248: Silence by Diarmid MacCulloch

by Gerard


248.46: MacCulloch, Diarmid. Silence: A Christian History. London: Allen Lane, 2013. 239 pp. ISBN 978-1-846-14426-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 240: Christian practices and observances
  • 248: Christian experience, practice, and life
  • 248.4: Christian life and practice
  • 248.46: Individual observances

One of the most powerful social forces is silence. A silent man before a crowd speaks volumes without opening his mouth. Silence is powerful in that it forces the listener to be still within themselves, to not desperately fill the moment with words. In an age where media of all sorts constantly surrounds us, it is nice to gain a little perspective and be silent. Diarmid MacCulloch’s Silence is a look at the use of silence in the history of Christianity.

There are myriad references to silence in the Bible and the Tanakh and MacCulloch begins his study there. But even while this is a Christian history, the temptation to dip into Greek philosophy is too great. The fact that the early Church fathers used Greek texts brings in new levels of complexity when discussing cases of silence. The Old Testament, with a mild emphasis on pre-Christ Judaism, revels in episodes of silence in both its stories and its rituals. The New Testament bring with it both the interpretation of the silences of Jesus and Paul’s rebuke of “noisy Christians.” In the Middle Ages, monastic silence became a way of life and a means of self-reflection and each of the Reformations brought a new meaning to silence.

This book is rich in Church history and analysis, and MacCulloch should be commended for his efforts. While many episodes of Christian silence are moments of stoicism and prayer, MacCulloch does not shy away from silence in the heated topics of homosexuality, gender inequality, and child abuse. While silence can be powerful, breaking a long silence can be just as effective. MacCulloch’s investigation of silence as a part of Christian history is as splendid as it is encompassing. A dense but rich book.