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Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S. (R.I.P.)

Sunday, 8-Aug-1999, is the first year anniversary of the death of one of the leading Roman Catholic biblical scholars, Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S.

[Fr. Brown died last year in California (where he resided at St. Patrick's Seminary in his "retirement") while the Catholic Biblical Association of America was holding its annual meeting in Scranton, P.]

Although Fr. Brown's expertise was encyclopedic over the entire New Testament (actually over the entire Bible -- his Ph.D. was in Semitics from Johns  Hopkins University), his area of particular love and interest was the works of John. He write the massive (two volumes and nearly 1400 pages) commentary on the Gospel of John for the
Doubleday ANCHOR BIBLE COMMENTARY series (volumes published in 1966 and 1970) and in 1982 the proportionately even larger (about 800 pages) one on the Epistles of John in the same series.

      He also wrote smaller and less technical books on many Biblical topics including Johannine ones. Just the day before his death a small (only 100 pages), delightful, and quite non-technical paperback book of his entitled A RETREAT WITH JOHN THE EVANGELIST: THAT YOU MAY LIFE was published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. I highly recommend this playful and "prayful" little book. In it, Fr. Brown, supposedly as a "Translator", helps the Evangelist give a seven day retreat for  modern people based on his ancient but eternal Gospel Message. They have some rather humorous, but very thought-provoking, interplay.

      Following his death many memorials and articles about him were published in a number of places. (There were even two pages of  articles and an extremely laudatory editorial in the Boston Archdiocesan paper THE PILOT of August 14, 1998.)

What is primarily included here are some excerpts from one of the published tributes, the one by Alexandra R. Brown (no relation to Fr. Brown) who studied under him in the doctoral program in New Testament at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. It appeared in the October 1998 issue (vol. 48, no. 8) of the journal DOCTRINE AND LIFE published by the Irish Dominicans. Her article stresses both Fr.Brown's scriptural scholarship and his dedication to the Church.

  •       ``In addition to reading many of his books, I also had the pleasure and privilege of having him as a teacher for some summer scripture courses I took at Boston College (although I never had him for any course on the Johannine books). In my courses (large lecture ones) with him and my readings I sense strongly the points made in Alexandra Brown's more personal article.  Father Brown is and will be missed. Professor Alexandra Brown wrote in her tribute:
  •  "In a sense, of course, Raymond Brown does live on. His  profound influence will, we know, survive this time of  disorientation and loss. For his legacy will be felt not only among his students, not only in the academy, but across the  widest reaches of the Church ecumenical where Catholic and  Protestant, clergy and lay audiences know and build on his  labours toward the joining of biblical faith and  biblical knowledge. ..."
  •  "While it goes without saying that he taught us well in the languages, tools and methods of biblical scholarship, he also taught by example something much rarer in our sceptical times
  •    -- a way of integrating rigorous intellectual inquiry and  faith without compromising either. Ray was, of course, as a  Sulpician priest, explicitly committed to this integration; it  has been  frequently noted since his death that Ray always wore his Roman collar when teaching or lecturing. Indeed, we knew as we took notes in class and sat with Ray in conference and read his books that we were engaged with a mind and heart animated by love of the Church."
  •    "And we learned in more personal ways too of his priestly  calling. He somehow knew when we were more in need of a  priest's than of a scholar's counsel. I will never forget the  morning  during one crisis in my father's long critical illness when he stopped me quietly in the corridor at Union Seminary to tell me that he had offered Mass for Dad that morning. Nor the time when he relieved my anxieties about  academic performance by suggesting (with a wink) that I was guilty (and doubly so as a Protestant!) of supererogation. In many quiet ways like these, and in ways we will never know, Ray was God's priest to us."
  • "His Catholic faith was impetus, never impediment, to his scholarly project. One who studied with him for long learned to understand his disciplined brilliance, his exhaustive    scrutiny of sources and  meticulous weighing of evidence as essential to his priestly calling. His erudition, his unflagging attention to the details of scriptural texts and their interpretation was his contribution to the spiritual vitality of the  Church..."

      Then in the last paragraph of her Memorial tribute, Alexandra Brown comments on the book dedication (to his doctoral students) and introduction of Fr. Brown's last scholarly  book before his death INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT (Doubleday, 1997). She concludes:  

  • "These words [of the Dedication of the book] are now both our treasure and our charge, for in the introductory pages to that volume, Ray wrote that he intended it for a wide range of    readers 'who are  interested in the New Testament because it is important for them religiously.' This was the whole point of  it for Ray -- to make the biblical witness accessible and intelligible to those for whom it was of vital and  ultimate  concern. Insofar as we who learned from him remember his example and continue in the pattern of his dedicated labours to connect biblical learning with biblical faith, our labours may become the dedicatory  volume he was too generous to accept
  • in his lifetime. In this way, to paraphrase the words of Paul read at Ray's funeral liturgy, 'we who are enriched in every way by Raymond Brown's generosity will produce thanksgiving to God.' 'For the rendering of his  service not only supplies the wants of the saints but overflows in many thanksgivings to God' (2 Cor 9:11-12). May he rest in peace."

Posted with the permission of  Edward L. Pothier.  Quoted sections are from the October 1998 issue (vol. 48, no. 8) of the journal DOCTRINE AND LIFE published by the Irish Dominicans.

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