Tuesday, March 20, 2012


            A great deal has been going on in the Church these last few days, with the release of the Vatican’s statement on the investigation into child sexual abuse in Ireland, and the naming of new bishops for Baltimore, Rockford, IL and Pensacola-Tallahassee, to name just a few things.

            Perhaps lost in the shuffle was the visit of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to Rome and Pope Benedict XVI, during which they had private conversations and celebrated Vespers (Evening Prayer/Evensong) at the Church of Saint Gregory the Great, who sent St Augustine and his missionary brothers to preach to the Angles and Saxons in England, and who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.  Only a few days later, the Archbishop publicly announced his resignation/retirement from Canterbury—he will become the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
            During the Evening Prayer service, both Pope Benedict and Archbishop Williams offered homilies, and the point of this blog-post is not so much the content in theological terms as it is about the theological terms in their content.  I am referring mostly to titles:  Pope Benedict referred to the Archbishop as “Your Grace…Archbishop of Canterbury…my dear Brother in Christ” (capitalizations in the original).  And in his peroration, Pope Benedict said:  Today, for the third time, the Bishop of Rome is meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury in the home of Saint Gregory the Great….We hope that the sign of our presence here together in front of the holy altar, where Gregory himself celebrated the Eucharistic sacrifice, will remain…as a stimulus for all the faithful—both Catholic and Anglican—encouraging them…to pray constantly and to work for unity…”

            Archbishop Rowan Williams’ comments, addressed first of all to “Your Holiness,” also included the following phrases of note:  Your Holiness, ‘Certain yet imperfect’ was how our predecessors of blessed memory, Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Robert [Runcie], here in Rome in 1989, characterized the communion that our two churches share.  ‘Certain’ because of the shared ecclesial vision to which both our communions are committed as being the character of the Church...  And ‘yet imperfect’ because of the limit of our vision, a deficit in the depth of our hope and patience.”

            It is clear that in these two addresses there is a great longing (perhaps not great enough, right now, to overcome barriers, but great nevertheless) for that unity which is the desire of Jesus Christ for His Church.  It is clear that they both recognize the sacral authority the other exercises.  So what are we to say?

            A quote attributed to St Augustine of Hippo (in a book I have; I cannot verify the source) with regard to the schismatic Donatists is pertinent:  “…they are not with us in all things.”  And this, sadly, is true.   But a quote from St Augustine that can be verified is more hopeful:  We will never cease to be your brothers until you or we cease to call God ‘our Father.’”

            We may not be united “in all things”:  that does not mean we are united in no things.  We can and must stand together insofar as we are able—partial unity may lead (Holy Spirit willing) to full unity; deliberate separation is its own punishment.

            A Greek Orthodox monk once said that we will never have unity of Christians until we are all caught up in Christ.  I believe that will never happen until we are willing, together, to stand at the foot of the Cross, look up and let our eyes meet the eyes of Him who is crucified for us, and hear His dying words to us:  “I love you…”  This is what will break down our barriers and lead us to unity.  Is this not “a consummation devoutly to be wished”?

Lagniappe:  it is very little known, but the private conversation between Archbishop Williams and Pope Benedict included the following exchange:

RW:  I'm retiring, you know; heading to Cambridge, the "Other Place," to be Master of Magdalene College.
B16:  Will you be in need of a visiting professor?!

1 comment:

  1. The outstanding character, mental brilliance, and spiritual bearing of these two religious leaders would be difficult to emulate.
    They are bearers of the seeds of ecumenism and excellent caretakers of the germinating qualities of these seeds. Considering the outward
    characteristics of the world's nations' leaders, there is no dearth of
    egocentrism, tyranny, and cruelty. Only the effects of the God entity, depicted in the charisma of Archbishop Williams and Pope Benedict, could penetrate the mindsets of the current representatives of the world's ruling classes.