Monday, 27 May 2013

Michael Ramsey on St Augustine of Canterbury

We live in unsubtle and tendentious times. Despite the promise of the recent past, Christian divisions remain as profound and intractable as ever they were; it seems that "the ruler of this world" is forever devising new ways in which he tries to separate us one from another. 
The following words are from, in some ways, a kinder, more hopeful era, yet they stand as a witness to what is best in a tradition which appears to have changed beyond recognition ....
"....Today we have all come to Canterbury with hearts full of thankfulness for place, a man and a history. This place means very much to us as we think of St. Augustine and his monks coming here from Thanet with the Cross borne before them, preaching the Gospel to king and people, and inaugurating a history which includes not only the English Church in its continuity through the centuries but a family of Churches of many countries and races which still see in Canterbury a symbol and a bond.   Today we thank God for all this, and for the witness within Christendom of a tradition of ordered liberty and scriptural Catholicity which the name Anglican has been used to describe. Thanks be to God for his great goodness.
No part of the early history is more interesting than the questions which St. Augustine sent to Pope Gregory about some of his perplexities and the answers which the Pope gave to him. One of the matters which bothered St. Augustine was the variety of customs in different Churches, and Pope Gregory told him that if he found anything in the Gallican or the Roman or in any other Church acceptable to Almighty God he should adopt it in England, because - and here comes the great principle - "things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things". "Non pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca amanda sunt". How suggestive, how far reaching, is this principle, how applicable to other issues and other times. "Non pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca." The local, the limited, the particular is to be cherished by Christian people not for any nostalgic attachment to it for its own sake, but always for the real thing which it represents and conveys, the thing which is catholic, essential, lasting. So our love for Canterbury melts into our love for Christ whose shrine Canterbury is; our love for what is Anglican is a little piece of our love for one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church; the love of any of us for our own heritage in country, culture, religious experience or theological insight, all subserves the supreme thing -- the reality of God who draws men and women and children into union with himself in the fellowship of his Son. Not things for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things: let that be a guiding principle, and the good things which concern us are what the apostolic writer calls the things which are not shaken ...".
[Archbishop Michael Ramsey speaking at the opening of the 1968 Lambeth Conference ]

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