I don’t think that I’ve ever been tagged in a meme before, but Steve Hayes of Khanya has tagged me for this fifteen authors meme and it does seem as if it could be quite useful, although I fear that it may turn into a sort of theological mini-autobiography.

15 Authors (meme)

Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

This is naturally a subjective list, not only because it’s mine but because it reflects where I’m at at present, and particularly works that are partially responsible for some of the changes I’ve undergone in the last few years. The list is very roughly chronological although there is naturally overlap (particularly in numbers 9 to 12) and some things that I’ve kept coming back to.

1. I first encountered the Desert Fathers through reading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heartduring my second year at university. I would not list Nouwen himself as a major influence, but this work did introduce me to texts (one can hardly call them “an author”) that were to have an important influence on me, even though it was to be some time before I made serious contact with the The Sayings of the Desert Fathers . (As an aside, Douglas Burton-Christie’s The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism was particularly helpful in this and is a book that I’ve been intending to re-read).

2. During my Religious Studies Honours year I had to read Saint AthanasiusOn the Incarnation: De Incarnatione Verbi Dei . It was the first time that I had been exposed to any patristic work during my studies, and, although it was clearly coming from a very different world to that which I was used to, there was something that spoke to me across the linguistic, contextual and historical divides, even if this was something that I could not easily put into words. I was later to read – and keep re-reading – Athanasius’ The Life of Antony. And reading more of and about him in recent years was also to provide a challenge. If he had spent more than half his life in exile for the Nicene faith, how could I fail to take dogma seriously, even if doing so had uncomfortable consequences?

3. During the same year I read a fair bit of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (I was the only student and managed to arrange things in such a way that his works dominated both the modern theologians and the ethics courses). As a teenager I had found his The Cost of Discipleshipin my father’s study and I now returned to it and found it and Letters and Papers from Prisonimmensely challenging. While I don’t remember much of his ethical and ecclesiological works, I do have a sense that they helped to nudge me towards a more ontologically grounded view of Christianity and the Church.

4. Timothy (Metropolitan Kallistos) Ware’s The Orthodox Church. I first read this sometime between April and July 1990. I had just become Catholic and my reaction on reading this book was “But this is it!” This was slightly disconcerting but, given that there was no Orthodox church anywhere nearby, that I considered myself too much of a critical westerner to actually become Orthodox, and that, well, I had just become Catholic and didn’t want to just hop from one thing to another, it didn’t have any immediate practical consequences. But it did tend to provide a prism through which I understood Catholicism, both in terms of ecclesiology and in terms of the understanding of salvation as deification which resonated with what I had read in On the Incarnation. While this may sound strange to some, it actually did tend to dovetail with much of the “return to the sources” of the biblical, liturgical and patristic renewals in twentieth century Catholicism.

5. On a slightly different note, in 1992 I was asked to review a collection of essays, Faith and the Intifada: Palestinian Christian Voicesand this, together with a later extended stay in the Holy Land, and other stays elsewhere in the Middle East, was to prove an eye-opener for me. Although formed in the context of the South African struggle against apartheid, I had never stopped to think about the parallels to the Palestinian situation. This is slightly different to other works listed here, but it explains, in part, while I am scandalised when I encounter Christians who support Zionism and U.S. policies in the Middle East.

6. To be honest, I’m not sure when I read Father Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. I remember photocopying my supervisor’s copy at the beginning of my doctorate in 1995, but I don’t remember reading it, at least not in one go. Around 2000 I came across other books by Father Schmemann, such as Great Lent and Introduction to Liturgical Theology, and I suspect that I read some articles by him, also around 2000. Although I don’t remember the details, I have realised when re-reading For the Life of the World in recent years, that his work seems to have somehow entered deeply into me, influencing me in ways that I was not aware of. And reading The Eucharist. Sacrament of the Kingdomrecently has made me even more aware of that.

