Anglican and Roman Catholic delegations have gathered in Rome this week for the historic meeting of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Pope Benedict XVI, and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Anglican Center in Rome.
On Tuesday night, Williams addressed a congregation at St Anselmo Church and Religious Community, saying that modern civilization needs to discover a proper sense of the values of time, authority and participation if it is to renew its sense of purpose and enable communities to cope with modern pressures.
In his lecture, Williams drew from the sixth century Rule of St Benedict to illustrate how societies might consider ways in which they served a common purpose.
What the Rule distinctively does is [at least] two things, he said at the Benedictine institution in Rome. It asks what the rhythm of life is that will best set human beings free to advance towards the joy for which they are made, how the priority of praise may be embodied in a responsible adult common life that is fully located in the material world. And it asks what the style of authority is that will enable 'faith beyond resentment'.
The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion stated that modern life, particularly in the West, was sometimes lived as though only two things mattered.
...we live in a climate where both work and leisure seem to be pervasively misunderstood; where both appear regularly in inhuman and obsessive forms, Williams said. Time is an undifferentiated continuum in which we either work or consume. Work follows no daily or even weekly rhythms but is a twenty-four hour business, sporadically interrupted by what is often a very hectic form of play. It seems we are either producing or being entertained by a vast industry that purports to guess our wants before we ask and leaves us in so many ways passive.
In addition, the archbishop stated that the focus on economic stability left an important question unanswered.
We have to ask what it is that economics sustains its own business or an environment of human development, intelligence and awareness? Williams posed. The pressing issue is how we sustain a civilization capable of asking itself questions about its purpose and its integrity; only a civilization that can do this will generate people citizens who can turn away from individual instinct and self-protection, whether in adoration of God or in compassion for the needy, because they know what sort of beings they are, mortal, interdependent, created out of love and for love.
He added that a civilization asking questions about authority could learn from the way in which the Rule of St Benedict both defended those in authority and provided a voice for those being governed.
There is a clear and unambiguous assumption that there is such a thing as a common good and that therefore each distinct diverse perspective is open to challenge; that is what obedience is about, Williams exhorted. But there is an equally unambiguous refusal of any sort of competitive struggle for the dominance of one individual or group, and a set of checks and balances to offset any risk attaching to the strong emphasis on the abbot's authority.
He continued, saying that for the church to address the question of authority in the global economic context, it would require a change of approach.
... it is hard to deny that economic powerlessness of the kind that rapidly and insensitively enforced globalization breeds may be fertile ground for destructive behavior - for the self-destructive spirals of collapsing or failing societies, brutalized and deprived of civil dignity, as well as for the frustration that feeds terrorism. These are not automatic processes, of course, and the role of plain political despotism and corruption in disadvantaged economies cannot be ignored, the Anglican head stated. But when there is intense pressure to open up struggling markets and remove subsidies prematurely or pressure to comply with requirements by international financial bodies that strike at the availability of essential goods, this has its part in the crippling of emergent societies and can undermine advances towards accountable and just government.
Williams further explained that a civilization which took a more Benedictine approach to authority would develop the ability to deal more with distinct minorities within it and would not, for instance, be panicked by issues around immigration. He told how losing the fear of alien cultures would provide a proper basis for engagement and participation.
He said: Good governance and government is always about an engagement with the other that is neither static confrontation nor competition but the production of some sort of common language and vision that could not have been defined in advance of the encounter.
In particular, Williams explained that participation would be possible for minority communities without the fear of marginalization.
The migrant group that is prepared to work within the civic framework of a host society, that aspires simply to citizenship, is one whose voice in the community overall is of significance alongside those who have a longer history and a political or economic advantage. Once within the relationships of purposeful common life, the facts of coming from ethnically or religiously different backgrounds should not disenfranchise them, he was quoted as saying.
However, while it didn't provide a direct political blueprint for modern governance, the Rule of St Benedict posed serious and challenging questions about a society's need for self-examination, he said.
... what we can reasonably ask, in the light of the Rule, is that political order should recognize that it cannot survive without space for some exploration of what human identity is. A modern or postmodern society is unlikely, for good or ill, to be overtly committed to a single ideology; but this does not mean that it will not covertly promote this or that picture of human distinctiveness by the way it arranges its business and governance, the archbishop stated.
In conclusion, Williams said that religion could not therefore be sidelined.
A laisser-faire reduction to market principles is not neutral in regard to human self-understanding. And a programmatic insistence that religious conviction be relegated to the private sphere reduces the exploration of human identity and awareness to the level of a faintly embarrassing leisure pursuit best kept out of sight as far as possible.
According to the Anglican Commmunion, the Anglican and Roman Catholic delegations visited the Sistine Chapel Wednesday for prayers to mark the 1966 visit of then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI. Cardinal Walter Kaspar and Williams were scheduled to meet later in the day for informal talks and then worship with the St Egidio community at St Bartholomews Church.