Project Canterbury

A Celebration of Eugene Rathbone Fairweather.

By Stephen Reynolds

Trinity College, Toronto, 27 October 2004.

Reproduced with the permission of Mary Reynolds.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2012

Remembrance is like the Trinity College Library Book Sale—recollections are packed on top the tables of your mind, and in boxes under the tables, according to a variety of somewhat loosely defined categories; and you go rummaging. The rummaging is where the fun is, whether or not you find that one recollection that you really, really want right at the moment. The image strikes me as rather appropriate for this occasion, not only because Trinity College Library Book Sale has just ended its annual run, but also because one of the sharpest remembrances I have of Eugene Rathbone Fairweather is of him emerging from Seeley Hall and the 1983 Book Sale with a bag of books in each hand, a student in tow carrying a box of more books, and the glint of a big game hunter in his eye. He had just bagged one of the biggest trophies that he could imagine: a complete four-volume set of Henry Liddon's The Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, "in mint condition—the pages haven't been cut yet!" he told me,—"and for a price that made it like taking candy from the proverbial baby!" I doubt this recollection will warm the cockles of Linda Corman's heart; but there was glee that afternoon in an apartment overlooking Hoskin Avenue.

I forget what else Fr Fairweather had in his Book Sale trove that year; but every year he emerged from Seeley Hall and the Book Sale with at least "one real find" and several bags of other finds of lesser magnitude. This was in addition to his nearly incontinent book-purchasing, both new and "previously owned," throughout the rest of the year. I sometimes wondered where he put them all—and whether he might not suffer the fate of that Renaissance pope [1/2] who died when his book shelves groaned and toppled on to him. He did not suffer that fate; and the curious thing was, he always knew where he had placed a volume, in which pile on which table or chair or sofa or shelf he had last set it down. For Eugene was not simply an accumulator of books, albeit an accumulator with tastes which some might regard as rarefied; he was also an addictive reader. If he had any shortcoming as a teacher, it was his assumption that all his students were also addicted to reading. Every year from the late 1950s through his retirement in 1987, he presented students in his various courses with ten- or twelve-page bibliographies. I once asked him about his reason for doing so, because some students had asked me about his reason for doing so. He said, "Oh, I thought that they might start with the first book and then just read each of the books through to the end of the list."

Eugene Fairweather was what C. S. Lewis once described himself as being—an "Old Western Man". I associate these two, while acknowledging that Eugene had very little time in his day to give to Lewis. There was something personal on Eugene's side; he never said, and I never discovered, just what he had against Lewis, but his voice became ... how shall I put it? a tad more strident at the mention of "The Chronicles of Narnia". Nevertheless, he shared with Lewis some of the traits that Lewis defined as "Old Western Man". It was the sort of personality which has sometimes been called "Luddite". Eugene owned a television; it was a twenty-inch portable model of indeterminate vintage; he had bought it for his mother, inherited it on her death, and kept it in the northwest guest room of his house in Horton Landing. It also happened to be broken, and he did not think to replace it until the last year of his life. Computers he viewed with even greater disdain. In the summer of 1987, while spending a week with him in Horton, I presented him with the penultimate [2/3] draft of my doctoral thesis. We spent several hours each day in the back upstairs sunroom reviewing the text; and one afternoon, as we wound down our discussion, I was so incautious as to remark that I did not know how anybody could have completed a thesis without the aid of a personal computer. He gave me a baleful look and snorted. It was as if he had never heard a sillier remark in his life. I never so much as breathed the word "computers" in his presence again.

Eugene, then, was the compleat Gutenburg man—resolutely, even defiantly so. He was acquainted, personally as well as by reading, with Marshall MacLuhan; but he had even less time for MacLuhan's ideas than he did for C. S. Lewis's reputation as a theologian. Indeed, the one and only time I ever heard Eugene use a four-letter word was in relation to MacLuhan's notion of "cool" and "hot" media. But that word was spoken more or less in private; like John Henry Newman on the question of Darwin's theory of evolution, it was not a controversy he felt called to comment on in a public forum.

So far, you may think, I have been making Eugene sound like a troglodyte, a reactionary warrior against all that is modern. But the curious thing is, his dislike of modern technology did not extend to other areas of the modern world. He rather enjoyed aeroplane travel, though (as befitted the son of a former CEO of Canadian Pacific) he much preferred trains. He preferred the more baroque forms of Catholic iconography; but the paintings he purchased and mounted on the walls of his apartment and house were by Georges Braque, A. J. Casson, Fred Varley, and Alex Colville. In some respects, Eugene was even more discriminating an art collector than a book collector: he knew a lot about art, and he knew what he liked.

