William Porcher DeBose, Priest, 1918
Today, the Church remembers William Porcher DeBose. His complicated personal history raises interesting, and troubling questions about how we remember, record and celebrate history.
Almighty God, you gave to your servant William Porcher DuBose special gifts of grace to understand the Scriptures and to teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Like all figures in history, DeBose’s story and life are complicated. Please see the following. The first section is from The Lectionary, the second section, more recent, is from The University of the South at Sewanee.
William Porcher DuBose is a serious candidate for the title of "greatest theologian that the Episcopal Church in the USA has produced." He was born in South Carolina in 1836, and attended the Military College of South Carolina (now the Citadel) in Charleston , and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army, and after the War of 1861-1865 served as a parish priest. In 1871 he became a professor at the University of the South (an Episcopal institution) in Sewanee, Tennessee, became Dean of the School of Theology in 1894, retired in 1908, and died in 1918. He was fluent in Greek, and well-read both in Greek philosophy and in the early Christian fathers. Among his numerous books, the best known are The Soteriology of the New Testament, The Gospel in the Gospels, and The Reason of Life. (Soter is the Greek word for "Savior", and soteriology is the branch of theology that deals with such questions as, "What does it mean to say that Christ saves us?" "How does his death and resurrection do us any good?" "How are the benefits of Christ's work applied to the individual?" and so on.) A quote from one of his articles follows:
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.
A good introduction to his work is A DuBose Reader, ed. Donald Armentrout (1984, University of the South Press, Sewanee, Tennessee) 0-918-769-06-X, paperback 256 pp. (out of print but available used) [Others are: William Porcher DuBose : Selected Writings (Sources of American Spirituality), Jon Alexander, ed.,1988, Paulist Press, ISBN 0809104024 (out of print but available used) and The Theology of William Porcher DuBose, Robert Slocum, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2000.] The reader might also want to read The Ecumenical Councils.*
In more recent news, see “SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY REMOVES DUBOSE FROM ANNUAL LECTURE SERIES TITLE” For 97 years, the School of Theology’s annual lectures, held in conjunction with the alumni homecoming, have carried the name “The DuBose Lectures” in commemoration of William Porcher DuBose, appointed dean of the school in 1894. To celebrate his 40th year at the University of the South, DuBose delivered four lectures and a sermon meditating on his life and theology. This series of “intimate talks” became the model for today’s lecture series.
It is no secret that DuBose’s family owned 204 slaves before the Civil War. After the war, he was often quoted as saying that even if slavery was now acknowledged as sinful, it had been beneficial to slave and owner.
“The South received and exercised slavery in good faith and without doubt or question, whatever we pronounce it now, it was not a sin at that time to those people. It was natural that we were in it and of it would be the last to see its extinction as a necessary step in the moral progress of the world. Now that the judgement is passed, we join in it. Slavery we say, is a sin, and a sin of which we could not possibly be guilty,” wrote DuBose. In his typescript memoir, DuBose praised the Ku Klux Klan as “an inspiration of genius.”
The faculty of the School of Theology has been engaged in honest and open discussions about changing the name of the lectures for some time, and on April 7, 2021, voted to remove his name from the annual event, effective immediately.
Recent DuBose Lectures have focused on racial reconciliation, and this year’s lecturers will continue in that pursuit—the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows will present “The Language of Dismantling White Supremacy: Intentional Words for Intentional Witness,” and the Rt. Rev. Phoebe Roaf’s lecture is titled “Addressing Racial Reconciliation in Different Contexts.”
The Rev. Dr. Benjamin King, professor of Christian history and associate dean for academic affairs, is a member of the university’s Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation. This six-year research project begun in 2017 has allowed for the uncovering and understanding of the university’s historical entanglements with slavery and slavery’s legacy to help it seek a more just and equitable future.
King said, “Theology always arises in a context. Even if DuBose’s theology retains an international reputation, his writings on this region and on race bear witness to his context. DuBose is not the name that best represents our context and what the School of Theology and our alumni have to offer the 21st-century Church.”♰
*The Lectionary, James Kiefer, http://satucket.com/lectionary/Willaim_DuBose.htm
♰ From Sewanee - The University of the South -
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