Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lightfoot, Joseph Barber
LIGHTFOOT, JOSEPH BARBER (1828–1889), bishop of Durham, divine and scholar, was born at 84 Duke Street, Liverpool, on 13 April 1828. His father, John Jackson Lightfoot, an accountant, was a member of a Yorkshire family. His mother was Ann Matilda, daughter of Joseph Barber [q. v.] of Birmingham, but originally of Newcastle, and a sister of John Vincent Barber, the landscape artist. Lightfoot was a sickly child. Until he was thirteen he was educated by tutors at home, and then for about a year at the Liverpool Royal Institution under Dr. Iliff. In 1843 his father died; in January 1844 the family left their home at Tranmere, near Liverpool, for Birmingham, and Lightfoot was sent to King Edward's School, where he came under the potent influence of Dr. James Prince Lee's many-sided intellect and religious fervour. It is noteworthy in connection with Lightfoot's later studies that ‘there was one book to which Lee gave the crown of his teaching, there was one set of lessons which seemed to make even his others colourless—the lessons on the Greek New Testament’ (Benson, Memorial Sermon on Lee, 1870, p. 14). ‘I have sometimes thought,’ Lightfoot wrote many years later, ‘that if I were allowed to have one hour only of my past life over again, I would choose a Butler lesson under Lee’ (ib. p. 38). He entered the school a full-fledged student, the proud possessor of two big lexicons, a Scapula and a Forcellini, and himself the incipient author of a new lexicon, while at the same time he was fond of composition. His mathematics were as good as his classics. He delighted in work, and rarely joined in games. He had a cheerful temper, with much dry humour, and a certain quaintness of manner. On those who knew him best he left a deep impression of genuine piety. His chief friend at the school was E. W. Benson [q. v.], afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. On half-holidays they usually walked and read Greek plays together, and on whole holidays, in company with another friend, they made expeditions of thirty or forty miles on foot, visiting famous places. The intimacy lasted through life.
In October 1847 Lightfoot went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, as a pensioner, his college tutor being the Rev. W. H. Thompson, subsequently regius professor of Greek and master of Trinity. At the end of his first year he became a private pupil of B. F. Westcott, afterwards bishop of Durham, and read classics with him for the rest of his undergraduateship. Westcott had come up from King Edward's School, Birmingham, to Trinity three years before him. The intimacy thus formed exercised thenceforward a powerful, yet never overpowering, influence over Lightfoot's mind. As an undergraduate Lightfoot appears to have matured slowly. But he came out at the head of the classical tripos list of 1851, and also as first of the two chancellor's medallists, after he had graduated B.A. as thirtieth wrangler. Having been elected a scholar of Trinity in 1849, the earliest then possible date, he was elected a fellow in 1852. ‘When Mr. Lightfoot makes one of his charges,’ was the comment of his tutor, Thompson, ‘there is no resisting him.’ The following years were spent in the routine usual for a young resident fellow who had taken high honours—private study, instruction of private pupils (till the end of 1855), and college lectures. In 1853 Lightfoot obtained the Norrisian prize, the virtual subject being Philo. His essay was never published, and the manuscript was apparently destroyed by himself. In 1854 he was admitted to deacon's orders, and in 1858 to priest's orders, both times at the hands of Dr. Prince Lee, now become bishop of Manchester. Early in 1857, before he had completed his twenty-ninth year, he was appointed one of the three tutors of Trinity, and he threw himself with zeal into his work. In personal intercourse with his pupils, his natural shyness was a sore hindrance to him wherever the initiative had to be supplied and renewed by himself; but the slightest advance made by a pupil he seized eagerly as an opening for cordial speech and mutual confidence. He seems to have taken especial pleasure in gathering round him a few college pupils for long-vacation parties, in which he freely gave his time to helping them in their work, besides joining them in their expeditions. His college lectures were chiefly on classical subjects, and a marked feature of them was the warm interest displayed in the subject-matter, no less than the language. Some of these lectures were intended to take permanent shape in an edition of the Orestean trilogy of Æschylus, amply illustrated with essays; but unfortunately the project was never carried out, though even in the later years of residence at Cambridge it had hardly been relinquished. Besides classics, he lectured on the Greek New Testament with at least equal thoroughness and success. The study of this subject in Trinity had received a fresh impulse from the institution of prizes for distinction in it by the college in 1849, and by the foundation of the Dealtry prizes in the following year. This simultaneous occupation with classical and Christian literature approved itself entirely to his judgment, and was maintained in one form or another in his later literary work. The same ideal of study was represented in the title and purpose of the ‘Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology,’ of which he was one of the founders and, while it lasted (March 1854 to December 1859), one of the editors. His own contributions, however—some of the shorter notices of books excepted—dealt almost exclusively with St. Paul's Epistles or kindred topics.
