The subject of the present sketch occupies the chair of the Regius Professorship
of Divinity at Cambridge. Dr. Swete is a biblical scholar and theologian of
whom any university might well be proud. The extensive range of his biblical
and patristic studies, careful and exact scholarship, and the variety of his
work have given him an eminent place among the scholars of today, and have secured
for him the attention and respect of his fellow-labourers in the same field
It is not the purpose, however, of the writer of this sketch to attempt to
appraise the merits of Dr. Swete. That is beyond his powers. To estimate the
value of the work of any living man must always be a difficult and delicate
task. Nor is it the writer's intention, however much personal indebtedness might
induce him, to attempt anything in the way of a public eulogy, knowing how distasteful
to the subject of this sketch anything of the kind would be. Accordingly, the
present article will be confined as far as possible to illustrating the services
which Dr. Swete has rendered to biblical and theological learning, by some account
of his work, together with such personal details of his life as are likely to
interest the reader.
Born in 1835, Henry Barclay Swete educated at King's
College, London, and Gonville
and Caius College, Cambridge, of which latter foundation he was a scholar.
Among his university distinctions may be mentioned the Carus Prize in 1855 and
the Members' Prize in 1857. In 1858 he graduated with the First Class Honours
in the Classical Tripos, and shortly afterwards was elected a Fellow of his
College. For some years he was engaged in pastoral work, holding successively
the curacies of Blagdon and All Saints', Cambridge. From 1869-77 he was occupied
with College work as dean, tutor, and theological lecturer at his own college.
It was during this period that his first great piece of theological work was
done. This consisted of two essays on the history of the doctrine of the Holy
Spirit, published in 1873 and 1876. From 1877-90 he held the college living
of Ashdon, a small country village in Essex. It will thus be seen that from
the conclusion of his undergraduate days to the time of his recall to Cambridge
in 1890 to occupy the professorship which he now holds, Dr. Swete has led a
comparatively quiet and uneventful life. Over twenty years have been spent in
pastoral work, and thirteen of these in a country village. During a portion
of this time, however, from 1882-90, he fulfilled the duties of Professor of
Pastoral Theology at King's College, London, of which he was elected a Fellow
in 1891. But the retirement of an English country parsonage, in this case as
in so many others, has been productive of good results to the cause of scholarship
and learning, and if circumstances have conspired with Dr. Swete's natural shrinking
from a life of publicity to give him sufficient leisure for study and literary
work, the world of scholarship at least has good cause for gratitude. The somewhat
uneventful course of these years was broken, however, by occasional travel,
generally in search of health, including a visit to Egypt and Palestine in 1868-69
and to Asia Minor, Turkey, and Greece in 1888. More recently, in 1894, a similar
cause led him to an interesting visit to North Africa.
Dr. Swete is an indefatigable worker, as is evidenced by the amount of work
which he has already produced. During his residence at Ashdon he published to
two volumes of his critical edition of the commentaries of Theodore of Mopsuestia
upon the Minor Epistles of St. Paul, including the Latin version and Greek fragments.
The work is prefaced by a lengthy introduction, in which are discussed the text
and history of the Latin translation, the exegetical value of the commentaries
and their relation to other ancient commentaries, and, lastly, the doctrinal
system of Theodore. A few years later, in 1887, Dr. Swete made a further contribution
to the study of this extremely interesting Father in his article on Theodore
in Smith's Dictionary of Christian Biography. The whole of this work
forms a solid contribution to patristic learning and a valuable aid to the student
of the exegesis of St. Paul's Epistles.
Within the same period falls a still more valuable contribution to the same Dictionary, the article upon the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,
which appeared in 1882 and embodied the results of his earlier studies. The
history of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a subject which Dr. Swete has
made quite his own, and it is not too much to say of this article that is has
become the locus classicus for students of the history of this portion
of Christian doctrine. Quite recently Dr. Swete has made a further contribution
to the subject by an article in the new Dictionary of the Bible edited
by Dr. Hastings, in which he deals with the revelation of the Holy Spirit in
the Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha.
During the same period Dr. Swete began his work, of which we shall have to
speak more fully later on, of editing a new edition of the Septuagint, the first
volumes of which was produced in 1887.
We have as yet said nothing of Dr. Swete's connexion with other scholars. In
addition to the privilege of occasional intercourse with Bishops Lightfoot and
Westcott, the friendship of Dr. Hort, and subsequently the association with
him in theological work at Cambridge, have been especially fruitful to the cause
of scholarship, and have further helped to identify Dr. Swete with the traditions
and ideas of the Cambridge school of biblical criticism. It was especially to
Dr. Hort's help and counsel that much of the plan and working out of the manual
edition of the Cambridge Septuagint were due.
In 1890 Dr. Westcott, the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, was consecrated
Bishop of Durham, and Dr. Swete was appointed to succeed him in his professorial
work at Cambridge. Hitherto his theological studies had been pursued amid other
duties, but this new sphere enabled him to throw himself exclusively into theological
teaching and work. The nine years which have elapsed since his appointment have
been years of untiring work, though hampered at times by indifferent health.
