Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Introducing the Dead Anglican Theologians Society


Saints and apostles, martyrs and monarchs, on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral ... who do you count among your favourite dead Anglican theologians? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

During my walking tour of the Dublin churches at the end of the International Eucharistic Congress, I was given a booklet produced by an organisation calling itself the Dead Theologians Society.

This small, 80-page book, God Speaks Through His Saints ... and their suffering tells the heroic stories of a number of interesting figures from the past, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Charles de Foucauld, Mary MacKillop, and Thérèse of Lisieux.

Some were unusual choices from the past, such as Saint Alexius, but not Saint John Chrysostom. Some I had heard little about before, and I wondered how people in Ireland had heard of Peter Adrian Toulorge (1757-1793), beatified less than months ago. Nor would I have placed Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer (1902-1975), the founder of Opus Dei, among the first dead theologians I would like to introduce to young people exploring faith and theology.

Indeed, I was disturbed by the emphases in the descriptions of Spain during the Spanish Civil War in that one essay.

All the dead theologians in this book are dead Roman Catholic theologians. But there is no place here for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), Henri-Marie de Lubac (1896-1991), Yves Marie Joseph Congar (1904-1995), Karl Rahner (1904-1984) or Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) – perhaps the five greatest but dead Roman Catholic theologians of the last century. No Oscar Romero or John XXIII either.

With their absence, I doubt that there is ever going to be a companion volume that includes Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov (1871-1944), Georges Florovsky (1893-1979), Iustin Popović (1894-1979), Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (1896-1993), Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky (1903-1958), Dumitru Stăniloae (1903-1993), Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983), John Meyendorff (1926-1992), John Romanides (1927-2001), and who are, perhaps, the leading dead Orthodox theologians of the last century.

Nor, for that matter I suppose, is there a planned companion volume with Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) from the struggle against Nazism.

I wondered who formed the Dead Theologians Society, and who would I include in a small book on Dead Anglican Theologians. Is there room for a Dead Anglican Theologians Society?

In the book and on their website, the Dead Theologians Society says that “Through the Saints of Yesterday” it hopes to inspire “the youth of today to become the saints of tomorrow.”

The Dead Theologians Society describes itself as “a Catholic apostolate for high school age teens and college age young adults.” It takes as its motto: “Mortuum Mundo – Vivum in Christo” (“Dead to the World, alive in Christ”). This is inspired by Romans 6: 11 where Saint Paul tells us to be dead to sin but alive in Christ Jesus.

The society began in 1997 at Saint Francis de Sales Church in Newark, Ohio, as a parish programme for high school teenagers. In a prayerful and intriguing atmosphere of Gregorian chant music, incense and effective candle lighting, teenagers packed the 125 year old church’s undercroft chapel to discover treasures of the faith.

The Dead Theologians Society soon spread outside Ohio and beyond the US, and saw itself as a “faithful and effective response” to Pope John Paul II’s call for “a new evangelisation for the third millennium.”

The name is a take from the popular 1990s movie, The Dead Poets Society, in which students learn to appreciate the writings of poets and various authors who had gone before them.

Chapters or branches of the DTS meet in churches, youth rooms or classrooms converted to have a “chapel or monastery-like” vibe, choir lofts for an “upper room” effect or undercroft chapels in churches.

The DTS says parishes regularly report positive results where the society is active, including increased Mass attendance among teenagers and students, increased vocations to ministry and service, increased pre-Confirmation enthusiasm and post-Confirmation church attendance, increased interest among young people in parish life, increased faith formation and a deeper prayer life.

All of those claims made me wonder whether there is a place within the member churches of the Anglican Communion for a Dead Anglican Theologians Society?

If it had similar results, it would be worth all the effort.

And I also found myself wondering who would I include in my list of “Dead Anglican Theologians.”

Those who come to mind immediately include:

● Cecil Frances Alexander
● Lancelot Andrewes
● George Bell
● George Berkeley
● John Bramhall
● John Cosin
● Thomas Cranmer
● Gregory Dix
● John Donne
● TS Eliot
● Austin Farrer
● Nicholas Ferrar
● Charles Gore
● Richard Hooker
● Trevor Huddleston
● William Reed Huntington
● Thomas Ken
● William Laud
● William Law
● Henry Liddon
● FD Maurice
● Michael Ramsey
● Charles Raven
● John Robinson
● Dorothy Sayers
● George Otto Simms
● Jeremy Taylor
● William Temple
● Underhill
● Alec Vidler
● John Wesley
● Brooke Westcott

Others will easily identify my omissions and have their own suggestions.

And so I have started another blog, the Dead Anglican Theologians Society, and hope regularly, perhaps once a week, to provide brief biographical notes and bibliographies on the great Anglican theologians of the past.

If you have suggestions, or would like to help this project, please contact me. The least that can be achieved is a comprehensive set of profiles that are accessible and a useful resource. If we can also claim some of the achievements of the Dead Theologians Society among young Roman Catholics, then that would be an added blessing.

This new blog, Dead Anglican Theologians Society, is at: http://datsociety.blogspot.ie/