Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: Reading Rowan Williams

Been reading Rowan Williams, now finishing up his time as Archbishop of Canterbury, and about him. Wanted to jot a few passages down, such as this precise critique of the anthropological assumptions underlying peace movements (and the political and cultural Left more broadly, perhaps?) since the 1960s:
When, in the late sixties and early seventies, 'peace' became so much a catchword and a slogan among European and (even more) among American youth movements, it came as part of a package which included a deep suspicion of public life and social planning, an idealization of small, intensely interrelating groups, and what might be best summed up as a disbelief in original sin – a conviction that humanity could be drastically reconstructed by good will or love, a certain denial of history and guilt. 'Give Peace a Chance' was the cry of a sub-culture apparently persuaded that peace was a natural state of organic harmony between human beings which would 'happen' when once the obstacles of hostility and suspicion had been overcome. There is more than a hint here of the idea that peace is what is left when social constraint and its resultant tensions and self-doubts have all vanished – so that peace appears in rather negative terms. Unjustly so: there is also some sense of peace as a mutually enriching harmony. But overall it is difficult to deny that this represented a limited and in many ways naïve understanding of peace, even a sentimental one. It was a view which opposed peace to history. Peace was seen rather as a sinking back to natural harmony, an escape from the over-complex world of large-scale political decisions and from the obligations of assessing the effects of personal history (what sort of capacities and limitations have been formed in me by my past experience?) and social development (how am I involved in the wider structures of society?).
The Truce of God, pp. 49-50.
Sort of striking, especially from someone who is so sympathetic to the Left in many respects. It got me thinking about the idea of "nature" or "what is natural" implicit behind thinking in the last fifty years, and its ties to ideas of the purity of nature or of "natural man" from the Enlightenment.

The following passage was also interesting to me, particularly as an expression of the complexity of what Catholics call "the Tradition," the collective experience of all believers:
I've heard it said that one of the greatest triumphs of Catholic Christianity is its ability to train its own critics. And this means surely that Catholic tradition ought to be concerned with presenting a depth and range of resources that will stop anyone from too easily believing that the Church at any one moment has got it all wrapped up, has fathomed the meaning of Jesus Christ. And this isn't polite agnosticism or do-it-yourself modernism – making up Christianity as you go along – but the fruit of trying to keep eyes and ears and heart open to the wholeness of what's being passed on to us – including the awkwardnesses, the half-hidden points of conflict, the half-muffled voices.
– "Affirming Tradition," in Affirming Catholicism, ed. Rt. Rev. Richard Holloway, p. 2, quoted in Rowan's Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury by Rupert Shortt, p. 147.
I've been meditating a great deal on this sort of thing the last week or two as I wrote up a more fleshed-out version of my Yamauchi Lecture from November, and start looking at shorter adaptations of it to perhaps be popularly published elsewhere.
Tags: catholicism, christianity, cultural, ecclesiology, ethical, loyola, quotations, rowan williams, systematic theology, theological methodology, theological notebook

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