Course Memo

From Late Antiquity into the Byzantine Period, Christians knew their Savior in a cultural context determined (to a large degree) by the Roman Empire. Theologians grappled with understanding biblical witnesses vis-à-vis Greek Philosophy. The resulting theologies were more art than science since the transcendent God is best described using poetry and the visual arts. Eastern Christian iconography and hymnody have changed very little over the centuries; images (visual and poetic) that spoke to believers in the 4th or 6th or 9th or 12th centuries are still a vital part of the liturgical/spiritual life of Eastern Orthodox Christians and Byzantine Rite Catholics in the 21st century. Modern faithful continue to understand Christ primarily through iconography and hymnody that were created centuries ago to express elaborate, rich, nuanced theologies of Christ.
This course will consider the various ways in which 4th and 5th century Christians in the eastern Mediterranean and Byzantine Christians in general talked about and imaged the life of Jesus Christ. We will approach the topic diachronically and across a wide geographic span – from the Near East to Greece and Italy and from North Africa to Russia. We will study significant patristic and liturgical texts (in English translation) pertaining to Christ’s life and also will consider a number of artistic representations and their ability to not only illustrate but also to exegete. The course will revolve around the formation, content, and icons of the main Christological feasts of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This the infancy of Christ, his life and ministry, and his death and resurrection will be investigated through reading the writings of Church Fathers, considering the formulations of Church councils, examining liturgical texts, and looking at images on wood panels as well as in churches and manuscripts.
The class will meet in-person, combining lecture and seminar formats. All readings will be available on Moodle. Evaluation will be based on short weekly reflections, class participation, two short papers (5-7 pages), one in-class presentation (20 minutes), and a final research paper (12-15 pages). This course has been designed for MA/MTS and MDiv students and will be helpful for PhD students who are interested in exploring the history, theology, and spirituality of Eastern Christians.