Secrets Get Out (Otherwise titled: A Visit from an Englishman)

In October we received a visit from the English theologian and author Andrew Davison, Tutor in Doctrine at Westcott House in Cambridge.  While he was with us, he delivered two lectures and talked to some of our students about their research projects.  

Editor's Note:  The community at Seminary of the Southwest congratulates Andrew on his new appointment as the Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences in the Divinity Faculty of the University of Cambridge.  


Seminary of the Southwest is sometimes described in the United States as a well-kept secret. I must have received some betrayed confidences, because I had heard of the place – and respected it – well before I arrived in October to spend two weeks in residence.


I teach at Westcott House, in Cambridge. They had given me three months sabbatical: the duration of what we call ‘Michaelmas Term’ at the University of Cambridge, after the feast that falls towards the start.


I had a book to write. The subject might sound abstract and obscure, since it was on the idea of ‘participation’ as the foundations of Christian metaphysics. Really, however, it is both an extraordinarily fertile idea, beloved of Augustine, Maximus and Aquinas, and many theologians since, and not particularly complicated. It’s simply the contention that everything about the world comes from God – a good outworking of the doctrine of creation – and can be explored as some sort of sharing, or participation, in God. (Evil, on this view, is the exception, since it is precisely a failure of participation.) Redemption, similarly, and our eternal destiny, can be expressed in participatory terms.


My time at Southwest was always likely to be a highlight of my months away, even though my trip took me to eight States. So it proved to be.


The American Church has so much to rejoice over when it comes to what I found in Austin that I’m delighted to mention some of it in a blog post. I’ll single out five points. First, there’s the faculty, some of whom I knew on the international theological scene. The opportunity to have conversations with them was what drew me here in the first place. Then there’s the location, since Austin is one of the most vibrant cities in the USA, and the seminary buildings, which are well-designed and extensive. The library is packed with wonderful books. I could have spent my time simply browsing the shelves. Then there are the students at Seminary of the Southwest, who represent for me all that is best about the Episcopal Church. They are firmly rooted in the faith of the church (whatever detractors might say about TEC) but in an open-minded, future-facing way. I led a class on the relation of doctrines; I can vouch that they all knew something to relate.  


My two happy and productive weeks at Seminary of the Southwest have been the best sort of busman’s holiday. I hope the secret gets out.