The Levy Memorial Lectures
ARTHUR MICHAEL RAMSEY:
All Saints Church
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2015
Reproduced by kind permission of All Saints Church, New York
THE LEVY MEMORIAL LECTURES: 1989
The three addresses printed here were delivered at All Saints Church in New York City on January 30, January 31, and February 1, 1989, by the Rev'd Dr. John Macquarrie. The rector and vestry of All Saints Church invited Dr. Macquarrie to deliver three lectures at the parish and suggested that they recognize and honor the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, who died in 1988.
John Macquarrie is widely regarded as the foremost theologian in the Anglican Communion today. Born and raised in Scotland, he came in the 1960's to New York as Professor of Systematic Theology at the Union Theological Seminary. While there he became an Anglican and was ordained deacon and priest. He was then called back to Oxford as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church. He remained at Oxford until his retirement two years ago and now lives in Headington, just outside Oxford.
Professor Macquarrie has produced a large body of theological and religious writing including many books and a great many articles. Perhaps his major work is Principles of Christian Theology. He has been a visiting lecturer all over the world and is currently working on a book on Christology.
These lectures were made possible through the Levy Fund, a bequest made to All Saints Church to be used as a scholarship fund in memory of Walter Neville Levy. Walter Levy was a member of this parish in the early 1960's, teaching church school and working with our young people while he completed his undergraduate work at Columbia University. He is remembered as a quiet, devout, attractive young man. When American involvement in Vietnam increased, he went to the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School and was commissioned Second Lieutenant. He was sent to Vietnam in August of 1965 and killed in action on September 17, 1965. He was posthumously decorated for gallantry. He was buried from All Saints Church and interred in Arlington National Cemetery. Lieutenant Levy's parents left a substantial sum to the church to be used for educational purposes in his memory.
R. DeWitt Mallary
I. Arthur Michael Ramsey (1904-88): Life and Times.
 In 1961 Arthur Michael Ramsey became the one hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury, thus joining a succession of distinguished ecclesiastics that began in the year 597 with Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to organize the Church in England. The line has continued through the centuries, even through England's relatively mild Reformation, into modern times when the Archbishop of Canterbury is also leader and focus of unity for the worldwide Anglican communion. Many people would gladly acknowledge that among the holders of this high office in the twentieth century, Michael Ramsey was one of the most outstanding.
There must be a great many people, myself among them, who still vividly remember the enthronement of the new Archbishop. For the first time in the long history of the see of Canterbury, the miracle of television made it possible for those living at long distances from the ancient city to share in the occasion almost as fully as if we had been actually present. Television was still quite a novelty at that time, and it symbolized the new world that had come into being--the world of instant communication and jet travel, the world that has become, in the famous words of Marshall McLuhan, a large village. The far-flung Anglican flock did not feel quite so far-flung, but was conscious of a new closeness both within itself and in relation to other Christian communions and even to the great non-Christian religions of the globe. In this new world, a new kind of primate was needed, a man of extremely broad sympathies who could relate to the very different groups of human beings who nowadays comprise the Anglican communion. Michael Ramsey rose to the demands of the primacy in a superb way. To be Archbishop had always been demanding, but in the enlarged context of the contemporary Church, the demands have become overwhelming.
But I think Michael Ramsey had the resources to meet them. In the first place, he had the great good fortune to look like a bishop, or even an Archbishop! He was a massive, towering figure, and when clad in cope and mitre and holding his pastoral staff, he seemed to be the very embodiment of the Church. Again, he was [2/3] blessed with the sheer physical strength required in a modern primate. Year in, year out, he was like Paul "in journeyings often," though perhaps not quite so many as Pope John Paul II. If he ever suffered from jetlag, that was not apparent, and wherever he went, he carried out programmes so taxing that many a younger man would have been exhausted by them. Of course, we should remember that he was only fifty-seven when he went to Canterbury, a relatively young age for that appointment. But he looked much older than he actually was, and that was part of his mystique as an Archbishop. It was not that he looked old, rather, he looked timeless, enduring, like the Church itself. Then, one must speak also of his intellectual powers. He brought to his office a penetrating mind and great theological learning. A former Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, he already enjoyed the solid respect of the academic community. These intellectual gifts were to prove of great importance, because it was not very long after Michael Ramsey's enthronement that there broke out, first in England and then in other provinces of the Church one of the most radical theological controversies of modern times--I mean, the arguments over what was called the "death of God." It would have gone ill with the Anglican Communion if we had not had in those difficult years a leader who was theologically well equipped to respond to the onslaught on traditional Christian beliefs. Indeed, although we are leaving aside until the next lecture the consideration of Archbishop Ramsey as a scholar and teacher, it was in his academic role that he seemed to be happiest, and those who have been present on occasions when he engaged in informal theological discussion, sitting in a chair surrounded by professors or clergy or students or laypeople, answering their questions courteously and unpretentiously, have seen him at his best. I shall not try to enumerate all the other gifts that Dr. Ramsey brought to the see of Canterbury and to the service of the Church, but there is one thing, perhaps the most important of all, that must not be omitted. Michael Ramsey was a man of great spiritual depth. His life was rooted in prayer, worship and a sense of the reality of God, yet this was all tempered with a sense of humour which prevented it from ever degenerating into pomposity or unreal pietism. This spiritual depth was just as important for his leadership in an unsettled time as was his intellectual and theological power. One of the worrying features about the Church in [3/4] recent decades--and it has affected even members of the episcopate--is that in this strange new era of rapid change and future shock, churchmen are liable to be "carried about with every wind of doctrine" and to embrace the latest fashions in morals, liturgy and Christian practice generally, however superficial and even dubious these fashions might be. When this unsettlement hit the Church, as it did with especial force in the nineteen-sixties, it was very important to have a leader who was willing to learn about the new trends and even to be sympathetic to whatever was valid in them, but who would also keep a firm hold on the essentials of Christian faith and spirituality, a leader who through it all could preserve not only sanity but serenity. Such a one, I think, was Michael Ramsey.
He came from the kind of background that has produced many Anglican bishops and clergy. Born on November 14, 1904, in the calm precincts of the university town of Cambridge, he belonged to an academic family. His father, Arthur Stanley Ramsey, was a Fellow and then President of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Young Michael had a slightly older brother of great brilliance, Frank, who had been born in 1903. Frank became a philosopher of great brilliance, and was one of the first people at Cambridge who realized the significance of Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a book so difficult that few people have understood it, either then or now, was published in 1922. Frank was already well-known and might have been one of the great British philosophers of the twentieth century had he not died in 1930 when he was only in his twenty-seventh year. I have heard Michael speak of this older brother with great respect, even the awe that is due to an older brother, and I think that his early death was a tremendous shock and grief to Michael. So far Michael's life had followed a fairly uneventful course, and was turning out very much as one might have expected for one born into his position. He had been sent to Repton, one of England's famous public schools, and from there he went up to Cambridge as a scholar of Magdalene College. He began studying for a degree in classics, and in 1925 he completed the first part of the tripos and was awarded second class honours. He had shown a lot of promise, and it must have been a disappointment when he found himself assigned to the second class. But perhaps his heart just was not in the subject. It was about this time that he made a trip to the United States, and it turned out to be a turning-point in his life, as far as [4/5] his public career was concerned. All of us who have lived in New York know the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in 46th Street, just a few yards from all the noise and bustle of Times Square. In those days the Rector was Father Barry, a devoted priest whose spiritual labours for the parish are still remembered. You can go into St. Mary's at virtually any hour of any day, and you will find a few people scattered around, saying their prayers in the quiet atmosphere of the place. If you had gone in on a certain day in the nineteen-twenties, you would have seen there a tall young man from England, none other than Michael Ramsey. I have heard him tell how it was in St. Mary's Church that day that he resolved to offer himself for the priesthood of the Church of England. So when he did the second part of the tripos at Cambridge and completed his degree, it was no longer in classics but in theology, and it was not a second class that he was awarded but a first class. He had found the subject that really gripped him, and what was more important, he had found the vocation to which he would wholeheartedly devote the rest of his life. I suppose Michael Ramsey, like every other Christian priest, knew the highs and the lows, the moments of exaltation and the times of depression, but he came through them with his lofty conception of priestly ministry still burning brightly. It was almost fifty years after that day in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin that he wrote a book entitled The Christian Priest Today, in which he described the priest as the "man of the eucharist" and expressed his belief that in celebrating the eucharist, the priest is more than just the representative of the people, for rather, in taking, breaking, and consecrating, he acts in Christ's name, and in the name not only of a particular congregation but of the whole Catholic Church down the ages. [I.1 The Christian Priest Today pp. 9-10] In our time, when a secular anti-clericalism seems to have penetrated even into the churches, it is important to hear a person of Ramsey's stature reaffirm the catholic doctrine of priesthood as it has always been understood in the Anglican tradition, and this is especially important if we hope to attract suitable candidates for the ministry.
