Rowan Williams: Literature and Legacy

Posted by Les Ellison  ·  Be the first to comment

As Rowan Williams prepares for his move to Magdalene College, Cambridge, what is the legacy of this gentle, deeply thoughtful man, who held together a besieged Church in the face the divisive issues of gay clergy, women bishops, the Iraq war, Sharia Law and the moral and social impact of the credit crunch?

Intellectual Churchman On The Move

A man of carefully chosen words, the heart and mind of this unlikely leader of the worldwide Anglican community is to be found more in the text than the headlines of his spoken and written expression. In a world that would rather snack on sound bites than digest food for thought, his pronouncements have been attacked as poorly judged and ill considered when, in reality, they’re just the opposite.

A Fellow of British Academy, some thirty of the titles going from his bookshelves into the removals boxes will have his own name on the spine. From his earliest to his most recent works, his consistent themes are the Church’s need for cultural connection and spiritual symbolism. His appreciation of both in the human search for the divine is behind what drives him to engage with issues and questions that less able and less well informed minds would readily avoid.


Christianity In Today’s Culture

Writing from the 1980s to the present, Rowan Williams explains Christianity as part of a developing cultural tradition – sometimes having an influence and sometimes being influenced.  His books help you understand where Christianity came from, how its theology developed and, most importantly, what we should be doing in a world that judges not by what the Church believes but by what it does.

Symbolism That Points To Truth

Christianity is itself a cultural tradition and Jesus, as Rowan once said, is: “a sign-maker of a disturbingly revolutionary kind”. Christian culture still struggles to echo this sign-making not simply as another piece of human culture, but as a pointer to the truth about where supreme authority belongs. It’s in the communal sign-making of the Eucharist, he argues, that Christian symbolism is most authentically performed and its fullest meaning revealed.

Literature And Legacy Of An Archbishop

So what has Rowan Williams left for us to ponder while he settles into his new role? Almost as retrospective - or new introduction, if you’re unfamiliar with his theology and thinking, Rowan’s most recent offering, ‘Faith in the Public Square’, gives you a concise collection of his views and verdicts on issues that are – or should be, of immediate concern to the Church. Chapters include ‘Has Secularism Failed?’, ‘Changing the Myths We Live By’ and ‘The Economic Challenge’.

For a serious, analysis of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, you need to read what was written about him at the beginning of his role and a review of the role as he leaves the walls of Lambeth Palace for halls of a Cambridge college. 'Rowan Williams, an Introduction is Rupert Shortt's' review of the man and his mission, while Andrew Goddard's forth coming 'Rowan Williams: His Legacy' looks back at what he achieved through conversations with those who worked alongside him - often behind the scenes, throughout his years in the public eye.

But for me, if there’s one book that brings together the identity, intellect and imagination of England’s principal churchman of the last decade, it’s his companion to the works of Narnia’s creator, C S Lewis. ‘The Lion's World’ is the essential addition to your bookshelf of Lewis’ collected works. With his trademark modesty, Rowan doesn’t overpower his subject but allows the stories to reveal the truths hidden in the well loved words.

So, as the ecclesiastical mitre is swapped for the academic mortar board, what impression are we left of the man who faced, with resolution and serenity, the assaults of an increasingly unforgiving and secular age? Writing in ‘The Lion's World’ Rowan says of Lewis: “In a word what Lewis portrays with such power and freshness in Narnia, is simply Grace.” Perhaps, above everything that’s precisely what Rowan Williams has also shown in his is time at Lambeth.

15th November

November 15th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison

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