William Porcher Dubose, Priest and Theologian
18 August 1918
(Of special interest to Anglicans)

William Porcher DuBose is a serious candidate for the title of "greatest theologian that the Episcopal Church in the Usa has produced." He was born in South Carolina in 1836, and attended the Military College of South Carolina (now the Citadel) in Charleston (32:48 N 79:58 W), and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (38:02 N 78:29 W). He served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army, and after the War of 1861-1865 served as a parish priest. In 1871 he became a professor at the University of the South (an Episcopal institution) in Sewanee, Tennessee, became Dean of the School of Theology in 1894, retired in 1908, and died in 1918.

He was fluent in Greek, and well-read both in Greek philosophy and in the early Christian fathers. Among his numerous books, the best known are The Soteriology of the New Testament, the Gospel in The Gospels, and The Reason of Life. (Soter is the Greek word for "Savior", and soteriology is the branch of theology that deals with such questions as, "What does it mean to say that Christ saves us?" "How does his death and resurrection do us any good?" "How are the benefits of Christ's work applied to the individual?" and so on.) A quote from one of his articles follows:

God has placed forever before our eyes, not the image but the Very Person of the Spiritual Man. We have not to ascend into Heaven to bring Him down, nor to descend into the abyss to bring Him up, for He is with us, and near us, and in us. We have only to confess with our mouths that He is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead--and raised us in Him-- and we shall live.

A good introduction to his work is A Dubose Reader, ed. Donald Armentrout (1984, University of the South Press, Sewanee, Tennessee) 0-918-769-06-X, paperback 256 pp. $11.

The reader with access to a large library might also want to read The Ecumenical Councils (1977, Gordon Press) $60, ISBN 0-8490-1751-3.

[Remark: Since the subject of Episcopalian clergy in the Confederate Army has come up, I will say something about a bishop who was a general: The Rt. Rev. Maj. Gen. Leonidas K. Polk, Csa. My source is The CIVIL War, a Narrative, by Shelby Foote.

Polk attended West Point, and roomed with Jefferson Davis. Afterwards, he went into the ministry, becoming Bishop of Louisiana. In June, 1861, he happened to be in Richmond, and called on Davis, who promptly said: "We need good officers. I hereby commission you as Major General in command of troops in the Mississippi Valley." Polk, like others, assumed that the war would be over in a matter of weeks, and did not resign his bishopric.

While acting as a general, he did not forget his concerns for the spiritual well-being of his fellow soldiers. One night in May, 1864, on the battlefield at Resaca, Georgia, he baptized and confirmed Gen. John Bell Hood. Hood had lost a leg and the use of an arm at Gettysburg and was unable to kneel, or for that matter to ride a horse unless strapped into the saddle. Polk wanted him to sit for the service, but Hood insisted on standing while supported by crutches. A week later Polk baptized his immediate superior, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston of the Army of Tennessee.

On June 14, 1864, at the battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia, he was struck by a shell and killed instantly. He was 58.]

PRAYER (traditional language)

Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant William Porcher Dubose special gifts of grace to understand the Scriptures and to teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant, we beseech thee, that by this teaching we may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

PRAYER (contemporary language)

Almighty God, who gave to your servant William Porcher DuBose Special gifts of grace to understand the Scriptures and to teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Psalm 19:7-11(12-14) or 37:3-6,32-33
2 Timothy 1:11-14
Luke 24:25-32 (Ep)

Unless otherwise indicated, this biographical sketch was written by James E. Kiefer and any comments about its content should be directed to him. The Biographical Sketches home page has more information.