The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the “self-oriented, acquisitive habits” of the modern world and the “distorted understanding” they give rise to.
Describing the worlds of finance and advertising as “unreal and insane” Dr Rowan Williams advocated the contemplative life as the only answer.
Even children, he said, could benefit from the practice, which he said he has witnessed for himself in Anglican schools.
Dr Williams, who leaves his office at the end of the year to become Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, was speaking in Rome where he set an ecumenical precedent by being the first Archbishop of Canterbury to address the Roman Church’s Synod of Catholic bishops.
He spoke about a connection between contemplation and evangelisation. A contemplative approach is what helps people grow and become “fully human”, he said.
“It is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom — freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them.
“To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”
The Archbishop is in Rome to take part in celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the opening sessions of the Second Vatican Council, including a Mass today at St Peter’s.
Dr Williams described contemplation, often referred to as Christian meditation, as invoking the Holy Spirit.
Addressing the synod, which is chaired by Pope Benedict XVI, he said: “Today especially, we cannot forget that great gathering that was the Second Vatican Council, which did so much for the health of the Church and helped the Church to recover so much of the energy needed to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ effectively in our age.
“For so many of my own generation, even beyond the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church, that Council was a sign of great promise, a sign that the Church was strong enough to ask itself some demanding questions about whether its culture and structures were adequate to the task of sharing the Gospel with the complex, often rebellious, always restless mind of the modern world.”
Dr Williams was speaking as the Church of England is struggling to resolve the issue of his succession. Three meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission failed to agree a first and second choice to put forward to the Crown. The favourite remains the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, also in the running.
In Rome, Dr Williams will visit once more the monastery of San Gregorio al Celio, where he celebrated Vespers with the Pope last March. It is the monastery from which Pope St Gregory the Great sent St Augustine to revive the mission of the Church in Britain and to found the See of Canterbury.
His visit will see the inauguration of St Gregory’s Chapel as a “focus for unity” for Anglican and Roman Catholic pilgrims visiting the tombs of the apostles and martyrs.