Obituary: The Rev Rupert Davies
Monday 25 July 1994
RUPERT DAVIES was a Methodist leader well known beyond his own church and a prolific author.
He was born in 1909, the son of Walter Davies, a London solicitor, and his wife Elizabeth. He was Captain of St Paul's School, before winning a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, reading classics and becoming Senior Denyer and Johnson Scholar. At Wesley House, Cambridge, he took a First in theology then spent a year at the University of Tubingen, in Germany. He was chaplain of Kingswood School, Bath, from 1935 to 1947 and later Chairman of the Governors. He was then a Methodist Circuit Minister in Bristol. In 1952 he was appointed Tutor in Church History at Didsbury (now Wesley) College, Bristol, becoming Principal in 1967 when the college amalgamated with Wesley College, Leeds. From 1973 to 1976 he was again in a Methodist circuit and acted as Warden of the New Room in Bristol from 1976 to 1982. He was President of the Methodist Conference in 1970.
Davies's first book, The Problem of Authority in the Continental Reformers (1947), earned him his Cambridge BD, giving him a place in the renaissance of Reformation studies at that time. Religious Authority in the Age of Doubt (1968) followed up the earlier book. He was co-editor of the four-volume History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, contributing notable chapters. His Methodism (1963) is still the best one-volume book on its subject but his range extended to the ecumenical scene, the philosophy of education, the creeds, and the commandments, and he was literary editor of the Methodist School Hymn-Book in 1950.
He was a patient teacher, his greatest academic skill being the way in which with total clarity he could summarise great contributions to Christian thought. He was for many years a Recognised Lecturer at Bristol University, which awarded him an honorary D Litt in 1992. But it is as an ecumenist that he was best known in the wider church. In Bristol he played a notable role in the rich ecumenical scene there. He was a member of the Anglican-Methodist Unity Commission, and deeply disappointed by its final failure. He saw the goal of organic unity not as a Utopian idealist but as a patient negotiator and a tireless advocate in public; behind the scenes he combined the wisdom of Solomon and, just occasionally, the statecraft of Machiavelli, but with warm humanity. He was a member of the Joint Liturgical Group which achieved much in both the renewal of worship and dialogue between the churches. He served both the British and the World Council of Churches and was convenor of the Methodist Faith and Order Committee. His clarity of mind and theological acumen had full scope in all these activities.
If his early writings reflected the era of Hitler, the German church struggle and post-war reconstruction, his later theological outlook was sympathetic to the struggle for liberation of oppressed people and the full participation of women in the life of the churches. In all this he was fully supported by his wife Margaret. They had two sons, two daughters and a foster-daughter, a refugee from the Nazis. Davies was no remote academic: he was preaching regularly up to the month of his death and recently wrote on the issue of the Establishment of the Church of England.
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