Archbishop Rowan Williams today announced his resignation as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He has served for ten years in the post, taking up the office when he was only 51 years old. Normally, it is anticipated that Bishops in England serve until the age of 70. So, although he will continue playing an active role in the church, as the 35th Master of Magdalene College, Williams’ resignation as Archbishop is, in my mind, a sad loss for the church.
He has filled the office with unsual grace, wisdom, and gentleness. He is by all accounts a deeply thoughtful man who found himself caught up in a time of almost overhwelming turmoil in the international life of the Anglican Church. He was required to attempt to balance impossible polarities and work towards union between apparently irreconcilable opposites.
Although he was frequently criticized and sometimes mocked for his faith, he always seemed to me to be a person of deep and profound faith.
His thinking was frequently more subtle than could be easily contained in a sound byte. This made it hard for some people to appreciate the depth of his spirituality. But I imagine he was not surprised to find that himself criticized for never giving easy answers.
As brilliant as his mind is, Rowan Williams understands profoundly the limited nature of human language and thought.
In his beautiful book, The Wound of KNowledge, Williams wrote,
God can never be contained in human concepts. Moses ascends into a cloud and darkness beyond the scope of intellect, where God offers himself directly to the vision, without the intervention of any form or idea. Here, then, the pilgrimage of the understanding is seen not (as for the Gnostic) in terms of acquisition but in terms of stripping away, the stripping of multiple and diffuse kinds of apprehension to the simplicity of a single-hearted vision.
This is a deep call to recognize that faith operates in a dimension that cannot be contained by human thought or human concept. It is a humble recognition that we human beings are limited in our capacities to contain the deep mysteries of life.
This awareness may not make for simple theological constructs, but it certainly creates room for a deep spirit that has the capacity to thrive in the complexities of a world in which differences of opinion and worldview are often intense.
It is hard to imagine the pressures and strains that bore down upon Rowan Williams as he struggled to work for the well-being of that noble enterprise that is called the worldwide Anglican Communion. He seems to have held profoundly the vision of a community with the capacity to look beyond cultural differences in the interest of a shared commitment to the transcendent value of love known in the person of Jesus Christ.
I pray that, as Rowan Williams moves into a new chapter in his ministry in the church, he may feel deeply that he has served nobly in the impossible situation he was given and that he may find peace and nurture in the new path he is taking.
Andrew Sullivan today posted an intesting quote and a link to a powerful article about the Archbishop:
The current archbishop of Canterbury just announced his resignation. I didn’t think much of him until reading this truly superb profile by Paul Elie in the Atlantic.
Among the more heart-felt, this from the Labour party leader, Ed Miliband:
In the last three years I have grown to appreciate more and more the fine qualities of Archbishop Rowan – his kindness, his sharp intellect, his dedication to striving for harmony between peoples, especially within the Christian family, his courage and his friendship.
He had the mark of a true Christian, as opposed to a partisan Christianist: a deep discomfort with wielding power.