The following extracts are adapted from Donald S. Armentrout, “Christopher Bryan: A Biographical Note.” In Biblical Imagination: Essays in Honor of Christopher Bryan. Edited by Ellen Bradshaw Aitken. (The University of the South, 2006)
Christopher Bryan was born in London, England, the only son of William Joseph Bryan, a British soldier, and Amy May Bryan. He spent his childhood and early adolescence in London, a period that included the whole of World War II. He still retains vivid memories of the outbreak of war in September 1939, the London Blitz (1940-1941), and subsequent events such as the dropping of the first atomic bomb. He received most of his primary education from Saint Michael’s (Church of England) Primary School in Star Street, near the Edgeware Road. After taking the “eleven plus” examination, he was awarded a place at Saint Marylebone Grammar School, which he attended from 1946 to 1954. Major influences on him during this period were the poet T. E. Blackburn, who was his form master for a good part of the time, and who taught him that poetry matters, and the historian T. K. Derry, who taught him that precision in scholarship matters.
Bryan’s formal religious life had begun as a teenager when he was confirmed and subsequently joined with enthusiasm the activities of a thriving Anglo-Catholic parish in London—Saint Mark’s, Marylebone Road. Bryan is clear about his indebtedness to this Anglo-Catholic beginning. Father John Crisp, who was vicar of St. Mark’s for most of this time, remains to this day his model of what a pastor should be. Bryan says, “He is, quite simply, the finest parish priest I have ever known.” As for Anglo-Catholicism, Bryan says, “Christ came to me within the Anglo-Catholic tradition. There Christ called me, and there Christ has blessed me. While I have over time come to appreciate and value some aspects of the Reformation, it remains that Anglo-Catholic liturgy, Anglo-Catholic concern for social justice and the poor, the Anglo-Catholic tradition of coming daily to God’s table for the Eucharist, the availability of confession, joyful acceptance of the prayers and fellowship of blessed Mary and the saints – these things, by God’s grace, are the basic furniture of my ecclesial home, and, in this life at least, I cannot imagine why I should ever either abandon or replace them.”
Bryan studied for the priesthood at Ripon Hall Theological College in Oxford. He was ordained to the diaconate of the Church of England by Mervyn Stockwood, Bishop of Southwark, in Southwark Cathedral on Trinity Sunday 1960, and to the priesthood on Trinity Sunday 1961, at which liturgy he was honoured by being the appointed gospeller. He then served until 1965 as assistant priest at St. Mark’s Church, Reigate, in the county of Surrey. He enjoyed and felt fulfilled by pastoral ministry, and at that time saw his future life and ministry as that of a parish priest, no doubt somewhat after the model of his beloved Father Crisp.
Following these years in parish ministry however, in 1965 Bryan was appointed Tutor in New Testament at Salisbury Theological College, where he would serve until 1971, for a while as Tutor and subsequently as Vice-Principal. During the greater part of this time the Principal of the college was Canon Harold Wilson, undoubtedly one of the most important and far-seeing educators in the Church of England during the twentieth century (see further, “Prin: A Reminiscence” under “Posts” at http://www.christopherbryanonline.com). Harold Wilson had a great influence on Bryan, and certainly helped to make him aware of his calling to work as a priest-scholar and theological teacher rather than in full-time parochial ministry, while at the same time making him aware that such vocation would always be pastoral and priestly as well as intellectual and academic. As Bryan himself would later say to his students, “To be a professor of religion you must be a serious academic and scholar. To be a theologian means that you don’t get off any of that, but you must also always be attempting to lead the life of faith, which is to say a life of prayer, obedience, and pastoral care for those around you.”
In 1972 Bryan married Wendy Elizabeth Smith, only daughter of Jack Egbert Smith and Joan Dickinson Smith. They have subsequently lived in Alexandria, Virginia, in London, in Exeter, and in Sewanee, Tennessee. They also have family in the Czech Republic—Peter, who is Wendy’s brother—and in Centola in southern Italy—Benjamin, who is also Wendy’s brother, his wife Giuseppina, and their son Michael.
