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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most splendid!
I was drawn to this book because I am interested in silence. Having previously encountered Sara Maitland's rather more contemplative and autobiographical Book of Silence, I was intrigued to know what else I could learn about silence in relation to religion and spirituality. This is an informative and enlightening read. I particularly enjoyed reading about the noisy God of...
Published 20 months ago by Angel House

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Human Imperfection
Diarmaid MacCulloch's book is less a history of silence in Christianity as a politically correct guide to trimming one beliefs to the non-believing secular age. In MacCulloch's case his inability to reconcile his homosexuality with the Anglican Church's position on the question produces a guilt complex which expresses itself in an attempt to identify organised...
Published 16 months ago by Neutral


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most splendid!, 21 July 2013
By 
Angel House "Poet" (South Oxfordshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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I was drawn to this book because I am interested in silence. Having previously encountered Sara Maitland's rather more contemplative and autobiographical Book of Silence, I was intrigued to know what else I could learn about silence in relation to religion and spirituality. This is an informative and enlightening read. I particularly enjoyed reading about the noisy God of the Old Testament in contrast with the silent suffering of Christ on the cross. Other highlights are MacCulloch's discussions around the word 'logos', about women being denied access to the altar while menstruating and his own personal experiences of silence in relation to his homosexuality. There is a great deal of food for thought. Despite being an academic, MacCulloch has written in simple English to appeal to the majority. He gives plenty of suggestions for further reading and provides comprehensive references for the more serious reader. Definitely worth checking out, in my opinion.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars exploring the silence, 20 July 2013
By 
J. DOUGLAS "Johnny Douglas" (Nr London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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Christianity has had a struggling relationship with silence. We have a wordy faith filled with volume that finds difficulty to accept anything less.

Pascal wrote that "all of man's misfortunes come from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room". Diarmaid MacCulloch here charts this problematic and often contradictory relationship with power, sensitivity and insight in Silence: A Christian History. Expanded from a lecture series, it is intellectually weighty and without the prevarications and self-qualifications that sometimes spoil academic prose. Comfortingly, it's not overwhelmingly dense!

The final quarter for me is the most applicable and provocative. MacCulloch explores the diverse uses of silence: the silence surrounding the global suffering, slavery, abuses, the silencing of non-heterosexual, non-male voices within the church and more. There is an astonishing cadenza on "Nicodemism", the term John Calvin left for us derived from Nicodemus, who only dared visit the tomb under cover of darkness.

This is a highly informative account of the nature and application of silence in the Western Church and parts of this in the East with rigorous engagement of the associated theologies that accompany this.

We speak more than we ever should, this is a substantive, important and sure-to-be classic on the subject. A valued counter-foil, so ssssssssssh!
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of Christianity writ small ..., 8 April 2013
This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
In MacCulloch's history of Silence (a Christian Witness) we have a companion to the his magisterial (or just plain long) 'Christianity: The First 3,000 Years'. Whereas the latter dealt mainly with the physical history (with some doctrinal and intellectual history thrown in) this book is very much an intellectual history of Christian spirituality, reads through the lens of silence. The silence, therefore, does not relate just to the absence of noise (i.e. a meditative silence, e.g. as employed in Lectio Divina), but to the silence that comes either through hidden action, suppressed action/ belief or through the absence of protest, thus he not only covers how silence has been used in spirituality, but also how Christians (and the Church) have been silent, e.g. on homosexuality, child abuse or slavery.

Unlike Eamon Duffy, whose published work does not seem to have developed much from his seminal 'Stripping of the Altars' one gets a sense that MacCulloch is involved in a lifetime's discovery, a process he is happy to share and engage in with the interested reader. However, where this book may appear to fail is that it is too immediate (too much of its time) allowing itself to concentrate on the hot topics of the age: clerical homosexuality; clerical child abuse (and silence about both) amongst other issues. As with the silence of the Church over slavery and the holocaust, these silences are often easily condemned, but highly contextualised - caught up in the Church politics and self-understanding of that period. However, MacCulloch avoids the mistake of easy condemnation, showing how and why such issues have been (and should be) properly read. Thus without resorting to the overeasy condemnation and opprobrium often piled on the Catholic Church, he shows how complicit they and others have become in being silence in the face of evil. I would disagree wholeheartedly with his estimation of Pope Pius XII, whose supporters he sees as hailing from the Ultramontane party in the Catholic Church. Pius XII has his faults (as do all Popes) but the criticism of his as a quiescent Nazi stooge is to easily made and does not, in my estimation really hold much water. Again, his own story is highly contextualised and thus easily misunderstood or misrepresented.

