- Raymond E. Brown
Raymond Edward Brown (
May 22, 1928- August 8, 1998), was an American Roman Catholic priestand Biblical scholar. He was regarded as a specialist concerning the hypothetical ‘Johannine community’, which he speculated contributed to the authorship of the Gospel of John, and wrote influential studies on the birth and death of Jesus. Brown was also professor emeritus at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he taught for 23 years.
Brown remains controversial among
traditionalist Catholicsbecause of their claim that he denied the inerrancy of the whole of Scripture and their claim that he cast doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith. [ [http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Dossier/Jan-Feb00/Article5.html A WAYWARD TURN IN BIBLICAL THEORY - Msgr. George A. Kelly - Catholic Dossier - Jan/Feb 2000 ] ] He was regarded as occupying the centre ground in the field of biblical studies, opposing the literalism found among many fundamentalist Christians while not carrying his conclusions as far as many other scholars. [Felix Corley, "Obituary: The Rev Raymond E. Brown", "The Independent", London, 19 August 1998 [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_19980819/ai_n14180384] ]
Born in New York, the son of Robert H. Brown and Loretta Brown, Raymond studied at the
Catholic University of Americawhere he received a BA in 1948 and MA in 1949. In 1951 he joined the scholarly Society of Saint-Sulpicefollowing his STB from St Mary's Seminary and University. In 1953 he was ordained a priest in the diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He earned a Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University where one of his advisors was Professor William F. Albright.
Brown was appointed in 1972 to the
Pontifical Biblical Commissionand again in 1996. He was the Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary in New York where he taught for 23 years. He served as president of the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society of Biblical Literature (1976-7) and the Society of New Testament Studies (1986-7). He was a Roman Catholic priest in the diocese of Baltimore, Maryland. Widely regarded as one of America's preeminent biblical scholars, Brown was awarded 24 honorary doctoral degrees by universities in the USA and Europe, many from Protestant institutions. [ [http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=525 Henry V. King, Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories] (see para 2.1)]
He died at St. Patrick's
Seminary, Menlo Park, California. Cardinal Mahony hailed him as "the most distinguished and renowned Catholic biblical scholar to emerge in this country ever" and his death, the cardinal said, was "a great loss to the Church." [ [http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=525 Henry V. King, Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories] (see para 2.2)]
Brown was one of the first Catholic scholars in the United States to use the
historical-critical methodto study the Bible. [Felix Corley, "Obituary: The Rev Raymond E. Brown", "The Independent", London, 19 August 1998 [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_19980819/ai_n14180384] ] He described the 1943 encyclical " Divino Afflante Spiritu", which called for the use of historical-critical methods in establishing the literal sense of scriptural texts [R.Kendall Soulen, "Handbook of Biblical Criticism", Westminster John Knox Press (2001), page 49] as a "Magna Carta for biblical progress". [William James O'Brian, Riding Time Like a River: The Catholic Moral Tradition Since Vatican II, Georgetown University Press, 1993, page 76.] Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, promulgated in 1965, stated that "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." [Dei Verbum, 11.] Brown saw this as an affirmation of his approach ("Many of us think that at Vatican II the Church 'turned the corner' on the inerrancy issue"), although he emphasised that to determine the real meaning of the words one needed to study the discussions in the Council that proceeded it. [Raymond Brown, "The Critical Meaning of the Bible", Paulist Press (1981), page 18.] "Within its context, the statement is not without an ambiguity that stems from the compromise nature of Dei Verbum. The Council in 1962 rejected the ultra-conservative schema "On the Sources of Revelation" that originally had been submitted, and so it became a matter of face-saving that in the revisions and in the final form of the Constitution the ultraconservatives should have their say." [Raymond Brown, "The Critical Meaning of the Bible", Paulist Press (1981), page 18.]
