seen an attempt to come to grips with modernity's philosophical and sociological outlook. IF Berman is correct, religion will undergo another transformation. New religions, already prevalent in the last one hundred years, will continue to increase as humanity seeks spiritual significance to its new circumstance.

What then of Christianity? Protestantism, though foundationally produced by modernity, has the benefit of no central governing body and the ability to adapt quickly. To the degree that a particular form of Protestantism is wedded to modernity is the degree to which it would, hypothetically, risk extinction. Catholicism finds itself in a more complicated place. The Roman Church resisted modernity for most of the modern epoch but has, in the last fifty years, sought to come to terms with it. This has brought both benefit and loss to the Roman Church. I will cite to examples with which I am quite familiar. Pius XII may well be recognized as the first pontiff to fully integrate modernity into Roman Catholicism. Divino Afflantu set out the program of Biblical Studies for the Roman Church. Pius XII fully embraced the historical critical method and urged the biblical books to be interpreted according to their genre and authorial intent. The Roman Church has, as a result, produced an impressive stream of biblical scholars and commentators. Currently, the some of the finest vernacular editions of the bible stem from Catholic biblical scholars. There is no attempt to read Catholic or even Christian doctrine into the biblical text. The text is often taken on its own terms and context. This has been, in my estimation, an example of the benefit of modernity to the Catholic Church. Conversely, Catholic Social Teaching has been transformed by modernity. Whereas the trajectory of CST from Leo XIII to Pius XI was critical of all prevailing political and economic systems, reaching its peak with Pius XI's advocacy to create an alternative to capitalism and communism, subsequent Catholic Social Teaching has largely sought to for the capitalist system - with no results, actually. For the Roman Church, an epochal transition necessitates a close review of its own tradition to see what, if anything, can be transitioned into whatever new epoch lurks along the horizon.

Of course, all of this is a big IF, regardless of the certainty with which Berman talks about it. Nevertheless, the challenge of a theologian is read how shifts in prevailing paradigms would necessarily change the theological and religious landscape. Berman's scenario, featuring a healthy dose of financial catastrophe and social unrest, has its apocalyptic overtones but, being based on speculation as it is, there is no certainty. There are, however, a variety of social currents in which Christianity finds itself, all vying for some measure of influence. Perhaps, then, Berman is correct and this explains, in part, the numerous indications of intellectual fragmentation in Roman Catholicism - our current world is exhausted and things have begun the process of dissolution. Although, I tend to aver from Berman's scenario. True, everything, including capitalism and modernity in general will come to a conclusion - history seems to dictate that all cycles eventually come to an end. Yet, I myself suspect Elliot may be closer to the truth regarding the eventual end of the modern world, "not with a bang, but with a whimper." Nevertheless, Berman's proposal is compelling, if not unsettling. All things must come to an end, so the saying goes. Of course, it's one thing to say it, another thing entirely to entertain the thought one is living through the end of everything one knows.