The Passing of Joseph Fitzmyer (1920-2016)

If 2016 was not already been bad enough (save wins by the Cubs in baseball, Cronulla in rugby league, and the Bulldogs in AFL), last week we had the passing of Catholic biblical scholar Joseph Fitzmyer S.J.

Fitzmyer was the vanguard of American Catholic biblical scholarship in the post-Vatican II era. He and Raymond Brown set a high bar for other scholars to follow in devoting themselves to the very best biblical scholarship with the blessing of their church.

I’ll remember Fitzmyer as a brilliant semitist for his essays in A Wandering Aramaean, his commentaries on Luke and Acts, Romans, and his massive Philemon commentary is some 600 pages (sadly his 1 Corinthians was sub-par if you ask me), his short little book on Paul, and his charming little volume on Spiritual Exercises Based on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. I have to confess that my book Are You the One Who is to Come? was largely a response to his The One Who is To Come since I believed that Jesus was a messianic claimant.

Whenever I have students tell me that all Catholics believe in salvation by works in a very legalistic way, I always read them what Fitzmyer wrote in his Romans commentary about Rom 2:13-16.

This Pauline message of judgment is what the Christian needs to hear first, and in the light of that message the message of justification by grace through faith takes on new meaning. It is only in light of divine judgment according to human deeds that the justification of the sinner by grace through faith is rightly seen. Hence there is no real inconsistency in Paul’s teaching about justification by faith and judgment according to deeds.

Read obituaries about Joseph Fitzmyer in American Magazine.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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