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Why Study the Past?: The Quest for the Historical Church Paperback – July 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Rowan Williams is the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. His many books include "Arius: Heresy and Tradition," "Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement," "The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ," "The Truce of God," and "Writing in the Dust: After September 11" (all Eerdmans).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"Good historical writing constructs our sense of who we are by a real engagement with the strangeness of the past. . . . Bad history is any kind of narrative that refuses this difficulty and enlargement — whether by giving us a version of the past that is just the present in fancy dress or by dismissing the past as a wholly foreign country whose language we shall never learn."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 135 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (July 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802829902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802829900
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rowan Douglas Williams was born in Swansea, south Wales on 14 June 1950, into a Welsh-speaking family, and was educated at Dynevor School in Swansea and Christ's College Cambridge where he studied theology. He studied for his doctorate - in the theology of Vladimir Lossky, a leading figure in Russian twentieth-century religious thought - at Wadham College Oxford, taking his DPhil in 1975. After two years as a lecturer at the College of the Resurrection, near Leeds, he was ordained deacon in Ely Cathedral before returning to Cambridge.

From 1977, he spent nine years in academic and parish work in Cambridge: first at Westcott House, being ordained priest in 1978, and from 1980 as curate at St George's, Chesterton. In 1983 he was appointed as a lecturer in Divinity in the university, and the following year became dean and chaplain of Clare College. 1986 saw a return to Oxford now as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church; he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1989, and became a fellow of the British Academy in 1990. He is also an accomplished poet and translator.

In 1991 Professor Williams accepted election and consecration as bishop of Monmouth, a diocese on the Welsh borders, and in 1999 on the retirement of Archbishop Alwyn Rice Jones he was elected Archbishop of Wales, one of the 38 primates of the Anglican Communion. Thus it was that, in July 2002, with eleven years experience as a diocesan bishop and three as a leading primate in the Communion, Archbishop Williams was confirmed on 2 December 2002 as the 104th bishop of the See of Canterbury: the first Welsh successor to St Augustine of Canterbury and the first since the mid-thirteenth century to be appointed from beyond the English Church.

Dr Williams is acknowledged internationally as an outstanding theological writer, scholar and teacher. He has been involved in many theological, ecumenical and educational commissions. He has written extensively across a very wide range of related fields of professional study - philosophy, theology (especially early and patristic Christianity), spirituality and religious aesthetics - as evidenced by his bibliography. He has also written throughout his career on moral, ethical and social topics and, since becoming archbishop, has turned his attention increasingly on contemporary cultural and interfaith issues.

As Archbishop of Canterbury his principal responsibilities are however pastoral - leading the life and witness of the Church of England in general and his own diocese in particular by his teaching and oversight, and promoting and guiding the communion of the world-wide Anglican Church by the globally recognized ministry of unity that attaches to the office of bishop of the see of Canterbury.

His interests include music, fiction and languages.

In 1981 Dr Williams married Jane Paul, a lecturer in theology, whom he met while living and working in Cambridge. They have a daughter and a son.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Carlton B. Turner on May 12, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In 4 chapters and only 114 pages Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gives a penetrating and discerning theology of church history. How has the church described what is unique to itself from the first early centuries, through the Middle Ages, the Reformation and modern times? Williams traces deep patterns of how the church has struggled through the pressures of different historical eras to witness to the unique community that is created by the work of God in Christ. A discerning look at the past will discover something strange and different from ourselves but in a way that helps us discover our community with the past in ways that will change how we see ourselves in the present and so face new challenges as we move into the future.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Billy O. Daniel on October 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a must read for historians, and should be required reading for students entering Divinity School. Archbishop Williams gifts us with a candid picture of ecclesial scholarship from its inception on. It is not a detailed investigation into specific movements in church history, but reveals to the reader how specific movements tailored history in such a way that the 'winners' articulation of these occurrences prevailed--leaving us with a less than honest narration of that history. Williams presents an argument, much like Alisdair MacIntyre does in "Who's Justice? Which Rationality?," stating that 'we need to understand the other on the other's own grounds.' And in Williams' case, we need to do the grunt work necessary for doing history so to contextualize each period, as best as we can, as the events and language would have been understood to those who actually lived them. (As MacIntyre put it, 'languages can be learned, but they cannot be translated'). This does not mean that tradition and doctrine cannot be timeless. It does, however, mean that they must undergo constant renewal in the community through, as Williams puts it (using the language of Georges Florovsky), the "charismatic memory" as it is located in the liturgical activity of the church.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Chip Webb on November 29, 2014
Format: Paperback
Former Archbishop of Canterbury's Rowan Williams's Why Study the Past?: The Quest for the Historical Church consists of four chapters, each one corresponding to a lecture given in May 2003 at Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England. The lectures were revised and expanded before publication in 2005. On the surface, the book looks like another academic work that Williams could write in his sleep; whether you agree or disagree with him on any given issue, his scholarly giftedness is undeniable. For readers familiar with recent Anglican history, however, it's hard not to see subtexts running throughout this work that both point to then-current Anglican events and, in retrospect, shed insightful light on what Williams was trying to do during his tenure as "first among equals" of Anglican primates.

Williams starts from the viewpoint that history is written to make sense of current crises (a statement true as far as it goes, but I think Williams underestimates the human desire to write history just to understand the past apart from other extrinsic motivations). He proceeds from there to look at how Church history has been handled throughout the Church's existence and how we should handle it today. A meaty initial chapter covers several topics, opening with assumptions to make and avoid when studying history, continuing with a well-detailed overview of Christian historians throughout the Church's life, and concluding with some theological reflections on the importance of Church history. Chapter 2 looks in more detail at the early church, while Chapter 3 does the same for the Reformation. (Disappointingly, Williams mostly skips the Medieval Church.) The final chapter deals with present-day applications.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Olof Granstedt on February 22, 2015
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Williams give some very good reasons why stidy of the past can help us to understand the present and prepare us for the future. After every major change tjere might be a good reason to re-write history to integrate the lessons learned. Some says the winner write the history. Williams make the very important point that there is no such thing as the true old church to be returned to. Each is a child of its time.

This diversity over time is a good example of continous adaptions and shows clearly the possibility of a clever managemant of todays co flicts in society.
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