Hedley Sparks

The Reverend
Hedley Sparks
Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford
In office 1952–1976
Other posts Cadbury Professor of Theology (1946–1952)
Ordination 1933 (deacon)
1934 (priest)
by Thomas Strong
Personal details
Birth name Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks
Born (1908-11-14)14 November 1908
Stoke Newington, County of London, United Kingdom
Died 22 November 1996(1996-11-22) (aged 88)
Canterbury, Kent, UK
Education St Edmund's School
Alma mater Brasenose College, Oxford

Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks FBA (14 November 1908 – 22 November 1996) was a British biblical scholar and Church of England priest. From 1946 to 1952, he was Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. From 1952 to 1976, he was Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford.

Early life

Sparks was born on 14 November 1908 in Stoke Newington, County of London.[1] He was the only child of the Revd Frederick Sparks (1847–1908) and his second wife, Blanche Barnes.[2] His father died 5 weeks before his son's birth, at the age of 61.[1] He was educated at St Edmund's School, then an all-boys independent school in Canterbury, Kent. His school fees and living costs were paid for by the Clergy Orphan Corporation.[2] In February 1927, he successfully underwent an exam and interview to win a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford: he was the only candidate that year.[1] He matriculated into Brasenose College in October 1927, and studied theology and music for the next three years.[1] In 1930, he graduated from the University of Oxford with a first class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in theology; he did not sit the final exams for music.[3][4]

His high class bachelor's degree won him the Senior Hulme Scholarship. This funded three further years of study and was usually used to fund a second degree.[1] However, he chose to train for ordination and entered Ripon Hall, an Anglican theological college in 1930.[4] He additionally studied Hebrew and Aramaic under G. A. Cooke, the Regius Professor of Hebrew, and Assyriology under Stephen Langdon. In 1932, he spent the summer term at Marburg University in Germany where he studied under Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Budde.[1]


Sparks was ordained in the Church of England as a deacon on 24 September 1933 by Thomas Strong, the Bishop of Oxford,[1] and as a priest in 1934.[4] From 1933 to 1936, he combined his curacy at All Saints Church, Oxford, and a position as an honorary chaplain of Ripon Hall.[3] Additionally, he assisted H. J. White with the production of a new version of the Vulgate New Testament between 1933 and White's death in July 1934.[1] He resigned from Ripon Hall in 1936 because of the increasing influence of the Modern Churchmen's Union on the theological college.[2]

In 1936, Sparks left Oxford and moved to Durham in the north of England. He was a lecturer in the theology at Durham University between 1936 and 1946.[2] He specialised in teaching Christian doctrine and Patristics, and later also taught Hebrew.[1] During World War II, he was additionally censor of Hatfield College and University College: the two colleges had been combined for the duration of the war.[3]

At the end of the war, Sparks was looking to move again. He was interviewed for the Samuel Davidson Professorship of Old Testament Studies at the University of London, but was not successful. He then applied for the appointment of Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. Having been successful, he took up the chair in October 1946.[1] He developed the theology syllabus and expanded the department's academics to create a ecumenical faculty;[2] this included the first Roman Catholic, H. Francis Davis (Vice-Principal of Oscott College) as a visiting lecturer.[2] From 1947 to 1952, he was Dean of the Faculty of Arts.[3] In 1949, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity (DD) degree by his alma mater, the University of Oxford: the DD is the most senior degree awarded by the University.[4]

In November 1951, Sparks was elected Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. He took up the appointment on 1 October 1952.[5] The chair had been linked with a canonry at Rochester Cathedral but this was separated before the 1951 election.[2] The chair remained linked with Oriel College, Oxford and he was duly elected a fellow of the college.[3] He gave a number of lecture series through the Faculty of Theology and Religion. In addition, though he was not required to, he provided tutorials to undergraduate theology students at his college.[1] From 1953 to 1977, he was Editor of the Journal of Theological Studies.[6] In 1957, G. N. Clarke retired as Provost of Oriel College. Sparks was encouraged to apply to replace him, but upon learning that it would mean giving up his chair, chose not to.[1] From 1961 to 1968, he was Rector of All Saints Church, Wytham, in addition to his academic positions.[4]

In 1976, he retired from academia.[2]

Later life

Having retired, Sparks moved to Canterbury, Kent.[2] He was granted Permission to Officiate in the Diocese of Canterbury which he held until his death.[4]

Sparks died on 22 November 1996 at the Nunnery Fields Hospital, Canterbury. On 28 November, his funeral service was held at Canterbury Cathedral and he was buried in New Romney, Kent.[2]

Personal life

Sparks lived with his mother until her death in 1951. On 25 August 1953, he married Margaret Joan Davy. Having been born in 1930, she was more than two decades younger than her husband.[2] Together they had three children: two sons and one daughter.[3]


In 1959, Sparks was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA).[7] He was awarded two honorary Doctor of Divinity (DD) degrees: he was awarded an honorary DD by the University of St Andrews in 1963 and an honorary DD by the University of Birmingham in 1983.[4] In 1980, he was honoured by Oriel College, Oxford by being elected to an honorary fellowship.[1]

Selected works

External links

- The Apocryphal Old Testament, H. F. D. Sparks 1984


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Brock, Sebastian P. (1998). "Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks, 1908–1996" (pdf). Proceedings of the British Academy. 101: 513–536.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Livingstone, Elizabeth A. (2004). "Sparks, Hedley Frederick Davis (1908–1996)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "The Rev Professor Hedley Sparks". The Times (65748). 29 November 1996. p. 23.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Hedley Frederick Davis Sparks". Crockford's Clerical Directory (online ed.). Church House Publishing. Retrieved 5 December 2015. (subscription required)
  5. "University News". The Times (52158). 14 November 1951. p. 8.
  6. Chadwick, Henry (1 April 1997). "Hedley Sparks". Journal of Theological Studies. 48: i.
  7. "SPARKS, Revd Dr Hedley (14/11/1908-25/11/1996)". British Academy Fellows. British Academy. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
Academic offices
Preceded by
David Capell Simpson
Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture,
University of Oxford

Succeeded by
James Barr
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