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The Fraternal Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Archbishop Rowan Williams

Posted on: September 17, 2010 4:30 PM
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His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI will today visit His Grace Archbishop Rowan Williams at the Archbishop’s London home, Lambeth Palace.

Together they will address a meeting of Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishops from England, Scotland and Wales in the Great Hall of the Archbishop’s Library.

Recalling fifty years of significant meetings between successive popes and archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Williams will welcome Pope Benedict to Lambeth Palace before leading the bishops in an opening prayer.

In his address to the bishops (full text below), Dr Williams will stress the wider spiritual and missionary context in which ecumenical dialogue and growth in unity must take place. He will speak of the historic visit as “a special time of grace and of growth in our shared calling”, and express the hope that the occasion will be recognised as having “significance both to the Church of Christ and to British society”. 

On the topic of the common duty of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops to engage in mission to our society, he will say, “Our presence together as British bishops here today is a sign of the way in which, in this country, we see our task as one and indivisible. Our fervent prayer is that this visit will give us fresh energy and vision for working together.”

“Today, this involves a readiness to respond to the various trends in our cultural environment that seek to present Christian faith as both an obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect. We need to be clear that the Gospel of the new creation in Jesus Christ is the door through which we enter into true liberty and true understanding.”

“Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion; but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness by prayer and public celebration together, by closer friendship, and by growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made.

Following an address by Pope Benedict, the Archbishop and the Pope will exchange gifts. The Archbishop will give the Pope a leather-bound diptych of facsimiles of full-page illuminations from the twelfth-century Lambeth Bible (details below and photograph available on request).  

The meeting will end with Pope Benedict leading the bishops in the Lord’s Prayer and a concluding prayer.

The Archbishop and Mrs Jane Williams will then welcome Pope Benedict into their home, where the Archbishop and the Pope will spend half an hour in private discussion before viewing a small selection of the treasures from the Lambeth Palace Library (details below). 

This is the first time in history that a pope will visit Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official London residence, Pope John Paul II having visited Archbishop Robert Runcie in Canterbury in 1982.

END

Notes to editors:

The full text of the Archbishop’s address can be found below:

Address to a Meeting of Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocesan Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales on the occasion of The Fraternal Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Great Hall, Lambeth Palace, 17 September 2010

Your Holiness, brother bishops, brothers and sisters in Christ:

It is a particular pleasure that on this historic occasion we are able to come together as bishops of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in this country to greet you, Your Holiness, during a visit which we all hope will be of significance both to the Church of Christ and to British society. Your consistent and penetrating analysis of the state of European society in general has been a major contribution to public debate on the relations between Church and culture, and we gratefully acknowledge our debt in this respect.

Our task as bishops is to preach the Gospel and shepherd the flock of Christ; and this includes the responsibility not only to feed but also to protect it from harm. Today, this involves a readiness to respond to the various trends in our cultural environment that seek to present Christian faith as both an obstacle to human freedom and a scandal to human intellect. We need to be clear that the Gospel of the new creation in Jesus Christ is the door through which we enter into true liberty and true understanding: we are made free to be human as God intends us to be human; we are given the illumination that helps us see one another and all created things in the light of divine love and intelligence. As you said in your Inaugural Mass in 2005, recalling your predecessor’s first words as pope, Christ takes away nothing “that pertains to human freedom or dignity or to the building of a just society. … If we let Christ into our lives we lose absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Only in his friendship is the great potential of human existence revealed.” [Inaugural Homily, Rome, 24 April 2005]

Our presence together as British bishops here today is a sign of the way in which, in this country, we see our task as one and indivisible. The International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission has set before us all the vital importance of our common calling as bishops to be agents of mission. Our fervent prayer is that this visit will give us fresh energy and vision for working together in this context in the name of what a great Roman Catholic thinker of the last century called ‘true humanism’ – a passionate commitment to the dignity of all human beings, from the beginning to the end of life, and to a resistance to every tyranny that threatens to stifle or deny the place of the transcendent in human affairs.

We do not as churches seek political power or control, or the dominance of Christian faith in the public sphere; but the opportunity to testify, to argue, sometimes to protest, sometimes to affirm – to play our part in the public debates of our societies. And we shall, of course, be effective not when we have mustered enough political leverage to get our way but when we have persuaded our neighbours that the life of faith is a life well lived and joyfully lived.

In other words, we shall be effective defenders or proclaimers of our faith when we can show what a holy life looks like, a life in which the joy of God is transparently present. And this means that our ministry together as bishops across the still-surviving boundaries of our confessions is not only a search for how we best act together in the public arena; it is a quest together for holiness and transparency to God, a search for ways in which we may help each other to grow in the life of the Holy Spirit. As you have said, Your Holiness, “a joint fundamental testimony of faith ought to be given before a world which is torn by doubts and shaken by fears.” [‘Luther and the Unity of the Churches’, 1983]

In 1845, when John Henry Newman finally decided that he must follow his conscience and seek his future in serving God in communion with the See of Rome, one of his most intimate Anglican friends and allies, the priest Edward Bouverie Pusey, whose memory the Church of England marked in its liturgical calendar yesterday, wrote a moving meditation on this “parting of friends” in which he said of the separation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics: “it is what is unholy on both sides that keeps us apart”.

That should not surprise us: holiness is at its simplest fellowship with Christ; and when that fellowship with Christ is brought to maturity, so is our fellowship with one another. As bishops, we are servants of the unity of Christ’s people, Christ’s one Body. And, meeting as we do as bishops of separated church communities, we must all feel that each of our own ministries is made less by the fact of our dividedness, a very real but imperfect communion. Perhaps we shall not quickly overcome the remaining obstacles to full, restored communion; but no obstacles stand in the way of our seeking, as a matter of joyful obedience to the Lord, more ways in which to build up one another in holiness by prayer and public celebration together, by closer friendship, and by growing together both in the challenging work of service for all whom Christ loves, and mission to all God has made.

May this historic visit be for all of us a special time of grace and of growth in our shared calling, as you, Your Holiness, bring us the word of the Gospel afresh. 

© Rowan Williams 2010 

The Archbishop’s Gift to the Pope:

The Archbishop gave the Pope a leather-bound diptych (two pictures hinged together) of facsimile full-page illuminations from the Lambeth Bible – a mid-12th-century volume of the Bible in Romanesque style widely thought to have been written and illustrated at Canterbury, which featured in the Palace Library’s 400th anniversary exhibition this summer.

The left-hand panel depicts key moments in the book of Genesis—the Hospitality of Abraham, Jacob’s Ladder, and the Sacrifice of Isaac). The right-hand panel is a rare form of the Jesse Tree (featuring the prophets, the allegorical virtues, the evangelists, the Church and the Synagogue, the Virgin Mary, and Christ filled with the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit).

Together these two panels represent the great sweep of the Biblical story from Genesis to Christ and the Church.

The Pope viewed the original of the Jesse Tree illumination at the end of his Private Meeting with the Archbishop.

A photograph of the gift is available on request.

The small number of Lambeth Palace Library treasures on display for Pope Benedict were as follows:

  • Lambeth Bible, c.1150-70, open at Tree of Jesse
  • MacDurnan Gospels, ninth century, open at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel
  • St Anselm’s collected treatises and letters, compiled by William of Malmesbury, c.1120-24, open at letters to Archbishop Anselm from King Henry I and Pope Paschal II
  • Archbishop’s Register of Cardinal Pole, 1556-8, open at Cardinal Pole’s coat of arms as Archbishop

Gospels in Church Slavonic (Moscow, c.1564), open at the beginning of St John’s Gospel