Category Archives: Church History

On the Toll Houses Again: A Byzantinist’s Thoughts

by Eirini Afentoulidou

David Bentley Hart’s recent article on the toll houses is very welcome in that the discussion has turned away from refuting the occasional “pro-toller” to a scholarly and detached examination of texts and contexts and the theological implications of their worldview. I do not intend to explain that the notion of the aerial toll houses has never been the official dogma of the Orthodox Church, as this has been demonstrated in other publications, notably by Stephen Shoemaker on Public Orthodoxy (although I often have to explain this to colleagues who are not acquainted with how theological authority worked in Byzantine Christianity). References to the toll houses are found exclusively in pastoral/edifying texts, usually side-by-side with other, rival notions of posthumous judgment. There was a consensus among the theologically educated, as there is now, that attempts to speak about afterlife are figurative, fragmentary and not conclusive – although most contemporary Christians would not agree with their pre-modern co-religionists on the necessity of constantly keeping the horrors of the judgment in mind as a means to avoid doing evil. Yet, as a Byzantinist, I am fascinated by the texts on the aerial toll houses and wish to share some observations regarding two points: the democratization and the individuation of judgment that distinguish these texts from notions on posthumous judgment found in other Late Antique and Byzantine texts. Continue reading

Studying Byzantine Cappadocia

by Elizabeth Zanghi

This past June, I visited Cappadocia in central Turkey. It was my second trip to the region, and it certainly won’t be my last, as I have decided to focus on Cappadocian art history in graduate school.

“Why Cappadocia?” I am frequently asked. The best way to answer that question is to start at the beginning (well, at least from the beginning of Christianity).

I first heard the word “Cappadocia” years ago, during the Pentecost readings, where we’re told that men from every nation under heaven, including Cappadocia, were able to understand the words of the Apostles (Acts 2:9). Then, after Pentecost, Cappadocia is mentioned again when Paul visits Philip in Cappadocia during his final evangelizing mission (Acts 21:8-14). We also know that Saint Peter preached in Cappadocia (1 Peter 1:1). So it is clear that Cappadocia was one of the earliest centers of Christianity.

But Cappadocia’s real fame, at least for the majority of Orthodox Christians, comes in the 4th century with the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil of Caeserea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzen. The  theological writings of the Cappadocian Fathers greatly contributed in forming Christian culture and dogma throughout the empire. For example, they define the trinitarian vocabulary that we still used today (think ousia or hypostasis).

Learning about the Cappadocian Fathers impressed me and piqued my interest in Cappadocian studies, but the further I looked, the more I realized that the entire region of Cappadocia is filled with important history, art, architecture, theology, and anthropology that spans the entire late-Antique and Byzantine periods Continue Reading…