HALF a century ago, Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, met for the first time in Rome to begin a new era of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
Last week, their successors, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby, met again in Rome, together with Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from around the world, to recall that event and to recommit themselves to closer practical collaboration and spiritual communion.
During his two-day visit, the Anglican leader attended a papal audience in the Vatican, presided with the Pope at vespers in the church of San Gregorio on the Caelian Hill, took part in a conference celebrating the past 50 years of ecumenical dialogue, and spoke at a 50th-anniversary gala dinner at the Anglican Centre, the Communion’s “embassy” in Rome that was a direct result of that first encounter.
Celebrations began in Rome at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University with a half-day symposium, “Fifty Years of Walking Together in Faith: Exploring new directions in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations.”
It was an inspiring and entertaining morning in the packed Aula Magna, as leading ecumenists from both traditions reviewed highlights of the past 50 years, and explored the potential for much greater co-operation, especially in areas of shared social action.
Dr Anna Rowlands, a lecturer in Catholic Studies at Durham University, said that, while Roman Catholics had a rich tradition of social teaching on global principles of justice, peace, and the protection of the most marginalised, they had much to learn from Anglicans about the art of engaging in negotiations to ensure that such principles were reflected in national legislations.
Both traditions, she noted dryly, had a deficit in creative thinking about the treatment of women in the Church and in wider society.
Canon Nicholas Sagovsky, a long-time member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), established by the meeting of Pope Paul and Dr Ramsey, emphasised the importance of forging deep friendships through collaboration on the frontlines of political and economic life.
He highlighted the partnership in Liverpool throughout the 1970s and ’80s of the cricketer and Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, and his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Derek Worlock. Together, they worked to overcome sectarian violence and create jobs and housing; and also set up Liverpool Hope University, the only ecumenical foundation of its kind in Europe.
Also attending the Rome conference were 19 pairs of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops from different parts of the world, many of whom have long been modelling the same kind of partnerships in mission at national or local level. The Canadian co-chair of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), Archbishop-elect Donald Bolen, reminded participants of the so-called “Lund principle” of the World Council of Churches.
This stated, as far back as 1952, that Churches should “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act differently”.
Bolen is an expert in dealing with the complexities of dialogue, having served for seven years in Rome as the officer in charge of Anglican and Methodist relations with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He and his counterpart, the Anglican co-chair of IARCCUM, Bishop David Hamid, follow a strong tradition of ecumenical leadership in Canada, where some dioceses are linked by informal covenants seeking to put that Lund principle into practice.
In Canterbury Cathedral earlier in the week, Bishop Bolen had preached at the sung eucharist on Sunday, while Bishop Hamid had given the homily at a Roman Catholic mass in the undercroft on the previous evening.
Ecumenical sceptics, of course, maintain that such practical action is the only path left for a journey that has its sights on full, visible unity of the two Churches, but which has, in reality, come up against a brick wall of entrenched theological differences. Or, as one Vatican official put it after Pope Francis’s audience with the Anglican leaders the following day: “Everything is fine as long as we don’t talk about the difficult issues.”
Not at all, Bishop Hamid countered at the conference. He recalled that, at their historic 1966 meeting, the former Pope and the Archbishop had already talked about the importance of common prayer and practical service as crucial ways of overcoming the “formidable difficulties of doctrine”.
While the ARCIC group was set up straight away to start tackling the theological challenges, it was not until the 1990s, with the obstacle of women’s ordination and the storm-cloud of same-sex relationships gathering on the horizon, that IARCCUM was finally established to flesh out ways of making the theological progress more tangible for Christians in the pews. To this day, the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue remains the only group to pioneer this twin-track approach.
Another two heavyweights of the current ARCIC group, the biblical scholar Dr Paula Gooder, and Professor Paul Murray of Durham University’s Centre for Catholic Studies, described the dialogue in an even more nuanced way as a multi-strand cord, or a symphony made up of many notes, moods, and tones.
In particular, they talked about the need to move on from what they call the “best china” approach, where Roman Catholics and Anglicans laid out the strengths of their own traditions. Instead, they urged their listeners to develop what they termed a “wounded hands” model of ecumenical engagement, focused on the possibility of receiving healing from each other.
Archbishop Welby summed up the conference, and the mood of the moment, when he talked of the future of ecumenism’s being “relational, more than institutional”. After so many centuries of conflict, he said, divided Christians tended to over-simplify in order to solve their problems; instead, they needed to “speak more honestly” to each other, and learn together as we “walk side by side into a wounded world”.
He spoke of offering hospitality to a refugee family, rescued from the Syrian city of Homs. Learning from their suffering might seem a world away from the academic discussions of synodality, primacy, and authority. Yet it is clearly a priority for both the Archbishop and the Pope, who also took in several refugee families after his visit to Lesbos with the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens earlier this year.
SPEAKING at vespers to mark the anniversary of the Anglican Centre later in the day, as they symbolically sent out the pairs of bishops on mission together, the two leaders spelt out their vision that “it is in sharing the difficulties and joys of mission that we once again grow close to each other.”
At the end of the service, Archbishop Welby gave the Pope his Cross of Nails, a powerful symbol of their partnership in the mission of reconciliation. In return, Pope Francis presented the Archbishop with a replica of the pastoral staff associated with Pope Gregory the Great, who sent Augustine to England at the end of the sixth century.
Even for the die-hard ecumenical sceptics, it is hard to underestimate the symbolism of these events, and the impact that they could have in encouraging a new generation of Anglican and RC ecumenists. In a video message to Protestant friends in the United States last year, the Pope joked that while “theologians are helpful” to the cause of Christian unity, they were unlikely to reach agreement until “the day after Judgement Day”.
What was most needed, he said, was the goodwill of Christians journeying “with our hearts open to the Holy Spirit”.
While such mission-shaped ecumenism may not be to everyone’s taste, it is certainly the direction in which the Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders were headed as they were sent out in pairs, like the first disciples, to continue their journey of service together.
WORKING behind the scenes was the Anglican Centre, one of the principal organisers of the events. They organised the visit of Canterbury Cathedral Choir to sing with the Sistine Chapel Choir; the visit of 16 Primates to Rome; and the involvement of three Anglican ordinands as servers at the service. (Archbishop Welby introduced them to the Pope with the words: “Be careful, Your Holiness, these ones are Anglican.”)
The Centre’s achievements were marked at a gala dinner for almost 400 supporters in one of the galleries of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, which has housed the Anglican Centre for its 50 years. At the dinner, the two heads of the family, Prince Jonathan and Princess Gesine, were honoured with the Cross of St Augustine.
Symbols are particularly powerful in Rome, writes Jamie Hawkey. Fifty years after Pope Paul VI gave Dr Michael Ramsey an episcopal ring, the remarkable gift of a crozier from Pope Francis to Archbishop Welby on Wednesday of last week celebrated the theological and pastoral achievements of the past 50 years.
Giving a crozier is not like presenting someone with an icon or a book, especially when given by the successor of St Gregory to the successor of St Augustine. It is a gift that symbolises shared roots, and a shared pastoral — even episcopal — ministry.
This example is modelled on the crozier that, by tradition, belonged to Pope St Gregory the Great, and which was sent as a symbol of fraternal encouragement to the Anglican Primates’ meeting earlier this year.
At vespers on Thursday of last week, Archbishop Welby carried this new crozier in procession alongside the Cardinal Secretary of State. No one should doubt the new obstacles towards full unity between Anglicans and Roman Catholics; but, in a city where gestures often speak louder than words, this encourages a huge shift towards the recognition of ministries.
The Revd Dr Jamie Hawkey is Dean of Clare College, Cambridge.