Austin Farrer

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Austin Farrer

Austin Marsden Farrer

(1904-10-01)1 October 1904
Hampstead, London, England
Died29 December 1968(1968-12-29) (aged 64)
Oxford, England
OfficeWarden of Keble College, Oxford (1960–1968)
Katharine Farrer
(m. 1937)
Ecclesiastical career
ReligionChristianity (Anglican)
ChurchChurch of England
  • 1928 (deacon)
  • 1929 (priest)
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic work
School or tradition
Doctoral studentsGeddes MacGregor
Notable students
Notable ideasFarrer hypothesis

Austin Marsden Farrer[a] FBA (1 October 1904 – 29 December 1968) was an English Anglican philosopher, theologian, and biblical scholar.[11] His activity in philosophy, theology, and spirituality led many to consider him one of the greatest figures of 20th-century Anglicanism.[12][verification needed] He served as Warden of Keble College, Oxford, from 1960 to 1968.


Farrer was born 1 October 1904, the only son of the three children of Augustine and Evangeline Farrer, in Hampstead, London, England.[13] His father was a Baptist minister and Farrer was brought up in that faith.[14] He went to St Paul's School in London where[citation needed] he gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford.[2] Encouraged by his father to value scholarship,[citation needed] he nevertheless found the divisions within the Baptist church dispiriting,[15] and while at Oxford he became an Anglican.[16] Finding his spiritual home at St Barnabas Church in Oxford, his theology and his spirituality became profoundly Anglo-Catholic, although centred on the Book of Common Prayer. After gaining a first in greats,[citation needed] he went up to Cuddesdon Theological College where he trained alongside the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey.[17]

He served a curacy in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, after which he was invited to become chaplain and tutor at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, in 1931 (a post he held until 1935). Farrer was a Fellow and Chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford, from 1935 to 1960.[18] In 1937, he married Katharine Dorothy Newton, (daughter of the Rev. Frederick Henry Joseph Newton), who would become a mystery novelist.[19] They had one child together in 1939,[20] a daughter Caroline, who became an ecclesiastical embroiderer.[21]

On the death of Oliver Quick in 1959, the Regius Professorship of Divinity became vacant and Farrer's name was widely canvassed. However, his typological approach to the reading of scripture, notably in his books on Mark and the Book of 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 was appointed instead.[22] The following year, Farrer was appointed as Warden of Keble College, Oxford, a post which he held until his death on 29 December 1968, aged 64.[23]

After Farrer's sudden death, Spencer Barrett as Sub-Warden presided over the change of college statute which removed the requirement for Keble College's Warden to be an Anglican clergyman.[24] However, in the event the Warden appointed to succeed Farrer, Dennis Nineham, was another clergyman.

Farrer is buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford.


According to the Farrer hypothesis Mark was written first. The Gospel of Matthew was written using Mark as a source. Then the Gospel of Luke was written using both Mark and Matthew.

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, Gilbert Ryle, and A. J. Ayer.[citation needed] The "Metaphysicals", as his small group of fellow thinkers were called,[25] were of an entirely different temper. His thinking was essentially Thomist, not only in his being heavily influenced by Thomas's thought but also in the dialogical way in which he presents his arguments, playing as he said, "out of dummy" (a term from the game of bridge) the views and objections of real or imaginary opponents of the thesis he was advancing at the time. His desire to be fair resulted in his almost never being sharp with his opponents.

One of his closer friends was C.S. Lewis, a Christian apologist [26] who dedicated his book Reflections on the Psalms to him.[27] Farrer took the last sacraments to Lewis before his death.[28] Others included J. R. R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. 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".[29]

He presented his own solution to the synoptic problem, the so-called Farrer hypothesis in a short essay entitled "On Dispensing with Q". Q was the hypothetical source of those parts of Luke's and Matthew's gospel which are not in Mark but which are pretty much identical. He argued against the possibility of reconstructing Q noting that while it might have been impossible to reconstruct Mark from the other gospels had it been lost, Mark had not been lost. "I have a copy of it on my desk." His making short work of such an established hypothesis infuriated many scholars and may have contributed to his not being made Regius Professor of Divinity. [30] Michael Goulder was both a pupil[9] and a notable defender of his thesis.

