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Book Review

J M Laboa, Editor

The Historical Atlas of Eastern and Western Christian Monasticism

ISBN 0 8146 2778 1

The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2003, 55

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed January 2005; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

From Skellig Michael in the west to Ananuri in Georgia in the east, from the walls of the Solovstky Monastery in the frozen north to those of Deir Anba Bishoi in the sun-baked Egyptian desert in the south, this is a book of magnificent photographs of monasteries, of monks and nuns, and of manuscripts and other works produced by them.  It is not only a full historical account of Pachomius and Cassian, Benedict and Bernard, Theodore and Sergius, but also a pretty good overview of the present state of the monastic world.  'East' today could mean Trappistines in Mindanao, while 'West' could well mean Orthodox in Alaska.

 It is gratifying to see a good account of monastic life in the eastern churches which does justice to its varied and multifaceted history, its missionary impact and many impulses of renewal.  It is perhaps slightly unfair to the Iconoclasts.  One omission is monasticism in the Ethiopian church, which could have provided some outstanding pictures, but you can't have everything.

The book is described as an Atlas and this is where it is somewhat thin.  The maps could on the whole be better and there could be more of them.  Some of them, particularly the 'Itinerary' maps, tell us no more than the text does and are disappointing.  Disappointing again is the chapter on Anglican Monasticism.  Not that we deserve more than two pages, with a map and two photos.  We are after all a small church that, in its Anglican phase, only goes back four hundred years.  But to tell the world that we only have one monastery, and that one called Nashdom.  Well, really, it won't do.

In the sections where the text has been translated the English is stilted in many places, and in one or two places just does not make sense.  To sum up; illustrations ten out of ten, text five out of ten and maps three out of ten.

James Anthony SSF


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