Nikaean Club dinner in honour of Cardinal Koch
Monday 11th June 2012A gathering of the Nikaean Club was held at Lambeth Palace in honour of Cardinal Koch’s visit from Rome.
Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was making his first formal visit to the Church of England. Besides Lambeth Palace, his trip included Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Church House, Holy Trinity Brompton, St Martin in the Fields, and meetings with Anglican Benedictine sisters in West Malling and Anglo-Catholic clergy in north London.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Koch addressed guests of the Nikaean Club, which offers hospitality on behalf of the Archbishop to representatives of other churches. Archbishop Rowan also paid tribute to Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop’s Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, who had recently announced his retirement.
Your Eminence, Excellencies, Graces and other distinctions – as the Africans like to say all ‘protocol observed’! I think that is possibly the safest allocution this evening for such a very unusually distinguished gathering.
First of all, a very warm welcome to you all to Lambeth Palace on this very auspicious occasion. It’s been our particular delight over the last few days to have Kurt Cardinal Koch as our guest. The Cardinal as you know is the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and succeeds our dear friend Cardinal Walter Kasper. With Cardinal Kasper over many years, many of us in this room developed a very warm and affectionate friendship and I’m completely confident that the same warmth, affection and trust will prevail in the future in our relationships.
We consider the Pontifical Council as among our greatest friends in Rome. We are always assured of a very warm welcome when we from Lambeth visit Rome at the Pontifical Council and that is not only to do with whoever happens to be president and with other staff but also with colleagues such as Monsignor Mark Langham and it’s a very particular personal pleasure to welcome you, Mark, back among us once again.
In these last few days we have attempted the impossible. We have set ourselves the task of introducing His Eminence to the Church of England in all its diversity in no more than four days! But you’ll understand that we have to some extent risen to the challenge, when I tell you that we have during this period visited the Benedictine sisters at West Malling; Canterbury Cathedral; Holy Trinity, Brompton; St Martin in the Fields; a number of parishes in North London; and last (but of course by no means least) Westminster Abbey. I think this will have given His Eminence a sense that whatever else the Church of England is, it is not dull. (Something I frequently find myself saying about my job)
It’s also been very important during the last few days that the Cardinal has had the opportunity of meeting the Canterbury Scholars who are currently staying at the Cathedral Lodge in Canterbury. Some of you will know that this is a group drawn from all around the Communion who gather together every year, young clergy and seminarians, basically from practically all the provinces of the Communion for two weeks’ intensive exposure to theology, mutual discussion and prayer together and over the years we have found this to be a hugely important event in cementing trust and freedom and what in New Testament Greek you would call parrhesia – ‘boldness of speech’ between those from very different backgrounds within the Communion.
You asked me earlier today, your Eminence, what we were doing to keep the Anglican Communion together (another thing which would take rather more than four days to explain!) but I spoke then about all the very diverse forms of collaboration and interchange that make up the fabric of the communion. We do not exist simply at primatial or conciliar level, we exist through a network of very local, very personal relationships. And whatever the strains that may occur at primatial and conciliar level it is still something of a miracle that there is such warmth and creativity in the relationships that exist between diocese and diocese and even parish and parish. And of course that says a great deal about what we can and do hope for our relations in this inter-Church setting. There will always – at least in the foreseeable future – be tensions, particular difficulties, crises, circumstances where our expectations, hopes do not match. But at the same time the network of relationships that is built and maintained by visits like this; by the generosity of spirit your Eminence and your predecessors have shown before; that will keep the vision and the energy for unity alive in the way, I believe that most matters. And – if I may say so – you are all here this evening because you share that vision.
