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Obituary: Canon A. E. Harvey

02 February 2018

Geoff Crawford

Canon Anthony Harvey, serving guests at Westminster Great Banquet, in June 1995

Canon Anthony Harvey, serving guests at Westminster Great Banquet, in June 1995

Dr Andrew Chandler writes:

CANON Anthony Harvey, who died on 9 January, aged 87, was a distinguished scholar and teacher of New Testament studies, an author of diverse books, a contributor to significant debates, and a participant in the public contexts in which they were to be found.

He lived a life defined, perhaps, above all by a long and costly labour to integrate and reconcile quite distinct dimensions of experience, even as they often pulled in different directions. In this lay a coherent integrity that was not, at any point, achieved cheaply.

Anthony Ernest Harvey’s father was an eminent lawyer; his mother died young. Anthony was educated at Eton, and there excelled at the violin, piano, and organ. Later, he would say little of his schooling, and he resented the quality of superiority which it inculcated. Unfit for national service, he studied the violin with Maurice Raskin in Brussels, watched over by Belgian cousins.

In 1949, Harvey won a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford, where he secured a double first in Classics. On graduation, he won a two-year scholarship to travel abroad, and set off in a Morris 8 to Munich to study with Rudolf Pfeiffer, whom he had first met as a refugee teaching at Oxford, and who had now returned to his homeland.

Driving over the Alps, he made his way to Florence, where he met the British consul, Ian McMaster, and Julian McMaster. He acknowledged Julian’s intuitive intelligence, prized her creative gifts, both literary and artistic, and admired her resistance to snobbery. They married in 1957. By then, Harvey was preparing for ordination at Westcott House, Cambridge. His marriage to Julian brought four daughters: Marina, Helen, Christian, and Victoria.

Harvey was ordained in 1958 and served his title in Chelsea. He attended the 1961 General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, where his multi-lingual skills came into their own.

He remained, deeply, a scholar. In 1962, he became a student of Christ Church, Oxford. Soon he was hard at work on a companion to the New Testament, a study commissioned to accompany the publication of the New English Bible, and, in 1966, he travelled with the family to Jerusalem to immerse himself in the task.

It was an experience that confirmed his internationalism, and it proved to be formative. When he published the companion, he acknowledged that, in many ways, he had written it for his father, and had tried throughout “to ask the questions which he would have asked and to seek the answers which he would have regarded as honest”. It sold 40,000 copies.

While Oxford suited Harvey, he felt that his academic writing should be applicable to the realities of everyday life. In 1969, he was appointed Warden of St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, for those in the final year of ordination training. Here he relished the opportunity to attempt innovations, but found himself unsure how to interpret a new generation who looked to the enthusiasms of the late 1960s. In time, however, many of those who studied under him came to value what he had given them, and also the spirit in which it had been offered.

Harvey felt the closure of St Augustine’s in 1976 as a personal blow. It brought him to a further period at Oxford, when he combined a university lectureship and fellowship of Wolfson College with a chaplaincy to the Queen’s College. He gave the Bampton Lectures, later published as Jesus and the Constraints of History, in 1982, and did much through his writing to develop the thought of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission. But it was in Oxford that Julian suffered a succession of severe nervous breakdowns, whose treatment proved harrowing.

In 1982, Harvey entered into possibly the most creative period of his life, when he became Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey. In important respects, the post suited him perfectly. He could watch over Julian, whose health remained precarious, and he could preach, think, and write with freedom. But he could also become, perhaps more than ever, immersed in the world at large, with all its debates, controversies, and crises.

It was he who came up with the title Faith in the City when he became theological adviser to the new Archbishop’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas. He was shocked by social deprivation, and was glad to find that, as a theologian, he could play a part in fashioning a principled and practical response to it. Harvey came to love the Abbey itself, and found its many intricacies endlessly provocative to new ideas. He was glad to foster the development of its museum, and enjoyed making the Jerusalem Chamber a place for the launching of books or the holding of discussions.

By the late 1990s, he was embarking on his most enduring contribution to the fabric: the creation of ten statues of 20th-century Christian martyrs. Unveiled by the Queen in 1998, they expressed impressively a sense of the place of the Abbey itself, both in the imposing contexts of royalty or official authority and in the turbulence of the modern world. In later years, it was under his auspices that refugees and those who worked for them met each week in Cheneygates. In such things, Harvey found himself to be deeply alive. Those who found him austere failed to recognise the claims of simplicity by which he lived.

Harvey’s Anglicanism was recognisably that of William Temple, George Bell, and Michael Ramsey. His was not narrowly an English life, and his piety was not narrowly an English piety. He was at home in French Catholicism, and liked to quote a prior of Taizé, that the definition of a priest was one who was always listening.

He relished the quest for justice at work in liberation theology, and was much influenced by those whose thought had known the severe testing of political and social injustice. Eberhard and Renate Bethge were an important part of his cultural world, while the East German pastor Werner Krätschell knew him as a friend, and Dom Helder Camara stayed at the Harveys’ home.

The wonder of his published work at large lay in its lucid, elegant prose, its freedom from jargon, and its alert, responsive empiricism. Indeed, he always found his basis in exploring the questions that people might ask. Strenuous Commands: The ethic of Jesus (1990) remains widely admired. Promise or Pretence? A Christian’s guide to sexual morals (1994) had first appeared as articles in Theology, and provoked a brief stir.

Harvey retired in 1999 to a cottage in Willersey, Gloucestershire. These years brought the death of his third daughter, Christian, in 2008, and they were increasingly dominated by Julian’s decline. But there was still much work to be done. In 2000, he taught himself Spanish to preach at the 20th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Romero. He published a succession of further books, often with the SCM Press, of which he was particularly fond. Their subjects included war and peace; asylum-seeking; a moral case against British government policy; and the New Testament. His autobiography, Drawn Three Ways, appeared in 2014.

He remained a fundamental presence in the life of the George Bell Institute. He established a charity to support the work of an orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, only to see it crash in corruption. He returned to his violin studies. After Julian’s death in 2015, he published privately a volume of her poetry. An article on Daily Bread, for the Journal of Theological Studies, was in press at his death. Harvey’s last work for publication was a final work of protest: an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, provoked by the Church’s treatment of Bishop George Bell.

Harvey seemed wholly well when, suddenly, on 7 January, he suffered a severe stroke. When the end came two days later, his daughters Helen and Victoria were with him.

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