A personal view of unity efforts by the Rev. David Johnson
CHARLES LINDLEY Wood, the second Viscount Halifax who died fifty years ago last week, was in all respects a remarkable man. At an early age he turned his back on the very promising political career which had been mapped out for him, dedicated his life to enabling the Church of England to recover its Catholic heritage and after a lifetime full of achievement launched the first modern initiative for Unity between the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions at the advanced age of 82.
It was therefore fitting that there should be commemorations of his death, culminating last Saturday with a great Sung Eucharist at York Minster in the presence of Cardinal Danneels of MalinesBrussels and Fr Lauwevier of the Lazarist Order in France the descendants in office of those who participated in the Malines Conversations.
Yet among the ecumenists travelling up from King's Cross there was perhaps a slight feeling of ennui. Another commemoration of Malines after so many other anniversaries? Another backward look when we ought to be thinking about the possibilities of Arcic II?
But as Cardinal Willebrands reminded us in a letter read out by the Archbishop of York, this was to be an occasion of gratitude and admiration and there was no need for nostalgia. "To recall the past is to commit ourselves to the future", Pope John Paul 11 has written, and in York Minster we gave thanks for a man of God whose vision of the Church of England "United not Absorbed" has been the inspiration for all our ecumenical work since.
"Where there is no vision the people perish" was the text Dr Habgood took for his sermon, and he urged the vision to be widened if it was not to be blocked by the painful experiences of the past. saying that if the friendship between an English Viscount, a French priest and a Belgian Cardinal was needed to get it going, then this was all part of the pattern of God's working.
1 wonder what Lord Halifax would make of the Unity scene today. He would probably be surprised that we had not learnt from his mistakes and that often those engaged in ecumenical negotiations pursue them ahead of the main body of Christian opinion and can end up being representative only of themselves.
He might also be curious how so many of the problems about reunion are now so much more complex than he ever envisaged (Cardiftal Danneels pointed out that the most important difference remained on the question of agreement on moral issues such as sexual morality, marriage discipline and abortion).
One thing, however, is certain. Lord Halifax's romantic temperament would be delighted by the history of a ring.
On his deathbed Cardinal Mercier removed his pastoral ring and gave it to Lord Halifax who wore it thereafter on a chain next to his heart. It was this gesture which was the inspiration for Pope Paul VI taking off his ring and giving it to Archbishop Michael Ramsey when they met in Rome in 1966 — "a ring not of marriage but of engagement".
From that meeting sprang the work of Arcic and the Papal visit to Britain. On Saturday as the Dean of York presided at the High Altar which is itself Lord Halifax's memorial. wearing the cloth of gold vestments he presented. he elevated the chalice through a haze of incense and round the stem could be seen the glittering ring of Cardinal Mercier.
Perhaps the next time we have a major celebration of Lord Halifax or the Malines Conversations, Roman Catholics and Anglicans will receive from that chalice together. There is no reason why not; for after all, as the Archbishop of York said, "when men of God dream seemingly impossible dreams, God does not in the end disappoint them".