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16.12.05, Naumann, ed., and trans., Nicholas of Lyra, Literal Commentary on Galatians

The Medieval Review

16.12.05, Naumann, ed., and trans., Nicholas of Lyra, Literal Commentary on Galatians

This book serves multiple purposes: it reproduces both the Latin texts of the Postilla literalis and the English translation of the author, and it provides a number of details to deepen any reader's interest in St. Nicholas of Lyra and his commentary. In the beginning of the work, the author provides a broad and comprehensive introduction on the Letter to the Galatians, in which he specifies the reasons St. Paul had addressed it in the first place. Carefully selected, comments at this point are more than an overview of the epistle in question, providing the social and religious context in/for which it was created. The introduction also underlines the major ideas any theologian is compelled to 'see' in this biblical writing. I count at least five of them. (1) The perfection of St. Paul's teaching--a point underlined several times. (2) The fact that God justifies men through faith in Christ and not through works of the Law. Other important ideas constitute the crucial point of the religious schism between Judaism and Christianity. (3) That is to say that the Law (of Old Testament) was instituted as a temporary measure and not as an eternal and transcendental norm. (4) Subsequently, the Law is now nullified for all Christianity. (5) However, the freedom from the Law is not a freedom to sin but to love. Throughout the introduction the author provides numerous arguments to clarify the specific direction of St. Nicholas, but not the allegoric. In accordance with the philosophic idea that "the flesh and Spirit are at war," Edward Naumann justifies the option for the literal interpretation which St. Nicholas employed.

A contextual placement of Nicholas' figure follows, again underlining the tough choice he had to make while using the Epistle to Galatians against Manicheans or other papal sympathies, and all start from the fact that Postilla is remarkably terse. Nicholas's remarks are fully rationale, even if they have "inconsistent, unsuitable, and unsatisfactory spiritual meanings" (xiv), making this writing a selection most accurate and useful for his intended readership. Furthermore, the author makes a parallel between Nicholas and Thomas Aquinas, both adepts of the literal meaning of the exegesis, but each with a different flavor in their exegesis: Nicholas is best known for his use of rabbinic literature, while Aquinas is recognized for his Aristotelian philosophy.

The special character of Nicholas' literal comment on Galatians consists of twofold meaning (duplex sensus litteralis) and it is linked here with Augustine's assertion that Scripture can have more than one meaning for the same passage, and this leads to the possibility of multiple literal meanings. This is another important particularity Naumann appoints to Nicholas's text, for whom the intended meaning is not equal with the literal, but rather the intended meaning of a passage can include both literal and spiritual senses. "No meaning of Scripture can be false, however, which is intended by God" (xxi). Moreover, the solution to banish any confusion that might have arisen when reading the text, in some parts, seems to imply an allegory as well. We are advised to leave this confusion aside because it is only because the literal meaning of Galatians concerns the allegorical meaning of Genesis.

The author of the book leans the credit of Nicholas's comments on the divine authority along with St. Paul's, making him by this an authoritative figure of the (Romano-Catholic) Church. Further, we are given with the structure of Galatians according to Nicholas, equally complex as the content of the introduction, by summarizing every idea and intention St. Paul might have brought within the text. Before saying something about the history of the text we are advised again about a two-headed topic within the text of Nicholas: on the one hand, there is the annulment of the Old Law, and on the other, this is not the passing away of a divine standard of morality. Because Luther himself has used this text in his exposures, the author feels indebted to fed the idea that Nicholas's commentary is unlike the tendency of some modern [Reformat] commentaries that point towards a "radically new perspective" (xxv), and that the standard of the Old Law's morality is not annulled, but replaced with a higher, more elaborate and trustworthy one, of the New Law, of grace and eternal inheritance.

This exhaustive introduction grants you the pleasure of understanding the text before you read it, and, when you finally arrive at it, it is almost like you know it by heart. Entering the depths of Nicholas's text itself, we find the interesting and sometimes ironic approach both St. Paul and Nicholas have when speaking indirectly about the 'false apostles,' notoriously known from the Apostolic Council, who have fought against Paul's wish to end the reign of the Old Law upon the Gentiles, e.g. St. Peter. The comments are mostly clear and unbiased, but there are also passages that emphasize the Romano-catholic faith concerning the authenticity of a doctrine--that is one "inspired by God, disseminated by the chief apostles, attacked by the false apostles and approved by the church" (11), while Paul's perfect sermon is mentioned to be "the Catholic faith preached to the Gentiles" (13). The discontent of other apostles is dense and lasts for several pages. Those who have defied, "namely, Peter, James, and John" (19), make a clear statement that while they "were poor, illiterate simpletons" (19), this was their human state before their calling to Christ, and that their actual preaching of the Gospel is not at all humanly caused but with divine assistance. Without revealing the whole range of ideas within the text of Nicholas, I would like to note one last important clarification of it: a parallel between the opinion of Jerome and that of Augustine concerning the cessation of the precepts of the Law, particularly in respect to the ceremonial precepts (23-25). Both Jerome and Augustine capitalize upon the foreshadowing character of the Old Testament and its history. The forcefulness of this assertion makes it seem that the Jews have never lived for their own, but only to be the curtain of what will be lived later, in the days of New Testament and beyond. In a sense, the Old Testament stage did not count when it came to measure the writings of Scripture.

I consider Edward Naumann's work an interesting and advanced version of the comments of Nicholas, especially when compared to those of Ian Christopher Levy (The Letter to the Galatians [Grand Rapids, 2011]), who also uses Nicholas's comments, but only in part and not as widely as Naumann.