Henry Chadwick: Selected writings edited by William G. Rusch

by
11 August 2017

Robin Ward considers selected pieces by a great patristic scholar

 

THIS book is a compilation of learned articles and essays written by Henry Chadwick, who died in 2008. Chadwick was Regius Professor of Divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge, Dean of Christ Church, and Master of Peterhouse, and, as Rowan Williams makes clear in his foreword, “the essence of a particular kind of Anglican identity, learned, irenic but not bland”.

Chadwick carried out an enorm­ous amount of ecumenical work in the early days of ARCIC, work that won him recognition and respect from, among others, Pope Paul VI. But his principal field of scholarly labour was in patristics, the study of the thought and history of early Christianity, and, within that discipline, in particular the work of St Augustine of Hippo. This collection garners some of his most significant essay-length contribu­tions, and publishes them with a brief biographical introduction, a synopsis of each piece, and an index.

It is important to say here that there is only one “new” piece among the 20 published here, an essay given as an Oxford lecture in 1995 on the power of music, the discipline in which Chadwick had his first academic training. The rest of the material has already been published in various journals and collections, and some of it is very old: three pieces from the 1950s, one from 1960, two from the 1970s, five from the 1980s, seven from the 1990s, and one from 2006.

Chadwick’s article on Nestorians and the eucharist, written in 1951 and not included here, is still cited on Oxford undergraduate reading lists today; so this is not perhaps as out-of-date as it sounds. But articles and essays of technical scholarship are written to provoke debate and weigh evidence, and these pieces lack that context: there is no edit­orial framework to tell us whether what Chadwick thought in 1958 about Ossius of Cordova and the presidency of the Council of Antioch in 325 settled the question for good, provoked furious disagree­ment, or opened a rich seam for keen Ph.D. students to excavate.

So the reader is pretty much left to his or her own devices to follow up on whether what Chadwick said about Ossius, or Pachomius, or Mani actually tells us anything about the state of the debate today.

UPPScholar educated in the “Erasmian” tradition: Henry ChadwickThe essays themselves fall into three categories: those that consider technical questions about early church history and polity; those especially concerned with the study of St Augustine; and those that consider the broader interaction between Christian faith and pagan thought in the late Antique period.

Some of the pieces in the first category are very technical indeed: a discussion of the use of the term “ecumenical” for church councils takes us to the Oxyrhynchus papyri, the tax exemptions of the actors’ guilds in the third century, and the use of the word to describe a confer­ence of linen workers at Miletus. Similarly, the essay “Faith and Order at the Council of Nicaea” offers a minute account of the vari­ant manuscript readings that have survived of the Sixth Canon of that Council.

The pieces on Augustine are more accessible: we see Chadwick introducing for the benefit of English-­speaking scholars the discovery by others of 27 previously unpublished letters of Augustine in 1983, and 26 newly discovered sermons in 1996.

Ranging more broadly, the essay “The Attractions of Mani”, from 1990, is a striking evocation of the appeal of Manichaeism, and the personal complexity that Augustine faced in having to portray Manichee belief as implausible, having upheld it for decades before his conversion.

Of the more general pieces, ethical issues are considered in essays that look specifically at Augustine’s ethics, and at how far early Christian ethics can be called original. The institution of monasticism by Pachomios in fourth-century Egypt, and the way this affected Christian perceptions of holiness, is the topic of an intriguing lecture from 1981, perhaps all the better for the mild sense of embarrassment that Chadwick expresses at the beginning for his subject, not suitable for “urbane dinner-party conversation”.

Chapters on Constantinian mon­archy in Church and State, and on oracles and futurism in Christi­anity and paganism, conclude the collec­tion.

Who will buy this book?
Scholars who need to consult these articles and lectures will already know how to find them in libraries and online. General readers who want to know about the Early Church will read Chadwick’s books: Penguin’s The Early Church, Oxford’s The Church in Ancient Society, and the excellent but neg­lected East and West: The making of a rift in the Church, on the origins of the Great Schism.

Ultimately, this collection will be an evocation of the voice of the man himself for those who were taught by him, and a monument to a particular sort of Anglophone and Anglican patristic scholarship which is now vanishing from academia. Chadwick’s erudition was legendary, as this collection shows.

But his style of theology, which Chadwick’s contemporary E. L Mascall rather penetratingly crit­icised as the study of “such aspects of archaeology, textual and literary criticism and history, especially those involving non-Latin alphabets, as have some connection with reli­gious institutions and move­ments”, depends on the sort of Erasmian humanist education that Chadwick had at Eton before the Second World War, and which barely exists today.

This book is a reminder of what that ethos once achieved.

 

Canon Robin Ward is the Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

 

Henry Chadwick: Selected writings

William G. Rusch, editor

Eerdmans £33.99

(978-0-8028-7277-7)

Church Times Bookshop £30.60

 

 

 

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