Michael Ramsey

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The Most Reverend and Right Honourable
The Lord Ramsey of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury
Michael Ramsey 1974.jpg
Province Province of Canterbury
Diocese Diocese of Canterbury
Installed 1961
Term ended 1974
Predecessor Geoffrey Fisher
Successor Donald Coggan
Other posts Bishop of Durham (1952–1956)
Archbishop of York (1956–1961)
Ordination 23 September 1928 (deacon)
1929 (priest)
Consecration 29 September 1952 (bishop)
Personal details
Birth name Arthur Michael Ramsey
Born (1904-11-14)14 November 1904
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Died 23 April 1988(1988-04-23) (aged 83)
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England
Buried Canterbury
Spouse Joan Hamilton

Arthur Michael Ramsey, Baron Ramsey of Canterbury, PC (14 November 1904 – 23 April 1988) was an English Anglican bishop and life peer. He served as the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury. He was appointed on 31 May 1961 and held the office until 1974, having previously been the Bishop of Durham and the Archbishop of York. He was known as a theologian, educator, and advocate of Christian unity.[1]

Biographical outline

This outline is taken from Glory Descending: Michael Ramsey and His Writings.[2]

1904 born in Cambridge on 14 November
1927 First-class degree in Theology at Cambridge; ordinand at Cuddesdon, Oxford
1928 Ordained as curate of St Nicholas, Liverpool
1930 Sub-Warden at Lincoln theological college
1936 Published The Gospel and the Catholic Church
1937 Senior curate at Boston, Lincolnshire
1939 Vicar of St Benet’s, Cambridge
1940 Canon professor of theology at Durham
1942 Married to Joan Hamilton (Lady Ramsey)
1950 Regius professor of Divinity at Cambridge

1952 Bishop of Durham
1956 Archbishop of York
1961 Archbishop of Canterbury
1966 Meeting with Pope Paul VI in Rome
1974 Retired to Cuddesdon
1977 Moved to Durham
1986 Moved to Bishopthorpe, York
1987 Moved to St Johns Home, Oxford
1988 Died on 23 April: buried at Canterbury Cathedral on 3 May

1995 Death of Lady Ramsey: buried at Canterbury Cathedral on 17 February

Early life

Ramsey was born in Cambridge, England in 1904. His parents were Arthur Stanley Ramsey (1867–1954) and Mary Agnes Ramsey née Wilson (1875–1927); his father was a Congregationalist and mathematician and his mother was a socialist and suffragette.[3] He was educated at King's College School, Cambridge,[4] Repton School (where the headmaster was a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Francis Fisher) and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where his father was president of the college. At university he was president of the Cambridge Union Society and his support for the Liberal Party won him praise from H. H. Asquith.[5]

Ramsey's elder brother, Frank P. Ramsey (1903–1930), was a mathematician and philosopher (of atheist convictions). He was something of a prodigy who, when only 19, translated Wittgenstein's Tractatus into English.[3]

During his time in Cambridge, Ramsey came under the influence of the Anglo-Catholic dean of Corpus Christi College, Edwyn Clement Hoskyns. On the advice of Eric Milner-White he trained at Cuddesdon, where he became friends with Austin Farrer and was introduced to Orthodox Christian ideas by Derwas Chitty.[6]

Ordained ministry

Ramsey was ordained in 1928 and became a curate in Liverpool, where he was influenced by Charles Raven.[3]

After this he became a lecturer to ordination candidates at the Bishop's Hostel in Lincoln. During this time he published a book, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1936). He then ministered at St Botolph's Church, Boston and at St Bene't's Church, Cambridge, before being offered a canonry at Durham Cathedral and the Van Mildert Professor of Divinity in the Department of Theology at Durham University. After this, in 1950, he became the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, but left to become a bishop after only a short time in office.[7]

Episcopal ministry

In 1952, he was appointed Bishop of Durham. He was consecrated a bishop by Cyril Garbett, Archbishop of York, at York Minster on Michaelmas (29 September) that year[8] (by which his election to the See of Durham must have already been confirmed). In 1956 he became Archbishop of York and, in 1961, Archbishop of Canterbury.[2] During his time as archbishop he travelled widely and saw the creation of the General Synod. Retirement ages for clergy were cut from 75 to 70.[9]

Theology and churchmanship

Ramsey’s “life was rooted in prayer, worship and a sense of the reality of God, yet this was all tempered with a sense of humour which prevented it from ever degenerating into pomposity or unreal pietism. This spiritual depth was just as important for his leadership in an unsettled time as was his intellectual and theological power.”[10]

