Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Introducing the Fathers
St. Vladimir generally puts out a good product, a faithful translation accompanied by a moderate introduction from a qualified academic. Their volumes from St. Cyprian of Carthage are introduced by Dr. Allen Brent, a leading professor of theology at King's College and the Lateran University. While one might think an introduction to a Church Father might merit a short biography and an outline of the work about to be read. Dr. Brent supplies these necessities and more. No fewer than three times in his edition of On the Church does Brent delve into the consequence of Cyprian's writing for the Papacy. Why? Because "Clearly Cyprian's theology of the Church seems to render unnecessary a pope of Rome as the guarantor of the unity of the Church." Brent writes off Cyprian's short and almost easily missed exegesis of Matthew 16:18 as a lingering foible from his pagan mindset, which, in the "tradition of Tertullian and Irenaeus.... made the See of Rome analogous to that of the emperor as princep, or as first citizen and leader of the Senate." Both in the introduction and in the actual text Brent rambles about the supposed forgery of the later version of the the purportedly papalistic text by proto-Ultramontanists as hypothesized by Edward Benson, father of Robert Hugh Benson, while acknowledging that other commentators believed Cyprian may have modified the text when his address reached a different audience. While I am sure St. Vladimir's is pleased that Dr. Brent penned his gloss of St. Cyprian, but I am equally sure they read past his equation of Anglican ecclesiology with Greek and in contrast to Roman.
Brent's dodgy ideas do not stop there. He goes on to lament that Cyprian "has not the fruits, if such they be, of modern literary criticism of the Fourth Gospel, which would see the Petrine passages, principally John 21, as the later imposition of a hierarchical principal in which Peter as a named individual receives the ministry of teaching and preserving the flock." In contrast to this "later imposition" of authority, "Many scholars would argue that Paul's early communities were charismatic" and "self-authenticating" coteries "united by the same Spirit." An honest question for Dr. Brent from someone who read History at two respected universities: just what is a self-authenticating community in the Spirit? Rather than answering a reasonable question, Brent passes another question: "Why cannot therefore the Church as the body of Christ be understood as such a self-authenticating movement of the Spirit, creating new communities without hierarchy, in which every Spirit filled believer receives the power to absolve?"
A more prudent question might be: why do men who do not trust the texts of the Gospels still, in one form or another, dedicate their lives to some fluid concept of Christianity which would render them irrelevant if taken to its full conclusion? The Holy Spirit does not blow where ever it will in the loose sense Brent asks it to. The Holy Spirit came once at Pentecost and is passed on by the Church, which is a community authenticated by the Spirit, not by itself.
I am deeply disappointed that St. Vladimir is publishing this sort of scholarship in their Popular Patristics series. Hopefully their seminary instruction is more traditional.
Dr. Brent is now a priest in the Ordinariate.