Project Description

Sara Parvis

“I delight in teaching students who care about the subject they are learning, from whatever angle and whatever denomination.”

I was born and brought up in Scotland, one of three children of an Irish Catholic father and a vaguely Episcopalian mother (who later became Catholic herself).

We went to the local state (i.e. Protestant) school, since my father was of the view that Catholic schools promoted sectarianism and gave people an overly packaged view of the Faith. There was still plenty of Protestant piety around in the 1970s; I can therefore still remember all the verses of many of the children’s hymns from the Church of Scotland’s then hymn-book, Church Hymnary III. I attended various evangelical services with Protestant friends as a teenager, but was thereafter captivated by the Dominicans in pretty much every possible way.

My faith became, and largely remains, the faith outlined by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, with a handful of other strands. It is also perforce very ecumenical: I owe Fr John Farrell OP the insight that Vatican II’s theology of Baptism means that all inter-church arguments are simply internal squabbles. The fact that Catholics have a higher theology of Protestant Baptism than most Protestants do merely appeals to my sense of saving Catholic paradox.

Although not initially trained in history (my first degree was in English and French, my second in theology), I wrote a PhD in Church History (specialising in the Arian Controversy) and have taught Patristic History since 2002 in the Faculty of Divinity (now the School of Divinity) at New College, University of Edinburgh. New College was and is a Church of Scotland seminary, although most of its students are now layfolk, including many Episcopalians and Catholics, as well as the odd Orthodox.

I delight in teaching students who care about the subject they are learning, from whatever angle and whatever denomination. I delight in the breadth of the tradition. I delight in leading those who have the interest and the patience to take on the intellectual and spiritual challenge which is getting to grips with the history of the great Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries as they grapple with the problems of the violence and the politics and the general viciousness of the process, and in helping them see how it can still be understood as led by the Holy Spirit. I delight in introducing students to the great works of Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom and Augustine. I delight in Perpetua and Egeria, in the martyrs and the intellectuals, the Church pre- and post-Constantine, which is always new and yet ever the same. And I think the Catholic Church today needs to find a better way of drawing structurally on the gifts of women, both collectively and as individuals; but I’m not holding my breath.

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