Alec Vidler

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Alec Vidler

Alexander Roper Vidler

(1899-12-27)27 December 1899
Rye, Sussex, England
Died25 July 1991(1991-07-25) (aged 91)
Ecclesiastical career
ReligionChristianity (Anglican)
ChurchChurch of England[1]
Academic background
Alma materSelwyn College, Cambridge
Academic work
Sub-disciplineEcclesiastical history
InstitutionsKing's College, Cambridge
Doctoral studentsDavid Nicholls
InfluencedChristopher Evans[6]

Alexander Roper Vidler OGS (1899–1991), known as Alec Vidler, was an English Anglican priest, theologian, and ecclesiastical historian,[7] who served as Dean of King's College, Cambridge, for ten years from 1956 and then, following his retirement in 1966, as Mayor of Rye, Sussex.


Vidler was born on 27 December 1899 in Rye, Sussex, the son of Leopold Amon Vidler (1870–1954)[1] of The Stone House, Rye, and his wife Edith Hamilton, daughter of Edward Roper.[8] The Vidler family had a long association with Rye, with Alec's great-grandfather, John Vidler, vice-consul for France, Sweden, Norway, and the Hanse Towns, being an alderman of the town,[9] and his descendants serving as mayors, aldermen and councillors. Thus, Alec Vidler's father, grandfather and great-grandfather served as Mayor of Rye.[10][11][12] The founder of Ascham St Vincent's School, at Eastbourne, Sussex, William Newcombe Willis, was his father's first cousin by marriage.

Vidler attended Sutton Valence School.[13] During the First World War he worked in a family business, and served briefly in the British Army. He was then an undergraduate at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and attended Wells Theological College and the Oratory House, Cambridge.[14]

Following his ordination in 1922,[1][15] he was a curate in a poor parish in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He was then a curate and acting parish priest in Birmingham;[16] he was one of the Anglo-Catholic clergy setting up a confrontation with the bishop, Ernest William Barnes, centred on the parish of Small Heath.[17]

In 1938 Vidler became editor of Theology and librarian at Hawarden.[18][verification needed] There he was promoted to Warden of St Deiniol's Library, and encouraged Gordon Dunstan who was in a junior position, before becoming Canon of St. George's Chapel, Windsor.[19] He had been appointed an honorary canon of Derby Cathedral in 1946.[20] During the Second World War he was one of the regular participants in J. H. Oldham's discussion group, "The Moot".[21] In 1946 he published with Walter Alexander Whitehouse Natural Law: A Christian Re-Consideration based on ecumenical meetings at St Deiniol's Library including Hans Ehrenberg, Hubert Cunliffe-Jones, Richard Kelwe, Gerhard Leibholz [de],[22][better source needed] Philip Mairet, Richard O'Sullivan, and Victor White.[23]

Later he taught at the University of Cambridge, where in 1956 he succeeded Ivor Ramsay as Dean of King's College, later supervising the doctorate of David Nicholls.[24] He retired in 1966 to his house in Rye, where he wrote his autobiography and served as Mayor of Rye, as had his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.[11][12]

He died on 25 July 1991.[1]


He was a lifelong friend of Malcolm Muggeridge, whom he met as an undergraduate at Selwyn. Through Vidler's influence Muggeridge lived at the Oratory House in Cambridge in his last student year;[25] Muggeridge later described Vidler as one of three most important people in his life.[26] At the Oratory House in Cambridge in 1933 he encountered Wilfred Knox, then the only other inhabitant. Penelope Fitzgerald, who calls Vidler "this great priest, theologian, and natural administrator and organiser, whose horizon widened year by year", describes how Vidler brought the retiring Knox into circulation in the university.[27]

He was the editor of Theology until the 1950s and the author of several books that received wide attention. He also edited, with Philip Mairet, Frontier (journal of the ecumenical Christian Frontier Group), until 1953.[28] Paul Tillich was one of his favourite theologians. Vidler was interested in translating theology into the language of the people, but in the process he was willing to set aside many traditional teachings. He is noted for his correspondence with C. S. Lewis, who wrote for Theology, and is mentioned in several of Lewis's books, particularly in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

In 1958 Vidler published a book called Windsor Sermons.[citation needed] At the time he was Dean of King's College, Cambridge.[29] In one sermon in that book, Vidler had contended of miracles that "the Fourth gospel does not call it a 'miracle' ... but a 'sign'. It should be read more as a parable than as a miracle." Lewis took issue with this position as a distortion of the natural reading of the text of Scripture. A symposium, held under the title "Soundings", was turned into a book by that title with Vidler editing the book and contributing to it. In Objections to Christian Belief, Vidler wrote of the "striking inconsistencies" in the New Testament writers.

