A work of Athanasius extant in English, possibly out of copyright

I was reading Quasten’s Patrology vol. 3, looking for interesting untranslated texts, when I came across (p.57-8) mention of a work of Athanasius on the Holy Spirit, consisting of four letters to bishop Serapion of Thmuis.  Quasten lists an English translation: C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951).

The subject is probably dull, but a US publication of that date may be out of copyright, unless the copyright was renewed after 28 years.  So I thought it was worth checking.  And … I can find no evidence of a copyright renewal.  “Shapland” is quite an unusual name, after all.  “Athanasius” is going to get a limited number of hits in any database.

By contrast the Tertullian / Minucius Felix in the “Fathers of the Church” series (1950) turns up as renewed in 1978 in this database.

A look in COPAC reveals that “Shapland” was Cuthbert Richard Bowden Shapland, but no dates for his life.  (The copyright system outside the US demands that we know the biography of the author, absurdly enough). The book is 204 pages, and Shapland’s last date of publication was a volume of sermons in 1957 – but this was edited by someone else, and was probably posthumous.

A search for the name on Ancestry.com reveals a man of that name born 1907, died 1952.  There is a picture of a young clergyman there.  This is likely to be the same man, and the dates are right.  If so, his books goes out of copyright outside the US in 2022 (1952+70).

What a performance, just to find out the status of a long defunct book!

So … are any copies available for sale?  Not that I can find.  Hum!

Well, I’ve placed an ILL for it instead.

Update: (3rd September 2021): Eleven years later, a kind correspondent writes that C. R. B. Shapland, trans., The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit, Ad Serapion (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1951), is online here:


Excellent news!

I wonder whatever happened to that ILL?


8 thoughts on “A work of Athanasius extant in English, possibly out of copyright

  1. The subject is not dull! It may be the earliest explicit exposition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Those letters were the subject of the Lawler Lecture, some years back, by Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap. Posting an English translation would be extremely helpful!

  2. Roger,

    Khaled Anatolios provided a fresh translation of an excerpt from the first (longest and most significant) of the Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit in his 2004 book “Athanasius” (Routledge). He also stated that there was no critical edition of these letters. Don’t have a copy handy now, so can’t check if he cites Shapland anywhere. However, Fr Weinandy certainly used Shapland (London:Epworth, 1951) in his book on Athanasius. Maybe Epworth press can help with your questions about copyright etc?

    There are also references to a French translation by Joseph Lebon SJ: Lettres a Sérapion sur la divinité du Saint-Esprit Athanase d’Alexandrie (Sources chrétiennes 15. Paris, 1947)

    And the Greek text from Migne is available online from the usual sites (e.g. Ellepos.net)

  3. There is a new translation of these letters that has been contracted and soon will be published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press in the US, as a part of their Popular Patristics Series. I’m not sure what the exact publication date is, but the translation is substantially completed.

  4. JS, thanks for the notes which are most useful. It’s hard for someone living in a small town to keep up to date, and these other references are helpful.

    Matthew: this is most interesting, and I wish the St. Vladimir’s press all the best with it. If there is a link, it would be good to encourage people to buy it!

  5. By the way, just stumbled across this upcoming edition at Amazon.

    It would be good if Shapland was in the public domain or if at least a cheap version was readily available.

  6. Shapland is definitely out of copyright in the USA. If the biographical details I got are right, he will be out of copyright everywhere in the world in 2012. So I shall go ahead and make him available online. I’ll probably stick a simple PDF of page-scans of the book in Archive.org; I may OCR it and put a copy on my site, or not, depending on how busy I am at the time.

    The worst thing about vague or hard-to-discover copyright is that people get afraid in case someone sues them, even in a case like this where there is no conceivable value to anyone.

    This is why our laws need to be changed to be clearer. I wouldn’t deprive anyone of their royalties — hey, I am going to become a publisher myself this year. But at the same time zombie copyrights on works long out of print and unobtainable should be discouraged.

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