Michael Ramsey went on to Cuddesdon Theological College, near Oxford, for his ministerial training after completing his degree at Cambridge. Cuddesdon has often been called the "top drawer" theological college in England, and certainly it seems to supply most of our bishops. After completing his course there, Michael Ramsey was ordained deacon and served his title at Liverpool parish church. In those days, Liverpool was still a great [5/6] seaport and industrial city, and young Ramsey, who had up till that time moved mainly in quiet middle-class areas, was now exposed to working-class England. The diocese of Liverpool has been traditionally evangelical in churchmanship, but the old parish church of St. Nicholas, down by the waterfront, was definitely catholic in outlook, as was of course Michael Ramsey himself. Liverpool parish church had, in fact, always been something of a thorn in the side of the bishop. This tension dated back to the rivalry of two great English Prime Ministers of Queen Victoria's time. The bishopric of Liverpool was founded when Disraeli was Prime Minister, and being strongly "low church" in his opinions, Disraeli engineered the appointment, as first bishop, of John Charles Ryle, an aggressive low churchman who made things very uncomfortable for any tractarian clergy in the diocese. It so happened that soon after Ryle's appointment, Disraeli's government was defeated, and his arch-rival, Gladstone, became Prime Minister. Gladstone was strongly tractarian in his sympathies, but it was too late for him to do anything about Ryle's appointment to Liverpool. However, he did hit on a plan which was perfectly feasible under the English system. He secured the patronage of the parish church of Liverpool (which still remains in his family to this day). Patronage gives the right to choose the rector, so Gladstone put in a high churchman of his choice. The parish church was at that time the pro-cathedral of the new diocese so the rector was able to cause a great deal of frustration to Bishop Ryle by ensuring that the pro-cathedral staunchly upheld the catholic cause. It was in this cockpit of civil and ecclesiastical politics that Michael Ramsey began his service in the ministry of the Church of England.
I have stressed the gifts which Ramsey brought to the ministry and I do not believe that I have exaggerated them. He was, as we know, destined to go on from his curacy in Liverpool to the highest office in the Church. In each of the positions that he held during an active career spanning between forty and fifty years, he placed these gifts fully at the disposal of the Church. He never spared himself in his devotion to his duties. It would have been wonderful if I could have said that as this richly gifted man pursued his way in the Church, through two university professorships and three famous dioceses, he was encouraged by seeing the Church flourish in response to his ministrations; that many in this semi-pagan land of England turned to the Christian faith; that the life [6/7] and dedication of the Church was deepened; that young people were offering themselves in great numbers for Christian service at home or overseas. Alas, as we all know, that was not the picture. During all the years of Ramsey's ministry, as, indeed, during all the years of many of us here who have served in the same ministry, Christians have had to struggle against the stream. For the first time in its history, Europe, traditionally the home and seedbed of Christianity, has become a largely godless society. The falling away has had a long history, and it has been continuous since the end of World War I. Since the nineteen-sixties, it seems to have accelerated. Statistics do not tell everything, but they should not be ignored, and church people are merely deceiving themselves if they say numbers do not matter, only quality, for numbers and quality are linked together. As far as the Church of England is concerned, the numbers tell a story of decline. Like the Titanic, the great ship is slowly going down. The number of Easter communicants, and therefore, one must suppose, the still smaller number of churchmen and churchwomen who are fully committed, has steadily grown smaller, though the total population has risen quite substantially. The number of confirmations, and therefore the number of those who will be playing a full part in the life of the Church in the future, has slumped very badly. The number of those offering themselves for fulltime ministry in the Church has also dropped, and when occasionally it has gone up again, the improvement has lasted for only a short time, with the result that our seminaries or theological colleges move from one crisis to another, and some of them have simply faded out. I don't want to sound too gloomy, and the picture I have drawn is not the whole picture. There are still many bright spots in the Church of England, but they tend to be the exceptions. The general picture is one of decline, and this is true not only of England but of Western Europe generally. So the years of Dr. Ramsey's service were very difficult years, and the Church of England might have found itself in an even worse plight had it not been for his leadership.
Innumerable attempts have been made to diagnose the trouble that afflicts the Christian churches in the west, and I do not propose to get into that question in this lecture. Strangely enough, for a good many years the trend in the United States was the opposite of what we have been experiencing in Europe, but now it looks as if the American churches are going the same way. The Episcopal Church in the United States has lost roughly the same percentage [7/8] of members as has the Church of England since the nineteen-sixties. Both churches have lost one third of their communicant membership. Since these two churches have been following different courses on a good many matters, we see how difficult it is to say what the reasons for the decline are. If you follow the American way or the English way, you still come out at the same place.
It was against this difficult and sometimes depressing background that Dr. Ramsey had to fight his way. In 1972 all the major Churches of the British Isles came together in conference in Birmingham to consider the future. David Edwards wrote an account of that conference, which of course fell near to the end of Michael Ramsey's time as Archbishop of Canterbury, and Edwards' summing up was that "The basic problem confronting the churches in the nineteen-seventies is unbelief." [I.2 The British Churches Turn to the Future, p.3] It is not that in England or western Europe people have become explicitly atheistic. It is just that they do not see any need for God or religion in today's technological society. Perhaps, as American sociologist Peter Berger has predicted, the experience of how impoverished a purely secular life is will eventually turn the tide. But there is no sign of that yet. So perhaps the arguments over churchmanship that were still simmering in Liverpool at the time when Michael Ramsey was there were no more than a storm in a teacup. The really big storms over belief and theology were to break later in his ministry.
He spent only two years in Liverpool, and then, as was to be expected in a man of his brilliance, he was called to a teaching post in the theological college at Lincoln. Whatever the reason, Lincoln was able to attract some first-class scholars at that time in its history. To mention only two of them, Eric Abbott, later Dean of Westminster, was there, and also Eric Mascall, the philosophical theologian, later professor at King's College, London. Michael Ramsey continued teaching there during most of the nineteen-thirties, years in which first, economic depression, and then, the growing threat of war, were casting a shadow over the western world. It was during this period of his life at Lincoln that Ramsey was able to build the fabric of his theological knowledge and to learn the strengths and weaknesses of human nature as he prepared candidates for the sacred ministry.
After two years as vicar of a church in Cambridge, he was called to his first major position, professor of divinity in the University of Durham, and canon of the ancient cathedral there. A major factor in his appointment had been the publication in 1936 of his first [8/9] book, The Gospel and the Catholic Church. I am inclined to say that this first book was possibly also his best. Certainly, it is the best exposition and defence of Anglicanism that I know, and is quite likely to remain so. I shall not, however, discuss it tonight, for Ramsey's theological writings are so important that I intend to devote a separate lecture to them. Further books appeared during his years at Durham and I shall mention just one of them--The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (1949). I mention it because its title sums up central interests in Ramsey's thought. I do not think I ever heard him give a sermon or deliver a lecture without that word "glory" coming into it, probably several times. He was acutely aware of the unspeakable splendour of God, and aware too of how the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured by that splendour. These ideas are perhaps given more prominence in the Eastern Orthodox Church than in the Christianity of the west and, of course, Michael Ramsey was keenly interested in the Orthodox Church and encouraged efforts to promote closer relations between Anglicans and Orthodox. One very important event from the years of the Durham professorship was his marriage in 1942 to Joan Hamilton, who shared his life to the full until his death more than forty years later.
Michael Ramsey spent ten years in his chair at Durham, then in 1950 he went to be Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. He had been only two years at Cambridge when he was called back again to Durham to be bishop of the diocese. It seems that at that time there was almost a tug-o'-war between the north and south of England for the possession of Michael Ramsey! Himself a product of the south and of an academic family, some people wondered how he would get on in Durham diocese, which had a large number of coalminers in its population and was heavily industrialized. However, Michael had got to know the area when he was professor there, and Durham has had a long tradition of learned bishops. And although the diocese is industrial in its eastern half, the west rises into the Pennine hills and is an area of unspoiled beauty. But he was not allowed to settle down. He was only four years in Durham when he was appointed Archbishop of York, and Primate of the northern Province of the Church of England.
The climax of his career came in 1961 when he was translated to Canterbury to succeed Geoffrey Fisher as Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. It would be hard to imagine [9/10] two archbishops more unlike one another than Fisher and Ramsey, but some of the moves begun by Archbishop Fisher spilled over into Michael Ramsey's time, and had quite an influence on his work as Primate. Back in 1946, Fisher had preached an important sermon at Cambridge in which he had urged the various free church bodies in England to "take episcopacy into their system" as the first essential step toward reunion with the Church of England. This had led to Anglican-Methodist negotiations on a plan of union, and this came to a head during Archbishop Ramsey's time. Also, in 1960 Archbishop Fisher had paid a visit to Pope John XXIII, the first personal contact between an Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope since the Reformation, and this was to open the way to the serious conversations between Rome and Canterbury, which are still going on and will, we hope, produce results. But these ecumenical questions were so much at the heart of Ramsey's primacy that, as in the case also of his theology, we shall leave the matter aside for the present and devote a separate lecture to it.
It was in 1962, the year following his appointment to Canterbury, that I first met Michael Ramsey. The meeting took place in New York City. I had recently come to Union Theological Seminary as Professor of Systematic Theology, and during a visit to the United States, Michael Ramsey visited the Seminary and met with the faculty. I mentioned earlier that one of his most effective ways of operating was to sit down in the middle of a room and engage in informal theological discussion and this was the first time I had seen him in action. Many of the questions addressed to him concerned those ecumenical matters in which he was known to be interested, and not surprisingly the Anglican-Methodist conversations were mentioned. I remember very distinctly what Michael Ramsey said at that time. He said that the aim of these conversations was to enable the Methodists to become a uniate branch of the Church of England. As many of you know, the uniate churches of eastern Europe are in full communion with Rome, but have retained their own liturgies, their own canon law, and various other features which make them resemble the Orthodox churches of the East more than they do the western Church of Rome. Similarly, what Michael Ramsey and others visualized in the earlier stages of the Anglican-Methodist conversations was not a full union or the formation of a new united denomination, but a relationship of intercommunion in which each of the participating [10/11] churches would maintain its own identity, but would fully accept and be fully accepted by, the other church. As we shall see later, this never happened. It was in 1966 that Michael Ramsey made his historic visit to Rome, and in that year the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission was set up, to explore the possibilities of a closer relationship between Rome and Canterbury. The Pope at that time was Paul VI, and he and Michael seemed naturally drawn to each other. Perhaps the most dramatic moment during their meetings was that in which Paul took off his ring and placed it on Michael's finger. That symbolic act seemed to pledge not just the two patriarchs but the two communions to something analogous to marriage. I remember that not very long after this happened, a very conservative French Roman Catholic, perhaps he was a Lefebvrist, came to Oxford and engaged me and some other theologians in debate. He took the old-fashioned view that outside of the Roman communion there can be only error, and although I quoted to him statements of Paul VI expressing an affirmative attitude to Anglicanism, he did not accept that they were seriously intended or that the Pope extended any kind of recognition to the Church of England. He kept coming back to the condemnation of Anglican orders in 1896, and admittedly this is an embarrassment. At last I thought I would remind him of Paul's act in giving his ring to Michael Ramsey, and for the first time that evening I seemed to score a point. He admitted that this act had to be taken seriously and was a significant gesture as between the two churches.
It was about this time that I think I can say with honesty and without boasting that I became Michael Ramsey's favourite theologian, and from then on had regular and friendly contacts with him. It was in 1966 that I published the first edition of my Principles of Christian Theology, written from an Anglican point of view. The late Canon Herbert Waddams, of Canterbury, happened to be in New York soon after publication, and I gave him a copy of the book. You can imagine my surprise when not long after he wrote to me to say the Archbishop had borrowed my book, and he was rather afraid he might not get it back again! The Archbishop was filled with enthusiasm, and soon wrote to invite me to be a consultant at the approaching Lambeth Conference of 1968. It was the first time that Lambeth had consultants to advise the bishops, no doubt following the example of the Roman bishops at the famous Vatican II Council. I went to Lambeth with high expectations, [11/12] but it turned out to be a rather disappointing occasion. In the Episcopal and Anglican churches, we think very highly of bishops, but when you have about five hundred of them all gathered together in one place and a lot of them wanting to talk too often and at too great length, you begin to have some doubts about the episcopal office. It was, I think, no accident that two of the American observers at the Conference came home and wrote a report which they entitled, The Long Shadows of Lambeth IX.
Michael Ramsey retired from the see of Canterbury in 1974; the year in which he attained his seventieth birthday. He came to live in a village a few miles out of Oxford, the village of Cuddesdon where he had been a theological student in the college there about fifty years earlier. I met him from time to time at that period in his life. Pope Paul VI, I learned, was very puzzled to know why Michael had retired, and wondered what he did with his time, now that all those multifarious and pressing duties were no longer clamouring for attention. Actually Michael was doing many things, not least, going into the college and talking informally to the students. I remember one day going over to the college to speak to the students on the eucharist, and being somewhat embarrassed to see Michael Ramsey sitting in the audience. I felt even more embarrassed when someone asked me at the question period, "What is virtualism?" As I have no doubt all of you know, virtualism is an obscure eucharistic doctrine that has been held by some evangelical Anglican clergy, but I have a feeling that my answer was even more obscure than the doctrine.
Michael Ramsey's retirement was a somewhat restless time in his life. After quite a short time at Cuddesdon, he seemed to feel again the call of the north, and went to live in Durham, the scene of his first professorship and of his first episcopate. There too he would take part in student gatherings, and there too I turned up one evening to address a meeting and found Michael in the audience. Fortunately, this time no one asked me, "What is virtualism?" It was in Durham that his health began to fail, though fortunately his mind remained clear and inquiring until the last. In 1988 he returned to Oxford. I had lunch with him, and some very interesting conversation, only three or four weeks before his death, though of course we did not know that. In fact, we made plans that I would go down and read to him some of the latest theology, and discuss it with him. But these plans were never fulfilled. He died in his eighty-fourth year, and throughout the [12/13] Anglican communion and beyond, we sadly realized that a truly great Christian leader had passed from our midst.
II. Arthur Michael Ramsey, Theologian.
In this lecture, I propose to consider Michael Ramsey's contributions to theology. He spent more than twenty years of his life in fulltime theological teaching, and he always remained the scholar, even down to his mannerisms and ways of speaking--of which I can only say that they were both indescribable and unforgettable. Unquestionably, it was a very good thing for the Church of England and for the whole Anglican communion that this gentle scholarly man was dragged out from his academic retreat and made to assume the heavy burdens of episcopacy and then of primacy. I suppose that like most scholars he would gladly have been left in peace among his books, spared from the constant and often trivial demands of administration, conferences, committees and the like. But Michael Ramsey was first and foremost a priest, dedicated to the service of the Church, and so when the people of God invited him to assume high duties of leadership, he did not demur. But his long period of immersion in theology, at Lincoln, at Durham, and at Cambridge, had stamped certain habits on his mind, and he did not forsake scholarship but made his mark as one of the great Anglican scholar-bishops--unfortunately, an endangered species nowadays. He continued to look at the problems of the Church primarily from a theological point of view; and, to an extent that can only be called amazing, he continued, amid all the duties of his high offices, to keep himself up to date by reading the latest theology and by himself writing several very perceptive books even during his busiest years.