[4] This has to do with the meaning and message of Eugene's life: he practised what I would call contextual modernity. Eugene hated cant, that is, cheap labels which short-circuit thought rather than facilitate understanding. I will admit that he might have considered "contextual modernity" a cheap label. He might—just might—have allowed another label, such as "contextual catholicity". By this I mean a vision of Catholic existence which engages the modern world within the context—within the tradition—that shaped the modern world and even yet may exercise its own prophetical office toward the culture of modernity. At the very core of his thought, at the very core of his life, Eugene believed that the Catholic faith, and the Catholic faith especially as it seeks understanding, has something to say which the world has "not considered at all, or has not considered closely enough, about reality". [Karl Rahner, "The Prospects for Dogmatic Theology," Theological Investigations I, trans. Cornelius Ernst (New York: Seabury Press, 1961, pp. 9-10.] But that which the Catholic faith has to say through its theological enterprise is not at all times and in all places a word of contradiction; Eugene was not a Barthian in a lace cotta. He rather believed that Catholic theology expressed the truth which belonged to the world as a creature and creation of God—and which the world, blind-sided by sin, continually needed to meet again and again and again, each time as if for the first time.

It is not difficult to guess where Eugene was coming from. He belonged to a generation of Anglo-Catholic divines who heeded the call of Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, and other (chiefly French) neo-Thomists and made the writings of Aquinas their chief study and delight. His doctoral thesis (1949)—done at Union Theological Seminary in New York City under the supervision of Paul Tillich—concerned one of the more recondite aspects of Thomas's [4/5] philosophical theology; and throughout his teaching career he routinely offered seminars on one or the other of Thomas's two Summae. He also enjoyed an international reputation as one the leading interpreters of Aquinas's thought. But he was a neo-Thomist with a difference. Eugene's outlook was deeply influenced by Henri de Lubac's advocacy of réssourcement—that project which not only went back to the sources of the Catholic tradition but also sought to renew and even liberate Catholic theology by means of those sources. As it happens, Eugene realised that réssourcement had been a continuing Anglican project from John Jewel and Richard Hooker in the sixteenth century, Joseph Mede, Jeremy Taylor, and John Pearson in the seventeenth century, Bishop Butler in the eighteenth century, through the Catholic Revival of the Oxford Movement and Ritualism in the nineteenth century. This sense of being authentically Anglican while practising a modern Catholicism made Eugene smile; he did not grin, but he did have a smile which came very close to the Cheshire Cat's grin—and practising réssourcement as a neo- Thomist Anglican gave him a lasting Cheshire Cat contentment. This meant that, even as he studied and taught Thomas and the long tradition of scholastic commentaries on Thomas, he made it his business to read what Thomas had read. Thus, Eugene gained a further reputation on the international scene as an expert on Augustine of Hippo and Anselm of Canterbury.

Something else needs to be added to this account. Even before he was appointed an Anglican observer at Vatican II, Eugene had become acquainted with the writings of Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan; he knew Lonergan as a colleague in Toronto, and he later told me that he had been tickled pink to spend some time with Rahner while attending the Council. He was—and, sadly, even yet remains—one of the few Anglican theologians to have made a point [5/6] of studying these two giants of modern Roman Catholic theology. He always stopped well short of identifying himself totally with their respective programmes, known as "transcendental Thomism". But he did assimilate their positions and incorporated their perspectives in his own lectures, even as he continued to frame his systematic approach in terms of the "golden circle" of St Thomas.

In some respects, Eugene was born just when, as an adult, his witness could come into its own both here in Canada and throughout the Anglican Communion. He came into this world in Ottawa on November 2nd 1920, the only son of Ernest and Lulu (Rathbone) Fairweather; his father, a school teacher who through geographical and family connexions became a lawyer and then a protégé of Robert Borden, the Conservative prime minister of Canada between Wilfred Laurier and Mackenzie King whom no Canadian can quite remember. Borden advanced Ernest Fairweather's career; so that though Eugene saw the light of day in Ottawa, he grew up in Montreal, where his father pursued a career as a lawyer-CEO. It was as a youth in Montreal that Eugene discovered the glories of Anglo-Catholicism in full bloom. As he said in his Larkin-Stuart Lectures, delivered from this very stage in 1985, "I experienced some fairly serious Anglo-Catholic influences, [which] nurtured my faith and Christian life more obviously from the age of thirteen onwards—the age of thirteen being the age at which I began attending with some frequency what was actually the pioneer ritualistic parish in the Anglican Church in Canada—namely, the Church of St John the Evangelist in Montreal." He never forgot, nor ceased to be grateful for, that formation; he dedicated his 1964 anthology of Oxford Movement writings to the three priests of St John's who made him the Anglo-Catholic that he became.

