Professor Morwenna Ludlow
Head of Theology and Religion, Professor
I am Professor of Christian History and Theology and I hold an honorary position as Canon Theologian at Exeter Cathedral
I teach and conduct research in historical theology. That is, I am a scholar of the history of Christian thought (with a particular focus on the early church: 100-500 CE) but I also write about the reception of early theology by modern thinkers and I am very interested in the implications of early theology for the world today.
My latest book Art, Craft, and Theology in Fourth-Century Christian Authors takes its starting-point from the way in which ancient writers compared texts with paintings or sculptures. By looking more deeply into these comparisons, I seek to recover a sense of ancient authorship as craft -- something which is both useful and beautiful. My book focuses on Greek writers, especially the Cappadocians (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa) and John Chrysostom. All of these were trained in rhetoric and one aim of my book is to refocus our view on late antique rhetoric, seeing it as a series of shared, flexible practices, rather than as rigid rules.
In addition, I have written extensively on the fourth-century Cappadocian theologian, Gregory of Nyssa. My second monograph, Gregory of Nyssa, Ancient and Post-Modern focussed on the reception, use and abuse of Gregory by modern writers. I help coordinate international research meetings on Gregory of Nyssa and am involved in peer-reviewing papers for the series of studies on Gregory published by Brill.
My interest in the reception and interpretation of the early church fathers stretches beyond Gregory of Nyssa. For example, I co-led an international research project on the interpretation of early Christian writers in the modern and post-modern context, which resulted in the publication of Scot Douglass and Morwenna Ludlow (edd.) Reading the Church Fathers. I have also published on the recent reception of Augustine's Confessions and the City of God. I have appeared on BBC Radio 4's In our Time, discussing the Confessions.
An important theme in my research has been Christian eschatology, especially the idea of universal salvation. My first monograph, Universal Salvation, studied this concept in Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner. I have also published papers on this idea as it appears in the Reformation, the seventeenth century and other periods. My reflections on hell and its history as a Christian idea were featured as part of a Radio 4 programme, "Beyond Belief".
I welcome enquiries from students wishing to conduct research in any of the above areas and on theology of the early Church more generally.
I teach an introductory module on the development of early Christianity and specialised modules on the following themes:
- the history and theology of heaven and hell;
- Augustine's Confessions;
- early Christian women.
My research has taken me in several thematic directions:
- the theology of the fourth century CE and especially on the Cappadocian theologian, Gregory of Nyssa;
- authorship seen as a theological vocation and a craft practice drawing on classical literary traditions such as poetry, drama and especially rhetoric;
- the concept of 'good speech', especially as to how rhetoric relates to 'Identity, Memory and Destruction' in religion - one of our department's identified research themes;
- the positive and negative relationships between public speech and spiritual leadership;
- the role of bishops, ancient and modern;
- Christian eschatology, especially those theologians who have questioned the idea of an eternal hell.
My current research draws on my extensive work on rhetoric and literary composition in the early church. Using these as a basis for critical historical and theological reflection, I ask: what is it to speak well? How have our assumptions about good speech today been shaped by classical and Christian rhetoric? What can we learn from early Christian speech about the use and abuse of power and persuasion in specifically religious contexts? How might our ideas be informed and disrupted by recent scholarship about the diversity of rhetorical expression in late antiquity -- research which highlights the complex relationship between speech and gender, sexuality, race and class?
In this work, I am learning much from my colleagues, especially David Horrell's work on religion, ethnicity, and race and Louise Lawrence's work on how the reception of biblical texts relates to present-day notions of personhood. I learned immensely from working with Richard Flower on a project on Rhetoric and Religious Identity in the early Church. I have benefitted from the opportunity to co-supervise PhD students with several colleagues, particularly Richard Flower and Brandon Gallaher.
I have published three monographs with Oxford University Press and a book on The Early Church with I B Tauris.
My latest monograph, Art, Craft, and Theology in Fourth-Century Christian Authors (2020) considers rhetoric and authorship in Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom amongst others. It argues that theology and rhetoric cannot be separated in early Christian texts, developing a more nuanced understanding of early Christian literary production. Against those who see rhetoric as a series of rules to be learned and rigidly applied, it considers rhetoric as a craft – a collection of literary practices to be learned, practised, adapted and experimented with. Although rhetoric, like other crafts or skills, could be used to a bad end, it could also be employed for the common good and this is how Christian authors view it – as a collection of literary practices which they can use to make their speech both beautiful and useful.
Summary: Ancient authors commonly compared writing with painting. The sculpting of the soul was also a common philosophical theme. Art, Craft, and Theology in Fourth-Century Christian Authors takes its starting-point from such figures to recover a sense of ancient authorship as craft. The ancient concept of craft (ars, techne) spans 'high' or 'fine' art and practical or applied arts. It unites the beautiful and the useful. It includes both skills or practices (like medicine and music) and productive arts like painting, sculpting and the composition of texts. By using craft as a guiding concept for understanding fourth Christian authorship, this book recovers a sense of them engaged in a shared practice which is both beautiful and theologically useful, which shapes souls but which is also engaged in the production of texts. It focuses on Greek writers, especially the Cappadocians (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nysa) and John Chrysostom, all of whom were trained in rhetoric. Through a detailed examination of their use of two particular literary techniques—ekphrasis and prosōpopoeia—it shows how they adapt and experiment with them, in order to make theological arguments and in order to evoke a response from their readership. [Table of contents]
My second monograph, Gregory of Nyssa, Ancient and (Post)modern (2007) is a unique interdisciplinary study of Gregory of Nyssa in particular, and of the problem of modern readings of the Church Fathers in general. It raises important questions about the relation of the disciplines of systematic theology and patristics, reflecting. upon the notions of tradition, authority, theological hermeneutics, and of the range of meaning in an ancient text.
Summary: the fourth-century Christian thinker, Gregory of Nyssa, has been the subject of a huge variety of interpretations over the past fifty years, from historians, theologians, philosophers, and others. In this highly original study, Morwenna Ludlow analyses these recent readings of Gregory of Nyssa and asks: What do they reveal about modern and postmodern interpretations of the Christian past? What do they say about the nature of Gregory's writing? Working thematically through studies of recent Trinitarian theology, Christology, spirituality, feminism, and postmodern hermeneutics, Ludlow develops an approach to reading the Church Fathers which combines the benefits of traditional scholarship on the early Church with reception-history and theology. [Table of contents]
My first monograph, Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner takes a fresh look at Christian eschatology, by comparing the thought of two theologians: Karl Rahner and Gregory of Nyssa. By comparing the two and placing each clearly in their different historical context, it raises questions about the controversial idea of universal salvation – the idea that in the end all people will be saved by God.
Summary: For nearly two thousand years Paul's suggestion at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 that God will be 'all in all' has appealed to those who hold a 'wider hope' that eventually no person will be lost from God's love. Clearly, such hope for universal salvation is at variance with most Christian tradition, which has emphasized the possibility, or certainty, of eternal hell. However, a minority of Christian thinkers have advocated the idea and it has provoked much debate in the course of the twentieth century. Responding to this interest, Morwenna Ludlow compares and assesses the arguments for universal salvation by Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner - two influential theologians from very different eras who are less well known for their eschatological views. In this book I give an assessment of early Christian eschatology and its effect on modern theology by examining some fundamental questions. Does universal salvation constitute a 'second tradition' of eschatology and how has that tradition developed? What can we learn from Patristic writers such as Gregory of Nyssa? How does one approach Christian eschatology in a modern context? [Table of contents]
I have also published The Early Church (2009), which is designed to be an account of the development of early Christianity, which is readable without smoothing out too many of the complexities of the history or the diversity of early Christian practices and beliefs.
In her review of the book , Frances Young wrote: 'The author knows that doing justice to the complexity of the story and the diversity of Christianity in its first six centuries is no easy task, but has succeeded in taking consistently judicious paths in negotiating the difficulties, with an impressive degree of honesty and sensitivity to the issues. Many previous histories have been weak on the theological front;many doctrinal histories have been weak on the social, cultural, and political context. Neither is true of this volume, which is a remarkably comprehensive and balanced account of the major aspects of the life and thought of the early Church, informed by the burgeoning range of interests and approaches brought to scholarship of the period in recent decades—liturgy as well as society, heresy as well as orthodoxy, politics as well as theology, women’s history as well as men’s, not to mention post-Holocaust sensitivities about Christian supersessionism and postmodern fascination with and incomprehension of ascetic practices. Even the seasoned scholar finds fresh connections and differentiations, whereas the general reader could hardly wish for a better introduction.... Altogether, this work is an enormous achievement and is highly recommended.' (Catholic Historical Review, Volume 96, Number 4, October 2010, pp. 759-760).
Morwenna is a member of the Oxford-Bonn international research project 'The Plausibility of Christology' (with members from Bonn, Oxford, Exeter, Glasgow, Bonn, Dortmund and Paderborn).
