Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian

Article excerpt

The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian. By Hilarion Alfeyev. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 2000. 321 pp. $20.95 (paper).

"Because of the goodness of [God's] nature by which he brought the universe into being and then bears, guides, and provides for the worlds and all created things in his immeasurable compassion, he has devised the establishment of the kingdom of heaven for the entire community of rational beings" (p. 294). This is the belief of a seventh-century Syrian monk, Saint Isaac of Nineveh, also known as Isaac the Syrian. Our age is so captivated by the cult of the new that we all too often ignore the old-in religious terms, the works that make up and undergird the traditions) of the Church. Thanks to such presses as Cistercian Publications, however, these works are now more and more available in modern translation, providing not only ballast for our voyage and masts and sails for our vessel, but even the wind for those sails and the water for our sailing.

In The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, Hilarion Alfeyev offers the first extensive modern commentary on Saint Isaac's writings. In a brief introduction he looks at the history of the "Nestorian" Church in Syria and its "main theological streams" and analyzes "the information on the life and writings of Isaac" and "the main sources of his theology" (p. 16). After the introduction follow eight chapters on Isaac's theology of love, ascetical spirituality, mystical teaching, and eschatology. The volume is composed equally of quotations from Isaac's work and commentary and discussion by Alfeyev. Thus it is more like a volume of patristic exegesis of Scripture than a modern work of history or theology.

Alfeyev quotes extensively from already published English translations of Isaac's work; he reminds the reader, seriously yet humorously, that "these quotations form an integral, and perhaps the most important, element of the book; we ask the reader not to skip over them" (p. 31). Alfeyev is certainly right, but the reader may hear a certain dissonance in the works cited: the older translations that Alfeyev utilizes do not use inclusive language whereas Alfeyev himself and a more recent translator (Sebastian Brock) strive to use inclusive language. …

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