PATRISTIC MONOGRAPH SERIES, NO. 6
Essays in Memory of Robert F. Evans
Donald F. Winslow
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Robert A Kraft (with Van A. Harvey),
Robert Franklin Evans: Scholar, Teacher, and University Citizen
-- An Appreciation 1
2. Cyril C. Richardson,
The Exegesis of 1 John 3.19-20—An Ecumenical
3. Donald F. Winslow,
Christological Rigorism and Soteriological Laxism 53
4. William R. Schoedel,
In Praise of the King: A Rhetorical Pattern in Athenagoras 69
5. Ekkehard Muehlenberg,
Marcion’s Jealous God 93
6. David Balas,
Plenitudo Humanitatis: The Unity of Human Nature in the
Theology of Gregory of Nyssa 115
7. Samuel Laechli,
Prologomenon to a Structural Analysis of Ancient Christian
Views of Salvation 133
8. Antonia Tripolitis,
Return to the Divine: Salvation in the thought of Plotinus and
9. Joseph Lee McInerney,
Soteriological Commonplaces in Cyril of Alexandria’s
Commentary on John 179
10. Our Loss – A Poem written by Robert A. Kraft for the family
And friends of Robert F. Evans on the occasion of his funeral 187
List of contributors 211
Upon hearing of the death of Robert Evans, Cyril Richardson wrote me a short note in which he said, simply: “A great loss. A real scholar. A delightful conversationalist. He had a real gift for charming style.”
“great loss” was felt by us all. And to
it was added the loss felt at Cyril Richardson’s death two years later. It is fortunate however that
The title for this volume of essays was suggested by Richard Norris, Richardson’s successor at Union Theological Seminary; it is a phrase from Tertullian and symbolized both the commitment to a “disciplined” life enjoined upon all Christians as well as the common “discipline” which the contributors to this volume share with Robert Evans, the discipline of patristic scholarship of which he was so carefully and painstakingly a practitioner. The contributors to this volume, apart from their all having known Evans as a friend, were related to him in a variety of ways: some of them were University colleagues; some shared with him common professional pursuits; some studied under him as graduate students. [[iv]] A few of us worked happily with Evans in the formation of the Philadelphia Patristic Foudation, Ltd., of which he was co-founder and principal supporter. His dream was to see first-rate works published in the Foundation’s Patristic Monograph Series. Since his death precluded the fulfillment of that dream, it seemed appropriate to have this memorial volume of essays published by the Foudation which he helped bring into existence and in a monograph series for which he has such high hopes.
It is with deep gratitude for the life of a faithful friends and consummate scholar that these essays are offered. It is because of this abiding gratitude that these essays form as much a Festschrift as they do a memorial volume.
Donald F. Winslow,
We have lost a colleague –
discerning, fair, involved,
brooking no nonsense –
a citizen of conscience and principle
who deserved and received our respect.
They have lost a teacher –
conscientious, demanding, concerned,
insistent on quality fare –
an academic giant or disciplined brilliance.
All have lost an artist –
dealing in music’s magic of ordered
harmonies, of reasoned sound –
a soul that sensed and searched and loved
another level of our landlocked lot.
And you have lost a husband,
you a father,
to you he was a son,
to you a neighbor –
not perfect, neither claiming to be so;
intense, not always able to be as human
as he might have wished –
oft embattled by the gulf between abstract
principles and overpow’ring realities.
But I have lost a friend –
something he never said he was to me
(nor did I ever say the same to him);
something he did not need to say,
whether or not we agreed on other things,
because he was – we were –
and that sufficed.
ROBERT FRANKLIN EVANS
SCHOLAR, TEACHER, AND UNIVERSITY CITIZEN
Robert Franklin Evans suffered a
fatal heart attack on
Robert Evans’ death left a wide and varied circle of mourners – his immediate family, including his wife Lilian and their daughters Danielle and Nicole; the church related world of friends, associates, colleagues, especially the clergy and parishioners from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church where he had been organist, choirmaster and frequent preacher for the past thirteen years; students and faculty from the nearby Philadelphia Divinity School; the University of Pennsylvania community of students, colleagues, and associates who knew him in various connections; and the wider scholarly world of humanistic research and the study of religion in which Evans had distinguished himself as an outstanding member. How he appeared and how he saw himself in these various contexts, and what he accomplished in each, would require an essay far exceeding the ambitions of this one, and [] would necessarily draw upon resources not readily available to the present authors. Hoping, however, not to overlook those areas with which we are unfamiliar, we will attempt to focus on those facets of his life known to us through our association with him as a colleague and friend in the Department of Religious Thought at the University of Pennsylvania where his interaction with the educational and academic worlds was one in which we shared.\1/
Early Life and Formal Education
Franklin Evans was born on
especially church music, was a central influence in young Robert’s life. He began to play the piano at four years of
age and had become an organist at the Hudson Congregational Church by the age
of thirteen. He received his High School
Diploma from the Academy in which his mother taught, and spent the next four
years earning his BA degree at
his study of music, and embarking upon a rigorous study of the history of
Christian thought, Evans earned his BA from King’s College in 1955 (with the
largely automatic MA following in 1961).
