Obituary: Canon Professor H. E. W. Turner

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The Independent Online
The death of Hugh Turner - his baptismal names were Henry Ernest William, but to friends and colleagues he was always Hugh - removes an original and unforgettable personality, more characteristic, perhaps, of an earlier Anglican clerical tradition than that of today.

Deeply learned - he had that almost conventional triple Oxford First of his generation in Classical Moderations, Litterae Humaniores and Theology; quietly patriotic - he had been an RAF chaplain in the Middle East during the Second World War and proudly wore his campaign medals on Remembrance Sunday; he was also a devoted pastor, as generations of Durham University theological students discovered.

Turner's own theology was of the Evangelical tradition, complemented and matured by a love of the Fathers of the Church, with a devotion to St Athanasius and a particular interest in the Christological controversies of the 5th century. His personal beliefs were strictly orthodox, and his Bampton Lectures, The Pattern of Christian Truth, delivered in 1954, represented a defence of the classic Christian understanding of the descent of doctrine from the teaching of Christ and the tradition of the Apostles against the view of Walter Bauer that there was originally no clear-cut distraction between orthodoxy and heresy. This conviction of the faith once delivered to the saints remained with him, causing him on one occasion to offer to redraft the Thirty-Nine Articles in modern idiom, to express their content while retaining their theology for the benefit of those who could not understand 16th-century English.

Small in stature, like Napoleon, Turner possessed something of Napoleon's prodigious energy, which could be disturbing to others lacking his stamina. He collected stamps, but generally expressed himself by an appetite for work which was not always shared. Besides being head of the Durham University Department of Theology, he was for many years sub-dean of Durham Cathedral. On one occasion he called on his colleague, the Chapter Clerk, late in the evening, with papers relating to cathedral matters, only to be repelled in the best naval tradition by the Clerk, a retired admiral, who remarked that he had an office for such business and would discuss it in the morning. University colleagues were likewise often disconcerted by their chairman's readiness to write minutes or to convene sub-committees.

Hugh Turner was not, however, simply a machine for the production of theological studies or administrative documents. He had a deeply devotional nature, nourished by the Prayer Book and the Authorised Version of the Bible. In his lectures he maintained the ancient university practice of beginning with prayer, since for him theological study was itself an act of worship. For similar reasons he liked to celebrate Holy Communion on the feast day of his hero, St Athanasius of Alexandria (2 May). In his retirement he assisted at his parish church in Cumbria, and it gave him pleasure that the worshippers could not detect any liturgical difference between his conduct of the services and that of the vicar, a product of the Anglo-Catholic College of St Chad, Durham.

Despite his dedication to work and scholarship, Turner was not indifferent to good food or to a glass of wine or beer. His pipe-smoking was a legend among his colleagues - his grandchildren referred to him as "Grandpa Smokey" - though some observers had the impression that he smoked as many matches as he did tobacco. He was devoted to his wife, Constance, and to his family, and would go to immense trouble to help an individual who felt called to the ordained ministry. He was not the easiest of men to work with, but no one could doubt the sincerity of his deeply held Christian convictions.

Gerald Bonner

Henry Ernest William Turner, priest and theologian: born 14 January 1907; ordained deacon 1931, priest 1932; Fellow, Chaplain and Tutor, Lincoln College, Oxford 1935-50; Canon Residentiary, Durham Cathedral 1950-73, Treasurer 1956-73, Sub-Dean 1959-73, Acting Dean 1973; Lightfoot Professor of Divinity, Durham University 1950-58, Van Mildert Professor of Divinity 1958-73 (Emeritus); DD 1955; married 1936 Constance Parker (two sons); died 14 December 1995.