In a lecture on Ramsey, John Macquarrie asked, “what kind of theologian was he?” and answered that “he was thoroughly Anglican.” Macquarrie explained that Ramsey’s theology is (1) “based on the scriptures”, (2) the church’s “tradition”, and (3) “reason and conscience”. Ramsey held to the Anglo-Catholic tradition, but he appreciated other points of view. This was especially true after he became a bishop who ministered to diverse Anglicans.[10]

As an Anglo-Catholic with a nonconformist background, Ramsey had a broad religious outlook. He had a particular regard for the Eastern Orthodox concept of "glory", and his favourite book he had written was his 1949 work The Transfiguration.[3]

Ramsey's first reaction to J. A. T. Robinson's Honest to God (1963) was hostile.[10] However, he soon published a short response entitled Image Old and New, in which he engaged seriously with Robinson's ideas.[3]

Conscious always of the atheism which his short-lived brother Frank had espoused, he maintained a lifelong respect for honest unbelief, and considered that such unbelief would not automatically be a barrier to salvation.[3] Acting on his respect for beliefs other than his, Ramsey made a barefoot visit to the grave of Mahatma Gandhi.[11]

Although he disagreed with a lot of Karl Barth's thinking, his relations with him were warm.[3]

Following observations of a religious mission at Cambridge, he had an early dislike of evangelists and mass rallies, which he feared relied too much on emotion. This led him to be critical of Billy Graham, although the two later became friends and Ramsey even took to the stage at a Graham rally in Rio de Janeiro.[3] One of his later books, The Charismatic Christ (1973), engaged with the charismatic movement.

Ramsey believed there was no decisive theological argument against women priests, although he was not entirely comfortable with this development. The first women priests in the Anglican Communion were ordained during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury.[3] In retirement he received communion from a woman priest in the United States.[11]

Ecumenical activities

Ramsey was active in the ecumenical movement, and while Archbishop of Canterbury in 1966 he met Pope Paul VI in Rome, where the Pope presented him with the episcopal (bishop's) ring he had worn as Archbishop of Milan.[12] The two prelates issued “The Common Declaration by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey”. In it they said that their meeting “marks a new stage in the development of fraternal relations, based upon Christian charity, and of sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and to re-establish unity.”[13]

Ramsey preached at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 1972. It was the first time that a leader of the Anglican Communion had done so.[14] However, while fostering ties with the Roman Catholic Church, Ramsey criticised the Pope's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae against birth control.[14]

These warm relations with Rome caused Ramsey to be dogged by protests by Protestants, particularly Ian Paisley.[11]

Ramsey encouraged efforts to promote closer relations between Anglicans and Orthodox.”[10] He enjoyed friendship with the orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, and Alexius, Patriarch of Moscow.[3]

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Ramsey served as president of the World Council of Churches (1961–68).”[1] However, he opposed the granting of aid money by the World Council of Churches to guerrilla groups.[3]

Ramsey's willingness to talk to officially sanctioned churches in the Eastern Bloc led to criticisms from Richard Wurmbrand.[11]

He also supported efforts to unite the Church of England with the Methodist Church and was disappointed when the plans fell through.[3]


Ramsey disliked the power of the government over the church. “Establishment has never been one of my enthusiasms”, he said, and “he was not at ease with the royal family.”[3]

Ramsey's support for liberalising the laws against homosexuality brought him enemies in the House of Lords.[3] In 1965, he “caused a furor when he expressed strong support for a bill to repeal criminal penalties for private homosexual activity between consenting adults”.[14] That same year, “he outraged right-wingers when he declared that under certain circumstances, there would be Christian justice in using British troops to overthrow the white-minority regime [of Ian Smith] in Rhodesia.”[14] He also spoke of the futility of the Vietnam War.[14]

Regarding Africa, Ramsey opposed curbs on immigration to the UK of Kenyan Asians, which he saw as a betrayal by Britain of a promise. He was also against apartheid, and he left an account of a very frosty encounter with John Vorster.[3] In 1970, Ramsey attacked apartheid, saying that “it is being increased by more ruthless actions” and describing it as an "abuse of power at the expense of others".[14]

He was also a critic of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.[3]

Later life

Michael Ramsey in 1974

After retiring as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1974 he was created a life peer, as Baron Ramsey of Canterbury, of Canterbury in Kent, enabling him to remain in the House of Lords where he had previously sat as one of the Lords Spiritual.

