Crests and troughs: undulation in my last week of writing

So, I’ve been to the top of the Mountain, only to come down and find heretics waiting for me, and some rather confused ones at that. The mountain was the third Ancient Faith Writers and Podcasters Conference held at Antiochian Village last week. The heretics are a bunch of antitrinitarians from the sixteenth century, the subject of an article I am writing. It’s been a haul, but at last I’m down to revising now. At first, I was going to present the essay as my 20-minute contribution to a panel at Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Albuquerque (about 2500 words). That was 18 months ago, but then my funding got pulled, fortunately, before I got my plane ticket and made lodging arrangements (a stunt pulled on me in the past). So, I sat on it for a while, but then a colleague who edits the Brill journal Church History and Religious Culture, put out a request for articles, so I dusted it off and told him I’d get it to him in late April. Missed that deadline. It’s all John Mark Reynolds’ and St. Constantine’s fault, I’ll have you know. And also, it’s because I am no longer at Eastern University, but working to start an Orthodox Classical Academy here in the Lehigh Valley, named, The St. Constantine School of the Lehigh Valley; at least that’s what the State of PA and the IRS will know us as. It was also Ancient Faith’s fault as well.

As for the heretics, well, if the editor doesn’t like it I’ll shop it around to other journals. Most of the journals I write for (Reformation history and theology) are overwhelmed with essays and articles on the English Reformation and want items on other subjects. My essay concerns a short treatise that focuses on eight poorly contrived woodcuts. It originally was published in Hungarian, but then revised into a short Latin treatise that made its way not only to the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich, but also to the Imperial court of Ferdinand I, who was asked to suppress it. Since it was heretical, the tract was largely consigned to flames, though a number of copies still exist. Its main reason for existence is that it was included in a book of other antitrinitarian writings, De vera et falsa unius Dei Patris, Filii et Spiritus Sancti cognitione, published in 1568 by the very first ever antitrinitarian press (of course they’re ubiquitous now) in Alba Iulia, then the seat of the Transylvanian government. I first found it in the Bodleian Library, Oxford as part of this book. Transylvania was largely a Protestant domain at this time, mainly Calvinist, but also Lutheran. Several editions of the of this text, were in the hands of the Calvinists, which brings me to the real kicker about it, namely that the eight really poor woodcuts, according to the stated purpose of the text, were used by the Papists to depict and illustrate the Trinity, and could be found in Catholic churches throughout Europe. Well, in fact at least two of the woodcuts were actually used by Protestants, but heretical math skills aside, the woodcuts are mainly poor reproductions of some of the most well-known and beautiful pieces of art from the Renaissance, including Masaccio’s The Trinity, to be found in the Dominican convent in Florence; and Raphael’s The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, which was one of four such frescoes done by Raphael at the request of Julius II, and among which is his more famous School of Athens. What did the Calvinists do with the text? Well, it’s largely an anti-Catholic screed, so they just cut the images out (can’t have those graven images, mind you), and kept the text.

This short tract, only ten pages in length, and that’s with the pictures, has sent me down one rabbit hole after another. I’ve had to call in favors and even seek help from people whom I only know third hand, but who know a great deal more than I do about some incidental details e.g., how is it that the Hebrew letter Tav became “the mark of Cain” in late Renaissance parlance? Did Clement VII order Raphael’s Disputa to be hung from baldacchinos in Rome? That’s the kind of stuff that never makes it into student papers (that is, unless they’ve completely misunderstood something I’ve said), but sadly I have to go to confused heretics in the sixteenth century to find it. Now at almost 7000 words, I should be finished it this weekend. Well, enough about heretics and on to what has in many ways been a great balm to my spirit this past week, namely the Ancient Faith Writers and Podcasters conference.

I traveled there with my parish priest, Fr. Andrew Damick (the journey there and back again could be the subject of a blog post–or maybe a three-part Peter Jackson epic) and once there renewed many an old acquaintance and made some grand new ones. Were it just a matter of the first day and the people I met, the trip would have been worth it. Granted, I wouldn’t have gotten to give the lecture I had spent a great deal of time on (one that I will put up on the blog once I do a little editing to it), but that would have been OK. I met again people whose paths had crossed mine years before, but it was so fleeting — a coffee hour after Liturgy at St. Paul’s, an interaction over email, some time spent on Facebook, a brief conversation at another conference — that I had largely forgotten most of these encounters. Thankfully, my memory only needed a little priming to recall most of these. It was an encouragement, moreover, with some (one in particular), that some words I had said proved effective in some way in their own journey to Orthodoxy. That evening, following a wonderful Vespers (Amy Hogg has a beautiful voice and is spot on as a cantor, telling me “You have not yet begun to chant!”) Kh. Frederica Matthewes-Green spoke about her life as a writer, her journey into Orthodoxy, and in particular, the price she has paid professionally for her unflinching loyalty to the unborn. The first evening ended with some Scotch with my friend Jamey Bennett and of course some new friends who joined us for the good gifts of God’s creation.

