The 11–12 September “Cambridge Celebration” explored the directions opened up by the work of Williams in areas such as theology, philosophy, spirituality, art, literature, poetry, politics, culture, society, and ecumenism. The proceedings were recorded and can be viewed online.
Two of the panels at the conference dealt with “Eastern Orthodox Theology” and the “Russian Imagination,” areas in which Williams is known for his keen interest, as in his doctoral dissertation on the Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, his writings on the Russian thinker Sergii Bulgakov, and his book about Fyodor Dostoevsky.
During the conference, Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain of the Ecumenical Patriarchate brought a personal message from the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I.
The Patriarch praised Williams as a theologian working at the forefront of ecumenical discussions between East and West, whose work over the years has been marked by profound respect for the liturgical and theological traditions of Orthodoxy.
“Since his doctoral studies, he has meticulously reflected on the Eastern traditions, engaging closely with the thought of key Orthodox theologians of the 20th century such as Vladimir Lossky, St Sophrony of Essex, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Christos Yannaras, and particularly the late Elder Metropolitan of Pergamon, John Zizioulas,” said Patriarch Bartholomew.
Opening the conference, the Regius professor of divinity at Cambridge, David Fergusson, read a message from Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, who praised Williams’ ecumenical commitment and his efforts to promote understanding between Catholics and Anglicans.
“Throughout your life you have combined dedicated pastoral ministry with academic work of exceptional breadth and depth,” said Koch. “The variety of areas of learning being explored during this Cambridge celebration in your honour is testament to your wide ranging scholarship.”
In his closing remarks to the conference, Williams recalled his own theological journey.
“I think that many of the interests that have nourished and stimulated me and have got me working over the years – patristic theology, the problems of Christology, and what you might broadly call the cultural frontier of theology – all converge somewhere around . . . the challenge of showing what I mean by God by talking about humanity, and of course the converse, which is understanding what humanity might mean by talking about God,” he said.
Born in 1950, Williams has a close association with Cambridge. As an undergraduate, he read theology at Christ’s College. After his doctoral work on Vladimir Lossky at Oxford, he became a tutor at Westcott House, Cambridge, followed by his appointments as University Lecturer in Divinity in 1980 and later as Dean of Clare College.
Following six years as professor of divinity at Oxford, Williams was elected bishop of Monmouth in Wales in 1991, then Archbishop of Wales in 1999. In 2002, he became Archbishop of Canterbury, a position he held until 2012. He returned to Cambridge in 2013 as Master of Magdalene College.