Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Episcopal Church's Greatest Theologian

It's hard to assign the tag "the greatest" to anyone about anything. But if William Porcher (pronounced por-shay) DuBose isn't the Episcopal Church's "greatest
theologian", he's certainly right up there at the top of those running for the title.

Here is a sampling of DuBose's Christology:

"God has placed forever before our eyes, not the image but the very Person of the Spiritual Man. We have not to ascend into Heaven to bring Him down, nor to descend into the abyss to bring Him up, for He is with us, and near us, and in us. We have only to confess with our mouths that He is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead--and raised us in Him-- and we shall live."

It was clear from the time that DuBose was a young man that God was up to something in his life. Born into a wealthy Huguenot family in Winnsboro, SC in 1836, William was sent to The Citadel Military Academy, Charleston, SC, in preparation for entrance into the University of Virginia.

At age 18 he God laid a spiritual thunderbolt on him:

There was no apparent reason why…it should just then have occurred to me that I had not of late been saying my prayers…I knelt to go through the form, when of a sudden there swept over me a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness of the act and of my whole life and self. I leapt to my feet trembling, and then…a light shone about me, and a Presence filled the room. At the same time an ineffable joy and peace took possession of me which it is impossible either to express or explain…My proof…may be expressed in the simple truth of experience, that in finding Him I found myself.” (Quoted by Fr. John Julian, OJN, Stars In a Dark World)

As the saying goes, "Life is what happens when God is making other plans for us." Having graduated with honors from The Citadel in 1855, then entering the University of Virginia and earning an M.A. there in 1859, DuBose entered the South Carolina diocesan seminary. At that point the Civil War broke out, and after DuBose signed up with South Carolina's Holcombe Legion, he was tagged to become its Confederate Army adjutant. Between 1862 and the end of the war DuBose had been wounded three times (twice at the Battle of Second Manassas or Bull Run); captured and imprisoned by the Union Army for four months; released; married, while on furlough, to his fiancée, Anne Barwell Peronneau; commissioned as an army chaplain; and ordained in December, 1863. His wife, Anne, died in December, 1878, and DuBose later married Mary Louise Rucks Yerger.

After the war William did parish ministry at St. Stephen's Episcopal near his hometown, Winnsboro, SC. His name was submitted to the board of trustees of the University of the South, Sewannee, TN, by the Vice-Chancellor, Charles Todd Quintard, and William Porcher DuBose was appointed Chaplain (for 12 years) and professor of religion (for 16 years), during which time he was instrumental in establishing the Theological Department, which later became the School of Theology at Sewanee. In 1894 he succeeded The Rev. Telfair Hodgson as the department's Dean and served as such for 14 years.

The books which DuBose authored include (listed chronologically):

The Christian Ministry, No Publisher, 1870.
The Soteriology of the New Testament, New York: MacMillan, 1892.
The Gospel in the Gospels, New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1906.
High Priesthood and Sacrifice, New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1908.
The Reason of Life, New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1911.
Turning Points in My Life, New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1912
Over forty published articles.

During the tenures of Dean Hodgson and Dean DuBose, the School of Theology at the University of the South assumed its characteristic position as an upholder of the great heritage of Anglican thought handed down from the universities of England. It blended together, in one institution, influences from the evangelical, high church, and broad church traditions of Anglican theology and worship. It has continued to this day to embrace and encourage the wide spectrum of Anglicanism, rather than identify itself with one narrow part of the tradition. The School of Theology has continued to define its role as a premier residential seminary in the Episcopal Church, while expanding the Programs Center as a resource to the Church.

Education for Ministry (EFM) is the keystone of the School of Theology Programs Center. This worldwide extension program of in-depth study and reflection is one of the most respected Christian education programs in the Episcopal Church and throughout many parts of the Anglican Communion. The Center offers programs to clergy, laity, individual dioceses and congregations, including the Center for Ministry in Small Churches (CMSC).

Just as one can argue whether or not William Porcher DuBose is the "greatest" Episcopal theologian, so also one might argue as to which is the "best" theological program for non-ordained persons in the Church today. As a 1992 graduate of the EFM program and a veteran of seven years as an EFM mentor, I can say that, in my humble opinion, the EFM program is the "greatest". It certainly bears the stamp of the spirit and depth of great Episcopal/Anglican theologians like William Porcher DuBose. I believe that EFM and other similar programs are the true seedbed and hope of the Episcopal Church as it moves toward full recognition of the importance of the mutual ministry of both non-ordained and ordained members.

The noted Norman Pittenger (1905-1997), a gay man, seminary professor, and Episcopal/Anglican theologian, wrote of William Porcher DuBose: “We have good dominical authority that a prophet is often without honor in his own country. And American Episcopalians should take the saying to heart when they come to see that William Porcher DuBose, who is the only important theologian in our tradition on this side of the water, has been very nearly forgotten in his own communion as well as in the American religious world generally…while in Britain and even in France his significance has been recognized and emphasized.

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