A Meeting of Friends

by Michael Potemra


Next week, Pope Benedict XVI will visit the U.K., and meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The differences between the two men are well known and need no remarking upon; this article by Rupert Shortt in the U.K. Catholic magazine The Tablet says they are actually closer — personally, and in habits of mind — than many of us might have suspected. The article quotes a cute line from a recent Williams speech: “I have two things in common with the Holy Father. . . . One is a love of cats; the other a hospitable instinct towards Anglican clergy.” But the similarities, writes Shortt, run considerably deeper. The thought of both men is rooted in St. Augustine: “Archbishop and Pope are in different ways associated with a recovery of nerve in Christian thought over recent decades, and here . . . Augustine has supplied both men with some of the themes on which their writings are variations.”  Both Ratzinger and Williams “may represent a fairly uncommon amalgam of liberal and conservative impulses” — which tallies with something I have long observed about both, that they are more complex than their critics tend to acknowledge. (Perhaps, in Williams’s case, rather too complex: I have occasionally finished reading theological articles of his more confused than I was when I began them. His writing for laymen, though, is considerably more lucid.)

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