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The Occasional Theology and Constant
Spirituality of Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams is not only Archbishop of Canterbury, but also a
world-class theologian. This essay explicates Williams's theology
by underscoring the substrate mystagogical impulse that invites
his readers into a deeper engagement with the Christian faith. The
impulse is explicitly present in his spiritual theology, where he
encourages the reader to grow spiritually by dwelling in the place
"where Christ stands," as well as in his academic theology. It is my
argument that this mystagogical impulse is manifest in tlie following characteristics of Williams's theology: (1) it is embodied or incamational; (2) it is public and political in nature; (3) it is
purgative and progressive.

It has become nearly a cHché, when characterizing Anglican theology, to speak of it as an occasional, contextual, and incamational
venture that is more concerned with prayer than with systematic postulations. Indeed, it is often said that AngHcan theology emerges, not
from the ivory towers of academia, but from the beU towers of the
churchyard where first-order common prayer shapes second-order
beheving. CHchéd or not, this characterization is clearly borne out in
the theological approach of AngHcanism's premier theologian and
current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan WilHams.
Not only does this AngHcan character imbue his theology at a
deep, unspoken level, WilHams himself expHcitly acknowledges his
distinctively AngHcan approach in the opening words of the prologue

* Luke F Fodor is the Assistant Rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Cold
Spring Harbor, New York. He holds master's degrees from the University of Durham
and New York University, a Master of Divinity from Bexley Hall Seminary, and has
completed coursework toward a S.TM in Christian spirituality from Trinity Lutheran
Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. This is the winning essay of tlie 2011 Charles Hefling
Student Essay Competition.


educating or "inducting. . one could also speak of discipleship. In this paper.264 Anglican Theological Review to On Christian Theology. a practice that defines a specific shared way of interpreting human Hfe as lived in relationship to God. The argument I am maldng here is that not only does a mystagogical impulse underhe all of WiUiams's theology." imagining and worshipping. or Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin. even those who are only cursorily famihar with WiUiams's oeuvre will see in his devotional books and manuals. There is a practice of common life and language already there. I assume that the theologian is always beginning in the middle of things. I suggest that Rowan Wilhams's theology is not primarily an academic or scholastic discourse. This pariicipation invites the reader into a relationship and conversation with those saints who have passed on to glory and also obliges the reader to adhere to the disciphne of that traciition. that pedagogical practice which invited disciples to participate in the mystery of the faith and not merely articulate it. On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. an invitation into a deeper engagement with the Christian faith. where he broaches the question of his methodology. but when it is acting. Throughout his theological writings. but his theology is a direct outworking of his own spirituahty. The meanings of the word "God" are to be discovered by watching what this community does—not only when it is consciously reflecting in conceptual ways. but rather a contemporary reworking of the ancient tradition of mystagogy. such as Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert. Wilhams is indeed taking occasions as they present themselves to wrestle theologically with thorny issues that f^ace the (post)modem church and individuals as they seek to follow Rowan Williams. WiUiams's methodology is an adherence to the maxim lex orandi lex credendi. He writes.^ As these words manifest. It is perhaps his own spiritual and praxiological sensibihty that makes Wilhams's theology unique and yet part of a long tradition in Anglican theology. thus. with a deep groundedness in communal doxological and spiritual practices. Indeed. 2000). This suggestion is ceriainly not an earth-shaking statement. which is itself an occasional treatment.

