SVOTS – August 2017
Archpriest John Behr, The Father Georges Florovsky Distinguished Professor Of Patristics at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, recently received the highest honor bestowed by the University of Divinity, an Australian University of Specialization. On Tuesday, August 22, 2017, the Chancellor of the University, Dr. Graeme L. Blackman AO, conferred the Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa) on him for his exceptional contribution to patristic theological scholarship and demonstrated commitment to building partnerships across the theological world, including with the University of Divinity, through St Athanasius College.
St. Athanasius College (SAC), which is grounded in the Coptic Orthodox tradition, is one of the 11 colleges that comprise the University of Divinity. It has been part of the University since 2012, and is renowned for the quality of its scholarship, service of the community, and contribution to Australian society. A St. Vladimir’s alumnus, His Grace Bishop Anba Suriel, Ph.D., is the SAC Chancellor and Dean. In 2012, Fr. John taught offered an intensive unit in Patristics at SAC, which attracted an exceptionally large enrollment.
The Doctor of Divinity is not only the highest academic honour the University bestows, but is also the oldest award of the University, created in 1910 and first awarded in 1913. The degree was last awarded in 2008 to Professor Gerald O’Collins. The University reserves this award for persons who have made a sustained and distinguished contribution to theological scholarship or to the wider community in the area of religion.
Father John’s Christian formation began in his native England and continued through his education in London and then Oxford, where he completed the Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy, and subsequently the Master of Theology from St. Vladimir’s Seminary. These degrees have laid the foundation for his exceptional career as scholar, ecumenist, and priest.
Father John began teaching at St. Vladimir’s in 1995, becoming Professor of Patristics in 2004. During his years of teaching, he has continued prolific research output, including more than fifty articles, on subjects as diverse as: “The Trinitarian Being of the Church,” “Let there be Light: A Byzantine Theology of Light,” and “Reading the Fathers Today.” In addition, he has written and edited books that have enriched the whole Church’s appreciation of the early church fathers, with special attention to anthropology, the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Nicaean formation of Christian theology. Father John also has worked courageously to reach across some areas of misunderstanding between the Eastern and the Oriental Orthodox communities.
In the citation during the presentation of the doctoral award, the Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, one of Fr. John’s examiners at Oxford, was quoted as commending him as “without doubt one of the most significant English-speaking Orthodox theologians now working—certainly the most productive and positive in his generation.” Dr. Williams adds that his “major textbooks on the development of pre-Nicene theology and the theology of the Nicene Council have established themselves as first class digests of a huge amount of material, …[providing] a good deal more than conventional summaries.”
Following the presentation of the award, Fr. John gave a graduation address about the place of learning in Christianity. Professor Wendy Mayer, Patristics scholar and Associate Dean for Research at Adelaide Lutheran College (South Australia), presented a critical response to Fr. John’s address.