History may well be kinder to Robert Runcie, the 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury and head of world Anglicanism, who died of cancer July 11, at age 78, at his home in St. Albans, than were judgments passed on him in his lifetime. Even in retirement Lord Runcie had a knack for attracting the wrong sort of publicity. His gossipy conversations with a biographer about the royal family and his own relaxed attitude to ordaining homosexuals prompted ridicule when they were published in 1997. With typical humor Runcie's only public defense was that he had always assumed the book would be published after his death. Having read it, he added, he was sure it should have been.The very fact that in his lifetime Runcie, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1980 to 1991, attracted not one but four biographers, plus more headlines than any of his recent predecessors, points to a broader fascination with this clever, compassionate cleric who on numerous occasions showed breathtaking boldness, yet whose natural instinct at a time of political, social and ecclesiastical upheaval was to seek compromise.Born in Liverpool in 1921, he went up in 1941 to Oxford and was to spend most of the next 30 years either there or in its great rival, Cambridge. In the ensuing storms that engulfed him, it was often forgotten that Runcie was first and foremost an academic, though he was always the first to point out that theology was not his scholastic forte.As a young undergraduate, Robert Runcie embraced Anglo-Catholicism, the traditionalist wing of the Church of England with its elaborate liturgies and theological proximity to Rome. He also felt called to the priesthood, but war intervened. He joined the elite of the Scots Guards where he developed a social ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.