- Introduction to Ben F. Meyer's "Election-Historical Thinking in Romans 9-11, and Ourselves"
Born in chicago in november 1927, Ben Franklin Meyer was a learned man, which is rare among scholars of the Bible. It would not surprise Meyer that the discipline today primarily produces technicians of great narrowness and little depth, but it would, and did, sadden him. Meyer was a biblical theologian in tune not just with biblical texts but also with the tradition that gave the texts birth and nurtured them. He was a man of the Church and saw his task as a theologian of the Bible to make present the resources of the past that would allow for the appropriation of the Bible today. Always aware of the tension that existed between the truth of the tradition as [End Page 150] received and the reality of "development" (as understood by John Henry Newman and Bernard Lonergan), Meyer saw his task within the context of the Church: "the sphere of faith is the community of faith, the Church" ( RINTS, 175).1
Meyer desired neither nostalgia—the insistence "on living in a world which no longer exists" (193)—nor the musings of the "scattered left"—those involved in its "paradigm shifts and swings from one fascination to another" (193). Meyer remarked that "faddism, and particularly faddism that hinges on forms of alienation, is notoriously ineffective occupational therapy" ( CRNT, 87). Meyer occupied the "not too numerous centre"—a position that insisted on working out transitions slowly with an eye to "complete solutions" ( RINTS, 193). He looked to the past to see how the Church had defined itself with respect to challenges from heretics within and without and saw
the repudiation of docetism in favor of realism; the repudiation of gnosticism in favor of tradition and reason; the repudiation, on the basis of this lived tradition and tradition of reason, of Marcionitism and Montanism. These acts of repudiation had positive aspects and positive consequences. The decision against Marcion secured the legacy of the scriptures . . . the decision against gnosticism meant the openness to philosophy. But, as the decision against Arius showed, this would not be rationalist philosophy. The scriptures (affirmed against Marcion) and reason (affirmed against gnosticism) were crucial to the later emergence of such Catholic phenomena as the great monuments of medieval scholasticism. Again, the decision against Donatism meant that the Church was for the masses; that against Pelagius meant that it lived only by God's grace.(194)
Meyer was a part of this tradition of the Catholic Church, which, he argued, was not so much "intent on figuring out its own nature as on protecting itself from movements that, if allowed to run rampant, would have wrecked it" (194). Meyer, therefore, did not wish to [End Page 151] revive what he saw as vices from the past—"obscurantism" or "triumphalism"—but to affirm the true character of the Church that had always been present and to be in solidarity with this Church. He excoriated anyone who "reels from fad to fad, now settling on an unprincipled ecumenism, now absorbed in a covertly nihilistic postmodernism" (194).
The biblical scholar, he believed, ought to be a theologian and ought to use the resources of the tradition in the service of the search for the truth. Meyer had all the tools of the modern biblical scholar and much more. He was trained as a Jesuit from the 1940s to the 1960s at Gonzaga University, Santa Clara University, Alma College, Istituto Biblico (Rome), and the Universita Gregoriana (Rome, S.T.D. in 1965)2 and was a follower of Bernard Lonergan. As such, Meyer was at ease in the ancient languages of the Church, with the Church Fathers, and with ancient philosophy, was raised on Thomism, and was comfortable with English and Continental philosophy and their postmodern children. He had intimate knowledge of the earliest biblical scholars—Germans, French, and others—as well as knowledge of those whose names barely register a flicker of recognition among most biblical scholars (David Friedrich Strauss or Hermann Reimarus for instance). Meyer carried a knowledge of their works in the original languages and their philosophical context, and he understood...