Forty years ago, in 1972, Pope Paul VI appointed Sulpician Father Raymond E. BROWN as the sole American on the Pontifical Biblical Commission for a first term, which lasted until 1978. He was later appointed by Blessed Pope John Paul II to a second term in 1996, serving until his untimely death on August 8, 1998 at the age of 70.
At the time of his appointment to the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC), Father Brown’s name had become world-renowned for his excellent biblical scholarship, especially for his work on the Gospel and Letters of John and the Johannine community. His appointment to the PBC nonetheless caused great furor among ultra-conservative Catholics who considered him a dangerous exegete whose work undermined the Catholic faith. Nothing could be further from the truth, as was indicated not only by the two papal appointments to the PBC but also by his work for the Holy See on various ecumenical dialogues as the Catholic representative, including serving 25 years as the only Catholic member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.
It might also be recalled on this anniversary that Pope Paul VI had entirely revamped the Pontifical Biblical Commission in his reforms of the Roman Curia in 1971. The Holy Father replaced the cardinals, who had originally made up the PBC when it was founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1902, with twenty professional Catholic biblical scholars from around the world.
As part of the restructuring of the PBC, Pope Paul VI also made it a consultative body of experts to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rather than an official teaching arm of that same Congregation. Members were chosen, however, for their outstanding scholarship and “Catholic regard for the Magisterium of the Church.” The Prefect of the Congregation presides over the annual meetings of the PBC.
Father Brown was the author of 47 books and monographs and hundreds of articles and book reviews. Some of his lectures are available as DVDS or CDs (through Welcome Recordings and Paulist Press), and many of works have been translated into dozens of languages, including recently Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Polish.
A short biography and a comprehensive bibliography of Brown’s publications can be found in Life in Abundance: Studies in John’s Gospel in Tribute to Raymond E. Brown (John R. Donahue, ed.; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2005), pp. 254-89.
As this anniversary year nears its close, we honor the memory of this dedicated Sulpician scholar whose works continue to inspire great appreciation of the Bible among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.