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8 of 8 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 13 months ago by Angel House

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3 of 4 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 8 months ago by Neutral


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8 of 8 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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41 of 44 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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6 of 6 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and compelling read, 6 Sep 2013
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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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Honest and challenging, 29 May 2013
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Magisterial, highly intelligent, it had interesting insights into the development of contemplation in the Christian churches, as well as into priestly celibacy and its secrets. Its understanding of the centrality of silence in Quaker Meetings was a little thin, however.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Via Negetiva, 31 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
Enjoyed reading this book as part of an exploration of negative theology. I have read several of Diarmaid's books and I am always
impressed with his total grasp of the subject and his cross references to other material on the subject.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for thinking Christians, 1 May 2013
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This review is from: Silence: A Christian History (Hardcover)
A highly informative account of the nature and adoption of silence in the Western Church and the East with balanced treatment (and approval) of negative theology. The second part critically and helpfully scrutinises attempts to obscure or conceal what should be exposed. This is another of MacCulloch's magisterial books, thorough and well composed with an attractive style.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whereof one cannot speak..., 31 July 2013
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, 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 work might perhaps better be referred to by just its subtitle "A Christian History", as often the notion of silence seems to touch relatively lightly along the way of 2000 years of Christianity under discussion. Certainly there's no deep spiritual treatment of Great Silence to be found here. But it is a very wide ranging survey covering much ground in something of a whistle-stop tour, from more familiar notions of silence in Christianity such as that of monasticism to some of the more unsavoury aspects of Christian history, including sweeping-under-the-carpet attitudes to homosexuality, failure to condemn slavery and turning a blind eye to child abuse.

It is an honest and sometimes soul-searching treatment but without the histrionics which often accompany debate on these matters. MacCulloch is fair and even-handed - in an age when everyone and his dog is lining up to put the boot into Irenaeus of Lyons I was quite pleased to see him give credence to his writings on the Gnostics. MacCulloch writes readably and engagingly - some people may be put off by reference to relatively obscure - at least to the modern layperson - thinkers (such as (Pseudo-)Dionysius the Areopagite and Johannes Scotus Eriugena) and ideas, but I would encourage the reader to persevere.
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3 of 4 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 Splendid, 9 May 2014
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Long ago, as a Methodist student minister, I listened to Diarmaid MacCulloch's intelligence and sanity, and it was uytterly ref

Long ago, as a Methodist student minister, I listened to Diarmaid MacCulloch's intelligence and sanity, and I have since read his books on Christian history with profit and delight. His exploration of the apophatic tradition in Christianity is full of sympathy, insight and wit. 'Silence' is wonderful. However, I have one teensy-weensy criticism: either he or his editor has made a grammatical howler in one of the sub-headings of chapter 7: not 'Let he who has ears to hear', but 'Let him who has ears to hear'--or as my old Latin teacher would have said, with a clip round the ear, a hortative subjunctive.
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Silence: A Christian History
Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch (Hardcover - 4 April 2013)
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