[] His honors included the Ehrman studentship (1952-54) and various
theological scholarships. Increasing
contact with Professor Henry Chadwick and others doubtless helped the bright
young American to focus his patristic interests and to hone his academic
abilities to a fine edge. When he
returned to Yale as a doctoral candidate in 1955, the difficult choice between
career goals had long been made – music had been replaced at center stage by patristic
theology. At Yale, Evans worked chiefly
under the direction of Professor Robert Lowly Calhoun and produced a
dissertation on Four Letters of Pelagius
which, after extensive revision, was published in 1968. He also performed impressively in two courses
at Yale with Claude Welch, a fact that would become important later when Welch
became chairman of the fledgling Department of Religious Thought at the
while Evans was persuing his graduate studies at Yale that Lilian Alder joined
1959, as Evans’ doctoral dissertation was being processed at Yale, Lilian gave
birth to a daughter, Danielle. Two years
The Teacher/Scholar: Phase One
Evans’ full-time academic teaching duties began with his appointment as an
Instructor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at
I have known Robert Evans since his graduate studies at Yale. At that time I was
much impressed both by his previous preparation and by the quality of his work
for me. My judgment of his work and his potentialities is indicated by the fact
that he was the first appointment to our department to be made after my
of responsibilities as chairman at
The decision to leave
After much cogitation and introspection I have decided that I wish to accept your invitation to join the faculty of your department…. The issue posed itself to me as a decision between relative ease and security [at WMU] on the one hand, and challenge and excitement, if more demanding, [] on the other. It is clear to me that such a position as I might occupy at Penn is more in line with my long range interests, and it is also clear to me that I should not expect such an offer to come my way at just the moment I want it…I look forward greatly to my association with you.
association of Robert Evans with the
summer of 1964, Evans received a faculty research grant which freed him from
his usual summer teaching responsibilities and gave him the opportunity to
begin revising his doctoral dissertation.
He also applied successfully for a Lilly Post-Doctoral Fellowship from
the Hazen Foundation for 1965/66, and spent [] the time in
This period was not without its problems. Evans found himself frequently frustrated by the tension between his perfectionist scholarly standards and ideals, his variegated interests, and the realities and pressures which surrounded him at the University. He found it increasingly difficult to find time for his own research. He regularly did his work at his University office, but this made him all the more vulnerable to the whims of students who ignored his scheduled office hours and who might knock on his door at any time. It was with a real sense of relief and anticipation, then, that he looked forward to his summer research fellowship in 1964: “the prospects of three solid months of research is a most pleasing one” (letter of 4/64). He continually attempted to resist those real or imagined pressures which would have him sacrifice quality for the sake of building up an impressive list of publications in order to secure promotion and tenure. The depth of his feelings on this matter are clearly revealed in an impassioned letter to the Department Chairman in early 1965, a letter in which he juxtaposed with precision his scholarly [] ambitions with his own self-image:
This…problem…is primarily a personal one, although I think that at least one
aspect of my own problem is part of a larger, “American” problem. I am interested in patristic studies, as you know, and have chosen to make that my own area of special study and research. I am not interested in the publication of second and third rate scholarship — at least I am not interested in publishing noticeably below the level of which I believe I am capable. I believe right now that my total published work will in the end amount to a rather modest corpus, and this because of the limitations of my own background and ability. I wish and intend to publish, but my publication must proceed at my own rather limping rate. At Yale I made an intense effort to finish my doctoral dissertation within two years after I began it, and now I know how bad a job I did. The research grant I had in the summer of 1964 gave me the leisure to discover how shoddy was the work I had done, and I have scarcely yet recovered from that revelation. I just do not want to feel the pressure of having to get out a certain amount of stuff over the next couple of years, and equally do I not want to cause you any embarrassment when the question of my promotion comes up in the spring of 1967. I am hoping, therefore, to find, over the next three years, an associate professorship with tenure at a college or seminary. It may be that after a dozen or so years of work in that kind of environment I would be able to return to a University professorship. It may also be that the environment which I am now seeking will be the one in which I will wish to stay. That can remain an open issue.
