The one-hundredth archbishop of Canterbury is retiring in November this year, on the day after his seventieth birthday, after thirteen years in office as Primate of All England. A deceptively mild-mannered man who has looked old and venerable from a comparatively early age, Arthur Michael Ramsey is by temperament both scholar and priest. Much to the delight of the mass media, however, he is possessed also of an unexpected sense of occasion, and became involved in, or even initiated, many a newsworthy situation.

He spoke out against capital punishment and was soft on Honest to God, but fired his own press officer for expressing radical views on the permissive society. On the other hand, in 1966 he declined comment on a British Council of Churches report which said that on abstinence outside marriage and faithfulness within there can be no set rules. The apparent inconsistency of attitude continued when two unmarried idols of the pop world produced a child after they had lived together for some time. Dr. Ramsey referred to it as “just a terribly sad instance of the way in which our society has disintegrated.” Quite astonishingly, the young father Came back with a real piledriver: “I believe,” he said, “that we are on the verge of a spiritual regeneration of which he has no knowledge.”

The archbishop opposed the World Council of Churches’ grants to combat racism because he felt the WCC lacked a properly reasoned policy toward what constitutes a just rebellion. Yet he advocated that Britain use force if necessary against rebel Rhodesia—and again laid himself open to the riposte on a grand scale. “The last time we used force in answer to a unilateral declaration of independence,” retorted one critic, “we were defeated, and the result was the United States of America.” He caused a sensation also by saying once that he expected to meet atheists in heaven, but in Vancouver he criticized the Billy Graham crusade in Britain, adding that what the country needed was “an intellectual thoughtful approach.” This prompted the editor of one religious weekly to suggest that the primate hire the Crusade stadium for a week and try that approach on a needy land.

On another overseas trip Ramsey was well entertained by the evangelical diocese of Sydney, but astonished his hosts after his departure by castigating the diocese for “wretched, narrow-minded, out-of-date partisanship.” Like the former Bishop of Woolwich, when overtaken by a furor he tended on occasion to protest that his words had been misunderstood or taken out of context. At other times Dr. Ramsey showed great kindness to evangelicals and proved himself to be a notable Bible expositor in their company. It was undoubtedly because of his good will, at least, that 1971 saw the appointment to the ancient see of Norwich of Maurice Wood, the first known evangelical to become a diocesan in many years.

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Ramsey became the first archbishop of Canterbury in more than four centuries to pay an official visit to the Vatican, and continued his pioneering policy in 1968 by preaching in the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral in London. He repaid the compliment later that year when Dr. Heenan became the first Roman Catholic cardinal to preach (not without scenes of uproar) in St. Paul’s since the Reformation. In 1970 the primate visited South Africa and was outspoken in his condemnation of apartheid and “the horrible system of paid informer” that penetrated all levels in the republic, and was found even in church councils.

One of his greatest disappointments came when the Church of England general synod finally rejected the scheme of merger with the Methodists. That he felt keenly about it could be seen from his choice of comment—from Godspell—“Long live God!”

Ramsey will have a life barony conferred upon him by the queen, as has become the custom with retiring primates, and as Lord Ramsey will exchange his spacious residences in Lambeth and Canterbury for a more modest dwelling near Oxford.

His successor in the $20,000-a-year position (substantially augmented by sundry perks) will be appointed after all kinds of complex soundings and secret consultations that will culminate in a recommendation by the prime minister to the queen. The state has thus the last word until the sporadic lobbying for disestablishment of the church wins the day. Paradoxically, it matters not whether the prime minister be Anglican or atheist, Jew or Catholic.

England is, of course, buzzing with speculation about who will be Number 101. On past occasions there has customarily been an heir apparent, but the highly regarded Bishop Ian Ramsey of Durham died suddenly in late 1972. The field is theoretically wide open, but the range of choice looks unusually limited if one uses the process of elimination.

Because of the close church-state link, appointment of a non-Briton can virtually be ruled out. Not so unlikely, but a break with tradition, would be the selection of a Briton currently serving overseas. In England itself, excluding Canterbury and York, there are forty-one diocesan bishoprics. Of these, thirteen incumbents were appointed in 1972 or later, fifteen others will by late 1974 be at least in their sixty-fifth year, and a further seven will have been bishops for less than about five years (i.e., were not previously suffragan bishops) and might therefore be thought to lack the necessary experience.

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That reduces the diocesan field to six. One of these did not graduate from either Oxford or Cambridge (a feature of all thirty-two primates since the Reformation). Of the five remaining, only the youngest, Bishop Stuart Blanch of Liverpool, has been mooted as a slight possibility, though one Sunday newspaper has tried to make a case for Mervyn Stockwood of Southwark, the bachelor bishop who has presided over “South Bank” radical theological trends.

Going outside the present house of bishops would be tricky. Among the suffragans, some circles have opted for Dr. Trevor Huddleston of Stepney. Former bishop in Tanzania, High Churchman with a marked social concern, author of that striking work Naught For Your Comfort, and consistent critic of apartheid, Huddleston would in many ways be an imaginative choice, but he is probably too hot a potato for the establishment to consider seriously.

That establishment, encouraged by what is regarded as a strong hint from the present primate, would favor John Howe, formerly Bishop of St. Andrews, Scotland, who has made his mark as secretary-general of the Anglican Consultative Council. But since Howe, only fifty-three, is yet relatively unknown, the eliminative process leads to the conclusion that Dr. Donald Coggan, Archbishop of York, sixty-five this year, will take the remaining step to the top of the ladder for a five-year tenure. This would give the house of bishops a breathing space—unless the “caretaker” does a John XXIII on them.

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