Westcott House began its life in 1881 as the Cambridge Clergy Training School whose first president was the then Regius Professor of Divinity, Brooke Foss Westcott. A pioneering and respected New Testament scholar himself, the school was the product of Westcott's own passionate concern to raise the standard of clergy education and so took the name of its founder after his death. Over the years the vision has evolved and changed with the times. Nonetheless, in significant ways we keep the theological and ecclesiastical vision of Bishop Westcott alive. Our mission is rooted in his belief that a deep engagement with scripture and participation in the sacramental life must lead to a passionate and prophetic interaction with the world.
At a time when the Church of England was increasingly becoming dominated by two opposing camps, Tractarians and Evangelicals, Westcott was proud to belong to neither. He believed that both of these positions, with their tight doctrinal systems, were inconsistent with the spirit of scripture, which he believed to be "opposed to all dogmatism and full of all application." While being a rigorous and accomplished scholar who published widely on biblical exegesis and doctrine, he lamented the Church's temptation to become over-familiar with Christian teaching and thus fail to apply it: "I only wish men would pay more attention to acting and less to dogmatising." His theological approach is one that therefore carries the modesty appropriate to speaking of the divine; it is sacramental in viewing truth as always greater than our perception of it. But it is also uncompromising in holding that Christians believe in a God who continues to transform the real world.
Westcott's emphasis on the Christian life as biblically-motivated action in the world found its natural expression in a strong emphasis on the incarnation. Deeply inspired by the writings of the Church Fathers, particularly Irenaeus, Westcott saw Christ himself at the heart of Christian faith and regarded the incarnation as the "central event" in the life of the world. This was the event through which God has reconciled the world to Godself and all of humanity to one another. He combined this with the progressive worldview of his age to see Christ as the one in whom all things find their fulfilment – Christus Consummator.
This theology led to a practical outworking of the Gospel that Westcott sought to live out in his own ministry through his aspiration for a transformed world: "The Gospel of Christ the Word Incarnate, of God entering into our life, is indeed good tidings, good tidings to the poor." Westcott's presidency of the Christian Social Union from 1889 did much to draw mainstream, respectable churchgoers into calling for justice for the poor and unemployed in the face of the predominant laissez-faire economic policies. As Bishop of Durham he stepped further into the political arena by intervening in the miners' strike of 1892 and it was prophetic stands such as this that prevented his appointment by Queen Victoria as Archbishop of York.
As a scholar, educator, priest and prophet, Westcott's legacy to the Church of England challenges sectarianism, ignorance, complacency and empty faith. This is the spirit which Westcott House seeks to honour today, drawing students from all backgrounds to prepare them for ministry in this historic centre of Christian learning.