If these concerns give evidence of a feeling of professional insecurity, they appear to have been wholly personal and internal, for there were certainly [] no departmental pressures being brought to bear, not any indication within the University that Evans’ promotion to tenure was in the least problematical. The letter continues:
me to make a few observations on the larger problem as I see it, and as I see
my relation to it. When one enters
patristic studies, one enters a tradition of scholarship. For my studies, this means primarily a
tradition that comes immediately from
This, I am persuaded, is at least one very important reason why American output in patristic studies is so unimpressive, in both [] quantity and quality…. The American would-be patristic scholar is given a graduate training largely in the history of ideas and has to pick up classical learning on the way somewhere, if he picks it up at all. Some of us find this more difficult than others, by the time we are in our thirties.
I have to confess that I find it difficult — difficult at best and particularly difficult in the midst of many other pressing duties. It is not that one has to despair or give up — one does not easily give up, having been bitten by the patristic bug. It is just that I, for one, have to go slowly. I now believe that I will have the inner freedom to go ahead with my professional studies in an environment in which there is not sense of a deadline to be met in order that I may stay. If I cannot find an associate professorship with tenure in a college or seminary, I shall return to parish work. …At worst, one could say that I want the security which will allow me to be plodding and mediocre; I hope that is not true. At best, one could say that I want the freedom to put out the best stuff of which I am capable, at my own rate; I hope something more like this is the case…I am sorry…that I was not able to see these things clearly long ago. It goes without saying, of course, that with my present intentions, I shall be unable to accept the Lilly award if I get it.
Fortunately, Evans did receive the Lilly award and was able to find a way to accept it without compromising his integrity, steering a middle path between his once articulated “intentions” and the realities of University life. By mid-1967, his two volumes on Pelagius were complete and accepted for publication. Evaluations of his scholarly work by specialists and colleagues both here and abroad were consistently enthusiastic, so much so that they assured his being promoted to Associate Professor with tenure. The departmental recommendation by Claude Welch aptly summed up the [] situation:
Evans has the equipment, energy, commitment, and discipline appropriate to his scholarly position and responsibilities. His publications, though small in number, are superb in quality, and a continued flow of similar efforts is expected from him. His horizons of academic interest are wide, including philosophy of religion\3/ as well as the history of western thought in general and Christian patristics in particular. He is a committed and respected teacher, ‘well liked by all students who are prepared to accept the demands he places on them.’ He is a ‘constructive and helpful’ departmental colleague who has been ‘serving effectively’ as director of the undergraduate departmental major program.
Needless to say, the promotion was quickly approved in May 1967, providing Evans, for all his self-doubts, with the professional “security,” and thus to some extent with personal “freedom,” to proceed in his scholarly contributions at this own pace.
The Tenured Teacher/Scholar in a Time of Unrest and Change
The latter part of the 1960s, between Evans’ first sabbatical in 1965/66 and his second in 1970/71, was a time of notable unrest within the University at large and of significant changes within the small but relatively flourishing Religious Thought Department. Evans found himself involved in the changing climate in a variety of directions. In the mid-1960s, the College created a special “General Honors” program geared for especially talented undergraduates – one of the first special programs aimed at providing, among other things, closer contact between students and teachers. When Evans returned from his first sabbatical in 1966, he agreed to offer a General Honors course on “The Religious Roots of Western Culture” [] and found the experience sufficiently satisfying that he agreed to serve as Associate Director of the General Honors Program from 1967-70, and regularly offered courses in that program to the end of his life. He also became involved in the special “Freshman Seminars” program in the early 1970’s.
Meanwhile, the questions about the structure and aims of both the undergraduate and graduate programs in Religious Thought were being raised, especially by the students. As the departmental advisor for undergraduate majors, Evans chaired a committee for the revision of the curriculum. In this role, he was conscientiously active in the department’s attempts to adjust to the increasingly urgent requests made by graduate students for more active participation in departmental affairs. During this same period, he served once again as acting chairman of the department during Welch’s leave of absence in 1968, and also began a long and active role on the College Admissions Committee, of which he was appointed chairman in 1969/70 and again in 1971/72.
