OBITUARIES : The Rev Professor Basil Hall

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The Independent Online
Basil Hall was one of the finest Church historians in Britain. He pursued excellence, and the result was that for a man of his outstanding gifts and knowledge he published little - a book of essays, Protestants and Humanists, and a number of indi vidual essays and chapters in books. These are very fine and break new ground in a whole range of topics. He was asked to write a chapter on the history of the English Bible and was assured that it should only take him a couple of months. He spent more t han two years on it. It is definitive.

He set the highest standards of scholarship for himself, and expected the same integrity in others. Hence some sharp reviews and judgements. His review of the Reformation volume of The New Cambridge Modern History, in the Journal of Theological Studies (1960), was headed "The Reformation without Tarrying for Theology". Hall realised that one could not understand the Reformation if the central preoccupation of the Reformers was rationalised into some social or political concern. Indeed, Hall lea rnt his own theology largely from Calvin, with his emphasis on the Incarnation, not from the Scholastic Calvinism of the post-Calvinists, which separated the divine decrees of God from His self-revelation in Christ. He combined this in a creative way wit h his study of Christian Humanism, and showed a common basis for Catholic and Protestant reformers such as Erasmus, Bucer, Cranmer and Calvin himself..

Hall was born in Ryton-on-Tyne, studied English at Durham University, then Theology at Westminster College, Cambridge and at Cambridge University, and was ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church of England. He served in the Presbyterian congregations of Gateshead and Brighton Avenue and Blundellsands.

Hall was then appointed to teach Church History at the College of the Welsh Presbyterian Church at Aberystwyth. He later returned to Cambridge as a lecturer in the Divinity Faculty and then as Professor of Church History in Westminster College alongside his lectureship. In 1967 he was appointed Professor of Church History at Manchester, but later returned to Cambridge as Dean of St John's College, until illness forced his retirement to Exeter, where he held an Honorary Lectureship in the Department of Theology.

Hall was a man of deep piety. He had little time for biblical fundamentalism which reduced the Bible to a series of biblical precedents, or church tradition which put worship into an antiquarian straitjacket.

This led to a rather lonely pilgrimage and to some misunderstanding. His ideal was that of a Catholic Church Reformed, emphasising grace alone. It was hard to find, and those content with a lesser standard of churchmanship could be subject to his rebuke.But it went with a smile which showed no malice.

George Yule Basil Hall, church historian, priest: born Ryton-on-Tyne, Northumberland 23 June 1915; Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Manchester University 1967-75; Dean, St John's College, Cambridge 1975-80; married 1948 Valerie Mills (one daughter); died Villars , Switzerland 2 October 1994.