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The Archbishop's address at a Dinner given by the Nikæan Club

Tuesday 29th July 2008

The dinner was attended by all the ecumenical participants present at the Conference on 29 July. The Archbishop's remarks introduced a speech from the head of the Delegation from the Holy See, His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper.

The Archbishop

Your Eminence, Most Revd, Very Revd, Revd, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, and all other distinguished friends with us this evening

First of all may I simply say what a joy it is to be able to welcome so many people to this Nikæan Club Dinner during the Lambeth Conference and a very special welcome to our guest of honour His Eminence Cardinal Kasper, no stranger to these shores or to this company.

As your programme will tell you, the Nikæan Club owes its origins to the celebrations in London in 1925 to mark the sixteenth centenary of the First Ecumenical Council – in Nicea in the year 325. I am sure I need not say to such a learned and distinguished audience as this that, as you will recall, one of the things which Eusebius of Caesarea records as most significant at the Council of Nicaea was the party given by the Emperor Constantine at the conclusion of proceedings. Interestingly Eusebius mentions absolutely none of the controversies of the Council, and for all one might gather from his account of the proceedings the purpose of the entire Council of Nicaea was so that the Emperor Constantine could give dinner to the bishops! This is a very benign gloss on the activities of the Council, and it's perhaps a rather benign gloss on the activities of the Lambeth Conference. But in the absence of any equivalent to the Emperor Constantine I think that it is at least appropriate that another sort of conciliar body – our Conference – should take a little time out to share table fellowship, to enjoy one another's company, and to celebrate all those (to use an overworked phrase) 'bonds of affection' that unite us not only in the Anglican Communion but across very many other boundaries.

During this last ten days or so, we have, as I think members of the Conference will agree, been very well blessed by our visiting speakers. And it has interested me that everyone of those visiting speakers has told us something positive about the Anglican Communion. Given the way that Anglicans normally speak about ourselves – a mixture of terminal depression and huge residual Christian humility – it is, I think, quite helpful to hear a few words from our friends outside our boundaries telling us that perhaps the enterprise that the Anglican Communion has embarked upon is worth trying to do well, and I am personally particularly grateful to those of our guests who have been able to say this.

But of course our guests are also here to tell us truths that may be a little bit less palatable, to put before us challenges that we might prefer to evade. And I am sure that my dear friend Cardinal Kasper won't mind if I say that one of the things that we have always looked for him to do for us is to ask some very awkward questions in a way that only a friend can ask with effect and pungency. In the past few years Cardinal Kasper has asked some very tough questions of us in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion and the importance of this is that it matters for us – as a Church, and as a Communion – to be theologically honest.

Dear guests from other Christian confessions, I hope you understand that one of the conditions of your hospitality here tonight is that you should be honest with us and help us to be honest with ourselves. Friendship is always an appreciation of who people really are, not what you would like them to be. So we are grateful for the questions asked, grateful for the pressure to work harder, and grateful for the seriousness with which you take us even when we sometimes seem not to take ourselves seriously enough. Therefore I thank you, Your Eminence, in advance, for the contribution which I know you will be making to the work of the Lambeth Conference.

There is a certain sense in the air inevitably in these days that between now and the end of this week some very weighty decisions lie ahead of us as a Conference, and we don't quite know where they will all come out. But to meet in these circumstances and to meet with the recollection of how this Club began and of what it commemorates is of course to be reminded that there remains one absolutely unshakeable fact on which we all rest our Christian allegiance: that fact to which the Nicene Creed is a witness and a hymn of praise. The Nikæan Club may sound, in its title, like a slightly arcane reality (God forbid!), but of course it's a proud title, and as president of the Nikæan Club I am very glad that the Church of England extends its ecumenical hospitality (you might say) under the auspices of the First General Council of the Church.

How better to do it? because that is the rock from which we are hewn. We are here because of what we believe, what we believe in the words of that creed. If the Nicene Creed were not true and central to our faith then the Church would be empty – a vacuous human institution with no excuse whatsoever for its failures, its confusions and its constant fallings down and betrayal of its Lord. But if what we say in the Creed of Nicea is true then it's worth working at being a Church precisely because it does not depend on us, because the gift that has been given as we celebrate it in the Creed of Nicea is a gift that assures us, day by day, that grace is given and communion created, not achieved. How we realise that and how we live it out is a challenge, and for us in the Anglican Communion at present more of a challenge than is either usual or comfortable. No matter: that's what we believe; that's why we are here; that's why we labour and pray and hope, and that is why we invite our friends to help us to clarify our thoughts to strengthen our prayers to encourage us.

