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Roman Protomartyrs

Today’s the feast of the first Roman Martyrs. Theirs is a story you just have to hear. But first we have to backtrack a little bit.

In July of A.D. 64, during the tenth year of Nero’s reign, a great fire consumed much of the city of Rome. The fire raged out of control for seven days — and then it started again, mysteriously, a day later. Many in Rome knew that Nero had been eager to do some urban redevelopment. He had a plan that included an opulent golden palace for himself. The problem was that so many buildings were standing in his way — many of them teeming wooden tenements housing Rome’s poor and working class.

The fire seemed too convenient for Nero’s purposes — and his delight in watching the blaze didn’t relieve anybody’s suspicions. If he didn’t exactly fiddle while Rome burned, he at least recited his poems. Nero needed a scapegoat, and an upstart religious cult, Jewish in origin and with foreign associations, served his purposes well. Nero, who was a perverse expert at human torment, had some of its members tortured till they were so mad they would confess to any crime. Once they had confessed, he had others arrested.

He must have known, however, that the charges would not hold up. So he condemned them not for arson, or treason, or conspiracy, but for “hatred of humanity.”

To amuse the people, he arranged for their execution to be a spectacle, entertainment on a grand scale. The Roman historian Tacitus (who had contempt for the religion, but greater contempt for Nero) describes in gruesome detail the tortures that took place amid a party in Nero’s gardens.

Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open the gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in a chariot. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being punished.

That is all we know about the first Roman martyrs. We know none of their names. Tacitus doesn’t tell us why they were willing to die this way rather than renounce their faith. Yet this should be an important question for us to consider. Why did the martyrs do this? What prepared them to face death so bravely? To what exactly did they bear witness with their death?

The answers to these questions (and many more) can be found in the rest of the article, at the archive of Touchstone Magazine. The article originated in a talk I gave in Rome in 2005 on the feast of the Roman Martyrs. It’s called “The Roman Martyrs and Their Mass.” You can get the talk on MP3 right here. It’s free, of course.

I also treat the subject in my book The Resilient Church: The Glory, the Shame, & the Hope for Tomorrow.

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Chrysostom Lost and Found?

Roger Pearse may be on the trail of a long-lost English translation of Chrysostom’s letters.

My interest was sparked by a sentence in Richard W. Pfaff, The Library of the Fathers: The Tractarians as Patristic Translators, Studies in Philology 70 (1973), p.329f. This paper discusses the history of the Oxford Movement series of English translations. On p.335-6 he says: “Two of the envisaged volumes of Chrysostom never appeared: a selection of letters and the treatise On the Priesthood. The translation of letters had been undertaken before the series began by John Jebb, bishop of Limerick (d. 1833) and was completed by his son, also John, by at least 1852, but for some reason was never published.”

Now this is exciting stuff! For there is no English translation of the letters of Chrysostom, even now. Just imagine if this manuscript were still around.

I hope all the RC readers of this are saying the St. Anthony prayer right now.

Read the rest of the story.

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Feast of a Modern “Man of the Fathers”

Today, June 26, is the memorial of St. Josemaria Escriva, the 20th-century priest who founded Opus Dei, a path to holiness through ordinary work, family life, friendship, and such — the stuff of everyday life. His is a decidedly modern spirit, but he conceived it as a retrieval of the way of the “early Christians” (his preferred term). Opus Dei was, he said, “as old as the Gospel and, like the Gospel, ever new.” He often cited the authority of the Church Fathers. A quick scan of his books online at EscrivaWorks yields many passages from Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Ambrose, Justin Martyr, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great, Jerome, lots and lots from John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great, and dozens from Augustine.

These early Christians were not mere ornaments on his pet project. His vocation was itself a return to the sources — the pre-Nicene sources of the life and labor of ordinary, faithful Christians. The journalist John L. Allen, in his book on Opus Dei, described just how radical St. Josemaria’s vision was: “The idea of priests and laity, men and women, all part of one organic whole, sharing the same vocation and carrying out the same apostolic tasks, has not been part of the Catholic tradition, at least since the early centuries.”

