Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Henry Chadwick

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Henry Chadwick

Article excerpt

23 JUNE 1920 * 17 JUNE 2008

HENRY CHADWICK was born at Bromley, Kent, on 23 June 1920. He died at Oxford, on 17 June 2008. In 1982, he was elected as an international member of the APS. The nomination spoke of him as "a leading authority on the development of Christian history and thought, especially as related to Hellenistic culture."

He was, indeed, a towering figure. He had established himself as the principal expositor, in the English-speaking world, of the thought of the early Christians and of their pagan contemporaries. He had also shown himself (in 1953) to be a translator of rare felicity. His translation of the answer of the Christian Origen to the pagan Celsus (the Contra Celsum of around 248 AD) brought us into the heart of the dialogue between paganism and Christianity.

In 1982, Chadwick had already held the chair of Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University (from 1959 to 1969) and had begun as Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge (from 1979 to 1983). He had been dean of Christ Church, Oxford (from 1969 to 1979) and, within five years, he would become master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge (from 1987 to 1993). He was the first person in four hundred years to have been the master of a college both in Oxford and in Cambridge.

In the words of Henry Mayr-Harting (the former Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford) in the oration at his funeral, "Henry Chadwick had a quality of greatness in every aspect of his life."

Henry Chadwick had presence. He was a big man, tall and slightly stooped. In younger days, his students spoke of him as "Jehovah." His speech was Olympian in its careful balance. His voice was majestic. He carried this voice with him on many visits to the campuses of America. He told a story against himself concerning one of these visits. When lecturing on the history of the early church, he noticed three young persons seated in the front row. Every day they sat, apparently spellbound but taking no notes. When questioned, they confessed that they knew nothing, and wished to know nothing, about the early church. They had come to listen to that marvelous accent. Altogether, it was said of him that "the Anglican Church may not have a Pope, but it does have Henry Chadwick."

It is the purpose of this essay, as befits a memoir for a learned society, to seize on one aspect only of Henry Chadwick's greatness - the greatness of a mind constantly engaged at close quarters with the Christian past. Perfectly balanced though Chadwick might appear, there was nothing marmoreal about him. He held in tension loyalties of unusual strength.

In the first place, he was a passionate musician. He had entered Eton College, as a King's Scholar. At the age of thirteen (in 1933) he was - no less! - "Keeper of the College Organ." He came to Cambridge on a music scholarship. It is said that the tutorials on piano composition that he received at Trinity College were frequently interrupted by stamping from the floor above. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who occupied the rooms above, found music distracting. Not so Chadwick. He shared this passion with his wife, Margaret (Peggy) Brownrigg, whom he married in 1945. She was both a mathematician and a musician. Henry would play as she sang. Peggy would later tell his friends that she had, simply, married her accompanist!

Music entered deeply into the texture of Chadwick's mind. Like his fellow-giant in the study of the late antique world, Henri-Irénée Marrou, Chadwick numbered himself among those whom Augustine (who knew all too well the pull of music at the base of his own heart) described as persons "who count themselves miserable when music is lacking to their lives" (De libero arbitrio 2.13.35). He knew why he loved music. Music was "the art with the greatest detachment from objects we can touch and see." It pointed the way from the chaos of our lives "towards that which abides." Music was something for which the religious person had every reason to be grateful: "Thoughtful Christians know that although we use words to communicate, words are inadequate. …

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