Austin Farrer

Austin Marsden Farrer (1904–29 December 1968) was an English theologian and philosopher.


Farrer was born the only son of the three children of Augustus and Evangeline Farrer in Hampstead, London, England. His father was a Baptist minister and Farrer was brought up in that faith. Encouraged by his father to value scholarship he nevertheless found the divisions within the Baptist church dispiriting and whilst at university, became an Anglican. He went to St Paul's School, in London where he gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. Finding his spiritual home at St. Barnabas church in Oxford, his theology and his spirituality became profoundly Catholic. After gaining a first in Greats, he went up to Cuddesdon Theological College where he trained with the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. He served a curacy in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, England after which he was invited to become chaplain and tutor at St Edmund Hall in Oxford in 1931. He became Fellow and Chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford from 1935 to 1960. 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 St. Mark and The Book of Revelation, were 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. The following year, Farrer was appointed as Warden of Keble College, Oxford, a post which he held until his death shortly after Christmas in 1968 aged 64.

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.Hollis, Adrian, [ Spencer Barrett, Oxford don devoted to classics and his college] , obituary in "The Guardian", October 17 2001, online at, accessed 14 August 2008]


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. The 'Metaphysicals', as his small group of fellow thinkers were called, were of an entirely different temper. His thinking was essentially Thomist. One of his closer friends was the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who dedicated his book on the Psalms to him. Farrer took the last sacraments to Lewis before his death. Others included J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 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' [ see his "Fatih and Speculation" (1968) ] .

He was known as a fine preacher and several books of his sermons were printed, all but one posthumously. He had the gift of marrying considerable scholarship with profound spirituality. Serving at a weekday mass with him was said to be a moving experience. His books included several on St. Mark, two commentaries on the book of Revelation, a study of the Temptations, entitled "The Triple Victory", philosophical works such as "The Freedom of the Will", "Finite and Infinite" and "Faith and Speculation", the apologetic books " A Science of God" (which was the Archbishop's Lent Book) and "Saving Belief", a defence of the goodness of God called "Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited", 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.


* Philip Curtis, "A Hawk among Sparrows: A Biography of Austin Farrer". London: SPCK, 1985.
* Charles Conti, "Metaphysical Personalism". Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995
* Brian Hebblethwaite and Edward Henderson, eds., "Divine Action: Studies Inspired by the Philosophical Theology of Austin Farrer". Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990.
* Charles Hefling, "Jacob's Ladder: Theology and Spirituality in the Thought of Austin Farrer". Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1979.
* David Hein and Edward Hugh Henderson, eds., "Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer". New York and London: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2004. ISBN 0-567-02510-1 "See the thorough and up-to-date bibliography in this book for secondary works--books, articles, dissertations, and discussions in books--about the philosophy, theology, preaching, and biblical studies of Austin Farrer."


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