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Tom O'Loughlin

Professor of Historical Theology, Faculty of Arts


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Born in Dublin, I began my life in universities when I did a B.A. in philosophy and medieval history in University College Dublin. Immediately after that I began work on my B.D. in theology from St Patrick's College, Maynooth. By this stage I knew I wanted to do research in early medieval thought, and did an M. Phil. in medieval studies concentrating on the cultural influences on the thought of Plotinus and Augustine. During the time I was doing the M.Phil. I became increasingly aware of the need to be skilled in languages of late antiquity and in palaeography - and entering the world of manuscripts was, though I did not realize it at the time, going to be a major step in my way of looking at the world, while at the same time my interests were moving ever more towards historical theology.

I was subsequently offered a research fellowship in the Department of Late Latin and Palaeography in University College Dublin, and later again I was made a Scholar in School of Celtic Studies of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, and this led to my Ph.D. which was devoted to the tradition of Genesis interpretation in Latin between the death of Augustine and the Carolingians.

While doing research for my M.Phil. and, later, for the Ph.D. I held various teaching positions (in University College Dublin, the Milltown Institute, Dublin, and the Dominican Studium in Dublin) teaching traditional logic, the history of theology, patristics, and church history. This teaching not only gave me a perspective on the topics I was researching, but exerted a constant pressure to reflect on my own theological method and to recognize that while my teaching might be valued by others as 'history of theology' or 'the history of ideas,' my own impulse to teach and research was rooted in the discipline and perspective of historical theology.

Teaching has also influenced the content of my research in a variety of ways. I have become fascinated with how earlier teachers taught theology and how the tools they developed to help them in that task had an impact on the theology they taught. Likewise, theology is a discipline that reflects its modes of communication far more than other academic pursuits: 'gospel' is communicated as 'the gospels' and, in turn, 'the gospels' become the core of 'gospel'; the early churches used codices rather than scrolls - the effects are still with us; theology became a university discipline when it moved out of a primarily oral environment and Christianity became a book-based religion; now what will happen in the new orality that arises with the web? These questions about communication fascinate me and crop up again and again in what I write.

While a Scholar the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies I was offered a post in the Dept of Theology and Religious Studies in the University of Wales, Lampeter beginning in January 1997. That appointment allowed me to develop a distinctive style of historical theology focused on the dynamics of tradition within theology. This work led eventually to my being made the first Professor of Historical Theology in the University of Wales in February 2006; and to the award of a D.D. by Bangor University in 2010. I am a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; and of the Royal Historical Society.

I was invited to accept the post of Professor of Historical Theology here in the University of Nottingham in 2009, and am happy to belong to a department in which this approach is not only valued within the theological spectrum, but where I have several colleagues who would also describe themselves as historical theologians.

Working here in Nottingham I face each day the key challenges of the university researcher: on the one hand, one must be constantly seeking new knowledge by investigating historical material and subjecting well-known materials to new critical examination; on the other hand, communicating the fruits of one's research, training the next generation of researchers through supervising their PhD dissertations, and transmitting the dialogue of theology through teaching undergraduate and MA students. This task of communication is also a complex in that one has to dialogue with others in the research community through the publication of academic papers, and one must also communicate with the wider public - for theology and its history is of concern far beyond the academy - through other publications and media. One can see my attempts to so communicate with these various audiences through the list of modules I teach and the range of items in my list of publications. Some publications are intended only for a handful of specialists, others are attempts to distil the understanding of the origins of Christianity that has been built up since the discipline came into existence in Germany in the nineteenth century. Moreover, in recent years I have become ever more interested in how we are entering a new age of orality - learning is taking place through listening and watching - which is based not around the hearth in the household nor in the village church, but on the internet. Hence a good deal of my energy for communicating my work is directed at the moment into making videos for YouTube in collaboration with my colleagues. If you want to see and hear what I mean by this, then just click this link:

The other 'slow burn' activity I am engaged in is seeking out new sources for historical theology; sources that have not attracted attention from this angle in the past. In particular I am interested in how the activity of Christian cult - liturgy - has played a complex role in the growth of Christian self-understanding and had interacted with formal theology in a myriad of ways - and ways that are far more complex and surprising than the old adage of lex orandi legem credendi statuat might suggest. The other area that I am interested in developing is how believers have used maps over the centuries to give expression to their faith and how their maps are the expressions of their world, which includes their religious world.