* Rowan Williams." See Catherine Bell. ed. 7." in An Introduction to Christian Spirituality. 11:1). as I am of Christ" (1 Cor.ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 265 after the Risen One. 1. and Hke the Apostle Paul. to his "critical theology" in On Christian Theology and Wrestling with Angels. The concept of spirituality has developed into both a meaningful site for research and an interpretative strategy for accessing comprehensive modaHties of beHef/practice that are embodied within the Hved practice of individuals.^ But before we begin this joumey. Ritual Theory. In this paper. . Schneiders. but spirituaHty must be approached carefully so as to resist essentializing it into some sort of perennial philosophy. defines spirituaHty as "the experience of conscious involvement in the project of Hfe-integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.: Johns Hopkins University Press." in Minding the Spirit: The Study of Christian Spirituality." suggesting that we need to maintain "a certain level of 'dymythologizing. xii-xvi. principally in The Wound of Knowledge. Burrows (Baltimore. The Study of Spirituality and/or Spiritual Theology In any study of Christian spirituaHty there are various approaches and starting points. I will trace his spirituality through his writings on spiritual theology.' given that the word 'spiritual' has lately become strangely fashionable. Ralph Waller and Benedicta Ward (London: SPCK. Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press. Mystical Theology. 1992). and their discourses. "Be imitators of me. 2005). "To Stand Where Christ Stands. 5 Sandra M. 1999)."^ But this definition wanders dangerously close to the "mythological" character that WilHams identifies. communities. ed. Sandra Schneiders. Md. However. Mark Mclntosh isolates a similar concern in his study on the ultimate cohesion of theology and spirituaHty. there seems to be a natural connection here. that is not afl he is doing. His primary 2 The designation of "critical theology" is a self-designation and part of a tripartite taxonomy that Williams delineates in the prologue to On Christian Theology.H. I. "The Study of Christian Spirituality: Contours and Dynamics of a Disciphne.. we must first consider the definition and characteristics of spirituaHty. he seems to say. 3 A similar approach is also embodied in ritual studies and tlie process of "ritualization. WilHams uses these occasions to demonstrate and employ his own spirituality.'"* One prominent scholar in the study of spirituality. Dreyer and Mark S."^ Given WilHams's constant concern with worshipping communities. Elizabeth A. WilHams himself is quite suspicious of the term "spirituaHty.M. just as there different definitions.

."^ In addition to their differing starting points. due to the social locations and poHtics of their varying ecclesial contexts.266 Anglican Theological Review contention with Schneiders's approach is that she encourages the "distinction. l. 205. ed. I would suggest that Mclntosh and Schneiders end up speaking past one another. this anthropological approach perpetuates "the divorce between spirituaHty and theology" and "renders Cod peripheral.H. The anthropological approach does indeed have an opposing point of instigation—the experience of the human subject."^ While Mclntosh is correct in expressing grave concerns about Schneiders's potential displacement of God.H. she argues that "theology is integral to any research in Christian spirituaHty. 1998). 19. l. Hke Mclntosh. Schneiders is not attempting to dispense with Cod as the object of spirituaHty. I do not think that an anthropological approach necessarily dispatches Cod to the side. Schneiders. ^ Sandra M. between spirituaHty as an inherent feature of human existence and the particular process by which the possibiHty moves towards fulfillment. at least theoretically. In making the Hved experience of the human subject the starting point.21. I think a more specifically defined notion of Christian spirituaHty is called for. Even though she commences from the human subject."^ This theoretical distinction risks a simultaneous evacuation and reification of meaning. Mystical Theology.^ To clarify and potentially compensate for both unintentional propensities of the theological and anthropological approaches. Lescher and Elizabeth Liebert (New York: Paulist Press.M." in Exploring Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Sandra M. "The Discipline of Ghristian Spirituality and Gatholic Theology.. Schneiders. Mclntosh. Lisa Dahill reforms Schneiders's definition in specifically Christian terms thusly: "Christian spirituaHty is the world-encompassing and Hfe-transforming action of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ in the Hfe of a person or community and her/his/their experience of and response ® Mark A.M. one that identifies its ultimate value in the direct experience of the Trinitarian Cod. ^ Mclntosh is an Episcopal priest and Schneiders is a Roman Gatholic nun. ^ Mclntosh. Bmce H. . but more importantly for Mclntosh. but rather seeks to ameHorate what she sees as the theological tendency to subsume the diversity of human experience into essential notions of the human encounter with Cod. 2006). Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

. . Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams (New York: Church Publishing. Because the concept of "spirituality" is so pervasive. a leading interpreter of Wilfiams's theology. it would seem that there is no other path since in Williams's "constant mixing of theology. "Spirituality in Lutheran Perspective: Much to Offer. diaphanous. For if Mike Higton. 1 (Winter 1998): 72. "spirituafity" wifl only refer to this specifically Christian definition. 9-10. Dahül. Utifizing this methodology aflows us to study Williams and his spiritual theology whfle respecting that mystagogical impulse inherent in his writings. Much to Learn. it is clear that the concept of spirituality is a scholarly apparatus that cuts both ways. . the study of Christian spirituafity is necessarily an interdisciplinary affair." Word and World 18. . requiring multiple loci and apparatus to get at the fived experience of spirituafity. in the confidence that the Gospel has crossed them hefore ^^ ^'^ Lisa E. 11 Mike Higton. 2004). that there are deep and telling connections hetween them. spirituafity and pofitics" he refuses to acknowledge sharp boundaries between these areas of conversation—constantly showing. no.ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 267 to that action of Cod. in fact. and indeed contested."^° In this essay. So in studying Rowan Wilfiams's spirituafity through a reflection of my own interiority I am opening myself—an Episcopal priest-intraining being formed in Angfican theology and pofity—as a window through which we see into Wilfiams's life in the faith. Williams' work is constantly crossing boundaries. I wifl seek to imitate the spiritual path of Rowan Williams as he encounters the divine revelation of the fiving and triune Cod made manifest in Jesus Christ. Spirituafity is a lived and practiced expression that requires one to adopt an active means of getting at the subject. is to be trusted. venturing forth from their armchairs and adopting an attitude of prayer. As we seek to understand the subject—tiie lived and conscious project offifeintegration—our own process of life integration is also impficated in the project. We cannot begin to ascertain the interiority of the subject under investigation if we ourselves are not open to the interiority of our own spirituality. and I invite others to join me in this itinerarium. To this extent. Another way of putting this is to say that you are seldom safe when reading V\/iILiams' works. One cannot properly arrest the process of spiritual production to vivisect the spiritual practitioner in hopes of gaining access to the interiority of her experience or consciousness.

gender studies. He tends to alternate between three distinct modes in his theological writing. that stands as a pubHc standard for the inner working of the Spirit in the lives of the faithful and unfaithful aHke. his spiritual theology is generafly exhibited in celebratory mode. spirituaHty is above afl embodied in our standing in the place where Christ stands: "We stand where Jesus stands as Christian beHevers and pray as Jesus WilHams. So for WilHams."^^ Celebratory theology is the firstorder language of prayer. . . On Christian Theology. is inseparable from the task of occupying a certain sort of place. "To Stand Where Christ Stands. but it is also communicative in nature. since WilHams refuses to estabHsh boundaries. I beHeve it is necessary to frame that study through a later essay. communicative and critical styles. In tracing the form of WflHams's spiritual theology the definitive locus is The Wound of Knowledge. But before engaging his interpretation of the grand tradition. and so on). his volume on Christian spirituaHty from the New Testament to Saint John of the Cross. WilHams suggests that the "spiritual enterprise . As one might expect. hymns. sermons. and theology that seeks to inspire the reader to encounter God." This place. xiii.268 Anglican Theological Review It is precisely this gospel. as one might imagine. modes that he calls "celebratory. . Rowan Williams's Spiritual Theology As Higton has already indicated. Critical theology can either seek to radicafly revise the tradition (along agonistic or nihiHstic Hnes) or it can serve to destabiHze ossified and hierarchical ways of thinking and affirm the "essential restlessness" at the eschatological heart of the gospel. grasping in a certain way where and who you are. WilHams's theology tends toward celebratory and critical modes." In reflecting on what Hfe in the Spirit means in the Christian tradition. is tied to the historical story and identity of particular people who have continuously united around Jesus. which equafly chaflenges and graces this world. Communicative theology seeks to reveal more of the gospel and the human encounter with the divine by forging new metaphors and images in conversation with other environments of expression (psychoanalysis. but it is present at all levels of his theology. it is difflcult to isolate WilHams's "spiritual theology" in any one book or essay.

