Currently reading…

_Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church_ by John D. Zizioulas

I first heard about this great book when I read Clark Carlton’s _The Way_ in February 2003. That was a decent book, but would have had a bigger impact on me a year or two earlier.[1] It took some work (like anything good) but I finally got a copy of Zizioulas’s very (and rightly) influential book. It was on my bookshelf for weeks, but then one night I just grabbed it and read sixty or so pages of it in one sitting. Despite all the hype — Carlton said he had to read the first two chapters twice before he understood what Zizioulas was talking about — this book wasn’t as head-crushing as I’d expected. It was nice to know I’ve read just enough theology not to be shaking my head ALL the time (as I once did).

Of course, this is not to say Zizioulas’s book isn’t challenging or superb. It is both of those things. He is an excellent communicator of very hard ideas and his scholarship is incredible. He is not immune from it, but he does at least keep “intellectualese” to a minimum. Also, although I technically “got” most of what he said, I need to re-read the first two or three chapters. This is a big deal. If you didn’t know, I rarely if ever re-read anything unless I’m referencing it. But Zizioulas covers so much ground and says so much in so few words that I need to re-read him just to see the implications of it all. It’s like good poetry: any literate person can “get” it on the verbal level; but it takes patience and a special ear to really hear the deeper, hidden resonances.

I would summarize the book (viz., its main theses) with the following series of connected propositions:

The Church is truth at work in human existence. Truth is (indestructible) life. Life is communion. Communion is love. Love is a person. The person of love is God the Father. The Father is truth. Truth is the basis of the Church. Rinse, wash, repeat.

In fact, the whole book is so full of information and interesting ideas that I might even want to read the whole thing again. It’s a veritable catechism of patristics, Trinitarianism, classical metaphysics, ecclesiology and sacramentology. One of the most pronounced effects of the book has been to raise my interest (ignorant but eager!) in St. Maximus the Confessor. Anyone John Zizioulas calls “one of the greatest and most creative geniuses in history” I am certain to give at least a little coffee time to.

Ironically, perhaps because of its breadth and depth, the book’s actually been a frustrating experience for me in some ways. Zizioulas achieves such a deep and far-reaching resourcement (esp. of the patristic and biblical), that I’m left shaking my head on almost everything I thought I “knew” about Catholic theology, let alone Orthodox theology. I feel like I’m back to square one, like everything “sure” is up for grabs.[2] It’s late so I won’t elaborate on that complaint. It’s not even a complaint, though, since, after reading and hearing so much on my journey towards “Cathodoxy” (props to Tom R), it’s nice to feel the foreignness and holy mystery of journey like I did in the early days. Any contemptuous familiarity I had is dead and gone! The game is still afoot, my friends! Make no mistake: I really am learning my Christian heritage all over again for the first time.

Wow, I’m glad I took time to write this. The more I flip back through this book, the more I realize I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Incidentally, as the SVS webpage explains, _Being as Communion_ is part of the CONTEMPORARY GREEK THEOLOGIANS SERIES. Other books included in the series are: _Hymn of Entry_ by Archimandrite Vasileios, _The Deification of Man_ by Georgios I. Mantzaridis, _Deification in Christ_ by Panayiotis Nellas, and _The Freedom of Morality_ by Christos Yannaras. I intend to get every title in the series, especially the last two titles.

[1] More memorable and helpful for my current phase of conversion was Carlton’s book about Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, _The Truth_.

[2] I once heard a great aphorism: If you want to make God smile, tell Him what you know. If you want to make Him laugh, tell Him your plans.

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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