Austin Farrer

Austin Farrer

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Austin Marsden Farrer was an English
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 theologian and philosopher. His activity in philosophy, theology, and spirituality lead many to consider him the outstanding figure of 20th century Anglicanism.

Life


Farrer was born 11 October 1904, the only son of the three children of Augustus and Evangeline Farrer in Hampstead
Hampstead
Hampstead is an area of London, England, north-west of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden in Inner London, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland...

, London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. His father was a Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 minister and Farrer was brought up in that faith. Encouraged by his father to value scholarship he nevertheless found the divisions within the Baptist church dispiriting and whilst at university, became an Anglican. He went to St Paul's School, in London where he gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

, Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire
Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. Finding his spiritual home at St. Barnabas church
St Barnabas Church, Oxford
St Barnabas Church is a Church of England parish church in Jericho, central Oxford, England, located close to Oxford Canal.The church was founded by Thomas Combe, Superintendent of the Oxford University Press close to the church, and his wife Martha. They were followers of the Oxford Movement...

 in Oxford, his theology and his spirituality became profoundly Anglo-Catholic, though centered on the Book of Common Prayer
Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is the short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican, "Anglican realignment" and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 , in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English...

 rather than details of ritual. After gaining a first in Greats, he went up to Cuddesdon
Ripon College Cuddesdon
Ripon College Cuddesdon is a Church of England theological college in Cuddesdon, a village outside Oxford, England.-History:Ripon College Cuddesdon was formed from an amalgamation in 1975 of Cuddesdon College and Ripon Hall...

 Theological College
Seminary
A seminary, theological college, or divinity school is an institution of secondary or post-secondary education for educating students in theology, generally to prepare them for ordination as clergy or for other ministry...

 where he trained with the future Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. In his role as head of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop leads the third largest group...

, Michael Ramsey
Michael Ramsey
Arthur Michael Ramsey, Baron Ramsey of Canterbury PC was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. He was appointed on 31 May 1961 and was in office from June 1961 to 1974.-Career:...

. He served a curacy in Dewsbury
Dewsbury
Dewsbury is a minster town in the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, England. It is to the west of Wakefield, east of Huddersfield and south of Leeds...

, West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire
West Yorkshire is a metropolitan county within the Yorkshire and the Humber region of England with a population of 2.2 million. West Yorkshire came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 after the passage of the Local Government Act 1972....

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 after which he was invited to become chaplain
Chaplain
Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel...

 and tutor
Tutor
A tutor is a person employed in the education of others, either individually or in groups. To tutor is to perform the functions of a tutor.-Teaching assistance:...

 at St Edmund Hall in Oxford
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

 in 1931.

He became Fellow
Fellow
A fellow in the broadest sense is someone who is an equal or a comrade. The term fellow is also used to describe a person, particularly by those in the upper social classes. It is most often used in an academic context: a fellow is often part of an elite group of learned people who are awarded...

 and Chaplain of Trinity College
Trinity College, Oxford
The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the University of Oxford, of the foundation of Sir Thomas Pope , or Trinity College for short, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It stands on Broad Street, next door to Balliol College and Blackwells bookshop,...

, Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 from 1935 to 1960. On the death of Oliver Quick in 1959, the Regius Professorship of Divinity
Regius Professor of Divinity
The Regius Professorship of Divinity is one of the oldest and most prestigious of the professorships at the University of Oxford and at the University of Cambridge.Both chairs were founded by Henry VIII...

 became vacant and Farrer's name was widely canvassed. However, his typological approach to the reading of Scripture, notably in his books on St. Mark and The Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

, was out of the mainstream of biblical scholarship and his article 'On dispensing with Q' (one of the supposed lost sources of the Gospels) raised a furore on both sides of the Atlantic. Henry Chadwick
Henry Chadwick
Henry Chadwick , often called the "father of baseball," was a sportswriter, baseball statistician and historian.-Biography:...

 was appointed instead. The following year, Farrer was appointed as Warden of Keble College, Oxford
Keble College, Oxford
Keble College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its main buildings are on Parks Road, opposite the University Museum and the University Parks. The college is bordered to the north by Keble Road, to the south by Museum Road, and to the west by Blackhall...

, a post which he held until his death shortly after Christmas in 1968 aged 64.

After Farrer's sudden death, Spencer Barrett
Spencer Barrett
Spencer Barrett FBA, was an English classical scholar, Fellow and Sub-Warden of Keble College, Oxford, and Reader in Greek Literature in the University of Oxford...

 as Sub-Warden presided over the change of college statute which removed the requirement for Keble College's warden to be an Anglican
Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

 clergy
Clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

man.

Farrer is buried in Holywell Cemetery
Holywell Cemetery
Holywell Cemetery is next to St Cross Church in Oxford, England. The cemetery is behind the church in St Cross Road, north of Longwall Street.-History:...

, Oxford.

Work


Apart from his biblical scholarship, which was considered maverick, Farrer's work was mainly philosophical, though again he was out of the mainstream. He was not influenced by the empiricism of such contemporaries as John Wisdom
John Wisdom
Arthur John Terence Dibben Wisdom was a leading British philosopher considered to be an ordinary language philosopher, a philosopher of mind and a metaphysician. He was influenced by G.E...

, Gilbert Ryle
Gilbert Ryle
Gilbert Ryle , was a British philosopher, a representative of the generation of British ordinary language philosophers that shared Wittgenstein's approach to philosophical problems, and is principally known for his critique of Cartesian dualism, for which he coined the phrase "the ghost in the...

 and A.J. Ayer. The 'Metaphysicals', as his small group of fellow thinkers were called, were of an entirely different temper. His thinking was essentially Thomist. One of his closer friends was the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who dedicated his book on the Psalms
Psalms
The Book of Psalms , commonly referred to simply as Psalms, is a book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible...

 to him. Farrer took the last sacraments to Lewis before his death. Others included J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Farrer has been more studied and more admired since his death in the United States than in his own country.

His major contribution to Christian thought is his notion of 'double agency', that human actions are fully our own but also are the work of God, though perfectly hidden. He described God for such purposes as 'intelligent act' .

He was known as a fine preacher and several books of his sermons were printed, all but one posthumously. He had the gift of marrying considerable scholarship with profound spirituality. Serving at a weekday mass with him was said to be a moving experience.