(click image to enlarge)
Joseph Armitage Robinson (1858-1933) was one of the leading Anglican clerics and theological scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was educated at Cambridge, and, as a fellow of Christ’s College, taught and researched, while also taking up various positions, including that of domestic chaplain to J B Lightfoot, the Bishop of Durham and probably the leading European scholar of patristics (1883-84). His positions at Cambridge included Dean of Christ’s College (1884-90) and Norrisian Professor of Divinity (1893-99). In 1891, he became editor of the first of a new series of Cambridge ‘Texts and Studies’, and was a key contributor to later numbers. As early as 1894, his impact on international scholarship was marked by honorary degrees from Göttingen and Halle universities.
In 1899, Robinson moved to London to become Rector of St Margaret’s Westminster (1899-1900) and then Dean of Westminster (1902-11), the role in which Spy here presents him. The cathedral chapter sometimes considered his actions autocratic, and so it sought, unsuccessfully, to limit his powers. While at Westminster, he continued to publish, and distinguished himself as both a theologian and a historian. Especially important was his landmark commentary of St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (1908).
In 1911, Robinson became Dean of Wells, in Somerset (which was already familiar to him as he had held the prebend of Compton Bishop during the late 1890s). Wells Cathedral stimulated his antiquarian interests, and the county of Somerset inspired further publications. During the 1920s, he became an
active participant in the five Malines Conversations, which explored the possibilities of reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.