So in welcoming once again all our distinguished and beloved guests this evening, I hope that we can together remember that we are here not simply for a social event, we are here for a Nikæan event, an event dependent on what the Nicene Creed affirms and celebrates: the event of Christ among us, Christ in our midst, 'who is and will be' as the liturgist St John Chrysostom has it. With thanksgiving for that, for our fellowship together, for our shared foundation, and for our shared hope, I will with great pleasure invite Cardinal Kasper to address us.


Cardinal Kasper


Your Grace, Your Eminence, honoured guests, members of the Nikaean Club,

I would like to begin by expressing profound thanks for the warmth of the welcome and gracious hospitality which has been shown to all the ecumenical representatives present at this Lambeth Conference. The welcome we have been shown is an active sign and reminder of the Anglican Communion's commitment to building closer relations among Christians, and to the search for unity.

Coming from 'the continent', whenever I come to this little island, I am always intrigued. Everything is quite different. I am especially intrigued because I find so much of old and high culture - cathedrals, evensongs, the eloquent language of your prayerbook – which I greatly admire. When I was last in Canterbury, for the enthronement of Archbishop Rowan some five years ago, I was reminded of the extraordinary Christian heritage here – of Augustine of Canterbury, St Anselm, St Thomas à Becket.

That was also my first experience of a Nikaean dinner. When I hear 'Nikaea', I immediately feel theologically at home, recalling the first Ecumenical Council, common to all Christians, and from which we have received a profession of faith which we all affirm to this day. We do well to remember that the Council of Nikaea was not without turbulence, during or after the Council, which may help put into historical context the turbulence that is being experienced here.

But it is important that we not spend all our energy and resources worried only about Church problems. Perhaps we can all have the tendency of looking too much at our navels; in German we have a good word for this: Nabelschau. But our Christian model is not one who sits still, but Abraham, who was called to set out for a foreign land, to forge ahead in obedience to God. We too have been called to look outwards to the world, a world which is in much turmoil and which needs us Christians. It needs us not because we are better than others, but because in St Paul's words, we carry within us a treasure, which is Christ himself, crucified and risen, dwelling in our mortal bodies, in the Church. We carry within us a message of hope, a hope which the world desperately needs, and which is in short supply. The world around us lacks perspective which sees beyond the struggles and pleasures of the present day.

To bring this message to the world, in all its richness and strength, Christians and Churches need to stand together, and give common witness to the hope that is within us. It is not without reason that the modern ecumenical movement started at a Conference of missionaries in Edinburgh (1910), where the assembled missionaries came to the conclusion that division among Christians was the chief obstacle to world misssion. Working for the unity is not an end in itself.

At our Pontifical Council we have the opportunity, at times, to hear about instances of cooperation in mission, precisely to those who are in most need: times when our churches have responded jointly in war-torn areas to offer protection to the most vulnerable, to give security and hope to those whose lives are in jeopardy; when Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders spoken out on life and death issues, have given common witness on moral questions, and have stood together to proclaim God's justice. I have heard good reports of the walk of witness in London last week which you, Archbishop Rowan, coordinated, and which was a powerful example of our shared commitment to work for justice, reawakening a sense of urgency in combatting world poverty.

We hear a good deal these days about globalisation. Well, I am no anti-global agitator, and do not throw stones at businessmen and politicians, nor do I burn cars. But I would ask: is the globalisation of finances and economy what we need most? Do we not rather need urgently, in the words of Pope John Paul II, a globalisation of solidarity, a globalisation of hearts open to peace, justice, and the dignity of all peoples?

This, I think, is the responsibilty of Christians, of Churches , of each one of us. We are summoned by the Lord himself to be artisans of reconciliation and bearers of hope, trusting that in the end good will pervail over evil, that justice will flourish and all forms of violence will vanish, that love will conquer all hatred. Let us therefore be witness of hope, working courageously for justice and peace, in solidarity with those who suffer, and as messengers of God's mercy. Let's begin with ourselves and stand together as Christians in this noble way which the Lord has given us.

We are gathered here tonight as guests of the Nikaean Club, and of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I would ask you now to please stand, and join me as we toast with gratitude the generosity of the Nikaean Club, and as we raise a glass to Archbishop Rowan, as a sign of our friendship and respect and prayerful support.

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