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Msgr. Jerome Quinn Full Biography

Excerpted from The Early Church: Two Studies. St. Paul, MN: St. Paul Seminary (1996): 5-8.

The eldest of seven children, Father Quinn was born on February 24, 1927, in Litchfield, Minnesota, in rural Meeker County; at the time Meeker County was part of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, though in 1957 it became part of the newly formed Diocese of New Ulm.

Quinn studied at Nazareth Hall, the minor seminary of the archdiocese (1942-1946), and at the Saint Paul Seminary (1946-1951). He received, in addition to his priestly training, an M.A. in American Church History (1951), the only graduate degree the seminary then offered. His thesis presented the early history of the Catholic Church in Meeker County and in particular his home parish (and the largest parish of the county), St. Philip’s in Litchfield. At the same time he was completing his seminary work, he took courses at the University of Minnesota in classics (1947-48) and at Notre Dame in biblical studies (1949). He was ordained on June 2, 1951.

He continued to study at the University of Minnesota after his ordination, during the years 1953-1957 and again in 1961, and he returned to Notre Dame in 1956. He taught English and Latin at Nazareth Hall in 1953-1957.

Quinn shifted the primary focus of his academic work from classical studies to biblical and theological studies during his Roman period. He held a Fulbright Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome in 1957. Then he studied at the Angelicum and the Gregorian University in 1958-1959, the latter institution awarding him the License in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.). He took a License in Sacred Scripture (S.S.L.) from the Pontifical Biblical Institute after courses in 1959-1961. Despite the shift in focus, Quinn retained much from his classical studies, including an amateur interest in archeology. One of his first papers, on a classical subject, reports a modest archeological venture, “Cape Phokas, Lesbos – Site of an Archaic Sanctuary for Zeus, Hera and Dionysus?” (1961), as does one of his last, “Mary the Virgin, Mother of God: A Tour of the Catacombs of Priscilla” (1987).

After he finished his studies in Rome, he returned to the seminary and taught Scripture there from 1961 until his death on September 13, 1988, by which time the seminary had become the School of Divinity of the neighboring University of St. Thomas. In addition to serving as professor of Old and New Testament, he performed various administrative and disciplinary duties at the seminary; such work was not congenial to him, and he dropped it as soon as ill health forced him to focus on his studies. He was devoted to the archdiocese and turned down several offers to take positions elsewhere. He was an eager traveler; his two longest journeys abroad took him back to the Pontifical Biblical Institute to serve as a visiting professor (1971-1972, 1979-1980). He was made a monsignor on April 28, 1973. He was regularly interviewed by local journalists; one began a column by saying, “When the Rev. Jerome Quinn says you have made a theological mistake, you probably have.”

In addition to his regular teaching and his weekend service in local parishes, Quinn devoted his energy to four projects, all of them church-related; he was a devoted churchman.
The Catholic Biblical Association of America is the first of these projects. Quinn was an active member, reviewing (as can be seen from the bibliography) regularly for the Catholic Biblical Quarterly and participating in the Association’s greatest achievement, the preparation of the New American Bible (1970). This emerged from the earlier Confraternity of Christian Doctrine translation, work on which had begun in the late ’40s. The NAB appeared just at the moment that the conciliar mandate for a new lectionary was put into effect, and the NAB has been the translation heard by most U.S. Roman Catholics at Sunday and daily liturgy for the past quarter century. Quinn contributed translations of, introductions for, and annotations to the Catholic Epistles of the New Testament (James, Jude, 1-2 Peter). In addition to putting in time on the editorial board of the journal and on the executive board of the association, he served as president of the association in 1971. He delivered his presidential address, published as “Apostolic Ministry and Apostolic Prayer,” at the Milwaukee meeting in August 1971. The talk begins with a quotation from a New Testament scholar, Gunther Bornkamm, and ends with the words of an early proponent of liturgical reform (and a teacher of Quinn’s), William Busch; the coupling is revelatory of his dual allegiance to the church and to historical-critical scholarship. He represented the views of the association (and his own) on a variety of questions, notably whether worship aids (missalettes) should print the Scripture lessons; he personally and the association argued strongly for that practice, which has since become standard.

