Maurice Wiles

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Maurice Frank Wiles (17 October 1923 – 3 June 2005) was an Anglican priest and academic. He was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford for 21 years, from 1970 to 1991.

Early life[edit]

Wiles was educated at the Tonbridge School in Kent, and worked at Bletchley Park during World War II.[1] He then studied at Christ's College, Cambridge, and Ridley Hall. After ordination he spent two years as curate at St George's, Stockport, but then returned to Ridley Hall as chaplain. From 1955 to 1959 he was a lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He again returned to Cambridge as dean of Clare College and university lecturer in early Christian doctrine.[1]


In his work God's Action in the World, he discusses the notion of a world that is consistent with Christian theology and the laws of nature. In doing so Wiles rejects the possibility that God directly intervenes in the world and therefore rejects the existence of miracles.

Wiles accepts God as the sole creator of the world, yet believes he does not intervene in the world for a number of reasons. He believed we should not see God as playing an 'active role' but instead hold the belief that God created the world as he wanted in its entirety:

[2] "the world as a whole [is] a single act of God."

Therefore, God would not undermine the natural laws that he created by intervening in the world. Wiles also argued that an omnibenevolent God would not perform such trivial miracles as those which are normally observed:

[2] "...even so it would seem strange that no miraculous intervention prevented Auschwitz or Hiroshima, while the purposes apparently forwarded by some of the miracles acclaimed in traditional Christian faith seem trivial by comparison."

Wiles concluded that either God acts arbitrarily (and is therefore not worthy of worship) or that he does not intervene at all.

However, the lack of miracles does not violate a belief in Christianity according to Wiles. Prayer, for instance, still has purpose but should not be understood as causing God to take action. Instead it should be a way of enabling a group or individual to connect with God's will:

[2] "[prayer] is the capacity to attain, however incompletely, some awareness of that intention."

Likewise, the miracles of the Bible need not be rejected. Instead, they should be understood to have a symbolic role: to teach about God and faith in Christianity.


An expert in patristics as well as modern doctrine, Maurice Wiles was particularly interested in the development of doctrine and questions of orthodoxy and heresy. The Making of Christian Doctrine was a critical look at whether early doctrinal affirmations could remain valid when the framework of their intellectual background had shifted. Several of his works focused on (heresiarch) Arius and the history of Arianism, including Archetypal Heresy. Arianism through the centuries. Additionally, he served as editor of volumes 34–38 of the Studia Patristica, the official publication of the Oxford International Conference on Patristic Studies.


His father was Sir Harold Herbert Wiles, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and National Service. Maurice Wiles was husband to Patricia Wiles. He was the father of the mathematician Sir Andrew Wiles, who is also a Regius Professor at Oxford University, of Mathematics.


  • Working Papers in Doctrine (1976)
  • What is Theology? (1976)
  • God's Action in the World (1986)
  • Archetypal Heresy: Arianism through the Centuries (2001)
  • Spiritual Gospel: The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel in the Early (2008)
  • Divine Apostle (2009)
  • Reason to Believe (2011)
  • The Remaking of Christian Doctrine (2011)
  • Faith and the Mystery of God (2012)


  1. ^ a b Morgan, Robert (10 June 2005). "Guardian: Obituary: The Rev Maurice Wiles". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 March 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Maurice Wiles (1986) God's Action in the World


Academic offices
Preceded by
Henry Chadwick
Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford
Succeeded by
Keith Ward