Saturday, 21 February 2009

Rowan Williams: "Mainly Monk"

(Ed: The author of this piece, Theo Hobson, is a regular Guardian Comment is Free contributor.)

The main thing that struck me, as I read Rupert Shortt's biography of Rowan Williams, was how amazingly sheltered the Archbishop of Canterbury's life has been. I don't mean economically privileged (most of us are pretty much on a level in this respect), or emotionally easy (whose is?) – I mean ideologically and institutionally fixed.

He decided as a boy that he would be a priest and theologian, and never had any trouble getting there. (His career plan met as many obstacles as that of Martin Amis, who is one year older, which feels a bit wrong.) He never had a period of adulthood, or even adolescence, in which he wondered what to do with his life, in which he dipped even a toe into another form of life. He has always belonged to the subculture of Church, and since undergraduate days it was obvious that he would have a successful career in it, and the universities joined to it. Contemporaries rightly saw him as a donnish prelate-in-waiting.

So his life has been sheltered by the institutions of Church and Oxbridge, to a remarkable degree. He has never had to seek employment, or existential meaning, outside this world. He has almost always been housed by either Church or university, thus being spared a major form of worldly responsibility and angst. He happens never to have driven a car, another reprieve from dirty worldliness. I bet that his computer has never malfunctioned without some institutional employee on hand to fix it. He has never quite lived in the difficult modern world.

This is of central relevance to his thought. Read more
No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the

1 comment:

Lee Stewart said...

In my life, I have personally met Rown Williams twice;both in 1999. The first time was at the Anglican Society at Cardiff University, where as a student he was very "informal" to us, the next time was in an attempt to seek acceptance for the discernment of vocation within the Diocese of Monmouth when he was Bishop there; this time it was in his house, and it struck me how "English" he was attempting to be, talking about his Oxford days. There was several references made in our conversation about his ambition, so it was no suprise that he wanted to become Archbishop of Canterbury as he had a "complaint' regarding the lack of "authority" the Archbishop of Wales has!

But regardless of the conversation, there seemed on the one hand a genuine care for you, if you are associated or wants to be associated with the church, but on the otherhand a child mentality in his understanding that many of us do not have the "magic touch" for ours careers.