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Austin Marsden Farrer

Warden, Keble College, Oxford
1904 to 1968

Austin Farrer born in 1904 was ‘the greatest mind produced by the Church of England’ in the twentieth century according to Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford. The son of Augustus Farrer a lecturer in church history at Regent's Park College London Farrer was educated at St. Paul's School in London. He then went to Oxford where he earned three first-class degrees in classical moderations ‘greats’ (arts and letters) and theology.

Although he was raised in a Baptist family, Farrer made a decision to join the Church of England. In 1928 he was ordained a deacon and the following year a priest. After a year with a parish he became chaplain and tutor in St. Edmund Hall at Oxford (1931–1935). He then was named chaplain of Trinity College (1935–1960). His final post was as Warden of Keble College (1960–1968).

Farrer is well known for his work on what is recognized as the synoptic problem that is the similarities among the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke. In 1955 he wrote “On Dispensing with Q” which addresses other scholars’ theory that the Gospels had an additional source Q. The “Farrer theory” postulates that Mark was written first, and then Matthew, the author of which used Mark as a source. Finally the author of Luke used both previous sources.

Among Farrer’s writings are Finite and Infinite: A Philosophical Essay (1943); The Glass of Vision (1948; from Bampton Lectures); The Freedom of the Will (1958; from Gifford Lectures); Lord, I Believe: Suggestions for Turning the Creed Into Prayer (1962); The Triple Victory: Christ’s Temptation According to St. Matthew (1963); Saving Belief (1964); God Is Not Dead (1966); Faith and Speculation (1967); Reflective Faith: Essays in Philosophical Theology (1972); End of Man (1974); The Brink of Mystery (1976); and Interpretation and Belief (1976). He was also the subject of numerous works including Philip Curtis’s A Hawk Among Sparrows: A Biography of Austin Farrer; Divine Action: Studies Inspired by the Philosophical Theology of Austin Farrer, edited by Edward Hugh Henderson and Brian Hebblethwaite; and The Truth-Seeking Heart: Austin Farrer and His Writings, edited by Ann Loades and Robert MacSwain.

Farrer died in December 1968 at the age of 64. His influence continues, however, as evidenced by the collections of his writings still being published and the number of studies about his work.

  • Therese Boyd