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Christopher Stead (1913-2008): His Work on Patristics Catherine ROWETT, University of East Anglia, UK ABSTRACT Professor Christopher Stead was Ely Professor of Divinity from 1971 until his retire- ment in 1980 and one of the great contributors to the Oxford Patristic Conferences for many years. In this article I reflect on his work in Patristics, and I attempt to understand how his interests diverged from the other major contributors in the same period, and how they
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  Christopher Stead (1913-2008): His Work on Patristics Catherine R OWETT ,  University of East Anglia, UK A BSTRACT Professor Christopher Stead was Ely Professor of Divinity from 1971 until his retire-ment in 1980 and one of the great contributors to the Oxford Patristic Conferences for many years. In this article I reflect on his work in Patristics, and I attempt to understand how his interests diverged from the other major contributors in the same period, and how they were formed by his milieu and the spirit of the age. As a case study to illustrate and diagnose his approach, I shall focus on a debate between Stead and Rowan Wil-liams about the significance of the word idios  in Arius’ theology (in the course of which I also make some suggestions of my own about the issue). Patristic Scholars come in a number of varieties. There are those who come to Patristics from a classical training, those who come with an interest in the history of religions in late antiquity, and those who come with an interest in philosophy. Like Maurice Wiles, and unlike Henry Chadwick, Christopher Stead was a phi-losophe r by training, although he had srcinally started with Classics before chang- ing to the Moral Sciences Tripos for the second part of his degree in Cambridge. But even within the philosophical approach, there are a number of different outlooks one might take towards the work of the Fathers. The most common approach in the twentieth century seems to have been what I would call an ‘Oxford Approach’, which takes contemporary analytic philosophy (‘Oxford Philosophy’) as a model of excellence, and tries to diagnose confusions and faults in what the Fathers were trying to do – mistakes that would not have seduced them had they been able to call upon the logical tools developed in the early 20 th  Century by Frege, Russell, Austin, Gilbert Ryle and so on. A second variant of the philosophical approach, which adds further opportunity for critical deconstruction of the Patristic doctrines, and for diagnosis of their philosophi-cally suspect underpinnings, is one which starts by assuming that the Fathers were intellectually rather weak, and less good at philosophy than the great classical thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle or the best of the Stoics. It follows that much of what the Fathers wrote would struggle to get a 2.1 in an exam on Platonic metaphysics or on Aristotle’s theory of substance, or indeed an exam in the Theology Tripos. The Patristic Scholar sees himself as a tutor, writing in the margin where the essay is confused and adding ‘Could do better; read more Aristotle!’ at the end. Studia Patristica  LIV, 1-00.© Peeters Publishers, 2012.  2 C. R OWETT By contrast, a more charitable approach to the Fathers, which seeks to find in their work genuine philosophical progress and insights that might still be valuable (or, better still, could wake us from our self-satisfied slumbers) – this seems to be almost entirely lacking in the mid-twentieth century, emerging only a generation later, in scholars trained from the 1970s on. The srcins of that newer and more generous outlook would be another research topic and is not for us to examine now. Suffice it to say that Stead was, at least in his early to middle periods, a product of the old school, having learnt his philosophy in Cambridge and Oxford in the first half of the century, and having done almost no theological study at all.I say ‘early to middle periods’ as though Stead had an ‘early period’. In fact he was a remarkably late developer, at least as far as publication goes. He pub-lished his first and most important book,  Divine Substance , 1  when he was 64, six years after taking up the Ely chair in Cambridge, so the ‘early period’ will be the work he published between the ages of 48 and 64. 2  From the ensuing steady stream of articles, Christopher helpfully compiled two volumes of papers on Patristic topics, one published in 1985 and the second in 2000 (covering work he had published right up to 1998 and some further items not previously published). 