Back in the 1990s (before St. Josemaria’s canonization), the theologian Domingo Ramos-Lissón wrote an excellent study of the man’s patristic influences. It’s titled “The Example of the Early Christians in Blessed Josemaria’s Teachings,” and it’s available free online at the website of the magazine Romana.

Scott Hahn has written what I consider the finest appreciation of St. Josemaria’s reliance on the Fathers. It’s in his recently released book Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei. The whole book is great. You really should own it!

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Maximus Maximized

Here is Teresa Benedetta’s translation of Pope Benedict’s audience talk on St. Maximus. Raise a prayer, please, for this generous lady, who dutifully and promptly provides same-day translations of the pope’s Sunday Angelus and Wednesday audience addresses every blessed week!

Dear brothers and sisters,

I wish to present today the figure of one of the great Fathers of the Oriental Church in later times. He is the monk St. Maximus who merited from Christian Tradition the title of Confessor for the intrepid courage with which he bore witness – ‘confessed’ – even through suffering, to the integrity of his faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Savior of the world.

Maximus was born in Palestine, the homeland of our Lord, around 580. From his childhood, he was attracted to the monastic life and the study of Scriptures, through the works of Origen, the great master who in the third century had already managed to define the Alexandrian exegetic tradition.

From Jerusalem, Maximus transferred to Constantinople, and from there, because of the barbarian invasions, he sought refuge in Africa. There, he distinguished himself with extreme courage in defense of (Catholic) orthodoxy.

Maximus did not accept any attempt to minimize Christ’s humanity. The theory had emerged that Christ had only one will, the divine. To defend the uniqueness of his being, these advocates rejected that he had his own human will.

At first glance, it might appear that it was good to say Christ only had one will. But St. Maximus saw right away that this would have destroyed the mystery of salvation, because humanness without its own will, a man without his own will, would not be a true man, would have been an amputated man. Therefore the man Jesus Christ would not have been a true man and would not have lived the drama of being human, which consists precisely in the difficulty of conforming our will to the truth of being.

Thus, St. Maximus affirmed with great decision: the Sacred Scripture does not show us an amputated man, without a will, but a complete true man. God, in Jesus Christ, had truly assumed the totality of being human – obviously, except for sin – and therefore, he had a human will. Stated that way, the question was clear: Christ is either a true man or not.

If he is man, then he has human will. But the problem then arises: do we not end up with a dualism? Is this not affirming two complete personalities with reason, will, and feeling? How to overcome this dualism, conserve the completeness of the human being in Christ, and still safeguard the unity of his person, who certainly was no schizophrenic?

St. Maximus demonstrated that man finds his unity, the integration of self, his totality, not in himself, but overcoming himself, getting out of himself. Thus, in Christ, man, stepping out of himself, finds God, the Son of God, and thus, he finds himself.

One need not ‘amputate’ the human Christ to explain the Incarnation. One must simply understand the dynamics of the human being who realizes himself only by stepping out of himself. It is only in God that we find ourselves, our totality and our completeness.

And so we see that it is not the man who is closed in on himself who is the complete man, but it is the man who opens up, who steps out of himself – it is he who becomes complete, who finds himself in the Son of God, finds in him his true humanity.

For St. Maximus, this vision was not merely philosophical speculation: he saw it realized in the actual life of Jesus, especially in the drama of Gethsemane. In that drama of Jesus’s agony, of his anguish about death, of the opposition between the human desire not to die and the divine will which offers the self to death, the entire human drama is played out, the drama of our redemption.

St. Maximus tells us – and we know this is true: Adam (Adam is we ourselves) thought that saying NO was the peak of freedom, that only he who could say No would be truly free, that in order to truly realize his freedom, man should say No to God; that only in that way he will finally be himself, arriving at the peak of freedom.

This tendency was also inherent in Christ’s human nature, but he overcame it, because Jesus saw that No did not represent maximum freedom. Maximum freedom is saying Yes – conformity with the will of God. Only in that Yes does man truly become himself. Only in the great openness of a Yes, in uniting his will with the divine will, can man become immensely open and become ‘divine’.