[7] At the same time, it needs to be said that Eugene was born and raised in a Canadian church which, though it had been autocephalous for twenty-seven years, behaved as if it were still a colonial outpost of the Church of England. By the time he came to maturity, those reflexes were beginning to wane; and Eugene did much to enable the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada to become and be the Anglican Church of Canada, and to act not only with independence but also with self-confidence. He used his enormous breadth of scholarship and learning to encourage the Canadian episcopate and their flocks to look outwards, both beyond the borders of modern Canada to the international life of the Church, and beyond their colonial and English past to the riches of the entire Catholic tradition.

And yet, Eugene remained an intensely nationalist Canadian. His father, scion of a United Empire Loyalist family, came from New Brunswick, and his mother from the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia; Eugene himself remained intensely proud of his Maritime roots all his life. Throughout his childhood, throughout his adulthood, he returned annually to spend his summers at his mother's family homestead in Horton Landing, at the top of the Annapolis Valley; and there he retired, to live the last fourteen years of his life in the house. He continued to delight in his United Empire Loyalist heritage, especially when he had yours truly, an émigré New Englander whose ancestors fought on the winning side of the American rebellion, to chaff with it.

After obtaining his B.A. from McGill University in 1941, Eugene moved to the University of Toronto to study for an M.A. in philosophy, which he obtained two years later. In 1944, he was ordained to the priesthood in the [7/8] diocese of Toronto and in the autumn of that same year became a Fellow and Tutor in Divinity of this College. Thus his priestly ministry and his career as a teacher of the faith began almost simultaneously. He took a leave of absence in 1947 in order to pursue doctoral studies under Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary in New York City; and on obtaining his Th.D. two years later he returned to Trinity College to take up the post of Associate Professor of Dogmatics and Ethics. In 1964 the College revived an earlier chair and appointed him John Keble Professor of Divinity. Trinity remained his home and his base for almost forty years; he not only taught in the College's classrooms but also lived in residence, occupying an increasingly cluttered suite in the high mysteries above the Provost's Lodge.

Besides his academic responsibilities at Trinity and a variety of international commitments, Eugene served as president of the Canadian Theological Society from 1957-1958 and as editor of its official organ, The Canadian Journal of Theology, from 1960 to 1970. Most of his published corpus—survey articles and essays on theological topics as well as editorials and book reviews—appeared in the pages of CJT. He also produced two anthologies which remain standards in their fields, A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham (1956) and The Oxford Movement (1964), and an extended theological meditation, The Meaning and Message of Lent, which the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States chose as the Lenten Book of 1962.

The cause of ecumenism played a major part in Eugene's academic career and ministry. His first experience of the ecumenical scene came in 1952, when the World Faith and Order Conference met at Lund, in Sweden. The primate of the day, Walter Barfoot, had decided that Canadian Anglicanism should be [8/9] represented by "some of our younger theologians," and he chose the thirty-two year old Associate Professor of Dogmatics to be one of them. Eugene cherished this experience for the rest of his life, and photographs of Lund and its archbishop, the formidable Anders Nygren, figured prominently on the walls of his Nova Scotia home. From the 1960s onward Eugene's involvement in the ecumenical movement became very wide and diverse. He served as a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. And in 1964-1965 he was an official Anglican observer at the Second Vatican Council. This experience was one of the few times he kept a detailed journal; and for many years, and to several tutors, he made noises of turning this journal into a book. He never did; but I do remember the relish with which he recounted how most of the American and Canadian cardinals and bishops attending the Council had to hire translators, while he, the Anglican observer, could take in the proceedings, conducted entirely in Latin, without benefit of translation. This was a priest of St Mary Magdalene's who quietly surveyed the congregation of a weekday Mass and, if there were sufficient present to make Latin "a tongue ... understanded of the people," launched into the Roman Canon. He remained fluent in Latin, spoken as well as written, to the end of his days; when Mary and I spent our summer-week with him, he was not above launching Latin puns at the dinner table, because he assumed that since Mary had majored in classics and I had been labouring on a ninth-century treatise, we were all speaking the same language. He was one of the few people I have ever met—and this includes professors of classical languages—for whom Latin was both bread-and-butter and fun.

