Sunday 19 October 2014

What's in a name? On scholars who study their eponyms

Prophecy? Coincidence? Firm parenting? Whatever the explanation, it's intriguing that some scholars happen to share the name of their area of expertise. Two of the most distinguished experts on George Herbert's poetry were named after him: Herbert Grierson and George Herbert Palmer. (Confusingly, the famous pragmatist George Herbert Mead also studied under George Herbert Palmer; it was a great period for George Herberts of every stripe.)

I often feel a certain mystical chill when I reflect that one of our leading scholars of Christian mysticism bears the name of Denys Turner. And it is sobering to contemplate the number of theologians who have been christened under the portentous names of Calvin and Anselm. Consult the library catalogue if you don't believe me.

In some instances, of course, a scholar's name was given not at baptism but at ordination. That makes it easier to understand why so many patristic scholars are experts on their eponymns. Many a Maximus and a Gregory and a Cyril can be explained on these grounds. The Irenaeus scholar Irenaeus Steenberg belongs to this class. I am less certain about the Augustinian scholar Augustine Curley. One can only assume that the patristic scholar Polycarp Sherwood is in this class too, since few indeed are the mothers who, upon first sight of their newborn offspring, pronounce in joyous recognition the name of Polycarp.

But the most theological name of all time would have to go to the Reformed church historian whose three names were eponymous with a Reformation theologian, a patristic theologian, and the first person of the Trinity. I refer to Calvin Augustine Pater – a gentleman who also studied at Calvin College and then taught, for good measure, at a place called Knox College.

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