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The Revd Professor Thomas Henry Louis Parker

by
20 May 2016

Professor A. N. S. Lane writes:
THE Revd Dr T. H. L. Parker, the leading British Calvin scholar of the 20th century, died in Kendal on 25 April, five months short of his 100th birthday. Born on Hayling Island, he grew up in north London, where his father was a civil servant. His parents had no great attachment to church-going, and it was a chance meeting with an Anglican clergyman, who took an interest in him and encouraged him, that drew him into the life of a practising Christian.

He read English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating with an indifferent degree — in part because of a growing interest in theology. Another distraction was a trainee primary-school teacher at Homerton College, Mary Angwin.

Having discovered his vocation to the priesthood, Parker went to train at St John’s College, Highbury. At the outbreak of war, he was ordained in December 1939, serving curacies in Chesham, Cambridge, and Luddesdown, Kent. He and Mary were married in June 1940. They had three children: Anne, Paul, and David.

While studying, he had, by chance, discovered the writings of Karl Barth, and was advised that, to understand Barth, one must understand Calvin. The outcome was a life devoted primarily to the study of the Reformer, starting with a book on Calvin’s preaching. He did not forget Barth, and was one of the translators of Barth’s multi-volume Church Dogmatics into English. Barth himself said that Parker was the translator who understood him best. He also edited Festschrifts for Barth’s 70th and 80th birthdays.

After the curacies, there followed incumbencies at Brothertoft, Little and Great Ponton, and Oakington, all in Lincoln diocese. For him, parish life consisted of certain basics, done well: visiting, a well-prepared liturgy and preaching, and a parish run efficiently. It also gave him space to pursue a life of scholarship and publication, which received recognition with the award, first of a Cambridge BD (1950), and then of a DD (1961). In 1971, he was appointed to a lectureship in Reformation Theology at Durham, a post more or less created for him. At Durham, he gave stimulating and popular lectures, and was a kind and generous teacher.

Most of Parker’s Calvin studies were devoted to Calvin’s exposition of scripture in his Bible commentaries and sermons, and Parker wrote books on them. He produced critical editions of some of Calvin’s Isaiah sermons, and of his Romans commentary.

He also translated some of Calvin’s sermons and commentaries into English. He did not ignore Calvin’s theology or biography, and wrote significant books: Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Calvin: An introduction to his thought, and John Calvin: A biography. Parker’s work was marked out by its immersion in the writings of Calvin, by the independence of his analysis, and by the quality of his writing. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his life is that he was self-taught in almost everything that he did.

In 1981, he retired to a Cambridge suburb for further years of intensive output. In 2003, he and Mary moved to Bromyard in Herefordshire, where she died. He continued living on his own, independently, until shortly before his death.

He is survived by his three children, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

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