ed. "To Stand Where Ghrist Stands. "Girard on Violence."^"^ Occupying this place means that we five into the fullness of Christ's and our own humanity and follow his example. Mike Higton (Grand Rapids. spirituahty or spiritual theology is essentially "about what it is for a whole human hfe to be hving in the 'place' defined by Jesus. See "Between the Gherubim: The Empty Tomb and the Empty Throne. the scholastics. as it is always already given to and through Jesus. Living in the midst of this place means eradicating all boundaries that divide us and divesting ourselves of desirous competition or mimeticrivalry. Both in this fragmentary essay and in the larger survey.ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 269 prays. is not merely a work of human volition or agency.^^ Occupying this space.^^ For him. 15 Williams. . 183-196."^^ Employing the spatial concept—the place defined by Christ—makes it easier to discem the movements of Wilhams's spiritual theology. and the reformers. 2007). there is no need to negotiate for space of argue for favour and privilege. "To Stand Where Ghrist Stands. Ruperi Shortt underscores this same 13 Williams. The abihty to occupy Christ's place is the work of the Spirit "drawing out of us what we did not know we desired" and directing our desire toward Cod: "Life in the Spirit is hfe that is decisively free from the obsessions of self-justification. and in standing in that place before Cod as 'Abba." Wilhams makes constant reference to other spiritual thinkers and contemplatives in the Christian tradition.: Eerdmans. Society and the Sacred." in On Christian Theology. Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modem Theology. spirituahty is inextricably tied to the body of Christ—both the historical life of the person Jesus and the living church which constitutes his body. 1^ It is vitally important to Williams that these two manifestations of Ghrist's body be kept distinct so that the church does not usurp the agency of Jesus—^who bodily ascended." 3. " Williams. since the place of Jesus is the place of the one whom the Father has eternally said Yes to." in Rowan Williams. 171-185. however." 2-3. hving a hfe marked for others. as well as in his Teresa of Avila. Mich."^^ For Wilhams. I"* See Rowan WiUiams. In elucidating what he means by "standing in the place of Christ.' we share equally in Jesus' directedness towards the good and the heahng of the world. among many others. Williams's spiritual theology emerges in conversation with the Cappadocians. The Wound of Knowledge. nor is it an individualistic and moralist project seeking to recreate Christ's perfect example." 2. Saint Augustine. "To Stand Where Ghrist Stands.

The title underscores the woundedness that is manifest in Christ's body and secondarily in those who foflow after him and seek to know Christ. we are able to tease out three characterizations of WilHams's spiritual theology: (1) it is embodied or incamational. 151. Mich. is yes. Accordingly."^^ Indeed. a 'future' that has appeared already. "The Desert Fathers. of course. judged. afl the way back to first-century Palestine. each of us is called to risk afl of our incamate selves. stripped naked and left speechless by that which Hes at the center of faith."^" 1^ Rupert Shortt.: Eerdmans. 3:10). understanding. 1^ Rowan WUliams. Despite their interconnectedness I shafl treat them separately in seriatim. 1991). we gain insight into both WilHams's spiritual theology and his own spirituaHty by foflowing these conversations. instantiated and only made possible "by the initiative of God in Hving out the typos of human Hfe— offering himself as a perfected gift and symbol offleshlyHfe. And yet. Rowan's Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Crand Rapids. (2) it is pubHc and political in nature. WilHams avers that the call to Christian discipleship is unique in its "readiness to be questioned. these three characterizations are interconnected and flow from the same fountainhead—the Hfe of Christ Jesus. of course. . Mass. generation after generation. . Are we reading about Bemard of Clairvaux's theology or WilHams's? Luther's or WilHams's? The answer. As we might expect. "sharing of his suffering by becoming Hke him in his death" (Phil. St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross speak not only to him. Meister Eckhart."^^ As Christians. 11." The past "future" that we are called to is. 20 Williams. As such. At times it is difficult to discem whose theology is being expHcated. .270 Anglican Theological Review point in his biography of WilHams when he writes. The Wound of Knowledge.: Cowley Publications. I propose. (3) it is purgative and progressive. The Wound of Knowledge. 2008). By attending to the motif of the locus of Christ. spiritual theology must pay attention to the body of knowledge Hved out through the coundess saints who have gone on before. but for him. second edition (Cambridge. or knowledge" but is necessarily "oriented to the future . (1) Theology that is embodied or incamational The very title of his book The Wound of Knowledge expresses WflHams's understanding of spirituaHty as an embodied and incamational practice. Christian spirituaHty does not "rest on past achievement of vision. 31.