What kind of theologian was he? I think it would be fair to say that he was thoroughly Anglican. In one sense, there is no such thing as Anglican theology, because at the time of the Reformation of the church in England, there was no dominant figure, no Luther or Calvin or Zwingli, who imprinted his distinctive mark on the thinking of the new form of Christianity, as had happened in most of the European countries that had experienced a Reformation. The leaders of the English Church believed that they were not introducing any new religion but simply continuing the ancient catholic faith that had already been known in the country for a thousand years, but needed now to be purged of some of the [13/14] abuses that had crept in during medieval times. The ideal was to return to the pure faith and worship of the undivided Church as it had existed in the first five centuries, or thereabout. This conception of the Church of England profoundly affected the kind of training that was given to its clergy in the centuries after the Reformation, and, to a considerable extent, even today. Those studying for the ministry were given in the first instance a thorough grounding in biblical studies, and the Anglican contribution to these studies has been outstanding--less radical, perhaps, than the German contribution, but no less scholarly. Then, there was a heavy concentration of the Fathers of the Church, those thinkers who had laid the foundations of Christian theology in the first few centuries of the Church's existence--Ignatius, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine and a great many others, together with the pronouncements of the great universal councils of the Church that had met in these centuries to settle disputes over points of faith. Along with this went the study of liturgy, the living vehicle in which the Church's faith finds expression, and of which the Prayer Book of the Church of England is a notable example. Along with all this went an interest in history, in the trials and the triumphs of the Church through the centuries, bringing with it a sense of respect for the Church and a healthy pride in its past. Although there may not be a distinctive Anglican theology, in the sense of a body of specific doctrines that distinguish Anglicans from other Christians, there is a distinctive Anglican method in theology, a way of going about the problems. It is based on the scriptures, as the original witness to the events on which Christianity is founded, the tradition as the process of unfolding the understanding of these events in the corporate mind of the Church, and finally on reason and conscience as people of each new generation sought to incorporate these truths into their own experience. It was this training that Michael Ramsey received in his student years at Cambridge and Cuddesdon, and on the whole he remained true to it. As I mentioned in my first lecture, the book that made his name was published in 1936. It was entitled, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, and even that title is very Anglican. It expresses the conviction of the Church of England that the Bible is central in our faith, yet at the same time the Bible exists in the context of the Church and must be read as the Church reads it and not according to one's individual preferences. Obviously, however, one of the [14/15] troubles about the Church of England and its threefold basis for doctrine and practice has been that from the very beginning some people within it have attached more importance to one of the three governing points than have others. In the early years, there were Puritans who exalted the Bible above everything else and had more sympathy with Calvinism than with the authentic spirit of Anglicanism. Then there were traditionalists, who looked back with nostalgia to the old pre-Reformation religion. And finally there were liberals or rationalists who tended to sit lightly to both Bible and tradition and whose concern was to adapt Anglicanism to accord with what they took to be the progress of ideas. Each of these groups or parties has had its times of influence in Anglican history. In the time of Elizabeth I, the Puritans were very influential, and their influence continued among the Evangelicals of later times, including the present. The first half of the seventeenth century was the golden age of classical Anglicanism, conscious of its catholic tradition, and though it faded out in the following century, it came back with new vigour in the Oxford Movement of 1833 and the following decades. The rationalist point of view had its strongest influence in the time of the deists, and liberal views were strong again in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet I think it would be true to say that each of these three parties has had a certain respect for the others. All three have their place within the broad bosom of Anglicanism, and it would be loss to the Church of England and its vaunted comprehensiveness if any of these parties were to disappear. It is the conversation, sometimes, even, controversy that goes on among them that keeps Anglican theology alive, in spite of its preoccupation with the Christian thought of the early centuries.
Michael Ramsey belonged to the catholic tradition, and this is clearly discernible in The Gospel and the Catholic Church. But his attachment to the Tractarians was not marred by narrowness or lack of appreciation for the virtues of other points of view, and this was especially the case after he attained to episcopal rank and had to minister to the pluriform body of human beings who all claim the name of Anglicans. Thus, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, though it is unashamedly catholic in its outlook, is not a polemical book. Rather the reverse. It is trying to bring together those whom we would call evangelicals and whose primary concern is with the Bible and the proclamation of the word, and those catholics who certainly prize the Bible but believe that it [15/16] has its home within the Church and the worship of the Church. The central message of the book is, in fact, that Church and Bible need each other. It was the early Church that brought the Bible into being, that wrote the gospels and epistles to preserve a vivid living memory of Christ, and that also decided the canon of the New Testament, that is to say, which writings were to be included in the New Testament as authoritative witness to Jesus, and which were to be excluded because they were regarded as unsound in one way or another. Yet once the New Testament had taken shape, the Church submitted itself to it as the primary authority in matters of belief and practice, and tried to ensure that its own traditions and its own innovations would at no point contradict the teaching of scripture. I think one can find quite a close analogy to this in the history of the United States. The founding fathers brought the constitution into being, and decided what was to go into it and what was to be left out. But once that constitution had been agreed and ratified, it was given an authority, and even Congress, the representatives of the people, cannot pass laws that would violate the constitution. This does not mean that either the Church or the United States is frozen in a pattern determined in the past, for both the Bible and the constitution are creative documents that keep yielding new interpretations, though of course one has always got to judge whether the new interpretations really are interpretations rooted in the authoritative documents themselves.
A few quotations from The Gospel and the Catholic Church will make clear to us the salient points of Michael Ramsey's theology, and although in this book he stated them quite explicitly, they were implicit as a background to all his other teaching and writing. First, there is the central importance of the Church, the community of the faithful, the corporate entity within which all Christian experience takes place. For Ramsey, it was indeed true that there is "no salvation outside of the Church, Nulla salus extra ecclesiam." The word "Church" is being used here in a broad, inclusive sense, signifying not only the company of the baptized but a wider community of faith, embracing all those who have even a minimal trust in God. Christianity is not a solitary or individual matter. The Church is not an optional extra in Christian faith, not something that is added on because, from a practical point of view, it is good for Christians to associate and work together. In one of his boldest utterances, Ramsey declares: [16/17] "The fact of Christ includes the fact of the Church." That teaching had been stated centuries earlier in Augustine's famous words that there is one Christ, who is both the head and the body. And it has been restated in recent years in the United States where there is so much individualism by John Knox, who insists that to be "in Christ," in Paul's famous phrase, is not to be understood as a private inward relation to Christ, but means to be "in the Church," in the body of Christ. So because of this profound conviction that the Church and Christ were inseparable from one another, we find Ramsey criticizing every kind of individualism in Christianity. Paul's struggle to assert his apostolic authority over the church at Corinth, where the eucharist had degenerated into a disorderly melee (I have heard Ramsey quoting one of his Cambridge teachers who said that the Corinthian eucharist must have been like a "bump supper" in a Cambridge College) was seen by Ramsey as the need to bring the individualistic religious experiences of the people of Corinth into the structures of the Church. He similarly criticized those aspects of Protestantism which reduce the role of the Church as the sphere in which Christians are to grow into the fullness of their faith. Thus he says about Luther that he prized the initial individual experience of justification and conversion so much that he failed to recognize the need for the discipline and order of the Church, by which the soul is led along the road of sanctification. But he did not only insist on the church as an integral and indispensable element in Christianity. It was the catholic Church that he was talking about, the Church as it existed for fifteen centuries before the Reformation, the Church in the form to which the great majority of Christians in both east and west still belong today. That was the Church as it had been described in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral approved by the Lambeth Conference of 1888, the Church as resting on the foundations of the Bible, the sacraments, the ancient creeds and the apostolic ministry represented by the episcopate. Again, Ramsey was very bold in declaring his position: "We are led to affirm," he declared, "that the episcopate is of the esse of the Church." To illustrate his point, he again summons Paul to witness: "Paul the apostle is part of the structure: not by his eloquence or distinction or personal gifts, but by his office as apostle he represents to the local communities the fact of the one universal ecclesia in which they die and live. 'Paul called to be an apostle unto the Church of God which is at Corinth.' [17/18] The structure of catholicism is an utterance of the gospel." He also reminds his readers of the Church's long struggle with Gnostics and other heretics in the early centuries, and that the instruments which it used in this struggle were, on the one hand, the sacred writings gathered together into the canon of the New Testament, and the succession of bishops in each of the episcopal sees who guaranteed the unity and continuity of the Church, and its faithfulness to the original Church of the apostles.
There is one other important point that needs to be mentioned in Ramsey's version of the Church and the Christian faith. Though we trace the history of the Church and cherish those things, scriptures, sacraments, creeds, ministry, by which its life has been nourished, we must not be merely backward-looking. Sometimes this has been a danger for Anglicans. But the greatest glory of the Church is still in the future. We are being beckoned into a future which is still hidden from us and which will surpass anything we have known. In Ramsey's words, "The more the Church knows, the more it is aware of a great unknown that lies ahead." This was an essential part of his teaching, and I remember how he gave vivid expression to it in a speech at Lambeth 1968. [II.1 The Gospel and the Catholic Church, pp. 34, 84, 54, 126.]
