John Sentamu, Bishop of York described Dr Rowan Williams as being someone who demonstrates this quality. It certainly seems to have been the characteristic displayed by him in his attitude to GAFCON and the FOCA.
But what does John Sentamu mean by this description and why is it important. It's certainly not a quality someone attributes to someone else lightly. It's an incredible and godly quality. In Sentamu's address to the York Synod June 07, he described in detail his feelings about this characteristic.
"Gracious magnanimity isn't mere passivity amidst numerous difficulties but an opportunity for a positive engagement of love.
...the person who is graciously magnanimous (epieikes) knows that there are times when a thing may be legally completely justified and yet morally completely wrong. A person has the quality of gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) if they know when not to apply the strict letter of the law, when to relax justice and introduce mercy.
...a graciously-magnanimous Church has a responsibility to both affirm moral standards and to ensure that its rules don't seem rigorous to the point of inhumanity."
Interestingly, he explores the application of this quality in the context of a church divided over issues about human sexuality.
"We need to ask ourselves if we aren't being challenged in our application of ...gracious-magnanimity in relation to the question of Human Sexuality.
...our sexual affections can no more define who we are than our tribe, ethnicity or nationality. At the deepest ontological level, therefore, there is not such thing as a 'homosexual' or 'a heterosexual', or a 'bi-sexual'; there are human beings, male and female, called to redeemed humanity in Christ, endowed with a complex variety of emotional potentialities and threatened by a complex variety of forms of alienation...
Human sexuality must, therefore, be understood and talked about in the context of the reality in Christ.
What is paramount for me are the words of the Apostle Paul that "I resolved to know nothing (while I was with you) but Jesus Christ, and him crucified." My motivation too in relationship to all those I meet is to seek nothing but Christ crucified among them.
And so in my ministry I have learnt to care, hear and listen to those who describe themselves as Gay or Lesbian. They, like me, are called to redeemed humanity in Christ; and what upsets me is the way in which some of my brothers and sisters in Christ refer to members of Christ's Body (Gay and Lesbian Christians) as if they aren't part of that body. I strongly believe that holy communication is part of Holy Communion.
I am driven to exasperation when Christians don't disagree well ... the Christian as St Paul sees it, is the person who knows that there is something beyond justice. When the woman taken in adultery was brought before Jesus, he could have applied the letter of the Law according to which she should have been stoned to death; but he went beyond justice. As far as justice goes, there isn't one of us who deserves anything other than the condemnation of God, but God goes far beyond justice.
... If we remember that life is short, we will not wish to enforce the stern justice, which so often divides people but will wish to deal with people in love, as we hope God will deal with us. Legalism is human, but gracious-magnanimity is divine.
"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; this is the Law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)...
And so, the basis and the fundamental thing about gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) is that it goes back to God. If God stood on his rights, if God applied to us nothing but the rigid standards of law, where would we be? God is the supreme example of the one who is graciously-magnanimous (epieikes) and who deals with others with gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia).
What we need is loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. Rebuilding communities by what we give and not what we demand; active-participation...
Once, Abraham Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union of the United States. The questions expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, "I will treat them as if they had never been away." It's the wonder of the love of God that he treats us like that.
In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, Jesus was telling his disciples that if you want to meet God face to face, the nearest you are going to come to it on this planet is to look into the faces of your brothers and sisters -- and especially your sisters and brothers who have been declared unrighteous, unclean, unacceptable. It isn't that we find God there; it is that God finds us there.
That is where our faith is nurtured and bears fruit. There, where we expect to meet monsters, we meet God instead. The opportunity to serve God lies there among the prisoners, the naked, the sick, the hungry, who have been reckoned to be least deserving of any service at all."