"Dei Verbum" cited two earlier papal promulgations (in addition to certain Patristic texts) "
Providentissimus Deus" and " Divino Afflante Spiritu". "Providentissimus Deus" stated, “it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred”. [ [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_18111893_providentissimus-deus_en.html Providentissimus Deus] 20.] "Divino Afflante Spiritu", the document which established the parameters in which Catholic Biblical exegetes could legitimately apply the use of biblical criticism, [R.Kendall Soulen, "Handbook of Biblical Criticism", Westminster John Knox Press, page 49] quoted and reaffirmed the citation from "Providentissimus Deus", adding that divine inspiration “not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and constant faith of the Church.” [Divino Afflante Spiritu 3.]
Brown rejected the view that this implied the position had not changed: "Essential to a critical interpretation of church documents is the realization that the Roman Catholic Church does not change her official stance in a blunt way. Past statements are not rejected but are requoted with praise and then reinterpreted at the same time. ... What was really going on was an attempt gracefully to retain what was salvageable from the past and to move in a new direction at the same time". [Raymond Brown, "The Critical Meaning of the Bible", Paulist Press (1981), page 18.]
The Second Vatican Council, one scholar observed, “raised biblical exegesis from the status of second-class citizenship to which it had been reduced among Catholics by an overreaction to the Protestant claim for its autonomy”. [Most Reverend Terrence T. Prendergast, 'The Church's Great Challenge: Proclaiming God's Word in the New Millennium', in John R Donahue, ed, "Life in Abundance: Studies of John's Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown", Liturgical Press, 2005, p4]
New Testament Christology
In a detailed 1965 article in the journal "Theological Studies" ["Does the New Testament call Jesus God?" in "Theological Studies", 26, (1965) p. 545-73] examining whether Jesus was ever called "God" in the New Testament, Brown concluded that "Even the fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus as saying specifically that he is God" and "there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of New Testament tradition." He argued that, "Gradually, in the development of Christian thought God was understood to be a broader term. It was seen that God had revealed so much of Himself in Jesus that God had to be able to include both Father and Son."
Thirty years later, Brown revisited the issue in an introductory text for the general public, writing that in "three reasonably clear instances in the NT [Hebrews 1:8-9, John 1:1, 20:28] and in five instances that have probability, Jesus is called God", a usage Brown regarded as a natural development of early references to Jesus as "Lord". ["An Introduction to New Testament Christology", p. 189] [It takes a while, hundreds of years, before this son of God becomes the one "begotten" and only God of Christianity by the power struggles and democratic votes of the early Church. See: "Voting About God in Early Church Councils" by
Ramsay MacMullen, Yale University Press, 2006or|date=July 2008]
Gospel of John
The Gospel of John is in two sections, which Brown labelled the "Book of Signs" and the "Book of Glory." The Book of Signs recounts Jesus public miracles, which are called signs. The Book of Glory comprises Jesus private teaching to his disciples, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.
Brown identifies three layers of text in John: 1) an initial version Brown considers based on personal experience of Jesus; 2) a structured literary creation by the evangelist which draws upon additional sources; and 3) the edited version that readers know today (Brown 1979).
Brown has been described as “the premier Johannine scholar in the English-speaking world”. [Francis J Moloney, 'The Legacy of Raymond E Brown and Beyond', in John R Donahue, ed, "Life in Abundance: Studies of John's Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown", Liturgical Press, 2005, p19.] Terrence T. Prendergast stated that “for nearly 40 years Father Brown caught the entire church up into the excitement and new possibilities of scriptural scholarship." [Most Reverend Terrence T. Prendergast, 'The Church's Great Challenge: Proclaiming God's Word in the New Millennium', in John R Donahue, ed, "Life in Abundance: Studies of John's Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown", Liturgical Press, 2005, p3-4] Much of Brown's work was given a
Nihil obstatand an Imprimatur(the "nihil obstat" is a statement by an official reviewer, appointed by a bishop, that "nothing stands in the way" of a book being given an imprimatur; the "imprimatur," which must normally be issued by a bishop of the diocese of publication, is the official endorsement — "let it be printed" — that a book contains nothing damaging to Catholic faith and morals). [James T. Bretzke, "Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary", Liturgical Press (1998), page 90.] Brown was the expert appointed to review and provide the nihil obstat for "The New Jerome Biblical Commentary", the standard basic reference book for Catholic Biblical studies, of which he was one of the editors and to which he himself contributed, as did dozens of other Catholic scholars. [The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990.] The biblical scholar Ben Witheringtondedicated his book "The Jesus Quest" to Brown (along with John P. Meier). [ Ben WitheringtonIII, "The Jesus Quest", Intervarsity Press, 1995.]
