The Archbishop of Canterbury and St. Valdimir

On January 30th St. Vladimir’s Seminary will award an honorary Doctorate on the person of The Most Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and Primate of All England. Archbishop Williams will be at the seminary to deliver a lecture as part of the Annual Schemnan lecture series.

The Doctor of Divinity will be awarded honoris causa in recognition of his contribution to the academic study of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality. A press release from the seminary states:

“Many Orthodox Christians may be unaware of Rowan Williams’s research and contribution to the field of Orthodox theology,” said Father John. “But he was a pioneer in this field, with outstanding breadth and depth. The subject of his own doctoral thesis, for instance, was the work of the great Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, the first academic study of the émigré theologians. He has also written beautifully on the icons of the Theotokos and the Transfiguration, and, most recently, has published a highly regarded volume titled Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction. In recognition of his outstanding work and contribution to the study of Eastern Christianity, we are very pleased that he has accepted to deliver the 2010 annual Schmemann lecture.”

This has caused quite a bit of conversation on the Orthodox Web and I guess I am a little late coming to the party on this one. Fr. Patrick Reardon has written an open letter to Metr. Jonah of the OCA regarding this and rather than quote from the letter I will just link to it here. I respect Fr. Patrick and I also respect his opinion on this matter.

I guess in the analysis of the situation I have no problem with Archbishops Williams coming for the lecture. After all the lecture is an academic forum that is supposed to explore all avenues of theology. Academics by their very nature are supposed to create discussion and we are supposed to look at an issue from all sides not just one.

When I was in seminary I always found it useful to read theologians who held a counter opinion to the Orthodox. Not try and change my mind but help me solidify my own position. Sometimes it is easier to explain a concept coming from the counter position. Some of my classmates did not feel the same way and felt that only opinion needed was the Orthodox one. I respectfully disagree.

This brings us to the awarding of the degree. As has been stated elsewhere, seminaries are not just academic institutions. Seminaries form the future leaders of the church both men and women and seminaries need to stand for something.

Last summer Notre Dame University invited The President of the United States to deliver the commencement address. This was a scandal in the American Roman Catholic Church. Not just because of the speech but because they awarded the President an honorary degree. It is not uncommon for universities to award such degrees to people such as the President of Dr. Williams but again these are not simply secular academic institutions. Notre Dame, as one can imagine by the name, is a Roman Catholic University and the President holds opinions different from that of the Catholic Church.

I understand that the Seminary is awarding this degree for the large body of work that Archbishop Williams has completed on Eastern Theology. But, Archbishop Williams also holds positions that are counter to the life of the Orthodox Church and dare I say to the Anglican Church as well. I find it hard to swallow that the Seminary would award such a degree. Again, I support the lecture series and look forward to attending but I think we need to stop there.

Fr. Gregory Jensen has a discussion going on his blog that you might want to check out.

I welcome your comments but let us keep this civil.


  1. I see the point about Seminaries being different than (eg) a state school, etc. But… seminaries, like other private institutions profit from publicity. I suggest ND eared rather a lot more money by inviting and then yanking the Pres than by awarding a degree to, eg, some random American Cardinal.

    "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." Said Oscar Wilde. And this has flooded the blogosphere with talk of not only SVOTS but *all* orthodox seminaries.


    I buy into the conspiracy idea that ++Jonah has some reason to hang out and chat with +++Cantuar – perhaps something to do with the Mtr party with the conservative Anglicans last year in Texas.

  2. An honorary degree extends the function of an academic institution, which has been granted accreditation and license by an independent body of theologians (ATS, for example) and Board of Education in a state, region or territory (New York State, for example). On the other hand, the professional degree for ministry provides requisite seminal formation.

    While the Master of Divinity degree adheres to the accredited and licensed function of the academic institution, it also affirms cooperation with the ecclesial jurisdictions that serve as the seminary's sponsors. Seminaries must carefully weigh decisions to award honorary doctorates to people outside their Communion, but anyone outside their Communion to whom they award an honorary degree will present views that counter those held by the Seminary itself.

    It goes without saying that an Anglican prelate, even one of the ACNA-type such as the presiding bishop or Jack Iker from Ft.Worth [who has never ordained a woman], would be considered objectionable to receive an honorary doctorate given what we read of reservations contained here and other places.

    So, this leads me to wonder. Which heterodox beliefs and practices are a little objectionable, and which are to opposed with vehemence?

    It starts to look like a manual of sins should be constructed for Orthodox seminaries to use when making decisions about honorary degrees. Small wonder that the debate could become another scholastic endeavor to meddle in a bishop's oikonmia.

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