His scepticism about much orthodox scholarship extended to a typically short but powerful critique of the German collection of essays Kerygma and Myth whose major contributor was Rudolf Bultmann. He averred, against them, that without the concept of miracle, the Christian project was fatally flawed, preferring the forms of existential defence of the faith of such as Gabriel Marcel to that of the Germans. His teasing style is indicated by his suggestion that Bultmann had freed the gospel from its fetters by amputating its limbs.

He was known as a fine preacher and several books of his sermons were printed, all but one posthumously. His style was always to be generous to the despisers of the faith, illuminating his defences with glimpses into his own spiritual life. He had the gift of marrying considerable scholarship with profound spirituality.[peacock prose] Serving at a weekday mass with him was said[by whom?] to be a moving experience.[peacock prose]


His books included several on Mark, two commentaries on the book of Revelation, a study of the Temptations, entitled The Triple Victory (an Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book), philosophical works such as The Freedom of the Will, Finite and Infinite and Faith and Speculation, the apologetic books A Science of God (a Bishop of London's Lent Book) and Saving Belief, a defence of the goodness of God called Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited: an essay on providence and evil, a meditation on the Creed called Lord, I believe and numerous collections of sermons. Articles written by him, some of which were subsequently collected, run into dozens.

  • 1943: Finite and Infinite: A Philosophical Essay. Westminster: Dacre Press, 1943 (Second Edition with a revised preface, 1959.)
  • 1948: The Glass of Vision. (The Bampton Lectures; 1948). Westminster: Dacre Press. [Lectures on "the sense of metaphysical philosophy, the sense of scriptural revelation, and the sense of poetry (ix)].
  • 1949: A Rebirth of Images: the making of St. John's Apocalypse. [Farrer's first commentary on Revelation]
  • 1954: The Crown of the Year (chapel sermons)
  • 1955: On Dispensing with Q, in Dennis E. Nineham (ed.): Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, Oxford, pp. 55–88.
  • 1958: The Freedom of the Will: The Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of Edinburgh, 1957. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1958. (Second Edition, including a ‘Summary of the Argument,’ New York: Scribners, 1960.)
  • 1960: A Faith of Our Own. With a Preface by C.S. Lewis.
  • 1962: Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited: an essay on providence and evil, containing the Nathaniel Taylor Lectures for 1961. London: Collins
  • 1964: Saving Belief: a discussion of essentials. London: Hodder and Stoughton
  • 1964: The Revelation of St. John the Divine: commentary on the English text. Oxford: Oxford University Press [Farrer's second commentary on Revelation, a rewriting of his earlier Rebirth of Images]
  • 1965: A Triple Victory: Christ's Temptations According to Saint Matthew. London: Faith Press, 1965
  • 1966: A Science of God? London : Geoffrey Bles. Published in the United States as God is Not Dead. New York: Morehouse-Barlow, 1966. Republished, with a Foreword by Margaret M. Yee, London: SPCK, 2009
  • 1967: Faith and Speculation: an essay in philosophical theology; containing the Deems Lectures 1964. London: A. & C. Black
  • 1972: Reflective Faith: essays in philosophical theology; edited by Charles C. Conti. London: SPCK ("Chronological list of published writings: 1933–1973": p.[227]- 234.)
  • 1973: The End of Man; [sermons edited by Charles C. Conti]. London: SPCK
  • 1976: The Brink of Mystery: (sermons) edited by Charles C. Conti. London: SPCK
  • 1976: Interpretation and Belief; edited by Charles C. Conti. London: SPCK ISBN 0-281-02889-3
  • 1991: Austin Farrer: the Essential Sermons; selected and edited by Leslie Houlden. London: SPCK


  1. ^ Pronounced /ˈfærər/.



