2 January 2024

Betsie Livingstone (2)

 Why on earth did this University never honour Betsie with an honorary Doctorate? I am not part of the inner workings of the academic bureaucracy; but it is my strong suspicion that the narrow biases of dominant secularism were already powerful. At Encaenia, honorands for the degree of Doctor of Divinity (Sacrae Theologiae Professor) are unknown (well, not quite; such a degree was conferred upon some American woman called Jefferts ... see what I mean ...). But, in the end, Archbishop Rowan Williams conferred a Doctorate by virtue of his Primacy: the capacity to do this, I think, is a surviving remnant of the powers of medieval Archbishops as legati nati of the Apostolic See. Time, absurdly, was, when all undoctored diocesan Bishops got one automatically.

Betsie was very much a Christ Church person ... as Dr Cross had been. She was a daily communicant. And, when the Church of England purported to ordain women to sacerdotal ministries, this meant, for Betsie, a recurrent problem.

She remained in the C of E until her death. And she managed this by making arrangements to avoid the Cathedral on those mornings when this regime operated. This meant, of course, finding churches in Oxford where the new dogma was not enforced. And this was what brought her in my direction at S Thomas's. 

By this time, she was living in one of the fine Georgian Houses in St John Street. S Thomas's was built originally in vile slums (now redeveloped and expensive properties) around the Railway Station. For a woman in her seventies to walk down to my church early in the morning must have been a duty and a discipline, even when the weather was good. And she did it, if necessary, when the weather was far from good ... indeed, dangerous underfoot. This was when Pam and I got to know her.

She was an acerbic conversationalist with a devastating wit ... and she was extremely hospitable. Although Macular Degeneration was already taking its toll of her eyesight, she provided us with very many lunches. When family matters took Pam away from Oxford, Betsie made sure that I never lacked a lunch. As reading became increasingly difficult for her, I was able to give some small amounts of help with her continuing academic work. It was not difficult to look forward to the food and conversation behind the Georgian architectural facade!

I had better not conceal that we often gossiped about mutual acquaintances, by no means avoiding members of the University! And she was ... well ... merciless. I suppose it would be bad manners to pass on her views about still-living persons. I will misbehave only to the extent of revealing that, after a less than complimentary but convergent exchange of judgments, Betsie would ... not infrequently ... observe "But have you seen his Wife?"

Eius animae propitietur Deus.


Expeditus said...

I never knew her, alas, but I'm sure I must have seen her face many times in the LRR. I'll Google and see if there are any images ... alas, no!

Andrew Malton said...

The Church Times has a nice picture labeled “E A Livingstone”, number 6/7 in the “gallery” on this page: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/22-december/features/features/review-of-the-year-2023-deaths

Jhayes said...

Regarding the honorary Doctorate awarded by the Archbishop:

“The Peter's Pence Act of 1533 gave the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to grant academic degrees (previously bestowed by the Pope). It allowed the Archbishop to override the requirements of the only two universities at the time, Oxford and Cambridge, and to grant degrees by dispensation from the usual requirements for residence and, in some cases, examination, at a time when it was difficult to travel to the universities, often because of outbreaks of the plague. This power to grant degrees did, and still does, require confirmation by the Crown and so the degrees are known as 'degrees of the realm'. All recipients have to be able to swear an oath to the monarch since the act of 1533 speaks of the monarch conferring degrees on his subjects. The Archbishop's power to continue to grant these degrees is expressly set out in the Education Reform Act 1988.”

By tradition, the academic robes used are those of the university attended by the incumbent archbishop”


Three years earlier, she was appointed MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire)

Richard said...

Thank you for your tribute to Elizabeth Livingstone. She got me through my ordination examinations, thanks to ODCC, 2nd ed. There was a tribute to her scholarship in the Church Times 21/3/97 'Oxford's Walking Encyclopaedia'. May she rest in peace.