Owen Chadwick, Prolific Historian of Christianity, Dies at 99

The Rev Owen Chadwick on his 98th birthday last year

The Rev. Owen Chadwick, an educator and prolific historian of Christianity whose works encompassed sweeping narratives, like his two-volume history of the Victorian church, as well as incisive biographies and vivid pictures of rural church life, died on July 17 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 99. 

Anna Matthews, the vicar of St. Bene’t’s Church in Cambridge, confirmed his death. Professor Chadwick was an ordained Anglican priest.

Long associated with Cambridge University, Professor Chadwick was master of Selwyn College there for nearly 30 years, beginning in the mid-1950s, and Regius professor of modern history from 1968.

After publishing “John Cassian: A Study in Primitive Monasticism” (1950), about the monk and theologian who brought the ideas of Egyptian monasticism to the West in the fifth century, Professor Chadwick turned out a long series of histories remarkable for their variety, authority and engaging style.

“What is memorable about Chadwick’s writing is its pleasing economy and uncluttered clarity of articulation,” John Morrill, a fellow at Selwyn College, wrote in an obituary in The Guardian of London. “He wrote as he spoke: To read him is to hear him.”

“The Reformation” (1964), one of two volumes Professor Chadwick wrote for The Penguin History of the Church — the other was “The Christian Church in the Cold War” (1993) — was required reading in colleges for decades. When he and his younger brother, Henry, an eminent historian of the early church, were asked by Oxford University Press to produce a comprehensive history of Christianity, he took on the task of overseeing what turned out to be a 16-volume work, “The Oxford History of the Christian Church.” He contributed three volumes himself: “The Popes and European Revolution” (1981), “A History of the Popes, 1830-1914” (1998) and “The Early Reformation on the Continent” (2001). Henry Chadwick died in 2008.

Professor Chadwick was inspired not only by great doctrinal disputes but also by the day-to-day rounds of church life in rural outposts. Characteristically, he produced both “The Victorian Church,” a magisterial history published in two volumes, in 1966 and 1971, and “Victorian Miniature” (1961), the Trollopian account of a feuding country squire and parson, each of whom kept a diary.

William Owen Chadwick was born on May 20, 1916, in southeast London, where his father was a barrister. After attending Tonbridge School in Kent, he went to St. John’s College in Cambridge to read classics and, just as important by his own account, to play rugby. Known there as Binks, he was a star player and was named captain of the team in his third year. Athletics did not prevent him from earning a degree in history in 1938.

Deeply influenced by his teacher Martin Charlesworth, a Christian historian, and by the imprisonment of the theologian Martin Niemöller in Germany, he stayed an extra year to study theology, earning another first-class degree.

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Source: The New York Times |