Eugene's stint as an Anglican observer at Vatican II, together with his international reputation as a scholar whose learning traversed the fields of [9/10] patristics, medieval scholasticism and neo-scholasticism, and Anglican divinity; made him a natural delegate on the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in the Canadian Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue, and on the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission. He did not talk much about these experiences, at least in my hearing, except to recall with genial fondness the personality and culinary skills of the cardinal patriarch of Venice who subsequently became Pope John Paul I and, with even greater awe and somewhat less fondness the hospitality of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Soviet State.

Eugene's breadth of theological learning made him a very important figure in several major issues for the Anglican Church of Canada. In 1976 he helped to ease the way for General Synod to endorse the ordination of women to the priesthood—no small act of courage, given that a great many of his friends and colleagues in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church opposed such a move. It is legendary how he returned from General Synod 1976 and preached a sermon at St Mary Magdalene's, in which he explained, quietly and with as little provocation as possible, why he did not see any valid theological objections to the priesting of women. No sooner had he finished and turned to dismount the pulpit, but Fr Hutt stood up in the sanctuary and announced that, next Sunday, he would tell everyone why women could not be priests. In private, Eugene regretted the impact of this church's decision to ordain women on the Anglican Communion's relations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches; but he remained constant in his conviction that no sound reason in theology could be said to bar women from Holy Orders. Indeed, Eugene encouraged and supported two successive tutors of theology, Alison Barnet and Ansley Tucker, in seeking priestly orders.

[11] Eugene probably would not have taken any initiative on the ordination of women, had not others pushed the envelope. But he did harbour a very strong commitment to liturgical renewal, and from a relatively early stage in his long career as priest and professor. Indeed, as early as 1954, in a volume of essays celebrating the sesquimillennial anniversary of the birth of St Augustine, Eugene's own contribution, a study of Augustine's doctrine of baptism, led him to advocate the admission of all the baptized, including infants, to the Holy Communion, and he lived to see the day when the case he made for this practice was widely accepted in the Anglican Church of Canada. And he put his convictions about liturgical renewal into practice as well as into print—most especially at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Manning Avenue, where he was an honorary assistant (and occasionally priest-in-charge) from 1949 until his death. Sometimes it brought out the Anglo-Catholic guerrilla in him. It was not for nothing that he took pride in coming from "the pioneer ritualistic parish in the Anglican Church in Canada"; and true to his roots, he had fun (and that is just the word) tweaking the noses of Anglicans whose liturgical styles were a good deal more staid and a lot less baroque than the style he had grown up with and relished. But after a certain point in his life, Eugene turned his skills as a ritualist guerrilla to liturgical renewal. David Neelands tells a story of one Solemn Mass at SMM; Mountain Hutt was then the rector, and Fr Hutt insisted that all the collects of a given day, including those of semi-double and even lesser feasts, should be recited. On the particular Sunday in question, six sets of collects were so ordained. Eugene dutifully went through the six opening collects of the day; but at the secret, the prayer over the gifts, he went through three, then stopped. "That is just about enough of that!" David heard him murmur. More importantly, and far more influentially, in the early 1970s, he [11/12] inaugurated the SMM Folk Mass—which quickly became known as "Fairweather's Frolics," because of the large role he gave to children during the celebration of the Eucharist. This reflected his commitment to the liturgical nurture of children, and to his own vision of liturgy which should enact God's love by enabling all the faithful to participate in the mystery of Christ, each according to his or her level of maturity.

Eugene's commitment to liturgical renewal had its largest scope and its greatest influence through his membership on the Doctrine and Worship Committee of General Synod during its fifteen-year travail in producing The Book of Alternative Services. He worked with Bill Crockett and David Holeton in shaping that book's baptismal liturgy. Eugene, however, was not really what we might call a team-player; nor, whatever might be said about his facility and grace as a lecturer, preacher, debater, and public speaker, was his authorial tongue the pen of a ready writer.[2] [(2) Cf. Psalm 45.1 (BCP).] He preferred to work alone on a project, slowly, methodically, even painfully assembling a text, all the while lining up his reasons for the choices he made; then he would present the project to his colleagues and discuss with them why he was right. This is certainly how he worked on the Ordinal of the BAS: the text had to be all but dynamited out of his hands because D & W's deadline for reviewing it arrived before he felt that it passed his own muster. The irony of his work on the Ordinal is, that it never betrayed the hand of its principal author. It is Fairweatherian in that it has nothing identifiably, much less idiosyncratically Fairweatherian at all.

