• Theology, providence and Anglican–Methodist reunion: the case of Michael Ramsey and E.L. Mascall

    Peter Webster (see profile)
    British History
    History--Religious aspects--Christianity, Church of England, Christian union, Anglo-Catholicism, Church, Methodist Church
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Michael Ramsey, E. L. Mascall, ecclesiology, episcopacy
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    The disputes within the Church of England over the Scheme to reunite Anglicans and Methodists generated a great deal of heat and only limited light. Despite their long friendship, Michael Ramsey and Eric Mascall ended up diametrically and publicly opposed in relation to an existential question facing the Church: Ramsey as archbishop of Canterbury, and Mascall as one of the leaders of the opposition to the Scheme. Both saw through the passions stirred by the debate to the fundamental issues beneath. They agreed that the long-term shape of any united church had to be episcopal, but their disagreement over the means to create it was fundamentally about the nature of God’s sovereign action. For Mascall, the Scheme put the emotional impetus towards union ahead of theological soundness. It was not merely undesirable to try to create a catholic united church on such a basis; it was impossible, a metaphysical contradiction of the true nature of the Church as the tradition understood it. Ramsey held just as fast as Mascall to the reality and sufficiency of the revelation available to the Church. But he felt more keenly the difficulty of articulating that framework in its fullness. He retained a confidence that the unsettlement of the 1960s that so concerned Mascall was not merely a symptom of decline; in that shaking of the churches, the action of God was to be discerned. For Ramsey, God was sovereign over history; things thought immoveable could change in ways beyond comprehension, if it was God’s will that they so changed. Though time has thrown the ecumenical euphoria of the period into a colder and clearer light, it was at the time possible for Ramsey to see in the Scheme – or rather, the movement of which it was the product – a profound move of God. Mascall’s hopes were placed elsewhere, in the outworking of the effects of Vatican II. For Mascall, the Scheme was not so much part of a rising tide, but a flood against which the defences had thankfully held.
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