Archbishop of Canterbury: 'the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full'

Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams,  arrived in Rome today for the start of a three-day visit organised some time before Pope Benedict issued his Apostolic Constitution inviting Anglicans to join the Catholic Church. Dr Williams began his visit as the guest of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity with an address at a symposium being held at the Gregorian University, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Cardinal Willebrands, the first president of the Council. On Saturday Dr Williams will have a meeting with the Pope.

The Archbishop said  in his introduction:

"Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church has been involved in a number of dialogues with other churches – including with the Anglican Communion – which have produced a very considerable number of agreed statements.  This legacy has been brought together in a recent publication by the Vatican department to promote Christian Unity, whose first President during and after Vatican II, Cardinal Johannes Willebrands, is justly and happily celebrated in today's centenary conference.

Let me give an outline of what I want to say in the half an hour or so available.  The strong convergence in these agreements about what the Church of God really is, is very striking.  The various agreed statements of the churches stress that the Church is a community, in which human beings are made sons and daughters of God, and reconciled both with God and one another.  The Church celebrates this through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion in which God acts upon us to transform us 'in communion'.  More detailed questions about ordained ministry and other issues have been framed in this context.

Therefore the major question that remains is whether in the light of that depth of agreement the issues that still divide us have the same weight – issues about authority in the Church, about primacy (especially the unique position of the pope), and the relations between the local churches and the universal church in making decisions (about matters like the ordination of women, for instance).  Are they theological questions in the same sense as the bigger issues on which there is already clear agreement?

And if they are, how exactly is it that they make a difference to our basic understanding of salvation and communion?  But if they are not, why do they still stand in the way of fullervisible unity?  Can there, for example, be a model of unity as a communion of churches which have different attitudes to how the papal primacy is expressed?

The central question is whether and how we can properly tell the difference between 'second order' and 'first order' issues.  When so very much agreement has been firmly established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?"

He concluded: "All I have been attempting to say here is that the ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full – and then to ask about the character of the unfinished business between us.  For many of us who are not Roman Catholics, the question we want to put, in a grateful and fraternal spirit, is whether this unfinished business is as fundamentally church-dividing as our Roman Catholic friends generally assume and maintain. And if it isn't, can we all allow ourselves to be challenged to address the outstanding issues with the same methodological assumptions and the same overall spiritual and sacramental vision that has brought us thus far?"

To read the full ext of the lecture see:

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