Letter: Lord Hailsham's good theology

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The Independent Online
Sir: The writer of your profile in last Saturday's Independent (5 February) of the Bishop of Durham, Dr David Jenkins, is scathing about Conservative theologians in general - 'little knowledge is demanded of the prominent theologians in the Conservative Party' - and rather offensive about Lord Hailsham in particular - 'none outdid in pompous absurdity Lord Hailsham'.

I was personal assistant to Lord Hailsham for the two years (1957-59) that he was chairman of the Conservative Party. We often talked about religion and theology and I was much impressed by the depth of his knowledge and the breadth of his reading. That, however, is not the point of this letter. I do not qualify as a Conservative theologian, prominent or not.

It was sometime in 1958 that Lord Hailsham and I spent a night at Downside Abbey, after attending a political rally in Bristol. I had telephoned my old headmaster, Dom Christopher Butler, who was then Abbot of Downside to arrange for us to stay. Abbot Butler, later to become Bishop Butler, was already recognised to be one of the outstanding theological scholars of his time.

We received a warm welcome and after a brief discussion of contemporary politics in which I participated, they turned to religion and theology and talked for over two hours. This time I only listened.

The following morning, before leaving to catch the train from Bath, I spent a few minutes on my own with Abbot Butler when he wished me well in my political career, but what struck me was what he said about Lord Hailsham. I made a note in my diary.

I enjoyed our evening enormously. Your present master is a remarkable man and I like him very much indeed. You know, if he had not chosen politics he would have been a really great theologian.

I find Bishop Butler's judgement more persuasive than the slighting comment of your anonymous writer.

Yours faithfully,


London, SW3

7 February