Swainson, Charles Anthony (DNB00)

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SWAINSON, CHARLES ANTHONY (1820–1887), theologian, was the second son of Anthony Swainson, a descendant of an old Lancashire family, and a merchant and alderman of Liverpool, where the son was born on 29 May 1820. After passing some time at a private school at Christleton, near Chester, where he was an unusually studious boy, he entered that of the Royal Institution at Liverpool, under Dr. Iliff. Joseph Barber Lightfoot [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Durham, became a pupil at the same school a few years later, and was a lifelong friend. Swainson began residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1837, under the tuition of George Peacock (1791–1858) [q. v.], afterwards dean of Ely. He became scholar of his college in 1840, and in 1841 graduated as sixth wrangler in a distinguished year, when the senior wrangler was the present Sir George Gabriel Stokes. On 23 June 1841 he was elected to a fellowship at Christ's College. In 1847 he became one of the tutors. He was ordained by the bishop of Ely on his college title, deacon in 1843, and priest in the following year. In 1849 Bishop Blomfield appointed him Cambridge preacher at the chapel royal, Whitehall. In 1851 he resigned his tutorship, and after serving curacies at St. George's, Hanover Square, and at Mortlake, he assumed the post of principal of the theological college at Chichester in February 1854. He was appointed by Bishop Gilbert to a prebendal stall in the cathedral in 1856. In 1857 and 1858 he delivered the Hulsean lectures at Cambridge. Unwilling to relinquish altogether the practical work of the ministry, he undertook in 1861 the charge of two small parishes, St. Bartholomew's and St. Martin's, at Chichester. When, in 1861, the beautiful spire of Chichester Cathedral fell, he became secretary of the committee for its restoration. While this work was still in progress the dean and canons residentiary, exercising a privilege which probably they alone among the English chapters retained, co-opted Swainson as a residentiary. For several years he represented the chapter in convocation. In 1864, on the preferment of Professor Harold Browne to the see of Ely, Swainson succeeded him as Norrisian professor of divinity. Resigning his other appointments, he retained his canonry, and also became warden of St. Mary's Hospital in Chichester, where he spent the whole of the income of his office in adding to the comforts of the aged inmates and restoring the chapel. In 1879, on the preferment of Dr. Lightfoot to the see of Durham, Swainson was chosen, without opposition, to succeed him as Lady Margaret's reader in divinity. In 1881 he was elected by the fellows of Christ's College to the mastership, and thereupon resigned his canonry. He was an active and genial master, acquainting himself by personal visits with the condition of the college estates, and giving great attention to the business occasioned by the introduction of the new code of statutes, which came into operation immediately after his accession to the mastership, and required, among other things, a complete change in the method of keeping the accounts. He was chosen vice-chancellor in 1885. His health from this time declined, and he died on 15 Sept. 1887.

In 1852 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Inman of Liverpool, and sister of Thomas and William Inman [q. v.]

In his theological opinions Swainson, though he was not untouched by the philosophy of Coleridge and by the tractarian movement, was always in the main a disciple of Hooker and the older English divines. He had remarkable power of work, and was one of the most generous and unselfish of men. He exercised a beneficial influence on his pupils, and drew about him a large circle of attached friends.

In the midst of his constant labours as a theological teacher he produced a valuable series of books. His first publication, in conjunction with Albert Henry Wratislaw [q. v.], also fellow of Christ's College, was ‘Commonplaces read in Christ's College Chapel,’ 1848. In 1856 he published ‘An Essay on the History of Article xxix,’ a work of considerable research. His Hulsean lectures for 1857 were published (1858) under the title ‘The Creeds of the Church in their relation to the Word of God and the Conscience of the Christian;’ those for 1858 on ‘The Authority of the New Testament, the Conviction of Righteousness, and the Ministry of Reconciliation’ were published in 1859. In 1871 he contributed to the ‘Sussex Archæological Collections’ (vol. xxiv.) an account of St. Mary's Hospital at Chichester. In 1869 the interest which he took in the creeds, shown already in his Hulsean lectures, led him to join with some warmth in the controversy as to the use of the so-called Athanasian creed in divine service. Without in any way impugning its dogmas, he thought a confession of faith so full of technical terms of theology ill fitted for the use of ordinary congregations. On this subject he published a ‘Letter to the Dean of Chichester on the Original Object of the Athanasian Creed,’ 1870, and ‘A Plea for Time in dealing with the Athanasian Creed,’ 1873. These were but preliminaries to a larger and much more important work, ‘The Nicene and Apostles' Creed, their Literary History, together with an Account of the Growth and Reception of the Sermon on the Faith commonly called the Creed of St. Athanasius,’ 1875. This was the fruit of great labour and research, involving a long journey on the continent for the purpose of visiting the libraries where the principal ancient manuscripts of the Athanasian ‘Expositio Fidei’ were to be found. In 1875 he also published ‘The Parliamentary History of the Act of Uniformity [of 1662], with Documents not hitherto published;’ in 1880 ‘The Advertisement of 1566, an Historical Enquiry,’ and ‘The Constitution and History of a Cathedral of the Old Foundation, illustrated by Documents in the Muniment-room at Chichester,’ pt. i. (no more published). His last literary production was ‘The Greek Liturgies, chiefly from Original Sources,’ 1884, edited for the syndics of the Cambridge University Press. For this very important work, which, in the opinion of so competent an authority as Professor Harnack, lays a firm foundation for all subsequent critical inquiry into the history of the Greek liturgies, besides the labour which he himself bestowed on collating accessible manuscripts, he procured at his own expense transcripts, facsimiles, or photographs (now deposited in the divinity school at Cambridge) of many manuscripts previously unknown in England. He also wrote elaborate articles on ‘Creeds’ and ‘Liturgies’ in Smith and Cheetham's ‘Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,’ and another article on ‘Creeds considered historically’ in Smith and Wace's ‘Dictionary of Christian Biography.’

[Private information; personal knowledge.]

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