Grantley McDonald - Reviews

Steven Avery

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Steven Avery

TEMP - For Analysis - 2 of the 3 pages that are at Brill Online

Grantley McDonald
Biblical Criticism in Early Modem Europe: Erasmus, thejohannine Comma and Trinitarian Debate (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), Pp. xvii-384.

McDonald’s monograph, a revised version of his 2011 Leiden PhD, offers the first comprehensive treatment of debates over the Comma Iohanneum (1 John 5:7-8) from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. Erasmus features prominently in the subtitle, one of his portraits by Holbein adorns the cover-and he is indeed a major connecting thread in this long, transnational, and transdenominational story. As McDonald demonstrates, controversies over the Johannine comma usually involved discussions of Erasmus’ reasons, first, for omitting it in his 1516 and 1519 editions of the New Testament, and, then, for restoring it in 1522 on the basis of a single English manuscript, the so-called Codex Montfortianus. McDonald’s study of the quest for, rediscovery and identification of, this manuscript is especially illuminating. Nevertheless, one may disagree with McDonald’s argument that ‘making the character of early editors into the primary criterion for the soundness of their editions’ was tantamount to 'undermin[ing] the value of philological method’(238). For most readers—unable to examine manuscripts for themselves-the authority of a printed edition necessarily came down to the fides of the editor: a notion combining his moral trustworthiness as well as his scholarly abilities (‘candor’ (238), was a word much used in this context). Summarizing the arguments of the lawyer Roger North in this regard in a letter of 1713, McDonald rightly speaks of ‘a pact of authority and trust’ (200). Useful parallels, however, could have been drawn with contemporary controversies over alleged falsifications in patristic editions, using, for instance, the work of Pierre Petitmengin.

For most of the book, when McDonald deals with early modern history, he appears in full command of an impressive range of primary sources. He does not confine himself to theological controversies, but also considers biblical editions (in Greek, Latin, and oriental languages), vernacular translations, liturgical books, and catechisms. His account is lucid and generally balanced, despite an occasional proclivity to value judgments (see e.g., 122 on Stillingfleet; 127-128 on ‘the disappointingly low intellectual level’ of William Howell’s Oxford university sermon; 158 on Thomas Smith). McDonald pays consistently close attention to the political, social, and cultural contexts of scholarly debates. There are only a few minor mistakes. ‘The 1586 Index expurgatorius’ (81) is actually a Protestant pirated edition of the 1571 Belgian Index, prepared under the direction of Benito Arias Montano and published by Christophe Plantin-- one of the clearest instances of the connection between scholarship and censorship in the sixteenth century. The expurgation of Erasmus’ work had been entrusted to the Divinity Faculty of Louvain.1 Moreover, this 1586 edition ‘apud loannem Mareschallum Lugdunensem’ was published not in Lyon (bibliography, 347) but in Heidelberg, where Jean Mareschal was a religious exile.2 The Jablonski who informed Friedrich Ernst Kettner about codex Ravianus was the famous Daniel Ernst Jablonski, ‘Potentissimi Regis Borussiae Prot-Ecclesiasta Aulicus’, not his son Paul Ernst, who was still a student at the time (185 and index s.v).3

Had McDonald ended his account around 1800, with the controversy between Travis and Porson (266-276), his book would have been a first-rate study of the relations between philology and theology in early modern Europe and of the textual construction of religious orthodoxy-and deserved the highest praise. Unfortunately, the final chapter on 'the long nineteenth century’ does not maintain quite the same level of excellence. The section on the modernist crisis in the Catholic Church (300-311) is sketchy, more appropriate to a student textbook than a research monograph. To describe Duchesne as ‘the modernist Louis Duchesne’ (304) is a gross simplification. More egregiously, a figure as major as the Dominican Marie-Joseph Lagrange, founder of the École biblique in Jerusalem, who was deeply distressed by the 1897 decree of the Holy Office on comma lohanneum (see the authoritative biography by Bernard Montagnes, who quotes from Lagrange’s Souvenirs and his spiritual diary) is omitted entirely. So, too, the enormous secondary literature on modernism is largely ignored. There is not a single reference to the work of the late Émile Poulat--widely regarded as the greatest authority on the subject.4 An original, not terribly difficult, contribution would have been to consult the archives of the Holy Office--which had remained closed to scholars of Poulat’s generation--in order to shed light on the 1897 decree: was it indeed meant, as has been surmised, to ‘intimidate’ exegetes on the eve of the International Catholic Scientific Congress in Fribourg?5 McDonald seems to have made no attempt to do so. Opting for a very broad chronology is now fashionable: I cannot help thinking that, in the present instance, it was somewhat over-ambitious.

