Michael Ramsey is one of those individuals who I wish I could have met while he was alive. I first learned about him from our English brothers, describing him as a quiet and unassuming Archbishop. A quick image search on Wikipedia reveals a less than flattering photo. It certainly doesn’t evoke images of a man who is one of the most influential Anglican voices of the 20th Century.
The Anglican Spirit (Seabury Classics, 2004, $18.00) is actually a series of lectures Ramsey gave at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in the fall of 1979. The book is edited by Dale D. Coleman who at the time was a student at Nashotah House when Ramsey visited. Despite the academic setting in which this book’s contents were delivered, I did not find the book intellectually out of my reach. That is to say, I could follow Ramsey’s train of thought without getting lost. Whether or not I truly took in all Ramsey said is another matter. That will require some time in meditation and prayer to really understand the depths of his words. His words in The Anglican Spirit are so valuable for someone like me who continues to navigate the twists and turns of the Anglican tradition. Anglicanism seems to me like a bustling marketplace of religious theories, ideas, traditions, practices, and cultures. Finding one's way in this marketplace can be a complicated matter. Ramsey’s thoughts on Anglicanism and the Anglican ethos are essential to anyone who finds themselves wanting to dig deeper into this rich religious tradition.
In the book's 11 chapters, Ramsey takes the reader through a series of events, mostly chronological, acquainting readers with a basic understanding of, well, the Anglican spirit. For this reason, this book would be excellent for new (or veteran) Episcopalians or Anglicans interested in learning how Anglicanism developed in the 16th to the late 20th Century. Many influential names in Anglicanism’s history are mentioned and discussed at length. King Henry VIII, Richard Hooker, Queen Elizabeth I, the Tractarians, Frederick Denison Maurice, and William Temple all have their place in Ramsey’s book. Also included are some of the major events of the 20th Century that certainly influenced Ramsey’s vocation and ministry. He has a lot of positive things to say about the Second Vatican Council and the effects it had on relations between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. He also spends a few pages talking about the Orthodox and how the past 100 years have also seen a warming of relations between Anglicanism and Orthodoxy. Today, we continue to see the fruit of these developments take place in organizations like ARCIC (Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission) and the Anglican–Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions (A/OJDD).
Ramsey’s lectures give the impression of a deeply thoughtful man, conscious of his own humanity and Christianity’s struggle to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From how my English brothers describe him, he seemed like a saintly man, who, if he were a priest in the Episcopal Church, would never have become a bishop on account of his shyness. He seemed like a man most at home lecturing students on theology or preaching from the pulpit. I am glad we have works like The Anglican Spirit allowing Ramsey to instruct and inspire us in our own time.