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…