Evans’ concern for maintaining high standards of quality education appears again and again in the records from this period. But there also appears what might be called a “humanizing” tendency in Evans’ outlook for all his insistence on high standards. There was the desire always to be open to the ideas and experiences of others, to see students as people, not defining them exclusively in their academic contest. Certain old barriers, which has previously created a distance between Evans and others, came down, and there emerged a refreshing openness and cheerfulness, indicating perhaps not so much a new way of doing things as an increased confidence in himself. One small but visible symbol of this is that, whereas in earlier years it was not uncommon for Evans to wear his clerical collar even when teaching, this habit gradually disappeared.\4/ In the same vein, Evans had previously expressed some concern about the increasing number of women applying to the graduate program. But he soon realized that his doubts as to their ability to pursue scholarly goals was a culturally conditioned reaction and he became an articulate spokesman for the [] argument that it would be both irresponsible and immoral for the department to take any notice of gender in evaluating applications. (Evans’ vigorous sermons in St. Mary’s Church advocating the ordination of women were further testimony to the seriousness with which he fought against age old prejudices in both academic and ecclesial circles.) It was not merely a social façade, then, when Evans could point out to “unbelievers” that some of the most promising and competent, as well as most pleasant, students in the graduate programs were in fact women.
The advancement to tenure which gave Evans the “freedom” to pursue his own research at his own pace, also freed him to take an increasingly involved role in a variety of University circles. His exposure to young people seeking admission to the College, his work with those whose work was unsatisfactory (Executive Committee) and those whose work was exemplary (General Honors Program); his contacts with an increasingly variegated circle of University faculty and administration – all these factors contributed to the make-up of the Robert Evans who sought to define and modify his position among the pressures and changes of the late 1960’s. If was an experience from which both he and the Department profited greatly!
The Mature Scholar/Teacher and Departmental Leader
In 1970/71 Robert Evans received a cross-discilinary fellowship from the Society for Religion in Higher Education to study Roman Law, Stoicism, and Middle Platonism in Vienna, Austra. (He remarked more than once that the academic resources of that city were equaled, if not surpassed, by its musical gustatory attractions!) His application for the grant affords illuminating insights into how he had come, in comparison to his previous self-doubt, to view his own ambitions and accomplishment:
My research and writing over the past decade have moved from a rather restricted area of precise scholarship to broader areas of increasing generality. The field [] of research in which I work is that of ancient Christian thought and literature…. My research on the Pelagian controversy brought me to the early conclusion that one of the most fundamental issues at stake was that of the nature of the Christian Church…. This line of reflection then led me to agree to the request of a publisher to write a book on the development of thought about the Church in Western theology from the third through the sixth century.… Having thus come from a very detailed and small-scale philological exercise to a treatment of the development of thought over a period of four centuries, I think I must now make a move which will at one and the same time be a return to details and make plausible the kind of broader ranging, more comprehensive, scholarship in which I am more basically interested. It has for some time been apparent, at least to the better scholars in the field, that studies in the history of Christianity have long suffered from “underdevelopment” in the use of the normal methods and resources of the historian. That is to say that the history of Christian institutions and of Christian thought has been too much viewed as an intramural history, a history that can be grasped simply as the continuous history through time of a single society, the Christian Church. This way of viewing the history of Christianity (and the history of other religions as well) has brought abundant distortions; it has kept us in needless ignorance of the actual significance of religious institutions and thought by obscuring their relations and parallels to the wider society, or culture, within which they emerge. In my own field specifically this means that the patristic scholar should be conversant with the relevant aspects of classical culture as a whole.
I have cause to sense this challenge in a particular and personal way. My own undergraduate education, with a music major, included [] only one course in classical studies. My graduate education was largely theological in orientation, and while in one sense I do not regret that orientation, I am sensible of the fact that I did not come to my field of research from the background of classical studies which would have best equipped me for the research in which I am now engaged and in which I want to be more profoundly and fruitfully engaged.
My proposal, then, is for a year of detailed study in classical sources, both Latin and Greek…. My study will be oriented toward the future research and publication which I intend to carry out as well as toward the kind of graduate seminars that I have recently taught and intend to teach. This future writing and teaching will include the whole course, over a century and beyond, of the Pelagian controversy, as well as studies of such pivotal figures in the patristic period as Cyprian, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine. My study in classical sources, therefore, will be chiefly if not wholly concerned with the following three areas: 1) Roman imperial law, a subject of the greatest importance for the vocabulary of Christian life and institutions in the patristic period, particularly in view of the way in which many patristic authors viewed the church as an alternative society to that of the Roman empire, though a society employing terms borrowed from the institutions of that empire; 2) Roman stoicism, a subject closely related both to the development of Western Christian thought about the nature of man, his freedom, and his true good; 3) middle-Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophy, a subject indispensable to an understanding, for example, of two such seminal figures as Origen and Augustine.