During the years following until the present Bryan has taught at various times in the Bahamas, Britain, Canada, Haiti, Israel, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. From 1974 to 1979 he worked as education officer in the diocese of London, and from 1979 to 1983 as part time faculty and chaplain at the School of Education in the University of Exeter, where he completed his PhD. He began teaching at the University of the South in 1983. From 1991 to the present he has edited the Sewanee Theological Review (formerly the Saint Luke’s Journal of Theology), one of the only two Anglican journals of theological reflection at present published in the United States. In 2000 he was appointed to a chair, as C. K. Benedict Professor of New Testament at The University of the South. In 2006, Ellen Bradshaw Aitken of McGill University in Canada, his former student, edited Biblical Imagination: Essays in Honor of Christopher Bryan, a Festschrift on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. In October 2012, in recognition of his services to the church and the academy, the University of the South awarded him the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa.
Now in “semi-retirement” (whatever that means) Bryan continues to write, both non-fiction and fiction, to teach, and to serve the church as a priest. His most important non-fiction books are The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford, 2011), Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower (Oxford, 2005), the popular And God Spoke: The Authority of the Bible for the Church Today (Cowley, 2002) (which was among the books commended to the bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference) and most recently Listening to the Bible: The Art of Faithful Biblical Interpretation (Oxford, 2013), with an appendix on liturgical reading by his friend actor-director David Landon. Bryan’s novel, Siding Star, was published in December 2012, and in December 2012 was given a starred Kirkus review. In December 2013 Siding Star was named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2013. Peacekeeper, a sequel to Siding Star, was published in December 2013; a third in the series, Singularity, came out in December 2014; the fourth, A Habit of Death, in December 2015; and the latest, The Dogleg Murders, in October 2016.
Among Bryan’s continuing personal delights, besides reading and writing, he lists cooking and eating with Wendy and friends; dogs; theatre, especially Shakespeare; and opera, especially of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He is, in a small way, an actor himself, and in the semi-professional setting of the University of the South’s Theater department is particularly proud of having played Gloucester in King Lear, Boyet in Love’s Labours Lost, Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lord Lafew in All’s Well That Ends Well (February-March 2015), and most recently, the Narrator in Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor (October-November 2016).
“An enjoyable novel of spiritual mystery and adventure--well plotted, intelligent and deeply moving.”
– Kirkus Reviews
An English detective investigates a homicide that has supernatural implications and leads to a mysterious organization and the ultimate battle between good and evil.
In Exeter, England, DI Cecilia Cavaliere investigates the death of John Cox, a young teacher. She quickly finds that his murder is connected to the mysterious Academy for Philosophical Studies, whose chairman is secretly in league with the devil. At the same time, at nearby R.A.F. Harlsden, Capt. Lancelot Scott, of the 92nd Missile Wing of the U.S.A.F., is unaware that the deadly Peacekeeper nuclear missiles under his command are part of the chairman’s plot to jump-start World War III. When her investigation leans toward the supernatural, Cecilia feels out of her depth, but fortunately, she receives help from religious scholar and Anglican priest Michael Aarons, a friend of her father’s, and Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, a mysterious Jesuit. In the end, it comes down to the ultimate confrontation between good and evil, as Cavaliere and Aarons face off against the chairman and a satanic consultant from the Infernal City. In this sequel to the author’s Siding Star (2012), it’s fairly obvious how things will turn out, but since the characters are created with such intelligence, readers will nonetheless want to stick around to find out what fate has in store for them. A hint of romance between Cavaliere and Aarons provides additional interest in the story’s outcome. The author, an Anglican priest, writes authoritatively when it comes to religion, though he also entertains with details about how homicide investigations are run and how a missile installation works. He is, however, at his most eloquent when describing the nature of spirituality: “The universe is a dance….And we were created to be part of it,” says the mysterious Spee. At moments like this, this novel is much more than the sum of its parts.
