Two good men

William Davage and Barry Orford offer some personal reflections on the lives of two champions for unity: Henry Chadwick (1921-2008) and Dom Philibert Zobal (1921-2008)

The Chapter of Pusey House heard the news of the death of Professor Henry Chadwick, who among his distinguished offices was a former Governor of Pusey House, as they were preparing to leave on pilgrimage to the Abbey of Bec-Helouin in Normandy. They, and a dozen students, having been delayed on the road from Caen, arrived at the abbey during the celebration of Vespers of the Dead for Dom Philibert Zobal, the abbot from 1990 to 1996.                          

Lifelong commitment

The coincidence of the deaths of these two priests, born in the same year, dying eighty-seven years later one day after the other, both champions of unity between Canterbury and Rome, could not be overlooked. The Pusey House group attended the Funeral Requiem and burial of Dom Philibert the day after their arrival. At the Requiem a message was read from the Archbishop of Canterbury by Canon Roger Greenacre.

The Abbey of Bee provided three Norman Archbishops of Canterbury: Lanfranc, St Anselm and Theobald, and from its restoration as a Benedictine community in 1948 under the great post-War abbot, Dom Grammont, Bee has had a particular char-ism to further understanding and friendship between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Both as a monk and later as abbot, Dom Philibert was a significant protagonist to that cause to which he showed a lifelong commitment.

All recent Archbishops of Canterbury have been welcome visitors to Bee and next year, the 900th anniversary of St Anselm's enthronement in St Augustine's Chair, there will be reciprocal visits of the Chapter of Canterbury to Bee and the monks of Bee to Canterbury Cathedral.

Dom Philibert organized, with Canon Roger Greenacre, a course at the Catholic Institute on Anglicanism and ecumenism. In 2006 and 2004 on previous Pusey House pilgrimages he went out of his way to welcome the students, introduce them to the excellent library, which also houses the library of the John Bishop Charitable Trust, and to talk to them with benign humour.

Work for unity

Enough is known of Henry Chadwick's academic distinction to need no elaboration. His holding of the Regius Chairs of Divinity at Oxford and Cambridge is clear testament to his achievement. To be a Head of House in both Oxford, as Dean of Christ Church, and Cambridge, as Master of Peterhouse, the first for four hundred years to do so, speaks of his outstanding merit. Much has also been said in his obituaries of his charm, grace and perfectly-pitched politeness and courtesy. He could walk with kings and commoners, with dons and undergraduates, and treat them with the same exquisite equality. Few could leave an encounter with him without feeling the better for it.

That irenic charm was particularly evident in his work for unity between Rome and Canterbury. It was a priority in his Christian vocation, a cause in which it was worth dying, as he said. It was carried out in his work for ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission), in General Synod, at conferences and colloquia, in contributions to learned journals and in personal encounter. He treasured a stole presented to him by Pope John Paul II and assured His Holiness that it would never be worn in a context which would cause him distress or embarrassment. He warned the Church of England that it could have unity or the ordination of women; it could not have both. That the Church has not chosen unity caused him much anguish, as the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in his obituary in the Guardian.

As a Governor of Pusey House, Professor Chadwick expressed caution about its agreement with the University of Oxford in the early 1980s. With Dr Gareth Bennett, he persuaded the Governors to drawbackfrom complete integration with the University and ~ to retain the independence of the House. That decision has been vindicated when, after a stormy twenty years, a new agreement with the University has been reached and the future of the House is on much firmer ground.

Oxford encounters

In his retirement, Professor Chadwick frequently used the Library with that courteous diffidence that marks out the greatest of scholars. On one occasion he arrived when Fr Ursell, the then Principal, and Fr Davage were catching up after a weekend away. He apologized for intruding on important matters. When told that they were only gossiping, he said that he was sure that it was 'the higher gossip,' pulled up a chair and for a happy hour gossiped and reminisced. Characteristically, during a memory of Canon Claude Jenkins, a notoriously eccentric Canon of Christ Church, he mentioned a review of Jenkins' demolishing a book which argued that Matthew Parker, Elizabeth Is Archbishop of Canterbury, had not been properly consecrated and the Apostolic Succession had been severed in the Church of England: once the battleground of ecumenical dialogue. The review repaid reading.

On another occasion he found Fr Davage consulting the Catechism of the Catholic Church and mischievously commented that he was 'not allowed to say which parts I wrote.' Again, finishing his work in time for afternoon tea, he sat happily in the Pusey kitchen talking with the Chapter and undergraduates. Fr Orford, remembering that the scholar was an old Etonian, asked him whether he had met the legendary and learned Provost, M. R. James. Professor Chadwick's face lit up. 'Indeed I did,' he said. 'My ideal man.' On another day Fr Orford drew approval by remarking that he had been re-reading Helen Waddell's The Wandering Scholars, adding that perhaps it was a book which could have been written only by somebody Irish. Professor Chadwick's eyes twinkled. 'That, Father,' he said, 'is a very polemical remark.'

The breadth of his knowledge was legendary and breathtaking, his recall of personalities was always illuminating, his humanity was humbling. In his last year, as his physical health failed, his mind was sometimes clouded, and the distinguished writer on Augustine and Boethius once thought a visitor was a fourth-century bishop. He may have retreated from the modern world, but it was to the early Church where he was equally at home and where he could rub shoulders with the Early Fathers. He was a great and a good man.

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