During the 1950s Vidler began to advocate the abolition of the clerical collar in favour of a black shirt and white tie, but whilst some clergy adopted this mode of dress it did not become widespread.[30][page needed]

Published works[edit]

  • Magic and Religion (1930)
  • Sex, Marriage and Religion (1932)
  • A Plain Man's Guide to Christianity: Essays in Liberal Catholicism (1936)
  • The Modernist Movement in the Roman Church: Its Origins and Outcome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934)
  • God's Judgement on Europe (1940)
  • Secular Despair and Christian Faith (1941)
  • Christ's Strange Work (1944)
  • The Orb and the Cross (1945)
  • The Theology of F. D. Maurice (1948)
  • Prophecy and Papacy: A Study of Lamennais, the Church, and the Revolution (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1954)
  • Essays in Liberality (1957)
  • Windsor Sermons (London: SCM Press, 1958)
  • The Church in an Age of Revolution: 1789 to the Present Day (The Pelican History of the Church, Vol. 5, 1961)
  • Soundings: Essays Concerning Christian Understanding (editor) (Cambridge University Press, 1962); Vidler's chapter is entitled "Religion and the National Church."
  • Objections to Christian Belief (Penguin Books, 1963) with contributions by four Cambridge deans—James Stanley Bezzant of St. John’s College, Alec Vidler of King's College, H. A. Williams of Trinity College, and Donald MacKinnon
  • A Century of Social Catholicism (1964)
  • 20th Century Defenders of the Faith (1965)
  • A Variety of Catholic Modernists (Cambridge University Press, 1970)
  • Paul, Envoy Extraordinary (co-authored with Malcolm Muggeridge) (New York: Harper & Row, 1972)
  • Scenes from a Clerical Life (1977) His autobiography.



  1. ^ a b c d e Grimley & Brewitt-Taylor 2012.
  2. ^ Beeson 2002, p. 7.
  3. ^ Wilson, A. N. (16 April 2001). "Why Maurice Is an Inspiration to Us All". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  4. ^ Crook, Paul (2013). "Alec Vidler: On Christian Faith and Secular Despair" (PDF). Paul Crook. p. 2. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  5. ^ Grimley & Brewitt-Taylor 2012; Morgan 2010, p. 263.
  6. ^ Hooker 2014, p. 197.
  7. ^ "The Cambridge Objectors". Time. Vol. 83 no. 10. New York. 6 March 1964. pp. 84–85. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
  8. ^ Crisp 1905, p. 100.
  9. ^ Crisp 1905, p. 95.
  10. ^ "Vidler, Leopold Amon (1870–1954), Justice of the Peace and Mayor of Rye". London: The National Archives. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  11. ^ a b Crisp 1905, pp. 95–100.
  12. ^ a b "Bid to Name a Road After Famous Ryer Alec Vidler". Rye and Battle Observer. Hastings, England: JPIMedia. 9 May 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  13. ^ Beeson 2002, p. 7; Grimley & Brewitt-Taylor 2012.
  14. ^ Beeson 2002, pp. 7–8.
  15. ^ McQuillian, Kate (17 October 2017). "Alec Vidler: Master of Theological Midwifery". Windsor: Dean and Canons of Windsor. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  16. ^ Rowell, Stevenson & Williams 2001, p. 641.
  17. ^ Bishop 2001.
  18. ^ Brandreth 1958.
  19. ^ "The Rev Professor Gordon Dunstan". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 January 2004. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  20. ^ Beeson 2002, p. 8.
  21. ^ Collini 2006, p. 317.
  22. ^ de:Gerhard Leibholz
  23. ^[dead link]
  24. ^ "The Rev David Nicholls". The Times. London. 22 June 1996. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 24 April 2007 – via Littlemore Church.
  25. ^ Muggeridge 1972, p. 80.
  26. ^ McClain 1999, p. 194.
  27. ^ Fitzgerald 1991, p. 204.
  28. ^ Blaxland-de Lange 2006, p. 144.
  29. ^ Heck 2014, p. 1.
  30. ^ Vidler 1977.


Beeson, Trevor, ed. (2002). Priests and Prelates: The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries. London: Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-6337-1.
Bishop, Steve (2001). "Bishop Barnes, Science and Religion". Quodlibet. 3 (4). ISSN 1526-6575. Archived from the original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
Blaxland-de Lange, Simon (2006). Owen Barfield: Romanticism Come of Age.
Brandreth, Henry Renaud Turner (1958). A History of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd. Cambridge, England: Oratory of the Good Shepherd. Retrieved 30 April 2019 – via Project Canterbury.
Collini, Stefan (2006). Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-929105-2.
Crisp, Frederick Arthur, ed. (1905). Visitation of England and Wales. 13.
Fitzgerald, Penelope (1991). The Knox Brothers.
Grimley, Matthew; Brewitt-Taylor, Sam (2012). "Vidler, Alexander Roper [Alec] (1899–1991)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/50491.
Heck, Joel D. (2014). "'Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism' in Context" (PDF). VII. 31 (supplement). ISSN 0271-3012. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
Hooker, Morna D. (2014). "Christopher Francis Evans, 1909–2012" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy. 13. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 195–214. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
McClain, Frank M. (1999). "Review of Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography, by Gregory Wolfe". Anglican Theological Review. 81 (1): 193–194. ISSN 0003-3286. Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
Morgan, D. Densil (2010). Barth Reception in Britain. London: T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-567-01156-5.
Muggeridge, Malcolm (1972). Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick.
Rowell, Geoffrey; Stevenson, Kenneth; Williams, Rowan (2001). Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness. Oxford: Oxford University Press (published 2003). ISBN 978-0-19-107058-7.
Vidler, Alec (1977). Scenes from a Clerical Life. London: Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-216809-0.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Ivor Ramsay
Dean of King's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
David Edwards