As Eugene's part in these issues may indicate, he considered his academic work to be at one with his priestly vocation, such that he devoted his life to the [12/13] science of sacra doctrina as a public discipline of the Church's mind and heart—and of the academy's mind and heart, as well. He was a priest for whom la vie intellectuelle, "the intellectual life," formed a necessary part of the Church's mission, and a man of the Catholic tradition who considered knowledge of the truth to be an end in itself. This meant that his activities ramified in directions which are more difficult to pinpoint and record, because they had no cursus of posts and honours. Their only markers have been the candidates for holy orders whom he guided and advised as both as professor and examining chaplain; the penitents whom he counselled and absolved as confessor; the congregations to whom he preached as a minister of the gospel; and the people, both at St Mary Magdalene's and in Trinity College Chapel, among whom he stood as presiding celebrant at altar and font.

The man himself, I confess, was hard to capture, and remains elusive in retrospect. I do not think that he was shy, but he was reserved—he constructed bastions of reserve which would have done Vauban, the greatest of the seventeenth-century military architects, proud. He did not have an easy sense of humour; he revelled in puns, English, Latin, and French, and very few people could tell a funny story, a hilarious anecdote, as richly as he. It did not matter that most of the stories and anecdotes happened to be about other people, not himself—though, once you had been admitted behind the carapace of his reserve, he could be very, very funny about faux-pas or near faux-pas of his own. I remember sitting with him in a classroom of the Larkin Building in December 1983, after we had finished the last of the oral examinations of TRT1101F—the first term of his Introduction to Systematic Theology. This had become a time when he and I debriefed, with the aid of a certain kind of refreshment. I mentioned a book, just published, that I was then in the course [13/14] of reading—a biography of the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Eugene may have had his thesis supervised by Paul Tillich, but Niebuhr had his affection—and more especially, Niebuhr's wife Ursula, herself an unreconstructed Anglo-Catholic. That afternoon, as the December dusk fell ever more deeply on us in that classroom, Eugene poured out anecdotes of people and a time at Union Theological Seminary thirty and forty years earlier that still gladdened his affections. The crown of these anecdotes came just as he decided that we might share another wee dram of the single malt that stood on the table before us. In the 1950s, whenever he visited New York City—and New York was a city he always visited at the least possible provocation—he invariably paid a call on Reinhold and Ursula Niebuhr. (The same, I noticed, was not said about Paul Tillich.) On one of these calls, he found himself left alone in the Niebuhr living room with an angular, bespectacled gentleman who had been introduced to him as "Mr Eliot". Eugene and Mr Eliot made desultory conversation for a while; and Eugene said that he soon felt very tempted to look at his watch. Minutes passed. Finally, Ursula Niebuhr glided back into the room. "Oh Eugene, have you had a chance to see Tom's new play on Broadway—The Cocktail Parry?" Eugene remarked: "I regarded this as a supreme example of divine grace, because I had just been about to ask, 'And what do you do for a living, Mr Eliot?' "

Eugene's sense of humour was of the anecdotal, narrative kind; but he could not tell a joke to save his life, and this failing, which many of us may share, together with his reserve, made a lot of people feel intimidated by him. But—is this an example of paradox, or is it an irony?—Eugene did have a lively sense of fun. The founding father of Fairweather's Frolics relaxed in the company of young people—more especially, in the company of young women, [14/15] which is to say, intelligent girls under the age of twelve and intelligent women between the ages of twenty-one and sixty-eight. He was always at ease, even ready for silliness, whenever Alison or Ansley or Margaret O'Gara or my own wife Mary were in the room; whereas it took him fifteen years before he stopped treating me as a student. That was the year he experienced his catastrophic collapse while on a visit to Toronto, and spent a month in the now departed Wellesley Hospital. In the end, he asked me to escort him back to Horton Landing and take care of him for a while. I spent three weeks with him in the house; and just as Paul was "caught up to the third heaven ... and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat," so it was with me. [2 Corinthians 12.2,4.]

Eugene died on April 6th, 2002, in Nova Scotia. He was in his eighty-second year. He was my professor, my supervisor, my mentor, and my ghostly father. I miss him still.

Eugene Fairweather lived most of his life in academe, committed to the integrity of scholarship and to the demands of the intellectual life; but he did so for the sake of the Church, which is never more itself than when its members do theology as a fundamental act of faithfulness to God in Christ—and thereby come to know more truly and love more actively the God in whom they live and move and have their being.

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