As with all MacCulloch's books it is very readable, esp. for the intelligent/ educated reader, though it is also challenging and the well stocked reference list provides further reading for those wishing to persue areas of particular interest. It should be read alongside his earlier history of Christianity, though can easily be read alone with little violence being done.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and compelling read, 6 Sept. 2013
By 
Amazon Customer "Fiona" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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Silence: A Christian History

When one thinks of silence in the Christian tradition, it tends to be the disciplined rule of silence on abbeys, monasteries and nunneries. This book goes beyond that concept.

Silence once thought of as worthy and godly has been turned into something more sinister and dangerous..Sadly the established churches have used silence to hide things which should not hidden, the clerical abuses, sexual depravity, financial mismanagement. In more recent times the spectre of the Church's silence on the Holocaust has caused silence to be a undesirable action.
This book seeks to explore the origins of silence and its uses.
Intelligent and insightful, the book delves deeply into the Christian concept of silence. It is a well written and clever book which is best read with concentration. It is not a quick or easy read but the time invested is well worth it
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History with a modern moral challenge, 30 Nov. 2014
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This is a wide-ranging and thought-provoking book, especially in its final chapters. MacCullogh takes us through the long history of silence in Christainity in four stages. First the silences of the Bible, of the God of the Old Testament who calls us to be still and to listen to His words. Followed by the Jesus of the New Testament who ends the centuries-long silence as The Word (Logos) of God. In his second section MacCullogh explores monastic silence, the silence of martyrdom and of confession. Thirdly he explores silence through three reformations. And finally the silence of more recent things chosen not to be remembered and not spoken about. In this last section of the book there are profound and challenging questions about the things the church has failed to speak against and reveal: persecution, exploitation and the abuse that sometimes arose as a consequence of the silence of the confessional, or the protection provided by the church itself. Thankfully some of these silences are being broken in our time and the truth spoken and heard, but the questions remain and must not be forgotten. Altogether an interesting and challenging read, and well worth buying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality, 27 Nov. 2013
By 
Simon Tavener - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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Now as a determined - one might almost say devout - atheist, this is not my usual reading material. However I always think it is good to look at as many sides of the arguments.

MacCulloch is a persuasive and very engaging personality - both on screen and on the page. Whether or not you agree with him, it is always interesting to see what he has to say.

The part of the book which resonated the most for me was when he explored the church and his own homosexuality. The honesty here is refreshing and quite moving.

I suspect there is much for adherents to Christianity to think about - but those, like me, who don't subscribe will still find things worth pondering.

A quality piece of work.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Human Imperfection, 3 Dec. 2013
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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Diarmaid MacCulloch's book is less a history of silence in Christianity as a politically correct guide to trimming one beliefs to the non-believing secular age. In MacCulloch's case his inability to reconcile his homosexuality with the Anglican Church's position on the question produces a guilt complex which expresses itself in an attempt to identify organised Christianity's response, or failure to respond, to secular matters which he regards as historically important. His argument is a house built on sand failing to identify what he means by 'Christians' and making references which would be better analysed in sociological rather than historical or theological terms. Had he remembered 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God' he might have made the necessary disconnection between human nature and Christian practice. In respect of the latter he should have remembered the Apostle Paul's observation that, 'All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.' There is little edification in MacCulloch's text.

It's not as though MacCulloch is unaware of the problem. He recognises that medieval Western Christendom was unique in its domination for a millennium by a single monotheistic religion and accompanying culture but does not understand that Christendom was a political system which used its own version of Christianity to suppress individual conscience. Such conscience was at the heart of the Protestant rebellion with its emphasis on 'justification by faith' and subjection of the role of the priesthood to the priesthood of all believers. The eventual outcome of the secularisation of the latter was the philosophy of Marxism which adopted the trappings of the medieval church to claim an authority which it lacked in doctrine by substituting its own. Nineteenth century polemics were the same as their sixteenth century predecessors. Only the names had changed.

MacCulloch suggests that varieties of silence 'must now take their place in a different narrative that cuts through layers of Christian history and takes us right back to its beginnings. In its course, it will lead us to some dark places'. Such dark places exist within MacCulloch's mind rather than in reality. What he is dealing with is not the history of Christianity but with social history which was overlaid with a religious elitism based on political and economic power. Great play is made of the 'blood libel' which purported to justify violence against the Jews in the name of Christianity but very little about the persecution of the early Christians by Jews. He criticises the Confessing Church, which resisted the Nazi's attempt to create a Reich Church, for its post-war Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt in which it did not mention Jews but confesses sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Of course within Nazi Germany itself 'Positive Christianity' merged theories of racial purity with a non-Jewish version of the New Testament. MacCulloch simply ignores the reality of living in an authoritarian state and the fickle nature of human beings.

