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Arnott, Felix Raymond (1911–1988)

by Jonathan Holland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Felix Raymond Arnott (1911-1988), Anglican archbishop, was born on 8 March 1911 at Ipswich, Suffolk, England, eldest son of Richard Girling Arnott, a sharebroker’s accountant and later a solicitor, and his wife Daisy Flora, née Meadows. Felix attended the local grammar school and won a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford (BA, 1933; MA, 1941), where he studied classics and gained first-class honours in theology. A mission to the University of Oxford in March 1931, led by William Temple, archbishop of York (later Canterbury), convinced him of God’s call to ordination, and he trained for the ministry at Cuddesdon College, Oxford. Made deacon (1934) at Wakefield, Yorkshire, he served his first curacy nearby, at Elland, in 1934-38 and was ordained priest in 1935. On 23 June 1938 in the parish church, Ashtead, Surrey, he married Anne Caroline Lane. Soon after, he took up an appointment as vice-principal of Bishop’s College, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.

College duties limited the time Arnott could spend at home with his bride, and he welcomed an invitation from the archbishop of Brisbane, William Wand , his former Oxford tutor, to be warden of St John’s College, University of Queensland. The couple arrived in Brisbane in March 1939. Arnott was also rector of St Mary’s, Kangaroo Point, in 1942-46. In 1946 he was appointed warden of St Paul’s College, University of Sydney, and during the next few years oversaw its expansion. Recognised as a fine scholar and teacher, he had a special interest in seventeenth-century church history and in 1955 was awarded a Th.D. by the Australian College of Theology, Sydney. His lectures, addresses and sermons reflected a mind that was able to grasp complex ideas and convey them logically and simply. He served as president (1952-63) of Sydney University Settlement. From 1955 he was a regular participant in the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio program `Any Questions?’.

Appointed coadjutor bishop of Melbourne in 1963, Arnott was consecrated in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 29 June. He was given particular oversight of the church schools, a portfolio that suited his interest in education. Chairman of the general synod’s committee on theological education for some years and of the Australian College of Theology’s board of delegates (1960-72), he was also president (1966-67) of the ecumenical Melbourne College of Divinity. He served as a council member (1964-70) of Monash University.

On 17 October 1970 Arnott was enthroned as archbishop of Brisbane in St John’s Cathedral. He readily shared decision-making and responsibilities with senior clergy. An easy conversationalist and excellent after-dinner speaker, he put people at their ease and took a close interest in students, clergy and their families. He loved to cook, enjoyed fine wines and was a generous host. Interested in art, he was a founder (1951) and committee member of the Blake prize for religious art. There was, however, an eccentric edge to his personality: he never learned to drive; was not always able to conceal his irritability and even irascibility; and was known to communicate messages to ministers through their wives, from whom he seemed to evoke special affection.

During his archiepiscopate Arnott’s ministry widened nationally and internationally. Inspired by Temple’s vision of a united world through a united church, he was a member (1969-81) of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, work that he enjoyed immensely. He believed that the agreed statements on the Eucharist, on ministry and ordination, and on authority, made valuable contributions to the cause of church unity. With Justice Elizabeth Evatt and Anne Deveson, he was a member (1974-77) of the Commonwealth royal commission on human relationships, which he saw as a legitimate Christian concern. His critics regarded him as a dangerous theological liberal, and some of the resultant criticism hurt him. After speaking out at the annual diocesan synod in June 1978 against the erosion of civil liberties in Queensland, he was censured by the premier, (Sir) Johannes (Joe) Bjelke-Petersen.

Arnott resigned on 31 July 1980. He was appointed CMG in 1981. While a member of the ARCIC he had grown increasingly fond of Italian culture and art, and he found a niche as honorary Anglican chaplain at Venice. After five years he and his wife retired to Chichester, Sussex, England, but by 1987 he was in failing health and they returned to Queensland to be near their family. Survived by his wife, and their two sons and two daughters, he died on 28 July 1988 at Taigum, Brisbane, and was cremated. One of his last acts was to choose a luncheon menu, with fine wines, for his family and selected friends to enjoy at the Brisbane Club after his funeral. It was a mark of his zest for gracious living and his generosity of spirit.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Wicks, Felix Raymond Arnott (1997)
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 June 1978, p 9
  • Anglican diocesan archives, Brisbane.

Citation details

Jonathan Holland, 'Arnott, Felix Raymond (1911–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/arnott-felix-raymond-12150/text21483, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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