Part mystery, part religious debate, this old-fashioned, well-written novel is wholly entertaining.
Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2013
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: The Diamond Press
Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2014
A detective inspector joins forces with an Anglican priest and an astronomer to thwart a shadowy organization’s sinister plans in this debut suspense thriller.
In England’s Exeter Cathedral, a man with a strange black book is found dead in front of the altar, with occult signs spray-painted on the floor and a crucifix overturned. In Australia’s Siding Springs Observatory, a young astronomer named Charlie Brown discovers a supernova that’s sending “a hail of high-energy particles and electromagnetic radiation” straight toward Earth. Linking these events are the machinations of a secret society bent on power and destruction. As DI Cecilia Cavaliere investigates the secrets of the black book, she turns to scholar and Anglican priest Michael Aarons for help. Cecilia, Michael and Charlie must confront a world-threatening challenge with cleverness, courage, science and faith—as well as love and friendship. In this entertaining, thought-provoking novel, Bryan (The Resurrection of the Messiah, 2011, etc.)—himself an Anglican priest—highlights the imaginative sweep and power of Christianity. As Charlie says, “I can say, the universe has to be the way it is, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. And that’s certainly true. But still, to be in awe or not to be in awe, that’s a choice—an emotional choice—and I don’t see opting for one as being any more or less ‘scientific’ than opting for the other.” Bryan’s heroes aren’t just likable but lovable: intelligent, amusing, hardworking, even kind to animals. In contrast, the novel’s villains are truly spooky and disturbing; readers are always aware of the urgency of stopping their evil plans.
An enjoyable novel of spiritual mystery and adventure—well-plotted, intelligent and deeply moving.
Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2012
Page count: 406pp
Publisher: The Diamond Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013
This third mystery novel in a series continues the temporal and spiritual investigations of Detective Inspector Cecilia Cavaliere in Exeter, England.
In Siding Star (2012) and Peacekeeper (2013), Exeter-based DI Cecilia Cavaliere (her parents are Italian) looked into mysteries with supernatural elements, often receiving help from religious figures including Anglican priest Michael Aarons. Now married, Cecilia and Michael have a 3-year-old daughter, a dog and two cats, all comfortably ensconced in a sprawling Victorian rectory. In this third outing, Cecilia is called on to temporarily serve as detective chief inspector while police headquarters are being built for the huge, new United Nations Institute for Technological Experimentation and Development in Edgestow. (Similarities with C.S. Lewis and That Hideous Strength are intentional and acknowledged.) Though somewhat reluctant—the place gives her bad vibes, and she’ll be away for most of three months—Cecilia agrees. When the deaths of some illegal immigrants seem linked to U.N.I.T.E.D., Cecilia and DS Verity Jones head to ask questions at the enormous, heavily guarded steel-and-glass tower. They soon find themselves forced into playing a conscienceless egomaniac’s very dangerous and real computer game based on historical events in Cecilia’s family. As in his earlier volumes, Bryan (Listening to the Bible: The Art of Faithful Biblical Interpretation, 2013, etc.) confronts evil with good in an intelligent, satisfying way, even though the dice are somewhat loaded: For example, the supersmart villains haven’t considered GPS tracking; Cecilia has the advantage of historical knowledge in making her game choices; and supernatural in-game help arrives in the form of Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, a Jesuit who died in 1635. As with his earlier work, Bryan offers a thoughtful view of faith in daily practice. Worrying about Cecilia, Michael realizes he must instead focus on his duties and commend her to God: “And wasn’t that, after all, the point of all the tough Ignatian spirituality that his guides…had been endeavoring to teach him over the years?” Indeed, tough spirituality is a hallmark of Bryan’s work.
Somewhat slight compared with earlier entries in the series, but another well-written, enjoyable mystery.
Publisher: The Diamond Press
Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2014
SIDING STAR: Kirkus Star
SIDING STAR: Named to <i>Kirkus Reviews'</i> Best Books, 2013Loss of Feeling: Review of Christopher Bryan's novel Singularity , 2015
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