Although retired, Ramsey remained active, "a fact reflected in his writing of four books and numerous additional undertakings".[15]

He went to live first at Cuddesdon, where he did not settle particularly well, then for a number of years in Durham, where he was regularly seen in the cathedral and talking to students. But the hills were rather steep for him and he and Lady Ramsey accepted the offer of a flat at Bishopthorpe in York by his successor John Habgood. They stayed there just over a year, moving finally to St John's Home, attached to the All Saints' sisters in Cowley, Oxford, where he died in April 1988.[3]

During his retirement, he also spent several terms at Nashotah House, an Anglo-Catholic seminary of the Episcopal Church in Wisconsin where he was much beloved by students. A first-floor flat was designated "Lambeth West" for his personal use. A stained-glass window in the Chapel bears his image and the same inscription as is on the memorial near his grave. The window also includes a miniature image of the Bishop and his wife Joan (placed in the chapel by the class of 1976 who were among his first students at Nashotah).[3]

Ramsey's funeral was held in Canterbury Cathedral. He was cremated and his ashes buried in the cloister garden at the cathedral, not far from the grave of William Temple. His wife's ashes were also buried there. On the memorial stone are inscribed words from St Irenaeus: "The Glory of God is the living man; And the life of man is the vision of God." A side chapel at Canterbury Cathedral was subsequently dedicated to Ramsey's memory, situated next to a similar memorial chapel to Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher.[3]

Personal life

Ramsey married Joan A. C. Hamilton (1910–1995) at Durham in the early summer of 1942.[16][17]

Ramsey had no children. His parents and brother are buried in the same grave in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge.


During his life, “Ramsey was a Life Peer and received innumerable honors. He was an honorary fellow of Magdelene College and Selwyn College, Cambridge, and of Merton College, Keble College, and St. Cross College, Oxford. He was honorary master of the bench, Inner Temple (1962); trustee of the British Museum (1963–1969); and honorary Fellow of the British Academy (1983). He held honorary degrees from Durham, Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Hull, Manchester, London, Oxford, Kent, and Keele and from a number of overseas universities.”[15]

Regarding Ramsey’s long-term legacy, a professor at Lincoln College, University of Oxford[18] holds that “there is much more historical and theoretical work to be done before Ramsey’s legacy can be properly ascertained.”[19]

Ramsey's name has been given to Ramsey House, a residence of St Chad's College, University of Durham. He was a Fellow and Governor of the college (resident for a period) and he regularly worshipped and presided at the college's daily Eucharist. A building is also named after him at Canterbury Christ Church University. A house at Tenison's School is named in his honour. He also gave his name to the former Archbishop Michael Ramsey Technology College (from September 2007 St Michael and All Angels Church of England Academy) in Farmers' Road, Camberwell, South East London.[20]

Items found in River Wear

In October 2009 it was reported by Maev Kennedy that two divers had found a number of gold and silver items in the River Wear in Durham which were subsequently discovered to have come from Ramsey's personal collection, including items presented to him from dignitaries around the world while he was Archbishop of Canterbury. It is unclear how they came to be in the river. The divers were licensed by the dean and chapter of the cathedral as the owners of the land around the stretch of the river where the items were found. The current legal ownership of the items is yet to be determined. Even before the discovery of the items, the cathedral were planning an exhibition relating to Ramsey's life in 2010 and a new stained glass window dedicated to him[21] by artist Tom Denny.

The two amateur divers, brothers Gary and Trevor Bankhead, found a total of 32 religious artefacts in the River Wear in Durham during a full underwater survey of the area around Prebends Bridge. The underwater survey commenced in April 2007 and took two and half years to complete. The finds were individually handed over to the resident archaeologist from Durham Cathedral to formally record where and when they were found.[22]



  • The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1936)
  • The Resurrection of Christ (1945)
  • The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (1949)
  • F. D. Maurice and the Conflicts of Modern Theology (1951)
  • Durham Essays and Addresses (1956)
  • From Gore to Temple (1960)
  • Introducing the Christian Faith (1961)
  • Image Old and New (1963)
  • Canterbury Essays and Addresses (1964)
  • Sacred and Secular (1965)
  • God, Christ and the World (1969)
  • The Future of the Christian Church with Cardinal Suenens (1971)
  • The Christian Priest Today (1972)
  • Canterbury Pilgrim (1974)
  • Holy Spirit (1977)
  • Jesus and the Living Past (1980)
  • Be Still and Know (1982)
  • The Anglican Spirit, ed. Dale D. Coleman (1982/2004)

Works online

  • “Faith and Society: an Address to the Church Union School of Sociology, 1955"
  • “Unity, Truth and Holiness” (no date).
  • “Constantinople and Canterbury: A Lecture in the University of Athens" (1962)
  • “Sermons Preached by the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Arthur Michael Ramsey, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury in New York City, 1962.”
  • “Sermon Preached at Canterbury Cathedral” 1968.
  • “Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the meeting of the Joint Anglican/Orthodox Steering Committee at Lambeth, 1974.”
  • “Charles C. Grafton, Bishop and Theologian,” Lecture at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, 1967.


