The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists

By Olsen, Glenn W. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1998 | Go to article overview

The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: From the Carolingians to the Maurists


Olsen, Glenn W., The Catholic Historical Review


The Reception of the Church Fathers in the West.From the Carolingians to the Maurists. Edited by Irena Backus. 2 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1997. Pp. xxix, 469; vii, 470-1078. $338.50.)

It would be impossible to write a comprehensive history of the reception of the Church Fathers from the Carolingians to the Maurists in two volumes. What this work gives, rather, is studies of select subjects by an international group of scholars. Each of its twenty-six articles is written in or translated into English. The translations are sometimes infelicitous, fairly often have bad grammar and typographical and spelling errors, and are not always aware of English conventions. All have a bibliography. Some of the articles cover large topics, some are more modest in ambition. Their quality ranges from the pedestrian to the truly clarifying and permanently useful. The editor's introduction, which summarizes the separate chapters, is not fully in command of either English or some of the materials it describes. One frequently puzzles over whether the mistakes are of fact or expression: on page xii, Backus follows Willemien Otten (p. 12) in ascribing "adoration of images" to the Second Council of Nicaea. Then, summarizing Jean Werckmeister, she writes in regard to the period before 1200 of the existence of several canon laws given that each Church [sic] possessed its own legislature."Werckmeister's translated language (p. 51), however, is not of each (presumably regional) "Church" having its own legislature, but its own law. Backus also (p. xix) follows Manfred Schulze's statement (p. 625) that Luther performed the "inestimable scholarly service" of showing that "the Fathers. . . could be mistaken," as if this were not a commonplace in the Middle Ages.

Part One, on the use of patristic sources until 1200, begins with a wellinformed but not always precise and sometimes superficial study by Willemien Otten of the place of the Fathers in Carolingian theology. Otten usefully examines Carolingian anthropology. An essay by Jean Werckmeister summarizes, especially in regard to the question of marriage, the reception of the Fathers into canon law. Perhaps the vagueness of remarks such as that Gratian did not consider the union of Mary and Joseph a true marriage (p. 71) "due to lack of a sensual dimension" is to be attributed to the translator. The better part of a century ago, Rudolph Sohm thought he saw the canon law after Gratian shifting from the categories of sacrament and mystery to that of legislation. Intentionally or not (the discussion could be clearer), Werckmeister shows by contrast that what Sohm labelled altkatholisch or theological law was not in fact ancient but a creation of the period from the eighth to the twelfth century, during which the writings of the Fathers played a greater role in law than they did before or after. Except for an undefended dating of the Codex Sinaiticus to the second century, E. Ann Matter gives an informed discussion of the Glossa ordinaria. Jacques-Guy Bougerol does the same for the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and returns in Part Two to continue the story with a fine article on The Church Fathers and Auctoritates in Scholastic Theology to Bonaventure." Burcht Pranger's study of Anselm's, Abelard's, and Bernard's views of patristic authority, with its comparisons of what is common to these thinkers, and what distinctive to each, is especially thought-provoking. …

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