The Rev Professor Henry Chadwick: Historian of the early Church who held the Regius Chairs of Divinity at both Oxford and Cambridge

Henry Chadwick was a dazzling star in the academic firmament. His career was shared between Cambridge and Oxford, and he acquired the unusual distinction of holding the Regius Chairs of Divinity at both Cambridge and Oxford, as well as being head of house in both universities (Christ Church and Peterhouse). In the course of his life he was loaded with honours – prizes and honorary doctorates – and became a corresponding member of learned societies in many countries, as well as a Fellow of the British Academy (and one-time Vice-President).

This academic eminence was not manifest from the beginning. At Eton, his passionate interest was music, and he went up to Cambridge as a music scholar to read for the MusB. Only later did he read theology, inspired by his Evangelical convictions. He then trained for the priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and served in a parish in south Croydon, before a brief spell at Wellington College. At this time he married Margaret (Peggy) Brownrigg, with whom he was to have three daughters, and who was a great support throughout his life. In 1946 he was appointed Fellow and Chaplain of Queens' College, Cambridge, and later Dean.

To begin with, his scholarship concentrated on the second and third centuries, especially on Alexandria. In 1953 there appeared his translation of Origen's Contra Celsum, a work remarkable not only for the care of the translation, but also for the succinct introduction and notes, that reveal to the attentive student a great deal about the engagement between the Christian apologist and the Greek philosophical heritage. This interest culminated in the lectures published as Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966) and his contributions on Philo and the Alexandrians in The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy, edited by A.H. Armstrong (1967).

To his first Cambridge period there also belongs a critical edition (his only one) of The Sentences of Sextus (1959), while his translation Lessing's Theological Writings (1956), with its long introduction, reveals that his scholarship extended beyond the early Church.

In 1959 he left Cambridge for Oxford, to become the Regius Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church. The Sixties were a period of theological turmoil, in England mostly focused on the Cambridge he had left. Chadwick seemed untouched by all this, and in Oxford played a leading role in the growing interest by classicists, historians and others in the transitional period from pagan antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages, that came to be known as "Late Antiquity".

Younger scholars, including Peter Brown and John Matthews, together with older scholars such as E.R. Dodds and Gervase Mathew, made Oxford a centre for this emerging interest, and Chadwick was at the heart of it. His lectures were epitomised in his book The Early Church (1967), a work both accessible to students new to the period, and full of fresh and sometimes startling insights. He later revised it, and it remains in print as the best short introduction to the Church history of the period.

His time as Regius Professor also saw a determined, and largely successful, attempt to introduce more rigorous standards to Oxford theology: in particular, the DD, which had come to be awarded to ecclesiastical dignitaries for little more than a volume of sermons, became a genuine higher doctorate, to the disappointment of some who felt, rightly, that the goal posts had been moved.

In 1969, Chadwick became Dean of Christ Church, with administrative responsibility for both the cathedral and the college. Administration was not something he enjoyed, but he threw himself into the plans of the new Organist, Simon Preston, to make Christ Church a centre of excellence in Church music, especially the newly popular "early music", raising money for an organ that would meet these fresh demands. For music remained his passion; throughout his life he played the piano to a high standard. When, at the farewell party for Sydney Watson, Preston's predecessor, Watson and Chadwick played duets together, it was observed that Chadwick's technique lacked nothing in comparison with Watson's.

Chadwick participated in university administration and was Pro-Vice-Chancellor in 1974-75. He also served as a Delegate to the Oxford University Press throughout his time in Oxford (and at Cambridge served as a Syndic to its University Press). With less time for scholarship during these years, he nonetheless worked on two important monographs: Priscillian of Avila: the occult and the charismatic in the early Church (1976), and Boethius: the consolations of music, logic, theology and philosophy (1981), the latter certainly a work of love, enabling him to combine his theological and musical interests.

