The Theology of Michael Ramsey for Today

Aartsbisschop van Canterbury

“People ask me, sometimes, if I am in good heart about being Archbishop … My answer is ‘Yes’ … But the phrase ‘in good heart’, gives me pause, because after all, we are here as a church to represent Christ crucified and the compassion of Christ crucified before the world. And, because that is so, it may be the will of God that our church should have its heart broken and perhaps the heart of its Archbishop broken with it.” (Ramsey, Church Times, 9 June 1961, quoted in ODNB)

In Monday’s post, I discussed Michael Ramsey’s commitment to ecumenism and his thoughts on conversion to Christianity in the context of his life and ministry. In today’s post, I look at other central themes in Ramsey’s writing – in particular the relationship between Scripture and tradition and the centrality of Christology in Ramsey’s work – and take a stab at his contemporary relevance.

Scripture and Tradition
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Michael Ramsey, Conversion, and Christian Reunion


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.

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Inside a Personal Retreat

By Jack King

About once a year, I take a personal retreat for prayer and study by myself in the North Carolina mountains. It isn’t vacation, even though I’m not present in my parish. I see these yearly retreats as vital to my work as a priest. When I depart to the mountains to listen to God alone, I’m always mindful that the time I spend there isn’t for my own sake only (though that is certainly vital and important). I take personal retreats so that I can be a servant who receives fresh inspiration from the Holy Spirit for the sake of the people I serve.

Last week I returned from three days of retreat. Before I left, I asked my parish to pray that I would receive all that God had to give me. When I returned to church on Sunday, people asked me how the retreat was and told me they had been praying for me. In large measure because of their prayers, I experienced the best personal retreat I’ve had in seven years of serving my parish. So what happened? Why was this retreat better than others?
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Lancelot Andrewes, the Star of Preachers


Why Read Lancelot Andrewes?

Besides contending for the greatest name in British history, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) was the most renowned preacher of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Nicknamed stella predicantium (“star of preachers”) by Thomas Fuller, Andrewes has been a source of fascination and reverence for catholic-leaning Anglicans from Archbishop William Laud in the immediate wake of Andrewes’s death to TS Eliot in the 20th century. Andrewes devoted himself, as did many others in the Elizabethan and Jacobean church, not only to prayer, preaching, and penitence, but also to defending the English settlement, the via media or “middle way,” against both its Roman and Puritan detractors.
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The Broad Churchmanship of William Reed Huntington


Huntington’s “Church-Idea”

Moving across the Atlantic, this week we turn our attention to a prominent priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States [1], William Reed Huntington (1838-1909). In the great age of “church parties” or factions in Anglicanism that was the nineteenth century, Huntington was one of the leading advocates of church reunion, not only in his own Episcopal church, but among all the fractures of Christendom, particularly as they found expression in the American context.

Like many others in the nineteenth century, Huntington was equal parts hope and despair about the configuration of the church in the United States. He was hostile to the comfy denominational system in the United States, in which the divisions that rent the one body of Christ were accepted as normative as the church was reconfigured into a series of private “voluntary societies,”[2] but he was also cautiously hopeful that the lack of an established church might remove external obstacles to the “union of hearts” necessary to reconciliation (Huntington, Peace, 18).

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Will You Marry Me?

by Greg Goebel 

I’ve been asked the question, “Will you marry me?” many times. And I’ve married a few people. I mean I’ve officiated at wedding, I’ve actually only been married once (for life). But in reality its not always framed as a question. Sometimes its “Guess what! You’re going to marry us!”

The minister is often seen as an ornament to the wedding. You have to have your dress, your cake, your musician, and then your church and your minister. You buy or rent any of these and then you are all set. The wedding is seen as a private function, something that is individual to the couple.

But we don’t see marriage that way, and so sometimes its a bit awkward. I end up having to reply, “Congratulations! Let’s get together and talk about the wedding. I need to hear what you all are thinking before I can agree to do the wedding.”

Sometimes people are offended, they think you aren’t excited or that you are put off by the work involved. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love weddings. Its just that as a Christian minister in a Christian church, I have to make sure that the couple really wants a Christian wedding in a Christian church. Continue reading


Edward Pusey and the Oxford Movement

by Jonathan Warren

Reading Edward Pusey

Edward Pusey

Edward Pusey

Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was simultaneously one of the most erudite and most polarizing figures in the Church of England in the nineteenth century. Along with John Henry Newman, Pusey was one of the most important leaders of the Oxford Movement, [1] a catholicizing reform movement in the Church of England committed to baptismal regeneration, Christ’s real “objective” (though not corporeal) presence in the Eucharist, auricular confession, robust ascetical theology, Gothic ecclesiastical architecture, and the reform of liturgy and ceremonial according to medieval and ancient precedents. The movement would go on to have immense international influence, and not only in the Anglican communion (See Brown and Nockles). After Newman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, Pusey was the leader of the Oxford Movement, later termed “Anglo-Catholicism,” until his death in 1882, to the extent that the English press often referred to the movement as “Puseyism.” Continue reading


A Review of The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie

Reviewed by Greg Goebel


The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie is an overview of Anglican spirituality, worship, devotion, theology, and practice. Fr Thomas is the first pastor of Church of the Redeemer, Nashville.

In the name of full disclosure, Thomas writes for this website, and is a friend. He asked me to read the original manuscript version, and we had several conversations about this project as it was in progress. So this will be a friendly review, but I’ve left nothing out that I think about the book, and all that I express is true to my perspective on the book. He hasn’t paid me anything for this review, but he did try to bribe me with a signed original vinyl 1547 edition of Thomas Cranmer’s Greatest Hits. I turned him down because I already had the 8-track tape.

The Anglican Way is well titled. This book is about a way. It invites people to an experiential journey with the Anglicans. It is also truly a “guidebook.”  You can skip around in it like you would a Travel book.  But its also easy to read through cover to cover. It will work best for someone who is actually visiting or regularly attending an Anglican church, although others would profit as well. As a pastor, I think this is very important, because our faith is shared in community. Thomas avoids the temptation to turn Anglicanism into a subject to merely be dissected, instead choosing to be a guide along the way as someone is seeking to be formed as a Christian, and as an Anglican.

Its so very difficult to summarize Anglican experience. There are the various streams, parties, and perspectives–not to mention liturgical approaches. This book does it though. It is non-partisan, but still confident and clear. I think it would be useful to every “stream” as a basic introduction. The main reason it succeeds in this is that it spends more time on what we affirm, than on what we deny — and almost completely avoids our speculative theologies. Continue reading