Adam’s desire was to be like God, meaning, to be completely free. But the man who is closed in on himself is not divine nor is he free. He will be, if he comes out of himself – he will be free when he says Yes. That was the drama of Gethsemane: ‘not my will, but yours, be done”. Transferring one’s will to the divine will, that is how a true man is born. That is how we are redeemed.

In brief, this was the fundamental point that St. Maximus wished to say, and we see that the entirety of being human is in question here, the entire question of our life.

St. Maximus already had problems in Africa defending this vision of man and God. Then he was called to Rome. In 649, he took active part in the Lateran Council, called by Pope Martin I to defend the two wills of Christ, against the edict of the emperor who, in the interests of peace, had forbidden any discussion of the issue.

Pope Martin had to pay a high price for his courage. Although he was in poor health, he was arrested and taken to Constantinople. Tried and condemned to death, his penalty was commutated to exile in the Crimea, where he died on September 16, 655, after two long years of humiliation and torture.

Not much later, in 662, it was the turn of Maximus who – also opposing the emperor – continued to insist: “It is impossible to state that Christ had only one will!” (cfr PG 91, cc 268-269). So, together with two of his disciples, both named Anastasius, Maximus underwent an exhausting trial at a time when he was already past 80.

The imperial tribunal condemned him for heresy to the cruel mutilation of his tongue and his right hand – the two organs through which, in words and writing, Maximus had fought the erroneous doctrine that Christ only had one will.

Finally, the holy monk, thus mutilated, was exiled to the Colchides on the Black Sea where he died at the age of 82, worn out by the sufferings he had undergone, on August 13 of that same year, 662.

Speaking of the life of Maximus, we already referred to his literary work in defense of orthodoxy. We refer in particular to the Dispute with Pirrus, then Patriarch of Constantinople, in which Maximus succeeded to persuade his adversary of his errors. With great honesty, in fact, Pirrus concludes the Dispute this way: “I beg pardon for myself and for those who came before me: through ignorance we reached these absurd thoughts and arguments; I pray that a way may be found to annul this absurdity, while saving the memory of those who erred” (PG 91, c. 352).

Dozens of his important works have come down to us, among which the Mistagoghia stands out, one of St. Maximus’s most important writings which puts together his theological thinking in well-structured synthesis.

St. Maximus’s was not just theological, speculative thinking that was folded in on itself, because it was always oriented towards the concrete reality of the world and its salvation. In this context, for which he had to suffer, he could not avoid philosophical statements that were theoretical: he had to find the sense of life, asking himself: who am I, what is the world?

To man, created in his image and likeness, God had entrusted the mission of unifying the cosmos. Just as Christ had unified man to himself, in man, the Creator had unified the cosmos. He showed us how to unify the cosmos in communion with Christ and thus arrive at a truly redeemed world.

One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, Hans Urs von Balthasar, referred to this powerful saving vision when, in ‘re-launching’ the figure of Maximus, he defined his thinking as the representative expression of ‘cosmic liturgy’.

In the center of this solemn liturgy is always Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. The efficacy of his saving action, which definitively unified the cosmos, is guaranteed by the fact that he, although he is God in everything, is also integrally a man, with the ‘energy’ and the will of man.

The life and thought of Maximus remain powerfully illuminated by his immense courage in bearing witness to the integral reality of Christ, without any reduction or compromise. Thus what and who man really is emerges, and how we should live to respond to our calling.

We should live united with God, in order to be united to ourselves and to the cosmos, giving the cosmos itself and mankind the correct form. Christ’s universal Yes also shows us clearly how to give the right context to all other values.

Let us think of values that are rightly defended today such as tolerance, freedom, dialog. A tolerance that can no longer discern good from evil becomes chaotic and self-destructive. In the same way, freedom that does not respect the freedom of others and fails to see the common measure of our respective freedoms, would become anarchy and would destroy authority. Dialog which no longer knows what there is to dialog about becomes empty chatter.

