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A provocative history of the role of silence in Christianity by the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author In this essential work of religious history, the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity explores the vital role of silence in the Christian story. How should one speak to God? Are our prayers more likely to be heard if we offer them quietly at home A provocative history of the role of silence in Christianity by the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author In this essential work of religious history, the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity explores the vital role of silence in the Christian story. How should one speak to God? Are our prayers more likely to be heard if we offer them quietly at home or loudly in church? How can we really know if God is listening? From the earliest days, Christians have struggled with these questions. Their varied answers have defined the boundaries of Christian faith and established the language of our most intimate appeals for guidance or forgiveness. MacCulloch shows how Jesus chose to emphasize silence as an essential part of his message and how silence shaped the great medieval monastic communities of Europe. He also examines the darker forms of religious silence, from the church’s embrace of slavery and its muted reaction to the Holocaust to the cover-up by Catholic authorities of devastating sexual scandals. A groundbreaking work that will change our understanding of the most fundamental wish to be heard by God, Silence gives voice to the greatest mysteries of faith.


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A provocative history of the role of silence in Christianity by the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author In this essential work of religious history, the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity explores the vital role of silence in the Christian story. How should one speak to God? Are our prayers more likely to be heard if we offer them quietly at home A provocative history of the role of silence in Christianity by the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author In this essential work of religious history, the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity explores the vital role of silence in the Christian story. How should one speak to God? Are our prayers more likely to be heard if we offer them quietly at home or loudly in church? How can we really know if God is listening? From the earliest days, Christians have struggled with these questions. Their varied answers have defined the boundaries of Christian faith and established the language of our most intimate appeals for guidance or forgiveness. MacCulloch shows how Jesus chose to emphasize silence as an essential part of his message and how silence shaped the great medieval monastic communities of Europe. He also examines the darker forms of religious silence, from the church’s embrace of slavery and its muted reaction to the Holocaust to the cover-up by Catholic authorities of devastating sexual scandals. A groundbreaking work that will change our understanding of the most fundamental wish to be heard by God, Silence gives voice to the greatest mysteries of faith.

30 review for Silence: A Christian History

  1. 5 out of 5

    ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos)(RK)

    Okay, it wasn't that bad. 2.5 stars. I have to say that I was greatly disappointed by this book. Based on MacCulloch's Gifford Lectures in 2011, I had expected a coherent discussion of 'silence' as a practiced concept within the Christian tradition. It was that, but only to a small degree. Unfortunately, I also found it to be a hodgepodge of other things. MacCulloch expands the concept of 'silence' from a religious concept to include other forms of silence, in particular, the silence of various Okay, it wasn't that bad. 2.5 stars. I have to say that I was greatly disappointed by this book. Based on MacCulloch's Gifford Lectures in 2011, I had expected a coherent discussion of 'silence' as a practiced concept within the Christian tradition. It was that, but only to a small degree. Unfortunately, I also found it to be a hodgepodge of other things. MacCulloch expands the concept of 'silence' from a religious concept to include other forms of silence, in particular, the silence of various religious institutions in regard to their own guilt. Having read his history of Christianity, A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and being a big fan of that book, I felt let down by a book which meanders through various topics. Everything becomes 'silence': "Not only did Tacitus's name, in a happy coincidence, suggest the theme of silence, but he provided a convenient talking point in his careful (though not approving) picture of the tyrannical Emperor Tiberius, a constant if not always effective practitioner of dissimulation." Here, as in many places, there is a great stretch to get to 'silence'. Neither Tacitus's name nor Tiberius's dissimulation lead naturally to the concept of 'silence'. I suspect that MacCulloch either needed filler or wanted to go on a bit of a rant against established religions which did not fit very well within the theme of the Gifford Lectures, to “promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term—in other words, the knowledge of God”. However broadly that may be interpreted, I'm not sure that attacking various Christian institutions and individuals for their role in persecuting Jews, abusing children and oppressing women and homosexuals. While doing that can be quite laudable, it is so for reasons far beyond 'silence'. For the first part of the book, MacCulloch does address 'silence' in various forms within Christianity, but even there I found there to be a great deal of extraneous information and not enough insight as to the role of silence to either the institutions or the individuals, beyond keeping the noise down in monasteries. What was the experience of living in full or partial silence to the monks and nuns? Did these individuals have deeper or more relevant religious experiences? Other than some comments from Teresa of Avila, we do not know. Perhaps part of the fault lies with my expectations, but this book is filled with pages of information that, while they may be interesting in themselves, do not relate to 'silence'. Indeed, I found much of the meandering to be of interest. Sort of a collection of trivia to impress people at parties, should I ever get invited to one (not likely.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Avril