Despite the fact that historical theology tends to look at the distant past, it is one of the younger theological disciplines - when I was an undergraduate it was still fashionable in some quarters to dismiss it as little more than 'context of' or noise in an 'unchanging' body of doctrines - and, therefore, one of the more exciting approaches to take in the study of Christianity.

Expertise Summary

Historical theology is one less well know approach to theology when compared with better known approaches of systematic theology and philosophical theology on the one hand, and the disciplines of church history or biblical exegesis on the other - yet historical theology has links with all of these approaches. Its basis lies in the reality of change: what any group of Christians, now or in the past, profess and how they imagine the world and their pace in it, is always changing. Historical theology investigates this phenomenon, the factors that lead to specific changes and developments, how that group then realign their 'take' on Christianity with the past (usually through a re-reading of history) and then the impact that has on the groups that come after them. So historical theology seeks to know what Christians believe and why they believe certain things at certain times by looking at particular point and situating it against the larger patterns of Christian belief. So when biblical scholars look at the work of the Chronicler, re-reading his history to make a theological point, and then describe the Chronicler's theology vis-a-vis other understandings of Israel's faith, those biblical scholars are acting as historical theologians. Likewise, when a systematician seeks to understand how western Christians could tear themselves asunder in the sixteenth century over 'sacraments' and seeks to explain this by noting how the notion of 'seven sacraments' began in twelfth-century canon law, and therefore all to do with the notion has to be seen as a function of that period's view of the universe, that systematician is using the methods of historical theology.

It would be fair to say that one of the characteristics of historical theologians is that they prefer empirically founded statements about what a specific group believed - which can then be studied - to vast statements that take the form: 'faith demands ... '

Areas of Interest:

  • Early Christian communities and the documents they produced
  • Patristic and Medieval Theology
  • History of Scriptural Interpretation
  • Method in Historical Theology
  • How Christians today use, re-use, and re-cycle their histories

To understand how historical theologians approach questions, probably the easiest route it to watch historical theologians at work. You can see historical theology being done in these videos:

Historical theology is often at the intersection between what is studied by theologians and what is found in the preaching of the churches and the opinions in the pews - this makes it an interesting place of intellectual dialogue.

Teaching Summary

I teach these undergraduate modules:

I teach these modules to MA students - and since these are taught by Distance Learning over the web there is always someone, somewhere taking at least one of them:

Doctoral supervision:

I am often asked what areas would I consider as my priorities in selecting candidates for doctoral supervision. Here is a list of topics:

  • The Protevangelium of James in relation to Matthew and Luke, and its later historical and theological significance.
  • Patristic views on gospel origins, from Papias to Augustine.
  • The role of writing in the transmission of the early Jesus tradition.
  • The interplay of memory and orality in the early churches.
  • Tradition, reception, and the "historical Jesus"
  • Factors involved in the construction of the four-gospel collection.
  • The hermeneutical significance of the four gospel collection.
  • The history of the interpretation of the Didache.
  • Ritual and liturgy in the early churches.
  • The meal-practices of the early Christians.

Research Summary

Most recent monograph

I have just published The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings (T. & T Clark / Bloomsbury) which examines how developments and discoveries over the last century in the fields of early Christian studies make it essential that the churches subject their inherited views on the Eucharist - inherited mainly from the scholastic Late Medieval and Reformation periods - to a profound reappraisal. Such reappraisals are always difficult as there is usually a great deal of emotional investment in the theologies we inherit from the past, but part of the service of theologians is to help people formulate new and more comprehensive visions of what they believe.

You can get a taste of this book in these articles:

'Another post-resurrection meal, and its implications for the early understanding of the Eucharist' (details can be found under my 'PUBLICATIONS' but it is also on open access at ); and 'Eucharistic Celebrations: the Chasm between Idea and Reality' (details can be found under my 'PUBLICATIONS' but it is also on open access at ). I hope you enjoy reading both pieces!

