Paul Avis Epiphany 2021

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Brilliant historian, political philosopher, passionate theologian and fiery preacher, John Neville Figgis, CR, was one of the great minds of the early twentieth century and was active on both sides of the Atlantic. Neville Figgis lived from 1866 to 1919, his death being hastened by the torpedoing of his passenger liner by a German U-Boat on the high seas the previous year. The main intellectual realm in which Figgis worked was political and theological authority. In his writings on the church and ecclesiology, the main emphasis is on its authority structures, its polity. Although Figgis died before the worst manifestations of twentieth-century dictatorship and totalitarianism, he was implacably opposed (like his mentor, the lay Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton) to all forms of authoritarianism and absolutism, whether political or ecclesiastical, and this conviction drove much of his writing and preaching. Figgis advocated a participatory view of authority, one that respects the conscience of individuals and the integrity of the communities and institutions, including the churches, that make up civil society. Figgis’ most famous work, the prescient Churches in the Modern State (1913) reveals him as a prophetic exponent of the virtues of intentional pluralism. His main work in the field of ecclesiology is The Fellowship of the Mystery (1914). The substantives in his title – ‘Fellowship’ and ‘Mystery’ – point to the heart of his theology: fellowship or communion in God with others through Christ’s incarnation and atonement, received through the mystical sacramental provision of the church.

Neville Figgis was an Anglican monk, one of the most gifted members of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, Yorkshire, in its early days. The Community was founded by Charles Gore and others in 1889 and Figgis entered it in 1896. To mark the centenary of Figgis’ premature death in April 1919, a public conference entitled ‘Churches in a Pluralist World: A Centenary Conference on The Theological Legacy of John Neville Figgis CR (1866–1919)’ took place at Mirfield at the request of the Community of the Resurrection, from 2nd–4th April 2019. The conference reflected on aspects of Figgis’ life and thought, especially the questions of political and religious pluralism that he raised in Churches in the Modern State. The conference aimed to combine a critical retrieval of Figgis’ thought with constructive reflection on the mission of the Church in our present pluralistic world.

The chapters of this book are revised, expanded and fully referenced versions of the conference papers, supplemented by several additional commissioned essays from both sides of the Atlantic. I am most grateful to all the contributors for their generous collaboration, to Lord Williams of Oystermouth (Rowan Williams) for contributing the Foreword and to the editorial and production staff of Brill, especially Tessel Jonquière (Acquisitions Editor for Theology and World Christianity) and Ingrid Heijckers-Velt (Assistant Editor, Theology & World Christianity). This volume joins the growing number of titles in Brill’s series ‘Anglican-Episcopal Theology and History’ which I edit.

It is more than seventy years since, in 1950, SPCK published the only full-length study of Figgis: Maurice G. Tucker, John Neville Figgis: A Study. There have been several useful articles on Figgis since then, but no further book-length studies. I suspect that Figgis has been more mentioned in passing than actually read. Although it has taken the century since Figgis’ premature death to bring it about, I think that at last we have a rounded, comprehensive account and analysis of the life, thought, influence and legacy of John Neville Figgis, CR.

Paul Avis

Epiphany 2021

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