The Letter to the Romans: The Bible in Medieval Tradition. Ian Levy, Philip Krey, Thomas Ryan, translators and editors. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013. pp. 339. $34.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-0976-6. Reviewed by Maureen Beyer MOSER, 12 Woodlot Rd., Eastchester, NY 10709.
This book is part of a series that provides selected excerpts from medieval commentaries on specific biblical texts. This volume includes commentaries on the letter to the Romans by Peter Lombard, the Cambridge Commentator, Peter Abelard, Peter of John Olivi, Thomas Aquinas, the commentator of Mont Saint-Michel, and Nicholas of Lyra. Eerdmans has published a similar volume containing medieval commentaries on Galatians. Both volumes contain a significant amount of material not previously translated into English.
In an interesting and detailed introduction, the editors outline early (pre-medieval) reactions to Paul, as found in Colossians and 2 Peter and in the thought of Marcion. They then look at the earliest formal extant commentary, that of Origen of Alexandria, which primarily exists in Rufinus’ fifth century Latin translation—and which significantly impacted the work of many later Western theologians on the subject. The following survey of Victorinus, Pelagius, Ambrosiaster, and Augustine shows that Romans commentaries provide an important window into pivotal theological questions of the late patristic and early medieval periods. Augustine is a particularly complex figure in this discussion, both because he didn’t compose a complete commentary on Romans and because his thinking about Romans—found throughout his corpus—became the lens through which much of medieval theology approached Paul.
The volume’s editors note the work of the Glossa Ordinaria, which gives a passage from Romans, then surrounds it with discussions from patristic authors on the passage. The editors then give an overview of the twelfth through fourteenth century theologians whose excerpts are translated in The Bible in Medieval Tradition, giving basic biographical information about each and outlining significant issues in their thinking, as related to their work on Romans. Although faith and grace, election, the salvation of the Jews, and human freedom are, of course, issues of continuing importance, the medieval commentators engage with Romans in a number of different ways. For example, the five pages on Aquinas point to “a pastoral and affective side not always noticed in his better-known theological and philosophical works” in which Aquinas speaks of Paul’s love of Christ as the force behind his letters: “It is the custom of lovers that they cannot conceal their love in silence ...they cannot restrain its flames within their breast.”
The medieval excerpts provided are arranged so that they present a continuous commentary from Romans 1 to 16, moving from one author to another. After a prologue by Lombard, the Cambridge Commentator comments on Romans 1, William of St. Thierry on Romans 2, and so on. There are more substantial sections from certain authors: Olivi comments on Romans 4-6, Aquinas on Romans 7, 8, and 12, and Nicholas of Lyra on Romans 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, and 16. The editors view Nicholas of Lyra as an important predecessor of Martin Luther, though not one with whom Luther necessarily agreed.
This volume will provide an important resource for theologians who work on exegesis of Romans as well as anyone interested in the history of biblical interpretation in the medieval world. Because the selections are clearly translated, they provide an entry point into texts not generally studied in English. Students whose interest is sparked by these excerpts will, of course, want to move on to compare the complete texts in more context and detail. It would be interesting to have a contemporary gloss which put side-by-side the exegesis of all of these theologians on one controversial passage. However, that is not the intention of this volume. Rather, this book allows the reader to walk through the whole letter to the Romans hand-in-hand with different medieval theologians, considering this important letter as it was viewed between Augustine and Luther.