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Obituary: The Rev Dr David Wallace-Hadrill

WRITING IN the Journal of Theological Studies in October 1961, the reviewer of David Wallace-Hadrill's book Eusebius of Caesarea comments on how it revealed a parochial clergyman who had studied the early Christian fathers "to good purpose".

It was the quality that ran through the many strands of Wallace-Hadrill's life, from his schooldays at Cheltenham when his passionate devotion to writing and listening to music began, through his reading of PPE at Oxford which somehow motivated him to take Anglican orders, through his divinity course with distinction at Manchester, and his later doctorate in that demanding faculty, and throughout his professional life as chaplain and master at Aldenham School and as curate and parish priest.

It was at Manchester in the early years of the Second World War that he came under the inspirational influence of Professor J.W. Manson, the distinguished scholar and theologian. At Manchester too he met Eusebius's writings and the germination of his book began. Eusebius was not, as Wallace- Hadrill says in his preface, "the most universally loved of the Fathers" - indeed elsewhere he describes him as substituting a "crudely florid manner for delicacy, lightness of touch and humour". What he admired in his subject was his emphasis on Christ's "clear appreciation and acceptance of the natural world around him" and on "the service of one's fellow men in this world rather than an escape into a life of solitary meditation".

So the Eusebius was written "in spare moments in the parochial ministry of the Church of England". Long unbroken periods of study were not available; the testimonies of his parochial dedication are in the memories of former parishioners in Hornchurch, where he served in the later 1940s, and more especially in the steelworks parish of Eston, Middlesbrough, from 1955 to 1962, where he was responsible for two churches.

There particularly the logistic problems of such specialised research were marked not only in access to sources but also in resolving textual and linguistic problems in them. It is conceivable that Eusebius was himself better provided, with easy access to the libraries of Caesarea and Jerusalem. Nevertheless a work containing much pure scholarship, exploratory of untouched areas of Eusebius's wide output, was the result. As the book neared completion and the author began to have doubts about its value, the combined persuasions of his wife and elder brother, the late Professor J.M. Wallace-Hadrill was needed to ensure its publication.

Somehow at this time too, he was able to write stories to entertain his four children. There were also two further books springing from his interest in the early Christian fathers. These were written in competition with all the pressures on time and energy of being a housemaster and teacher at Aldenham. The first is in one sense a propaganda work. The Patristic View of Nature (1968) set out to establish that the early fathers were by no means as hostile to the natural world as their reputation suggests. It was characteristic of the author that he should set about this loving mission of "rescue".

His final published writing of a theological nature is Christian Antioch: a study of early Christian thought in the East (1982). The germination - even if there was an inevitable long dormancy - was back in Manchester in the 1940s. Wallace-Hadrill had asked Manson to recommend a book elucidating the meaning of Antiochene. He was told that as such a book did not exist he had better write it.

Robert Murray in the Journal of Theological Studies (April 1984) speaks of the work as "a labour of love, enriched from exploration in many directions by a survivor of the once glorious breed of scholar parsons". What Murray probably did not know was that Wallace-Hadrill in another more essential way was a survivor. Antioch was written in the years immediately following a prognosis of a cancer being fatal within two weeks - in 1972. In the preface the author thanks his surgeon "who gave me that very great gift - time in which to finish what I had begun".

In his 27 further given years he more and more devoted himself not only to his own painting but to amplifying his lifelong interest in J.M.W. Turner's watercolours, especially those sketched for or painted on his two expeditions to Scotland. This work was done under the aegis of the Tate Gallery. Two joint articles were published in Turner Studies.

David Wallace-Hadrill's aesthetic and religious outlook is contained in some words written not long ago - words of a mysticism which I fear Eusebius might not have appreciated:

We are most truly ourselves in an act of creating . . . It is a kind of blissful annihilation of the self. But this experience of losing oneself outside time and space is also what we mean by death . . . Death is a completion and the realisation of the best that is in us.

David Sutherland Wallace-Hadrill, priest, schoolmaster and theologian: born Bromsgrove, Worcestershire 12 January 1920; ordained deacon 1943, priest 1944; curate, Walthamstow, Essex 1944-47; curate Holy Cross, Hornchurch, Essex 1947-50; Chaplain, Aldenham School 1950-55, housemaster 1962-72, English and Divinity teacher 1962-81, Second Master 1975-81, Librarian 78-86; parish priest, Christ Church, Eston, Middlesbrough 1955-62; married 1947 Vera Monks (three sons, one daughter); died Potters Bar, Hertfordshire 8 May 1999.