It was a 13th century tutor at Oxford University, Edmond of Abingdon, who advised his students, “study as if you were to live for ever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.” We can no longer take for granted the place of religion in our institutions; we have, instead, to understand it. Such is, perhaps, the flight of the owl of Minerva in the twilight of modernity, in the dusk of the late twentieth century and in the early dawn of the twenty-first century.
Religion, perhaps most especially the Christian religion, cannot be reduced to culture. It is not a cultural artifact. Our task, instead, is to understand its animating principles which give shape and form to character and to culture, to individuals and to institutions.
Religion is what binds (re-ligo) the soul to God; a bond most intimately expressed in the Christian religion in the unity of God and Man in Jesus Christ. That bond imparts an identity and belongs to the character of this institution, to its history and its life. It is there to be understood.
But to honour and respect the Christian religious principles which belong to the historic foundations and vision of this school is also to find an honourable, honest and respectful way to engage our post-Christian culture and other cultures informed by other religions.
In the task of encouraging “universal literacy”, there is a great and pressing need to foster some degree of “biblical literacy.” The Bible is, after all, one of the great foundational texts which continues to shape souls and form cultures. The images and their understanding are there for us to enter into prayerfully and thoughtfully. I do not need to remind any of you of the critical role that the Church has historically played in education. At the heart of it all was a love for the Word of God.
For Anglicans, it was a wonderful confidence in the doctrinal or credal understanding of the Scriptures which underlay the educational efforts to open the Scriptures to everyone so that, as sixteenth century Anglican Divine put it, “every ploughboy” - and ploughgirl, too! – “would be as well versed in the Scriptures as the most learned clerk at the university.”
It is my hope and prayer that in our morning devotions we shall not only find ourselves in the presence of God but also actively engaged in wrestling with the understanding of the Word of God. And just so, Jacob becomes Israel.
It is a study in which, indeed, we live for ever.
(Rev’d) David Curry