On Christian Faith and Secular Despair
Born in Rye, Sussex, son of a shipping businessman, Alec Vidler ( 1899-1991)was educated at Sutton Valence School, Kent, read theology at Selwyn College, Cambridge (B.A. 1921),then trained for the Anglican ministry at Wells Theological College. He disliked Wells and transferred to the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, Cambridge, an Anglo-Catholic community of celibates, and was ordained priest in 1923. He retained a life-time affection for the celibate monkish life, never marrying but having a wide range of friends, including Malcolm Muggeridge, who was at Selwyn with him. Muggeridge’s father was a prominent Labourite and Vidler imbibed leftist sympathies in that circle. His first curacy was in Newcastle, working in the slums. He soon came to love his work with working class parishioners and was reluctantly transferred to St Aidan’s Birmingham, where he became involved in a celebrated stoush with the bishop E. W. Barnes, himself a controversialist of note. Vidler’s Anglo-Catholic approach to ritual clashed with Barnes’s evangelicalism. Vidler began a prolific career of publication in the 1920s and 30s. In 1931 he joined friends like Wilfred Ward at the Oratory House in Cambridge, steeping himself in religious history and theology, including that of Reinhold Niebuhr and “liberal Catholicism”. In 1939 Vidler became warden of St Deiniol’s Library, Hawarden (founded by a legacy from Gladstone) and also editor of the leading Anglican journal Theology, which he ran until 1964, exerting considerable progressive influence across those years. He also facilitated a number of religious think-tanks in these, and later, years. In 1948 he was appointed canon of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where he set up “his own unofficial theological college, which comprised middle-aged ordination candidates known as ‘the Doves’, or, less charitably, ‘Vidler’s Vipers’”. In 1956 he was invited to become Dean of King’s College, Cambridge. He lectured in divinity and plunged into college life, attempting to combat the increasingly aggressive secularity of the student body: “The beard, the flashing eyes, the black shirt, the white tie, all bring Alec irresistibly to mind, striding along King’s Parade… In these last years he remained a doughty controversialist and one glimpsed the almost puckish spirit of someone who was never a respecter of persons”. He retired to Rye in 1967, leading an active life (mayor of Rye for some years), his beard and long habit making him a conspicuous figure. He died in 1991.