All these values are great and fundamental, but they can remain true values only if they have a unifying reference point to give them authenticity. This reference point is the synthesis of God and the cosmos – the person of Christ in whom we learn the truth about ourselves, and thus learn to place all other values in context because we would discover their authentic meaning.

Jesus Christ is the reference point who gives light to all other values. This is the end point of the testimony by the great Confessor. Thus, ultimately, Christ shows us that the cosmos should become liturgy, the glory of God, and that adoration is the start of true transformation, of the true renewal of the world.

And so I wish to end with a fundamental passage from the works of St. Maximus: “We adore the only Son, together with the Father and teh Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, as it is now, and for all times, and the times after time. Amen.”

St. Maximus is a must-read. Here are two great places to start: On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press “Popular Patristics” Series) and Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality Series).

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To the Max

The Holy Father spoke today on St. Maximus the Confessor. I haven’t yet found a translation. Here’s Catholic News Service‘s coverage:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — If values like tolerance, freedom and dialogue do not have Jesus as their point of reference, they lose their true meaning and can lead to chaos, anarchy and empty chatter, Pope Benedict XVI said.

It is from Jesus that “we learn the truth about ourselves” and how to understand all the values that are upheld rightfully in the world, he said during his June 25 general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

“Tolerance that doesn’t know how to distinguish between good and evil would become chaotic and self-destructive” while absolute freedom that ignores the rights of others “becomes anarchy and destroys authority,” he said.

“Dialogue that no longer knows what it should talk about becomes empty chatter” unless it and all the other great values in the world have a point of reference in the truth which is Christ — “the one absolute value, to whom all worldly values are directed,” he said.

The pope’s remarks were part of his catechesis highlighting the life and teachings of St. Maximus of Constantinople, a monk and doctor of the church who lived in the sixth and seventh centuries.

The pope said this Palestinian-born saint was “a heroic defender” of the church’s teaching in the true humanity of Christ during a time of bitter controversy over Christ’s humanity and divinity.

But the saint knew the negation of Christ’s human will “destroys the mystery of salvation,” the pope said.

He said St. Maximus understood that the salvation of humanity depends on Christ becoming completely and fully human, which includes the freedom to choose to cooperate with divine will.

“Adam — and this Adam includes us — thought that saying ‘no’ would be the greatest freedom; only he who can say ‘no’ would be truly free,” the pope said. Adam believed saying “no” to God would mean he would finally be free to be himself and could realize his full potential, the pope said.

This temptation in human nature was present even in Jesus but he overcame it, said Pope Benedict.

Jesus saw it was not by denying God’s will, but by saying “yes” to God’s plan that brought about “the greatest freedom,” the pope said.

People become their true selves only when they unite with the will of the divine, he said.

“Only by leaving ourselves behind, by being outside ourselves and in God do we find ourselves and our totality and completeness,” he said.

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Motown Patristics

A feast of the Fathers convenes in Detroit July 7-10 with the Orientale Lumen Conference. The theme is “Feast Days of the Eastern Churches.” The organizers have reduced the price for the conference by half — a discount of $200 from the announced fees.
It’s not too late to register online, or download the registration form and fax it in.
The website is here, and the registration form is here. Phone number is

Please, please spread the word.


Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia
Greek Orthodox Church
Oxford, England

Archbishop Nathaniel
Romanian Orthodox Episcopate, OCA
Detroit, MI, USA

Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim
Chaldean Catholic Church
Detroit, MI, USA

Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ
Pontifical Oriental Institute
Rome, Italy

Father Thomas Loya
Byzantine Catholic Church
Chicago, IL, USA

Sister Vassa Larin
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia
Munich, Germany

Dr. Richard Schneider
Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, OCA
New York, NY, USA

Bishop Nicholas Samra (Moderator)
Melkite Greek-Catholic Church
Detroit, MI, USA

Each speaker will give a plenary session followed by a panel discussion and questions from the audience.

