Rowan Williams at Bishops’ Synod in Rome

Anglican Bishop, Robin Smith, shares his analysis of the talk given by the Primate of the Church of England at the Catholic Bishops' Synod on the New Evangelisation.
Dr Rowan Williams at the Synod of Bishops in Rome

It surely was another first: an Archbishop of Canterbury addressing the Synod of Bishops in Rome; and what an address it was! Invited by the Pope to speak to the Synod on: “The New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith” Rowan Williams concentrated not on fresh plans or new methods of evangelisation, but on the formation within us Christians of that New Humanity to which Christ calls his Church: a formation within each one of us which reflects the New Man, Jesus Christ, and which is built up through a life of disciplined contemplation.

On the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, he reminded the Synod of one of the most important aspects of the theology of Vatican II, namely its renewal of Christian anthropology: a vision of humanity made in the image of God, and of grace as “perfecting and transfiguring that image so long overlaid by our habitual ‘inhumanity’”. This, for members of the Focolare Movement, immediately recalls for us Chiara’s own call for a new and fully Christian anthropology.

Yet what is most inspiring of all is the Archbishop’s suggestion that we see God, not only as ‘The First Theologian’ as St Edith Stein had posited, but as “the first contemplative, the eternal paradigm of that selfless attention to the Other that brings not death but life to the self.” The contemplative stance however does not mean for us a search for some private experience of holiness; by no means. In “this self-forgetting gazing towards the light of God in Christ we learn to look at one another….” I find this particularly exciting because here Rowan Williams seems to offer a bridge between that search for personal holiness of the medieval mystics on the one hand, and on the other the insistence of Chiara Lubich on the need for a communitarian spirituality: only by spending time gazing on God-in-Christ shall we be restored to our true humanity; but in that very gazing we shall come face to face with our sister and brother (even the whole world) in Christ, and shall become one.

Lambeth Palace, September 2011. Archbishop Rowan Williams receives Focolare President, Maria Voce, together with Cardinal M. Vlk,and Msgr A. Bortolaso

It is precisely in those people and in those communities committed to this endeavour, he suggests, including the Focolare Movement, that we shall encounter this New Humanity. Only as Christians of all Traditions engage in this work together will their witness be credible in a divided world; and only so will the world, and especially those outside the institution of the Church, be attracted by and want to join in this thrilling, life-transforming enterprise.

Bishop Robin Smith (UK)