Wednesday 12 August 2009

Geoffrey Bromiley, 1915-2009

Geoffrey Bromiley, the most prodigious theological translator of modern times, has died.

Many of my own formative theological experiences were mediated by Bromiley’s precise, elegant and seemingly indefatigable labours of translation. He translated the bulk of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, plus a vast number of Barth’s other works. He gave us English versions of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s three-volume Systematic Theology, as well as the three volumes of Helmut Thielicke’s Evangelical Faith. He translated the massive 10 volumes of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, as well as major works by Ernst Käsemann, Jacques Ellul, Oswald Bayer, Gerhard Sauter, Eberhard Busch, and who knows how many others. (Earlier in his career, he also translated some writings of Zwingli and Bullinger.) I learned from Michael’s post that Bromiley also recently translated the five-volume Encyclopedia of Christianity, completing the fifth volume at the age of 92!

Bromiley wrote a number of books of his own – books on infant baptism, Karl Barth, Anglican history, Reformation history, historical theology, marriage, sacraments, ecclesiology. (An extensive but incomplete bibliography has been compiled here.) But it’s his work as a translator that has left such a huge impact on the course of English-language theology over the past fifty years. If you tried to subtract Bromiley from the story of modern theology, most of our own recent history would simply become inconceivable.

I remember a conversation where a friend and I were discussing the question, “Who is the 20th century’s most important English-language theologian?” My own argument – and I meant this quite seriously – was that Geoffrey Bromiley has been the single most influential figure in modern English-language theology. Several of those European traditions that have most deeply shaped our own imaginative landscapes have been mediated primarily by Bromiley’s tireless, meticulous, and loving work of translation.

There’s a eulogy over at Fuller Seminary, where a colleague and former student says of Bromiley: “His singular dedication to Jesus Christ and his love for the church shaped us both spiritually and intellectually. His understanding of the discipline of scholarship as part of the ministry of the Word of God will continue to influence Fuller’s future.”

It was once said of St Augustine (by one of his contemporaries, I think) that if you claim to have read all that he has written, you are a liar. I’m tempted to apply the same maxim to the work of Geoffrey Bromiley: he translated more than most of us will read in a lifetime. And now, like that Old Testament patriarch, he has died “in a good old age, an old man, and full of years.” Thanks be to God.


Doug Harink said...

Thanks, Ben. A truly remarkable life! Your comment about Bromiley being "the single most influential figure in modern English-language theology" caught me by surprise, but I think you are right.

Bobby Grow said...

This is sad. His "Introduction to Historical Theology," did just that . . . and I still refer to it!

Besides Barth, I'm thankful that he took the time to translate Thielicke’s Evangelical Faith; thanks for sharing this, Ben.

Unknown said...

I am sad to hear of the death of Prof Bromiley. I too have gleaned a lot from his works. I recall coming across his translation of CD 1/i when an undergraduate, having failed miserably to make much sense of Thomson's translation of the same work. It was a breath of fresh air to read Bromiley's rendition.

Anonymous said...

As I read this post yesterday, I had in my lap "The Great Passion" by Eberhard Busch (a primer on Barth).

My copy was translated by Geoffrey Bromiley.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ben, for this tribute to G> W. Bromiley. Here's a link to some posts in which I've referred to his writings.
G. W. Bromiley.
Best wishes.

Robert Cornwall said...

Thanks for your thoughts on Dr. Bromiley's life and legacy. As a student of Jim Bradley, the holder of the Bromiley Chair at Fuller, and having had the opportunity to take Bromiley's Barth Seminar as an M.Div. student, I add my affirmation of his importance.

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