In both his introduction and his short conclusion, McDonald claims that the Johannine comma is still a living issue; its genuineness is virulently maintained in conservative evangelical circles, especially on the Internet. ‘In a poll taken on the website, nearly half the respondents replied that they believe the comma to be a genuine part of Scripture’ (9). One can understand McDonald’s eagerness to show the relevance of his study (314)— although he might have specified that, in the poll in question, the number of respondents totalled sixty, twenty-nine of whom replied that the comma ‘is Scripture’ (, accessed by McDonald in January 2016, by this reviewer in July 2017). Such attitudes are no doubt of interest for a cultural anthropology of fundamentalism, yet one wonders whether they should be regarded as a continuation of the story that McDonald so well told for the early modern period, when defenders of the comma were central, eminently legitimate figures. As late as 1900, a prestigious public ‘intellectual’ like Ferdinand Brunetière, member of the Académie française , was confident he could demonstrate the genuineness of the comma.6 Although the discourse of Internet evangelicals may reach the same conclusion, it certainly does not enjoy the same cultural and social authority. Is there not a point when a position has moved so much out of the mainstream that the discussion is actually settled? Sébastien Le Nain de Tillemont, the great Jansenist critic of the late seventeenth century, certainly believed so: ‘ce seroit perdre le temps’, he insisted, ‘que de l’employer a examiner ces pieces, qui sont rejettees generalement par toutes les personnes un peu habiles’.7 An anonymous German reviewer quoted by McDonald made this point about the comma as early as 1785 (258). This was an important epistemological breakthrough: the introduction of the idea of progress in philological criticism.

1 See Index expurgatorius librorum (Antwerp, 1571), 99; J. M. de Bujanda, Index des livres interdits, vii. Index d'Anvers 1569,1570,1571 (Sherbrooke-Geneva, 1988), 825: G. Van Calster, ‘La censure louvaniste du Nouveau Testament et la rédaction de l'index érasmien expurgatoire de 1571’, in Scrinium Erasmianum, cd. J. Coppens (Leiden, 1969), 2:379-436, at 409 and 430 for the comma Johanneum). These would have been more topical references than those given n. 46.

2 See e.g., Wilhelm Port, Hieronymus Commelinus, 1550-1597. Leben und Werk eines Heidelberger Drucker-Verlegers (Leipzig, 1938), 12,14, 37; Eugénie Droz, ‘Fausscs adresses typographiques (Suite)’, Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 23 (1961), 380-386; Georges Bonnant, ‘Les
Index prohibitifs et expurgatoires contrefaits par des protestants au xvi* et au xvii* siècle’, Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 31 (1969), 630.

3 Friedrich Ernst Kettner, Historia dicti Johannei de Sanctissima Trinitate, I. Joh. cap. V. vers. 7. (Francfort and Leipzig, 1713), 206.

4 Even his dissertation, Histoire, dogme et critique dans la crise moderniste (1962,3rd cdn. 1996) is not mentioned: on the comma, see 130, 239, 255.

5 B. Montagnes, Marie-Joseph Lagrange: une biographie critique (Paris, 2004), 148-149.

6 Alfred Loisy, George Tyrrell et Henri Bremond (Paris, 1936), 98.

7 Memoires pour servir à i’histoire ecclesiastique des six premiers siecles, 7 (Paris, 1700), 268.

Jean-Louis Quantin
Ecole pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne, 45-47 rue des Ecoles,
F-75005 Paris, France
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Steven Avery

Other Reviews are by

James Keith Elliott
placed by Grantley on

Were the addendum to have been original to the New Testament, it would indeed have been helpful to patristic writers arguing for a scriptural basis for Trinitarian beliefs. Its usefulness is doubtless why the words were concocted and inserted into John’s epistle. Modern scholars wisely reject the words as being original to 1 John: they were introduced, probably accidentally, from a marginal gloss that saw in the three witnesses a Trinitarian reference.
Like Grantley, all very vague. This would mean a 4th century creation. And the marginal gloss theory is pure speculation.

