|San Gregorio Magno al Celio |
Released into the public domain by Lalupa
(source: Wikimedia Commons)
The Anglican Primate last met Pope Benedict during the Assisi World Day of Peace event, which was held last October. Before that, the two men spent some time together during the the Pope's state visit to the UK in September 2010. Although the Archbishop of Canterbury was cordial when welcoming the Pontiff to Britain, his initial words of welcome, spoken on BBC Radio 4 some months prior to the visit, had been rather frosty to say the least.
During his visit to the UK, the Pope co-celebrated an ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey with the Archbishop of Canterbury. At this event, the Holy Father emphasised his role as universal pastor of Christ's flock, and the special ministry he has been entrusted with to care for all the baptised. He also warned that authentic Christian unity must be based on that truth which has been revealed to the whole world in God's word. It is a warning that he has repeated both in recent speeches on Christian Unity Week as well as during other foreign trips, such as the one to Germany last year.
Noting that the people of Europe are thirsting for Christ, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the congregation of eclectic Christian leaders at Westminster Abbey (more properly known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster) that all churches and ecclesial communities have a duty both to evangelise and to be faithful to God's word. He went on to say that obedience to God's word, and therefore His will, must be "free of intellectual conformism or facile accommodation to the spirit of the age."
The Pope is well aware of the grave scandal caused by so-called Christians who, both within the Catholic Church and as members of Protestant groups, actively appear to be undermining truth in their misguided attempts to make the Gospel more palatable to the secular societies that many in the West now find themselves in. The wise know that no-one will be attracted to a Church that models itself on the world - which is why so many liberal Catholic churches stand empty and why the Church of England in many places appears to be tottering on her last legs. Those searching for God are looking for something counter-cultural, for something that is in the world but not of it.
In his address at Westminster Abbey during the Papal visit, Archbishop Rowan Williams spoke fondly of the See of Rome. Whilst acknowledging that the present Pope reflects the universal mission of his forebears, ranging from St Peter and St Gregory the Great up to Benedict's own predecessor, Bl Pope John Paul II, Williams also spoke of the "very diverse views about the nature of the vocation that belongs to the See of Rome" that are held by those Christians - like himself - who are not in communion with Christ's vicar on earth.
Having said that, the Archbishop of Canterbury also went on to commit himself to John Paul II's ecumenical challenge to all Christians, which is encapsulated in his encyclical, Ut Unum Sint. Referring to Benedict XVI's predecessor and to Ut Unum Sint in particular, Rowan Williams said: "we must learn to reflect together on how the historic ministry of the Roman Church and its chief pastor may speak to the Church catholic [sic] - East and West, global north and global south - of the authority of Christ and his apostles to build up the Body in love."
Whilst ready to accept that the Roman Pontiff can be the point of unity for the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury obviously has problems accepting papal authority and the Petrine ministry. During an ecumenical event in a well-known Jesuit church before the Papal visit, I remember hearing Rowan Williams explain his position as being one of respecting the See of Rome but never really wanting to be in communion with it. He seemed to suggest that he would change his mind if the whole Catholic Church were to accept the modernising tends that have torn apart the Anglican communion.
From my own understanding of the Archbishop of Canterbury's words at the ecumenical gathering in the Jesuit church, his main reason for rejecting the Successor of St Peter seemed to be based on the fact that he personally disagrees with the Pope concerning certain moral issues facing the world today. To Catholics, this logic is sad one - a theologically truncated view of what it really means to be in communion with others, let alone with the See of Rome.
Do those about to get married have to agree on all things before entering into that mystical union of two bodies that is matrimony? Is not laying aside petty differences for the sake of unity a greater witness to love than disunity for the sake of maintaining historically sensitive opinions? Isn't being subject to the authority of Christ a higher ambition than clinging onto untruths for the sake of one's ego?
Seeing that Protestantism, like modernist Catholicism, is all about the ego rather than eternity, about rebellion rather than obedience, about protestation rather than prostration, should we be surprised that the leader of the world's Anglicans places greater emphasis on his opinions than on the truth, on parochial disagreements than on Christian unity?
One wonders what intentions both the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury will have in their hearts as they pray together on the site where St Augustine was sent to bring the Gospel to the English people? Which one of them has the greater desire for unity, which of them the greatest desire for God's love to be made fully manifest in His Church? My hope is that the prayers of both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope will be united, as surely they should be, into one supplication genuine love - a cry for unity in the imitation of Christ.
Pope St Gregory the Great once wrote that the prayer of St Scholastica (whose feast it is on Friday - see here) was answered by God above a corresponding one offered by her twin, St Benedict, because "she who loved more, did more." I hope it is not too impertinent of me to say this, but it is my firm and Catholic belief that if both men were to hold different intentions, God would ultimately answer the prayer offered by the Pope - not so much because of his office, but because a universal pastor of Christ's flock who is also wedded to the truth is bound to "love more" than one whose own opinions seem to matter more to him than the salvation of the world.