Ronnie J. ROMBS and Alexander Y. HWANG, eds., Tradition & the Rule of Faith in the Early Church. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010. pp. 351. $39.95 hb. ISBN 978-0-8132-1793-2.
Reviewed by Rose BEAL, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Winona, MN 55987

This collection of essays is presented in honor of Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., known for his careful historical studies of patristic theology and concern for questions pertaining to tradition and the rule of faith in the life of the early church. The essays are presented in four groups. The first three groups address tradition and the rule of faith in the writings of the church fathers as a whole, in the Arian controversy and in Augustine’s writings. The fourth section raises the question of the reception of the patristic tradition itself by subsequent generations. The specific content of the essays is summarized individually below. As a whole, the collection offers expert scholarship accessible to non-experts. The text provides an introduction to patristic understandings of tradition and the rule of faith for readers who have a background in theology and church history but lack specific knowledge of tradition as the fundamental framework of patristic theology. Equally, the essays present arguments that are sufficiently detailed and complex to invite more expert readers to a renewed contextualization in contemporary reading of theologians such as Augustine, Irenaeus and Origen and examination of early theological battlegrounds such as the Arian, Manichean, Donatist and Pelagian controversies.

The first section of the book, “Tradition and the Rule of Faith in the Church Fathers,” begins with two essays exploring tradition as the foundation of orthodoxy in the early church through a detailed word study of traditio (Everett Ferguson) and an argument for the comparable status of the second century “rule of faith” and the fourth century New Testament canon as standards of orthodoxy (Jonathan Armstrong). Two additional essays address the process of traditioning, first in a proposal for the “unity and originality” of book I of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (Jeffrey Bingham) and then through an analysis of the controversy – which hinged on differing operative understandings of tradition – of Augustine’s doctrine of grace in the fifth century (Alexander Hwang).

In the second section, “Tradition and the Rule of Faith in the Arian Controversy,” two essays examine Marcellus’ rule of faith first through an examination of the creed in Letter to Julius (Sara Parvis ) followed by a consideration of the anti-Marcellan influence on Apollinarius (Kelley McCarthy Spoerl). A third essay takes Melitius of Antioch and the effects of his generous love of both tradition and Christian unity as an example of the often-overlooked unity that existed in fourth century Trinitarian theology (Brian Daley).

In the third section, “Tradition and the Rule of Faith in Augustine,” two essays explore Augustine’s engagement with the Manichean, Donatist and Pelagian controversies. The first traces Augustine’s appeal to tradition in responding to the disputed questions (Roland Teske). The second examines Augustine’s use of the writings of Paul in order to illuminate the essential connection between the rule of faith and scripture (Thomas Martin). Three additional essays focus on specific topics addressed by Augustion: the redemptive work of Christ (J. Patout Burns), happiness (Kenneth Steinhauser), and time and history (Ronnie Rombs).

In the fourth and final section of the collection, “The Tradition of the Fathers,” four essays focus on the reception of the patristic tradition in later centuries. The first two essays focus on the reception of Augustine’s theology by early Irish commentators on scripture (Joseph Kelly) and by Scholastic and Reformation theologians as well as modern philosophers (Fredrick Van Fleteren). The final two essays consider the reception of the tradition as found in Origen: the initial rejection of his writings as early as the end of the third century and their subsequent reception by Henri de Lubac in the twentieth century (Edward Siecienski) and the attention given to Origen’s work in the sixteenth century by Erasmus in his Life of Origen, less than a century after the first publication of a Latin translation of Origen’s work since antiquity (Thomas Scheck). All four essays note the interpretive effect of considering texts written in one time and place in substantially different circumstances; thus, the four essays serve as case studies for the act of handing on as well as for the content of what is transmitted.

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