She has worked with this group for nearly fifteen years and has contributed to the following volumes previously published by the group:
- The Spirit and the Letter: a Tradition and a Reversal Paul S Fiddes and Günter Bader (edd.) (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)
- Rhetorik des Bösen / The Rhetoric of Evil Paul S Fiddes, Jochen Schmidt (edd.) (Würzburg: Ergon-Verlag, 2013)
- Die Einheit der Schrift und die Vielfalt des Kanons - The Plurality of the Canon and the Unity of the Bible edd. John Barton and Michael Wolter (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin and New York, 2003)
Morwenna is part of an international community of scholars working on Gregory of Nyssa. She contributes to and is on the scientific committee of a series of international conferences on his work and a series of accompanying volumes, published by Brill, which will provide a scholarly assessment of his thought and its after-life. Morwenna has contributed to the following volumes:
Gregory of Nyssa: Contra Eunomium III. An English Translation with Commentary and Supporting Studies, Proceedings of the 12th International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa (Leuven, 14-17 September 2010) Johan Leemans (Catholic University Leuven) & Matthieu Cassin (IRHT, Paris) (edd.) (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2014/15)
Gregory of Nyssa: The Minor Treatises on Trinitarian Theology and Apollinarianism, Volker Drecoll and Margitta Berghaus (Tübingen) (edd.) (Brill, Leiden, 2011)
Gregory of Nyssa: Contra Eunomium II: An English version with Commentary and Supporting Studies. Proceedings of the Tenth International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa (Olomouc, 15-18 September, 2004) ed. Lenka Karfíková (Olomouc and Prague) et al. (Brill, Leiden, 2007)
Scot Douglass and Morwenna Ludlow ran an international research project which led to the publication of
- Reading the Church Fathers, Scot Douglass and Morwenna Ludlow (edd.) (T & T Clark/Continuum, 2011)
South West Late Antiquity Network
Richard Flower and Morwenna Ludlow have raised funds through the University of Exeter Humanities and Social Sciences Strategy (HASS) to fund a conference on Rhetoric and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity, under the HASS Identities and Beliefs theme.
I welcome enquiries about research in any area relating to the early Christian church or literature in Late Antiquity, including projects involving reception-history or the relation of the Fathers to modern theology/philosophy.
Past reseach students:
Giovanni Hermanin de Reichenfeld: The role of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John within Origen’s and Augustine’s Commentaries.
Karen O'Donnell: The Flesh of Mary and The Body of Christ
Paschalis Gkortsilas: John Chrysostom and the Greeks: Hellenism and Greek philosophy in the rhetoric of John Chrysostom
Graham Field:The Development of the Divine Office in 4th Century Cappadocia
Jane Ellingwood: Creation and God as One, Creator, and Trinity in Early Christian Theology through Augustine
Donna Cooper Was Tertullian a misogynist? A re-examination of this charge based on a rhetorical analysis of Tertullian's work 2012 Thesis (Ph.D.) - Exeter University, College of Humanities. See: http://hdl.handle.net/10871/10124
Sean Willis: In what sense is Mary a type of the Church? An examination of the development of Mario-ecclesiology 2013 Thesis (Ph.D.) - Exeter University, College of Humanities. See: http://hdl.handle.net/10871/14431.
Current research students:
Carrie Marsden, The Problem of Evil in Luther
External impact and engagement
- Morwenna is enthusiastic about communicating the riches and complexities of the early Christian tradition to as wide an audience as possible. Her book, The Early Church has been well-received and is being used as a text-book in a variety of different contexts. Her Higher Education Academy funded project "The use of audio recordings of key texts in the teaching of early Christian history and theology" made audio recordings of key texts by the Church Fathers. These recordings are available for educational use on the HEA website and can be accessed at the Audio Recordings of the Fathers website.
Work with churches
- Morwenna is Canon Theologian at Exeter Cathedral
- She has worked on several Church of Englandcommittees, including one which wrote a report on how Diocesan Bishops in the Church of England should be chosen. She is currently a member of the Meissen Commission, which works for the partnership between the Church of England and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)
Contribution to discipline
Morwenna was President of the Ecclesiastical History Society 2017-2018
Member, Board of Directors of the XVII. International Conference on Patristic Studies Oxford 10 August - 14 August 2015
Convened 4th British Patristics Conference, Exeter, 2012.
Convened Symposium Reading the Church Fathers with Scot Douglas (Boulder). Held at and funded by the University of Boulder, CO, USA, 2009.
Co-convenor of seminars on modern readings of the church fathers at the Annual Meeting of the North American Patristics Society, 2008 and 2009, and at the 15th Oxford International Conference on Patristics, 2007.
Academic society positions
- Member of the scientific committee of the International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa
- Committee member of the Society for the Study of Theology, 2007-2009
- Member of the Southwest Network for the Study of Late Antiquity
- Conversations in Religion and Theology (Associate editor)
- Irish Theological Quarterly (Advisory board member)
- Princeton Theological Seminary, USA, Feb-Aug 2009
- Guest on BBC Radio 4, In our Time, discussing Augustine's Confessions, Thursday 15 Mar 2018.
- Guest on Night Waves, discussing ‘the gospel of Jesus’ wife’: BBC Radio 3, 10:00PM Thursday, 11 October 2012 (live) See: http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/theology/news/title_234542_en.html
- Guest on BBC Radio 4 Beyond Belief to discuss the Christian understanding of Hell and universal salvation, 11 July 2011; available as a podcast.