Tanner, Norman P. 1943-

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TANNER, Norman P. 1943-

PERSONAL: Born February 26, 1943, in Woking, Surrey, England; son of John Basil (a lawyer) and Agnes Emily (Tolhurst) Tanner. Ethnicity: "English." Education: Attended Ampleforth College, 1956-61; Jesuit novice, 1961-63; Heythrop College, licentiate, 1966; Oxford University, B.A., 1969, M.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1974; Gregorian University (Rome), B.Th, 1976. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Office—Campion Hall, Oxford OX1 1QS, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Ordained Roman Catholic Priest, 1976; Farm Street parish, London, England, assistant priest, 1977-78; Oxford University, Oxford, England, 1978—, teacher of history, 1978—, theology, 1989—, research lecturer, 1997—, senior tutor (Dean of Studies) of Campion Hall, 1981-97. Visiting professor of Church councils and/or Church history at Hekima College, Catholic University of East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2001, Chishawasha National Seminary, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1991, 1996, 2000, Cedara College, near Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 1991, Vidyajyoti Theological College, Delhi, India, 1996, 1999, St. Augustine College, Johannesburg, South Africa, 1999, St John Vianney Seminary, Pretoria, South Africa, 1999, Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, India, 1999, 2001, Centre Sèvres, Paris, France, 2000, Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, 2000, 2002, College General, Penang, Malaysia, 2001, and Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2001.

MEMBER: Royal Historical Society (fellow), Ecclesiastical History Society, Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain.


(Editor) Heresy Trials in the Diocese of Norwich, 1428-31, Royal Historical Society (London, England), 1977.

The Church in Late Medieval Norwich, 1370-1532, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

(Editor) Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, two volumes, Georgetown University Press (Washington, DC), 1990.

(Editor) Kent Heresy Proceedings, 1511-12, Kent Archaeological Society/Sutton Publishing (Maidstone, England), 1997.

The Councils of the Church: A Short History, Crossroad (New York, NY), 2001.

Is the Church too Asian?: Reflections on the Ecumenical Councils, Dharmaram Publications (Bangalore, India), 2002.

(Coauthor) History of Vatican II, volume four, edited by G. Alberigo and J. Komonchak, Orbis/Peeters (Maryknoll, NY), 2002.

Contributor to books, including A History of Religion in Britain, edited by S. Cilley and W. J. Sheils, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1994; Norwich Cathedral: Church, City, and Diocese, 1096-1996, edited by I. Atherton and others, Hambledon Press (London, England), 1996; Christian Theology, edited by Adrian Hastings, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000; and A History of Pastoral Care, edited by G. Evans, Cassell (New York, NY), 2000; and to periodicals, including Heythrop Journal, African Ecclesial Review, and Hekima Review.

WORK IN PROGRESS: As editor with Shannon McSheffrey, Lollards of Coventry, 1486-1522, Royal Historical Society/Cambridge University Press, 2003; various journal articles and chapters in books.

SIDELIGHTS: Norman P. Tanner is a Jesuit priest, educator, and the author or editor of a number of books, including Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Tanner was interviewed by a writer for Hekima Review, the journal of Hekima College's Jesuit School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was teaching a course in medieval Church history. Tanner has visited and taught courses on church history and the councils around the world. He told the interviewer, "My life is best described as a nomadic scholar, a writer, and teacher."

The interviewer asked Tanner why he had become so interested in Church history, and particularly the councils. Tanner said that he has always enjoyed history, majoring in both history and Church history all through his studies. He wrote his doctorate on popular religion in medieval Norwich and taught medieval Church history after his ordination.

"During this teaching, I became interested in the councils of the Church, starting with the medieval ones. I realised, and was appalled, that the great councils of the Middle Ages were effectively unavailable to students. The original decrees of the councils existed in Latin, but there were no translations of most of them into English—which was the only language that most students could manage."

Tanner noted that he made the decision to provide not only English translations but also the original texts on facing pages, "since translations are always imperfect, and for these important documents students have a right to be able to refer to the original texts." Tanner added that "for the purpose of sales, it would be better to include all the ecumenical councils of the Church, therefore the early and later councils (Nicaea I to Constantinople IV; Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II), as well as the medieval ones."

The Greek and Latin versions had been published in 1973 as Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta, and the editors agreed to their reproduction in Tanner's volumes. Thirty Jesuits, including Tanner, spent eight years completing the English translations, and Tanner spent another two years editing 2,500 pages before they were published. He had spent time in Rome in the 1970s studying for the priesthood and a short period for his "tertianship" in Denver, Colorado in 1991, but after the publication of these volumes, he was invited to lecture in many countries, and has done so with the support of the Church and Oxford University.

Tanner said that "the ecumenical councils are of great importance, they have been at the centre of the Church's life and thought from early times to the present day. They contain a rich mixture of theology, Church history, and canon law. Almost every aspect of Christian life, indeed of human nature, may be found in them. I am the only person anywhere, so far as I know, who teaches a course on all the councils together, and it seems to me well worthwhile to share with others this treasury of our Christian past."

A one-volume overview is presented in Tanner's The Councils of Churches: A Short History, for which "every theologian is indebted," noted Lawrence S. Cunningham in Commonweal. Cunningham called the book "superb." It covers all of the major councils, from Nicaea to Vatican II, divided into three sections. Tanner notes that not all of the twenty-one councils were clearly ecumenical, particularly the medieval ones, which were called "general councils of the West" by Pope Paul VI in a letter to Cardinal Willebrands. Cunningham concluded by saying that "given Tanner's fine style, his command of the conciliar tradition, and the importance of councils both as a history and as potential instruments for future church reform and ecumenical activity, this volume is a must read."



America, February 23, 1991, Ladislas Orsy, review of Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, p. 219.

American Historical Review, June, 1985, Richard W. Pfaff, review of The Church in Late Medieval Norwich, 1370-1532, p. 665.

Atlantic, July, 1991, Charles R. Morris, review of Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, p. 105.

Commonweal, October 12, 1990, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, p. 590; September 28, 2001, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of The Councils of the Church: A Short History, p. 26.

English Historical Review, April, 1987, R. B. Dobson, review of The Church in Late Medieval Norwich, 1370-1532, p. 477.

Hekima Review, May, 2001, "An Interview with Norman Tanner SJ."

Journal of Religion, October, 1992, Michael Cameron, review of Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, p. 642.