Also, you might like to watch this video: Why study the Eucharist?

To get a free download of an article of mine on Lk 1:1 and what it tell us about ministry and books in the early churches, go to:

and you will find some excellent articles by other scholars besides!

Another recent monograph

I have recently published a study of the sixth-century British theologian, Gildas, and how he used and interpreted the Christian scriptures. While many books are written on the exegesis of many theologians, such as Augustine (354-430), most actual theology, and virtually the whole of the teaching of theology was done by far less famous teachers - and it is their perceptions of what they were doing that had the greatest impact on the on-going development of Christianity. Unfortunately, most of these 'schoolmasters' left us no record to see what they were doing, and those that did leave a trace, such as Gildas, are often seen as too 'obscure' to merit study - so our understanding of Christian tradition remain defective! So this book is as much an experiment in method as it is an analysis of one Latin theologian from a period that is often presented as a 'dark age.'

This book is called Gildas and the Scriptures; Seeing the World through a Biblical Lens and is published by Brepols in the series Studia traditionis theologiae.

Current Writing Projects


I am working at present on the early stages of a major study of the Protevangelium Iacobi as a text that helps us to bridge 'Von Harnack's Gap': how the second century received the memories of the first century and transformed them so that they came to be seen as the origin of normative Christianity by the early third century. The aim of my work is to situate the Protevangelium Iacobi within the media-culture of its time as a witness to transformations taking place within second-century Christianity. As the first text cit the gospels of Matthew and Luke as 'canonical' - how did it use them?

How does its distinctive image of Jesus indicate a move towards towards seeing him as a divine figure 'appearing' on earth? What is the significance of its presentation of Christian origins within an enchanted universe? What does it say about notions of 'orthodoxy' in the period?


A short book on the significance of mutual foot washing in early Christian communities and in the rituals on churches today. This book will argue that this practice is a key to how ordinary Christians view the nature of the Church and their relationship to others within their particular community.

The book will be published by The Liturgical Press in Collegeville, MN.

For a taster of my arguments in this book, see my recent articles on the topic in Worship and Anaphora (details on 'List of Publications').

My backlist:

A selection of my papers can be found at

Doctoral supervision:

I am often asked what areas would I consider as my priorities in selecting candidates for doctoral supervision. Here is a list of topics:

  • The Protevangelium of James in relation to Matthew and Luke, and its later historical and theological significance.
  • Patristic views on gospel origins, from Papias to Augustine.
  • The role of writing in the transmission of the early Jesus tradition.
  • The interplay of memory and orality in the early churches.
  • Tradition, reception, and the "historical Jesus"
  • Factors involved in the construction of the four-gospel collection.
  • The hermeneutical significance of the four gospel collection.
  • The history of the interpretation of the Didache.
  • Ritual and liturgy in the early churches.
  • The meal-practices of the early Christians.
  • Mapping and religion; especially mapping relating to the Holy Land, and mapping produced as part of biblical exegesis

Anyone thinking of doing her/his PhD under my supervision, should first read my thoughts on the process in an article entitled 'Writing a PhD Dissertation in Theology: Some Common Pitfalls' which is on open access at

I hope you find this article helpful in the process of refining your research ideas for a doctorate!

I seek to promote research in historical theology in four ways:

1. By supervising Ph.D. students and encouraging them from the outset to learn their craft - I am very influenced in my method by Marc Bloch who thought of this sort of research as 'the historian's craft' - in such a way that their work merits publication so that it can be available to all.

