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- Print Length: 662 pages
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- Publisher: Mediatrix Press (May 22, 2015)
- Publication Date: May 22, 2015
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00Y47PIES
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On the Roman Pontiff (De Controversiis Book 1) Kindle Edition
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The breadth of Robert Bellarmine scholarship is astounding. I am impressed by the level of his scholarship. He shows himself a much more competent historian than his Protestant opponents. He quotes or refers to hundreds of texts and dozens of authors. Most are quoted accurately and mostly authentic works are used. The odd one out is the synopsis of Dorotheus of Tyre (pages 174,176,185). that is attributed to a 4th century saint but is actually a middle Byzantine forgery. Curiously, Bellarmine seems to recognise a problem with it (page 176) but keeps on using it anyway (page 185). This book gave me a good idea of what Bellarmine opponents were saying (he often quotes them) but it did make me curious to read them. Unfortunately, none of them have been translated into English.
I find myself agreeing with much of what Bellarmine is saying. Being neither Protestant or Roman Catholic I can let the arguments stand for themselves without being clouded by emotion. Clearly the place of the Papacy was a very thorny issue for both sides. Probably Bellarmine's greatest fault is projecting a Medieval Papacy onto the evidence of the earlier period. I found Bellarmine's use of Nilus Kabasilas to be much more extensive than I had presumed. He quotes or refers to him about 20 times. As the Orthodox approach the Papacy quite differently from Protestantism I wondered why Bellarmine felt the need to include Nilus. Perhaps Nilus' treatise on the Popes was circulating in Protestant circles.
There book has a number of problems. One is the massive number of authors used by Bellarmine makes it difficult to figure out who is who. On page 217 Ryan Grant has a note that explains that Theodore Balsamon is an important Byzantine canonist. That is great but he doesn't do it for most of the other authors. Don't get me wrong, there is no need to explain who Jerome, Epiphanius or John Chrysostom are but there are plenty of others who need an introduction. Bellarmine refers to a 'Nicephorus' on multiple occasions (for example pages 134,142,193,265). I presumed he meant Patriarch Nicephorus (or Nikephoros) of Constantinople from the early ninth century but further reading made me realise that Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos from the 14th century is actually meant. Similarly the mention of a 'Euthymius' (pages 72, 134,147,154) left me puzzled as it is a fairly common Orthodox monastic name. As the quotes come from New Testament/Gospel commentaries I realised it must be Euthymios Zigabenos from the 12th century. I am unsure how many readers realise that Zonaras (page 257) or Cedrenus (pages 370,372) are Byzantine chroniclers or that Evagrius (page 219) is actually Evagrius Scholasticus, a 6th century church historian.
As I am knowledgeable in Byzantine history I was able to identity the individuals but I had no idea who some of Bellarmine's contemporaries were. Luther, Calvin and Bullinger are well known but Matthias Flacius, David Chytraeus and Theodore Bibliander were completely new to me. To find their confessional allegiances I had to look them up. There are lots of references to the 'Centuriators' (page 83 for an early example) or the 'Centuriators of Magdeburg' (page 394) as one of Bellarmine's main targets. These were a Lutheran historical work from 1559 to 1574 in thirteen volumes (each volume containing a century up to 1300). I wish this had been made clear to me what it was at the start. What this book needed was a brief appendix of names and works cited to ease the confusion.
I found a few mistakes but nothing serious. On page 297 it reads 'Accordingly Gortynae the bishop of Crete, held the place of Roman Pontiff, as can be seen by the history of Basil' (page 297). The next page refers to 'Bishop Gortyae'. There is clearly some confusion as Gortyna was the capital of Crete (and seat of the primate of the island) and not a person.
Time for nit-picking – Names
There are a lot of names that are not recognisable due to the strange was they have been translated. For example, the Council of Serdica (343 AD) is called ‘Sardica’ and ‘Sardia’ on the same page (page 286). Titus became bishop of Crete but he is called ‘Titus Cretensis’ so it is difficult to see that Crete is actually meant. Gennadius Scholarius is correctly called that (pages 324,233) but at the start of the book he is called ‘Gennadius Scholarium’. Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople is called ‘Anatholus’ and Arethas is called ‘Aerthas’ (page 373) and ‘Aretha’ (page 390) despite his name being correctly translated on other pages (for example 358,436,439). The early Gnostic Cerinthus is called ‘Cherinthus’ (page 454) and the infamous Monothelite Macarius of Antioch is called ‘Macharius the Monothilite’ (page 481). Rufinus of Aquileia (also known as Tyrannius Rufinus or just Rufinus) is referred to as ‘Ruffinus’ throughout the book (pages 154,222,292,432,482), which is confusing as I have never seen his name written that way. The notorious Monophysite Peter Mongus is called ‘Peter Gnaphaeus’ (page 481), which I presume is Latin for ‘hoarse’ (the meaning of his Greek nickname). Then there is ‘Felix Nolan’ (page 434) instead of the usual Felix of Nola. Felix Nolan reminds me of a guy who works in a supermarket. The second century Church Father Hegesippus is called ‘Egesippus’ (page 137) and the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Komnenos is called 'Emmanuel' (page 147).Then there is mention of Justinian deposing a pope named 'Sylverius' (page 306) when the usual rendering of his name in English is Silverius.
More nit-picking – typos
I have to admit I’m not the best at proofreading but there a number of typos. There is ‘Dionisius’ instead of Dionysius on page 217 and synopsis is spelt incorrectly on page 176. A number of names have different spelling within close proximity. For example, the Gallic poet Sedulius is called ‘Sedulus’ on page 390 but a few pages later it is spelt correctly (page 396).
This is an affordable translation from an interesting period of history. I enjoyed reading it.
Given the above, this book would probably be classified as "apologetics," at least for a modern reader. It is not so much theological (although there is much theology in it) and certainly not spiritual reading. Given that it is apologetics, the modern reader may expect it to have a certain style or manner, similar to other modern apologetics books. It does not read like a modern apologetics book. It is more challenging and for someone like me who isn't quite as on top of the Greek language and subtleties of history, it can be a bit dry at times. This is why I gave it 4 stars. Not that it might not actually be a 5 star book, but rather, to let the reader know that for someone LIKE ME the book can seem to drag on a bit, moving into territory which is too subtle and dry. But again, that is only for your average layman who reads a lot in his free time and loves the Church but has no formal or specialized training.
If you are looking for a scholarly resource to address Protestant critiques of the papacy (most of which are still being leveled against the Catholic Church today) from an extremely holy and erudite doctor of the Church, this book is most certainly for you.
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