    Warning - do not read this book without a basic understanding of Christian history or copies of MacCulloch's A History of Christianity and Reformation: Europe's House Divided beside you. This book is based on a lecture series and MacCulloch assumes a fair amount of knowledge in his hearers/readers. But for those who have that knowledge, or access to it, it's an educational read. As someone who has always leaned towards religious silence I was surprised to discover what a minority tradition is is Warning - do not read this book without a basic understanding of Christian history or copies of MacCulloch's A History of Christianity and Reformation: Europe's House Divided beside you. This book is based on a lecture series and MacCulloch assumes a fair amount of knowledge in his hearers/readers. But for those who have that knowledge, or access to it, it's an educational read. As someone who has always leaned towards religious silence I was surprised to discover what a minority tradition is is in Judaism and Christianity. I knew that my own strand of Protestant Christianity was very Word-driven, but I hadn't realised that even in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, let alone in the Tanakh, sound has usually overwhelmed silence. MacCulloch doesn't just write about the history of silence in the Scriptures, worship and theology, but also about those silences necessary for survival (Iberian Jews, Anglo-Catholic homosexuals) and those silences for which the Church must repent (on anti-semitism, slavery and sexuality). Whistle-blowers who bravely overcome institutional silence have their own section. There are some great quotes in here, of which I think my favourite is attributed to Canon W. H. Vanstone: "The Church is like a swimming pool in which all the noise comes from the shallow end." I love it! MacCulloch ends with a brief comment on the importance of history in religion. So naturally I'm going to rate this book highly and encourage others to read it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A fabulous read by the eminent Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford University. After having read some of his other books, most notably his biography of Thomas Cranmer and "The First Three Thousand Years" (2011) I was curious how he would treat this topic, especially in light of controversies within my own denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church with controversies over contemplative prayer. MacCulloch weaves a narrative that begins in Scripture. God is a God who communicates and breaks silence, A fabulous read by the eminent Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford University. After having read some of his other books, most notably his biography of Thomas Cranmer and "The First Three Thousand Years" (2011) I was curious how he would treat this topic, especially in light of controversies within my own denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church with controversies over contemplative prayer. MacCulloch weaves a narrative that begins in Scripture. God is a God who communicates and breaks silence, although there are notable examples of silence in Scripture. The early Christian Church was a noisy Church, as was the Reformation. He also traces the history of ascetics and monks, with the wide variety of perspectives, both eastern and western. The way Christians worship, in terms of noise versus silence, tells far more than most people realize about their faith--whether it is church bells, the organ, or the silence to not speak up against evil (i.e. the holocaust or slavery). Altogether it made me think in new ways about church history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Al Bità

