Saturday, June 21, 2008

Henry Chadwick is Dead

Among the best-worn spines along Father A.'s bookshelf is a Penguin paperback called simply The Early Church, by the Anglican historian Henry Chadwick.  Although the paper is cheap and yellow, and the print is abominably small, this book was an indispensable supplement to the "official" textbooks assigned by seminary professors and remains a useful reference many years later.  It is clearly a beginners' guide:  few quotations, fewer sources, and little acknowledgment of questions disputed by historians.  But it is for that reason, along with its clear prose and straightforward narrative, an indispensable vade mecum for those stumbling into their study of the earliest Church.

Rowan Williams' touching obit in the Guardian pays tribute to Chadwick's extraordinary scholarship and ecumenical leadership, as well as -- obliquely -- to his faithful pastoral service in what sounds like an unpleasant tenure at Christ Church.  It also includes this sobering nugget:

No one could replace Henry and no one will. The Anglican church no longer shows so clearly the same combination of rootedness in the early Christian tradition and unfussy, prayerful pragmatism, and the ecumenical scene is pretty wintry with less room for the distinctive genius of another Chadwick. But the work done stays done, and it is there to utilise in more hospitable times.

Henry Chadwick was born in 1920, ordained in 1943, and taught first and Cambridge and then, for many years, at Oxford.  He is survived by his wife, his daughters and his brother Owen, also a fine church historian.  But more than that, he is survived by the many thousands of students and pastors whom he helped to understand the sources of their own tradition.

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