  1. ^ a b "Michael Ramsey, Baron Ramsey of Canterbury". Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica Academic (Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web).
  2. ^ a b Douglas Dales, editor, Glory Descending: Michael Ramsey and His Writings, (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005), xxii.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Wilkinson, Alan. "Ramsey, (Arthur) Michael, Baron Ramsey of Canterbury (1904–1988)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40002.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Henderson, RJ (1981). A History of King's College Choir School Cambridge. p. 42. ISBN 978-0950752808. 
  5. ^ Patrick Comerford on “Michael Ramsey”. Online at http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2015/09/where-part-of-salvation-is-for-sale-at.html.
  6. ^ Alec R. Vidler, Scenes From a Clerical Life: an Autobiography (Collins, 1977), 102.
  7. ^ "Ramsey of Canterbury, Arthur Michael Ramsey, Baron". 
  8. ^ "Consecration of the new Bishop of Durham (Archived; subscription only)". Church Times (#4678). 3 October 1952. p. 693. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2016. (Subscription required (help)). 
  9. ^ Toledo Blade, 10 July 1972 “Church of England Cuts Retirement Age.” Online at https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=hNBOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BQIEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6021%2C3790177
  10. ^ a b c d "Arthur Michael Ramsey: Life and Times, by John Macquarrie (1990)". anglicanhistory.org. 
  11. ^ a b c d Peter John Moses, History Guide Book: Archbishops of Canterbury (Evangelical Bible College of Western Australia, 2009), 47–48.
  12. ^ John L. Allen Jr. (10 October 2003) No Nobel of John Paul; Catholics, Anglicans determined to keep talking; An interview with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; Personnel changes in the curia. National Catholic Reporter
  13. ^ "Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey". www.vatican.va. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f Hevesi, Dennis (24 April 1988). "Lord Ramsey, 83, Dies in Britain; Former Archbishop of Canterbury" – via NYTimes.com. 
  15. ^ a b Arthur Michael Ramsey. Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved 18 March 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404705350.html.
  16. ^ Marriages Jun 1942. freebmd.org.uk
  17. ^ Alan Webster (18 February 1995). "Obituary:Joan Ramsey". The Independent. 
  18. ^ ”History” at http://www.lincoln.ox.ac.uk/Undergraduates-SubjectsHistory.
  19. ^ Dr Sam Brewitt-Taylor, review of Archbishop Ramsey: The Shape of the Church, (review no. 1884) DOI: 10.14296/RiH/2014/1884 Date accessed: 17 March 2016.
  20. ^ Welcome from the Executive Principal, St. Michael and All Angels Academy newsletter, August 2007 Archived 2 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ Maev Kennedy (22 October 2009) Durham Cathedral divers discover gold and silver treasure trove in riverbed, The Guardian. Retrieved on 22 October 2009.
  22. ^ Paul Stokes, Archbishop's treasure found in river (The Telegraph, 23 October 2009) online at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/6416033/Archbishops-treasure-found-in-river.html.

Further reading

  • Owen Chadwick. Michael Ramsey: A Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. ISBN 0-19-826189-6
  • Dales, Douglas J., 'Glory – the Spiritual Theology of Michael Ramsey (Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2003)
  • Dales, Douglas J.,(ed. with Geoffrey Rowell, John Habgood, & Rowan Williams) 'Glory Descending – Michael Ramsey and His Writings (Canterbury Press, Norwich/Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2005)
  • Jared C. Cramer. Safeguarded by Glory: Michael Ramsey's Ecclesiology and the Struggles of Contemporary Anglicanism. Lexington Books, 2010. ISBN 0-7391-4271-2
  • Michael De-la-Noy, Michael Ramsey: A Portrait. HarperCollins 1990. ISBN 0-00-627567-2
  • J.B. Simpson. The Hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury. New York, 1962.
  • Christopher Martin (ed.), Great Christian Centuries to Come. Essays in honour of A. M. Ramsey London, 1974
  • Robin Gill and Lorna Kendall (eds), Michael Ramsey as Theologian London, 1995
  • Peter Webster, Archbishop Ramsey. The shape of the church. Farnham: Ashgate (now Routledge), 2015.

External links

  • Michael Ramsey at Find a Grave
  • Archbishop Ramsey's papers are held at Lambeth Palace Library
Academic offices
Preceded by
Charles E. Raven
Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge
Succeeded by
John Burnaby
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Alwyn Williams
Bishop of Durham
Succeeded by
Maurice Harland
Preceded by
Cyril Garbett
Archbishop of York
Succeeded by
Donald Coggan
Preceded by
Geoffrey Fisher
Archbishop of Canterbury
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