The Guardian reports, in part,
In his Gifford Lectures, delivered last month and available online, [MacCulloch] has turned his mind to silence. The lectures present a lively history of silence in the church, and left me with a clear sense that this is a history that affects us all today.
A suspicion of silence took root in the second and third centuries, when bishops penned diatribes against the so-called gnostikoi, Christians who claimed that God was most fully known as unknowable, and so therefore in silence. To be branded a gnostic was to be cast out of the fold. Then, in the fourth century, came the conversion of Constantine. The church aligned itself to secular power and now what you thought was of political importance too. Thereafter, western rites included creeds to be audibly confessed. They policed who was in and who out.
The legacy of this tradition is that, today, if you go to a mass or morning worship, there will be barely a moment’s silence. Quakers aside, it is as if there is a de facto ban on silence in public worship. When people gather together, they should rehearse approved truths. The inner life, left alone, foments heresy and subversion.
Definitely worth a listen! First class thinking once again from England’s premier Church Historian. And, thankfully, the lectures will also be published in book form (due out in the Fall, according to the good Professor himself) so that’s something to look forward to indeed!
- Lecture 1: Introduction: voices and silence in Tanakh and Christian New Testament
- Lecture 2: Catholic Christianity and the arrival of ascetism, 100-400
- Lecture 3: Silence through schism and two Reformations: 451-1500
- Lecture 4: Silence transformed: the third Reformation 1500-1700
- Lecture 5: Getting behind noise in Christian history
- Lecture 6: Silence in modern and future Christianities