27 July 2017

Remembering Brooke Westcott
among the saints on 27 July

Westcott House, Cambridge … founded as the Clergy Training School by Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of Ireland is often very limited and narrow, and so it is difficult at times to find opportunities to proclaim how we are maintaining the living tradition of the Church, that continues long after the apostles and early Irish saints who dominate this calendar.

The Church of England, in the calendar in Common Worship, has much broader and more inclusive approach. Today [27 July], for example, Common Worship provides for a commemoration of Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, Teacher of the Faith, who died on 27 July 1901.

Westcott was born near Birmingham on 12 January 1825. He was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, BA in 1848, was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1849, and was ordained deacon in 1849 and priest in 1851.

He left Cambridge in 1852 to become an assistant master at Harrow. There he earned a reputation as a lecturer and scholar, and published a series of scholarly works on the Bible. He wrote commentaries on the gospel and epistles of Saint John, and his History of the New Testament Canon (1855) was for many years a standard work in biblical scholarship.

His reputation led eventually in 1870 to his election as Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, a position he retained even after being named bishop of Durham in 1890.

At Cambridge, he worked with the Dublin-born theologian and Biblical scholar, Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), and his friend from schooldays in Birmingham, Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1889), in leading a revival in biblical studies and theology.

Westcott and Hort collaborated on an influential critical edition of the Greek text of the New Testament. The Westcott-Hort New Testament appeared in 1881 after nearly 30 years of work and became a major source for the English Revised Version of the Bible published the same year.

Westcott was influential too in the field of Anglican social thought. In 1889, he convened a conference of Christians from all over Europe to consider the arms race. From this conference emerged the Christian Social Union, with Westcott as its president.

Westcott also played a significant role founding the Clergy Training School in Cambridge, later renamed Westcott House in his honour.

In 1890, he was consecrated Bishop of Durham in succession to Lightfoot. His social concerns found other outlets in the promotion of missionary work, which he supported enthusiastically as bishop, and in the mediation of the Durham coal strike in 1892.

He died at Auckland Castle in Durham on this day in 1901.

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott, who gave his name to Westcott House, Cambridge, died on 27 July 1901 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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