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I’m a great believer in ecumenical generosity, but I would have thought damning the founding figure of your own tradition was taking things too far. In a sermon commemorating the martyrdom of several Carthusian monks during the English Reformation, the heir of that Reformation said, “If Henry VIII is saved (an open question, perhaps) it will be at the prayers of John Houghton.” St. John Houghton was one of the Carthusian victims.

That’s the part everyone quotes, with the usual howls of derision poor Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, seems doomed to suffer. But in fairness, here is what he said in context:

We treasure with perhaps a particular intensity the martyrdom of the contemplative, because the contemplative who knows how to enter into the silence and stillness of things is, above all, the one who knows how to resist to resist fashion and power, to stand  in God while the world turns. In that discovery of stillness lies all our hope of reconciliation, the reconciliation of which John Houghton spoke in this place, this place where we are met to worship, before the community gave its answer to the King’s agents.  A reconciliation of which he spoke (as do so many martyrs) on the scaffold, a reconciliation which is not vanquishd, defeated, or rendered meaningless by any level of suffering or death. If Henry VIII is saved (an open question perhaps) it will be at the prayers of John Houghton.  If any persecutor is saved it is at the prayers of their victim. If  humanity is saved, it is by the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ and all those martyrs who have followed in his path.

A few paragraphs earlier, he had explained:
In many ages and many places, authorities even more appalling than Henry VIII have believed that they could abolish God and the cross of God; and they have had to discover that while they may vanquish, they cannot destroy.  That which is the last hope, the last longing of the condemned and tortured, remains.  The cross stands while the world turns. And whatever human power and human injustice can achieve and effect, the hanged God, the failed God, remains a sign forever.

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