    Trying to do justice to this type of book always leaves me in two (or more!) minds… On the one hand, this beautifully written work should provide much pleasure for Christians wanting an excellent overview of the subject. My only caveat here is that the background history is extensive and quite scholarly, and possibly this quality might ultimately alienate a casual reader; but for those who persist, there is much that is enlightening and interesting, and if it were only for that (and for the quali Trying to do justice to this type of book always leaves me in two (or more!) minds… On the one hand, this beautifully written work should provide much pleasure for Christians wanting an excellent overview of the subject. My only caveat here is that the background history is extensive and quite scholarly, and possibly this quality might ultimately alienate a casual reader; but for those who persist, there is much that is enlightening and interesting, and if it were only for that (and for the quality of the writing) I would rate this 5 stars… Based on a series of lectures given by the author (but let not the reader misinterpret this: there is no dullness here — just erudition, and beautiful writing) the book is essentially in four parts: the first deals with the Bible, both relevant Christian prehistory from the Old Testament (OT)) and aspects from the New Testament; part two deals with Monastic silence (covering the periods 100–451 CE and 451–1100 C); part three deals with the question of silence through Three Reformations (covering the periods 700–1500 CE and 1500–1700 CE); and the final part (perhaps the most interesting for contemporary readers) which is entitled ‘Reaching behind Noise in Christian History’ and has the sub-headings “Silence for Survival”; Things Not Remembered”; and “Silence in Present and Future Christianities”. As will be apparent from even such a cursory summary, the definition of the word “silence” has many meanings, starting, perhaps, with the OT one where it is associated with death (the silence that comes with death). Other meanings include more basic meanings such as simply the absence of speaking; silent praying; etc. And then there are other more complex meanings such as the silence of meditation (which can be either text based or not); contemplation (which could be linked with, say, architectural awe; or contemplation on stained-glass windows; or listening to (appropriate) music, or even simply to the sounds of Nature; to the more ecstatic silence accompanying mystical experiences (again, usually where (according to those experiencing them) some supernatural being or other communicates to the mystic in various ways. The more extreme mind-obliterating aim of certain Buddhist and Hindu sects is hardly mentioned, but while the reported experiences of certain Christian mystics might suggest similar moments, it appears to me that this is not really seen as part of the Christian tradition. The more sinister meanings of “silence” covered in part four usually relate to questions of power, authority, secrecy, etc. and often used to mislead, confound, frighten, defend and control. So the territory covered is extensive and comparatively comprehensive. This is a Christian analysis of the matter, presented within the Christian historical narrative, and valuable if only for that. But therein lies my problem with this book. I found myself wondering what the narrative might be like if there were other histories of Silence (e.g. Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.). What differences would one find? What similarities? What alternatives? This book is so ensconced within the Christian tradition that self-satisfied Christians could just cuddle up in cosy repose and relish in the comfort it provides. Note that this is more specific to the first three chapters rather then to the final one; but overall, the book can be said to provide a kind of apologia justifying only the Christian point of view, such is the richness and complexity surrounding this matter. One must be a careful and attentive reader indeed to realise within this protective wall of feathery comfort, MacCulloch can be gently critical. Personally, I would have been happier with a more robust commentary every now and then, if only to ruffle the feathers a little, and thus make the reader a little more discomforted when the situation called for it. One specific instance relates to Simon Stylites (the original one, I think — I was not aware that there was another, later one). This Simon was so offensive and extreme in his asceticism that numerous monasteries evicted him as being a danger to others. His “fame” for deciding to live his later life atop a pillar is more reflective of his rejection by normal monasteries, not an affirmation of his superior saintliness; his actions today would be considered insane; and the fact that the ordinary people interpreted this insanity and misunderstood this for sanctity should not be interpreted as a sign of holiness, or for emulation! Worse, in my opinion, is the general feeling that mystical individuals and/or groups were somehow part and parcel of a generally accepted orthodoxy. They weren’t. True, there were ever present, and always forming or re-forming, despite persecutions and ostracisms on a regular basis. Mystics and mysticism was more often seen as anathema: their claims to have direct and untrammelled connections with God obviated the need for a Church, or for priests and sacraments: they were preferably forcefully, painfully and thoroughly eliminated, and the silence of death was often considered as the only ideal option. As a rule, mystics were barely tolerated, and even then very reluctantly, but only if it could be confirmed that they would not pose any direct or indirect threat to the autonomy and magisterium of the established orthodox religion. The resultant surviving mystical groups and contemplative orders went “silent” in another interpretation of the word, and managed to perpetuate and sustain what I would consider to be the most successful con jobs in history (and it is not just the Christian ones that I am referring to here: all established organisations that call themselves religious have mystics or their equivalents): they have managed to get the more superstitious of their followers to feed, clothe and house them for actively doing nothing in return; they have convinced them that their ascetic lifestyle (essentially a rejection of both human and natural reality) is sacred and holy. What their acolytes take from their own sacrifices is a misconceived belief that, imperfect as the acolytes are, they will gain some “spiritual” retribution for their imperfection, with many often giving their whole lives, property and incomes over for the care and maintenance of their “superiors”. Acolytes have created a “meaning” for their lives where there is no meaning to be found. Some might feel I am being too harsh here; but I cannot in all honesty resile from my statements. I cannot help thinking, for example, what sort of a book would result if, instead of “Silence” it were “Poverty, A Christian History”; or “Chastity, A Christian History”; or how about “Homosexuality, A Christian History”?: or what if Judaism; Islam; Hinduism; Buddhism or any other religious group or affiliation were to replace the word “Christian” in the title? True, this is not fair criticism of MacCulloch’s work which, as I pointed out earlier is quite superb in what it does. But these extraneous thoughts disturb me. All I can say is, read MacCulloch by all means, and enjoy the writing and the erudition; but at the same time I must also add: caveat lector!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Short Review: Diarmaid MacCulloch is an excellent historian. And the riffs off the idea of silence, while interesting as individual ideas are not cohesive. So on the whole the book lacks focus and organization. My problem is that it seems like MacCulloch is saying that there is no correlation within the idea of silence. So silence can be good, it can be bad, it can be sinful, it can be holy, it can be transcendent, etc. But if it can be everything then I am not sure what the point of the book is Short Review: Diarmaid MacCulloch is an excellent historian. And the riffs off the idea of silence, while interesting as individual ideas are not cohesive. So on the whole the book lacks focus and organization. My problem is that it seems like MacCulloch is saying that there is no correlation within the idea of silence. So silence can be good, it can be bad, it can be sinful, it can be holy, it can be transcendent, etc. But if it can be everything then I am not sure what the point of the book is, other than to say 'hey here are some essays on silence.' I do appreciate MacCulloch's outsider status to Christianity. So he can talk about gnostics without feeling the need to defend orthodoxy. But at the same time MacCulloch does not seem to need to denigrate Christianity because he is not a Christian himself. So MacCulloch plays a useful role as a historian. I think my real disappointment is that I thought this would be better because I so much enjoy his last book. My full review is on my blog at http://bookwi.se/silence/

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    I expected this to be mostly about meditative practice and contemplative worship in the history of Christianity, and it certainly included those things. But MacCulloch's idea of silence was much broader than mine. He thinks of the frequent and ominous silence of God turning his face away in the Old Testament, the wondrous silence of the resurrection, the church's silence about the role of women prior to the last fifty years, its silence about homosexuality, and its silences about slavery, the ho I expected this to be mostly about meditative practice and contemplative worship in the history of Christianity, and it certainly included those things. But MacCulloch's idea of silence was much broader than mine. He thinks of the frequent and ominous silence of God turning his face away in the Old Testament, the wondrous silence of the resurrection, the church's silence about the role of women prior to the last fifty years, its silence about homosexuality, and its silences about slavery, the holocaust, and child abuse, along with the imposed silences of book-burning and heresy-hunting. He talks about the noisiness of the reformation and the protestant insistence on loudly preaching the word from scripture, as opposed to quiet Quaker meditative practice. A very dense book which occasionally assumed I know more than I do, but I nevertheless learned a great deal. It could almost be used as a foreword to his huge Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years, which he frequently footnotes for readers who want further information on a subject.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nick Swarbrick

