Obituary: John Coulson

Sidney John Coulson, teacher and theologian: born Bridgwater, Somerset 17 September 1919; Reader in Theology, Bristol University 1982-85; married 1939 Violet Brooke-Hunt (one son, two daughters); died Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset 14 April 1993.

JOHN COULSON was an important contributor to the movement for change which passed through the English Roman Catholic church after the Second World War, a movement which helped to prepare the ground for the Second Vatican Council, and which suffered something of a reverse in the 1980s.

It was largely a lay movement, and it encouraged English Catholics to think ecumenically, and to find in John Henry Newman a bond and not a barrier between Rome and Canterbury. The central theological problem of modern Christianity - how to rethink the Christian faith in a culture each day growing more remote from the circumstances in which that faith had originated - could no longer be kept at arm's length by authority. Newman's writings offered a method - so Coulson taught - of bringing together two worlds which had drifted far apart.

In Newman and the Common Tradition (1970), the result of two years' work at Oriel College, Oxford, under Ian Ramsey and David Jenkins, and Religion and Imagination (1981), he linked Coleridge the Anglican with Newman the Catholic to argue that the study of imaginative literature made intelligible the sources of religious experience. This was the ground of the Religion with Literature degree which he started and fostered at Bristol University from 1975.

Coulson had come to Bristol as a young man after war service in the Education Corps to be Warden of the Bristol Folk House, an adult education centre which had close relations with Bristol University. He himself had taken a degree in English and Philosophy, but his intellectual centre was always in religious studies. In these early Bristol years he gradually moved from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism and in 1953 he left the Folk House and went to teach in the Benedictine school at Downside, in Somerset, where he came under the influence of Christopher Butler.

Two currents now combined which increasingly dominated John Coulson's life. First, it was in 1956 that the Abbe Nicolas Theis gathered in Luxembourg the first of the International Newman Conferences, a remarkable mixture of Newman scholars, attracted by Newman as by no other 19th-century religious writer, and of those who were more concerned with the cause of Newman's canonisation. Second, Coulson himself became one of the leaders of a group of lay Catholics, who made Downside Abbey a centre of theological discussion. It was also in 1956 that he contributed to the first of a long series of Downside Symposia, perhaps the most important of which, from his point of view, was Theology and the University (1964), which he edited for publication, and which made a case for a Catholic theology which would accept the discipline of existence in a secular, open university.

This was what he wanted to do himself, and in 1968 he joined the recently formed theology department at Bristol University as Downside Research Fellow in Theology. He became a full-time member of staff in 1973, and was a kind and stimulating teacher of all his students. He had much of Newman's patient hopefulness.

At the present moment there is perhaps a danger that Christian theology, including Newman studies, will go back into the laager, that Newman himself will be interpreted as a great opponent of 'modernism' in general. That was not how John Coulson understood him. He wanted, as he believed Newman had wanted, an intellectually open Christian community in which the claims of the Church and of individual human faith were held in tension.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral