Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Irenaeus book reviews (alert: academic jargon)

JohnieB asked for the text of the reviews, per my offer in a previous post.

(And JB, I'm not going to Vermont -- only the Boston area. If you re-read my post, you'll see that I was only saying what my favorite July 4 location was. But, as I said, the Fourth in Boston is a wonderful thing.)

When you're done with the jargon, listen to the Aretha Franklin piece below. And remember, I hate jargon, I just offered to share it.

Copyright © 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.

Journal of Early Christian Studies
7.2 (1999) 303-304

Mary Ann Donovan. One Right Reading? A Guide to Irenaeus. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997. Pp. x + 197. $18.95 (paper).

"Who is a Christian? Is there a hallmark of Christianity, a clear and recognizable Christian identity?" With such questions Donovan begins this volume intended "to serve as a companion to the reader of Adversus haereses . . . [that] will lead others back to the text of Irenaeus himself" (3-4). Donovan's Guide is not a [End Page 303] commentary but seeks to provide students with the necessary background information for understanding the organization and argument in Irenaeus' work Against Heresies, the various issues Irenaeus addresses, and the groups and individuals he criticizes. An initial chapter surveys Irenaeus' life and thought (7-21), and the majority of One Right Reading? introduces his main surviving work section by section (25-170). Afterward Donovan offers some concluding remarks (171-74), a helpful appendix on the question of Irenaeus' reliability in describing his 'heretical' opponents (175-77 = M. A. Donovan, "Irenaeus," ABD III, 458), a bibliography (178-86) and three indexes (187-97).

There are many strengths to the presentation offered here. For example, when discussing Irenaeus' descriptions of gnostic ideas, Donovan offers for comparison statements in the Nag Hammadi writings. She also has a firm grasp on the secondary literature and draws upon insights of other scholars, especially Philippe Bacq and Elaine Pagels, to illuminate many aspects of the discussion (cf. Donovan's article, "Irenaeus in Recent Scholarship," SecCent 4 [1984]: 219-41). Donovan herself reflects a great deal of respect for Irenaeus and yet writes with an appreciation for Walter Bauer's warning about assuming, as is affirmed repeatedly throughout Adversus haereses, the historical priority of orthodoxy (e.g., pp. 12-13). At two points Donovan's interest in the chiastic structure of Against Heresies is credible (pp. 70-75, on Adv. haer. III. 9, 1-III. 10, 6; and pp. 83-84, on III. 18, 2-III. 18, 7), but at another her argument is strained (pp. 84-87, on III. 19, 1-III. 21, 9). Most chapters end with a summary, and each is complemented by copious notes indicating where students can find more information.

The volume as a whole, however, leaves a mixed impression in that Donovan's prose is unassuming yet loquacious, sensitive to students' questions yet tiring when taken in large doses. The editors at Liturgical Press bear some responsibility for this criticism, as the author's noble pedagogical purposes merit a better final product. Nevertheless, Donovan and her publisher deserve our appreciation for this affordable book offering much to those investigating Irenaeus' thought for the first time.

James A. Kelhoffer
University of Chicago


One Right Reading? A Guide to Irenaeus. Mary Ann Donovan.
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997. x + 197 pp. $18.95 (paper).

The author engagingly states at the outset that her "aim is to present clearly and concisely what Irenaeus says, following the order of his argument" (p. 4). She does not study his sources or his theology but his treatise against heresies, with much use of P. Bacq, who emphasizes Irenaeus's chiastic structure and use of verbal association, and she extends Bacq's analysis from Book IV through Book III. We might add that verbal association is common in the New Testament, especially the synoptic gospels, as is chiasmus. Conceivably Irenaeus thought of his method of writing as apostolic, though it is basically a matter of rhetoric, not logic or philosophy (for the latter cf. B. Reynders, "La polemique de saint Irenee: Methode et principes," Recherches de theologie ancienne et medievale 7 [ 1935], 5-27).

He was primarily concerned with the exegesis of scripture and with maintaining against Gnostics that there was indeed "one right reading." Donovan points out that he gives the "rule of faith" a decisive role in this reading, but perhaps his own contribution to the formulation of the rule could be emphasized. Her Irenaeus is a passive recipient of tradition rather than a shaper of it, but when he adduces Clement of Rome as a witness he simply sets forth his own version of the rule, without any reference to what Clement wrote; and when he says that Polycarp wrote a "very powerful letter" evidencing "the nature of his faith and the preaching of the truth" (Heresies 3.3.3-4) he may mean no more than that Polycarp denounced a heresy like Marcion's. Irenaeus chooses traditions to follow, notably the chiliasm of Asia Minor in Book V Bacq's demonstration that "while Irenaeus did use sources he wove them into his own scheme" (p. 128 n. 24) is not surprising. Sources are there to be woven.

Paraphrasing Irenaeus yields significant results but one should not neglect his Greek education and sources. He apologized for living among non-literate tribes and was well aware of what his Greek education had given him. In addition, as I have insisted elsewhere, his allusions to an authoritative tag from Xenophanes in Books II and IV-ascribed both to "religious men" generally and to the Bible-shows that his theology was not entirely biblical. Finally, one might compare Irenaeus's insistence on a Roman primacy of some sort with his own vigorous criticism of Victor, bishop of Rome during the Quartodeciman controversy, described by Eusebius (H. E. 5.24.14-17), who refrains from quoting Irenaeus on Roman "primacy" though he does quote him on the succession of bishops (H. E. 5.6). Was one right reading really a feasible goal?

These questions do not detract from the reliability and usefulness of Donovan's study. She presents it as a guide to reading Against Heresies, and it will surely encourage and help students to enter into Irenaeus's thought. They should not abandon Ricoeur's preliminary "hermeneutic of suspicion" too rapidly, however.


Chicago, Illinois

Copyright Anglican Theological Review, Inc. Winter 1999
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved


johnieb said...

"unassuming yet loquacious,"

Gag me with a footnote, to an obscure but apropos Coptic text.

Some 'Retha is definitely in order.

The Simple Village Scholar

Padre Mickey said...

I took several classes from Mary Ann Donovan when I was at the GTU. I enjoyed them and I found her methods interesting, but I think I learned more in the classes with Rebecca Lyman.