It is important to emphasize that the program of study which I have in mind will be different from such study of these sources in which I have already been engaged. Heretofore I have always begun with the Christian authors, [] and as questions and hunches have occurred to me, I have gone to the non-Christian sources by way of looking up answers to those particular questions. Now I want to begin with the non-Christian sources themselves, with the suspicion that I may find materials there which will enable me to set the Christian sources in new perspective that I have not gained in proceeding the other way round.
returned to Penn in 1971/72, a new situation had developed which was to engage
and sometimes frustrated him for his remaining years. Claude Welch had left the University and was
succeeded as chairman by Van Harvey (who had come to Penn in 1968/69 and had
been serving for the past two years as the departmental director of graduate
studies). Evans now agreed to assume the
duties of graduate chairman, in addition to resuming the post of chairman of
the College Admission Committee and also serving on the Executive Committee of
The old frustrations concerning availability for research time, the maintenance of academic standards, the application of sound pedagogical principles, and similar concerns, all resurfaced in concert. To the administration’s suggestion that the department’s faculty might confine their graduate teaching to individualized tutorials, Evans responded with characteristic vigor:
I am firmly opposed to the notion
that at the graduate level the
dispensability of a man’s formal courses is to be measured by the number of
students…in his courses…. Graduate [] teaching…is an expensive operation,
and in my field it is especially so…. [The administration’s] proposal raises in
my mind two further important questions:
my own usefulness in the graduate faculty, and the standards of graduate
education in the kind of field which is mine.
On the first question, let me say that I am quite willing to confine my
formal teaching to the undergraduate level.
But [in that event] I would not be willing to do any graduate teaching,
formal or informal. [This would be a
severe disappointment because] one of the chief reasons for my coming here from
reasonable compromise was reached between the departments and the University
regarding minimal size of graduate seminars, this and other factors led to a
decline in the number of graduate seminars offered by Evans thereafter. He did accept into his seminars qualified
students from other departments of the University or from the
there were compensating developments which gave Evans the opportunity to
participate in and contribute to scholarly undertakings beyond the [] confines
of the University. As early as the
spring of 1968 the New York Patristics Seminar was formed, with Evans as a
charter member. Scholars from colleges,
universities, and seminaries met monthly to share and discuss their research,
and Evans found this a happy outlet both for his professional interests as well
as for his desire for increased social contacts. Evans participated too in the work of the
Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins and is remembered for the lively but
always judicious criticisms which he brought to bear on the topics under
discussion. As a result of a suggestion
made originally by Claude Welch, some formalization of relations with the
In the spring of 1973 a crisis over the structure of the PhD qualification requirements in the department influenced Evans to resign as graduate chairman. An experimental proposal to permit students to substitute other work for a traditional examination [] requirement was accepted by the department, after long debate and much revision, despite the various serious reservations expressed by Evans and others. In his mind it was, again, a matter of educational standards being jeopardized. His decision to resign was further motivated by the increasing demands made by the office of graduate chairman. In a long letter (4/73) to the acting chairman, he explained his decision:
I believe that…a two or three year term [as graduate chairman] is all anyone should be expected to serve. The graduate chairman gets no relief in teaching load, and besides looking after internal graduate affairs has to occupy himself with problems of placement, which requires a great deal of correspondence…. Since changes are being made in our graduate department with which I am not in sympathy, I think now is the time for a change…. It is out of the question that with my present beliefs I could serve as graduate chairman any longer with either confidence or zest. If the new program is to work as well as it might, it needs someone behind it who has both of these things.
Thus, after two years as chairman, Evans stepped down for what he considered to be the good of the department. In the remaining year prior to his death, he characteristically accepted what the department had agreed upon as its new set of rules and cooperated fully in the implementation of those rules. No hard feelings were evidenced. The battle had been fought and was over. The future lay ahead, and that was what mattered. But for him, it proved to be all too brief a future.
Robert Evans was promoted to the status of full professor effective July 1973. the supporting materials from colleagues and scholars throughout the world included such observations as these:
His depth and breadth of knowledge are awesome at times; he is a meticulous worker who knows [] his field and takes a ‘no nonsense’ approach to scholarship. He is anxious to learn from others as well as to share what he knows with others.
In the Department, he has been invaluable…. I can always count on his advice and whatever he does, he does with a very high standard of responsibility and efficiency.
[He is] an extremely learned person, a knowledgeable and penetratingly critical scholar, especially in the area of the early church history…. Especially in this day and age, when there is a tendency to superficiality even in the arts/humanities, I find it to be an extraordinary prize to find a historically oriented scholar who is able to work on the original text using such basic linguistic skill.
He is a scholar of notable depth and range and has a capacity for writing English which is admirable…I have found him original in his approach as well as well founded in his discipline.
