Henry Chadwick’s Library

The Chadwick Collection represents 60 years of work by a brilliant theologian--and a serious bibliophile!

In celebration of the Abbey's special collections library--current home to the personal library of Sir Henry Chadwick, K.B.E. (1920-2008)--the Abbot's Circle is thrilled to present a three-part account of the great scholar's life, his library, and how it came to St. Michael’s Abbey. In this second installment, abbey Librarian and Archivist Thomas Kiser tells us a bit about what makes this collection so special. (If you haven't done so already, you can read Part One here.)

We left off introducing Sir Henry Chadwick, K.B.E. (1920-2008) by way of his luminous career, and offered a window into his thought by looking at some of his writings and activity. Oxford and Cambridge don, leading historian of the early church, theologian, ecumenist, prelate, musician, husband, and father of three, Henry Chadwick has been described by Irish historian Peter Brown as “the Olympian Zeus imagined by Clement of Alexandria (one of his favorite authors).” In this next segment, we learn more about his personal library before it made its remarkable journey to the Premonstratensians in the mountains of Southern California.

Exploring the special collections library.

To begin, Henry Chadwick was a bibliophile. But before ascending the ladder to write on the memory of sacred institutions with the authority of a patrician, he was first an organist, and a gifted one. To Eaton College goes the honor of advancing his interest in Christianity, and this led to a love of books. According to Owen Chadwick, one teacher in particular told stories of the Old Testament with ‘Homeric’ conviction, giving rise to Chadwick’s interest in theology by way of Greek and Roman roads. By age fifteen he had acquired the entire set of Clarendon biblical commentaries. In theological college he demonstrated great facility with Greek, foreshadowing a lifelong companionship with the written word. To Chadwick, the marriage of Greek thought with Christianity reached its apogee in books handed down to us by St. Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and many others. “The way books came my way just when I really needed them seemed quite providential. It made me think I might become an academic.” 

Chadwick possessed all the marks of a confirmed bibliophile. “No one is going to read those nowadays, but they were of real interest to me.” “Those were thrown out of the Classics Department at Queens’ College Cambridge. I found them very useful.” He could remember where a particular book was purchased and how much he paid. Lady Chadwick would recall, “When book catalogues dropped through our letter box as they often did there would be a deep silence - no conversation - and there would be urgent telephone calls.” “I can’t keep on top of my subject if I don’t buy books.” “Alright love - I think there is still some space on the stairs.” 

The Chadwick Collection was over 60 years in the making. An exceptional theological library, it reflects broad academic interests with a bias toward patristics. English theologian Andrew Louth would credit the library as the very foundation of Chadwick’s broad scholarship. Indeed some of the 15,000 volumes have been annotated. 

The books themselves were kept at 46 St. John St. in Oxford, a four story flat that offered a quiet place to work just a fifteen minute walk away from the hustle and bustle of Christ Church. In the livable space that remained there after books, a cot was set up in the landing upon which Chadwick would take frequent naps, as well as a drawing room that contained some of the 500 antiquarian books in the collection. Needless to say, these were not for decoration. Chadwick made assiduous use of the complete Latin Acta of the Council of Trent during his tenure with the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Like St. John Henry Newman before him, he would famously say that he accepted these Catholic pronouncements without reservation (to the shock of his Anglican colleagues). Here one could find the works of his friend C.S. Lewis, Arthur Darby Nock, and St. John Henry Newman.

Christ Church College, University of Oxford, where Henry Chadwick was Regius Professor of Divinity, head or master of the college, Dean of the Cathedral, and did much of his book collecting. Box 60, Folder 8, Henry Chadwick Papers. St. Michael's Abbey, Silverado, CA.

Important to his work on the East-West schism of 1054 was Labbe’s Sacrosancta concilia, a twenty-three volume collection in-folio published in Venice, 1728-1733 (rare in private hands, the final volume exceedingly so, costing the same as the others combined). There were contemporary imprints from the Anglican-Catholic controversy,  the Benedictine edition of St. Augustine (a most famous historical enterprise) together with those of Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Gregory the Great, and John Chrysostom, the Vatican edition of St. Ephrem the Syrian, and hundreds of reprints in Jacques-Paul Migne’s Patrologia Latina et Graeca (examples of 19th century sacerdotal plagiarism par excellence). Breathtaking were the number of volumes on classical and biblical themes, forming the necessary background to study the wisdom of early Christianity. 

Perhaps the most historically significant part of the collection are the Henry Chadwick Papers. These contain his writings from every stage of the compositional process, representing the entire depth and breadth of his career. There is correspondence with Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Archbishop Rowan Williams, and a long list of leading historians and theologians. In addition to Oxford and Cambridge, where Chadwick was head of colleges during the eventful decades of the later 20th century, there were honorary doctorates from ten universities and an honorary fellowship at Trinity College, Dublin. He was recipient of numerous awards and an international fellow to a number of academic societies, such as the British Academy and American Philosophical Society, and corresponding member of half a dozen other societies in Ireland and on the continent. He was dean and canon of Christ Church Cathedral, a central member of ARCIC, chairman of the board of Hymns Ancient and Modern, syndic of Cambridge and Oxford University Press,  and a Knight Commander of the British Empire. All of these organizations required correspondence which will be of interest to researchers. As of 2023, two Festschriften have appeared (collections of essays celebrating a scholar), however no complete bibliography of his writing has been produced, nor has there been a definitive account of the life of this figure who was at the very heart of academia.

In our next installment, we’ll explore the journey of this collection to St. Michael’s Abbey and discuss its relevance as a cultural and ecclesial event for the Premonstratensians and Southern California.

Related articles