Titlu: The Lord’s Prayer Through North African Eyes. A Window into Early Christianity
Autor: Michael Joseph Brown
Localitate: New York & London
Editură: T&T Clark International
Anul apariţiei: 2004
Nr. de pagini: xiv+298
I will approach Brown’s book from the perspective of a Christian theologian who experienced the transition from Communism to capitalism in an Eastern European country which is closer to the third world.
Brown sets out his intentions in the Preface and carries them to a conclusion in the seven chapters of the book. He makes clear his methodology, which consists in the use of the term „ethnoreligious” (adopted from Christopher Haas), but without explaining to the reader what the original meaning of the term was and how he came to employ it.
A second methodological device seems to be the use of the term „the cultic didaché” (critical reflection upon cultic practices), from Hans Dieter Betz. The present book represents a reworking of Brown’s dissertation, The Lord’s Prayer Reinterpreted: An Analysis of This Cultic Didaché by Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis VII) and Tertullian (De oratione). Brown begins his enterprise with a somewhat limited view of Jesus Christ (a deceased Galilean prophet) and investigates the ways in which the best-known prayer of all times, the Lord’s Prayer, can be found in the works of Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian of Carthage.
At a first glance, Brown’s intentions seem simple. Once he has established the parameters of his research project, he presents Clement’s and Tertullian’s views of prayer and shows how much the LP influenced them. Finally he brings together his conclusions and sets the two illustrious Christian theologians face to face. Job done. Thus Brown takes what could have seemed to be a relatively limited and simple enterprise and renders it quite comprehensive and well documented. Though speculative and argumentative in his style of discussion, Brown leaves no place for debate, i.e. there seems to be nobody who disagrees with his views. His findings are supported by secondary sources as if everybody were in agreement with what he says.
In the first chapter of the book, „The Lord’s Prayer through Greco-Roman Eyes and Ears,” Brown proposes both a myopic (his own term) and a broader investigation into his subject. He sets out the background and deals with where and how the LP was used. Brown creates an imagined audience of the LP. A risky enterprise in itself, this procedure looks in some detail at the way Christians living in the Roman Empire around the end of the second century CE would have perceived the LP. He seems to be using the component parts of the LP as lenses through which he can see its hearers. Several terms used within the Greco-Roman world can be used to adjust the lenses. For instance, God the Father may be seen from a number of perspectives: as a paterfamilias figure, as the head of the imperium, as the highest figure in a religion. Therefore responsibilities and needs are discussed in a social framework which keeps in view two different realms of application, cultic and practical, the LP thus making sense both in heaven and on earth.
The second chapter, entitled „Greco-Roman Visions of Religion and Prayer”, brings together two different approaches to prayer and religion. The Greek perspective on religion, dominated as it was by philosophy, stressed a person’s need of eusebeia, a condition that would ensure that prayer was heard because of the correct ethos of the one praying. Roman religion was based on auctoritas and so success was connected to this. Consequently, prayer originated from a long tradition in which it was verified and performed by the appropriate person, the priest. Despite the fact that the Greek and Roman horizons were different and their tendency was to exclude each other, Brown highlights their fusion. Perhaps one of the main attractions of this chapter consists in the fact that the reader can check which style of prayer and religion is closer to his own practice.
In the third chapter, „The Tableau of Roman Alexandria”, Brown opens up a perspective which is at the same time both wide-angle and in-depth. The reader is shown how an Egyptian city developed under the influence of Greek culture to become Roman Alexandria. Brown’s comparison of Alexandria to a stained-glass window (Egyptian glass, Greek colouring, Roman leading), a prism and the church as a refraction seems both inspired and thoroughly realistic when we look in detail at the political, social and religious background of the city. The church in Alexandria, one more philosophical school among the established ones, was faced with the task of explaining her theology and practice within a framework of Greco-Roman philosophy. This rather narrow view of the church is well balanced due to the church’s social role. Brown also gives us a tentative portrait of Clement. However, his social, academic and ethnoreligious position remains very much of an enigma.
