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Obituary: Harry Blamires

08 December 2017

Christian apologetic: Harry Blamires promoted a traditionalist view of the faith

Christian apologetic: Harry Blamires promoted a traditionalist view of the faith

Canon Brian Davis writes:

HARRY BLAMIRES, who died on 21 November, aged 101, will be remembered in Christian circles, first and foremost for his book The Christian Mind (1963), which has never been out of print.

This was not his first book, but his 11th. His first books focused on education. He used his undoubted gift for writing and his knowledge of English literature — he was a recognised authority on James Joyce and T. S. Eliot — when he turned to Christian apologetic.

He promoted a traditionalist view of the faith, a counterblast to the South Bank theology of the 1960s. Malcolm Muggeridge writes in his foreword to another of Harry’s books, Where Do We stand? “As an experienced and discerning teacher, Mr Blamires understands with particular clarity how barren and desolate is a mind self-restricted to mental data; how meager is the range of a pilgrim confined to Time, with no concept or sight of eternity; how paltry is a vision that ends on the horizon.”

Harry was strongly influenced by C. S. Lewis, who was his tutor at Oxford before the Second World War. His Christian apologetic demonstrates a similar incisiveness and clarity in his thinking to Lewis’s, and a similar refusal, as he saw it, to bow to trend and fashion, which drew him many admirers.

With The Christian Mind, Harry began a polemic that he kept going for 40 years. The enemy for him was the secularism that had infiltrated into every part of intellectual life, and had been swallowed whole by liberal Christians, who failed to see how they had succumbed to the spirit of the age. He wrote: “There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, the Christian ethic; a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality . . . But as a thinking being the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion — its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which relates all earthly issues within the context of the eternal, the view which relates all human problems — social, political, cultural — to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian Faith.”

His Christian apologetic sold well in the United States, where he was frequently invited to give lecture tours. Like Lewis, he was particularly popular with Evangelicals, without being one himself. His literary works are best represented by The Bloomsday Book (1966), his useful commentary on James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Word Unheard, a guide to Eliot’s Four Quartets which has also recently been reprinted.

Most of Harry’s career was spent at King Alfred’s Church of England Teacher Training College (now Winchester University), in the English department, from 1948 until his retirement in 1976. As one of his students, I have always thought how fortunate we were to be taught by someone with such a brilliant academic mind, who was able to communicate the depth of his scholarship with a sincere passion for his subject. In the middle of studying Joyce’s Ulysses, I remember we were all invited to join him at his home to celebrate Bloomsday. (Bloom being a character in the book.)

The strong traditionalist line that he took in matters of faith might suggest someone who was lacking in humour. But this could not be further from the truth. He was bubbling with fun and energy, which stayed with him all his life. At my last visit to see him in old age, he was still full of vigour, mentally alert, darting out of the room to fetch me a copy of his latest book.

In retirement, he was able to pursue his writing full-time. He and his wife, Nancy, moved to Cumbria, where they spent the rest of their lives. They were able to make regular trips to Leeds for operas, Harry’s other abiding passion being music. He was an organist, and frequently played such in local churches.

Nancy had presented him with five sons, and was a huge support to him in his writing, commenting on his texts and discussing them with him. Nancy died in 2011, and a few years later Harry’s poor state of health meant that he had to move into a care home.

Harry was honoured by Winchester University, both with a doctorate, and by being the subject of the first Winchester University Foundation Lecture, given by the Revd Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, in 2014.

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