Obituary: The Most Rev Henry McAdoo

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
EARLY IN the spring of 1994, a large envelope arrived with the morning post at the Rectory in Guildford. I recognised straight away the elegant back hand in royal blue washable and knew that I was in for a treat.

Inside was an extended essay of 30,000 words on the eucharistic theology of the Anglican tradition. It represented the distilled and reflective mind of a man who had lived with all the questions of continuity and discontinuity at the Reformation, as well as the intricacies of ecumenical dialogue in our own time. But the letter accompanying this manuscript was neither a suggestion nor an invitation nor a challenge, but a command - for me to write a corresponding essay, of the same length, so that together our first (and only) joint book could be published, to try to get across to a fresh generation the importance and distinctiveness of Anglican theology in the sacrament of unity.

Neither of us made any claim to originality in The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition (as it appeared the following year), but we were helping - in our different styles - to alert Christians of all persuasions who were trying to understand each other and their own traditions better.

Henry McAdoo issued these commands, but those of us who knew and loved him well realised that they came from a warm heart and a ready imagination. Stories about him abound in the Church of Ireland in much the same way that they did in England about the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey, who invited McAdoo, with all his wealth of knowledge of 17th-century Anglicanism, to serve as the first Anglican co- chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, from 1969 to 1981.

Those were the heady years of forward strides as that distinguished commission sat down to thrash out official agreements on Eucharist and ministry, "at the level of faith" - as I once heard Harry McAdoo's Roman Catholic partner, Bishop Alan Clark, described it. However complex the process of clarification and reception that these agreements have since received, they simply would not have seen the light of day without McAdoo's firm historical grasp of principle and his careful ear as to how others might hear it.

McAdoo was born in Cork and educated at Cork Grammar School and Mountjoy School in Dublin. He was a brilliant scholar, and earned both his doctorates, the first by thesis, the second for published work, on Anglican theology. His first major work, The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology, appeared in 1949; its main achievement was to draw fresh attention to the way in which writers such as Jeremy Taylor - to whom he remained particularly devoted - combined the attractiveness and demand of the Christian gospel with practical ways in which Christians could "progress" in their discipleship. Although in some ways dated now, that book's message remains at the forefront of many churches today, not only Anglican.

Then followed, in 1965, The Spirit of Anglicanism, a study of 17th-century Anglican theology which covers writers as diverse as Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes, as well as Edward Stillingfleet and Simon Patrick. He argued repeatedly that what later generations described as "Anglican" was neither compromised nor fudged, but a conscious and reflective determination to hold together the paradoxes of Christian tradition, and to see a genuine quest for truth and divine revelation in that work.

He became a convinced advocate of the ordination of women, and last year published a book entitled Anglicans and Tradition and the Ordination of Women.

McAdoo's theological writing was done not in the university world, but as a parish priest, in the diocese of Cork, where he served as an incumbent and then Dean of the Cathedral, until his consecration as Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin in 1962, after which he was Archbishop of Dublin, from 1977 to 1985. As Bishop of Ossory from 1962 to 1977 he served the City of Kilkenny well, and was proud to bear the title of Freeman. It is at Kilkenny that he will be buried on Monday.

Harry McAdoo was a warm family man, and married Lesley Weir at Waterford in 1940, and they were the proud parents of Anne, Gabrielle, and Martin. To sit at table with him, surrounded by his family was an experience I shall never forget. The anecdotes rolled forth, from meeting the Pope to fly-fishing. And, through the billows of tobacco smoke, one was aware of being in the presence of a scholar pastor of rare ability.

In 1989 McAdoo - already four years into retirement - published The Eucharistic Theology of Jeremy Taylor Today, which is perhaps one of his most distinguished pieces of work. The book is not only an exposition of a neglected and original figure in the founding years of Anglicanism, but a work of true ecumenism, in which McAdoo repeatedly compared Taylor's method to that adopted by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, no less!

Again and again, he used a much-loved phrase, "moral-ascetic theology". This was the heart of Harry McAdoo's theology, in which discipleship and prayer lived side by side, and tradition developed, interpreted by scripture and reason. His lifelong discipleship leaves many legacies.

Henry Robert McAdoo, priest: born Cork 10 January 1916; ordained deacon 1939, priest 1940; Incumbent of Castleventry with Ardfield 1943-48, with Kilmeen 1947-48; Rector of Kilmocomogue 1948-52; Rural Dean of Glansalney West and Bere 1948- 52; Canon of Kilbrittain in Cork Cathedral, and Canon of Donoughmore in Cloyne Cathedral 1949-52; Dean of Cork 1952-62; Canon of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin 1960-62; Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin 1962-77; member, Anglican-Roman Catholic Preparatory Commission 1967-68; Joint Chairman, Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission 1969-81; Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland 1977-85; married 1940 Lesley Weir (one son, two daughters); died Dalkey, Co Dublin 10 December 1998.