3  He became my doctoral supervisor when he was already 66, and by the time I finished my thesis he was 70. 4  It seems that the twenty years from age 65 to 85 were among his most productive, with contributions on Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius and a range of work on philosophical aspects of the doctrinal debates in the Early Church. All this alongside the important research he was conducting in his spare time towards a book on the birth of the Steam Locomotive, which came out just before he was 90. 5 But I suspect that the publishing pattern is just a little distorted. Clearly years of ongoing research from the early period underpins  Divine Substance  (research which must have been undertaken at Oxford during the years when Stead was 1  Christopher Stead,  Divine Substance  (Oxford, 1977). 2  Christopher Stead, ‘The Significance of the Homoousios’, SP  3 (1961), 397-412 (Reprinted in G.C. Stead, Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers , Chapter I) appeared more or less exactly half way through his life, at the age of 48. About nine further articles preceded  Divine Substance , including   Christopher Stead, ‘The Platonism of Arius’,  JTS  15 (1964), 16-31 (Reprinted in G.C. Stead, Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers , Chapter III) at the age of 51, and Chris-topher Stead, ‘The Origins of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Parts 1 & 2)’, Theology  77 (1974), 508-17, 582-8 (Reprinted in G.C. Stead, Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers , Chapter VI) ten years later. 3  Christopher Stead, Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers , Collected Studies (London, 1985); id. ,  Doctrine and Philosophy in Early Christianity , Variorum Collected Studies (Aldershot, 2000). 4  My doctoral thesis was later published as Catherine Osborne,  Rethinking Early Greek Phi-losophy  (London, 1987). (I continued to publish under my married name, Catherine Osborne, until 2011). My undergraduate tutor in Patristics was Rowan Williams. 5  Christopher Stead, The Birth of the Steam Locomotive: A New History  (Haddenham, 2002).    Christopher Stead: His Work on Patristics 3tutoring undergraduates and serving as chaplain at Keble College). Some of it was indeed already appearing as articles. 6  But we should not be surprised by a relative sparsity of published papers in that period, given the expectation (which Christopher Stead surely shared) that teaching came first, and research would be published only after one stopped teaching those topics to undergraduates. Besides, it was less common then to bring things out first as articles and then assemble the argument for a book, although it does seem that Stead did some of that. Publishing habits have changed. There is also an interesting question about the role of the Patristic Conference itself in assisting the process of dis- semination of work in progress, and in stimulating exchanges of ideas and responses without the need to go through a formal written publication at that stage. In Stead’s later years many of these free-standing Patristic Conference papers did appear in print, often in Studia Patristica . But arguably the print publica-tions were not the primary mode for disseminating ideas. Although it is the print versions that are more obvious to us now, they are just the dead relics of a live debate. The regular Patristic Conferences during the second half of the century ensured that the debate started, issues were aired, and papers received their most influential outing, while the Patristic Conference itself was in session. For a short time during his undergraduate years, Christopher had attended lectures by Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1934-5. This was in the period that we know as the early Wittgenstein. Christopher Stead’s approach to philosophy was very much of that age, although he was not an enthusiast for Wittgenstein, of any period, and Wittgenstein was very far from being the main influence on him. There is only one reference to Wittgenstein by name in  Divine Substance . That is no more than there are references to Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Quine and Russell. But Stead’s detailed work on diagnosing ambiguities and difficulties that arise from careless use of words like ‘being’ and ‘existence’, explaining the risks, dissolving puzzles and misunderstandings that (in his view) beset the early development of doctrine – all this belongs to the philosophy of that period, the philosophical