Chapter four deals with „Clement of Alexandria’s Vision of Prayer”. Predictably enough, this part of Brown’s discussion reveals what a majority of his readers might already have guessed, namely that Clement almost ignored the LP. Brown argues that Clement’s choice was dictated by the fact that his theological position was in antithesis to that of his own community. However, his case is less than convincing and the reader is left to search for other possible explanations. There may be some clues here regarding an early divorce between the theology of the intellectuals and that of the masses, or to the presence of tensions between dogma and practice.
As expected, chapter five brings „A Picture of Roman Carthage”. The city of Carthage makes a different impression from Alexandria while being a part of the same Roman Empire. It is its geographical position above all which defines its cultural and political identity. From a social point of view Carthage enjoys a different status. The two famous Roman cities are thus contrasted with each other and the reader expects to encounter the same situation when the focus of the discussion moves to the two Christian intellectual theologians. Brown argues for the existence in Carthage of a Romanised Latin church, a church of martyrs, of purity, but also of Montanism and Donatism. Thus, the contrast does extend to the church. In discussing this point Brown notes that the church in Carthage, unlike that in Alexandria, made use of Roman legal and political philosophy
On reaching the sixth chapter, „Tertullian of Carthage’s Vision of Prayer”, the reader might be expecting a more positive if not straightforwardly partisan approach than that in the section dealing with Clement. The difference is obvious. Tertullian’s „charismatic” approach to the LP, combined with Cyprian’s later solid support of the Carthagian conception of prayer and religion, makes for a far more attractive picture than we have seen in Alexandria. Brown does not have to make efforts to convince us. The church of the Holy Spirit, of purity and martyrs, but also of lapsi and traditores, of Satan and schismatics does that. He merely makes it known.
Without being entitled „Conclusions”, the final chapter of the seven – „Two Visions of Prayer in Early Christian Discourse” – ends the book. In sum, Brown’s findings are predictable. From a strictly academic point of view, this is absolutely correct. However I would have expected that Brown would have exercised his creativity by indicating (at least) some practical ways in which his findings could be applied in the future, at least in some of the areas in which he researched the LP as a cultic didaché and in particular with regard to existing ethnoreligious communities. Thus a study of the effects of the LP, not only as a cultic didaché for the present but also in terms of its social impact within ethnoreligious groups under pressure in a church influenced by globalisation, would have been a bonus – but one which Brown refuses to give us. However the book functions as a challenge to the reader who, even if he is not satisfied with the author’s conclusions, may still respond in a personal or community-based way.
It also seems to me that somehow, perhaps unintentionally, Brown proposes a dualistic debate concerning the issue mentioned in the title. He first presents the background by using evidence which is written and therefore intellectual. Then he debates the way in which Clement and Tertullian, themselves intellectuals, interacted with the LP. And he views the church whether in Alexandria and Carthage as an ethno-religious group. The LP is therefore an indicator of someone’s theology in the sense that he or she might or might not dissent from the way the two intellectuals interacted with the LP.
Nevertheless, Brown’s book is a surprise indeed in that he seems to anticipate most of the potential questions a reader could ask. He tries to open a „window” on prayer by focusing on two people who lived for a limited time and in specific places in relationship with two particular Christian traditions. He looks at the LP in the Greco-Roman world and asks himself how people could have considered it as a cultic didaché. He gives us the impression that he has found the right answer: he highlights two kinds of Christian prayers, one for Alexandria and one for Carthage. A similar thing happens with the two early Christian authors: their visions of prayer are different. From the start Brown imagines Clement’s audience and setting but bases his main points on solid theological data connected with Tertullian. The use of hypothetical data seems to put Brown on a collision course with objectivity. The reader is left with a decision to take, that is, whether or not to regard Brown’s work as sufficiently objective.