Evans is…one of the five or six most distinguished Americans working in his general field…. He combines in an unusual ways a capacity for exacting textual and philological work, a good nose for promising and fruitful problems, and a grasp of larger historical and philosophical issues.
He has almost all the qualities once associated with academic distinction and good colleagueship: he’s a gracious, interesting conversationalist with great resources of knowledge and bibliography and yet also with a sharp, critical mind that reacts quickly to nonsense and inaccuracies (easy to talk to, difficult to con). [He] will keep alive a basic discipline and find younger scholars to train for its ongoing future.
Robert Evans among his Students
These were not hollow words of praise and promise but find full support in all areas of Evans’ abbreviated life and career. He was a scholar’s scholar, a dedicated searcher in pursuit of knowledge, a talented specialist, and a person of versatile and wide-ranging knowledge. The expectations he placed on others were always expectations he took seriously for himself, which meant, of course, that he was not always appreciated by everyone. Undergraduate students would find him formidable, even at time intimidating, especially in the early years of his teaching. He was perceived by some to be excessively hard in grading and evaluating: “An A is a very hard grade to receive.” Students were often awed at what struck them as an unnecessary attention to complicated detail. The more specialized or advanced a course was, however, the more students tended to respect Evans’gifts, to see him as a “brilliant lecturer” who made it possible for the student to become “interested, yes, even fascinated by the subject matter.” And serious students soon discovered how seriously Evans took them and their own educational progress.\5/
years, a large number of undergraduates were enrolled in his courses and
encountered the broad spectrum of Evans’ interests. Throughout his years at Penn, Evans taught
the “Basic Concepts of Religion” course which dealt especially with the central
problems posed in modern western philosophy of religion. Some 750 or more students passed through that
course during the years Evans taught it.
Students encountered Evans, too, in the frequent night courses he
offered as well as in his regular summer school offerings in the
Robert Evans among his Colleagues
Much has already been said about how much Evans meant to his colleagues, University associates and fellow scholars. In the broader University setting, he was a responsible and respected citizen in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He took his role here with extreme seriousness. He rarely missed a faculty meeting, and at those in which the assembled few gathered to discuss new course proposals or programs, it was not unusual for Evans to rise and, in addition to contributing some substantive comment, to chide the writers of the proposal for any lapses in grammar or other linguistic barbarisms. Beyond the University, apart from those activities which we have already described, Evans was involved in a wide variety of scholarly groups and societies – the Society for Religion in Higher Education, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the American Academy of Religion (and as an editorial consultant for its Journal), the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins, and the Philadelphia Oriental Club. Shortly before his death he was notified that he had been elected to the prestigious American Theological Society, into which he would have been inducted in the spring of 1975. Groups closer to his field of interest included the [] American Society of Church History and the North American Patristics Society. In open scholarly discussion he was constantly probing, searching for reasons and for evidence behind a particular claim. Yet he was unpretentious in his learning, and even when he felt fairly sure of his criticism he tried, not always with success, to avoid taking what appeared to be a dogmatic or intimidating stance. A typical prelude to some devastating criticism from Evans would be some evident restlessness on his part as he sought the floor, followed by a politely impatient introduction such as “but—but, surely you don’t mean to say…or perhaps you do?” In later years, Evans would deliver those lines with a bit more of an honest chuckle and a bit less exasperation than in younger days. But whatever his humane intentions, his forceful authorial voice and his somewhat stiff bearing often helped multiply the anxieties of the person being confronted, and underlined the seriousness of the criticism.
Robert Evans as Author
very much at home with the pen, and a rhetorician of consummate skill, Evans
was, as we have already seen, slow and cautious to publish. His first serious attempts at publication
reflect the two major foci of his life, music and patristics; he reviewed J.