The addendum became commonplace in Latin manuscripts from c. 800 A.D.
Easily disproved by the Confession of Faith at Carthage 484 AD.

Pseudo-Jerome's Preface to the Catholic Epistles cast doubt on them,
Nonsense. This Prologue, quite surely by Jerome, is an incredible evidence FOR the heavenly witnesses authenticity.

Whether the doctrine of the Trinity in the West is now outdated is worth debating. McDonald, however, is too tactful an historian to indulge in recent wrangling on this topic, pace G.W.H. Lampe and other twentieth century theologians’ overtures. Moltmann for example is similarly ignored.
Finally, a helpful comment! :)
The two quotes below give some context.

New Century Trinity (2001)
David Williams

... Lampe (1983:228) writes that Jesus is only divine “in the sense that the one God the creator and Saviour Spirit revealed himself and acted decisively for us in Jesus”; he is therefore Unitarian (Brown 1985:165). In fact, binitarianism could be argued as the prevalent view in the early
Church, as the Spirit rarely affected doctrinal discussion. p. 155

In a sense, it is very natural to regard the Spirit as simply the activity of God the Father or of Christ. This has often been suggested, such as by
Berkhof, who saw the Spirit as the action of the Father, the Spirit of the Son as the action of the Son (Moltmann 1992:13); the personality of the Spirit is then in personal encounter with other persons. With Lampe, he believes that the Spirit is not a person in relation to Father or Son (Heron 1983:168-9 feels that this is a modern expression of the old heresy of Marcellus of Ancyra). Indeed, the Spirit never uses the personal “I”. Congar (1983a:vii) also notes that both “holy” and “spirit” are also applicable to the Father and the Son, so that “Holy Spirit” does not indicate separate existence. The very word “spirit”, whether in English or in most other languages, suggests impersonality. p. 157

In a helpful Appendix McDonald sets out Erasmus’s Annotationes on the Johannine Comma from 1516 to 1535. There his translation of Erasmus’s two Annotationes on the Johannine Comma is based on the fifth edition of 1535, collated with all the preceding editions (1516, 1519, 1522 and 1527). The text itself is cumulative.The Latin text and a full commentary are given in the ongoing learned series Erasmi Opera Omnia (ASD) VI-10, 540-552.1

Grantley's translation is lauded.
Considering what happened with John Mill and Cyprian and Tertullian, one wonders about the skill needed. Either Grantley was weak in Latin, or he did not actually read the primary source.

Overall, not much to this review.

Raphael Magarik
A rather eclectic young writer, and twitterite.

"Although himself an orthodox Trinitarian, Erasmus bravely omitted the passage from his 1516 critical edition of the New Testament."

"McDonald dutifully chronicles the numerous battles, including early Reformation polemics, eighteenth-century battles between heretical anti-Trinitarians (like Isaac Newton) and the Established Church, and the development of scientific, nonsectarian textual scholarship. McDonald devotes perhaps too much time to biographical sketches and blow-by-blow summaries of philological and theological treatises, and the result is an encyclopedia, rather than an argument or narrative. "

Ernst Boogert -

Dutch review.. (Google translate)
Birth of the Trinity chapter name decried,
"McDonald has therefore done a great service in providing a translation (in the appendix) of Erasmus' Annotationes to the CJ in the 1535 edition"
"the rehabilitation of the CJ in the revision of Melanchthon's Loci Communes (1535)."
"All in all, McDonald excels in this book by a keen eye for detail and by better embedding previous treatments of the subject in its historical context. The conclusions are therefore more accurate and make the book the "definitive" study of the CJ in the early modern period for the time being."

No criticisms, no errors found.

Hilmar M. Pabel (b. 1964)
Pabel—Review of Grantley McDonald, Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe: Erasmus, the Johannine Comma, and Trinitarian Debate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)

The interpolation in 1 John v of a passage about the three heavenly witnesses that are one – the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit – excited theological passions from the early sixteenth century until into the nineteenth ... The comma first appeared in two seventh-century Latin Bibles copied in Spain. ... fascinating, controversial history, which McDonald meticulously traces with elegant prose and accessible erudition. ...