But that world of 1936 in which The Gospel and the Catholic Church was published was soon to fall apart as it was enveloped in the fires of theological controversy. Throughout its history, Anglican theology has been somewhat insular, in the sense that it has based itself on the Bible, the Fathers, and its own writers of earlier centuries. It has not paid much attention to theological movements on the continent of Europe. When Rudolf Bultmann's ideas about demythologizing the New Testament got an airing in England in 1953, it was in a volume of essays translated from the German, with a concluding contribution from the eminent Anglican theological writer, A.M. Farrer. I think it would not be altogether unfair to say that Farrer's major objection to demythologizing was: "This is not cricket. We don't do things this way in England." But the complacent insularity of English theology got a rude shock in 1963. That was the year in which John Robinson, still a relatively young suffragan bishop in the South London area, published his paperback, Honest to God. No one, and perhaps least of all Robinson himself, visualized the consequences which this book would have. On the Sunday before it was published, one of the London newspapers announced the [18/19] forthcoming book with the provocative headline, "Our Image of God Must Go!" It was no longer a question of arguing about whether bishops are of the esse or only of the bene esse of the Church, but a question about the being of God himself.
Archbishop Ramsey's first reaction to the new book was hostile, for like many others he had been taken by surprise, and it seemed as if Robinson's book, with its questions about God and its criticisms of traditional beliefs, was an attack on central items of the Christian faith. But if the English clergy had read more German theology, they would not have been surprised. Robinson's book was saying nothing new. He was putting together the ideas of three German theologians whose writings were not well known in England. One was Paul Tillich, by that time a professor in Union Theological Seminary, New York, where he had gone before the War because he was not acceptable to the Hitler government in Germany. Tillich, as most of you remember, taught that God is not another being in addition to those that we know on earth or in the accessible part of the universe, but is rather Being itself, the inclusive reality within which all finite beings belong. The second of these German theologians popularized by Robinson was Bultmann, whom I have already mentioned. He was perturbed by the fact that the world out of which the New Testament comes was so different from the world in which we live today. Ideas like miracles, demon-possession, voices from heaven common in the pages of the gospels, do not fall within our experience in an environment shaped and understood by the sciences. Therefore for many people the Bible has become an unintelligible book, apparently irrelevant to our lives. But this was just the point at which Bultmann introduced his program of demythologizing. It is an attempt to penetrate behind the imagery and mythology of the New Testament by asking precisely the question, What does this say to me in my life today? For instance, the New Testament writers, or at least some of them, were expecting an end to the world very shortly, probably in their own lifetime. We do not today look for such an end, yet when we ask what this does mean for your life or mine, we see that we are all living in face of the end, namely, our own deaths. If we want to live realistically, we cannot leave death out of the picture, though in the contemporary world it is something that we cover up and forget about as much as possible. The third of Robinson's newly discovered heroes was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, [19/20] a German theologian who had dared to oppose the Hitler regime and had even gone so far as to join the German resistance movement in a conspiracy to kill Hitler and make peace with the Allies. The plot failed, and Bonhoeffer was condemned and hanged just before the end of the War when he was not yet forty years of age. Bonhoeffer's contribution was his call for what has been called, somewhat misleadingly, a "secular" Christianity, that is to say, a form of Christian discipleship that would not turn away from the world but would become involved in its social and political problems, even though these must lead into situations of moral ambiguity. Robinson, who was on his own confession a New Testament scholar rather than a systematic theologian, put these ideas together only in a superficial manner. It was another German theologian, Karl Barth, who said about Robinson that he had mixed three good German beers and produced a lot of froth! That may have been a valid criticism, but Robinson certainly caught the headlines. His book sold as no theological book has sold in recent times, and before long a million copies were in circulation. The effect on the Church was deep and widespread. Here was a bishop apparently espousing the most radical theological opinions which many people thought were undermining Christian faith. A bishop of my own acquaintance had at that time two sons studying for the Christian ministry. Both of them, after reading Robinson's book, gave up and lapsed into agnosticism. But other people reacted in the opposite direction. Another friend of mine, who was having difficulties with the traditional ways of expressing faith, told me that if it had not been for Honest to God, he would have become an atheist. To him it was a relief and a deliverance that one could find new ways of thinking about God who, after all, will always be a mystery never fully grasped.
As I mentioned, Michael Ramsey was at first opposed to the new trends which Robinson had publicized. But he was much too wise to think that a theological dispute can be resolved simply by condemning the views of one's opponent. Instead, he found time to make a study of the German writers behind Robinson, and in his fairminded way found things to accept in them, as well as other things which he felt ought to be rejected or at least toned down. His reflections were given measured expression in a book called Sacred and Secular, published in 1965.
In this book he was mainly concerned with the spirituality [20/21] behind the new theologies. Robinson was summoning us to a more secular form of Christianity, that is to say, to a Christianity that would place less emphasis on prayer and worship, and more on active involvement in social and political problems. Dr. Ramsey took his departure from the New Testament, from some words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 7, 31) where he talks about using the world but not abusing it. These very words play into the hands of an Anglican theologian, seeking a balanced way between extreme and destructive positions. Human life, according to Michael Ramsey, has to be lived in the tension of two worlds, and both have their just claims. There are the claims of secular society, and the Christian ought not to ignore them in order to escape into a purely spiritual realm. But it might be even more disastrous if we allowed ourselves to be sucked wholly into the quagmire of the secular as has happened to such great masses of people in our time.
Especially interesting in this book was Ramsey's treatment of Bonhoeffer, whom he had read with great care and attention. He was writing at a time when such phrases as "man come of age," "religionless Christianity," "secular faith" were being bandied about, and Bonhoeffer, with all the prestige of a martyr, was being held up as the patron saint of this new form of Christianity, which would consist in action without the trappings of prayer and liturgy.
But Dr. Ramsey had studied Bonhoeffer's writings and perceived in them far more substance than is represented in the superficial phrases I have just quoted. It is true that Bonhoeffer, living in prison in the midst of the pagan Nazi regime, had spoken of a coming time when religion would cease to interest people. "What do we make of Bonhoeffer's thesis concerning the demise of religion?" asked the Archbishop. He goes on: "My own answer is found largely in many other passages in Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. Reading these letters as a whole, I find two things vividly impressed upon me. First, that God is found in the tragedy of the world, far outside the religious camp. Secondly, that for all Bonhoeffer says about religion, religion is growing powerfully in his own soul. Again and again in his letters, he is expressing his dependence upon God, through the medium of his own memory of hymns and psalms and music, the rhythm of the Christian year, the stuff of the worshipping tradition." Here Dr. Ramsey drives home his point by citing no less [21/22] than eight passages in Bonhoeffer's letters which show that even in his prison cell, religion was powerfully growing. For in that cell he kept the season of Advent; he set up a rhythm of prayer and reading which Michael Ramsey compares to the daily office; he wrote to his friends to ask for the support of their prayers. By no stretch of imagination could this be called "religionless Christianity." Dr. Ramsey makes the following remarks: "I ask this further question. Is this religious element, so strongly present in Bonhoeffer's letters, a kind of hangover from that immaturity from which, he says, the Christian must move onwards? No, the religion disclosed in the letters seems to me far from retrogressive. Rather, it seems to mount from strength to strength. The religious language is the servant and medium of the heroic faith which is finding God in suffering, and the religion seems to pass beyond words into wordless contemplation. We are near to the mystical tradition, and to what some older writers called 'the terrible strength of the saints'." [II.2 Sacred and Secular, pp. 52-53]
The quotations I have made from Dr. Ramsey are very typical of his theological work, in content, in method and in style. There is scrupulous fairness, and the ability to see the truth in a point of view for which his own training and churchmanship made it difficult for him to sympathize. There is the capacity to see things as a whole and to put sensational innovations into the context of that whole. There is the painstaking concern of the scholar to do justice to the text and to adduce evidence for the particular interpretation which he favours. Bonhoeffer's friend, Paul Lehmann of Union Seminary, has remarked that no theologian of modern times has been more grossly misrepresented than Bonhoeffer. If all his interpreters had been as careful and sympathetic as Michael Ramsey, this could never have happened.