Williams. 48. . WilHams locates the start of this divinization in "the inner wound of love. WilHams affirms that each "in their diverse ways. WilHams underscores the eternal quaHty of Jesus' personhood as the divine Logos. The Wound of Knowledge. Through Augustine's spiritual autobiography. 84. Confessions. Quoting Origen. Williams. The Wound of Knowledge."^^ In a sense. Spiritual theology avows that tme knowledge is never merely intellectual or noetic but blended with the passions and the body. The Wound of Knowledge. Jesus became a physical statement of the divine word of love. what WilHams is suggesting is that spiritual knowledge and understanding come from placing our own personal particular "biography" in the place of Christ's particular "biography. but on the fideHty of the heart's longing to what has been revealed as the only satisfying object of its desire. and Irenaeus. this spiritual knowledge of Cod is only attainable through the biography of Jesus and discernable through our own history and biography. Citing the Alexandrian tradition embodied by Clement and Origen. The Spirit constantly beckons us to join in this divine word of love and to Hve "a Hfe that simply reflects back to Cod with love Cod's own supremely active and unified nature in a harmony of love.ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 271 As indicated. In conversation with Paul. while simultaneously expanding humanity and allowing it to enter into the divine perichoresis of the Triune Cod. WilHams shows how this desire for Cod alone is able to provide and vouchsafe any meaningful knowledge for humanity. Williams."^^ Another way of speaking of this is through the doctrine of theosis—Jesus became human to enlarge humanity wide enough that Cod might enter.' the theological evaluation of how the work of Cod has united with human variety and contingency in particular Hves. "The confidence of the beHever never rests upon his intellectual grasp or his intellectual control of his experience. 21 22 23 2^ Williams. Ignatius."^ It is only through Hfe in the Spirit that individuals find their knowledge and rest in Cod. understanding is notfiing other than a standing under the figure of Christ. He writes." Thus." 4. "To Stand W h e r e Ghrist Stands. 4 1 ."^'' This "wound of love" is a spark that sets our souls aHght and desiring after Cod. As the incarnate Word. opens the path to the sense of 'Christian biography.

Wilfiams argues that spirituality is intrinsically political and pubfic. 28 Williams."^^ The hope and struggle of life in the Spirit is paradoxical. In other words. 2^ See Jacques Derrida's interesting discussion of testimony as martyrdom or autobiographical sacrifice in Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Stanford. Williams touches on t h e issue of testimony a n d trial in. and apolitical practice. CaBf. Sacrificiafly withdrawing 25 Williams. If spirituality is to occupy the place where Ghrist stands. 2000). as it pubficly conveys his judgment upon the status quo of human power relations where the first are first and the last are last. . it is also a means of making spirituafity pubhc and political. As the third-century persecution by the state waned. "To Stand W h e r e Ghrist Stands.^^ Martyrdom is then emblematic of the place of Christ. However." 9-10. quietistic. "To Stand W h e r e Christ Stands." 8. for Williams concludes. Mich. but "a task perfected in grace. "To Stand W h e r e Ghrist Stands. citing the case of Ignatius and his own ecclesiological agenda to estabhsh the threefold order of ministry. humanity is essentially "where he [Christ] is not.: Stanford University Press. Williams admits that this act can itself be co-opted as part of a pofitical strategy. among other places. 2003). but none more significant than the fiourishing of monasticism. this too is part of embodied faith that is lived out pubficly in the midst of human sinfulness and contingency. It serves to offer Cod's judgment on the world and to be judged by the world.272 Anglican Theological Review (2) Theology that is public and political in nature Biography is not only a means of coming to embodied knowledge of God."^^ Because spirituafity is pubfic. Christ constantly surprises us and challenges us to grow into our full stature. "where Christ is. it is always open to attestation and examination.: E e r d m a n s . 29 Williams. Jesus' fife becomes a model through which Christians bear witness with their own lives to his authority. must be where authority is to be found. Crucified as a political dissident. Against modem conceptuafizations of spirituafity as essentiafly a subjective. The Wound of Knowledge. for as Wilfiams concludes." 9. 30. it is necessarily pofitical. Christians found other ways to perform spiritual acts of revolt."^^ The fife and death of Christ bear witness to the pofitical nature of his teaching and ministry. Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement (Grand Rapids. although authority resides where Christ is and although we strive to be in the place where Christ is. Nonetheless. ^'' Williams. purging the lesser parts of ourselves. "that place where he is not is also the place where he is bound to be as the lover or spouse of the created self "^^ Like a loving life-partner.

23. Williams." which is enacted by sharing God's own experience through "the exercise of crucifying compassion. Christians are called to poHtical action through the renunciation of the world and its system of valuation. prideful control. Submitting themselves to a mle of Hfe dedicated to prayer and poverty. 108. Knowledge. Hke Jesus led into the wilderness. but only through the continual participating in "what God d ' ^ 30 31 32 33 3" Williams."'^^ This can be portrayed as the process of kenotic divestment of the self. Williams. (3) Theology that is purgative and progressive As the example of monasticism presents. "Knowledge of God is found only through the practice of self-cmcifying service. but rather it is a vehicle for spiritual growth itself. The Wound The Wound The Wound The Wound The Wound of of of of of Knowledge. the displacing of the ego becomes a giving 'place' to others."''^ This process of "unselfing" is active purgation not only of "fleshly" comforts and conceits. they could not embark on their spiritual quest apart from the prompting of the Spirit.^° As such. Williams." The spiritual quest for God is not satiated by some static understanding of God. the Christian initiates a Hfe that is attuned to a progressive process of purgation that endeavors to bear the mark of Christ. Knowledge. those who embraced the vowed Hfe of faith estabHshed discipHned soHtary and communitarian expressions of Hfe in the Spirit. "The 'unselfing' involved in union with Christ's death is made real in the pubHc and social world. 62-63. Knowledge. 105."-^'^ It is important to reaHze that this purgation does not simply clear the ground so that grov^^h can occur. They denounced the state's suggestion that it could secure the place of Christ and faciHtate his followers to occupy it. 23. these monastics sought to perform the same action enshrined in martyrdom. WilHams writes. Williams. To occupy the place where Christ stands. .ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 273 from the social order and their famihes. As WilHams affirms. Hfe in the Spirit takes as its end goal the knowledge of God "in conformity to God. as God has given 'place' to all in his Son. but also of the temptation for willful. Their retreat from society was not retreat at all. Knowledge. Purgation plays an operative role: "growth cannot occur without the stripping of iflusion. in imitation of Christ. According to WilHams. but rather an attempt to "destroy the illusions" of self-sufficiency apart from God.

