Michael Ramsey

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious figures and leaders

Michael Ramsey
Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Ramsey (left) meets Pope Paul VI

Enthroned 1961
Ended 1974
Predecessor Geoffrey Fisher
Successor Donald Coggan
Born 14 November 1904(1904-11-14)
Cambridge, England
Died 23 April 1988

Arthur Michael Ramsey, Baron Ramsey of Canterbury PC ( 14 Nov 1904 23 April 1988) was the one hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury. He was appointed on 31 May 1961, and was in office from June 1961 to 1974.


Michael Ramsey was born in Cambridge. His father was a Congregationalist and mathematician, and his mother was a socialist and suffragette. He was educated at Repton School, where the headmaster was the future Archbishop Geoffrey Francis Fisher and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he was President of the Cambridge Union Society and where his support of the Liberal Party won him praise from Herbert Asquith. During this time he 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. He was ordained in 1928. He then became a curate in Liverpool, where he was influenced by Charles Raven.

After this he became a lecturer to trainee clergy at The Bishop's Hostel in Lincoln, and during this time he published a book, The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1936). He then ministered at Boston Stump and at St Benet's Church, Cambridge, before being offered a canonry at Durham Cathedral and the Van Mildert Professor of Divinity at in the Department of Divinity at Durham University. After this, in 1950, he took the Regius Professor of Divinity chair at Magdalene, but after only a short time he was appointed Bishop of Durham in 1952. In 1956, he became Archbishop of York, and in 1961, Archbishop of Canterbury. During his time as Archbishop, he travelled widely, and he saw the creation of the General Synod. Retirement ages for clergy were also introduced.

Theology and Churchmanship

As an Anglo-Catholic with a nonconformist background, Ramsey had a broad religious outlook. He had a particular regard for the Orthodox concept of "glory", and his favourite book of those he had written was his 1949 work The Transfiguration. During the J.A.T. Robinson Honest to God controversy, he published a short response entitled Image Old and New, in which he engaged seriously with Robinson's ideas. His brother Frank, who died young, had been an atheist, and he had respect for honest agnosticism and atheism, which he believed would not be a barrier to salvation. He also made a barefoot visit to the grave of Mahatma Gandhi. However, he declined to become involved in some inter-faith activities. He disliked the theology of Paul Tillich, and although he disagreed with a lot of Karl Barth's thinking, his relations with him were warm.

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. 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 comfortable with this observation. The first women priests in the Anglican Communion were ordained during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury, and in retirement he received the sacrament from a woman priest in the USA.

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. These warm relations with Rome caused him to be dogged by protests by Protestant fundamentalists, particularly Ian Paisley and John Kensit. Ramsey also enjoyed friendship with the orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, and Alexius, Patriarch of Moscow. His willingness to talk to officially-sanctioned churches in the Eastern Bloc led to criticisms from Richard Wurmbrand. He also supported efforts to unite the Church of England with the Methodist Church, and was depressed when the plans fell through.


Ramsey disliked the power of the government over the church. His support for liberalising the laws against homosexuality brought him enemies in the House of Lords. Ramsey also created controversy over his call for military action against the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia, and in his opposition to the Vietnam War.

He 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. He was also a critic of Augusto Pinochet. Ramsey also opposed the granting of aid money by the World Council of Churches to guerrilla groups.

Personal character

Ramsey was observed to be clumsy and a fidgeter, and he was unable to take part well in processions. He was frequently awkward in conversation and prone to silences, but also eloquent and poetic in public speaking. He considered becoming a monk, but instead married, and he and his wife Joan were devoted to one another. He particularly enjoyed talking to students. He was liked and respected both in the church and more widely, perhaps more so than either his immediate predecessors or successors; he had the reputation of being humane, principled, and discreet.

Retirement and legacy

After retiring as Archbishop 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. Lord Ramsey was cremated; his ashes are buried at Canterbury Cathedral. He gave his name 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. 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.

Michael Ramsey had no children. His elder brother, Frank P. Ramsey (b.1903, d.1930) was a brilliant mathematician and philosopher.

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