Monday, 12 March 2012

Transcript: Vatican Radio

This is a word for word (put into sentences) transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams speaking on Vatican Radio.

Vatican Radio: Archbishop Rowan Williams, you're back in Rome again less that six months after your last meeting with Pope Benedict. What can you tell us about your meeting of conversation this morning? We've had no official record of it so it would be good to hear what you talked about.

Rowan Williams: Very much a private conversation. Just touching base. We talked a little bit about the situation in the Middle East and the Churches' response to that and I think our shared sense of deep anxiety and frustration and uncertainty about what the future holds there; we talked a little bit about the Synod and what sort of thing I ought to be looking at when I come to speak at the Synod in the autumn; and a little bit also about the lecture I gave in Geneva recently on human rights and the need to reconnect Christian theology with human rights. So, as always, a very engaged conversation.

VR: Your words there must have struck a deep chord I imagine with the Pope on human rights.

RW: Well I think, yes, we got talking quite animatedly about the theological foundations of human rights and the need to ground it in a robust view of the image of God in human beings - not just in the sense of individual entitlements and clearly we are feeling very much of one mind on that need to get the theological grounding back into the discourse.

VR: Any talk about the current state of ecumenical relations?

RW: No I think we were the current state of ecumenical relations for that period! So, no, we didn't talk about that.

VR: You're here to celebrate vespers with Pope Benedict in the Church of San Gregorio al Celio, following very much in the tradition of your two immediate predecessors; so it is not in any way an historic event this but how important is it do you think to stress this real but imperfect communion between the two Churches?

RW: I think the fact that three successive archbishops will have been to San Gregorio is an acknowledgement of the historical fact that the Mission to England began here, and it is good to come and touch the soil on which you are nurtured in that sense: to honour the memory of St. Gregory and Augustine of Canterbury. And by that going back to common roots - a common history, a shared past, I think to affirm a communion that is still somewhere within us in the present as well - because we look back to that common past. Even the most Protestant of English Christians acknowledges that the roots of the mission lie here. So we are saying yes we have a common ancestry, yes that common ancesty gives us something now that is a real family relationship, and yes of course we work for that relationship to be full and sacramental and visible again in God's own time.

VR: The main purpose of this visit is to celebrate the millennium of the Camaldoli Community based there at San Gregorio; and you are focussing very much in these three days aren't you on the monastic values as a kind of road map for what many sadly see as a rather dead end path of ecumenical progress at the moment.

RW: The importance of monasticism both for ecumenism and mission, and that also is a focus this weekend, is I think that the monastic community just is a community assembled around the word of God. This is a community of people with no natural affinities or tribal loyalites. They are just drawn together as a community to say the psalms together, who identify themselves together with the prayer of Christ. Now that in itself says something about the deepest roots of ecumenism; it also says something about mission: it says that the community that lives like that attracts, that radiates something. And on Monday at Monte Casino I'll be speaking more specifically about the mission dimension of the monastic life - not that all monks ought to go out and be missionaries but that, as Bede says in his history, the beginnings of Christianity in England had a lot to do with the fact that of the apostolic life being lived by Augustine and his companions, drawing people in by the povery and the simplicity and the hospitality that was exercised.

VR: You also talk about it in terms of balancing the solitary life of the monk with the community dimension, and drawing on this model you also stress that therefore no Christian community on its own in solitude can possess in isolation the entire truth of the Gospel. That's a message that might not go down so easily here in Rome I'm thinking.

RW: Well it's one of those messages which I think comes home to you at the level of sheer spiritual and theological insight even if the institutional language is different. And a lot of Roman Catholics I know would say well of course we need something to enrich us from other Christian communions; we may believe we have institutionally and formally a certain fullness but there is also an incompleteness in the life as lived day by day which other Christians can help us in the living of. And for those of us who don't have the same commitment, that's even more obviously the sense that we can't cope without each other, and the fullness of the vision of Christ is every baptised person's image of Christ, vision of Christ and reflection of Christ.

VR: It's interesting that youre talking about all the baptised because you're urging us to really rethink ecumenical goals in the light of this monastic living around the world of God, but it brings us back to the question of authority without the ordained ministry of priests and bishops it's much easier to see this idea of reconciliation that we are searching for.

RW: Except of course that baptism is not just the baptism of an individual into an individual relationship with God through Christ; baptism is coming into a community which is structured, which has to wrestle with structures of authority. So I am not trying to bypass the need to tackle these things, as of course the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission has always done. Just that occasionally we can become so fixated on getting those problems solved that we forget the gift of baptism and the gift of one another in baptism that we are are all in some very very significant sense in Christ before we begin talking to each other.

VR: You're also looking back, if you like, at the divisions of the past, and suggesting that perhaps they even had a positive effect in allowing the different communities to develop different ways of doctrine or worshipping: it is a sort of radical rethinking of what were often very political decisions weren't they at the time.