world which formed him at Cambridge, and, even more so, the one into which he had moved, when he went to Oxford for post-graduate research in the 1930s, and to which he returned as Chaplain and Fel-low at Keble, during the 1950s and 60s. In  Divine Substance , Stead engages in an extended discussion of Plato’s notion of ousia  and of the various senses of ‘being’ and ‘to be’ that can be intended by the term. It is striking that he was evidently writing this book, on 6  In addition to those mentioned in note 2, see, for instance, Christopher Stead, ‘Divine Sub-stance in Tertullian’,  JTS 14 (1963), 46-66 (Reprinted in G.C. Stead, Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers , Chapter II), id. , ‘The Concept of Divine Substance’, VC 29 (1975), 1-14 (Reprinted in G.C. Stead,  Substance and Illusion in the Christian Fathers ,   Chapter VII), id. , ‘Ontology and Terminology in Gregory of Nyssa’, in H. Dörrie, M. Altenburger and U. Schramm (eds), Gregor von Nyssa und die Philosophie  (Leiden, 1976), 107-27.  4 C. R OWETT the Greek words for ‘being’, during the very same years when Charles Kahn, well known to those working in ancient philosophy, was also investigating the Greek verb ‘to be’, as an enquiry into issues in ancient philosophy including Plato, first in a widely cited article of 1966, followed by a book length study in 1973, and further articles in 1972, 1976, 1981, 1988 and 2004. 7  Of these works by Kahn, four were published before  Divine Substance appeared, and three after. So it is clear that Kahn was working on the same topic in the same period. But they are talking quite past each other. Stead does cite Kahn’s 1973 book, just once, in his first footnote in the Plato chapter. But he cites it only for a tiny scholarly point concerning certain dialect forms of ousia  in Philolaus. He makes no mention of its more general views on the very topic that Stead was discussing. Meanwhile on the other side Kahn apparently knows nothing of Stead’s treatment of the subject, and never cites it. It seems that Kahn and Stead were ploughing parallel furrows in silence, for a decade, and it seems that what Stead has to say about the meaning of the verb einai  is at least as wise as what Kahn says, and often more sensitive. Yet Stead’s treatment is completely unknown in classical discussions, all of whom cite Kahn assidu-ously. Interesting and important as Stead’s work on Plato, Aristotle and the post-Aristotelian philosophers is – or could have been, had the right people read it – that is not immediately to the point for our purpose. We should turn to his work on issues in Early Christian thought.Much of Christopher’s work revolved round Arius, Arianism and the work of Athanasius. This evidently arose out of (or perhaps also inspired) his interest in terms for substance and what is meant by ‘sameness of substance’. It was also an area in which it is sensible to ask about the philosophical underpinnings of both sides of the dispute, since both Arius and the Athanasian party were seeking a way to express their understanding of the relation between the first and second person of the Trinity that respected logic and employed philo-sophical terminology in a way that was recognisable and complied with the 7  Charles H. Kahn, ‘The Greek Verb ‘To Be’ and the Concept of Being’,  Foundations of  Language  2 (1966), 245-65 (Reprinted in Charles H. Kahn,  Essays on Being  [Oxford,   2009], 16-40), id. , The Verb ‘be’ in Ancient Greek   (Dordrecht, 1973), id. , ‘On the Terminology for Copula and  Existence ’, in S.M. Stern, A. Houvani and V. Brown (eds),  Islamic Philosophy and the Classi-cal Tradition  (Oxford, 1972), 141-58, id. , ‘Why existence does not emerge as a distinct concept in Greek philosophy’,  Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie  58 (1976), 323-34 (Reprinted in Charles H. Kahn  Essays on Being  [2009], 62-74), id. , ‘Some philosophical uses of ‘To Be’ in Plato’,  Phronesis  26 (1981), 105-34 (Reprinted in Charles H. Kahn,  Essays on Being  [2009], 75-108), id. , ‘Being in Parmenides and Plato’,  La Parola del Passato  43 (1988), 237-61 (Reprinted in Charles H. Kahn,  Essays on Being  [2009], 167-91), id. , ‘Parmenides and Plato Once More’, in Victor Caston and Daniel W. Graham (eds),  Presocratic Philosophy: Essays in Honour of Alexander  Mourelatos  (Aldershot, 2002), 81-93, id. , ‘A Return to the Theory of the Verb  Be  and the Concept of Being’,  Ancient Philosophy  24 (2004), 381-405 (Reprinted in Charles H. Kahn,  Essays on Being  [2009], 109-42).
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