Introducing Michael Ramsey
One feature of Anglican church history I am especially interested to highlight in these essays is the role that the Archbishop of Canterbury has played in crafting the temper and character of Anglicanism as a theological and spiritual tradition. For Anglicans, bishops are the chief symbol of Christian unity, and no episcopal office is more resonant in this respect than the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his own way, each Archbishop has attempted to model the unity that Christ calls for in the Anglican communion and to extend the offer for union to the other parts of Christendom. There is, however, arguably no Archbishop who has overseen such profound overtures for visible communion between the fractured churches of Christ than Michael Ramsey (1904-1988), who held the office from 1961-1974. If, as Cardinal Kasper has indicated, many believe that Anglicans and Catholics are enduring an “ecumenical winter,” then we might without too much exaggeration say that Michael Ramsey’s primature was ecumenism’s springtime in Anglicanism (Kasper, That They All May Be One, 14).
Since this essay will cover a lot of ground, I am posting it serially. Part one, on Ramsey’s ecumenism and his thoughts on conversion, will be posted today, 7/7, and part two, on important themes in Ramsey’s thought and their relevance for the contemporary church, will go up on Wednesday, 7/9.
Michael Ramsey, Frank Ramsey, and the Gospel of Christ
Michael Ramsey was the second son born to Arthur and Mary Agnes Ramsey. His father was a fellow of Mathematics at Magdalene College, Cambridge and a Congregationalist, and his mother was a communicant in the Church of England. Although he was baptized in the Church of England, he attended services in his father’s Congregationalist Church. Ramsey departed the Congregational church and became an Anglo-Catholic while in preparatory school, but he always appreciated the emphasis upon the sanctity of conscience that he learned from his Congregationalist years. Michael’s older brother was named Frank, and he followed his father in becoming a Cambridge mathematician. Unlike Michael, however, Frank became an atheist during his college years. Nonetheless, Michael thought of Frank as one of the most intelligent people he had ever met and always looked up to him.