Blanton’s The Organ in Church Design
in the 1959 volume of the Journal of the
American Institute of Architects and T. Bohlin’s monograph on Pelagius in
the Journal of Theological Studies
(1969). A popular book entitled Making Sense of the Creeds was being
prepared at the same time as his two Pelagius articles in 1962. The Yale dissertation, after extensive
revision, was published (1968) as Four
Letters of Pelagius; in this work he established that only four of the
nineteen works attributed to Pelagius by the noted scholar Georges de Plinval
can be proved to be authentic. The
companion volume, entitled Pelagius: Inquires
and Reappraisals, treats a number of historical and theological problems
relating to Pelagius, and especially calls for a revised estimate of the
relation between [] Pelagius and his chief opponent, Augustine of
Hippo. A major product of Evans’ 1970/81
sabbatical leave was the publication, in 1972, of his One and Holy: The Church in
Latin Patristic Thought. This was a
careful investigation of the development of theories concerning the church in
western theology from the third to sixth century. Also during this period, two related articles
on Tertullian’s ecclesiology were published, one of them originally presented
as a “Master Theme” at the Sixth International Conference on Patristic Studies
Robert Evans as a Person
There was a decidedly “conservative” and “old style” tone to Evans’ attitudes to scholarship and education. On the academic scene, at least, he was a powerfully formal person whose ingrained tendency was to distinguish clearly between the roles of student and teacher. He was a “private” person, very circumspect in his conversation, who seldom bared his personal feelings, even to the closest of his colleagues. His was a “literary” person for whom the security of expressing himself as clearly as possible in writing often outweighed whatever convenience oral communication might provide. Indeed, he often stated his preference that recommendations of students for departmental fellowships, etc., be available in writing, even if Evans himself or one of the other committee members were the recommender. The text is fixed; it is available for scrutiny; one can return to it in case of doubt or confusion. Memories are frail; the spoken word is often imprecise; people do not always mean what they say (or say what they mean to convey). [] He was also partly deaf in his left ear, and thus did not always trust even his own hearing. In meetings as is conversations his head would be attentively tilted slightly to one side so as to assist his good ear to operate more efficiently, and requests from him for the speaker to repeat what was said (or resumés of what he understood to have been said) were not infrequent.
Robert Evans was a man of high principle, with a sharply defined idea of what constituted appropriate or inappropriate responses in a given situation. He expected promises to be honored, and he looked for consistency of action and attitude within a highly rational perspective. He abhorred sham or duplicity or weakness under pressure. He demanded honesty and a straight answer. There were, as a result, inevitable conflicts, with students and colleagues alike. If Evans felt he could not operate with a clear conscience within the framework imposed upon him, he would say so to the extent of contemplating resignation from the University or from some post within it; if his principles seemed at odds with the situation confronting him, few people were left in doubt as to his views. He believed that the University should promote its faculty at the appropriate time on the basis of quality of performance without reference to whether a faculty member was considering an offer to teach elsewhere.\6/ He was outraged by failures of others to operate within the framework of the established rules — whether it was a committee exceeding its mandate, or a graduate school offering fellowship money after the stipulated date for doing so had passed, or a faculty member changing a student’s grade simply because of student or parent pressure, or an athlete receiving special treatment unavailable to every student. These attitudes extended even to seemingly minor matters. In the early years of the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins of which Robert was a charter member in 1963, he would sometimes chide his office-mate and coordinator of the group [Robert Kraft] for editing the “minutes” of the meetings so that they did not always record precisely what had been said by a participant, but attempted to correct any misstatements of fact or other minor lapses incidental to the main [] line of the argument, thus presenting what should have been said if the speaker had been more aware of his subject or more careful with his speech. Evans’ comments on the matter were partly delivered with tongue in cheek, and certainly without any personal malice, but nevertheless there remained a seriousness to the criticism, a seriousness arising out of his concern for academic honesty.
Yet, within this sometimes foreboding framework of thought and action, Robert Evans emerged as an eminently reasonable person, patient to hear and evaluate rational arguments offered by his peers, and true enough to his own principles to change his position if the counter-arguments seemed convincing. His stabilizing presence in the department and on the various programs and committees on which he served was much respected by his colleagues and much sought. This, of course, created further problems because of increasing demands made on his time — time which he highly coveted for his own scholarly research purposes.
Evans was a perfectionist who expected of himself as well as of others who claimed to be learned persons a kind of precision in knowledge and expression that is all too rare. (His desire to perfect his own skills sometime had a direct, and not always beneficial, impact on his home life. For example, at one point he attempted to regularize a schedule in which dinner table conversation with his trilingual wife and young daughters would be conducted in French one night and in German the next –- an enviable ideal that soon proved impracticable.) Among students and colleagues he was reserved and sparing in offering praise, so that even the slightest recognition of merit from him carried all the more weight. A younger colleague tells of soliciting Evans’ reaction to a technical study published in scholarly journal. After thoughtfully reading the colleague’s manuscript, Evans handed it back with a rather matter-of-fact statement to the effect that “You sensed something was wrong and have followed it up effectively.” Hardly lavish praise, but none was needed. The job was worth doing and had been done satisfactorily. What more need [] be said? That is what sound scholarship is all about!
In social gatherings where no professional or academic matters were under consideration, Robert could be the soul of conviviality. Good food and good wine he appreciated boundlessly, as he did the intimacy of close friends. He possessed a delightful, if not always obvious, sense of humor and was blessed with the ability (under the right circumstances!) to laugh at himself. In the early 1970s, meetings of the Philadelphia Seminar of Christian Origins were normally followed by an informal social gathering at the apartment of Betsy Purintun, one of the Penn graduate students participating in the Seminar. On one such occasion, Evans arrived relatively late to find the room inhabited exclusively by graduate students, some of whom were chronologically his peers. “My God!” he blurted, with an explosive chuckle and gleaming eye, “Am I the only adult here?” At another time, in May of 1973, he penned a note to his colleague and former office-mate Bob Kraft as follows:
If I mistake not, it is you who are to be thanked for elevating the standard of graffiti in the men’s room on the fourth floor [of Duhring wing, where their respective offices were located]. You are to be congratulated both in respect to literary style and subject matter.
Kraft, unfortunately being innocent of the deed, took the earliest opportunity to discover what had so obviously tickled Evans’ academic and theological funny-bone. The words, he found, written in fine flowing hand, were as follows:
Robert Evans who’s fond of Pelagius
Finds predestination outrageous
There needn’t have been
Original sin –
Bad habits are simply contagious!
Perhaps, as a foot-note to posterity, Kraft’s poetic reply to Evans should also be recorded: []
At paleography you’re not very hot.
My writing it clearly is not!
For its doctrinal ken
In such neat flowing pen
McInerney’s the pundit, I wot.
Whether Lee McInerney, one of Evans’ advanced graduate students at the time, was indeed responsible for the free-will verse will remain his secret. But it provided a pleasant interlude, and an interesting insight into Robert Evan’s personality.
Robert’s great obsession, other than scholarship, was, as has been noted, music. These two activities seemed to be vehicles of expression for antithetical sides of his character. As an academician, he could be rationalistic, preoccupied, somewhat pedantic and austere. As a musician, however, he was improvisatorial, expressive, and often boyishly unreserved. A friend once remarked after hearing Evans play the organ at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and direct the choir during a Sunday morning service, “Now I have seen the real Bob Evans!” People who saw him only in one context were frequently surprised to learn how he was regarded in the other. As an academic, he frequently intimidated graduate and undergraduate students, and the tensions that arose were especially painful to him. He loved students, but he also believed that they sometimes were threatening that model of scholarship which he so prized and with which he had identified himself. Those of his friends who knew him more intimately found him a warm and loyal friend, one who loved to talk and drink late into the night and who could be, given the proper setting, charmingly boisterous. There was even deep within him a Romantic steak that only came to expression in his playing of the organ and in an occasional revelation made to a friend. One such revelation was when, rather quaintly, he confessed to a friend that every Christmas he read the nineteenth century German Romantic Dialogue on Christmas Eve by Friedrich Schleiermacher that celebrates family life and friendship but which also ends with the view that the only authentic response to great significant [] moments in life is not “cold and rigid speech” but music! It was through music that Robert expressed feelings he seemed not to permit himself to do as an academic. The pipe organ was his instrument par excellence, and he played it with uncommon vigor, enthusiasm, and skill. To those who could sometimes peek into the darkened sanctuary of St. Mary’s church on a Saturday afternoon when he practiced, he seemed transformed. Caught up in his playing, he appeared to be suspended in mid-air — drawn upward by a prematurely grayed head straining as though it wanted to leave his shoulders, but pulled downwards by his feet working intricate patterns on the pedal beneath the bench.
The various faces of Robert Evans — scholar, musician, teacher, colleague, friend — reflect to a large degree the paradox between strongly held ideals and ever-present realities. Evans was plagued by this problem to the very end, as is patent from these words of his written in late February 1974.
I write…in some considerable internal rage, directed…in large part at myself. I have come to the realization that I am really very unsatisfied with the kind of life that I am leading from to most every day of the month. In part I am myself responsible for my present discontent, in that I have not been sufficiently prudent and provident with respect to my own basic interests and goals. I have allowed myself to be malleable in the hands of others and have not had the courage often enough to say no to requests and demands made of me. The chief reason for my entering academic life was my interest in scholarship, research, and writing. I am at the moment not doing enough of these things to keep me going on an even keel. My inability in past months to say no to people is a personal problem that I have got to work on myself. []
To what extent Robert Evans would have been successful in attaining his ideals will never be known. His absence is the reality with which we must life. But he leaves us a legacy and a challenge — the pursuit of rigorous scholarship in a circumspect humanistic setting combined with a desire to understand ourselves and those with whom we work. May we never have to turn out backs on those ideals.
Robert A. Kraft
with Van. A. Harvey
//end; endnotes need to be supplied//