My name is Andrew Phillips and I am a full-time student in the first year of the integrated PhD program in the theology department, as well as being a member of the Centre for Catholic Studies (CCS). I grew up in the state of Oklahoma in the US and was raised in a free church within the Baptist denomination. I completed my undergraduate degree in theology at Baylor University in 2014. While at Baylor I started to become interested in the richer narrative that Catholic theology could offer the Protestant tradition—especially in the areas of trinitarian theology, creation as gift and systematic theology. My research interests have continued along these lines and have focused on how patristic and medieval theology, particularly through the work of Thomas Aquinas (c 1225-1274), can be used within a systematic theology and can shed light on the relationship between God, creation and the Church. After Baylor I took a year away from academia to work in financial services. Then in 2015 my wife and I moved to the UK, where for the last three years I have served as a minister in a local free church in Manchester. Earlier in 2018 we welcomed the arrival of our first son (Joshua), and then later in the year relocated to Durham for me to begin the integrated program. My family and I serve actively at St Nics, a local Anglican parish church in Durham’s city centre. It has been a great privilege to be a part of the CCS and its academically stimulating, yet welcoming and collegial, environment.
My Masters thesis explores the connection between creatio ex nihilo and mutual human flourishing by arguing that the doctrine of creation from nothing is a fundamental requirement for mutual human flourishing. This research aims to extend contemporary discussions, notably those of Catholic theologian Matthew Levering and the late Anglican theologian John Webster. Webster, in the article “Love is also a lover of life,” identified several arguments from process theology that have been used against creatio ex nihilo. The primary concern of process theologians is that creation from nothing devalues humans, placing them as nothing in comparison to God who, in his transcendence, created humanity from nothing and thus requires nothing from them. This radical asymmetry between God and creation, as established in creatio ex nihilo, might appear to annul human flourishing. But Webster goes on to argue that the difference between God and creation in fact affirms the value of all creation because it reveals God’s providential love and care for all that he creates. Meanwhile, Levering argues in his monograph on the doctrine of creation that the patristic account of creation in Basil’s (c 329/30-379) Hexaemeron, together with Aquinas’s ontology of the analogy of being, provides a framework supporting the unity and diversity of the whole created order. By looking at the Catholic themes of creation and the analogy of being I hope to extend the recent work of Levering and Webster to show that creatio ex nihilo not only reveals the inherent worth of creation but is a requirement for all human flourishing.
In my PhD thesis I will continue to build on the importance of Aquinas’s analogy of being by placing him in conversation with modern interlocutors who have argued that all of creation is a gift. This research will explore Aquinas’s understanding of the analogy of being –the analogous relation between finite being (creation) and uncreated, infinite Being (God) and the Platonic metaphysics where all finite being exists through participation in infinite Being. I will argue created being is a gift, analogically related to an eternal gift-exchange between the persons of the Trinity in the Godhead. All being, even the uncreated Being of God, is the result of dynamic and relational gift-exchange. Creation’s dependence on the gift of being signals a radical asymmetry between creation and God. Sin, as the refusal of the gift, alters the fundamental order of creation’s ontological participation in Being and threatens to reduce creation to a mere natural resource for market exploitation. If all of this is indeed true, then it can be extended into a systematic theology of gift. Specifically, the research can show how seeing the Spirit as a gift might inform a new ecclesiology of the Church as a community of the gifted, the dwelling place of the Spirit and therefore true society. And if the Church and the Spirit mediate the asymmetry between God and creation, then we as the Church can draw humanity into true community through that same gift-exchange, despite the asymmetries of wealth and power present in human community.
The CCS is a truly special gift, unlike any other centre I have been a member of. It is typical to find in an academic community that there are fantastic resources, seminars and lectures to take part in. The CCS stands out to me as one of the best in this regard; during my time I have attended lectures and presentations that were directly relevant to my research on Aquinas. Yet what makes the CCS unique, different from all the rest, is in how it explores the intersections between academia and vocation, between theology and the Church. The faculty take a genuine care in the well-being of their students, and I have been privileged to be a part of the numerous social events and outings that have been provided. The environment is prayerful, scholarly and dynamic; I find myself intellectually stimulated by the integrated approach that the CCS offers of building community and challenging its students theologically. I believe in the mission of the CCS because it embodies values that God has used in my life to confirm my vocational call into academia. For example, the CCS has been a champion of community, diversity, ecumenism and service. Through my time at CCS I have become friends with students and faculty who represent multiple nationalities, experiences and church backgrounds. Each person I meet brings a new and unique perspective to the centre’s academic life and challenges me to widen my theological understanding. These discussions have inevitably crossed into other areas of my life. I find myself deeply attracted to the role of Catholic theology in my service to the church, in my care for family and friends and in my vocational call.
My goal is that I am able to stimulate a receptive ecumenism in my own Protestant denomination by bringing the rich Catholic theological tradition into the discussion. The CCS, having already achieved this by putting diversity and interdisciplinarity at the heart of its academic life, is a great example to me of how to thoughtfully achieve this goal. I am grateful for the opportunity that the CCS has afforded me to pursue this research—through both its academic and financial support. In particular, the generosity of the St Jude Scholarship Fund has allowed me to continue the program here without having to worry about the financial cost of overseas tuition. Without this support it wouldn’t have been possible for me to participate in Durham’s academic life, which is leading the way in the disciplines of Catholic and philosophical theology. I am tremendously humbled and thankful for the opportunity and the privilege of your support.
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