The theological climate has changed greatly since Michael Ramsey wrote Sacred and Secular. The hard secularity of the early sixties was succeeded by something like a craze for celebration, mystical experience, eastern cults, and so on. Dr. Ramsey was just as salutary reading for these new enthusiasts as he was for the earlier advocates of religionlessness. He warned that religious experience is not something to be sought for its own sake. It is not an emotional luxury, given that we may enjoy it. Rather, it is meant to draw us into the love and service of God. It is precisely when we make it an end in itself that it becomes suspect, and the criticisms of the secularizers gain a measure of validity against it.
 I have mentioned Michael Ramsey's gift for seeing things as a whole. This is very evident in another of his books from the sixties, God, Christ and the World. The very title announces that the author is going to paint a very broad canvas! He returns to some of the questions that had been raised by Bishop Robinson and had been carried further--sometimes much further--by new writers who had appeared on the scene, such as Paul van Buren, Ronald Gregor Smith, Harvey Cox, Thomas Altizer, William Hamilton and others. When the book was published in 1969, controversy was raging over the so-called "death of God." I do not think it would be a mistake to say that with the appearance of this new and more extreme attack on the very reality of God, Michael Ramsey began to move nearer to the position advocated by Bishop Robinson, though he had opposed it a few years earlier. For the God whom Altizer and company were declaring dead or redundant was an abstract God, a God fabricated by human speculation, a God "out there" in Robinson's language. Michael Ramsey's gift for seeing things in their wholeness made him insist that the Christian cannot speak of God apart from Jesus Christ, that is to say, apart from a doctrine of incarnation which brings God right into the midst of human history. To quote Ramsey's own words on the subject, "It would be a mistake to think that a sufficient answer is given to the 'death of God' theologies by correction and assertion. The lessons must be learnt. One of the lessons is that Christian theism is valid only as a christocentric theism, and, more still, it is valid only as a cross-centered theism." [II.3 God, Christ and the World, p.43]
In the preface to the book we have just been considering, Dr. Ramsey wrote: "If authorship is a rash venture for one whose life of incessant busy-ness makes reading and writing difficult, I feel it to be right for the Church's pastors to try to grapple with the conflicts concerning belief within and without the Church, and to encourage right ways of approaching them." We should be thankful indeed that in addition to all his other duties, Michael Ramsey counted theologizing as still another duty, and did not flinch from the hard work of reading, reflecting and writing which the acceptance of that duty demanded. What he did write in books and articles not only helped to confirm members of his flock in their faith, but made a contribution to the ongoing theological debate. Indeed, what he accomplished in the service of faith and theology may in the long run turn out to have been his most valuable work for the Church. Even Michael Ramsey could [23/24] not entirely save the Church from the doubts and bewilderment that afflicted the lives of many of its members in the theological confusions of the sixties, and even today we have not fully recovered from those difficult times. But the fact that we had his leadership helped to reduce the damage, and pointed the way forward in hope.
III. Arthur Michael Ramsey, Ecumenist.
Although Michael Ramsey was through and through Anglican in his theology and in his churchmanship generally, he was, like the Church of England itself, catholic in the broad sense of that term. That broad sense had been defined in the Lambeth Quadrilateral. Thus Ramsey always had a broader vision of the Church than the Anglican Communion, and like many other churchman of modern times, he longed for a day when the shattered fragments of Christendom would come together again on a catholic basis. Much of his striving, therefore, especially after he became Archbishop of Canterbury, was directed toward advancing the cause of visible unity among the churches.
We have to remember that when Ramsey was enthroned at Canterbury, less than thirty years ago, the ecumenical scene was very different from what it is today. In particular, Rome stood aloof--and if Rome is not involved, have we any right to use the word "ecumenical" at all? Back in the nineteen-twenties, the then Primate of Belgium, Cardinal Mercier, had engaged in conversations with a group of catholic-minded Anglicans, headed by the prominent layman, Lord Halifax. These conversations might have borne fruits, but they were premature, and had to be broken off. They are valued more today than they were at the time when they were held, and one phrase that was used at that time has been revived in more recent discussions--the phrase "unity without absorption." The suggestion conveyed by this phrase is a drawing together of hitherto separated churches that will preserve the identity of each and allow for justifiable differences in liturgy, order, discipline, perhaps even in doctrine, provided it all falls under some universally accepted umbrella formula, such as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. This is a much more realistic vision of unity than that of merger into a single unified church. It is realistic because it accepts the facts of history. [24/25] Any great creative movement, such as Christianity, becomes differentiated as it moves through time. While there are forms of division which may be accounted sinful, diversity is not itself a sin. I think this is clearly recognized nowadays, and we actually give encouragement to churches in different cultures to develop forms of worship and organization appropriate to their own cultural backgrounds. One could even argue that such "inculturation," as it is sometimes called, is a consequence of the incarnation itself--it is God coming to meet people where they are.
However, back in the early years of Michael Ramsey's primacy, the old idea of a fully united church--what was called "organic union" was still dominant, and in many countries Anglicans were involved in moves toward such a church. I was never able to go along with such ideas myself, because I believed that a united church of the kind envisaged would be a completely nondescript body, and in particular that the catholic element which the Church of England had succeeded in preserving through the stormy years of the Reformation would be completely swamped and eventually lost in any united church in which Protestants formed the majority. As I mentioned in an earlier lecture, Michael Ramsey had similar views about the proposed coming together of Anglicans and Methodists. I would quote again his words of 1962 in which he envisaged the new situation as one in which the Methodists would become, in his words, a uniate branch of the Church of England, that is to say, a quite distinct ecclesial body which would have taken episcopacy into its system and would eventually attain full communion with the Church of England. The first moves toward that had already been taken under Ramsey's predecessor, Archbishop Fisher, and were part of the heritage which Ramsey received from him. In 1963, a report was issued by the body discussing the proposals, and I think it was the step taken then that led to their ultimate failure. Some of those taking part were not content with the proposal for a uniate relationship, and wanted a complete merger. So it was now proposed that there should be two stages in the process of drawing together. Stage One was to include the unification or reconciliation of existing ministries in an episcopal system, followed by the consecration of Methodist bishops who would perform all subsequent ordinations in the Methodist church. Stage One also contained a promise to go on to Stage Two, though no timetable was fixed. Stage Two, as has already been mentioned, [25/26] was intended to bring about a complete fusion of the two churches. There was much discussion and criticism before the matter was voted in 1969. The Methodists voted in favour, but the Church of England failed to produce a sufficient majority. As often happens in the Church of England, when a motion supported by the Church establishment fails on the first occasion, it is brought back after a decent interval in the hope that it will get through on a second attempt. But it also usually happens that the measure is even more decisively rejected on the second time around, and this is what happened with the Anglican-Methodist proposals. Now Michael Ramsey had worked very hard to get these proposals passed. This may have surprised some people in view of his strongly catholic opinions, but when one remembers that Methodism--and here I am thinking especially of English Methodism--was originally a breakaway from the Church of England and that some Methodist congregations continued to use the Book of Common Prayer and preserved something of the Anglican ethos, then perhaps we should not be surprised that Ramsey supported the proposals. Also, he was under considerable pressure to do so from some of his fellow bishops. What really surprised me was an event that happened some years later, in 1974 when Dr. Ramsey was retiring. Some of us in Oxford had arranged a dinner in his honour. At one point during the evening, I was sitting beside him having some conversation about the events of his primacy. I was bold enough to say to him that I had been a wholehearted supporter of virtually everything that he had done, except that I was unable to go along with him in supporting the scheme for union with the Methodists. He turned towards me, and said very decisively: "Oh that was a bad scheme!" I am not quite sure why he said that, in view of the support he had given to the proposals earlier. Was there some flaw in them which he had not previously noticed? Or had he been persuaded by the arguments of Graham Leonard, who, as the relatively young Bishop of Wilesden, had been the strongest critic of the scheme? Or was it, as I think most likely, that when the original proposal for a uniate relationship between Anglicans and Methodists was set aside in favour of a full-blown merger, he really lost enthusiasm for it?
But in these very years when the conversations with the Methodists were going on, new and very exciting events were happening on the ecumenical scene which suddenly made the proposals for local unions seem very unimportant. I refer of course to the [26/27] Second Vatican Council which led to Rome itself seeking new relationships with the separated churches. In the Council's document on ecumenism, the only non-Roman church other than the Orthodox churches of the East to be mentioned was the Anglican communion, which, it was said, had a special position among the churches of the west because of its preservation of important elements in the catholic heritage. Though the Malines conversation of the nineteen-twenties had failed to get off the ground, a new drive towards unity between Rome and Canterbury was now to begin, not just as the work of individual enthusiasts but of representatives officially appointed on both sides.
The beginning of this was the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Ramsey in Rome, 1966. As we noted in an earlier lecture, perhaps the climactic moment in that meeting was not expressed in words but in the symbolic gesture by the Pope in taking off his ring and placing it on Dr. Ramsey's finger, an action which signified, shall we say, at least the engagement of the two great communions. But the words were there as well, and I quote some of them from the joint declaration made by Paul and Michael at the end of their meeting:
"In this city of Rome, from which St. Augustine was sent by St. Gregory to England and there founded the cathedral see of Canterbury, towards which the eyes of all Anglicans now turn as the centre of their Christian communion, His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Grace Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, representing the Anglican communion, have met to exchange fraternal greetings. At the conclusion of their meeting they give thanks to Almighty God who by the action of the Holy Spirit has in these latter years created a new atmosphere of Christian fellowship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the Anglican communion. This encounter of 23 March 1966 marks a new stage in the development of fraternal relations, based upon Christian charity, and of sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and to re-establish Christian unity. . .
They intend to inaugurate between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican communion a serious dialogue, which, founded on the gospels and on the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth for which Christ prayed." [III.1 See Final Report of ARCIC, pp. 117-8.]
The joint declaration went on to say that discussions should include not only doctrinal questions and such matters as scripture, liturgy and tradition, but also practical matters which [27/28] sometimes occasioned difficulty, and it also expressed the hope that it would bring progress toward the unity for which Christ himself had prayed among his disciples.
Alongside this joint declaration should be set a statement by the Pope which seemed to echo the idea of "union without absorption" to which Cardinal Mercier and Lord Halifax, with their collaborators, had subscribed. This statement, made in 1970, was a pledge by Pope Paul that "there will be no seeking to lessen the worthy patrimony of piety and usage proper to the Anglican Church."
It is interesting to note that as the new Anglican-Roman Catholic commission moved ahead into its work, various local or national schemes for union were either abandoned or put into cold storage. In ARCIC the Anglican communion was acting as a whole, so it would not be broken up into fragments, which would have been the price of the various provinces entering into national or local schemes of union. Perhaps more important, it would not have had its catholicity compromised, which would be another grievous price to pay for pan-Protestant ventures.
John Knox, perhaps the most distinguished scholar in the Episcopal Church today, gave fair warning of the new situation which ARCIC was bringing about on the ecumenical scene, and that in the light of this new situation, the older plans for a union of churches within a geographical area were now looking somewhat out of date. "For," he wrote, "the major split in the Christianity of the west is obviously the separation between Rome and the other denominations, and the ultimate healing of the division in the western Church involves, above all other separations, this primary and basic rift. This rift can be overcome, it seems to me, only through what one can hardly avoid calling a 'return'--not, I hasten to add, that the whole responsibility for Christian reunion in the west rests with the Anglicans and Protestants. Rome too must make a return to the more ancient standards of Church life represented by scripture and the ancient traditions, reaching a ground not only for possible union in the west but for reunion with Eastern Orthodoxy as well. The return we are contemplating is not so much the return of one body to another as a turning by all of us together to the apostolic and early catholic sources and norms of the Church's life as a historical community. . . . But Anglicans and Protestants cannot make this return by bypassing the Roman Catholic Church. There is no possible [28/29] detour or shortcut. The Roman Church lies squarely and massively in the way we must travel. . . The new openness on the part of Rome is the major, the miraculous, the incomparably significant ecumenical fact of our time." [III.2 Realistic Reflections on Church Union, pp. 27-8.] We must not forget that it was not only Vatican II but the vision of Michael Ramsey which helped to bring to birth this major, miraculous, incomparably significant ecumenical fact.
Actually Michael Ramsey did not personally take an active part in the deliberations of the ARCIC negotiators. That was very properly left to those whom the two churches had appointed to be their representatives. But the understanding of the Church and of theology which Ramsey had expounded in his book of thirty years earlier, The Gospel and the Catholic Church, was very obvious in the discussions--indeed, one might almost say that the principles set out in that book were the principles which were now guiding the Commission on the controversial questions which it chose to discuss. These principles were already apparent in the joint statement by the Pope and the Archbishop which I quoted a few moments ago, especially in the expression "founded upon the gospels and the ancient common traditions," and they continue to shine through in the documents which the Commission produced in the first few years of its existence. There were two such statements produced during the time when Michael Ramsey was still Archbishop--the agreed statement on eucharistic doctrine (1972) and the agreed statement on ministry and ordination (1974). When one looks back to the sad days of 1896 when Rome had condemned Anglican orders as null and void and Anglican eucharists as invalid, it seems almost incredible that such a change as is signalized in these agreed statements could have come about.
The Commission had deliberately decided to tackle some of the toughest issues that had divided the two communions in the past. No doubt this was a risky procedure, but it was one that paid off and showed that some of the most serious quarrels of the past had arisen more from a misunderstanding of each other's positions than from real differences in faith.
Eucharistic doctrine was the first topic to be discussed. In 1896 the Roman authorities had declared that the Anglican eucharistic rite is only a bare memorial of Calvary, a calling to mind of an event of the past, and in particular that it lacked any sacrificial aspect. It was in vain that the two English archbishops of the time, Temple at Canterbury and MacLagan at York, sought to rebut [29/30] these charges. They pointed out that in the several editions of the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 onward, provision had been made for the proper consecration of the eucharist by duly ordained priests, and that although Anglicans deny that there is any repetition of the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary in the mass, they do have an adequate doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. This was explained by the two archbishops in the following words: "We continue a perpetual memory of the death of Christ, who is our advocate with the Father and the propitiation for our sins, according to his precept, until his coming again. For first, we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; then, next, we plead and represent before the Father the sacrifice of the cross, and by it we confidently entreat remission of sins and all other benefits of the Lord's passion for all the whole Church; and lastly we offer the sacrifice of ourselves to the Creator of all things, which we have already signified by the oblation of his creatures. This whole action, in which the people has necessarily to take its part with the priest, we are accustomed to call the eucharistic sacrifice."
That was the statement of the Anglican position after the condemnation of 1896. The agreed statement issued after the ARCIC meeting of 1971 not only tolerates, if we may put it that way, the Anglican doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, but says essentially the same things in its own teaching, which is supposed to represent the views of both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. This joint teaching of 1971 run as follows: "Christ's redeeming death and resurrection took place once for all in history. Christ's death on the cross, the culmination of his whole life of obedience, was the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. There can be no repetition of or addition to what was then accomplished once for all by Christ. . . Yet God has given the eucharist to his Church as a means through which the atoning work of Christ on the cross is proclaimed and made effective in the life of the Church. The notion of memorial as understood in the passover celebration at the time of Christ--that is, the making effective in the present of an event in the past--has opened the way to a clearer understanding of the relationship between Christ's sacrifice and the eucharist. The eucharistic memorial is no mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the Church's effectual proclamation of God's mighty acts. Christ instituted the eucharist as a memorial (anamnesis) of the totality of God's reconciling action in him. In the eucharistic prayer, [30/31] the Church continues to make a perpetual memorial of Christ's death, and his members, united with God and one another, give thanks for all his mercies, entreat the benefits of his passion on behalf of the whole Church, participate in these benefits and enter into the movement of his self-offering." [III.3 Final Report, pp. 13-14.]
It seems to me that this statement issued during the primacy of Michael Ramsey does no more than repeat the statement issued by his predecessor Frederick Temple seventy-five years earlier, but with this enormous difference, namely, that Temple's statement was the defiant protest of the relatively small Anglican communion against what it believed to be the hasty and unjust condemnation pronounced by the much more powerful Roman communion, while in Michael Ramsey's time the two communions were standing side by side and acknowledging that they could both subscribe to a doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice not essentially different from that which the Anglican archbishops had expressed on the earlier occasion.
You may ask, then, is 1896 a dead letter? Has it been left behind by subsequent events, and especially these developments that took place during Michael Ramsey's primacy? Unfortunately, it is not quite so simple as that. Once Rome has made a solemn pronouncement, as it did in 1896, it is not easy to change it, still less to annul it. Even today it remains as the official Roman position. I think it has been undermined, and that in the coming years we shall see in effect the elimination of 1896, but various other things have to happen in the meanwhile. The agreed statements, as I have said already, are not just the views of private individual theologians, but of duly appointed representatives of the two communions, so that as soon as they are adopted, by the Commission itself, they already have a certain status. But then they need to be approved and accepted by the two communions, and further steps are necessary to put them into effect. I think Michael Ramsey was very wise and understanding in his view of these matters and in the patience which he showed. He knew that it takes a very long time to get anything done in the Church of England, especially anything that calls for a change in long established attitudes, and everyone knows that it takes even longer at Rome. I think that a decisive step was taken in 1971, and that it will eventually make 1896 obsolete, but there is still a long way to go before that point is reached. Dr. Ramsey's successor, Archbishop Coggan, was also a man of ecumenical vision [31/32] and a loyal supporter of ARCIC, but I think he was being much too impatient when he called for immediate intercommunion. That will certainly come in time, but it must be properly prepared. Michael Ramsey has something to teach us about this too. All through his life he was opposed to what is called "open communion," the practice of making communion in any church regardless of denomination. But in a remarkable speech at the Lambeth Conference of 1968, he suggested that where two churches or communions have engaged in serious conversations with the aim of coming together into a more visible unity based on catholic principles, a point might be reached short of full agreement when intercommunion would be a natural step to take. I should say that quite a few bishops at the conference disagreed with Dr. Ramsey on this point, but it does provide a possible compromise between those of a conservative mentality who want to see everything finalized before taking any practical steps, and those whose impatience hurries them into actions for which there has not been enough thought, consultation and preparation.
In 1973, ARCIC produced a second agreed statement on another controversial issue, Ministry and Ordination. The ground for this had already been cleared by the agreement on the eucharist, because the Roman Catholic rejection of Anglican orders was in large part due to the belief of Roman theologians that Anglicans lack a doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, and that therefore those ordained in the Anglican tradition cannot be exercising a priestly ministry. We find therefore that the document on ministry repeats some of the points made in the document on the eucharist. It is stated that the essential nature of Christian ministry is most clearly seen in the celebration of the eucharist. "Because the eucharist is the memorial of the sacrifice of Christ, the action of the presiding minister in reciting again the words of Christ at the last supper and in distributing to the assembly the holy gifts is seen to stand in a sacramental relation to what Christ himself did in offering his own sacrifice. So our two traditions commonly use priestly terms in speaking about the ordained ministry. Such language does not imply any negation of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ by any addition or repetition."
Although Michael Ramsey was not directly involved in the composition of the document on ministry, any more than he had been in the document on the eucharist, ministry and priesthood had always been particular interests of his, and some of his ideas [32/33] can be seen reflected in the ARCIC statement. There were four points that kept recurring in Ramsey's talks and writings about Christian ministry, and we can say that these sum up not only Ramsey's teaching but the teaching of ARCIC.
1. First, the priest is one who learns theology and teaches it. It is not surprising to find Ramsey putting theology and the teaching office at the top of his list, considering that he himself had spent twenty years in the teaching of theology and the training of ordinands. But it was not a merely academic theology that he valued. He believed that theology must be studied in conversation with those whose studies are directed to the things of this world, the sciences, history, the principles of economic life, and so on, so that Christianity can allow its good news to penetrate the often resistant structures of secular life.
2. The second dimension of priestly ministry is reconciliation. The priest works to bridge the gulf that separates human beings, whether in their individual lives or in society, which is so frequently torn apart by conflicts of race or class or culture. Of course, there are many agencies nowadays engaged in promoting reconciliation, but amidst them all, claimed Ramsey, it will be the special work of the priest to represent the often-forgotten dimension of reconciliation to God. Peace with God is the fundamental peace, and where people have that, it is easier for them to find peace with one another. In this connection, Ramsey stressed both preaching and the sacrament of reconciliation.
3. The priestly life is a life of prayer. It is true, of course, that all Christians, whether clerical or lay, should be living the life of prayer. But perhaps the priest has a special responsibility of prayer--prayer for the people of the flock, yet, more than that, prayer as relation to the God to whom the flock is to be led. Here again Ramsey would make his protest against a merely academic theology. We do not know God just by reading about him or studying the divine nature. We know God as we know our friends and fellow-human beings, that is, through meeting, converse, communion. Only if the priest knows God in this direct way can the priestly work of teaching and reconciliation bring about the desired results.
4. The fourth and final point is meant to sum up all the others. The priest is the minister of the eucharist. In this sacrament the many aspects of Christianity are brought together. There is teaching, there is intercession, there is reconciliation, there is [33/34] the presence of God. It is the privilege of the priest to preside at this celebration of the Christian community, to represent Christ to the people and to represent the people before God.
I have mentioned more than once that Michael Ramsey himself did not directly participate in ecumenical discussion, but was the enabler of such discussions, and indirectly contributed to them through his lectures and writings. But there was one important ecumenical encounter, in this very city of New York, where Michael Ramsey did take part in person. It was in 1970 when the Trinity Institute, at that time directed by Robert Terwilliger, now Bishop Terwilliger, arranged a historic occasion, namely, a dialogue between Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England, and Leon-Joseph Suenens, Cardinal Archbishop of Malines and Primate of Belgium. It was the first time since the Reformation that the Primate of the English Church had engaged in a joint venture of teaching with a Roman Catholic primate. The choice of Cardinal Suenens was particularly appropriate, for not only was he prominent in the work of Vatican II, he was also a successor to the famous Cardinal Mercier who was the leading figure on the Roman Catholic side in that abortive Roman-Anglican series of conversations in the 1920s.
It seemed appropriate that I should end this lecture on Michael Ramsey as ecumenist by quoting, in a slightly abridged form, the three main points that he made in his dialogue with Cardinal Suenens.
First, ecumenism is inseparable from holiness. It is not a matter of more efficient organization, better use of resources, saving of money or anything of the sort. "Our being with one another and in one another goes with our being in Christ and with Christ, and we may become closer to one another through being closer to him. Let the churches become more christlike, let them serve Christ in a deeper and more practical obedience, and the work of unity goes forward. This calls for a deeper spirituality, a more dynamic liturgical life, a fuller participation by the laity both in the liturgy and in evangelism, and a new emphasis on the Holy Scripture."
The second theme is that unity is both something given in the past, yet awaiting realization in the future. It is possible to combine a strong adherence to tradition with a generous recognition of what those who have deviated from tradition may yet, [34/35] under God, bring to the future of unity. Here Dr. Ramsey acknowledged his debt to the great Roman Catholic ecumenist, Yves Congar. How do we approach the ecumenical problem? On the one hand, we insist on the preservation of certain norms of the Church's catholicity, once given and never to be abandoned, such as the creeds, the tradition of episcopal ordination and the offices of bishop and presbyter as effectual signs of the givenness and continuity of the church. But we have also to acknowledge that in various ways we have misused these gifts, and can learn from others a better use of them.
Finally, he notes that many people seem to have become wearied of ecumenism. Does all the energy that goes into it, all the meetings that take place, really justify themselves? If it is only a question of unifying churches, then we have to answer, probably not. But people like Michael Ramsey looked beyond the borders of the churches to the human race as a whole. There we see the really destructive divisions that pose a threat to the whole future of humanity. It is with the healing of those deep divisions that we must ultimately be concerned. But we have to begin with the divisions that are near to hand. If, for example, it does eventually prove possible, after fifty years or after a hundred years, to heal the division that has separated Anglicans and Roman Catholics for nearly five hundred years, that would be a very significant step, it would be a sign, almost a sacrament, of the unity of the whole human race. That is the ultimate vision which Michael Ramsey not only had in his own heart, but propagated among those who were committed to his charge.
1. The Christian Priest Today, pp. 9-10.
2. The British Churches Turn to the Future, p. 3.
1. The Gospel and the Catholic Church, pp. 34, 84, 54, 126.
2. Sacred and Secular, pp. 52-3.
3. God, Christ and the World, p. 43.
I. See Final Report of ARCIC, pp. 117-8.
2. Realistic Reflections on Church Union, pp. 27-8.
3. Final Report, pp. 13-14.