Henry Chadwick, R.I.P.
Thursday June 19th 2008, 7:30 am
Filed under: Patristics

From the Telegraph:

The Very Reverend Professor Henry Chadwick, who died on Tuesday aged 87, was one of the last great Anglican scholars.
When people said that the intellectual life of the Church of England was not what it was, it was, in correction, to the four Chadwick brothers that it was possible to turn.

They emerged from the secure professional class, sons of a barrister from Bromley in Kent, and were educated in a fashion intended to prepare them for lives of dedicated service. One became a diplomat, and three were ordained in the Established Church, in which they rose to positions both of formal distinction and of deserved respect.

But the style of churchmanship espoused by Henry Chadwick was always difficult to determine.

Born on June 23 1920, Henry Chadwick was educated at Eton, where he was a King’s Scholar in a 1930s atmosphere which did not encourage ritual inventiveness, or much inventiveness of any kind. From there he went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, on a Music Scholarship.

He was trained for ministry at the still distinctly evangelical Ridley Hall, in Cambridge, from 1942, and raised to the priesthood in 1944.

His first appointment was as an assistant master at Wellington College.

Nothing in this early ministry indicated that Chadwick was to become one of the most incorporative figures in the Church of England, a man sympathetic to, and very well acquainted with, the Roman Catholic Church; a traditionalist who appeared to adhere to no particular group within Anglicanism; and an advocate of ecumenism whose actual sympathies lay tantalisingly beyond sight.

For a person so generous in advising those who sought out his wisdom, Chadwick’s internal conclusions about the everlasting balancing act which is the essence of Anglicanism always remained uncharacteristically unarticulated. Like his brother Owen, he never seems to have sought, and certainly never accepted, ecclesiastical preferment – except in the ambiguous sense that the Deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, was, essentially, in his day (1969-79), an academic post.

He was a successor to the Victorian clerical intellectuals, a man whose involvement with the organisation of the Church was advisory rather than directive, who was never visibly partisan; he always gave to the interests of the institutions which he served both altruism and sound judgment.

After religion, the great passion of Chadwick’s life was music. Unlike those Anglicans who persist in confusing aesthetic sensation with religious experience, however, Chadwick never raised his musical interests to the level of dogma. It was a civilised entertainment shared, happily, by his wife Peggy, whom he married in 1945.

Peggy was enormously discreet, and a delightful hostess in the two master’s lodges she inhabited.

From 1946 Chadwick was Chaplain of Queens’ College, Cambridge, and he became Dean of the College in 1950. It was just the right place from which to launch an academic career, since Queens’ was friendly, not large, religiously ordinary (lacking, that is to say, any party enthusiasms) and intellectually secure.

Everyone thought the Chadwicks an ideal couple to preside over the religious life of the undergraduates who still resorted to Chapel in reasonable numbers.

Yet Chadwick’s capabilities had, of course, been known to others, especially since the publication of his work Origen, Contra Celsum in 1953 (which later went into several editions). His reputation as an expositor of the teachings of the Early Fathers became early established, and has always remained unchallenged.

Chadwick’s contribution to patristic scholarship was uncontroversially distinguished and of great utility. It seemed a natural progression, therefore, when he became Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1959, and Dean of Christ Church 10 years later.

Thereafter innumerable academic distinctions were awarded by learned bodies in Europe and North America. He had moved, effortlessly, so it seemed, to the forefront of Anglican divines.

Yet a progression which in most cases would have seemed to have attained fulfilment turned out, in Chadwick’s case, to be a transit to still further dimensions of service. After retirement from Christ Church in 1979, he became a Fellow of Magdalene, Cambridge, and was then, from 1987 to 1993, Master of Peterhouse.

In each place his reputation for wisdom and courtesy to his colleagues preceded him, and in each in turn he was able to bring accumulating knowledge of the ways of academe.

Nor did the college business in which he had, all his life, been necessarily enveloped inhibit his scholarly output. Of his many publications the Pelican Early Church (1967) and Augustine (1986) have perhaps proved of greatest service to those seeking insights into early Christianty.

The Mastership of Peterhouse was a particularly revealing final distinction, since Peterhouse is also a college with an established tradition of historical scholarship. His success as Master was cogent testimony to his eirenic qualities.

At first meeting people tended to find Chadwick rather grand. This indicated, however, simply a mannerism: his kindness to those he met even quite casually, and to undergraduates, was remarkable, and his courtesy to his academic and clerical colleagues – in two professions hardly noted for emancipation from disputation – was quite extraordinary.

There hung about him a certain sense of integrity and solidity, and yet what his actual principles were was somehow always difficult to express. His churchmanship escaped categorisation: so did his political preferences and his attitudes to the moral transformations which characterised the social customs of his time.

There has always been, about the Church of England, a certain imprecision when it comes to doctrinal formulation, and those most successful as Anglican churchmen are those who know how best to devise forms of words and constructs or accommodations which allow people of otherwise plainly incompatible beliefs to inhabit the same dwelling-place.

Chadwick was a master of the art. Unlike lesser men who attempted these skills, however, his labours were inspired by honesty of purpose and an apparently genuine conviction that the Anglican Communion had an unassailable integrity.

The limits to his methods, on the other hand, became apparent at meetings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in its sessions between 1969 and 1981, and again from 1983 to 1990, when the Anglican penchant for resolving differences by devising accommodations based upon ambiguous verbal formulations had limited effect on the professionals of the Vatican.

Early successes at agreement were over simpler differences; when it came to ecclesiology, to the nature of religious authority, the Anglican methods proved sterile. Chadwick was personally disappointed: an important aspect of what he had correctly seen as a life’s work had driven itself into the sands. He always treasured a vestment which the Pope had given him.

Chadwick lived through huge changes in both the great institutions he served – learning and the Church. He adapted with astonishing ease, especially in view of his seemingly inherent traditionalism.

In 1968 Chadwick became vice-president of the British Academy. He was appointed KBE in 1989.

Henry Chadwick is survived by his wife and three daughters.


3 Comments so far
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Hi Mike –

I found this article interesting in light of the recent “Journey Home” discussions with Anglican converts in Britain. When I lived in Britain, I understood that a common perception is that at least some of what keeps some Anglicans from returning home to Rome is the belief that the early Celtic monks had the true religion, that their differences with Rome were more than just differences over human tradition. I’d like to learn more about the practices of the early Celts (i.e. Columba, Aidan). Can you suggest any books, or possibly feature a blog item on what were the differences between Celtic Britain and that established by St. Augustine of Canterbury? Did both sides have the same Sacred Tradition?

Again, thanks for sharing so much of your knowledge with us! The Lord has truly blessed you with so many gifts. I appreciate your honesty and humility.

Pilgrim pal,

Maryella Hierholzer

Comment by Maryella 06.22.08 @ 6:14 am

Hi, Maryella!

The article on “Celtic Christianity” from the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity is very helpful. Here’s a snatch: “This Christianity has been of special interest to those who have interpreted it as a form of nonecclesiastical or at least noninstitutional religion. Earlier partisans saw the Celts as proto-Protestants, rejecting the works and pomps of Rome, but modern devotees concentrate more on a supposed Celtic individualism, harmony with the natural world, and a constant awareness of the supernatural and mysterious. Not surprisingly, these traits have appealed more to artists and poets than to historians … When missionaries from Rome began to arrive in the British Isles at the end of the sixth century, adherents of old British Christianity clashed with advocates of Catholic Christianity over such customs as the date of Easter and the proper tonsure of monks … The differences were more matters of national and ecclesiastical identity than doctrinal … [T]he vast majority of western Celtic Christians shared the rites and beliefs of their continental co-religionists.”

Edited by a Baptist, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity is a sober and dispassionate book, hardly the stuff of Romish propaganda.

The Celts are convenient because they — like other early-Christian groups you and I have discussed — left behind sparse and somewhat indecipherable remains. So we can project whatever we want onto them. A most offensive recent instance of this is Thomas Cahill’s bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization, which contrasts the elfish, nature-lovin’ Patrick (“Please. Call me Pat.”) with the dark, obsessed and se%ually repressive Augustine (imagine Simon Bar Sinister and Dick Dastardly from the old Saturday-morning cartoons). I don’t think any of these Celtic fantasists really want to live by the ancient Irish penitential books. Gosh, I sure don’t.

I haven’t read a whole lot in this area, but I’ll scan the shelves for some good titles for you. A scholar I trust recommends Patrick: The Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland, a recent scholarly biography of the Godfather of Green Beer.

Comment by Mike Aquilina 06.22.08 @ 10:19 am

The Irish were strongly influenced by the Desert Fathers. Of course, so was everybody else. :)

I also like the legend about the kid monk who was sent on a quest for the Augustinian Rule. Very Celtic, very full of wondrous happenings, and very annoying to Augustine-Italy haters. :)

Comment by Maureen 06.23.08 @ 10:33 pm



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