Geoffrey Bromiley – Karl Barth and Anglicanism and an assessment of Barth’s theology on the occasion of the centenary of Barth’s birth in 1986.

Below I have attached a very interesting paper for all my Anglican Friends by Geoffrey Bromiley published in The Churchman 88 (January-March 1974): 9-24. Also attached is another paper he wrote assessing Karl Barth’s theology on the occasion of the centenary of Barth’s birth in 1986 published in the Anvil 3.1 7-17. Here we find sane, balanced and thoroughgoing overviews of Barth written by someone who had an intimate understanding of his corpus (having translated so much of it) and who challenges some of the superficial critiques, which still have currency today.

Geoffrey Bromiley – Karl Barth and Anglicanis

Geoffrey Bromiley’s assessment of Karl Barth in 1986, the centenary of his birth


 Who was Geoffrey Bromiley?

On his death at 94 years of age in 2009 James Bradley of Fuller Seminary wrote of  Geoffrey that

“…he significantly influenced English-language Christianity over six decades through the translating and editing from several modern languages of thousands of pages of theological works from such notable theologians as Karl Barth, Jacques Ellul, and Helmut Thielicke. He is perhaps most well-known for his translations in the field of theology, and among the most widely used works he translated are extensive portions of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and Wolfhart Pannenberg’s three-volume Systematic Theology. Although his name appears nowhere in Helmut Thielicke’s Theological Ethics, he was the translator.

In the field of biblical studies, several generations of students are indebted to his translation of the ten-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Gerhard Kittel. Bromiley was the general editor of the revised version of the International Bible Standard Encyclopedia and authored numerous articles in it. He also rendered Ernest Käsemann’s Commentary on Romans into English and translated the Barth-Bultmann correspondence. Bromiley’s remarkable energy and dedication scarcely slackened in his retirement. He was the translator and English-language editor of the monumental Encyclopedia of Christianity, the fifth volume of which he completed in 2007, when past his 90th year.

Bromiley was born in Bromley Cross, Lancashire, England, in 1915 and raised in a Christian home. While at Cambridge University he was active in the Inter-Varsity Christian Union and graduated with a first class honors degree in Modern Languages at Emmanuel College in 1936. He completed his theological studies at Tyndale Hall, Bristol, and following ordination in 1938 he successively served two Anglican parishes in Cumberland and commenced graduate studies in history at the University of Edinburgh, where he received a Ph.D. in 1943 with a dissertation on Johann Gottfried Herder and German Romanticism before Schleiermacher.

Bromiley returned to Tyndale Hall as Lecturer and Vice Principal (1946–1951), and while there he earned a second doctor’s degree (Edinburgh, D. Litt.) for a thesis that was published as Baptism and the Anglican Reformers (1953).Later, in 1961, the university recognized him for his service to scholarship with an honorary doctorate. Throughout this period Bromiley remained active in the Anglican ministry. He was serving as Rector of St. Thomas, Edinburgh, in 1958, when he was appointed to the faculty of Fuller Seminary, where he taught until his retirement in 1987, at which time he was honored with a Festschrift entitled Church, Word, and Spirit. An endowed chair in church history at Fuller was established in his name in 1991.

Bromiley’s scholarly accomplishments are the more remarkable in that he translated directly from the German and French originals on his old, worn typewriter in drafts that required little if any revision, and while he never engaged the world of computers and word-processors, he was adept at multitasking; he would correct the page proofs of Barth and Kittel during faculty meetings without missing a word of the conversation or the nuance of an argument. Self-effacing almost to a fault, he was nevertheless known for his plain speaking and would interrupt his proofreading to comment on important issues of policy or to correct errors of historical fact. He was instrumental in starting the Ph.D. program at Fuller Seminary and supervised dozens of advanced students in history. Bromiley adopted the English tutorial method of mentoring his students on a personal basis in supervisions that are still memorable to those of us who were privileged to have been under his direction.

Beyond his teaching and work in translation, Bromiley also distinguished himself as a historian, primarily of the Reformation era. His works include a two-volume biographical and theological study of Thomas Cranmer (1956) and a shorter study of John Jewell (1960). He contributed the volume on Zwingli and Bullinger in the important Library of Christian Classics series. His churchmanship and concern for the unity of the church is seen in his numerous publications directed to a more general audience through books on Christian ethics and marriage (1947, 1980), Christian ministry (1980) and baptism (1955, 1979). He embodied his scholarship by his many years of service preparing men and women for the Episcopal ministry at Bloy House, Claremont, the theological college of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

The strength of Geoffrey Bromiley’s character exercised an enormous influence on those of us who were his students and colleagues. His singular dedication to Jesus Christ and his love for the church shaped us both spiritually and intellectually. Taken as a whole, Bromiley’s teaching and mentoring, his books and translations bear witness to his consistent and unified commitment to scholarship, the church, and the Christian faith“.

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