As Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, were leaving the basilica of St Paul’s outside the walls in Rome, during their historic meeting 50 years ago, the Pope drew him aside, as if to show him some ancient frescoes, and said something that the Archbishop did not catch. His 35-year-old secretary, Fr John Andrew, said: “Take off your ring.”
The Pope took Ramsey’s right hand and put upon his finger a ring. Its green stone mount was quartered by a thin gold cross, the angles marked by four square diamonds. It had been given to him by the people of Milan when he became Archbishop there in 1954.
Ramsey was in tears, and, as Fr Andrew later told the American journalist John Allen, the two churchmen stood almost alone in the vast basilica. Although the Pope and the Archbishop had earlier that day agreed to set up a serious dialogue on doctrine and practical difficulties, this gesture said something more direct and tangible about Paul VI’s respect for Ramsey’s episcopal status.
An amusing sequel was that a messenger came to see Fr Andrew, lodging at the English College in Rome, to ask if Ramsey would like the box that went with the ring. He replied that he knew Ramsey would wear the ring always and wouldn’t need the box – but he himself wouldn’t mind having it. That was what the Pope had thought, the messenger replied, so he had brought it with him.
Ramsey wore the Pope’s ring till his dying day, and successive Archbishops of Canterbury have worn it when visiting the Pope.
Since that first official meeting in 1966, the first since the Reformation, the Archbishop of Canterbury has had his own representative to the Holy See. He lives at that strange and friendly place, the Anglican Centre in Rome, which ever since 1966 has been given an apartment in the Doria Pamphilj palace, as grand as Northumberland House must once have been in London. There is a fabulous art gallery on the piano nobile and a creaky lift to the heights where the Anglican Centre has its library of 14,000 books and a plain little chapel where the Eucharist is celebrated every Tuesday at 12.45.
has been rolling on for five decades. It always seemed to me that while its Anglicans and Roman Catholics might agree on points in joint statements, they’d find plenty of people with whom they wouldn’t agree in their respective denominations.
When Henry Chadwick went to visit Pope John Paul II in 1982 to work out what service he might attend when he visited Canterbury late that year, he noted that Anglicans must seem to Rome “at some moments a diabolical Doppelgänger or counterfeit and rival Catholicism”. Yet, “though the Holy Father must regard any eucharist I celebrate as invalid, he sent me away with the gift of a most beautifully embroidered white stole”.
From 1982, an event that stayed in my mind was Archbishop Robert Runcie kneeling next to Pope John Paul at the place where Thomas Becket had been martyred in 1170.
Pope Paul VI had got to know Anglican clergy in Milan in the 1950s, whereas the present Pope can have only a sketchy notion of the colour and traditions of Anglican spirituality. But I think Pope Francis is less likely to look on Anglicans as diabolical Doppelgängers than any predecessor. He certainly understands the reality of practical witness – if need be, the martyrdom of Becket.
Thanks to ‘Anglican Taonga’, I came acrioss this snippet of useful information about the beginnings of a special dialogue between the See of Canterbury and the Roman Catholic Church. Fifty years ago, on a visit by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Michael Ramsay, there was an incident that happened – outside the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the walls in Rome – described here:
“The Pope took Ramsey’s right hand and put upon his finger a ring. Its green stone mount was quartered by a thin gold cross, the angles marked by four square diamonds. It had been given to him by the people of Milan when he became Archbishop there in 1954.”
At the time, the significance of the Pope’s action may not have been fully explored. However, from the description of the event, given by Archbishop Ramsay’s Secretary, Fr. John Andrew, it should be obvious that the Archbishop himself, a well-known Anglo-Catholic, was deeply moved at this gesture from a reigning Pope.
Could it be that, if Pope Paul IV had lived longer, he might have welcomed a much closer relationship between our two Churches?
However, in the circumstances, what did happen was that a vital connection was made between Rome and Canterbury that led to a quasi-ambassadorship being established in Rome, with a residence in the imposing Doria Pamphilj Palace, and offices set up accommodating the Anglican Centre. The centre’s director is now New Zealander Archbishop David Moxon. He is the Anglican chairman of the Joint Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (Arcic) .
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand