Rowan Williams - a true Prince of the Church
His Grace is not going to add substantially to either. As with all biography and hagiography, the truth lies somewhere between the two, and this blog has attempted to bridge the gulf a number of times (see here, here, here and here (and not forgetting here]).
The reality is that people have been prophesying the demise of the Church of England since it was established: it was once referred to as being ‘crucified between two thieves’ - the respective fanaticism and superstition of ‘the Puritans and the Papists’. There is a modern parallel with a church now suspended between the decline in institutional religion and the burgeoning of generalised ‘spirituality’; between the secularisation of society and the plurality of faith communities. The postmodern context is marked by diversity, fragmentation and all that is transitory; beliefs and practices are culturally relative, and Anglicanism has ceased to be supra-cultural or catholic.
Rowan Williams has perpetuated the via media for a further decade, against all the odds and contra all the prophets of doom. Whether or not you agree with him, you must concede that this is evidence of his considerable ability to sustain dialogue and relationship and keep people in communion with one another. It might be imperfect, but if the Lord's command for us to love one another means anything, it must be that we remain friendly when we do not agree. The Church has always struggled with the tension between affirmation of the gospel and assimilation to the prevailing culture; between transformation and inculturation. Establishment commits the Church to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications. If Rowan Williams has shown us anything, it is that these cannot easily be reduced to soundbites, neat headlines or trite blogposts: profound matters demand profound contemplation and an articulation which does them justice. More often than not, Dr Williams has been purposely woefully misunderstood and misreported by a ferociously judgmental and hostile press. His successor will fare no better: it is the zeitgeist.
We are no longer in an age, if ever we were, where the Archbishop of Canterbury can impose a morality or a doctrine of God. Archbishop Rowan saw his primary function as being the acutely political one of calling the state to account by obstinately asking the Government about its accountability and the justification of its priorities. He may sometimes have been a thorn in the Prime Minister's side; he might even have been a 'disaster' on the political front and occasionally infuriating. But being the very incarnation of the command to love, he was and remains a true Prince of the Church.