Unity is about eating nice dinners together almost as much as it is about talking theology – perhaps even as much, at times. So we are very glad to welcome you, your Eminence, as an honoured, very much treasured guest of our Church here in England; very glad to use this opportunity to express our thanks to you and the Pontifical Council for all the extraordinary support, encouragement and solidarity that you’ve shown with us your Anglican colleagues and friends over these last eventful years. And we’re very glad to know that -- considering your own particular background – the cause of unity and the cause of friendship between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic communion now has a very robust Swiss guard in the Vatican! His Eminence came to his present job after several years as Bishop of Basel in Switzerland – a very particular kind of ecumenical challenge moving into the global challenges of the Pontifical Council, there have been many more circumstances he has had to become familiar with quite rapidly. We hope though that these last few days will not simply have been a series of ecumenical challenges, but a series of events which have conveyed a feeling of ecumenical opportunity and even of ecumenical achievement.
So much of what we’ve been able to celebrate together this weekend; praying, travelling, discussing together would, after all, not have been possible even half century ago. And it is vitally important that we do not ever lose sight of that fact. We have grown together in spite of so many challenges. And my hope and my prayer is – as I’m sure that of all of you – that that growth, that fellowship will continue with all the energy and the imagination that we can all bring to it.
So it is with great pleasure, your Eminence, that I welcome you as the guest of the Nikaean Club this evening. And according to our custom, I present you with the Cross of the Nikaean Club as a memento and a token of our esteem and our fellowship.
© Rowan Williams 2012
Before I sit down and invite the Cardinal to respond there is one other thing I should like to touch upon at this point. I mentioned those who make our welcome in Rome so warm and so compelling and not least among those of course is Canon David Richardson who we welcome as our guest this evening. David: who has served at the Anglican Centre as its director for the last four-and-a-quarter years, and as my personal representative to the Holy See.
David is going to be stepping down from this post very shortly and I know that you would all want me to take this opportunity of saying, David, how immensely we’ve appreciated the work you and Margie have done for the Centre, for the whole Communion and indeed for the good of all the Churches of Christ. Your welcome, your energy, the freshness you have bought to this work over the last few years has been wonderful to see. Many of us in this room have benefited deeply from the commitment you have brought to it. We shall be very, very sorry to see you leaving this post and wish you well in your retirement, but we do want to say the warmest possible thank you to you and to Margie for all that you’ve given in friendship and in love and warmth in these last years. David, thank you very, very much.
Your Grace, Your Eminence, My Lords, dear Friends in Christ,
It is a great honour to be a guest at this dinner hosted by the Nikaean Club, whose hospitality is a mark of the courtesy and generosity of the Church of England towards its ecumenical guests. This dinner comes as a climax to my visit to the Church of England. During these few days, I am grateful first of all for the opportunity to express to the Archbishop of Canterbury my gratitude for his inspirational ministry, his warm friendship, and his unswerving commitment to the search for unity. Through your many and welcome visits to Rome, Your Grace, we have come to know you well, and to appreciate your profound learning and your spiritual wisdom - and we will indeed miss you. There will, however, be one final opportunity to welcome you as Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome, when you will attend the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation in October, to lead the delegates in reflection. We keenly anticipate that event, and look forward to your contribution which, as ever, will be the fruit of your scholarship and prayerfulness.
I am also glad in these few days to have had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion through experiencing something of the riches of its worship, the diversity of its spiritual life, and the vitality of its pastoral activity. I must confess that before my visit, I had known the Church of England only through books and small experiences in the ecumenical situation in Switzerland, and even now, I am not sure I understand it all. But I am assured by Anglican friends that this is something that many of you share with me! However, I am grateful to have been able not only to participate in the magnificent and moving worship at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, but also to meet with the inspirational figures behind the Alpha Course, which is proving so fruitful in both our communions, and to share in worship at Holy Trinity Brompton, as well as meeting with clergy at St Michael’s, Camden, and visiting the impressive outreach to homeless and vulnerable people at St Martin in the Fields. Through meeting with many members of the Church of England and the worldwide communion, I have been able to understand something of the great spiritual, biblical and social heritage of Anglicanism, which makes it such a powerful witness in the world today.
