Biography and Obituary of Fr Edward Yarnold SJ

Father Ted Yarnold a key ecumenist and highly-respected liturgist died on 23 July 2002, aged 76. His funeral was held at the Catholic Chaplaincy, Oxford, on 30 July 2002.

Father Edward Yarnold SJ was born on January 14, 1926 near London, and brought up in Leeds, where he attended the Jesuit college, St Michael's. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in St Beuno's, North Wales in 1943. He studied Greats (Latin and Greek) at Campion Hall, Oxford, from 1950 to 1954, achieving double first class honours.

He was ordained in 1960, and in 1962, following a further year of theology and a period of spiritual deepening, he was sent to teach classics back at his old high school.

Around this time, however, what is now the British Province of the Jesuits was being subjected to a Visitor: an emissary from the General in Rome with powers to undertake extensive reorganisation of the province's activities. This particular Visitor, Fr Gordon George, a Canadian, exercised his office robustly and controversially.

But he made at least one significant change that was to have a long-lasting and positive effect: he took Fr Ted out of high-school teaching, and appointed him to Campion Hall,the Jesuit house in Oxford,initially with special responsibility for spiritual formation. After a year, however, Ted was appointed Master, and it fell to him to lead the Oxford Jesuits through the changes that came with the Council,and the turmoils besetting academic institutions in the late 1960s. His relief at finishing his term was plain to see,but he nevertheless fulfilled it wisely and creatively. He was able to steer a judicious middle course, recognising — for all his innate caution — that many things had to change. His integrity and goodness mattered at a difficult time.

At the same time, Fr Ted was beginning the work as a professional theologian that was to occupy him for the rest of his life. He was particularly noted for his work in ecumenism, serving for many years on ARCIC, the commission charged with exploring issues thought to divide Roman Catholics from Anglicans, and he felt it keenly when his membership was abruptly terminated in the late 1980s.

His transparent goodness and courtesy enabled him to make a wide range of friendships both in the academic world and beyond; somehow, he could retain the trust and credibility of his dialogue partners in the Church of England, even as he was helping some noted Oxford Anglicans to enter rather publicly into full Roman Catholic communion.

He also made significant contributions in the fields of patristics, spirituality, mariology, liturgy, sacramental theology, ecclesiology and grace. Among his most important books are The Awe-Inspiring Rites of Initiation, The Second Gift (on the theology of grace), The Study of Liturgy (edited with Cheslyn Jones and Geoffrey Wainwright), and most recently Cyril of Jerusalem.

He was the first Roman Catholic to be awarded an Oxford DD (a higher doctorate) since the Reformation, and in 1981 the Archbishop of Canterbury awarded him the Cross of the Order of St Augustine in recognition of his contributions to ecumenism.

Fr Ted's colleagues, however, were never too conscious of these distinctions, or of the public respect and admiration in which he was held.They were more conscious of his pleasures:opera (particularly Wagner),cricket,latterly computers. More generally, what came across was a luminous simplicity, arising from his commitment to the Gospel as he understood it, a commitment lived out with his whole mind and his whole heart.

Even when you and he thought along very different lines, this goodness had its effect on you. Perhaps that was why he could be so effective in ecumenical work; for all his theological learning and analytic skill, it was below the words that Fr Ted communicated most effectively.

Source: Father Philip Endean, "Father Edward Yarnold SJ", Briefing, The Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England & Wales and Scotland, publisher; Primavera Quantrill, editor; published 14 August 2002. pg. 7.

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