In addition to his professorial lectures, including courses on subjects connected
with New Testament exegesis, Christian doctrine, and Church history, Dr. Swete
has increasingly devoted himself to the task of arousing among younger Cambridge
men an interest in biblical and theological studies, and stimulating them to
original work and research. Those who have been privileged to study under his
direction will not lightly forget his sympathetic and kindly manner, his readiness
to devote time and trouble to aid those who seek his counsel, and still more
his wide knowledge of the vast field of English and foreign theological literature.
But more especially has this new sphere of work set him free for literary labours.
Since 1890 his productions have been numerous, and have attracted in an increasing
degree the attention of scholars. In 1892 Trinity College, Dublin, recognised
his work by conferring upon him the honourary degree of Litt.D.
We may select three of his productions as representative of the variety and
quality of Dr. Swete's work. The first is the manual edition of the Septuagint. The history if this is given in the introduction of the first volume, which
appeared in 1887. The work arose out of scheme suggested to the Syndics of the
University Press by Dr. Scivener in 1875. The plan as finally adopted by the
Committee included preparation of two editions, based upon the Vatican MS. The
smaller edition, for which Dr. Swete has been responsible, was intended to prepare
the way for a larger edition, which is now occupying the labours of two Cambridge
scholars, and which will include an extensive apparatus criticus with
Prolegomena. This smaller edition gives at the foot of the text the variations
of a few of the most important uncial MSS, while appendices at the end of each
volume present minor variations. The second volume appeared in 1891, and was
followed in 1894 by a third, in which Dr. Swete received the assistance of two
younger Cambridge scholars. It is easy to see how much the labours of the scholars
who are engaged upon the larger edition have been lightened by this extensive
piece of work, and the fact that it represents only one side of his interests
and his productive power.
A small book, published in 1894, illustrates another side of Dr Swete's work.
It bears the title The Apostles' Creed in Relation to Primitive Christianity,
and contains a criticism of Dr. Harnack's theories upon the Apostles' Creed,
which had recently been made accessible to the English public in an article
by Mrs. Humphry Ward in the Nineteenth Century for July 1893. This book
illustrates in a conspicuous manner some of the best features of Dr. Swete's
work. The scholarship is careful and exact, the doctrinal inferences are drawn
in a clear and convincing manner, and above all there is a crisp, light touch
about the style, which is one of the features of all Dr. Swete's literary works.
A third work, which only appeared in the autumn of last year, reveals Dr. Swete
in yet another aspect, as a biblical commentator. By his recent edition of St.
Mark's Gospel he has laid biblical students under a fresh debt of gratitude.
Hitherto there has been no adequate work dealing with this Gospel, which probably
represents the most primitive tradition of the Lord's earthly life. Dr. Swete's
new book is an instalment towards the supply of this deficiency. That it is
an instalment only is implied in the preface to the book, in which the author
expresses the hope that it may be possible for him to deal in a subsequent volume
with some of the larger questions with regard to St. Mark's Gospel which still
await further investigations. But within the limits of the present work he has
given to scholars, meanwhile, a careful exegesis of the text of the Gospel.
As a commentator the author exhibits the same precise and careful scholarship,
and the same neatness of style, as characterize his other work. He treats in
a broad and liberal spirit questions of criticism, he brings to bear upon the
interpretation of the text an extensive knowledge of the comments of patristic
writers, and above all his treatment is reverent, and lends itself to the purposes
of devotional study. The hasty reader will not always find a ready- made answer
to his inquiries. The author has written for the better sort of students, and
for them his commentary will often be found to suggest fresh ideas upon familiar
There are in conclusion, two fields of work in which we may with some confidence
hope for further contributions in the future from Dr. Swete's pen. The first
is, as we have said, a treatment of some questions arising out of St. Marks
Gospel. The second is the resumption of his earlier studies upon the doctrine
of the Holy Spirit. But he has already more than deserved our gratitude by the
varied and extensive services which he has rendered to biblical and theological
Besides occasional articles and pamphlets, the following is a list of Dr. Swete's
more important works:
- 1873.-On the Early History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
- 1875.-Theodorus Lascaris Junior, De Processione Spiritus Sancti Oratio
- 1876.-On the History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, from the Apos-tolic
Age to the Death of Charlemagne.
- 1880-82.-Theodore of Mopsuestia's Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul.
- 1882-87.-Articles upon the 'Holy Ghost' and 'Theodore of Mopsuestia,' in
Smith's Dictionary of Christian Biography.
- 1887-94.-The Old Testament in Greek, 2nd ed.,1895-98.
- 1894.-The Apostles' Creed in Relation to Primitive Christianity.
- 1895.-Faith in Relation to Creed, Thought, and Life.
- 1896.-Church Services and Service Books before the Reformation.
- 1897.-'The Oxyrhynchus Fragment': a Lecture delivered at Cambridge in The
Expository Times, September.
- 1898.-The Gospel according to St. Mark: the Greek Text, with Introduction,
Notes, and Indices.
- 1899.-Art. 'Holy Spirit,' in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.