Joseph Ratzinger, now
Pope Benedict XVI, who has written presenting the infancy narratives and John’s Gospel as historically reliable, [Pope Benedict XVI, "Jesus of Nazareth" (Bloomsbury, 2007) chapter 8.] was personally complimentary of Brown and his scholarship, and has been quoted as saying he "would be very happy if we had many exegetes like Father Brown". [Francis J Moloney, 'The Legacy of Raymond E Brown and Beyond', in John R Donahue, ed, "Life in Abundance: Studies of John's Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown", Liturgical Press, 2005, p251, footnote quoting "Origins", 17/35, (February 11, 1988), p.595.]
Brown's work was controversial among traditionalists who objected to the elements of his work that they regarded as casting doubt on the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith. [ [http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Dossier/Jan-Feb00/Article5.html A WAYWARD TURN IN BIBLICAL THEORY - Msgr. George A. Kelly - Catholic Dossier - Jan/Feb 2000 ] ] His critics included
Lawrence Cardinal Shehanand Father Richard Gilsdorf, who described Brown's work as "a major contribution to the befogged wasteland of an 'American Church,' progressively alienated from its divinely constituted center?” [ [http://www.catholicculture.org/library/view.cfm?recnum=525 Henry V. King, Traditional Catholic Scholars Long Opposed Fr. Brown's Theories] ]
Other writers, on the other hand, have criticized Brown for excessive caution, for what they saw as his unwillingness to acknowledge the radical implications of the critical methods he was using.
Frank Kermode, in his review of "The Birth of the Messiah", accused Brown of being too eager to secure the imprimatur of the Catholic Church; [Frank Kermode, "New York Review of Books", 29 June 1978, p39-42.] Geza Vermeshas described Brown as "the primary example of the position of having your cake and eating it'." [ Geza Vermes, "The Nativity: History and Legend", London, Penguin, 2006, p21]
His total of 25 books on biblical subjects include:
*"The "Sensus Plenior" of Sacred Scripture", Baltimore: St. Mary's University, 1955: His dissertation in Partial fulfillment of his Doctor of Sacred Theology
*"The Gospel According to John", in "Anchor Bible", 1966 and 1970
*"Peter in the New Testament" (oauthor), 1973.
*"Mary and the New Testament" (coecditor), 1978.
*"The Community of the Beloved Disciple", New York: Paulist Press, 1979
*"The Critical Meaning of the Bible", New York: Paulist Press, 1981
*"New Jerome Biblical Commentary" (coeditor), 1990
*"Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible", New York: Paulist Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8091-4251-1
*"Death of the Messiah", 1994.
* "An Introduction to New Testament Christology", 1994. [http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9N73EmFbgHQC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=%22Raymond+E.+Brown%22&ots=U4X-No-uU5&sig=PquvYWdpUQsgWTlIRM0iBYkuBeA#PPP1,M1 Preview]
*"An Introduction to the New Testament", 1997
*"Birth of the Messiah" 1998, with a reappraisal of the
* [http://www.rebrowntalks.com/ Recorded conferences given by Fr Brown]
* [http://academic.shu.edu/btb/vol28/btb98_PTI_4.html Biblical Theology Bulletin] obituary notice
* [http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Dossier/Jan-Feb00/Article5.html "A Wayward Turn in Biblical Theory"] Msgr. George A. Kelly, (1999). Critical article from the traditionalist point of view.
* [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_19980819/ai_n14180384 Felix Corley, "Obituary: The Rev Raymond E. Brown", "The Independent", London, 19 August 1998]
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