RW: They were deeply political decisions and often deeply sinful decisions on all sides and what strikes me about it all is that the province of God uses these extremely flawed decision making processes and amazingly brings spiritual fruit out of them. The example I think I quoted and which is perhaps the most dramatic is the witness of the Anabaptist Churches in the sixteenth century whose theology would be very much at odds with that of most Catholic Christians and yet the witness of those Churches to peace, to the priority of living out a community life of reconciliation as in the Mennonite Churches of the present day - this has been such a gift to the whole Church of God that, whatever the origins of such a division, God has used that somehow to bring something into focus that might otherwise have been fuzzy or obscure and as it were pushed it back towards the Church and said, 'Now look at this because you've forgotten that haven't you?' And I think some of what some people have been saying how we will celebrate in 2017, the anniverary of the beginnings of Luther's Reformation - some of what Cardinal Koch has been saying about that, for example - surely that's saying the same thing we celebrate the fact that the Word of God has come into focus again.

VR: There'll be a couple of more chances to exchange ecumenical gifts here in Rome later this year, won't there? We've got the Westminster Abbey Choir coming over here and you're returning to address the Synod of Bishops in the autumn. Can you give us any insights into what you'll be doing? I know you've been talking quite closely to Archbishop Fizzicella's Council for Evangelisation, haven't you?

RW: That's right. I've had very helpful conversation there. And speaking about that this morning with the Holy Father it is very clear I think that I am being invited to give some theological reflection on the nature of mission, the nature of evangelisation and extremely honoured to be invited to do this and hope it's a sign that we can work together on evangelisation in Europe. It's disastrous if any one Church tries to go it alone here and assume that it and it alone has the key: there is no one key to the issue of evangelisation in the former Christendom countries and we need as many resources as we can and we need and as deep resources as we can find.

VR: Going back home and looking at the situation in the Church of England; the most recent Synod: the discussions on the Anglican Covenant, which of course has such significance for your ecumenical partners. It seems to be a real difficulty at the moment with many dioceses saying they won't support it. You've staked a lot on this haven't you. What are your feelings about this right now?

RW: Well first of all I think we're still in the middle of a process that won't be over until shortly before General Synod so I don't want to second guess where we get to on this. I do think that some of the fears people have expressed about the Covenant are fears of the right thing but attached to the wrong object, because I really don't think that the Covenant is a kind of Charter for Inquisitions and, if you read it carefully, I think it is crystal clear that the Covenant is about a process by which we can talk to one another and discern together. And at the moment we haven't got such a vehicle. So when big decisions, big controversies, arise, we don't know where to locate the proper discussion. We can't always wait for the next Lambeth Conference, which may be years and years ahead; we can't load everything on to the Primates' Meeting; we need some structures in which there can be a real testing of spirits. And I think that's what the Covenant is about and my main feeling, I suppose, is a passion to get that across and a certain frustration that it is still being represented as a bid for authoritarian centralised power, which it emphatically isn't.

VR: But you are hoping the next few months will bring some changes in that.

RW: Well, I am praying hard.

VR: The other question that was discussed of course at the recent Synod: the question of women bishops. And that continues to cause deep divisions doesn't it within the Church of England. Final approval of this question I understand could come in July. What are your expectations here?

RW: The discussion at Synod was in I think many ways quite an impressive one. There was a manifest desire to make something work for everybody. There wasn't any triumphalism around. There wasn't on one side a desire to subvert the whole thing, nor on the other side just a desire to grind the opponents' faces in the dust, but a real sense that we have got to try to make this thing work for as many people in the Church of England as possible. Hence I think the cautious but definite remit to the bishops: 'Take one last look at this and just see if there's some final adjustments that can be made,' and we're working as I speak; we're working very hard on that. The bishops will be looking at it in the months ahead and I'm actually still cautiously optimistic that we may find some structure that will hold here. And, as I have been saying endlessly to people in recent weeks: there is a huge will to make it work; there are great funds of goodwill at every level of the Church of England. Nobody wants to see a loss of a vital significant element in the more conservative parts of our Church and, actually, very few people want to frustrate the process of moving towards the final approval of the legislation. So if that's where most people are there ought to be a way of expressing it.

VR: Finally you're going to be leading celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June. This is likely to be a momentous occasion but how important is the religious dimension of this celebration and her role as a religious leader for people not just in the UK but beyond throughout the Commonwealth?

RW: The Queen has been more and more explicit in recent years about her own Christian commitment, and of course recently when she visited Lambeth Palace she spoke in a way that clearly rang a lot of bells for a lot of people about how she saw the role of the Church of England as in a sense almost reflecting of something she's tried to do which is to provide a large room in which people of faith can meet with confidence, to be hospitable to other perspectives and other commitments without sacrificing your own. I think that's very much what she's done and I think her role in the Commonwealth has always had that dimension to it. And it does seem to be significant that the first big public event of this Jubilee year was an event involving the religious communities, as if she was very happy to state her priorities about I'd say her ministry - not just her status and standing as monarch but her ministry - as somebody who sees it as a real calling from God to make that space for religious communities, to encourage the Church of which she is Supreme Governor to work in that way; and the feeling on that occasion was very much of different communities feeling welcomed, feeling at home.

VR: Thank you very much indeed.

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