2. By acting as editor-in-chief of a monograph series, published by Brepols, entitled: Studia Traditionis Theologiae.

3. By stimulating theological debate.

4. By producing several series of videos on theological topics on YouTube.

1. Doctoral students - present, past, and in the future:

I am currently supervising these Ph.D. dissertations:

  • The place of the penitentials in the development of Latin theology
  • Ritual and the theology of resurrection in a Melanesian context
  • The epistolarium of Innocent III and contemporary 'heresy' in northern Italy

I have supervised these Ph.D. dissertations in the past:

  • Frederick Lapham: 'The Pseudo-Petrine Apocrypha' (2000). Published as Peter: The Myth, the Man and the Writings - A Study of Early Petrine Text and Tradition [JSNTS 239] (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield 2003).
  • Kenneth Becker: 'The Use of the Christian Scriptures in the De imitatione Christi' (2001). Published as From the Treasure-House of Scripture: An Analysis of the Scriptural Sources in De imitatione Christi [IP&M 44] (Brepols, Turnhout 2002).
  • Mark Gibbs: 'The Use of the Old Testament in 1 Clement' (2003).
  • Simon Iredale: 'The doctrine of creation in Philo' (2004).
  • Dorian Llewelyn: 'The theology of nationality' (2005). Published as Towards a Catholic Theology of Nationality (Lexington Books [Rowman & Littlefield], Lanham, MD, 2010).
  • Edward Smither: 'Principles of Mentoring Spiritual Leaders in the Pastoral Ministry of Augustine of Hippo' (2006). Published as Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders (B&H Publishing, Nashville, TN 2008).
  • Francisca P.M. Rumsey: 'Sacred Time in Early Christian Ireland' (2006). Published as Sacred Time in Early Christian Ireland (T. & T. Clark, London 2007).
  • Man Kei Ho: 'A Critical Study of T.F. Torrance's Theology of Incarnation' (2006). Published as A Critical Study of T.F. Torrance's Theology of Incarnation (Peter Lang, Bern 2008).
  • Rodney Aist: 'Willibald of Eichstätt (700-787CE) and the Christian Topography of Early Islamic Jerusalem' (2007). Published as Willibald of Eichstätt (700-787CE) and the Christian Topography of Early Islamic Jerusalem (Brepols, Turnhout 2009).
  • James Siemens: 'Theodore of Tarsus, the Laterculus Malalianus, and the Person and Work of Christ' (2008). Published as The Christology of Theodore of Tarsus: The Laterculus Malalianus and the Person and Work of Christ (Brepols, Turnhout 2010).
  • Brandon Walker: 'Memory, Mission, and Identity: Orality and the Apostolic Miracle Tradition' (2014).
  • David Clark: 'From Jewish Prayer to Christian Ritual: Early Interpretations of the Lord's Prayer' (2014).

I would be interested in hearing from anyone thinking of doing a PhD in one of these areas:

  • The second century: the emergence of the notion of canon of the New Testament
  • The second century: the significance of the Protevangelium of James
  • The second century: the diffusion of gospels around the churches
  • Second - third centuries: the tendencies towards harmonization of the gospels and the structures involved in the process
  • The eucharistic practices of the early churches
  • The reception of the Didache in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • The development of formal liturgy in the early churches

If you are considering the possibility of doing a PhD under my supervision, then please read this article which is on OPEN ACCESS : 'Writing a PhD Dissertation in Theology: Some Common Pitfalls' (DOI: 10.1177/0265378813501731 ).

2. Studia Traditionis Theologiae: Explorations in Early and Medieval Theology

Theology continually engages with its past: the people, experience, Scriptures, liturgy, learning and customs of Christians. The past is preserved, rejected, modified; but the legacy steadily evolves as Christians are never indifferent to history. Even when engaging the future, theology looks backwards: the next generation's training includes inheriting a canon of Scripture, doctrine, and controversy; while adapting the past is central in every confrontation with a modernity.

This is the dynamic realm of tradition, and this series' focus. Whether examining people, texts, or periods, its volumes are concerned with how the past evolved in the past, and the interplay of theology, culture, and tradition.

Hence the name of the series: studies of the tradition of theology.

I established this series with Brepols in 2008, and act as its editor-in-chief and chair of its editorial board.