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The Oracles: “Hell-Tourism” and More

Bryn Mawr Classical Review takes note of a new edition of a very ancient, and very unusual, Christian work: The Sibylline Oracles: With Introduction, Translation, and Commentary on the First and Second Books (ed. J.L. Lightfoot). The Oracles are “Judaeo-Christian texts that adopt the narrator, form, and language of Greek hexameter poetry and oracles.”

L. sees the author of Books I-II unequivocally as a Christian of the second century AD (150), basing her terminus post quem on her revivification and expansion of the thesis of M.R. James that sees Books I-II (but especially II) as particularly indebted to the Apocalypse of Peter. L. brings further order to the text by convincingly showing how the borrowings of hellish scenes from Apoc. Petr. interact with the wholesale importation of the ethical teachings of ps.-Phocylides. L. shows that this section, far from being embarrassingly discrete, in fact is the “positive correlate of the depiction of hellish punishments” (147) in the “hell-tourism” of Book 2.254-283, thus bringing order and sense to what before was considered proof of the generic chaos of apocalyptic literature.

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Master Stroke!

Jesuit Father Raymond Gawronski has this to say about the book I co-authored with Father Kris Stubna, Take 5: On the Job Meditations With St. Ignatius:

Take 5 is a very rich collection of gems from the very practical yet profound wisdom of St. Ignatius Loyola, one of the greatest spiritual masters the world has known. The authors have mined the deep veins of St. Ignatius’ many writings to present a most helpful and balanced overview of what it is to be an active apostle in the marketplace. It is a work that Jesuits have been doing for centuries: that is, helping people in the world order their lives according to God’s plan to live the mission that God shares with us in Jesus. Now, in our time which has been re-discovering the mystical dimension of the spiritual life Take 5 offers a fine, solid and much needed help toward laying the ascetical foundation that is the key to “finding God in all things.”

That means much coming from EWTN’s own Ignatian master! In a note to us, he added: “I greatly enjoyed the book, and really do believe it is a fine contribution. It is wonderfully sober — a key spiritual virtue — and very thorough and solid in its research and presentation. So congratulations and thanks…! May the work prosper!”

Don’t forget to buy copies for your co-workers! It’s a low, low price.

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Back to the Breast

The Missus and I wrote an essay on breastfeeding imagery in the Fathers, “Milk and Mystery,” and it’s included in the collection Catholic for a Reason IV: Scripture and the Mystery of Marriage and Family Life. In my soon-to-be-released book, Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, I treat the subject a bit more. On the blog, I’ve talked about it here and here and here.

Now comes the Vatican Newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, to confirm my conclusions. CNS reports:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The loving, tender images of Mary breast-feeding the baby Jesus need an artistic and spiritual rehabilitation, said the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

A vast iconography of traditional Christian art has been “censored by the modern age” because images depicting Our Lady’s naked breast for her child were deemed too “unseemly,” the paper said June 19.

Artists began depicting a fully clothed nursing Mary in sacred art in an attempt to make her seem less “carnal,” but the depictions unfortunately also diminished her human, loving and tender side “that touches the hearts and faith of the devout,” the newspaper said.

The article, titled “Those Marys, Too Human, Censored by the Modern Age,” was written by Christian historian Lucetta Scaraffia. It was one of two articles commenting on the release of a two-volume work documenting the variety in iconography and history of Mary. The work, “The Sword and Milk,” by Tommaso Claudio Mineo, was published recently only in Italian by Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University and presented to the public at a Vatican-sponsored event June 17.

The Vatican paper published the two commentaries in its June 19 edition along with a Renaissance portrait of Mary baring her breast, nursing a swaddled baby Jesus.

Salesian Father Enrico dal Covolo, a professor of classic and Christian literature at the Pontifical Salesian University, said in his commentary that a nursing Mary represents an interesting paradox: “He who gives nourishment to all things, Mary included, now lets himself be nourished by her.

“The Virgin Mary who nurses her son Jesus is one of the most eloquent signs that the word of God truly and undoubtedly became flesh,” he wrote. And it was only by becoming fully human that the Son of God could save humanity from sin and death, the priest wrote.

