After his retirement, ++Ramsey spent much of his time at Nashotah House Seminary. At the time there was a nearby home for the mentally handicapped. One day a resident of that home ‘escaped’ and police were looking for him. Also on that day, Michael Ramsey was taking a walk in his full purple cassock. Seeing a very hairy man in a long purple ‘dress’ the police stopped him on his walk and asked who he was. ++Ramsey replied, “Why I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury!”
I just wanted to throw that story in there. It doesn’t really serve a larger purpose in this post.
It has often been noted that most who have taken the name Cantaur have been less than the greatest minds of the Anglican Church, but somehow the last century has produced three ABCs about whom has been said, “He is the most theologically astute ABC since St. Anselm himself.” I cannot judge such sayings, but at the very least, Michael Ramsey stands alongside William Temple and Rowan Williams as a creative and original theologian in his own right.
At this point I’ve not read as much Ramsey as I should like to. But even what I have is enough to excite me to read more. His classic theological work is The Gospel and the Catholic Church; a book written very early in his academic career and one that has apparently had a mixed reception. Ramsey was writing this in an Anglican school system very much dedicated to the liberalism of its time yet also when Barth was starting to be read and the “Biblical Theology” movement was coming into its own. It is remarkable the sheer amount of theology that is crammed into this thing. From the first chapter Ramsey is quick to remove any sense of worldly ‘purpose’ from his ecclesiology; the Church is made and has its life only in the life death and resurrection of Christ. It doesn’t play chaplain to the State, neither is it there to spread progressive values.
But this is also a mysterious participatory life. Here Ramsey is well ahead of his time for a Protestant. It may have been his deep appreciation of the Eastern Orthodox and/or his refusal to ‘rationalize’ how the New Testament talks about Gods life in the Church, whatever influenced Ramsey, he envisioned the Church as in the process of theosis.
But this forms only the beginning to this work. From there Ramsey attempts to explicate church order and unity, the episcopacy and apostolic succession in light of this Passion as opposed to locating it in the predetermined discussions as they have been developed. For him ‘Christian authority consists not in propositions about God [or, presumably the Church], but in God’s own redemptive action.” This is a section I should like to work on in the future: teasing out how the structure of the Church ought to be reflective of its life given by God in Christ. This section of the work is among the most novel and creative.
The next part of the book consists in a series of three essays of historical theology exploring the “Church of the Fathers,” including both the Greek and Latin fathers; “Developments in Catholicism,” in which he critiques the Roman Catholic Church for what he sees as certain discontinuities; and “The Reformers and the Church.” Ramsey was very much a sensitive reader of the Reformers and though himself often (and correctly) identified by others as “Anglo-catholic,” he was passionate that the Gospel and it alone stood at the heart of the Church.
In the next to last chapter Ramsey talks about the “Ecclesia Anglicana” and (typically) locates it both in the Reformation but also, on account of it’s historic order, within the intents of the Catholic Church. He here has a great little section on F.D. Maurice.
In a concluding note Ramsey returns again as he did throughout to the topic of Christian reunion, which for him cannot occur except as the Gospel is more and more ingested into the Church.
This work easily sums up the reason I feel so at home in Anglicanism. As with any church, in practice we are mixed, but at its best Anglican theological reflection usually follows this exact order: You must begin in the Scriptures; however authoritative and valuable the developments of history, Scripture (as it testifies to Christ) forms the heart of how we think of ourselves; then you move to the Church Fathers who still (providentially?) form a paradigm for integrating spirituality and philosophy into an holistic theology; but both the medieval church and the Reformation church have a rightful place even if both must be integrated with a tad bit more attentiveness; and it is only after this that we ought to begin to talk about the ‘Anglican Church’ and identity. The mixing of the universal and the particular are perhaps one of the reasons that Anglicans have not historically excelled in systematics but rather in devotional theology.
But that’s mere speculation. Whatever the case, by this book as well as his Anglican Spirit and An Era in Anglican Theology From Gore to Temple: The Development of Anglican Theology from ‘Lux Mundi’ and the Second World War 1889-1939, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury has taught me how to feel at home in the Episcopal Church even when sometimes I still feel like a baby Anglican.
Other important works of his include: (please leave comments with others)