The second day, beginning with Matins, included a number of conversations, but also my lecture. I was quite humbled by the compliments on it, but was glad mainly that it didn’t bomb. That afternoon was a plenary lecture by Fr. Deacon. Nicholas Kotar. I first met Fr. Nicholas two years ago at the last Ancient Faith conference and he told me about an excellent series that began with the novel The Genesis Gene, but more importantly, introduced me to his own fantasy writing, the Raven’s Son series, which I strongly urge anyone and everyone to read! His address on the creating of culture was, again, worth the effort of the conference! The lecture itself was a detailed explication of the thought of Ivan Ilyin and how it applies to our situation; but Fr. Dn. Nicholas made all the better both by the giving to all the participants an ecopy of Ivan Ilyin’s Foundations of Christian Culture, but also by the reading, within the lecture, of a gripping email he had received from one of his fans. I will not spoil that for anyone by rehashing it here (the lecture was a master piece without the email, but the email itself I have shared with several people already), as the lecture itself will soon be ready for your listening enjoyment. Friday evening we had another good lecture by Fr. Stephen Freeman addressing the question of shame. My emotions were running on high already, so while I garnered some things from the lecture (and Fr. Freeman’s southern humor keeps one engaged), I think the time of day may have been a burden on my comprehension.

On Saturday morning I was interviewed by Andrew Herman Middleton for his Vlog cast, The Protecting Veil (yet another item I commend to you) and then came the Amon Sûl panel discussion that featured Fr. Andrew (our host), Michael Haldas, Fr. Dcn. Nicholas Kotar, Steve Christoforou, and yours truly. It was a blast!!! Each participant read a passage from Tolkien that spoke about the hope of heaven, and I chose the scene from the Siege of Gondor where Gandalf and Shadowfax face the Lord of the Nazgûl (the witch king of Angmar), a passage which suffered great violence at the hands of some recent movie. We also had quiz show over Tolkienana, emceed by Fr. Andrew with we four panelists playing on behalf of people in the ‘audience’ (of and there were prizes). Five questions made up the contest, and one of the panelists actually got all five correct. Upon being declared the winner, the said panelist rubbed it in, throwing up his hands shouting “Invictus!” Again, it was a great ending to the conference, followed, of course, by many a fond farewell.

In reflecting on all of this, while I loved the services, enlightened and encouraged by the lectures, and was honored by the response to my own lecture, what I loved the most was sitting and talking with people: Fr. Barnabas Powell, Presbytera Katie Baker, Jamey Bennet and a young man in search of Orthodoxy name Derek (his last name escapes me); and lunches and dinners with many more grand conversations (Fr. Alexis Trader, Sarah Frye Gingrich and Andrea Bailey, Steve Christoforou and Cynthia Long, Sylvia Divina . . . my Facebook Friends list has grown). These latter things I enjoyed and benefited from the most. I would be remiss if I didn’t add that late Friday night a number of us got tucked away in the corner with Benedict and Talia Sheehan singing lots of songs that seldom get heard (have they ever been heard) at Antiochian Village. The time spent was far too short, and while I know the logistics on a number of levels speak against it, I am more than happy to put my hand to the task to try and make this a longer conference.

In sum, the Orthodox writers, podcasters, bloggers, and content creators that gathered at Antiochian Village have become for me, in an incredibly encouraging way, my fellows, colleagues, friends, and co-laborers in the great project that is the mission field that is North America. My Facebook feed has been alive with their comments in the days following. While there were certainly more content producers present than I could reasonably talk to in so short a time (and some are my Facebook friends that I only got to say hello to, or just smile at — Cheryl Tuggle and Nicole Roccas come to mind, wonderful writers and thinkers both), many, many more such content creators are needed for the years ahead. If you love to write, talk, think, or believe you want to do these things, then I highly encourage you to come to the next event (sadly, it won’t be for two years). I certainly came away wanting to get back to the old blog, give her a resounding kick back into life, and get on with the serious work of engaging Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike about this beautiful world God has revealed to us, which we inhabit, and which so few people know so little about, let alone understand. Thank you all for your presence. Many years to all of you.

About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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2 Responses to Crests and troughs: undulation in my last week of writing

  1. Pingback: Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting Conference: What People Are Saying! - Behind the Scenes

  2. frenchc1955 says:

    Wow! Not that is a serious writing journey, and I am glad you shared it with us.

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