The second of the projects was the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue; Quinn was appointed by the U.S. bishops to this semiformal interchurch group, and he participated in its meetings regularly and happily for seventeen years. Quinn’s five papers published for the dialogue are listed in the bibliography, and some further detail is given in an appendix.

The third of the projects was also a church appointment: in 1978, less than a month before his own death, Pope Paul VI appointed Quinn to the Pontifical Biblical Commission. Paul VI had revived this body and insisted that it be first and foremost a group of scholars. The membership was international, and there has tended to be one American member. The Commission produced no major documents during the five years of Quinn’s term, though it contributed to the brief and largely negative instruction on liberation theology published by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1984. The meetings of the commissions brought Quinn into contact with a wide array of European scholars, and the collection Fede e cultura alla luce della Bibbia (Biblical Views on Faith and Culture) brought to bear a variety of views on the question of acculturation and the Church’s mission.

Quinn left both the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue and the Biblical Commission in 1984, prepared for the final push on his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, though his health problems made any push rather feeble, as he often ruefully acknowledged. The major project of his life was this commentary for the Anchor Bible. He began his work on the letters in the mid-’60s, in response to a commission from the editors of the series, the late William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. Quinn was fond of saying that he was assigned the Pastorals due to a lapse in Albright’s memory: Albright, Quinn said, thought that he had done the Pastoral Epistles (rather than the Catholic Epistles) for the NAB. Lapse or not, the assignment was profoundly congenial to him, allowing scope for philological precision as well as for theological study and reconstruction of early Christian history. His sympathy for the sort of literature that the Pastorals represent can be seen in a remark made apropos of the Epistle of James; reversing a famous axiom of recent New Testament studies, he said: “The mother of Christian theology may not be apocalyptic but parenesis” (Catholic Biblical Quarterly 39 [1977]: 432). The commentary occupied the bulk of his attention in the last several decades of his life, a period during which Father Quinn was also beset by severe health problems. The grimmest of them was perhaps his acquiring hepatitis (the non-A, non-B type, as it was then known) from a blood transfusion during heart surgery: he later wrote, “Little did I dream as I watched the red bags of blood in the transfusions that they were taking away the health that they were giving me – a modern-day variant on he who saves his life loses it.”

Quinn’s thesis in the commentary, as he first stated it in print (in his 1974 paper on P46, p. 385, n. 16), is that the Pastoral Epistles were not only edited by the author of [Luke-Acts] … but also that they were published as the “third volume” or roll of that work about A. D. 85. In this hypothesis the Pastorals were the first ‘Pauline’ epistolary, which in turn (perhaps by way of reaction) prompted the interest in collecting the actual letter of the “historical Paul.”

He presented this view in an address to the Fifth International Congress on Biblical Studies (Oxford, 1973). The hypothesis, which deals elegantly with one of the mysteries of the New Testament, is not unique to Quinn. The first modern scholar to recognize the kinship of Luke and the Pastorals was H.A. Schott in 1830. After a century and a half no final form of the notion has been widely accepted, but the idea has remained in steady circulation. Important recent advocates include C.F.D. Monie and August Strobel; in a 1979 book (reviewed by Quinn) similarly Stephen G. Wilson argued that Luke wrote the Pastoral Epistles. (For fuller documentation, see Titus, p. 4, and the bibliography in that volume.) Quinn’s rigorous testing of the hypothesis, presented in his commentary, will contribute to resolving the mystery.

Phillip J. Rask Rector/Vice-President
Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity University of Saint Thomas

Feast of St. Jerome, 1995

© University of Saint Thomas, 1996, 2018

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