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Brooke Foss Westcott Edit Profile

bishop , theologian , biblical scholar

Brooke Foss Westcott was a British bishop, biblical scholar and theologian, serving as Bishop of Durham from 1890 until his death. He is perhaps most known for co-editing The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881.


He was born on 12 January, 1825 in Birmingham. His father, Frederick Brooke Westcott, was a botanist.


Westcott was educated at King Edward VI school, Birmingham, under James Prince Lee, where he formed his friendship with Joseph Barber Lightfoot (q. v. ).

In 1844 Westcott obtained a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge.

He took his degree in January 1848, obtaining double-first honours.

He received in later years the honorary degrees of D. C. L. from Oxford (1881) and of D. D. from Edinburgh (1883).


In mathematics he was twenty-fourth wrangler, Isaac Todhunter being senior.

B. Scott, afterwards headmaster of Westminster.

After obtaining his degree, Westcott remained for four years in residence at Trinity.

The time spent at Cambridge was devoted to most strenuous study.

The inspiring influence of Westcott's intense enthusiasm left its mark upon these three distinguished men; they regarded him not only as their friend and counsellor, but as in an especial degree their teacher and oracle.

He worked at Harrow for nearly twenty years under Dr C. J. Vaughan and Dr Montagu Butler, but while he was alwrays conspicuously successful in inspiring a few senior boys with something of his own intellectual and moral enthusiasm, he was never in the same measure capable of maintaining discipline among large numbers.

In 1855 he published the first edition of his History of the New Testament Canon, which, frequently revised and expanded, .

became the standard English work upon the subject.

In 1859 there appeared his Characteristics of the Gospel Miracles.

In 1860 he expanded his Norrisian essay into an Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, a work remarkable for insight and minuteness of study, as well as for reverential treatment combined with considerable freedom from traditional lines.

To the same period belongs The Gospel of the Resurrection (1866).

It was due to Lightfoot's support almost as much as to his own great merits that Westcott was elected to the chair on the 1st of November 1870.

This was the turning-point of his life.

Supported by his friends Lightfoot and Hort, he threw himself into the new work with extraordinary energy.

His Commentaries on St John's Gospel (1881), on the Epistle to the Hebrews (1889) and the Epistles of St John (1883) resulted from his public lectures.

The wo-rk of lecturing was an intense strain to him, but its influence was immense: to attend one of Westcott's lectures-even to watch him lecturing--was an experience which lifted and solemnized many a man to whom the references to Origen or Rupert of Deutz were almost ludicrously unintelligible.

Between the years 1870 and 1881 Westcott was also continually engaged in work for the revision of the New Testament, and, simultaneously, in the preparation of a new text in conjunction with Hort.

The years in which Westcott, Lightfoot and Hort could thus meet frequently and naturally for the discussion of the work in which they were all three so deeply engrossed formed a happy and privileged period in their lives.

In the year 1881 there appeared the famous Westcott and Hort text of the New Testament, upon which had been expended nearly thirty years of incessant labour.

To this list should also be added the Oxford and Cambridge preliminary examination for candidates for holy orders, with which he was from the first most closely identified.

The success of this very useful scheme was due chiefly to his sedulous interest and help. The departure of Lightfoot to the see of Durham in 1879 was a great blow to Westcott.

Nevertheless it resulted in bringing him into still greater prominence.

Shortly afterwards, having previously resigned his canonry at Peterborough, he was appointed by the crown to a canonry at Westminster, and accepted the position of examining chaplain to Archbishop Benson.

His little edition of the Paragraph Psalter (1879), arranged for the use of choirs, and his admirable lectures on the Apostles' Creed, entitled Historic Faith (1883), are reminiscences of his vacations spent at Peterborough.

He held his canonry zl Westminster in conjunction with the regius professorship.

His sermons were generally portions of a series; and to this period belong the volumes Christus Consummator (1886) and Social Aspects of Christianity (1887).

In March 1890 he was nominated to the see of Durham, there to follow in the steps of his beloved friend Lightfoot, who had died in December 1889.

The change of work and surroundings could hardly have been greater.

He was a staunch supporter of the co-operative movement.

He continually insisted upon the necessity of promoting the cause of foreign missions, and he gladly gave four of his sons for the work of the Church in India.

His energy was remarkable to the very end.

But during the last two or three years of his life he aged considerably.

He preached a farewell sermon to the miners in Durham cathedral at their annual festival on the 20th of July.

His literary sympathies were wide.

He would never tire of praising Euripides, while few men had given such minute study to the writings of Robert Browning.

He followed with delight the development of natural science studies at Cambridge.

He spared no pains to be accurate, or to widen the basis of his thought.

Thus he devoted one summer vacation to the careful analysis of Comte's Politique positive.

He studied assiduously The Sacred Books of the East, and earnestly contended that.

The outside world was wont to regard him as a mystic; and the mystical, or sacramental, view of life enters, it is true, very largely into his teaching.

Maurice, for whom he had profound regard.

But in other respects he wras very practical; and his strength of will, his learning and his force of character made him really masterful in influence wherever the subject under discussion was of serious moment.

Partial views attract and exist in virtue of the fragment of truth-be it great or small-w'hich they include; and it is the work of the theologian to seize this no less than to detect the first spring of error.

He w'ho believes that every judgment on the highest matters different from his own is simply a heresy must have a mean idea of the faith; and while the qualifications, the reserve, the lingering sympathies of the real student make him in many cases a poor controversialist, it may be said that a mere controversialist cannot be a real theologian " (Lessons from Work, pp. 84-85).

The principles which are explained in Hort's introduction to the text had been arrived at after years of elaborate investigation and continual correspondence and discussion between the two friends.


  • He was practically the founder of the Christian Social Union.

    He occupied a great position for which he was supremely fitted, and at a juncture in the reform of university studies when a theologian of liberal views, but universally respected for his massive learning and his devout and single-minded character, would enjoy a unique opportunity for usefulness.

    His lectures were generally on Biblical subjects.

    His commentaries rank with Lightfoot's as the best type of Biblical exegesis produced by the English Church in the 19th century.



The reforms in the regulations for degrees in divinity, the formation and first revision of the new theological tripos, the inauguration of the Cambridge mission to Delhi, the institution of the Church Society (for the discussion of theological and ecclesiastical questions by the younger men), the meetings for the divinity faculty, the organization of the new Divinity School and Library and, later, the institution ef the Cambridge Clergy Training School, were all, in a very real degree, the result of Westcott.

As a piece of consecutive reasoning upon a fundamental Christian doctrine it deservedly attracted great attention.


He had in this respect many points of similarity with the Cambridge Platonists of the 17 th century, and withD.

His theological work was always distinguished by the place which he assigned to Divine Revelation in Holy Scripture and in the teaching of history.

His own studies have largely contributed in England to the better understanding of the doctrines of the Resurrection and the Incarnation.


In 1883 Westcott was elected to a professorial fellowship at King's.


In 1852 he became an assistant master at Harrow, and soon afterwards he married Miss Sarah Louisa Mary Whithard.

His wife, who had been for some years an invalid, died rather suddenly on the 28th of May 1901, and he dedicated to her memory his last book, Lessons from Work (1901).

They had seven sons and three daughters, including Frederick, who followed his father into the ministry in the Church of England, was headmaster of Sherborne School, Archdeacon of Norwich, and author of multiple books on the Letters of Saint Paul.

F. J. A. Hort

Sarah Louisa Mary Whithard

Frederick Westcott