There are many who say that relations between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church are in a state of crisis, or that our ecumenical discussions are doomed to failure. There is no doubt that recent developments create considerable problems for us and for our dialogue; my predecessor Cardinal Walter Kasper made clear to you his concerns on these issues. I am well aware of the importance of the decisions that will be taken at General Synod in July, and of the consequences not only for our relations, but for your own internal situation. We will have to consider the impact of these events carefully. As ever, I am struck by the honesty and openness with which you face these issues, and assure you that I will accompany your deliberations and the consequences with my prayers and deep concern for you.
But there is also another story to tell about our relationship. Two years ago, at Lambeth Palace, Pope Benedict said that he did not wish to dwell upon difficulties which were “well known to everyone here”, but rather to give thanks for the deep friendship that has grown during forty years, and “the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue.” Our relationship has a special character that is able to endure crises and difficulties, because we share so much in common. Even at the most difficult times, we have recognised in each other a likeness that will not allow us to give up on each other. Indeed, the history of our dialogue, stretching back beyond ARCIC, beyond the Malines Conversations, even as far as the exchange between Bishop Lancelot Andrewes and Cardinal Robert Bellarimine in the early seventeenth century, shows a concern to explore with each other our different ways of interpreting our common heritage. We have had strong differences of opinion, but we have never refused to recognise the presence of God working through his Church in each other. It is this ability to see in each other a family likeness which lies behind the famous declaration of Vatican II that among the Churches and Ecclesial Communions of the West “in which Catholic traditions and institutions in part continue to exist, the Anglican Communion occupies a special place.” This is one of the reasons why we continue to dialogue, and indeed, we cannot endure not to dialogue. As the third phase of ARCIC, now underway, shows, we still have much to talk about in terms that we share, using language, sources and resources that are common to both our communions. It is not just what we talk about that shows our special relationship, but the way we talk about it.
Pope Benedict, during his unforgettable visit to Great Britain, gave particular emphasis to something else we have in common. He spoke of the possibility of exploring together “ways of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness, leading to the practice of virtue in our personal and social lives.” I am aware of the important role of the Church of England in proclaiming Christ as a point of reference for British life, from your presence in national institutions and at great national events, to the work carried on in countless parishes and ordinary communities by dedicated clergy and faithful. In lives dedicated to generosity and self-giving Gospel witness, the Church of England testifies to the reality of Christian values which can transform our world. Pope Benedict has stressed the essential place of personal holiness in effectively proclaiming the Christian message. For so many, he laments, God has “become the great Unknown.” A new Evangelization will not be achieved, he says, simply by “new methods of announcing the Gospel” or by “pastoral activity,” but in the first place through personal conversion. The Holy Father’s teaching is paralleled in the great Anglican tradition of the “quest for personal holiness,” in which the faithful Christian reflects - or radiates - the values of Christ. George Herbert, whose own life was a conspicuous example of saintliness, famously compared the priest to a stained-glass window, by itself dim and fragmented, but which becomes resplendent when daylight shines through it. In the same way, our task is to be transfigured, washed in the light and colour of the bright shining word of God, so that we may transform others. As Anglicans and Roman Catholics, we have much to offer each other, and even more to offer our world, from our rich spiritual tradition; a tradition which resides not on library shelves, but is luminous in the lives of so many faithful men and women of today and past ages. The witness of our saints, living and dead, shows that holiness of life is not a flight from the world, but an openness to its deepest reality, an attentiveness to the hand of God at work in human lives. This is a treasure we share, and I pray that Anglicans and Catholics can work together ever more closely showing through transformed lives the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ to transform our world. If we wish to speak about God to our society, we need to speak with God.
I thank you again for hosting me at this dinner, and for the kindness you have shown me. I assure you that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity will continue to support the work of ARCIC and IARCCUM, to consolidate what we have achieved, and to open ourselves to the Spirit of Unity. I assure you of my prayers for the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, that it may continue to proclaim Christ with courage, imagination, and faithfulness. I conclude by making my own the words spoken by Pope Benedict at Lambeth: “We know that the friendships we have forged, the dialogue which we have begun and the hope which guides us will provide strength and direction as we persevere on our common journey.”
© Cardinal Koch 2012