  1. ^ Hedley 2013, p. 200.
  2. ^ a b Conti 2005, p. 277.
  3. ^ Duriez 2006, p. 263; Greer 2004, p. ix.
  4. ^ Duncan 2008, p. viii.
  5. ^ MacSwain 2010, p. 7.
  6. ^ Greer 2004, p. ix; MacSwain 2013, p. 2.
  7. ^ Greer 2004, p. ix; MacSwain 2010, p. 13; Nineham 1994, p. xii.
  8. ^ Bowyer 2016, p. 95.
  9. ^ a b Nineham 1994, p. xii.
  10. ^ Brown 2013, p. 304.
  11. ^ Greer 2004, p. ix.
  12. ^ Cross 2005.
  13. ^ MacSwain 2010, pp. 111–112.
  14. ^ Curtis 2014, pp. 2–5.
  15. ^ Curtis 2014, p. 5.
  16. ^ Conti 2005, pp. 277–278.
  17. ^ Loades & MacSwain 2006, p. x.
  18. ^ Crombie 2005; Curtis 2014, p. 110.
  19. ^ Crombie 2005; Zaleski & Zaleski 2015, p. 454.
  20. ^ Slocum 2007, p. 2.
  21. ^ Pedley, Suellen (1 April 2018). "Caroline Farrer obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  22. ^ Curtis 2014, p. 146.
  23. ^ Crombie 2005.
  24. ^ Hollis, Adrian (17 October 2001). "Spencer Barrett: Oxford Don Devoted to Classics and His College". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  25. ^ Loades & MacSwain 2006, p. xiv.
  26. ^ "C.S. Lewis | Biography, Books, Mere Christianity, Narnia, & Facts".
  27. ^ Loades 2004, p. 34.
  28. ^ Curtis 2014, p. 168.
  29. ^ See Farrer 1967.
  30. ^ Curtis 2014, p. 145-46.

Works cited[edit]

  • Brown, David (2013). "Basil George Mitchell, 1917–2011" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy. 12: 303–321. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  • Bowyer, Andrew (2016). To Perceive Tragedy Without the Loss of Hope: Donald MacKinnon's Moral Realism (PhD thesis). Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh. hdl:1842/20462.
  • Conti, Charles (2005). "Farrer, Austin Marsden (1904–68)". In Brown, Stuart (ed.). Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers. Vol. 1. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum. pp. 277–278. ISBN 978-1-84371-096-7.
  • Crombie, I. M. (2005) [2004]. "Farrer, Austin Marsden (1904–1968)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33092.
  • Curtis, Philip (2014) [1985]. A Hawk Among Sparrows: A Biography of Austin Farrer. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1-62564-850-1.
  • Duncan, Steven M. (2008). The Proof of the External World: Cartesian Theism and the Possibility of Knowledge. Cambridge, England: James Clarke and Co. ISBN 978-0-227-17267-4.
  • Duriez, Colin (2006). "Farrer, Austin Marsden". In Campbell-Jack, Campbell; McGrath, Gavin J. (eds.). New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press. pp. 263–264. ISBN 978-0-8308-9839-8.
  • Farrer, Austin (1967). Faith and Speculation: An Essay in Philosophical Theology. London: A & C Black.
  • Greer, Rowan A. (2004). "Foreword". In Hein, David; Henderson, Edward Hugh (eds.). Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer. New York: T&T Clark. pp. ix–xi. ISBN 978-0-567-02510-4.
  • Hedley, Douglas (2013). "Austin Farrer's Shaping Spirit of Imagination [2006]". Scripture, Metaphysics, and Poetry: Austin Farrer's "The Glass of Vision" with Critical Commentary. By Farrer, Austin. MacSwain, Robert (ed.). Abingdon, England: Routledge (published 2016). pp. 195–210. ISBN 978-1-317-05863-2.
  • Loades, Ann (2004). "The Vitality of Tradition: Austin Farrer and Friends". In Hein, David; Henderson, Edward Hugh (eds.). Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer. New York: T&T Clark. pp. 15–46. ISBN 978-0-567-02510-4.
  • Loades, Ann; MacSwain, Robert (2006). Introduction. The Truth-Seeking Heart: Austin Farrer and His Writings. By Farrer, Austin. Loades, Ann; MacSwain, Robert (eds.). London: Canterbury Press. pp. ix–xv. ISBN 978-1-85311-712-1.
  • MacSwain, Robert (2010). "Solved by Sacrifice": Austin Farrer, Fideism, and the Evidence of Faith (PhD thesis). St Andrews, Scotland: University of St Andrews. hdl:10023/920.
  •  ———  (2013). "Introduction: 'The Form of Divine Truth in the Human Mind'". Scripture, Metaphysics, and Poetry: Austin Farrer's "The Glass of Vision" with Critical Commentary. By Farrer, Austin. MacSwain, Robert (ed.). Abingdon, England: Routledge (published 2016). pp. 1ff. ISBN 978-1-317-05863-2.
  • Nineham, Dennis (1994). "Foreword: Michael Goulder – An Appreciation". In Porter, Stanley E.; Joyce, Paul; Orton, David E. (eds.). Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder. Biblical Interpretation Series. Vol. 8. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill. pp. xi–xv. ISBN 978-90-04-10131-9. ISSN 0928-0731.
  • Slocum, Robert Boak (2007). Light in a Burning-Glass: A Systematic Presentation of Austin Farrer's Theology. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-57003-669-9.
  • Zaleski, Philip; Zaleski, Carol (2015). The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings; J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-71379-9.

Further reading[edit]

  • Conti, Charles (1995). Metaphysical Personalism: An Analysis of Austin Farrer's Metaphysics of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198263388.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-826338-8.
  • Cross, F. L., ed. (2005). "Farrer, Austin Marsden". The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hebblethwaite, Brian (2007). The Philosophical Theology of Austin Farrer. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters. ISBN 978-90-429-1954-9.
  •  ———  (2009). "Austin Farrer (1904–68)". In Markham, Ian S. (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to the Theologians. Vol. 2. Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 257–262. ISBN 978-1-4051-3507-8.
  • Hebblethwaite, Brian; Hedley, Douglas, eds. (2006). The Human Person in God's World: Studies to Commemorate the Austin Farrer Centenary. London: SCM Press.
  • Hebblethwaite, Brian; Henderson, Edward, eds. (1990). Divine Action: Studies Inspired by the Philosophical Theology of Austin Farrer. Edinburgh: T&T Clark.
  • Hefling, Charles (1979). Jacob's Ladder: Theology and Spirituality in the Thought of Austin Farrer. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley.
  • Hein, David (2007). "Austin Farrer on Justification and Sanctification". The Anglican Digest. Vol. 49, no. 1. pp. 51–54.
  • Henderson, Edward (2011). "Austin Farrer: The Sacramental Imagination". In Hein, David; Henderson, Edward (eds.). C. S. Lewis and Friends: Faith and the Power of Imagination. London: SPCK. pp. 35–51.
  • MacSwain, Robert (2010). "Centenary Perspectives on Austin Farrer: A Review Article". Philosophy Compass. 5 (9): 820–829. doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2010.00322.x. ISSN 1747-9991.
  • Obituary notice. The Record. Oxford: Keble College, Oxford. 1969. pp. 1–7.
  • Smith, Simon (2017). Beyond Realism: Seeking the Divine Other. Wilmington, Delaware: Vernon Press. ISBN 978-1-62273-225-8.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Warden of Keble College, Oxford
Succeeded by