MacCulloch overlooks the salient point that for many Christians, this reviewer's father for one, did not believe Christian practice permitted the killing of other human beings and regarded calls by all regimes for the preservation of Christian civilisation hypocritical. As Rousseau had pointed out the application of practical Christianity in accordance with the Scriptures would inevitably lead Christians into slavery. Similarly his failure to distinguish between the political and spiritual roles of the Vatican results in him attributing too much importance to the discredited theory of Pius X11 as 'Hitler's Pope'. Hitler knew differently and considered kidnapping him. There's a similar failure to understand slavery. The Southern States believed the negro race was inferior but so too did the agnostic T H Huxley. They were people of their time and their similar interpretation from sociological foundations should not be written off as a result of Christianity and negative theology but as a reflection of social values. Similarly with homosexuality and the role of women in the Church to which MacCulloch appears to attach too much value. Contraception appears to be overlooked while the relationship between Catholic celibacy and child abuse gets less coverage than the homo-eroticism of the Oxford Movement.

The implicit question this raises is the fallacy of 'No True Scotsman'. The history of Christianity is one of competing definitions of who or what is a Christian. MacCulloch appears to avoid this question by ignoring the role of the Roman Church and its later competitors in rejecting all who refused to accept their authority as 'heretics'. Such heresies were persecuted by groups who regarded themselves as Christians but whether their actions represented the teaching of Christ is moot. Even within the United Kingdom we still have political and social groups calling themselves Catholic and Protestant when their motives are Republican and Unionist. The inter-mix of politics and religion since the alleged conversion of Constantine and the latter's decision to convene a Council to decide on doctrine has never been eradicated within the larger versions of organised Christianity.

For those raised in the evangelical tradition which has dispensed with vestments, 'saints' and emphasised the priesthood of all believers the tradition which MacCulloch views as Christian is not one which is shared. Neither is the idea that fundamentalism is per se in any sense purer than its organised alternatives only that it is different. In that tradition silence reflects humility not exclusion or guilt. Authority is via the individual not an organisation although the latter meets for fellowship. George Whitefield and the Wesleys disagreed on doctrine but respected the other's right to hold a different opinion. That 'Christian' groups have not always acknowledged that right is not a condemnation of Christianity but of humanity. As the writer of Ecclesiastes put it, 'What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun'. Human nature does not equate to perfection. Three stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars silence isn't always golden, 13 Dec. 2014
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Mr. D. P. Jay (UK) - See all my reviews
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It is characteristic of my introvert spirituality that I would avow waiting on God in silence and preferring said to over-dramatically sung acts of worship. Perhaps it comes from my upbringing when, I was told, that `little boys should be seen and not heard'.

Judaism is quite a noisy religion, which makes you wonder how some forms of Christianity have embraced silence. Judaism tends to see silence as negative

It's a shame that the author spells out the divine name which, although popularised by the Jerusalem Bible, is ever pronounced by Jews.

Diarmaid is mistaken in asserting that `scriptures' was only applied to Christian writings in the Second Century CE. 2 Peter 3:16 refers to Paul's letters as `scripture'.

Jesus is silent when charged. He also withdraws but this isn't a reference to later monastic withdrawal but a simple move to avoid trouble.

The so-called `messianic secret' in which Jesus enjoins silence on people is more about tensions between the Jerusalem Church and the Pauline churches and the polemic between them.

Paul silences prophets, not because silence is good in itself but in order to make Christians appear more respectable in a Roman world, where decorum is valued

Silence seems to have become part of Christianity via the Greek philosophers.

It's interesting that the rosary may have originated from monks plaiting ropes while listening to readings and that the Muslim minaret may have originated in the pillar used by Simon the Stylite.

A frequent theme of this author is that the Western churches are limited in their understanding of history and miss other times of reform in the East: Each deserves to be given the name 'Reformation' which is generally reserved for the last of them, despite their three very different outcomes.

The protestant reformation marked a return to pluralism and tended towards noise - preaching and hymn-singing, though the Quakers brought quietude and some went in for `standstill' - an inner receiving of the sacrament rather than any physical reception. Meanwhile, the Counter Reformation encouraged the silence of the confessional and the silencing of books by censorship. It was suspicious of contemplation.

But in the world of the Inquisition, silent prayer was safer.

His description of the culture of Anglo-Catholicism, in which we both grew up, is painfully accurate.

I was shocked to hear of the immorality of my hero Paul Tillich but glad that he suggests that my nemesis Karl Barth deserves similar scrutiny.

I like the author's cavalier dismissal of scripture, saying that `it got it wrong'. After all, if Martin Luther could dismiss `'an epistle of straw', why can't we, for example, when it comes to issues like slavery?

Overall, the church has covered up much. Chalcedon marginalised many in the ancient churches (who still exist to this day). The role of women as leaders has been airbrushed out as have the sexual proclivities of some male leaders. Clerical sex abuse was swept under the carpet.

I didn't know that the origin of the title `arrow prayer' is the javelin - to deter demons.

The author, rightly, does not dismiss the seekers who buy book from the `Mind, Body and Spirit' section of bookshops and it's a pity that the churches usually fail to offer, from their great resources, what these people desire and need.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Eclectic and eloquent, 20 Nov. 2013
By 
Laura T (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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It's difficult to know exactly where to place this brief collection of essays on silence in Christianity and silences in the institutional church in relation to Diarmaid MacCulloch's wider body of work, which is one reason why I have given it four rather than five stars. On one hand, it could be seen as an excellent introduction to his lengthier and more intensively scholarly texts Reformation and A History of Christianity, for it often summarises histories in a few pages that those texts rightly linger over for much longer. For example, the vexed question of 'church papists' during the reign of Elizabeth I is dealt with in four or five paragraphs, while the Council of Chalcedon is summarised early in the text with much broader brushstrokes than MacCulloch uses in his longer History of Christianity. For those who don't have the stamina or the time to tackle a 1000-page text without the assurance that it will be worth their while, this much shorter offering (it's barely 240 pages if you exclude the bibliography and end-notes) might seem much more tempting. It certainly displays MacCulloch's wit, imagination, impeccable scholarship and magpie-like gift of picking up gems from other scholars - I particularly enjoyed his citation of Mary Loudon's observation that 'one definition of a saint is someone who has not been researched well enough.'

On the other hand, this text might be viewed as best read after you have digested the aforementioned texts, and preferably some other histories of Christianity as well. What makes it dazzling (MacCulloch dancing across more than two centuries of Christian history in search of 'Nicodemites', Christian groups who have made themselves invisible in order to survive) also makes it difficult (eight hundred years of history in 20 pages ambitiously titled 'From Iconoclasm to Erasmus.') Although this is, of course, intended to be a thematic history focusing on silence rather than a potted version of his longer work, I found that it helped to be familiar with key names, dates and events to keep pace with MacCulloch's enthusiastic eclecticism. I also noticed that the sections on the three periods of Christian history I know most about - early Christianity, the Reformation, and nineteenth-century Britain - seemed much more readable than the rest of the text, but I don't think this was because the writing was any better. In brief, if you know the references, reading this is much more fun. Near the end of the volume, where MacCulloch adopts a subsidiary thematic structure when discussing the topics of Christianity's silences in relation to women, anti-Semitism, homosexuality and slavery, I found the text much more enjoyable, despite my lack of knowledge of the relevant literature, and I wondered if taking a non-chronological approach to the earlier chapters would have helped as well.

So why read this (unless you're already an expert on Christian history)? Well, from a non-expert, I found that despite the bits that I found difficult and confusing, there is still so much here that's worthwhile that it's worth reading anyway. The prose is eloquent, clear and accessible, and not burdened by too much academic debate. And unlike A History of Christianity, I managed to finish it (although I still intend to finish reading that one day, on a very long holiday).
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5.0 out of 5 stars The by-ways of Christian history, 24 Aug. 2013
By 
Dr. J. S. Bray (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
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McCulloch is one of Britain's most famous writers on Christian history: he wrote a groundbreaking biography of Thomas Cranmer, and since then has written an important survey of the European Reformation, and a major new history of Christianity which was aimed at the general reader. This time, he looks at a theme that runs through and behind the story of the Church, that of silence.

He begins by looking at the idea in the Bible (demonstrating on the way an in-depth knowledge of the texts and what scholars have said about them), and then builds on this as he charts the idea of silence and silent prayer through Christian history down to the Reformation. This section effectively becomes almost an account of Christian mystical spirituality. Then he turns to what he calls 'Nicodemism', effectively the way that people hide behind silence, and deals with some fascinating examples: the Family of Love, a secretive religious sect who took over at least one English country parish, and the way that Anglo-Catholicism protected gay clergy by silence. McCullouch then has some hard words for Christian leaders who have remained silent when they should have spoken out (child-abuse and the Jewish Holocaust, among them), and then has what he calls a whistle-stop tour of varieties of silence (which I found a bit diffuse).

The book originated as a series of lectures, so the writing is relatively easy to understand, and McCulloch has the ability to explain complex ideas in a way that everyone can understand. I found it fascinating. Much of the story I knew (or thought I knew), but McCulloch manages to make it seem fresh and interesting (hence the five stars). If there is a weakness, it is the way that each of the sections doesn't quite follow into one another, and I was rather hoping for more of a discussion on the idea of silent prayer in more recent mainstream Christian history (no mention of Evelyn Underhill, for example). But still, this is a thought-provoking book that I know I will return to again.
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