In 1860 Lightfoot was an unsuccessful candidate for the newly established Hulsean professorship of divinity [see under Hulse, John], but when his successful rival, Mr. C. J. Ellicott, became in 1861 bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Lightfoot was chosen professor in his place. Lightfoot's professorial lectures consisted chiefly, if not wholly, of expositions of parts of books of the New Testament, and especially of St. Paul's Epistles, with discussions of the leading topics usually included in ‘Introductions’ to these books. Their value and interest were soon widely recognised in the university, and before long no lecture-room then available sufficed to contain the hearers, both candidates for holy orders and older residents; so that leave had to be obtained for the use of the hall of Trinity. Nor was it through his public teaching alone that the university benefited. At a time of theological disquiet and violence outside Cambridge, Lightfoot's deliberate tone of toleration aided in counteracting any tendencies to disunion within the university.
Meanwhile Lightfoot took his full share in the various business of the university. In 1860 he was elected a member of the new ‘council of the senate’ which had been constituted in 1856 as the body responsible for the submission of all ‘graces’ (or votes), legislative or administrative, to the senate. The term of office is four years, and he was three times re-elected, so that, except for an interval of two years, he was on the council from 1860 to 1878. In the discussions of the council-room his words soon came to carry great weight, all the greater for the quietness of his manner and his freedom from self-assertion or partisanship. He was at all times a most efficient supporter of every effort to increase the usefulness of the university. ‘One of the movements in which he’ was ‘concerned was the establishment of the local examinations.’ Though not the chief organiser, he ‘took a prominent part in moulding the scheme, and contributed much to giving it a fair start.’ In 1861 the prince consort, the chancellor of the university, made Lightfoot one of his chaplains. In the following year Lightfoot was appointed chaplain to the queen, and in 1875 deputy-clerk of the closet. He was Whitehall preacher in 1866–7, and select preacher at Oxford in 1874–5. He took his D.D. degree at Cambridge in 1864, and at a later time received the honorary doctorates of five universities: Durham (D.D.), Oxford (D.C.L.), and Glasgow (LL.D.) in 1879, Edinburgh (D.D.) in 1884, and Dublin (LL.D.) in 1888. In 1862 he became examining chaplain to the Bishop of London (Tait), and continued acting in the same capacity for him at Lambeth till his own removal from Cambridge. Between the two men there was no small resemblance of mind and character; and their intercourse led to warm mutual esteem and confidence.
When Jeremie resigned the regius professorship of divinity in 1870, Lightfoot used all his influence to induce his friend Westcott to become a candidate, and resolutely declined to stand himself. After his death Dr. Westcott wrote: ‘He called me to Cambridge to occupy a place which was his own by right; and having done this he spared no pains to secure for his colleague favourable opportunities for action, while he himself withdrew from the position which he had long virtually occupied’ (Preface to Clement of Rome, 2nd edit.) Five years later Dr. Selwyn's death left the Lady Margaret's professorship vacant, and Lightfoot became his successor. From 1870 to 1879 the two friends worked together, and with good effect: apart from their services to direct teaching and to the various work of the university, they succeeded in awakening a strong and fruitful interest in the highest subjects among undergraduates, and not a few of the younger graduates. In 1870 Lightfoot transferred to the university 4,500l. for the foundation of three scholarships for ‘the encouragement of the study of ecclesiastical history in itself and in connection with general history.’ The Lady Margaret's professorship was endowed with the rectory of Terrington St. Clement, Norfolk, and he restored the chancel of the church in 1878–9, at a cost of 2,140l. In 1871 his acceptance of a canonry at St. Paul's called forth all his powers as a preacher. Prizing greatly the opportunities of utterance thus afforded him, he threw himself with his wonted energy into the new work; and before long large congregations filled the cathedral when it was his turn to occupy the pulpit. He was entirely happy in his position as a member of the chapter. Widely as he differed in opinion from some of his brother canons, he lived on terms of cordial friendship with them all, and especially with Dean Church. In 1872 he took his share of the Tuesday evening lectures delivered by the canons of St. Paul's in the Chapter-house, his subject being ‘Christian Life in the second and third Centuries;’ and in 1873 he lectured on ‘Christianity and Paganism,’ chiefly with reference to Julian. The latter course was published in the ‘Christian World Pulpit,’ Nos. 106–8, vol. iv.
Much of Lightfoot's time and thought during this period was taken up by the revised version of the New Testament. He was one of the original members of the New Testament Company of Revisers, which was at work from July 1870 till November 1880, and he was rarely absent from its sessions (occupying forty days in every year) till he was kept away by the claims of episcopal duties in the north. There is reason to believe that the general character of the revision was in no small measure determined by his earnest pleading at the first session against acquiescence in a perfunctory or inadequate type of revision, and especially in the use of a late and unrevised Greek text. In after years, when the outcry against the Revised New Testament was loudest, he remained faithful to his original contention, and expressed publicly his dissent from most of the objections made, which he believed to originate chiefly in the unrecognised operation of mere familiarity (Charge of 1882, pp. 77–81, and elsewhere).
In 1877 the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act nominated Lightfoot one of seven commissioners for Cambridge. Lightfoot's intimate acquaintance with the university and with what it was doing or desiring to do, his wisdom, and his impartiality were invaluable qualifications for the post. Some months of 1881 had passed before the Cambridge commission ended its work, and Lightfoot's attendance at its later proceedings was much interrupted. But the larger questions of principle had been settled at an earlier date, and he fully shared responsibility for the new statutes.
In January 1879 Lightfoot visited Liverpool, the place of his early schooling under Dr. Iliff. He gave by invitation an address in St. George's Hall at the distribution of scholarships and prizes offered by the Liverpool Council of Education. The chief theme of this address, which was published, was the recent proposal that a university college should be founded at Liverpool. He maintained that such a college ought to be established in every great centre of population, and that women should be admitted to take advantage of it, the power of conferring degrees being, however, reserved for some central university. In the following year the Liverpool University College was founded.
In 1867 Lightfoot had declined Lord Derby's offer of the bishopric of Lichfield. He had no desire to exchange his own position at Cambridge for any other. But when in January 1879 Lord Beaconsfield proposed to him that he should succeed Dr. Baring in the see of Durham, most of the few intimate friends whose counsels he sought were strenuous in urging that as bishop of Durham he would be able to render increased service to the church and nation; and after a few days of painful anxiety he yielded to their representations. The election by the dean and chapter took place on 15 March, the confirmation on 10 April, the consecration in Westminster Abbey by the Archbishop of York and seven other bishops on 25 April, when the sermon was preached by Dr. Westcott. On 15 May the new bishop was enthroned in Durham Cathedral, and himself preached a striking sermon (reprinted in Leaders in the Northern Church, p. 159). He was the first bishop after Cosin in 1660 to become bishop of Durham without having held another see.
The two charges which Lightfoot delivered to the clergy of his diocese, in December 1882 and November 1886 respectively, contain abundant evidence of the thoroughness and success with which he devoted himself to every department of his unaccustomed work, neglecting no routine, and making the best of all existing resources, but quick to discern deficiencies and to devise or adopt new agencies for supplying them. His first care was for the division of the diocese, which the enormous growth of the population of both its counties (Durham and Northumberland) within this century had long made a crying need. For some while, indeed, he found it inopportune, owing to commercial and agricultural distress, to ask for contributions to the endowment fund for the Newcastle see. But in the course of 1881 the funds still needed were collected, and on 25 July 1882 the first bishop of Newcastle was consecrated (cf. Durham Diocesan Mag. ii. 144 and 170). Within his own, reduced but still populous, diocese the subdivision of parishes and consequent multiplication of centres of activity, which had been vigorously promoted by Bishop Baring, was carried yet further; the rural deaneries were increased in number, and their boundaries readjusted (July 1880), and the single archdeaconry was divided into two (May 1882). A diocesan conference of clergy and laity assembled for the first time in September 1880, and thenceforth met biennially. For the purpose of increasing the number of churches and mission chapels, Lightfoot called together a public meeting in the town-hall of Durham in January 1884 to start a church building fund, and was able in less than three years to report that above 40,000l. had been already subscribed directly through the fund, besides contributions almost equal in amount called out by it indirectly (Charge of 1886, p. 10); while nearly 224,000l. had been expended on churches, parsonages, church schools, mission-rooms, church institutes, churchyards, &c., in the diocese within four years. In 1886 at his suggestion the diocesan conference established a general diocesan fund, partly to feed existing diocesan institutions ‘connected with the church’ (i.e. fabrics), ‘the school, and the ministry;’ his own contribution was 500l. a year (cf. Durham Diocesan Mag. iv. 14 sq.)
Meanwhile the ministrations of the clergy were supplemented by lay readers for many parishes, and (from 1886) by lay evangelists for several rural deaneries; and in some parishes the employment of the Church Army was approved. In order to increase the proportion of university men among his clergy, Lightfoot from the first made ‘Auckland Castle the seat of a small college of graduates preparing for ordination in his diocese … and his last charge to young Cambridge friends was to “send him up some men to the north.” Six to eight students were always with him, reading under the guidance of his chaplains, and getting some experience of parochial work in Auckland and the pit villages within the parish. They were treated entirely as sons; they were part of the family when visitors came, and he would receive no payment from them’ (Mr. Appleton in Cambridge Review, 23 Jan. 1890). The bond thus formed was kept up by yearly reunions at Auckland Castle on St. Peter's day. There were in all about eighty who enjoyed this training before going forth into the diocese. At the same time the proportion of deacons newly ordained from Oxford or Cambridge to the whole number rose from a fifth in the last four years of the preceding episcopate to above half in Lightfoot's first four years, and in the four following years to three-fifths. Similarly he took every opportunity of manifesting his interest in the university of Durham, of which he was officially visitor, and endowed it in 1882 with a scholarship bearing the name of his predecessor, Richard de Bury (cf. his speech on ‘Higher Education’ in Durham Diocesan Mag. iv. 7 sq.) With a view to supplementing the work of the parochial clergy, Lightfoot was desirous of creating a staff of diocesan preachers, and as a first step filled up a vacant canonry by the appointment of a ‘canon missioner’ for the diocese. He interested himself especially in the various missions and institutes for seamen in the great ports (cf. ib. iii. 165), and under his guidance a diocesan board of education was established by the diocesan conference in 1886. Having been himself an ‘abstainer,’ though by no means a fanatical one, for some years before he left Cambridge, he was a warm friend of the Church of England Temperance Society (cf. ib. iii. 57, and Church of England Temp. Chron. for 22 May 1886, p. 242). But the cause which appealed most strongly to his sympathies in the region of morals was that of purity; and it was at Auckland that the ‘White Cross’ movement took its rise in 1883 (cf. his art. in Contemp. Review, August 1885).
In the convocation of the province of York, Lightfoot found a ready hearing. He spoke with much effect in 1879 on the Athanasian Creed, the use of which in public worship he desired to see made optional (York Journal of Convocation, 1879, pt. ii. pp. 128 sq.); in 1883 on the Revised Version (ib. 1883, pp. 18 sq.); in 1883 and 1884 on the permanent diaconate, the introduction of which he deprecated on practical grounds (ib. 1883, pp. 54 sq., and 1884, pp. 46 sq.); and in 1884 on the church ministry of women, with special reference to the ‘deaconesses’ of the New Testament—a favourite topic with him (ib. 1884, pp. 124 sq.; cf. also ib. 1880 pp. 48 sq., 1881 pp. 23 sq., 1884 pp. 84 sq., 1885 pp. 22 sq., 74, 128). At the Church Congress meeting at Bath in 1873 he had spoken on the best means of quickening interest in theological thought. During his episcopate he took part in four Church Congresses, presiding himself at Newcastle in 1881. At Leicester, in 1880, he read a paper on ‘The Internal Unity of the Church,’ and at Carlisle in 1884 on ‘The Results of recent Historical and Theological Research upon the Old and New Testament Scriptures;’ at Wolverhampton, in 1887, he preached one of the congress sermons. Two other gatherings over which he presided deserve mention, as illustrations of his varied interests, the Congress of Co-operative Societies at Newcastle in May 1880, and the British Archæological Association at Darlington in July 1886.
Although he abhorred all personal state and luxury, Lightfoot took great delight in having Auckland Castle as his home. It appealed in many ways to his historic instincts, while it offered accommodation for the many gatherings on which he relied in order to bring himself into personal contact with the clergy and laity of his diocese. He spent much thought and money on the adornment of the beautiful Early English hall which Cosin at the Restoration had converted into a chapel in place of the demolished chapel of earlier times. He enriched the windows with stained glass, in which the early story of the Northumbrian church was depicted. In like manner he took much pains in filling the gaps in the series of portraits of bishops of Durham in the castle.
In the severe spring of 1888 Lightfoot felt the strain of confirmations, a part of his work in which he always took especial pleasure. Later in the year he took an active part in the Lambeth Pan-Anglican Conference, 3–27 July, but, as he said later, the work ‘broke him down hopelessly.’ It is understood that he drafted the report of the committee on purity, which was adopted unanimously by the conference. Subsequently at his invitation nearly sixty of the bishops attended the festival with which he reopened his chapel after restoration in Auckland Castle (1 Aug.) He himself preached the sermon, a warm but not unguarded eulogy on Cosin. A medical examination in London in July had revealed a critical condition of the heart. A visit to Braemar, where he had in former years entertained at his lodgings weekly relays of hard-worked curates from his diocese, with now and then older friends, proved of little benefit, and he settled for the winter at Bournemouth. There, after a time of great peril in January 1889, he recovered sufficiently to return to Auckland by the end of May. On 2 July he consecrated the church of St. Ignatius the Martyr at Sunderland, which had been built wholly at his expense as a thankoffering promised after seven happy years of his episcopate. In spite of a fresh relapse he undertook the September ordinations. On 17 Oct. he presided over the diocesan conference at Sunderland, and on the 29th he was publicly presented at Durham with a pastoral staff (cf. Guardian, 1889, p. 1699). On 3 Dec. he arrived in Bournemouth. On 17 Dec. he became seriously ill, and he died on 21 Dec. 1889, of congestion of the lungs, due to dilatation of the heart. On 26 Dec. the body was removed to Durham; a vast congregation joined in a memorial service in the cathedral on the morning of 27 Dec.; the body was finally conveyed by road to Auckland Castle, and was buried under the east end of the central aisle of the chapel there. Numerous nonconformists attended, not heeding the vehement protest against disestablishment to which Lightfoot had given utterance at the diocesan conference of 1885.
By will, and an immediately antecedent instrument, Lightfoot created a trust called ‘The Lightfoot Fund for the Diocese of Durham,’ for the erection of buildings for church purposes, the providing of ‘stipends for clergy and other spiritual agents in connection with the Church of England’ in the diocese, and for other purposes under the same conditions at the discretion of the trustees. To the trustees (whom he also made residuary legatees) he assigned full ownership in his works and copyrights. The trustees have thus become virtually his literary executors, and several posthumous volumes have been published under their direction. The whole of Lightfoot's episcopal income had been yearly expended by him for purposes within the diocese. His library was by his wish divided between the university of Durham and the Cambridge divinity school.
Mr. W. B. Richmond's portrait of Lightfoot, painted a few weeks before his death, is in Auckland Castle, and is the property of the see; a replica hangs in the hall of Trinity College, Cambridge. In the library of the same college is a sketch by Mr. Lowes Dickinson, founded on an excellent photograph taken at Bournemouth. An altar tomb erected to his memory in Durham Cathedral was unveiled on 24 Oct. 1892, and a memorial restoration of the destroyed chapter-house is projected.
Lightfoot's contributions to biblical criticism practically began with the review of ‘Recent Editions of St. Paul's Epistles,’ the most important of the articles which he wrote for the ‘Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology’ (iii. 81–121, March 1856). It deals principally with the editions of St. Paul's earlier epistles, brought out simultaneously by A. P. Stanley and Professor Jowett. Of both editions generally he speaks in terms of hearty respect and admiration. He convicts Stanley, however, of numerous misstatements, self-contradictions, and inaccuracies. His still more elaborate examination of Professor Jowett's book turns almost wholly on matters of principle. The two chief positions which he maintains against Jowett are, first, that the late Greek in which the New Testament is written is as precise a language as the classical Attic, however widely differing from it; and, next, that neither St. Paul's antecedents nor the internal evidence of his epistles supply any reasons for thinking that he had imperfect knowledge of the language in which he wrote, or imperfect skill in using it. These pages are essentially a vindication of the conviction which underlies all Lightfoot's own commentaries, that the only safe way to the meaning of a great writer lies through faith in his language, and therefore through exact investigation of grammar and vocabulary. The article at once made Lightfoot widely known as an unusually competent biblical critic. On receiving a copy, Stanley sent it to their common friend, John Conington, professor of Latin at Oxford, asking his opinion about it, and was advised in reply to ‘surrender at discretion.’ Stanley not only took the advice, but sent a kindly answer. Professor Jowett did the same; and thus the foundations of future friendships were laid.
Lightfoot himself published commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians (1865; 10th edit. 1890), to the Philippians (1868; 9th edit. 1888), and to the Colossians, with the Epistle to Philemon (1875; 10th edit. 1892). These were originally intended to form part of a complete edition of ‘St. Paul's Epistles,’ to be ‘prefaced by a general introduction and arranged in chronological order.’ Accordingly they sometimes refer the reader to a projected (but unwritten) commentary on Thessalonians for explanations of important words occurring in those earliest epistles. Some very fragmentary notes prepared by Lightfoot for his lectures on other epistles of St. Paul are extant, and selections from them appeared in 1895. In the first three published volumes the commentary is of a high order, and, though rarely of great length, abounds in valuable and pertinent matter not to be found elsewhere. Technical language is as far as possible avoided, and exposition, essentially scientific, is clothed in simple and transparent language. The natural meaning of each verse is set forth without polemical matter. The prevailing characteristic is masculine good sense unaccompanied by either the insight or the delusion of subtlety. Introductions, which precede the commentaries, handle the subject-matter with freshness and reality, almost every section being in effect a bright little historical essay. The ample new material was chiefly drawn from Greek and Latin inscriptions and the exact study of localities. To each commentary is appended a dissertation, which includes some of Lightfoot's most careful and thorough work. To the old problem ‘On the Brethren of the Lord’ he brings new light by tracing an orderly history in the seeming chaos of patristic tradition on ‘James, the Lord's brother.’ The dissertation on ‘St. Paul and the Three’ is the necessary supplement to the commentary on Galatians ii. Together they constitute Lightfoot's most important contribution to the Tübingen controversy. Both are written throughout temperately and dispassionately (cf. Preface, p. ix). The dissertation sketches with simple directness ‘the progressive history of the relations between the Jewish and Gentile converts in the early ages of the church, as gathered from the apostolic writings, aided by such scanty information as can be got together from other sources.’ Thus what he offers is not a refutation of the conclusions of the Tübingen scholars, but a rival interpretation and a rival picture. It is solid and lasting work, and hardly the less original because of a certain indebtedness pointed out by Lightfoot himself to the second edition of Ritschl's ‘Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche’ (p. 285; also ‘Philippians,’ p. 187). His edition of ‘Philippians’ contains, besides an interesting study on ‘St. Paul and Seneca,’ a much canvassed dissertation on ‘The Christian Ministry;’ that is, to use his own words of 1881 (Preface to sixth edition), ‘an investigation into its origin.’ The first part deals chiefly with the development of monarchical episcopacy out of the primitive presbyterate, a change which, so far as Asia Minor is concerned, Lightfoot holds to have been sanctioned by St. John in his old age, and with the chief changes in the office, and in the language used about it, in the early centuries. The second part traces the origin and growth of what Lightfoot calls ‘the sacerdotal view of the ministry.’ Probably no better sketch exists of what is even now known regarding these departments of the early history of Christian institutions. Similarly the three dissertations on the Essenes appended to ‘Colossians,’ if here and there open to criticism, are always rational and comprehensive. Lightfoot had looked forward to writing a commentary on the Acts. A partial substitute for it will be found in an article on the Acts which he contributed to the second edition of the ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ 1893.
Lightfoot's book on ‘A fresh Revision of the New Testament’ (1871, reprinted 1881, with an appendix on the last petition of the Lord's Prayer from the ‘Guardian,’ 7, 14, 21 Sept. 1881) is not only the most trustworthy defence (by anticipation) of the revised version, but a valuable collection of biblical criticisms, at once accurate and readily intelligible.
A very different contribution to biblical criticism was the account of the Coptic versions of the New Testament, and of the known manuscripts of them, which Lightfoot wrote for the second and enlarged for the third edition of Scrivener's ‘Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament’ (1874, 1883). This is a tentative piece of work, but it supplies at present the only list of these manuscripts accessible in print. It is one fruit of the labour bestowed by Lightfoot on learning the Coptic and Armenian languages for purposes of criticism.
To biblical and patristic criticism alike belong the nine articles which Lightfoot wrote in the ‘Contemporary Review’ (December 1874–May 1877) in reply to the anonymous book entitled ‘Supernatural Religion.’ On the first or speculative part of the book he said very little. By mental habit he shrank from what seemed to him abstract speculation. In answer to the second or historical part, he discussed exhaustively the evidence borne by Christian writers of the first two centuries to the several books of the New Testament. The articles were unfortunately broken off by increasing want of leisure, but during Lightfoot's illness on his first stay at Bournemouth in 1889 he yielded at last to many urgent requests for republication, and with Mr. Harmer's help reprinted the papers in a volume. He added notes chiefly referring to changes made or not made by the anonymous author in his later editions, and an article, ‘Discoveries illustrating the Acts of the Apostles,’ from the ‘Contemporary Review’ for May 1878. It is matter for regret that the circumstances of republication involved the retention of ephemeral and merely personal matter. The tone of rebuke towards an opponent found here, and here only, in Lightfoot's writings, a tone forced from him by moral indignation, may easily hide from the reader the calm, judicial character and the permanent value of the discussion of patristic evidence.
The second great department of study on which Lightfoot left his mark was that of early post-biblical Christian literature and history. In 1869 he published all that was then known of the text of the ‘Epistle of Clement of Rome,’ and of the homily attributed to Clement as a second epistle, together with short introductions and an admirable commentary. The volume was described as ‘the first part of a complete edition of the Apostolic Fathers.’ At the time Lightfoot contemplated ‘a history of Early Christian Literature,’ for which he reserved matter that would otherwise have accompanied the text. In 1877 he was induced by the discovery of the missing parts of Clement's two works, both in a Greek manuscript and in a Syriac version, to publish an appendix containing these new texts in the original with a commentary, various readings, complete English translations, and enlarged introductions. The preparation of a second edition was what chiefly occupied the hours given to study in the latest years of Lightfoot's life, and especially in the intervals of his illnesses. ‘He was busy with Clement till he fell into a half-unconscious state, three days before his death.’ This unfinished ‘second edition,’ which was issued in 1890, contains abundance of fresh matter, including two great essays on the ‘Early Roman Succession of Bishops,’ and on ‘Hippolytus of Portus.’ The former is the most successful attempt yet made to solve a problem as intricate as it is for purposes of chronology important, together with various subsidiary suggestions less likely to be ultimately accepted. The latter, though left incomplete, is again the most thorough monograph on the subject that we possess. Not the least interesting feature of the book is the attention bestowed on De Rossi's explorations of subterranean Rome, and the careful weighing of historical conclusions drawn from monumental and literary evidence in the field of Roman archæology.
The edition of Ignatius and Polycarp, which forms the second part of Lightfoot's ‘Apostolic Fathers,’ ‘was the motive,’ he tell us, ‘and is the core, of the whole.’ He was fascinated by the Ignatian problem nearly thirty years before his first edition appeared (2 vols. in 3, 1885; 2nd edit., 3 vols., 1889). Originally, like many unprejudiced students, he accepted as genuine only those three (or rather abridgments of three) out of seven Ignatian epistles which Cureton had found in an early Syriac manuscript; and the notes which Lightfoot originally wrote were framed on this assumption. He never saw any probability in the opinion still held by many, that all the seven alike are spurious, and at last he convinced himself that the seven epistles unabridged were genuine. He was partly led to this result by the arguments of Zahn's ‘Ignatius von Antiochien’ (1873). The masterly defence of the conclusions thus slowly reached has already produced a clear though hardly a decisive effect on critical opinion, in spite of the strong prepossessions which it has had to encounter. After all, however, this discussion occupies only 120 out of nearly 2,000 pages, and the whole book is of a quality that needs no adventitious flavour of controversy. It abounds in texts and translations not only of Ignatius and Polycarp, but of various writings connected with their names. Much is done towards making Ignatius's own words free from textual corruption. The commentaries reach Lightfoot's usual standard, and in addition the martyrdoms under Trajan and the three following emperors are carefully investigated, with an examination of ‘imperial letters and ordinances’ concerning the Christians in these last three reigns. Another of Lightfoot's masterly contributions to patristic studies is his article on ‘Eusebius of Cæsarea’ in the ‘Dictionary of Christian Biography’ (1880). It is a model monograph, supplying a studiously fair and accurate account of that bishop's eventful life, and of his numerous and important writings.
The permanent value of Lightfoot's historical work depends on his sagacity in dealing with the materials out of which history has to be constructed. He was invariably faithful to a rigorous philological discipline, and was preserved by native candour from distorting influences. But history meant not less to him as a man than as a scholar. He found it, he said, the best cordial for drooping spirits. He used all local and personal associations for impressing on others something of his own vivid sense of fellowship with men of different ages and of different nations. This characteristic he also signally exemplified in the sermons which were published after his death under the title ‘Leaders in the Northern Church’ (1890, 3rd ed. 1892).
What impression Lightfoot made on an eminently competent foreign critic and theologian, not personally known to him, may be learned from a tribute paid by Adolf Harnack, professor of church history at Berlin, in the ‘Theologische Literaturzeitung’ of 14 June 1890. ‘His editions and commentaries … as well as his critical dissertations have an imperishable value, and even where it is impossible to agree with his results, his grounds are never to be neglected. The respect for his opponent which distinguished him … has brought him the highest respect of all parties. … There never has been an apologist who was less of an advocate than Lightfoot. … Not only measured by the standard of the official theology of the English church was he an independent free scholar, but he was this likewise in the absolute sense of the words. He has never defended a tradition for the tradition's sake.’
Apart from works already mentioned and separate sermons and addresses, there have been published: ‘Ordination Addresses and Counsels to Clergy,’ 1890, 2nd ed. 1891; ‘Cambridge Sermons,’ 1891; ‘Sermons preached in St. Paul's Cathedral,’ 1891; and ‘Sermons preached on Special Occasions,’ 1891; ‘The Apostolic Fathers; revised texts, with short introductions and English translations,’ 1891; ‘Biblical Essays,’ 1893, and ‘Historical Essays,’ 1895. Papers by him appear in the ‘Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology’ on biblical subjects (1885 ii. 194 sq., 1856 iii. 81 sq., 289 sq., 1857 iv. 57 sq.); and on classical topics (1854 i. 109 sq., 1858 iv. 153, 294). To the ‘Journal of Philology’ he contributed several articles on patristic and biblical subjects (1868 i. 98, ii. 47, 157, 1869 ii. 204, 1871 iii. 193); and he also made some valuable communications to the ‘Academy’ (9 Oct. and 19 Nov. 1869, on Renan's ‘St. Paul;’ 21 May 1889, on ‘The Lost Catalogue of Hegesippus;’ 21 Sept. 1889, ‘The Muratorian Fragment’). He was a contributor to Dr. Smith's ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ 1863 (iii. 1053 ‘Romans;’ 1447 ‘Thessalonians’); and to the ‘Dictionary of Christian Biography’ (i. 1877, 25 arts. ii. 1880, ‘Eusebius’). A lecture on the ‘Internal Evidence for the Authenticity and Genuineness of St. John's Gospel’ was printed in the ‘Expositor’ (January–February, 1889), and another on ‘Donne, the Poet Preacher,’ delivered at St. James's, Piccadilly, in ‘The Classic Preachers of the English Church,’ 1877. Lightfoot also edited Mansel's ‘Gnostic Heresies,’ 1875, and the notes to the posthumous fragment (Antioch) of Neale's ‘Holy Eastern Church,’ issued in 1873.
[Obituary notices in Durham and Newcastle papers, 23 Dec. 1889; Record, 27 Dec. 1889; Guardian, 1 Jan. 1890; Cambridge Review, 23 Jan. 1890; communications from friends; personal knowledge. A complete bibliography kindly drawn up by the Rev. J. R. Harmer, the editor of Lightfoot's posthumous works, has been largely used in this article.]