Glory Descending: Michael Ramsey and His Writings
by Douglas Dales, John Habgood, Geoffrey Rowell, and Rowan Williams
(Eerdmans, 2005, 282 pages)
This book is both a reader, consisting of passages from former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey’s various publications, and a series of essays and talks from Anglican figures concerning Ramsey’s life and writings. In addition to holding the primary bishopric in the Church of England (1961-1974), Ramsey was also an important Anglican theologian. His writings on ecumenism, New Testament studies, and spirituality are important contributions to twentieth century Anglican theology. This volume was published as part of the remembrances surrounding the centenary of Ramsey’s birth.
The first section, the reader, includes important passages from Ramsey’s major works like The Gospel and the Catholic Church and The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ. These two books are quoted at length and in such a way that they give a good sense of the arguments and concerns of the original publications. The selections as a whole are well chosen, and they display a spirituality deeply rooted in the New Testament. I found the passages having to do with the contemplative nature of prayer particularly good. Ramsey’s discussion of this topic is practical and helpful, avoiding the pitfall of unrealistic expectations that can often accompany the topic of spiritual disciplines. His vision for the unity of the Church also has this element of concern for a practical demonstration of Christian unity that is informed by a renewal of the New Testament’s cruciform spirituality. The discussion of ecumenical topics is particularly interesting in light of the clear influence that Eastern Orthodoxy exerted on Ramsey’s theology. The major themes of glory and transfiguration in his writings are evidence of his engagement with both Orthodox writings and Orthodox Church leaders.
The second section consists mainly of essays originally presented as talks or lectures regarding Ramsey’s legacy. Some give largely personal accounts of Ramsey, offering personal portraits to accompany his words, while others pick up and develop important themes in his writings. The best of these essays, not surprisingly, come from Rowan Williams, also a former Archbishop of Canterbury. In particular, Williams’ essay “The Christian Priest Today,” (a title borrowed from one of Ramsey’s books) is a challenging and incisive meditation on the nature of priestly ministry and the particular contemporary challenges that Christian ministers face.