These volumes have been published so far:

  • A. Steward-Sykes, The Didascalia apostolorum: An English Version with introduction and Annotation (2009).
  • R. Aist, The Christian Topography of Early Islamic Jerusalem: The Evidence of Willibald of Eichstätt (700-787 CE) ((2009).
  • K. Ritari, Saints and Sinners in Early Christian Ireland: Moral Theology in the Lives of Saints Brigit and Columba (2010).
  • D. Jenkins, 'Holy, Holier, Holiest': The Sacred Topography of the Early Medieval Irish Church (2010).
  • I. Warntjes and D. Ó Cróinín eds, Computus and its Cultural Context in the Latin West, AD 300-1200 (2010).
  • J. Siemens, The Christology of Theodore of Tarsus: The Laterculus Malalianus and the Person and Work of Christ (2010).
  • E. Narinskaya, Ephrem, a 'Jewish' sage: A comparison of the Exegetical Writings of St Ephrem the Syrian and Jewish Traditions (2010).
  • A. Andreopoulos, A. Casiday, and C. Harrison eds, Meditations of the Heart: The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice (2011).
  • N.L. Thomas, Defending Christ: The Latin Apologists before Augustine (2011).
  • I. Warntjes and D. Ó Cróinín eds, The Easter Controversy of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (2012).
  • C.A. Cvetkovic, Seeking the Face of God: The Reception of Augustine in the Mystical Thought of Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St Thierry (2012).
  • T. O'Loughlin, Gildas and the Scriptures: Seeing the World through a Biblical Lens (2013).
  • C.L. Lubinsky, Removing Masculine Layers to Reveal a Holy Womanhood: The Female Transvestite Monks of Late Antique Eastern Christianity (2013).
  • B.D. Wayman, Diodore the Theologian: Pronoia in his Commentary on Psalms 1-50 (2014).
  • M.F.M. Clavier, Eloquent Wisdom: Rhetoric, Cosmology and Delight in the Theology of Augustine of Hippo (2014).

3. Stimulating theological debate

For an example of this, please read this article which is on OPEN ACCESS:

I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting!

4. Producing videos on YouTube

Click a link to see some of the video series.

The 'Why Study' series:

Theologians in Conversation series:

Objects of Belief series:

Sacred Calendars' series:

Seminar series:

Past Research

Over the years I have worked on a number problems and texts. These have ranged from the significance the young Augustine attached to astrology to how someone on the very eve of Columbus's landing in the new world could still imagine the world in terms of 'the three continents' derived from Genesis 10. I have worked on the world of the earliest churches - I seem to keep being drawn back to the Didache and am always amazed how it throws yet more light on what we think we know - and the churches on the north-west fringes of Europe in the early middle ages where the Celtic languages were spoken. One can move between people, languages, and texts: but often the underlying questions that push one to do research remain curiously similar!

A collection of fifteen of my articles on these themes, written in the 1990s, has recently appeared in the Variorum series under the title Early Medieval Exegesis in the Latin West: Sources and Forms.

But the historian looking back at a distant time - and I have often worked on topics where the body of evidence was anything but large - is also part of the history of her/his own time, and so I have been drawn more than once into historiography and its place in the formation of identities. This is an interest that often seems 'too vague' to be of importance - but if you want to see why I attach such importance to it, look at what my colleague, Prof. Alan Ford, said about it:

Many problems, many periods, many texts: the best guide to my past research is a browse through my list of publications!

Future Research

I am planning two pieces of research.

First, a monograph on the origins and hermeneutic of the Eusebian Apparatus. You can get a taste of this work in:

  • 'Harmonizing the Truth: Eusebius and the Problem of the Four Gospels,' Traditio 65(2010)1-29;
  • 'St Augustine's view of the place of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the gospels,' in D. Vincent Twomey and Janet E. Rutherford eds, The Holy Spirit in the Fathers of the Church (Four Courts Press, Dublin 2010), pp. 86-95; and
  • 'The Biblical Text of the Book of Deer (C.U.L. Ii.6.32): Evidence for the Remains of a Division System from its Manuscript Ancestry,' Scriptorium 63(2009)30-57.

Second, work on 'mapping the early Christians.' This will be an examination of how we can use cartography to understand aspects of the spread of Christianity, and also of how the maps we use for the early churches and their texts have influenced our perceptions of them.

This research is a longer term goal.

Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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