Henry Chadwick and ‘The Early Church’: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Henry Chadwick and ‘The Early Church’
It was 1991. I was in Oxford to deliver a paper at the International Patristics Conference. I was standing with my friend, Charles Kannengiesser, in the quad of Christ Church College, as the bells of the cathedral summoned the faithful to Evensong. Suddenly, Charles pointed out a figure moving rapidly through the cloisters. The individual was clad in a cassock, surplice, scarf and scarlet academic hood. His snow white hair, now worn a bit longer in back, flowed behind him. Charles turned to me with a smile and said, “He could be from the eighteenth century”.
The figure was someone we both knew well.
The Rev’d Dr. Henry Chadwick, KBE, FBA, was, in many ways, the dean of early Church historians in the twentieth century and acknowledged as such on both sides of the Atlantic. Former Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, he was also singular in being the first person in over four hundred years to have led colleges in both Oxford (Christ Church) and Cambridge (Peterhouse). Honored with a knighthood in his own country, late in life he was awarded the German Pour le Mérite (their highest civil award) for services to Church history.
My friend Charles had known Chadwick for years as a colleague. When Charles had to mount a defense of his thesis in the public examination of his third doctorate at the Sorbonne, Chadwick travelled from England to be one of the examiners. The successful examination was followed by a champagne dinner for examiners and friends hosted by Charles. Subsequently, Chadwick graciously agreed to read over my doctoral thesis before I submitted it for examination. His remarks, shared in conversation and penned in the margin, were concise and remarkably insightful. I have always been thankful for his kindness and generosity of spirit. I will also always remember Charles referring to Chadwick in a toast saying, “We all stand on the shoulders of giants”. In the case of Henry Chadwick, that was undoubtedly true.
Chadwick wrote extensively throughout his life, but there is one work in particular I wish to commend and encourage you to obtain and read. It is his volume, ‘The Early Church’ which he penned for The Penguin History of the Church. First published in 1967, the volume was revised and updated by Chadwick in 1993. You can easily find it in paperback and at just over 300 pages it is not a “daunting read”. There are very few footnotes (a restriction that Chadwick regretted), but the index is complete and extensive. This is a book that has been written in a clear prose style that makes it a delight to read. Chadwick covers the arc of the Church from its Jewish origins through to the time of Jerome and Augustine in the fifth century. There are specific chapters on the rise of asceticism and on the development of Christian worship, music and art. Best of all, there is no special pleading for any sectarian position or approach to Church history.
I think Chadwick was singularly suited to write a popular history of this sort. He began his clerical life in the evangelical wing of the Church of England and retained the values he learned there throughout the rest of his life. Despite strong convictions, it is said that he would never engage in an argument or take a combative stance. Although he was deeply involved with academia through all of his adult life (he had a personal library of over 20,000 volumes), he retained his deep connection to the Church of England, never seeing a conflict between these two worlds. He also looked beyond the Church of England to the wider Church serving on Anglican commissions in dialogue with both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. At one point in these discussions, Pope John Paul II presented Chadwick with the gift of a stole. Chadwick treasured the gift and left instructions that it was to be placed on top of his coffin at his funeral service, which was to be held according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and, in a nod to his love of music and his evangelical heart, was to include the spiritual, ‘Steal Away’. He remained who he was to the very end.
So, I commend this book to you as a chance to enter into the early centuries of the Church – to learn, to be delighted, to be encouraged and, hopefully, to be challenged. Above all, I recommend this book to you to remember who we are as the Church. As Chadwick once remarked, “Nothing is sadder than someone who has lost his memory, and the church which has lost its memory is in the same state of senility.”
This book may provide some small antidote…
This is my reading for this week…I’m wondering if we can get enough people doing likewise to do it here together…
A wonderful idea! I read it again this last week. Still a delight…
I have a copy. I’ll read it along with you guys.
(Back into lurk-mode for a few more weeks.)
I notice I have a few bookmarks in my copy, at places where he talks about how the early Church was Bishop- Priest (elder) -Deacon organized. I remember arguing with some of you folks about this years ago.
“What goes round, comes round”…
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is on fire.
Lord, have mercy.
I just picked up a copy through the blog article link. Reading it together would be fun, but I chose the free slow mail, so I might not receive mine for a week or 10 days.
I know… just there a few weeks ago… I’m heartsick.
I think you’ll enjoy the book…
I’ll confess– I tried to read this book a couple times but got “bogged down”
Thanks very much for your post Duane. I’m gonna try again!
My suggestion is to read one chapter at a time. Stop at the end of each to “absorb” what you’ve read. Reading in the early Church can be tough because you are barraged by names of people, movements, etc. If you take it in “bite sized” chunks, it is easier to digest. When I taught post-grad classes on Church history, I always insisted on my students reading one chapter at a time… the “past is a different country” as a wise man once said…
Thank you, Duane. That’s great counsel. I think I was trying to cover too much ground.
This book is in the stack of to-be-read books on the bookshelf across from my writing chair.
I will try to join in, but I can’t promise that I’ll keep up. I’m in the midst of my church’s school of ministry class and have a decent pile to read for that too. (We just completed Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus”, which is a slim book that says volumes about leadership). Next up is a book by Andy Stanley. Quite a mix for this class.
Add to that the novels I read and my writing projects and, well, I got my lengthy list of excuses in case I fail to keep up.
I’ll trade you the stack of books by my bed! ?
BTW, which Andy Stanley book?
Duane, the Stanley book is Next Generation Leader. In combo with the two books we’re doing an in depth study through John’s letters, using Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible as an assist.
Ah, just wondered… I had read a couple of his and had very mixed reactions.
Personal privilege… Today my dear mother is 92 years of age…
Great news on your mom’s birthday. May she have many more.
God bless her…I know she’s well cared for…
Duane, may her day be full of fond memories, both new and from the past, and not regrets for memories forgotten. And may she know that she is loved.
It’s been years since I read a Henry Chadwick. I have a copy but it is where I can’t get to it. So I just bought a kindle version. If you decide to do a group reading and discussion, I am more than willing to participate.
Great idea! Pulling it off the shelf now, from my husband’s seminary days…I will start on it tonight after Good Friday service. Looking forward to hearing what others here have to say.
I’ll chat with Michael to see how we might facilitate this sort of reading group/discussion…