Scaraffia said that when the early Christian theologians wrote about and artists represented Our Lady breast-feeding they were showing “concrete proof” of God’s incarnation.

“Jesus was a baby like all others. … His divinity does not exclude his humanity,” she wrote.

This kind of Marian iconography can be traced back to Egypt and early Christian times, but it ends around the 16th or 17th century, both authors said.

Scaraffia wrote that the Protestant movement was quite critical of “the carnality and unbecoming nature of many sacred images.” Even though Catholicism rejected this view, the condemnations still affected the church’s approach to sacred art, as evidenced by artists later covering up the naked forms in the Sistine Chapel, she wrote.

The splintered views concerning the sanctity of the human body were not repaired and therefore an “artistic and spiritual rehabilitation” of a breast-feeding baby Jesus is needed, she wrote.

She said the sacred image of Mary nursing her child is “an image so concrete and loving” that it recalls her offering her body for nourishment and giving herself completely to her son as he offers his body and blood in the Eucharist and gave himself completely for others with his death and resurrection.

The earliest images of Mary, in the Roman Catacombs and in the Egyptian desert, depict her as a nursing mother.

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Interesting Development

“In a recent interview with the German ecumenical journal Cyril and Methodius, Patriarch … Bartholomew I invited Eastern Catholic Churches to return to Orthodoxy without breaking unity with Rome … According to the Orthodox hierarch, the form of coexistence of the Byzantine Church and the Roman Church in the 1st century of Christianity should be used as a model of unity … At the same time, the patriarch made positive remarks about the idea of “dual unity” proposed by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Lubomyr (Husar).” Anyone know more about this?

Hat tip: Father Gregory at Koinonia.

UPDATE: CWN provides more detail.

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Vintage Vintage

National Geographic gives us more detail on that wine press near St. Catherine’s in Sinai: “Two wine presses found in Egypt were likely part of the area’s earliest winery, producing holy wine for export to Christians abroad, archaeologists say. Egyptian archaeologists discovered the two presses with large crosses carved across them near St. Catherine’s Monastery, a sixth-century A.D. complex near Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula.”

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Henry Chadwick, R.I.P.

From the Telegraph:

The Very Reverend Professor Henry Chadwick, who died on Tuesday aged 87, was one of the last great Anglican scholars.
When people said that the intellectual life of the Church of England was not what it was, it was, in correction, to the four Chadwick brothers that it was possible to turn.

They emerged from the secure professional class, sons of a barrister from Bromley in Kent, and were educated in a fashion intended to prepare them for lives of dedicated service. One became a diplomat, and three were ordained in the Established Church, in which they rose to positions both of formal distinction and of deserved respect.

But the style of churchmanship espoused by Henry Chadwick was always difficult to determine.

Born on June 23 1920, Henry Chadwick was educated at Eton, where he was a King’s Scholar in a 1930s atmosphere which did not encourage ritual inventiveness, or much inventiveness of any kind. From there he went to Magdalene College, Cambridge, on a Music Scholarship.

He was trained for ministry at the still distinctly evangelical Ridley Hall, in Cambridge, from 1942, and raised to the priesthood in 1944.

His first appointment was as an assistant master at Wellington College.

Nothing in this early ministry indicated that Chadwick was to become one of the most incorporative figures in the Church of England, a man sympathetic to, and very well acquainted with, the Roman Catholic Church; a traditionalist who appeared to adhere to no particular group within Anglicanism; and an advocate of ecumenism whose actual sympathies lay tantalisingly beyond sight.

For a person so generous in advising those who sought out his wisdom, Chadwick’s internal conclusions about the everlasting balancing act which is the essence of Anglicanism always remained uncharacteristically unarticulated. Like his brother Owen, he never seems to have sought, and certainly never accepted, ecclesiastical preferment – except in the ambiguous sense that the Deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, was, essentially, in his day (1969-79), an academic post.

He was a successor to the Victorian clerical intellectuals, a man whose involvement with the organisation of the Church was advisory rather than directive, who was never visibly partisan; he always gave to the interests of the institutions which he served both altruism and sound judgment.

