In 2008 Allen Brent (St Edmund's College) was formally admitted to the degree of D.D. The Doctor of Divinity is the most Senior Higher Degree in the University of Cambridge, quite frequently given to honour some distinguished person in public life such as an Archbishop or indeed the outstanding leader of a religious community such as his Highness the Aga Khan(in 2009), Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims (Press Release).
The D.D. is however otherwise awarded to scholars who can demonstrate the standing of their published work in their field. Brent submitted the corpus of his published works as this stood in 1996 when his application first went forward (DD Corpus) to distinguished scholars in the field nominated by Cambridge's Faculty of Divinity.
The D.D. is conferred in the Senate House with the candidate presented to the Vice Chancellor by the Regius Professor of Divinity or his nominee. That Chair was part of the foundation of Henry VIII, whose first occupant was one Edward Wigan, shortly to be occupied by Martin Bucer (1550).
The degree ceremony in Cambridge's Senate House bears all the marks of either the Henrican desire to reform medieval Cambridge with institutions of academic excellent, or of Tudor arrogance and autocracy, depending on one's point of view.
Those presented for Higher Doctorates go first, and first amongst these, in order of seniority, the D.D. Higher Doctorates in science and the humanites were only awarded in the 19th century so they will come last, with Medicine, Law and Music somewhere in between.
The Cambridge Higher Degree ceremony in its order of precedence thus reflects very much the vissitudes of the last 500 years of the university's distinguished, 850 year old history.
I was therefore admitted first at the ceremony presided over by the Vice Chancellor and present by the nominee of the Regius Chair, Professor William Horbury.
In accordance with the Cambridge custom, I was presented in the dress of my last Cambridge degree, the M.A.
I reflected on Tudor superbia when following four or more admissions after me to various Higher Doctorates, it was the turn of the colleges for general PhD admissions in greater number. But those young men and women awaiting their turn were of course next in prededence because they were graduates of King's, St John's and Trinity, colleges which were Henrican foundations (Henry VI and VIII and their mother and grandmother respectively, the Lady Margaret Beaufort). These were foundations from more recent history than, for example, Peterhouse, Christ's or Magdalene, who in strict order of seniority should go first. But clearly the vestiges of Tudor autocracy continue to be felt in the second half of Cambridge University's 850 year old history.
The present Lady Margaret Chair of Divinity (Professor Judith Lieu) honoured me with her presence both at the ceremony and at the dinner afterwards. I reflected on this occassion once again how Henrican superbia was represented here: the foundation of the Lady Margaret Chair is older than the Regius Chair founded by her grandson. Her first professor (1502) was St John Fisher, our patron at Fisher House, the university's Catholic Chapel and Chaplaincy, where I am privileged to serve as an assistant chaplain. Yet it is the junior, Henrican Regius Chair that presents for the DD.
My DD dinner that evening took place at Queens' College, whose college chapel, by the generous consent of the Fellows and Dean, we have been allowed to use during the refurbshments of our Catholic chapel at Fisher House.
It has been a moving experience for me to be able to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, in which Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville had been participants at their foundations of the college (1448 and1465). Such experiences are constant reminders of the sad fragmentation of Christian unity and the damage done to Christian civilization at the European Reformation.
It would be invidious to mention by name all the very distinguished academics who honoured me with their presence at the dinner, but I must mention one:
Judith's immediate predecessor in the Lady Margaret Chair, who courageously had defied the surgeons' tragic prognosis and was able to attend.He was to live a further year before his untimely death (18 July 2009). Graham Stanton combined the outstanding scholarship for which he was awarded the British Academy's Burkitt medal with a deep humanity which benefited all who knew him.
I was also able to propose a toast to Ernst and Caroline Bammel, whom I mention elsewhere, 'to absent friends,' whose untimely death within a year of each other (1995-1996) has been such a tragic loss to Cambridge Patristics.