    A book to savour and with some gems for all readers exploring the various phenomena of Christian experience. But having said that, following MacCulloch is not always easy, as he moves from early monasticism to musical practices of the Reformation through to uncomfortable and oppressive silences around slavery and other ecclesiastically sanctioned abuse. This is a clever book, a brilliantly detailed exploration of all sorts of issues - but also an idiosyncratic exposition of a variety of topics. A book to savour and with some gems for all readers exploring the various phenomena of Christian experience. But having said that, following MacCulloch is not always easy, as he moves from early monasticism to musical practices of the Reformation through to uncomfortable and oppressive silences around slavery and other ecclesiastically sanctioned abuse. This is a clever book, a brilliantly detailed exploration of all sorts of issues - but also an idiosyncratic exposition of a variety of topics. Trusting the writer was required- but well worth it. As MacCulloch suggests, “silence dances through the history....of Christianity,” and he requires us to dance with him.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Br. Thanasi (Thomas) Stama

    Fascinating! Excellent overview of Christianity and the concepts of silence and how it has been used since pre-Christian times and down thru the ages since Our Lord.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Colin Heber-Percy

    The reviews for "Silence: A Christian History" were universally positive. So perhaps it's me... I found this disappointing. The title of the book suggested that MacCulloch was intending here to investigate and explore - not a church, or an institution, or a period of history - but an idea. At no point, however, does he examine in any real depth the concept of silence itself. Instead he uses a rather vague definition of silence as a vehicle to go over some old ground - from the birth of Christian The reviews for "Silence: A Christian History" were universally positive. So perhaps it's me... I found this disappointing. The title of the book suggested that MacCulloch was intending here to investigate and explore - not a church, or an institution, or a period of history - but an idea. At no point, however, does he examine in any real depth the concept of silence itself. Instead he uses a rather vague definition of silence as a vehicle to go over some old ground - from the birth of Christianity in Judaism and Hellenism, through the early church, the various reformations and so on. He's always excellent and insightful with the history, but I thought there might be a little more analysis of silence itself and its role in the shaping of liturgy, Christian spirituality and theology. He's better on the negative aspects of silence - in modern cover-ups and failures to engage with moral, political, personal dilemma and guilt. Silence as Nicodemism. But there's more to silence than that, isn't there?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Silence is not difficult to read or particularly scholarly, as some reviewers have complained. (As a scholarly indexer I know academic writing, and this is not scholarly.) But it assumes a groundwork of knowledge on the part of the reader and it is highly detailed, while at the same time vague and meandering. What I mean is: these were originally lectures and as such cover a lot of ground quite quickly and without depth. The prose reads/sounds complex until one realizes it's often just a lot of Silence is not difficult to read or particularly scholarly, as some reviewers have complained. (As a scholarly indexer I know academic writing, and this is not scholarly.) But it assumes a groundwork of knowledge on the part of the reader and it is highly detailed, while at the same time vague and meandering. What I mean is: these were originally lectures and as such cover a lot of ground quite quickly and without depth. The prose reads/sounds complex until one realizes it's often just a lot of names and retellings of Christian church history that other writers (and MacCulloch himself) have written about in more detail. Silence in Christianity can mean many things: it's been sought, disparaged, elevated, hidden, sanctified, shameful, and politically necessitated. I don't have any points to quibble with, nor praise, nor anything to really dwell on. It's not a bad book, and often quite interesting, but it left me dazed.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Traves

