Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Raymond Brown, Mary and Development of Doctrine

 The late Raymond E. Brown was one of America's eminent Catholic exegetes. I remember once reading bishop of Los Angeles (Roger Mahony) exclaiming that he considered Brown to be the brightest Catholic exegete ever produced from American soil. 

  I was re-reading Brown's Biblical Exegesis and Church Doctrine1 in which he once again2 brings forward the "centrist view,"3 in particular concerning Mariological themes and the development of doctrine. 

 This view would hold that much of Roman Catholic Doctrine (i.e., Mariological Dogmas, Mono-episcopacy, etc) are not found in Scripture. The reason they are not found directly taught in Scripture is due to the historical literary context in which Scripture was composed. For example, Paul's letters to the Thessalonians was written to a specific group of people in the mid first century which suffered from particular and specific needs, needs and problems Paul sought to correct. In no way then is Scripture to be thought of as a systematic theology encompassing every point of Christian theology explained in full detail. Thus, there exists the idea of development of doctrine, most classically displayed in the process of codifying the Trinitarian definition of the Christian Godhead. 

 Brown's point is then - that the New Testament need not directly contain any specific texts on the Assumption of Mary or her Immaculate Conception for these Dogmas to be true. Simply put, the Church through a process or development of thought and reflection on the person of Mary, slowly advanced in its formulation of these doctrines - all the while being Divinely led by the Holy Spirit in this illumination. 

 Of all the Catholic explanations on the development of doctrine I consider this centrist position the most satisfying, being the most faithful exegetically and historically. My personal view over development of doctrine is close to Brown's however slightly modified.  The real question becomes then, are these Mariological Dogmas true and faithful developments or are they merely pious popular cultic legends that have been more or less accepted by the Roman Catholic Church?


[1]. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1985). 

[2]. Brown has written extensively on Mariological themes as they pertain especially to the Lucan so-called "infancy narrative," The Birth of the Messiah (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1977), ------., Mary in the New Testament (ed. by R. E. Brown, K. P. Donfried, et al. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), ------., The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist, 1973). 

[3]. That is, the centrist Catholic view as opposed to the "liberal" view which would reject all together any historical accuracy to the biblical accounts of the Virginal Conception of Jesus and also in contrast to the "ultraconservative" view which would argue that Mariological dogmas such as the Assumption and Immaculate Conception can actually be detected in Scripture.



Young One said...

Interesting thought. One question though... would this mean that scripture isn't materially sufficient, since the immaculate conception and the assumption are not found even in seed form in the Bible?

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Y One,

In answering your question first I would say I don't know Brown's view on that since he does not get into that question directly.

But, I would guess (knowing his thought well) that he would agree that Scripture is materially sufficient but not as it is formulated by the material/formal debate and the ideas that they are usually couched therein.

That debate is a complete misreading of texts such as 2 Tim 3:16, which does not read "sufficient" but rather "useful," by the best commentators and versions both Catholic and Protestant.

Scripture no where claims for itself to be the sole rule of faith and morals, nor does the earliest patristic Fathers see Scripture in that light.

The most that can be said is that philosophically Scripture is authoritative and inspired in what it does say, since it is "God-breathed."

The Catholic Journeyman said...

"For example...In no way then is Scripture to be thought of as a systematic theology encompassing every point of Christian theology explained in full detail."

R.E. you nail it there. I need to remember that in my study more often than I do.


R. E. Aguirre. said...

Indeed Dave. That is such an important reality to grasp, especially for a proper understanding on the importance of development of doctrine.

George Weis said...

Brother Rick,

Some great posts that I have missed! Now, again I say to you... THANK YOU! for what? For asking the questions some folks won't touch. I seriously look up to you in that way. You are one of the smartest fellas in this field that I know, and yet you are faithful to the truth and the seeking of it!

Blessings to you,

R. E. Aguirre. said...

Thanks for the kind words George but I am nothing without the power of the Holy Spirit.

George Weis said...

Well I know that much :D Praise God for what He does in and through you... may all you do uplift the name of Christ our Lord!


Randy said...

I don't know why he would argue that the imaculate conception and assumption cannot be drawn from scripture. It seems pretty easy to do. Sure there are other ways to interpete "full of grace" but saying it refers to being free from sin is one way to read it. Knowing it is the correct way is another matter. Even the word virgin can mean pure from sin rather than just pure from sex. It is not clear but it is possible. Once you have a possible reading then it is a matter for the church to clarify what the scripture means.