Henry Chadwick, RIP

Thanks to Cathy Kaveny at Dotcommonweal for noticing this. The great church historian Henry Chadwick, author of the beautifully written study, "The Early Church," has died at age 87, in Oxford, England. The obituary from The New York Times is here. My favorite passage from that fascinating book concerned one of the early church’s Christological controversies (that is, theological questions concerning the nature of Jesus Christ). One major participant in these controversies was the fourth-century priest Arius, whose theology, which held that (in brief) Jesus was a "created" being, is termed "Arianism." Professor Chadwick wrote that these controversies engaged not simply theologians but also the common folk. And, wrote Chadwick, Arius "enjoyed an immense following among young women and among the dockers for whom he wrote ’theological sea shanties.’" It was the first and only time I would encounter the phrase "theological sea shanties." On a more serious note, it is worth remembering Chadwick’s most famous comment, which the Times recounted in its obituary. "His most quoted line, spoken during a debate at the Anglicans’ General Synod in 1988, summarizes his own life’s work of finding answers in history. Professor Chadwick said, ’Nothing is sadder than someone who has lost his memory, and the church which has lost its memory is in the same state of senility.’" Amen. James Martin, S.J.

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