    I found this book deeply disappointing. It took a fascinating subject and splashed about in the shallows. It was also very disjointed, its genesis as a series of lectures is all too evident. It's a shame as it has the bones of a very good book in it. I found this book deeply disappointing. It took a fascinating subject and splashed about in the shallows. It was also very disjointed, its genesis as a series of lectures is all too evident. It's a shame as it has the bones of a very good book in it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I enjoyed it and learnt a lot I didn't expect to find here. I enjoyed it and learnt a lot I didn't expect to find here.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Speaking volumes So if a little bit of silence is a milestone in The Imitation of Christ, which I just read, how about a whole book on silence, from an expert on the history of Christianity? It was a title I couldn't pass up, especially as I was quite serendipitously marking my place with a "silence please" bookmark from the Bodleian Library at Oxford. And while his topic is Christian silence, MacCulloch works out the threads of influence from Jewish, Greek, and Asian sources on the Review title: Speaking volumes So if a little bit of silence is a milestone in The Imitation of Christ, which I just read, how about a whole book on silence, from an expert on the history of Christianity? It was a title I couldn't pass up, especially as I was quite serendipitously marking my place with a "silence please" bookmark from the Bodleian Library at Oxford. And while his topic is Christian silence, MacCulloch works out the threads of influence from Jewish, Greek, and Asian sources on the doctrine and practice of Christian silence. In Jewish scripture, silence was considered a handicap (literally, "dumbness"-the inability to speak) but with the rise of Greek philosophy Jewish theology adopted some of the concepts of that tradition, so that "in some circumstances where it would be possible to speak, that moment was nevertheless not appropriate" (p. 28). Silence is considered from multiple contexts Divine silence Communal silence of the church Silence in monastic communities within the church Silence of individual believers And in multiple forms: The four rungs of Guigo's ladder offered an ascent from reading to meditation to prayer to contemplation. . . .  Although a devotee of lectio divina [meditative Bible reading], he nerves himself to put reading no higher than the first rung of his ladder:  'reading without meditation is sterile, meditation without reading is liable to error, prayer without meditation is lukewarm, meditation without prayer is unfruitful, prayer when it is fervent wins contemplation, but to obtain it without prayer would be rare, even miraculous.' (P. 100-101) MacCullough references iconoclastic upheavals--between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, and later by Protestants against the Catholics--as in part theological battles against the meditative and spiritual value of silent (in some cases non-literate) learning and worship from the study of doctrinally symbolic icons.  He refers to worship after the Reformation as "Protestant Noise" (P. 127) because of the emphasis on preaching and--in some churches--music based in the written scripture; physical and liturgical spaces for individual silent contemplation in Catholic worship was squeezed out of Protestant worship. MacCullough concludes by looking at the negative side of silence: Christian communal silence about their own sexual sins, acceptance and justification of slavery, and silence in the face of the Holocaust. While he rightly says of the latter two that literal reading of the Bible can justify both slavery and anti-semitism, he (along with generations of an apparent majority of the Christian world) forgot two very simple Biblical principles that we need not debate: Jesus was a Jew, and in Him (as Paul wrote) there is neither slave nor free because we were all created by Him and descended from one man Adam. Those who truly believe the antisemitism and racism they preach will eventually face the King of the Jews and the Creator of Adam; it should be a sobering thought. This is a slim volume based on a series of lectures, and even with the opportunity to flesh out the material on paper feels short of complete on the topic. I had hoped to read more about the history and purpose of silence for individual Christians. MacCulloch does include notes and further reading references to direct the reader to what appears to be actually a quite outspoken literature on silence.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Based on Gifford lectures delivered by the author, historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, in 2012, this book revolves around the theme of silence as it has related to church history. It is divided into four parts, but functionally it is really two books. The first (parts one to three) is a historical survey of the role of silence in public and private Christian devotional practice. Fascinating stuff, compelling history that seems to have been deeply researched. Coherently put together in terms of a narra Based on Gifford lectures delivered by the author, historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, in 2012, this book revolves around the theme of silence as it has related to church history. It is divided into four parts, but functionally it is really two books. The first (parts one to three) is a historical survey of the role of silence in public and private Christian devotional practice. Fascinating stuff, compelling history that seems to have been deeply researched. Coherently put together in terms of a narrative thread. So much to learn here, as silence strongly converges with Christian practice via genesis in and contact with the east and Hellenistic philosophy. Silence becomes a key component of monasticism, before being largely drowned out by a Reformation obsession with word and preaching. Until silence begins to make a strong return in the 20th and 21st century along with the contemplative spirituality and apophatic theology that has often accompanied it. The 'second book' is part four, and here MacCulloch takes his theme in a different direction, examining the 'silences' of church history - those things (people, movements, practices) that have been unsaid or edited out. A lot of time is spent here on 'Nicodemism' - a term borrowed from Calvin, who used it pejoratively to describe people who hide their true beliefs (named after Nicodemus in the gospels, who would only come and speak to Jesus at night). MacCulloch uses the term more neutrally to investigate those who found it expedient in light of cultural norms and prevailing power structures to fly under the radar. In this part of the book he also explores cover-ups - silence veiling truth within religious structures. Generally, his work in this part comes across as more scatter-gun - less tightly woven together - presumably because (due to its unsaid nature) he is dealing with sparser historical source material. But he also seems to be trying to cover off various bits and pieces. The whole is worth the read though - thought-provoking, and ending with an angle on the value of Christianity that contains a gentle positive warmth that reveals the author's own investment of faith.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Patrdr

    I had very mixed feelings about this book while reading it. I didn't come into it with much more than an elementary understanding of the early (or even not so early) history of Christianity. So I learned a great deal but I am sure it wasn't an ideal way to get to the main story line. The author is occasionally snarky about particular individuals or approaches to church history. That probably kept the lectures on which this is based lively and entertaining but was off putting to me in the course I had very mixed feelings about this book while reading it. I didn't come into it with much more than an elementary understanding of the early (or even not so early) history of Christianity. So I learned a great deal but I am sure it wasn't an ideal way to get to the main story line. The author is occasionally snarky about particular individuals or approaches to church history. That probably kept the lectures on which this is based lively and entertaining but was off putting to me in the course of a scholarly (there is a lot of material in the footnotes!) work. MacCulloch devotes most attention to the misdeeds, faults, power struggles, of the church. So he provides fodder for perspectives that see the role of religion in general and Christianity in particular as malign. He offers discrete apologies for this both at the outset and the conclusion so I am pretty sure his attitude is more nuanced. I probably came to the book with misplaced expectations, not expecting an account of historic battles between Silence and Noise in the history of churches (I'm not convinced these are reasonable polarities around which to arrange that history) but maybe something more reflective as in Shusaku Endo's novel (and Scorsese's film) or some of Simone Weil's writing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    MargCal

    Finished reading ... Silence: a Christian History / Diarmaid MacCulloch – 11 July 2017 ISBN: 9780241952320 2.5 stars I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book as I bought it some time ago based on a review I cannot now find. What I got was certainly not like anything I might have expected. The book runs pretty much chronologically through history from (Jewish and Christian) biblical times to the present however it seems more like a grab-bag of ideas taken from snapshots of history rather than Finished reading ... Silence: a Christian History / Diarmaid MacCulloch – 11 July 2017 ISBN: 9780241952320 2.5 stars I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book as I bought it some time ago based on a review I cannot now find. What I got was certainly not like anything I might have expected. The book runs pretty much chronologically through history from (Jewish and Christian) biblical times to the present however it seems more like a grab-bag of ideas taken from snapshots of history rather than a coherent narrative. That's not to say it doesn't give you lots to think about from a variety of angles. On the other hand, some ideas of silence are hardly exclusive to Christianity, e.g. the silence of staying in the (gay) closet has applied, and still does, in too many cultures and situations far beyond Christian Churches, as does covering up mistakes and crimes, personal, institutional and corporate. The writing is fine, quite witty at times, and there is an extensive bibliography and lots of footnotes if you want to follow up any particular idea. However, if there isn't a better book on Christian silence out there, there is one waiting to be written.

  17. 5 out of 5

    JD

    Being in silence does not mean only not to have anything to say or to do not know how to express oneself. It is the attitude that permits to listen – first of all to yourself, then to the others – and last but not least – to God. The Book gives also the historical (as seen from the Bible and the history of the Church), spiritual and somehow I do dare to say social (or cultural) parcours of silence. The author does not hesitate to bring up also the difficult topics, where he considers that Church re Being in silence does not mean only not to have anything to say or to do not know how to express oneself. It is the attitude that permits to listen – first of all to yourself, then to the others – and last but not least – to God. The Book gives also the historical (as seen from the Bible and the history of the Church), spiritual and somehow I do dare to say social (or cultural) parcours of silence. The author does not hesitate to bring up also the difficult topics, where he considers that Church remained silent when it was time to speak up and so the attitude of silence became rather the one of secrecy. It is true – the book of Diarmaid MacCulloch is rather historical one (compared to the spiritual tracts of Thomas Merton or others) – so some knowledge of the connections and associations is necessary, but still written in very simple language makes it available to the greater public.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    Originally given as the Gifford Lectures, Dairmaid MacCulloch's "Silence: A Christian History" uses the idea of silence in a variety of forms to understand the unfolding of Christian history and theology. It is not only looking at actual silence but also the silences in the historical record - what is not spoken about or remembered. The book focuses more on Western Christianity but does touch upon other parts of the Christian world. Part 1 deals with silence within the Bible. Parts 2 and 3 look Originally given as the Gifford Lectures, Dairmaid MacCulloch's "Silence: A Christian History" uses the idea of silence in a variety of forms to understand the unfolding of Christian history and theology. It is not only looking at actual silence but also the silences in the historical record - what is not spoken about or remembered. The book focuses more on Western Christianity but does touch upon other parts of the Christian world. Part 1 deals with silence within the Bible. Parts 2 and 3 look historically from about 400 CE to the end of the Reformation. Part 4 is the most interesting because the author creatively looks silences for survival (i.e., hidden converts in Spain, gay Anglicans, pietist sects, etc...) and silences in the historical record on women and child abuse. It is a book that could only have been written by a scholar completely and totally in command of his subject. May benefit from having some familiarity with general Christian history.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mdaly

    i'M READING THIS AT THE MOMENT. I'm writing this more as note sofr myself. Already P.6 and readers are being forewarned about the approach MacCulloch is taking towards the papacy, 'the papacy has gathered to itself more silences of shame and distortion of the truth than other sources'. I hope the author explains the 'truth' as he sees it that the RC got wrong. It is a bit perverse on the same page to say that in the RC 'power takes the form of claiming a monopoly on truth'. The truth is the truth i'M READING THIS AT THE MOMENT. I'm writing this more as note sofr myself. Already P.6 and readers are being forewarned about the approach MacCulloch is taking towards the papacy, 'the papacy has gathered to itself more silences of shame and distortion of the truth than other sources'. I hope the author explains the 'truth' as he sees it that the RC got wrong. It is a bit perverse on the same page to say that in the RC 'power takes the form of claiming a monopoly on truth'. The truth is the truth and has nothing to do with power, it is the Church's right, even mission, to proclaim what it believes as the truth. Already I'm disliking the author's tone. p.7 Churches ringing bells is a display of power!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ben Thurley

    A nicely written, if slightly rambling and disjointed, series of essays on various forms of "silence" in Jewish and Christian history. MacCulloch touches on silence as a form of prayer or contemplation, silence as survival strategy (which he refers to as Nicodemism) for persecuted or reviled minorities, and the silence of things left unsaid or covered up in order to protect the institution of the church and deny its culpability in such horrors as The Holocaust, slavery or child sexual abuse . It' A nicely written, if slightly rambling and disjointed, series of essays on various forms of "silence" in Jewish and Christian history. MacCulloch touches on silence as a form of prayer or contemplation, silence as survival strategy (which he refers to as Nicodemism) for persecuted or reviled minorities, and the silence of things left unsaid or covered up in order to protect the institution of the church and deny its culpability in such horrors as The Holocaust, slavery or child sexual abuse . It's an interesting read and covers a lot of history (about three thousand years give or take) through an unusual lens.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mark McPherson

    It’s either that MacColloch writes about topic in way that is too scholarly for me, or he’s incapable of explaining simply. His writing doesn’t grip me like some other historians, like Schama. I don’t believe he’s actually passionate about church history, or even enjoys it. He’s also left out too much of Eastern Orthodox mysticism beyond the standard desert fathers. Mount Athos etc.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    A fascinating survey of 2000+ years of Jeudeo-Christian history, focusing on the silences in that story. The silence of God, the silence of monks, the silence of slavery and the holocaust, and much more.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Yeongbae Kim