8. I read Denys Turner’s The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticismsometime during the course of my doctorate and it played an important role in clarifying my hesitations about the growing interest in mysticism and spirituality. I had struggled for a long time with the divorce between theology and the life of faith and at an earlier stage had longed for more academic input on mysticism and spirituality – and, when I had been able to, had tried to shape courses to include them. But Turner’s work made me see the extent to which this was based on a misreading of earlier texts based on current agendas, something that was later confirmed for me both by more exposure to the patristic tradition, and by reading Father Andrew Louth’s Afterword.

7. Although I would not list myself has a fan of John Milbank, and, to be honest I didn’t even read the whole of his book, his Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reasonplayed an important role in enabling me to question the dominance of Enlightenment thinking in contemporary theology, including the sort of theological works I had been influenced by, and the assumptions that had tended to undergird my own work.

8. Something similar can be said for Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing: On the Liturgical Cosummation of Philosophy. Although I may take issue with it if I were to read it carefully today, it, together with experiences of Eastern liturgy, somehow gave me permission to start asking critical questions about what had gone wrong in Western liturgical reform.

9. I had been aware of Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Churchfor years and finally got down to reading it about four years ago. (It also provided the impetus for starting this blog, but that’s another story). While there are many themes in this work, some of which have been challenged, its central impact for me was to underline the importance of the ontological reality of the Church, which tended to jar with the ecclesiological assumptions of those around me.

10. I read (and re-read) Father Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mysteryduring roughly the same period. If there is one book that was responsible for my becoming Orthodox, this is probably it, which is perhaps odd considering that its author was an Anglican at the time that he wrote it. But its significance lay not in convincing me of the validity of Orthodox claims, but rather in challenging my assumption that I was too critical a westerner to actually become Orthodox, in effectively challenging the post-Enlightenment theological project and enabling me to acknowledge (or at least to seek to learn to acknowledge) the true nature of Christian theology and tradition. In addition Father Andrew’s essay on mysticism, and some other articles of his that I read, seemed to anticipate things that I had been struggling to express, but without the background to properly do so.

11. During this period the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (in Early Christian Writings)somehow made their way into my heart. I had always been moved by the quote from him which is in the sidebar, that those who have made the words of Jesus their own, will be able to hear His silence. But now I found that I was reading the Fathers not simply in order to use them, but because they spoke to my heart, and Ignatius did this in quite disconcerting ways. Of course he echoed the ecclesiological and eucharistic themes that I was reading in Zizioulas, but somehow in a more personal, direct way.

12. Something similar can be said for the The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian which I have been reading for slightly longer, and with which I am still busy. He was (and is) immensely challenging, but reading him helped to underline for me both the fundamental continuity between what he presented and what I encountered in the Rule of Saint Benedict, and also the discontinuity with a lot of what is presented as contemporary spirituality.

13. About eleven years ago I read a fair amount of John Henry Newman’s works, or works on him, although I can’t remember specific details. But I did develop a deep sympathy with him and of all post-schism western figures he is probably the one with whom I have felt the most sympathy. At the end of last year I read his Apologia Pro Vita Sua(I may have read it before, but I can’t remember clearly). As I have said before, this was (rather ironically) the convert story that most influenced me in my decision to become Orthodox. Perhaps I identified with the anguish of his wrestling and the self-doubt involved, but there was also something about the seriousness with which he took the truth, that, having come to accept certain positions, he felt himself duty bound to act on them, even if it meant tearing his life apart.

14. I have mentioned the works of Father Boris Bobrinskoy before. Although I had heard of his The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian Experience and Vision in the Biblical and Patristic Traditionabout ten years ago, it was only after meeting him that I was really motivated to read his books. The Mystery of the Trinity was followed by The Compassion of the Father, and I am supposed to be translating La Vie Liturgique (which now that I am getting settled I may get back to!). Like some of Father Andrew Louth’s work, they somehow anticipated issues that I had been grappling with, in particular the relationship between theology and spirituality, between the objective and the subjective, between the Church’s Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Heart.

And now that I’ve got to the end I realise that I’ve counted wrong (having previously excluded other things) but that’s enough for now!

Now I’m supposed to tag 15 people. I’m inclined to just say consider yourself tagged if you’re interested, but  there are people whose lists I’d be interested to read, if they have time, and so I’m tagging the following: