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Erudition and Orthodoxy: John Fell and Patristic Scholarship in Restoration Oxford

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image of Erudition and the Republic of Letters

The Restoration was the heyday of patristic studies in England, particularly at Oxford under the guidance of John Fell. Fell was not only a good scholar in his own right; he used his patronage to organize collective undertakings and he refounded a learned press. He was able, moreover, to take advantage of the collections of patristic manuscripts, especially Greek, which had been acquired by the Bodleian Library since the 1620s. As a result, an unprecedented number of scholarly works were brought out by the new Oxford press. The ante-Nicene Fathers were clearly privileged, as is shown by most of Fell’s so-called New Year Books, the 1682 edition of Cyprian (his masterpiece), and some aborted projects by Fell’s protégés such as Henry Dodwell and John Mill. This was no accident, but rather the expression of a powerful doctrine of tradition. Indeed, Oxford patristics had an explicit, even aggressive, confessional agenda. It was meant to express and to promote a distinctive confessional identity. Already in Fell’s lifetime, however, the exploration of Christian antiquity began to threaten the orthodoxy it had been meant to buttress.

Affiliations: 1: École pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne, 45–47 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris, France,


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