Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Ernest Nicholson

This morning there was the funeral of the Rev.Professor Ernest Nicholson, Provost of Oriel from 1990 until 2003. Unfortunately, largely due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to attend the service, as had been my firm intention. Prof. Nicholson died on December 22nd at the age of 75.

Ernest Nicholson, Provost (1990–2003) 

Portrait of Provost Nicholson in Oriel Hall

Michael Noakes

Image:BBC Your pictures

Prof Nicolson was Provost when I came up to Oriel in 1993, and throughout the time of my active, day by day life in and around the college. I got to know him in particular when I was MCR President in 1995-6 and through my involvement in the life of the College Chapel.

In his position as Provost I was struck from our first meeting, when I went to formally sign the Provost's Book as a new member of Oriel, by his genuine kindliness towards the members of his college and  that is perhaps the strongest impression of all. As Provost he was a gracious and dignified head of house, a zealous and successful fundriaser, and always willing to turn out to watch the rowers in Torpids and in Eights Week, even if one suspected he was not necessarily that interested in rowing and its attendant culture, and indeed presiding at Bump Suppers in Oriel Hall, which were perhaps rather less decorous than he might have wished. It was his idea to produce the recent history of Oriel and the last time I saw him was at the launch of the book in November. I realised at the time that he had not much longer to live, and one could be glad that he was able to be there and see it carried to fulfillment, and to be photographed with his two successors.

An Ulsterman by birth he seemed to me to embody much of the sterling values of his farming background and, after study and teaching at Trinity in Dublin, Glasgow and Cambridge as an Old Testament scholar  came to Oriel in 1979 as Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture. As the British Academy recorded in 2009 when it awarded him the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies: 

"His first two monographs, Deuteronomy and Tradition (1967) and Preaching to the Exiles (1971), traced the history of the so-called ‘Deuteronomic’ tradition from its beginnings to the Babylonian Exile.

Then, in Exodus and Sinai in History and Tradition (Blackwell, Oxford, 1973) and a series of brilliant articles, he began to rethink wider issues about the origins of the biblical traditions. This led to masterly reassessments of two central problems in biblical scholarship in God and His People: Covenant and Theology in the Old Testament (1986) and The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen (1998).

He has also published The Commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi on Psalms 120–150 (1973) and edited A Century of Theological and Religious Studies in Britain (2003) for the British Academy."

A genial man, but not without a forceful side, with asense of the tradition and style which he saw as integral to the life of Oriel, and with a slightly old-fashioned benevolence that charcterised his years as Provost. He was especia;lly fortunate and happy in having a supportive and gracious wife who displayed a similar warmth towards  members of the Oriel community, and to her and his surviving family I express my sympathies and respect at this time.

1 comment:

Friday's Child said...

Thank you, John, for this lovely tribute. We hope you will be able to come to the Memorial Service later this year and I hope to meet you then. Rosalind