23 June 2021

Women at Encaenia

Today should be Encaenia in this University ... which was postponed from last year. Because last year was the centenary of the admission of women to degrees at Oxford, the idea was to have a list completely composed of women.

But Encaenia has been postponed again ... to September. And rumour has it that the list of women honorands includes some woman called Rodham something.  

Women are, of course, very much in fashion as a Species; especially if they can be the First Woman who etc.. But there are marvellous women whom I expect to be ... ignored. Here is one such.

Elizabeth Anne Livingstone, born July 7 1929. Matriculated from S Anne's Society (now S Anne's College) 1948; M.A. 1955. Those of you who have The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church on your bookshelves are possessors of a work which is substantially hers. 

Its first edition in 1957 was conceived and effected by the late Frank (F L) Cross, 1900-1968, sometime Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church (he was among those who laid hands on me in 1968, when I was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood; one of his major academic interests was the Canon Romanus). As soon as 'Betsy' had completed her degree, he secured her services as his collaborator. She checked, I think, every word, and communicated with every scholar who helped with the Dictionary, and naturally took over after Cross's death. She also ran the Oxford Patristics Conferences, and, I think, the Oxford New Testament Conferences; and saw to publication the papers which were delivered. 

I remember her, years ago, at the table permanently reserved for her in the Patristics Room in Bodley, swathed in galley proofs. But I did not come to know her personally until, much later in life, I became pp of the Church of S Thomas the Martyr iuxta ferriviam. By that time, the Zeitgeist had taken over the Cathedral; Betsy, who was a daily communicant, therefore needed churches to attend on those mornings when the 'celebrant' at Christ Church was to be a woman. Already elderly, already with failing eyesight, she would trudge down to S Thomas's even through inches of ice and snow. I was able to give her some very minute pieces of help during her last productive academic years; Pam and I much enjoyed the hospitality she dispensed in Georgian St John Street.

Half a century ago, Learned Spinster Ladies were a common phenomenon in Oxford. They sped along the streets in their bicycles and were repositories of remarkable erudition ... not to mention prosopographical information. There are not many of them left.

It was obvious that Betsy should have been honoured years ago; when attempts to persuade the University to do the decent thing were not successful, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave her a 'Lambeth' Doctorate in Theology; using a power retained by the Archbishops after the Schism, continuing a jurisdiction possessed by the Medieval Archbishops by virtue of their status as Legati nati of the Apostolic See.

I don't expect to see her at Encaenia receiving the Doctorate earned by her decades of learning and of service to this University.  Non sumus quales eramus. 

I do not know how suitable it would have been to include such  a remarkable Oxonian, the inheritor and symbol of such a remarkable history of scholarship, among the Rodhams.

Wrong sort of woman.



Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Speaking of your university and the fair sex, I wonder if a certain intention could be borne in mind during the Memento of the Living??


PM said...

Nor, I suspect, shall we see Barbara Harvey, distinguished historian of Westminster Abbey and medieval monasticism and regular communicant at St Mary the Virgin. Just as we did not see those stellar scholars of the medieval Church Beryl Smalley and Marjorie Reeves. Or, for that matter, Elizabeth Anscombe, one of the greatest English philosophers of the twentieth century .... I could go on.

PM said...

And yes, Miss Livingstone did run the New Testament Conferences. She published a paper by an old teacher of mine on 'S Paul and Stoic Physics' which put another nail into the coffin of Luther's Hellenophobia by showing that St Paul not only appropriated Stoic moral vocabulary such as 'conscience' which he introduced into the Scriptures (already well known among scholars) but also the language of Stoic physics and cosmology.

To be clear:Paul was, of course, a Hebrew of Hebrews first. But he was well versed in popular Greek philosophy and would gladly harness it to the Gospel, as when he quoted Menander: a method which Clement of Alexandria would later call 'spoiling the Egyptians'.

Paulus said...

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Scribe said...

Dear Father, I have just read a fascinating article at a website called CARM, which showed how often St Paul quoted from Greek writers - Menander, and so perhaps indirectly Euripides, and other Greek writers whose names were unfamiliar to me. What a fascinating man Paul was - 'Hebrew of Hebrews', and yet steeped in Hellenistic culture and learning.

Thank you for reminding us of those excellent women scholars. None of them 'woke', all of them of the first rank. I had the good fortune to attend lectures by some of their older colleagues in the 1950s, in the days when there were women's colleges, and these truly learned women were not swamped by male incomers in the interest of - well, some long forgotten ideology.

Sue Sims said...

Your discussion of the Learned Spinster Ladies took me right back! I was at St Hilda's from 1971-75, just on the cusp: in my first year, I had three tutors, two of them LSLs who appeared to be pretty aged (at the age of 19, one can't easily judge)*, and one married woman in her 20s, I think, with a small son. The LSLs knew everything; the married lady, though a good tutor (I gather that she went on to a full professorship years after I'd gone down), not so much.

*I've just looked one of them up online, and when she was tutoring me, she'd only have been in her late 40s. I'm now 20 years older than she was then. (Sigh.)