In his Friday visit to Lambeth Palace, Pope Benedict XVI met with Archbishop Rowan Williams to discuss the state of Catholic-Anglican relations. In public remarks, the two leaders recalled the example of Cardinal Newman and noted both the difficulties and the promise of ecumenical dialogue in Christian friendship.
Speaking in the Great Hall of the Archbishop’s Library, Pope Benedict opened by saying it was a pleasure for him to return the courtesy of visits the Archbishop of Canterbury had made to him in Rome. After greeting the assembled Anglican and Catholic bishops, he noted the “historic meeting” at Canterbury Cathedral in 1982 between Pope John Paul II and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie.
They had prayed together for the “gift” of Christian unity at the place of St. Thomas of Canterbury’s martyrdom, the Pope continued.
“We continue today to pray for that gift, knowing that the unity Christ willed for his disciples will only come about in answer to prayer, through the action of the Holy Spirit, who ceaselessly renews the Church and guides her into the fullness of truth,” he continued.
While controversies in the Anglican Communion have arisen over the ordination of women as priests and bishops, the ordination of homosexuals and other theological and ethical issues, Pope Benedict did not speak of “difficulties” which are “well known to everyone here.”
Rather, Pope Benedict gave thanks “for the deep friendship that has grown between us and for the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue.”
“Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth.”
Anglican-Catholic dialogue has evolved in “dramatic ways” since Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher met in 1960, he explained. The surrounding culture is “growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment.” At the same time there is increasing cultural diversity and encounters with other religions.
This opens for Christians the possibility to explore with others the ways of witnessing to “the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness” which leads to the practice of personal and social virtue. Ecumenical cooperation is “essential” in this task and will “surely bear fruit in promoting peace and harmony.”
“At the same time, we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ, and to explore together a deeper understanding of the means he has placed at our disposal for attaining that salvation,” continued Pope Benedict.
Citing 1 Tim 2:4, he said that the eternal Son of the Father Jesus Christ is the truth “who has reconciled all things in himself by the power of his Cross.”
“We recognize that the Church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth,” the Pope added, calling this the “dilemma” of genuine ecumenism.
He cited the life of the 19th century cleric, theologian and Catholic convert John Henry Cardinal Newman. According to the Pontiff, Newman was nurtured by his Anglican background and matured during his ministry in the Church of England.
“He can teach us the virtues that ecumenism demands: on the one hand, he was moved to follow his conscience, even at great personal cost; and on the other hand, the warmth of his continued friendship with his former colleagues, led him to explore with them, in a truly irenical spirit, the questions on which they differed.”
“Your Grace, in that same spirit of friendship, let us renew our determination to pursue the goal of unity in faith, hope, and love, in accordance with the will of our one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” the Holy Father told the Archbishop, concluding his remarks with a blessing.
According to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Williams’ remarks praised Pope Benedict’s “consistent and penetrating analysis” of the state of European society as a “major contribution” to the debate on the relationship between Church and culture. The Archbishop of Canterbury also cited the Pope’s comments at his 2005 Inaugural Mass in which he said that nothing is lost by letting Christ into our lives because only in Christ’s friendship is humanity’s great potential revealed.
Discussing Cardinal Newman, Archbishop Williams said that when he decided to convert to Catholicism his Anglican friend Rev. Edward Bouverie Pusey meditated on the “parting of friends.” Discussing Anglican-Catholic relations, Pusey said, “it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart.”
After their public remarks, the two religious leaders met in private. According to Vatican Radio, this meeting affirmed the need to proclaim the Gospel message of Salvation in Jesus Christ amid profound cultural transformation while also living lives of holiness.
The two leaders agreed upon the importance of improving ecumenical relations and of continuing theological dialogue in the face of new internal and external challenges to unity. This theological dialogue should focus on the notion of the Church as a local and a universal communion.
Additionally, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on the serious situation of Christians in the Middle East and called upon all Christians to pray for and support their brothers’ and sisters’ peaceful witness in the Holy Land. They also discussed the needs of the poor and urged international leadership to fight hunger and disease.
Following their private meeting, the two traveled together to the Palace of Westminster and to Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey.
Pope Benedict will beatify Cardinal Newman on Sunday.