Arthur Michael Ramsey was born in Cambridge in 1904, entered ministry in the Church of England in the 1920’s, and went on to be the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, from 1961-1974.
His memory is perhaps emphasized rather differently by different people today. Some remember him as an Anglo-Catholic, others as an Ecumenist, and others as a Christian Liberal.
As an Anglo-Catholic, he brought the long-standing tradition of English Christianity to the fore in his writings, giving voice to centuries of Christian teachers in his own life and ministry. He was able to draw connections with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, and he emphasized the distinctiveness of the Anglican tradition apart from the rest of the Protestant world.
As an Ecumenist, he developed positive relations with many other churches. He was the first Anglican to preach a sermon in Saint Patrick’s (Roman Catholic) Cathedral in New York City, he began to restore Anglican-Orthodox dialogue that the World Wars and Iron Curtain had cut off, he appeared on stage with Billy Graham at one point, and he served as the President of the World Council of Churches from 1961-1968.
As a Liberal, Archbishop Ramsey may be considered a mixed bag in hindsight. He was tentatively accepting of the ordination of women, he (unpopularly) advocated for the decriminalization of homosexuality, and he held at least a tentative hope of salvation for virtuous nonbelievers.
Apart from such partisan labels, Archbishop Ramsey is perhaps best-loved among seminarians and clergymen for his little book The Christian Priest Today, in which he shares gems of insight into pastoral ministry, prayer, and spirituality. Speaking of the high priestly prayer of Jesus, he wrote:
When we say “he lives to make intercession” we note that the verb εντυγχανειν which we habitually translate “intercede” means literally not to make petitions or indeed to utter words at all but to meet to encounter, to be with someone on behalf of or in relation to others. Jesus is with the Father; with him in the intimate response of perfect humanity; with him in the power of Calvary and Easter; with him as one who bears us all upon his heart, our Son of Man, our friend, our priest; with him as our own. That is the continuing intercession of Jesus the high priest.”
The double images of being with God on behalf of others and being with people on behalf of God sheds a glorious light on the natural connection between verbal prayer and lived-out prayer.
Because Archbishop Ramsey held to a few beliefs that remain controversial to this day, it is unlikely that he will ever be labeled a ‘Saint’ in the fullest formal sense – the Anglican tradition has no means by which canonize official saints – but his memory among us is such that he has been honored with a commemoration in the calendar of the Anglican Church in North America: April 24th, the day he departed this life in 1988.