    I enjoyed previous works by the authors and considered them to be of excellent scholarship. I was disappointed in this book. The narrative is of a rambling nature and seems to go in many places.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Dipple

    A very thorough review, historically and theologically, of silence - and by implication noise - in the Christian tradition. I was fascinated by the insights provided in this book, based on the Gifford Lectures. I am glad I read this rather than listening : it must have been a strain on the brain.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    I found this a mostly absorbing historical study of the religious history of Christianity, both the western Roman version with its Protestant offshoots, as well as the eastern Orthodox variety. The author concentrates upon the type of God that each has created and how this God is best worshiped. If God is seen as an absolute, a view I’d subscribe to, than this study moves beyond narrow religious interests and has a lot to say to anyone, including atheists and agnostics who have their own “absolu I found this a mostly absorbing historical study of the religious history of Christianity, both the western Roman version with its Protestant offshoots, as well as the eastern Orthodox variety. The author concentrates upon the type of God that each has created and how this God is best worshiped. If God is seen as an absolute, a view I’d subscribe to, than this study moves beyond narrow religious interests and has a lot to say to anyone, including atheists and agnostics who have their own “absolutes.” You can’t talk about the God of Christianity without looking at its roots in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians like to refer to as the “Old Testament.” God here is usually a talkative one, involved in argumentative dialogues with his followers. When he is silent and withdrawn, he is an angry God (well, he can be angry, too, when talking to his people, but he’s REALLY angry when he withdraws). God’s silence, then, was generally a bad thing, but when Jewish thought began to be influenced by Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, God withdraws into a Platonic silence, far from the world of men. Silence now becomes more favorably looked upon. Christ? He presents a mixed picture, depending upon which gospel account you read. At times, he’s voluble, as in giving out the Lord’s prayer, but when faced with charges leading to his crucifixion, he is mostly silent. As MacCulloch points out, the New Testament accounts of the Resurrection are at their center mysteriously silent. Belief depends on faith, mostly a endeavor of silence. If it could be verbally explained, it wouldn’t be faith. All of this accounts for a instability in Christianity which has to account for a divinity that is human and at the same time transcendent, that is a being who is both talkative and silent. As Christianity developed, it began to split into factions, an early one being the monastic tradition of the desert fathers who sought sanctity through individual toil, much of it a silent effort to imitate Christ. This democratic tendency is still found more in the eastern Church, but in the west, the effort, again influenced by Greek rationalism, was much more verbal, giving rise to an elaborate administrative organization, dominated by clerics, not lay persons, culminating in the westerm Catholic papacy. The author finds that to be a “freakish occurrence in human affairs,” freakish because it was so unnaturally and unifiedly dogmatic. No other religion had quite such a monolithic structure, but it was one that broke up in the 16th century and was a return to normalcy, normal in the sense that most religions are made up of fractious divisions. Luther and the reformers initially turned more toward a silent and individual relationship totheir God. But again, it’s easy to generalize too much. Interior states of devotion may have been an ideal for some reformers, the Quakers being an extreme, but many Protestants began to rehash a ancient controversy over the use of images in religion (and are closer to Islam in this regard), objecting to the often exuberant visual (and ironically silent) imagery of the Roman church, and putting emphasis upon the word, upon preaching, and upon music which was to support the preaching. The instability continues into the present , and much of the latter part of the book I didn’t think was as interesting as the first section. The author gets involved in a separate issue, I thought, how “silence” has been used by Christian churches to institutionally forget their abuses such as positions on slavery, anti-Jewish bigotry culminating in the 20th century Holocaust, and dubious celibacy practices. Much more could be written on any aspect of these religious practices; the history of religion in the west, or anywhere for that matter, is a long and complex one, and criticism of religion, especially by recent popular atheist authors such as Dawson, Hitchins, and Harris, would do well to specify which aspects of religion they’re attacking. One size definitely does not fit all.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Not quite what I was hoping for, but very much worth the time. As someone with a deep interest in Thomas Merton, Lane's The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Maitland's The Book of Silence, etc. I was anticipating a book that delved into the various forms of Christian mysticism over the millennia. There's a bit of that here, but, as might have been expected from a historian whose reputation rests on the magisterial "Christianity: The First 3000 Years" and exhaustively detailed "The Reformation," MacC Not quite what I was hoping for, but very much worth the time. As someone with a deep interest in Thomas Merton, Lane's The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Maitland's The Book of Silence, etc. I was anticipating a book that delved into the various forms of Christian mysticism over the millennia. There's a bit of that here, but, as might have been expected from a historian whose reputation rests on the magisterial "Christianity: The First 3000 Years" and exhaustively detailed "The Reformation," MacCulloch's central concern is the different roles silence has played in a variety of Christian cultures, from the roots in Judaism through the emergence of a variety of churches, to the splits between East and West and the subsequent divisions within East and West. I learned a ton, beginning with the fact that silence has a very dubious pedigree in the early history of Christianity. Worship was associated much more with raising a joyful noise than with the retreat to solitude. In fact, silence has much more frequently been viewed with distrust than as a legitimate apprehension of the central mysteries of God and the cosmos. On more than a few occassions, it's been embraced by dissidents (many of them women) and as a result has attracted various forms of repression. I particularly liked MacCulloch's discussion of early Protestantism, with its tension between Quakerism (and related movements) and the sermon-oriented Calvinists and their ilk. Similarly, I was fascinated by his discussion of the Nicodimite tendencies (named after the timorous Nicodemus in scripture) that trace back to Iberian Jews forced to adopt religious masking strategies in order to survive. The interpretation of the gay culture of Anglo-Catholicism as modern Nicodemism was totally convincing. MacCulloch's chapter on the role of silence in constructing convenient histories of various churches--he cites the silences surrounding child abuse, the holocaust and slavery--reminded me of Adrienne Rich's germinal essay "On Lies, Secrets and Silence." While not central to the project, mystical Christian silence does receive significant attention. I learned a good deal about its roots in Evagrius, the Pseudo-Dionysus, Sebastian Franck and others, and I was happy that MacCulloch finally got around to Merton in the final few pages. He also does a nice job distinguishing between meditation and contemplation as spiritual and institutional practices.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alex Echevarria

    Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the sweeping A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, returns with a book based on a series of lectures on the value of silence in Christian religious practice. Although I'm very much agnostic, I'm fascinated by religious experience. "Silence" is a very readable mediation on silence and noise, and their respective places in worship. Although one may assume that Prof. MacCulloch sees silence as an absolute good, he also delves into the dark silences Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the sweeping A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, returns with a book based on a series of lectures on the value of silence in Christian religious practice. Although I'm very much agnostic, I'm fascinated by religious experience. "Silence" is a very readable mediation on silence and noise, and their respective places in worship. Although one may assume that Prof. MacCulloch sees silence as an absolute good, he also delves into the dark silences of the Church, surrounding anti-Semitism, slavery, and sexual abuse. He ends the book by positing that we may be on the verge of a new Axial Age, where a true ecumenism takes hold, one based on ordinary people finding commonalities in their faith practices, rather than the top-down ecumenism of the 20th century. It's well worth a read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    B.J. Richardson

    This is in many ways nothing more than a rehash of MacCulloch's History of Christianity with a specific look at silence. In some ways that was what I was expecting with this. what I did not expect, and what sorely disappointed me, was the all encompassing umbrella of topics, however tenuously, he fits under the idea of silence. He scatters the idea in so many directions that there is no cohesiveness to the book. If you must read MacCulloch, you are better off sticking to his History but even the This is in many ways nothing more than a rehash of MacCulloch's History of Christianity with a specific look at silence. In some ways that was what I was expecting with this. what I did not expect, and what sorely disappointed me, was the all encompassing umbrella of topics, however tenuously, he fits under the idea of silence. He scatters the idea in so many directions that there is no cohesiveness to the book. If you must read MacCulloch, you are better off sticking to his History but even there, he is only subpar compared to other works (like Justo Gonzalez's two volume history) In talking of DM a friend said, "His history is good but his interpretive bias is so strong it is hard to muddle through." That could be said even more so for Silence than his first work. The history is good enough for a couple stars. His bibliography gets him one more. But that's as generous as I am willing to be.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey Sutton

    I come from a noisy church tradition—a place where young Christians like their music loud and pulsating. The notion of silence in Christianity struck me as odd when I saw it on the new books’ shelf of my local library. But as I flipped through the Table of Contents and checked a few pages, many thoughts came to mind. Perhaps like historians, psychologists and counselors can learn much from silence. Silence helps interpret noise. Diarmaid MacCulloch portrays the history of silence amongst God’s faithful. Th I come from a noisy church tradition—a place where young Christians like their music loud and pulsating. The notion of silence in Christianity struck me as odd when I saw it on the new books’ shelf of my local library. But as I flipped through the Table of Contents and checked a few pages, many thoughts came to mind. Perhaps like historians, psychologists and counselors can learn much from silence. Silence helps interpret noise. Diarmaid MacCulloch portrays the history of silence amongst God’s faithful. The work is scholarly, intriguing, insightful, and masterfully written. MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University and an award winning author. He has also produced a multiepisode video series on the history of Christianity as well as a New York Times Best Seller on the same subject. MacCulloch organized Silence into historical eras creating nine chapters to describe four epochs.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    MacCulloch spins off from his massive research into Christian history an examination of the role of silence--including Old Testament people struck mute, Hannah's silent prayer, hermits, Cluniac sign language (later adapted for work with the deaf), oblate children and vows of silence, Carthusians and extreme silence, icons enabling private silent prayer at home, Quakers and the acoustics of church buildings. A second half of the book examines silence as a negative space--obfuscating silence under MacCulloch spins off from his massive research into Christian history an examination of the role of silence--including Old Testament people struck mute, Hannah's silent prayer, hermits, Cluniac sign language (later adapted for work with the deaf), oblate children and vows of silence, Carthusians and extreme silence, icons enabling private silent prayer at home, Quakers and the acoustics of church buildings. A second half of the book examines silence as a negative space--obfuscating silence under persecuting, gay 19th century Anglo-Catholics finding a respectable identity, church silence on slavery, child abuse and the Holocaust, women erased from doctrine and hymn authorship.

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