After religion, the great passion of Chadwick’s life was music. Unlike those Anglicans who persist in confusing aesthetic sensation with religious experience, however, Chadwick never raised his musical interests to the level of dogma. It was a civilised entertainment shared, happily, by his wife Peggy, whom he married in 1945.

Peggy was enormously discreet, and a delightful hostess in the two master’s lodges she inhabited.

From 1946 Chadwick was Chaplain of Queens’ College, Cambridge, and he became Dean of the College in 1950. It was just the right place from which to launch an academic career, since Queens’ was friendly, not large, religiously ordinary (lacking, that is to say, any party enthusiasms) and intellectually secure.

Everyone thought the Chadwicks an ideal couple to preside over the religious life of the undergraduates who still resorted to Chapel in reasonable numbers.

Yet Chadwick’s capabilities had, of course, been known to others, especially since the publication of his work Origen, Contra Celsum in 1953 (which later went into several editions). His reputation as an expositor of the teachings of the Early Fathers became early established, and has always remained unchallenged.

Chadwick’s contribution to patristic scholarship was uncontroversially distinguished and of great utility. It seemed a natural progression, therefore, when he became Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1959, and Dean of Christ Church 10 years later.

Thereafter innumerable academic distinctions were awarded by learned bodies in Europe and North America. He had moved, effortlessly, so it seemed, to the forefront of Anglican divines.

Yet a progression which in most cases would have seemed to have attained fulfilment turned out, in Chadwick’s case, to be a transit to still further dimensions of service. After retirement from Christ Church in 1979, he became a Fellow of Magdalene, Cambridge, and was then, from 1987 to 1993, Master of Peterhouse.

In each place his reputation for wisdom and courtesy to his colleagues preceded him, and in each in turn he was able to bring accumulating knowledge of the ways of academe.

Nor did the college business in which he had, all his life, been necessarily enveloped inhibit his scholarly output. Of his many publications the Pelican Early Church (1967) and Augustine (1986) have perhaps proved of greatest service to those seeking insights into early Christianty.

The Mastership of Peterhouse was a particularly revealing final distinction, since Peterhouse is also a college with an established tradition of historical scholarship. His success as Master was cogent testimony to his eirenic qualities.

At first meeting people tended to find Chadwick rather grand. This indicated, however, simply a mannerism: his kindness to those he met even quite casually, and to undergraduates, was remarkable, and his courtesy to his academic and clerical colleagues – in two professions hardly noted for emancipation from disputation – was quite extraordinary.

There hung about him a certain sense of integrity and solidity, and yet what his actual principles were was somehow always difficult to express. His churchmanship escaped categorisation: so did his political preferences and his attitudes to the moral transformations which characterised the social customs of his time.

There has always been, about the Church of England, a certain imprecision when it comes to doctrinal formulation, and those most successful as Anglican churchmen are those who know how best to devise forms of words and constructs or accommodations which allow people of otherwise plainly incompatible beliefs to inhabit the same dwelling-place.

Chadwick was a master of the art. Unlike lesser men who attempted these skills, however, his labours were inspired by honesty of purpose and an apparently genuine conviction that the Anglican Communion had an unassailable integrity.

The limits to his methods, on the other hand, became apparent at meetings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in its sessions between 1969 and 1981, and again from 1983 to 1990, when the Anglican penchant for resolving differences by devising accommodations based upon ambiguous verbal formulations had limited effect on the professionals of the Vatican.

Early successes at agreement were over simpler differences; when it came to ecclesiology, to the nature of religious authority, the Anglican methods proved sterile. Chadwick was personally disappointed: an important aspect of what he had correctly seen as a life’s work had driven itself into the sands. He always treasured a vestment which the Pope had given him.

Chadwick lived through huge changes in both the great institutions he served – learning and the Church. He adapted with astonishing ease, especially in view of his seemingly inherent traditionalism.

In 1968 Chadwick became vice-president of the British Academy. He was appointed KBE in 1989.

Henry Chadwick is survived by his wife and three daughters.