By the early eighteenth century’, a myth drew Erasmus’ character into the debate about the comma. Erasmus supposedly had promised Lee that he would restore the comma if it existed in one Greek manuscript In 1980, in an article in Ephemerides Theologicae Lauanimses, Henk Jan de Jonge exposed and exploded the myth, whose origin he could trace only to 1818. McDonald, his student, locates ‘the seed from which the myth of Erasmus’ promise grew’ (p. 151) in the way in which Richard Simon told the story about Erasmus and the comma in his Histoire critique du texte du Nouveau Testament (1689). In a final apology for the comma published in 1721, Martin ‘presented the first fully developed narration of the myth’ (p. 236).

His methodology of explicating reactions to the comma of a long succession of scholars from John Milton to Edward Gibbon and his contemporaries underlines the importance of human agency in the history of ideas. This does not amount, however, to what McDonald calls ‘a social history of the debate’ (p. 12). Despite brief references to early modern English anti-Catholicism and to the reach of the debate about the comma ‘into all pares of English society’ (p. 290) in the nineteenth century, Biblical criticism in early modern Europe remains a highly accomplished work of intellectual history. McDonald deftly unfolds a complex and fascinating controversy of great moment in the history of Christian ideas.

No factual criticisms. Not too much in this review, so Grantley puts it up on I asked Hilmar if he had looked at the authenticity of the Vulgate Prologue, he had not.

The Erasmus Promise error follows Grantley. The first real Promise idea was Richard Porson, not Richard Simon or David Martin. We can also compare Isaac Newton, William Whiston and Johann Michaelis.

Erasmus Promise summary

Dirk van Miert
Review of: Grantley McDonald, Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe.
Erasmus, the Johannine Comma and Trinitarian Debate, Cambridge: CUP, 2016
van Miert, D.K.W.
(2017) Renaissance Quarterly, volume 70, issue 3, pp. 1165 - 1167
(Book review)
(conclusion - not much substance in this review.)
To some, a drawback might be the preponderance of seventeenth-century English biblical scholars treated. The textual accomplishments of scholars in the early German Enlightenment are not ignored, but the rest of the European mainland is largely left out of the picture, despite the wide-ranging geography of McDonald’s account of sixteenth-century editions. Still, the author has drawn an astonishing history of the multiple responses to defenses, negotiations, or rejections of the Comma Johanneum. What this book superbly demonstrates is that the relation between philology and theology is by no means straightforward, and that there was by no means a clash between philology and theology. (SA: ??)

Presumably a discussion of Polish, Romanian, Russian, French, Italian and additional commentators. Would Dirk work with us to fill in at least an outline of what was missing?

Example of florid writing, along with Magarik:

McDonald’s panoramic empirical survey includes not only the controversialists and their textual arguments, uncovered from the thickets of rhetorical layers, but also the history of the printed editions, as the second chapter on sixteenth-century Bibles evidences: Greek, Latin, and even the Peshitta and Arabic editions are analyzed with painstaking detail, as well as the responses of various Protestant denominations.

Peter J. Gurry
Oxford Access (university) or $47 or DeepDyve
Somewhat fawning, did not find the errors, however the conclusion is noteworthy.
In terms of criticisms, it surprised me that Francis Turretin’s discussion of the Comma received no discussion (cf. p. 158, n. 147) given his prominence in the post-Reformation period. On the other hand, there were a few spots that appear superfluous to the book’s aims as, for instance, the discussion of Socinius’s views of the atonement (p. 104). Finally, I never could figure out why the word ‘Bible’ is uncapitalized throughout. But these are mere trifles in a book so well executed and even to mention them risks exposing a reviewer as pedantic. To conclude, this is a remarkable piece of work and should serve as a model for any who want to write on the history of biblical studies. We can only hope that it will not be the author’s last foray into this subject area.

The mishandling of Francis Turretin has been a major topic in my analysis. Including the wild Michael Walther claim and not even naming the two major dissertations on the heavenly and earthly witnesses.

Max Engammare (b. 1963)
Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et. Renaissance 79, 2017 (French)

Samuel Fornecker (forthcoming)
Davenant Institute
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