The Rev. Owen Chadwick, a prominent British scholar of Christianity, died on July 17 at 99 years old. He leaves behind a legacy that made him an authority on the history of religion and the churches and defended their credibility against secular ideas.
In his obituary, Marcus Williams of The Independent called Chadwick "one of the greatest religious historians of our time." The British scholar believed that "modern historical consciousness arose within Christendom."
"History tells of the experience of the human race," Chadwick wrote.
According to an obituary published in The Telegraph, Chadwick, an Anglican preacher, devoted most of his career to studying post-Reformation history, especially "the English Church, state and society since the industrial and French revolutions." He surveyed religious life in Britain in the 19th century in his two-part publication, The Victorian Church.
"Although it was based on a quite astonishing range of research, The Victorian Church was - typically for Chadwick - essentially a personal interpretation," the Telegraph wrote. "It showed less interest in dissent than in the establishment, less liking for evangelicals than for the Oxford Movement, and less love for town than for country. If some critics accused him of lack of balance, they were unable to fault his analysis of the politics of established churchmanship."
The Telegraph reported that Chadwick, who was a school captain and a captain of rugby at Tonbridge, later went on to play for Cambridge against Oxford, taking his team to victory in 1938 at Twickenham. That same year, however, he came under the influence of Martin Charlesworth and German pastor Martin Niemöller, who was arrested by Nazis in his country.
"In that moment, Niemöller looked from England like the European conscience standing on moral principle against tyranny; the freest man in Germany despite his confinement," Chadwick wrote.
According to the Independent, that pivotal event would give him a "sense of moral direction taken from history" that would stay with him for life."
"Graduating with a First in History, he went on to Cuddesdon College and was ordained into the Church of England in 1941," Williams wrote. "He later wrote a history of the college which had meant so much to him, The Founding of Cuddesdon (1954). Curacies at Huddersfield and Wellington College followed; the latter he considered as his contribution to the war effort, given the college's then strong military connections."
The Telegraph reported that Chadwick was installed as Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, in 1956. During that time, it was not a full part of the university yet.
"Chadwick was Master of Selwyn for 27 years, during which time the college acquired full status as a university college, undertook an extensive building program, increased its complement of students (women were admitted in 1976) and more than doubled the numbers of postgraduates and fellows," Telegraph wrote.
According to the Independent, Chadwick looked at secular responses to Christianity in the 1973-74 Gifford Lectures he gave in Edinburgh, Scotland. Those lectures, which defended the church's intellectual credibility from influences like Marxism, were published in the 1975 book The Secularization of the European Mind.
"Christian conscience was the force which began to make Europe 'secular'; that is, to allow many religions or no religion in a state, and repudiate any kind of pressure upon the man who rejected the accepted and inherited axioms of society," Chadwick wrote. "My conscience is my own."
Although he rarely wrote about history beyond the Victorian era, Rev. Mark Richard Dorsett praised Chadwick's contributions to history.
"His works on religious matters will continue to be read for their religious insight, intelligence and generosity of mind," Dorsett said of Chadwick.
According to the Telegraph, Chadwick is survived by two sons and two daughters. His wife, Ruth Hallward, passed away earlier this year.