Recensions et comptes rendusThéologie

Richard J. Cassidy, A Roman Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (A Herder & Herder Book). New York NY, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2020, 16 × 23,5 cm, viii-219 p., ISBN 978-0-8245-0163-1

  • Ayodele Ayeni

…plus d’informations

  • Ayodele Ayeni, C.S.Sp.

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Couverture de Moïse sous le regard de la philosophie, Volume 76, numéro 2, mai–août 2024, p. 165-305, Science et Esprit

An instance of a comparative approach for articulating the identity of God and Lord is the subject matter of a new commentary on Philippians. Cassidy’s Commentary (pp. 1-7, 35, 39-40, 43-44, 84, passim) captures the “God language” of the epistle to the Philippians, albeit, from a Roman imperial perspective. The language of sacrifice/worship, the politics of divinity and citizenship, and the economy of slavery anchor Cassidy’s comparative analyses between Philippians and the Roman imperial cult/worship. His objective is to situate how to read Philippians from the Roman imperial reality of Paul’s day vis-à-vis the divinity Paul preached. As one would expect, Cassidy lays a lot of emphasis on Paul’s subversion (pp. 42-44) of the Roman imperial cult in favor of the God and Lord he preached to the Philippians. Cassidy’s commentary divides Philippians neatly into four parts – Phil 1:1-3:1; 3:2-4:9; 4:10-20) (p. 34) –, without regard for the usual debate concerning its multiplicity, the synthesis he provides of the different trajectories of the themes of Philippians, and his descriptive approach; he unites the epistle on the basis of the message it presents to the Philippians. The three major, but non-exhaustive, themes of the epistle, which Cassidy outlines in his commentary provide the conceptual scheme for the message of the epistle: God-language, prayer/worship/sacrifice and identity/citizenship/filiation. The concepts of communion and God tie together the trajectories of the epistle. From the title of the commentary, “A Roman Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,” one is made aware of the unique angle from which the author, Cassidy, analyzes the letter to the Philippians. It is from the evaluation of these twin Roman socio-political perspectives that I have decided to review Cassidy’s commentary. Two questions guide my review: what is new and what is controversial? Clearly, the Pauline subversiveness of “slavery” and “lordship” are the overarching theses of Cassidy’s commentary. Besides his claim in page 1 cited above, he also says that: “Philippians is also a ‘counter-imperial’ letter. In it Paul challenges the cult of Roman emperors and also the slave system over which these emperors preside” (p. 35). The first newness of Cassidy’s commentary comes from its departure from the traditional approach to commentary writing, where authors attempt to help readers come to grips with the historical, literary and theological understanding of a Scriptural text, mainly for faith purposes, to a socio-political exposé. Cassidy’s concentration on the Roman impact on the letter to the Philippians, instead of reading Philippians as a primarily theological text, suits his purposes of demonstrating the possible subversive reading of Philippians to Roman power. Here is the justification he gives for his political reading of Philippians: To conclude his 44 pages of introduction, Cassidy calls the first part of his commentary “Christ drama” (p. 43). The apogee of this drama is explained thus: This “Christ drama” is what I consider the second element of “What is new” in Cassidy’s commentary. Previous commentators on Philippians, to my knowledge, do not evoke this theatrics in their analysis of Phil 2:6-11 (pp. 38-39 pace). The introductory part of Cassidy’s commentary pays attention to the congruency of Roman Imperial cult or emperor worship and the dating of the letter to the Philippians. The explicit mention of Nero, on page 1, suggests the relevance of the imperial rule of Nero as a way of dating Paul’s letter to the Philippians (pp. 8, 33, 37, 41). Having established their contemporaneousness (Nero and Paul), Cassidy uses Greco-Roman theatrics as analytic tool to dissect and explain bits and pieces of Philippians that are susceptible and malleable to Greco-Roman drama. The high point of …

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