Joseph A. Fitzmyer

I recently purchased the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, but, trust me, I am sending it back come tomorrow afternoon! Before I ordered it, I should’ve researched more into the persons of Frs. Raymond Brown and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, but before digging too far into the NJBC, I decided to research Raymond Brown’s and Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s scholarship credentials, and am shocked by what I find! For one, I found this article by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, which more or less maintains that Mary’s perpetual virginity was invented by happy-go-lucky post-Apostolic theologians!

I want to know how men like Joseph A. Fitzmyer remain in such positions at Catholic universities, while also remaining in the Society of Jesus, and yet can assert in articles (and the NJBC) that Mary’s virginity might just be a fake without any sort of reprehensive action taken by the Pope!!!

What gives? No wonder nobody can take Catholics serious anymore with men like this representing Catholic “scholarship”!

Epist << What gives? No wonder nobody can take Catholics serious anymore with men like this representing Catholic “scholarship”! >>

I have seen before that Fr. Raymond Brown makes a distinction on what he accepts on faith, and what he can deduce from scholarship. I have his massive Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday, 1997) and will be going through that shortly. It’s a bit over my head but I’ll give it a shot.

Fitzmyer might be suggesting one cannot demonstrate Mary’s perpetual virginity as a matter of historical “scholarship” (his understanding of the Greek for “brother” or the earliest Christian writings, etc), but he might otherwise hold to it as a matter of faith. What he says is:

“Such church teaching was formulated by early Christians in the post-Apostolic era, making use of an interpretation of some passages in the New Testament that passed over others that were problematic, such as Jn. 1:45; 6:42; Lk. 4:22…The result was that that teaching was not universally accepted at first.”

He then says that the teaching of the eastern Church is that “James was regarded as the son of Joseph, who as a widower married Mary…” while the western Latin Church “insisted on a broader sense of adelphos as ‘kinsman or relative’…” and that this interpretation of adelphos is found in the Catholic Church and the original Protestant Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and later Wesley).

Only at the “so-called Enlightenment” did “Protestant tradition interpret adelphos to mean blood-brother or sibling, so that James came to be understood as Jesus’ natural brother.”

I think that’s an accurate assessment. You don’t find the perpetual virginity of Mary explicitly in St. Ignatius of Antioch or St. Irenaeus for example (correct me if I’m wrong). The first explicit mention is from Origen (c. 220 AD) forward. Some also argue it from the New Testament and the Protoevangelium of James (2nd century).

Carol’s multi-volume Mariology will also confirm Fitzmyer. The first person to give a detailed defense of the “adelphos” can mean “cousin” argument is St. Jerome (4th century). Before St. Jerome most thought the “brothers” were from a previous marriage by Joseph (again, correct me if I’m wrong). So all Fitzmyer is saying is he doesn’t think you can defend the perpetual virginity of Mary or the “brothers” = “cousins” argument from the New Testament itself, that it was a later “post-apostolic development.” However, we say the same thing about the explicit doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Don’t forget I defend both the perpetual virginity and the Trinity all over my apologetics site. :thumbsup: But let’s be fair.

Phil P

Fitzmyer also says in that article now that I’ve read it all: :smiley:

“Both Aramaic ’ah and Greek adelphos, ‘brother,’ denoted in the ancient world of these inscriptions not only blood-brother or sibling, but also relative or kinsman. This broader meaning of ’ah occurs in the Aramaic texts of Tobit from Qumran Cave 4 (4QToba 6.11; 4QTobb 4 iii 2, 4, 5).”


“Consequently, the description of James given by Paul in Gal. 1:19, ‘the brother of the Lord,’ does not necessarily mean that James was the blood-brother of Jesus…” and that “adelphos in Mk. 6:3 cannot necessarily mean blood-brother, and that it carries rather the nuance of a relative or kinsman. Thus, the problem of the meaning of adelphos is created by the data of the New Testament itself, and not from any later Christian tradition.”

So I think the Catholic apologetic argument from the New Testament for the perpetual virginity of Mary still can stand according to Fr. Fitzmyer. :thumbsup:

And to throw in some “evangelical scholarship” I like to quote:

"The questions [regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity] arise primarily from the statement of Matthew concerning Joseph’s relations with Mary after the angelic announcement to him: [quotes Matthew 1:25]…The tense of the verb ‘had no union’ (lit., was not knowing her) takes the reader to the moment of the ‘until she gave birth.’ Beyond that point Scripture is of no certain help. Brothers of the Lord are mentioned (Matthew 13:55), but it cannot be determined that they were sons of Mary. Luther, with Origen, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and others, affirmed the perpetual virginity. Calvin says that beyond the birth of Jesus Scripture is silent and that ‘none but a contentious trouble-maker will press it all the way.’ " (ROMAN CATHOLICISM: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us [Moody Press, 1994], chapter by S. Lewis Johnson, “Mary, the Saints, and Sacerdotalism,” pages 119 - 140)

Phil P

I have never heard of Fr. Raymond Brown, what is he known for?

As for Fitzmyer’s writings I like his scholarship. He does make a distinction between scholars and apologetists. Scholars, here is what we can know at least. Apologetists, here is what we are trying to prove.

Fr. Raymond Brown b. NYC - d. 1998 was twice appointed to Pontifical Biblical Commissions by 2 different popes - wrote a 2 vol. Anchor Bible commentary on the Gospel of John and was considered by protestants and catholics alike to by the worlds foremost expert on this gospel. He also collaborated with Fr. Fitzmyer on the Jerome Biblical Commentary and spent two breaks with him working on a card catalog of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He could read Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and probably German. He retired from teaching graduate students at Union Theological Seminary in NY city ( he was the only Catholic priest at this protestant institution ) He was often invited to speak at monasteries, convents, universities and hebrew yeshiva schools. I believe Fr. Fitzmyer is still alive and retired from teaching at Georgetown Univ. Both of these priests contributed heavily to documents from Vatican II.

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