In the Seventies, Chadwick developed his theological – as opposed to his historical – side, during his membership of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which produced a series of important statements. By this time his earlier Evangelical convictions had mellowed, and he engaged in the conversations with enthusiasm. This commitment was deepened by his friendship with one of the Roman Catholic members of ARCIC, his near neighbour Edward Yarnold, at that time Master of Campion Hall. Chadwick was delighted when the Pope made him the gift of a stole.

In 1979, he resigned from the Deanship of Christ Church and returned to Cambridge as Regius Professor of Divinity. It was during this period that he gave the Sarum Lectures in Oxford (1982-83) on Augustine of Hippo, who became the focus of his interests in the 1980s. Elegantly condensed, his Sarum lectures became a book, Augustine (1986), in the Oxford Past Masters series. He also produced a fine translation of Augustine's Confessions (1991); the footnotes reveal the extent of the saint's indebtedness to Plotinus.

In 1983 Chadwick retired from Cambridge and returned to Oxford. Four years later, however, he accepted an invitation from Peterhouse, Cambridge, to become the Master in succession to Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre of Glanton). He remained there for six years, before finally retiring and returning to Oxford.

In the closing years of the millennium, Chadwick worked on producing for the series that he edited with his brother Owen, The Oxford History of the Christian Church, his volume, long promised, on the early Church: The Church in Ancient Society: from Galilee to Gregory the Great (2001). He also pursued research on the learned ninth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios, which combined many of his interests, including the relationship between classical learning and Christianity, as well as his by now well-developed interest in the reunion of Christendom. The planned book will never appear, but much of the research found a home in his East and West: the making of a rift in the Church (2003), another volume in the series edited with his brother.

Henry Chadwick was an exacting scholar, less concerned with theory than with the discovery of facts and their interrelation. He had a phenomenal memory, both of texts and the secondary literature. At some point, he added Coptic to his languages; he accumulated a vast personal library. Reading Chadwick, one is constantly amazed at the range and depth of his knowledge. The learned footnote, pursuing a train of hitherto unrelated facts, was his forte; even in the monographs, it is when the text recedes before the bulk of the footnote that one knows one is discovering a seam of gold.

Chadwick was generous with his learning. This generosity found various outlets. One was his long editorship of The Journal of Theological Studies, which, first with Hedley Sparks who invited him, he edited from 1953 to 1985. Many scholars, especially the young, benefited from Chadwick's generally laconic comments. The journal also provided scope for Chadwick's short, but penetrating, reviews. He edited various series: Oxford Early Christian Texts (from 1970), and Oxford Early Christian Studies (from 1990), which has now become perhaps the most revered series of patristic monographs.

He was a tall man, with a slight stoop that gave him a somewhat Olympian air, enhanced by his habitual courtesy. He did not so much speak as pronounce, though this did not diminish the warmth of his conversation. In lectures, however, he performed, and, a born rhetorician, gave impeccable scholarship elegant expression. In a story he told against himself, he used to relate how, when giving some lectures in America, he was struck by three girls who came faithfully to his lectures and listened without taking notes; towards the end of the series he asked them how they had liked his lectures, and they replied saying they had no interest in what he was saying but just loved listening to his voice. He was an adornment to the world of academe; we may never see his like again.

Andrew Louth

Henry Chadwick, priest, theologian and historian: born Bromley, Kent 23 June 1920; ordained deacon 1943, priest 1944; Assistant Master, Wellington College 1945; Fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge 1946-58 (Honorary Fellow 1958); Editor, The Journal of Theological Studies 1953-85; Regius Professor of Divinity, Oxford University 1959-69, Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1974-75; Canon, Christ Church, Oxford 1959-69, Dean 1969-79 (Honorary Student 1979); Delegate, Oxford University Press 1960-79; FBA 1960; Gifford Lecturer, St Andrews University 1962-64; Regius Professor of Divinity, Cambridge University 1979-83 (Emeritus); Honorary Canon, Ely Cathedral 1979-83; Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge 1987-93 (Honorary Fellow 1993); KBE 1989; married 1945 Margaret Brownrigg (three daughters); died Oxford 17 June 2008.