Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Arthur Michael Ramsey


April 23, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection

John 17. 1-8, 17-18

Twenty years ago today, Arthur Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, died. Archbishop Ramsey was one of the truly great Christians of modern times.

He was born Nov. 14, 1904. He was ordained a priest in 1928 and served in many parishes, taught and was lecturer. He was also a prolific writer and author of several books. In 1952, he was appointed Bishop of Durham, in 1956 he became Archbishop of York and on May 31, 1961, he was appointed the 100th Archbishopf Canterbury. He served as Archbsihop from 1961 to 1974, probably the most tumultuous years in the Christian Church in recent history.

But he was the perfect choice for Archbishop during this time. Ramsey was an Anglo-Catholic and a die-hard one at that. Now most of us, no doubt, consider Anglo-Catholics to be pretty conservative and straight-laced. But he was also a very kind, very understand pastoral leader and, as such, he became a very popular, very well-liked leader in the Church. In fact, he was one of the most famous Archbishops of Canterbury in the twentieth century.

During the 1960s, when many people abandoned the Church and proclaimed themselves to be athiests, Ramsey was brave enough to say that he had deep respect for people were were honestly agnostic or atheist, and he believed that atheists were not necessarily lost from heaven. At the same time, he did not like some of the more evangelical kinds of Christianity, that he felt were sensationalist and over-emotional. He was famous for his criticism of Billy Graham, but he was also just as famous for the fact that he later became friends with Garaham and even appeared with him on stage at one of Graham’s crusades in Brazil.

He also believed there was no theological reason why women couldn’t be ordained priests, though, as an Anglo-Catholic, he was uncomfortable with that view. In fact, during his time as Cantaur, women were first ordained priests and, at one point, he received Holy Communion from a woman priest.

He was also one of the first truly ecumenical Cantaurs. He was close friends with Pope Paul VI, which was very radical for his time, as well as with Eastern Orthodox leaders such as the Patriarch of Constaninople, Athenagoras and the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexis. He also supported the union between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, a union that eventually failed.

Politically, Ramsey supported liberalizing laws against homosexuality in the England, another very controversial stance for a conservative Anglo-Catholic. He was outspoken in his opposition to the Vietnam War, apartheid, and was a vocal critic of Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet.

When he died on April 23, 1988, he was cremated and his ashes were buried in the Close of Canterbury Cathedral, next to the grave of his great predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple.


Although he isn’t officially a saint in the Church, he truly is a saint to some of us. Certainly he is a saint to me. The reason we honor saints in the Church isn’t because we are putting before us examples of Christian life that we can’t relate to. We don’t honor saints because they are somehow holier than us.

Rather, saints are meant to be guides for us. They are meant to show us the way. They have already traveled the way we are walking. They have trod the path to Heaven.

When we are disheartened, when we are lost, when we have lost joy, and vitality and hope, they show that there were times as well when they have been disheartened, when they too had lost joy and hope. But they persevered and look at what they have gained—
they have gained Glory. They have gained Heaven.

So, let us look to the saints in our life. Let us look to our friends who have gone on before us and whom we will see one day. Let us look to our friend, Michael Ramsey. And we struggle on our journey, as we stumble and trip on our way, let us listen as Michael Ramsey encourages on with words like these,

“Heaven is the goal…” he once wrote, “the goal of every member of the flock, the goal of [everyone] created in God’s image to share eternally in God’s glory.”[1]

Let us listen to him when he says to us, “We ought to think much and often about haven…it is, after all, the proper destiny of [everyone] who is created in God’s own image…He who called you…has also called you to eternal glory in Christ…”[2]

Let us continue on, as we must, as Michael Ramsey himself as already done, to that goal—heaven. And there, with Michael Ramsey, let us one day rejoice in that eternal glory in Christ.



[1] The Christian Priest Today, 1972.
[2] Ibid.

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