20 July 2015
Cambridge Church historian
Owen Chadwick dies at 99
I was saddened to hear the news in Cambridge yesterday of the death of one of the great inspirational Church Historians, Professor William Owen Chadwick, in his 100th year. He was one of the most distinguished historians and theologians of his time, and was known for his work on the Victorian Church of England, Cardinal Newman and Michael Ramsey, and for collaborating on two of the great English-published collections on Church History.
The news of his death last Friday [17 July 2015] was announced by the Revd Anna Matthews before the Sung Eucharist in Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge, on Sunday morning.
Owen Chadwick was Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, from 1956 to 1983, and he held two university chairs at Cambridge: he was Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History from 1958 to 1968, and Regius Professor of History from 1968 to 1983. He was also a skilled rugby player.
Professor Chadwick was born in Bromley, Kent, on 20 May 1916. He was the elder brother of the Very Revd Professor Henry Chadwick, also a distinguished church historian of the early Church and a former Dean of Christ Church, University of Oxford, and younger brother of Sir John Chadwick, who was once the British Ambassador in Romania.
Owen Chadwick was educated at Tonbridge School and Saint John’s College, Cambridge, where he studies classics, history and theology. He received three Blues in rugby when he played for Cambridge in the annual Varsity Match against Oxford in 1936, 1937 and 1938.
In his first year at Cambridge, he was selected to tour with a British team in their third trip to Argentina in 1936. Although there were no caps for this tour, he played as hooker in the one match against the full Argentina side in a 23–0 victory. In the 1937/1938 season, he played for the Barbarians.
After receiving a First in History at Cambridge, he attended Cuddesdon Theological College for ordination training.
During World War II, he was a curate in Huddersfield and then chaplain of Wellington College.
He became a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1947. He was elected Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1955. In 1976, Selwyn became one of the first Cambridge colleges to admit women, and he remained there until he retired in 1983, making him the longest-serving master of Selwyn. In 1958, he was named Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, and he chaired the Archbishops’ Commission on Church and State (1966-1970).
He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Saint John’s College in 1964. In 1968, Harold Wilson appointed him Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, a position he retained until 1982. He was instrumental in a major reform of the history curriculum in Cambridge, and as Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University from 1969 to 1971, he guided the university through difficult times.
He was also President of the British Academy or a time in the early 1980s, and he was Chancellor of the University of East Anglia from 1984 to 1994. He was knighted in 1982 and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1983.
This great man of letters was the General Editor of the Penguin History of the Church (1967-1992), to which he contributed Volume 3 (The Reformation) and Volume 7 (The Christian Church in the Cold War, 1992). His brother, Professor Henry Chadwick wrote Volume 1 in the series (The Early Church, 1967).
With Henry Chadwick, he also edited the Oxford History of the Christian Church (1981-2010), and contributed three of its 12 volumes.
He was the author of many other books, including works on the formation of the papacy in the modern world, on the secularisation of European thought and culture, on the Reformation, and on the history of the Church of England.
His first book was a brief study of John Cassian, the spiritual writer who brought ideas from Egypt to the west at the beginning of the fifth century, and whose writings transformed monastic life, especially through his influence on Saint Benedict.
He also published on Lancelot Andrewes, Izaak Walton, the Oxford Movement, the saintly Bishop Edward King of Lincoln, the historian Lord Acton, the young Gladstone, and John Henry Newman.
In Mackenzie’s Grave (1959), he told the story of the missionary bishop sent to lead a mission up the Zambesi and whose disappearance brought out the best and the worst in Victorian Christianity and public life.
It is an appropriate story to be reminded of as I was in Cambridge yesterday on my way to High Leigh for the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency Us – formerly USPG, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and incorporating the work of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa.
Professor Chadwick retired to Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, where he was priest in charge. His wife (Ruth Hallward) died last year (2014), and they are survived by their two sons and two daughters.
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