Life in the Spirit does not have. 176. or selfforgetting is itself a participation in the divine act of a kenotic Cod. ^ Rowan Williams." Williams brings to the table many saintly conversation partners. the seeker finds himself contorted and conformed the more he knows Cod. The Wound of Knowledge. it is through this "fmstrated" longing that we are perfected and formed in Cod's self-giving nature. Greativity and Greatureliness: The Wisdom of Finite Existence. properly speaking. Oxford. "in the middle of the fire we are healed and restored—though never taken out of it. Ultimately. knowledge is participation. Wilhams underscores John's significant and poignant awareness "of the way in which spirituahty can be made an escape from Christ. As Williams suggests. unavoidable." Accordingly.274 Anglican Theological Review Partners in the Conversation Throughout The Wound of Knowledge and its historical study of "classical spirituahty.php/2106/ creation-creativity-and-creatureliness-the-wisdom-of-finite-existence.""'* 35 Williams."''^ For Williams. each of whom embodies what it means to five in the life of the Spirit and occupy the place the Christ occupies. The Wound of Knowledge. in which the knower is molded to take the form of what is known.archbishopofcanterbury. who is forever withdrawing in the divine self-giving."^^ When spirituahty becomes a codified expression or experience it is ossified into a veil that hides the presence of Christ. "Greation. 190-191." And yet. the joumey's end is. 3^ Williams. an end—the end is always "not yet" and the painful and "fmstrated longing for homecoming. 38 Williams. In Saint John. Purgation is a mirroring of Cod's ovm purgation: "The nature of our participation in the hfe of Cod is a participation in Cod's self-forgetting this stripping. As WiUiams describes this process. on April 23. unselfing."^^ Indicating why he closes the book with John of the Cross. . The Wound of Knowledge. The quest of Cod requires constant purgation—a continual dark night of the soul." lecture given at the St. knowing spiritually is itself purgation—a movement comprised by "stripping and simphfication. 2005. 189. not because he is the last worthy conversation partner. but because his contribution to spiritual theology resists closure and presents the wounded knowledge of God that Williams has been advocating. Williams decides to conclude his survey with Saint John of the Cross. Theosevia Gentre for Ghristian Spirituality. http://www. "knowledge unifies.

Systematically Spiritual Among the nearly twenty essays that comprise On Christian Theology."^" As I have presented WilHams's spiritual theology. Teresa of Avila (London: Continuum. the topic of the Spirit and spirituaHty occur frequently. Participation in the self-giving of the Triune God is a cafl to self-giving in community. in which he encourages us to follow Teresa's example: We must. I wifl now present several examples where WilHams embraces these spiritual traits in the course of his academic arguments. (3) it is purgative and progressive. The Wound of Knowledge. and teaches us a new solidarity with the dispossessed and powerless. as any doctrinal account of theology ought 39 Rowan Williams.^^ Teresa's reminder of the importance of community is essential. three principles characterize the Ghristian's endeavor to stand in the place where Christ stands: (1) it is embodied or incamational. in Teresa's language. .ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 275 Although he concludes The Wound of Knowledge with Saint John. simultaneously learn friendship with God and each other. 207. he could have more fully included Teresa of Avila. for "the church is the place where selfless service is learned. which is not particularly surprising. (2) it is pubHc and poHtical in nature. and that process involves becoming strangers to ourselves or ourselves as we have conceived and constructed ourselves. The purging that Teresa describes happens within the church. in the daily mb of communal Hfe. but one Hved out in community. who positively refracts this dark night into the language of friendship. 26. Occupying this place necessitates a pubHc/poHtical outworldng of an incamational and embodied indwelHng of the Spirit in the Hfe of the beHever that is progressively refined and purged to better reflect the loving example of Jesus Christ. which are in themselves an outworking of his own spirituality and love for God. We must become strangers to the tyrannies of honour and dignity: the ascetic life in a community of equals initiates this process. Perhaps that is why WilHams found it necessary to engage Teresa in a book-length study. 1991). These same three principles characterize his technical and academic theology. "0 Williams. Life in the Spirit is never a private joumey.

tempted. suggesting that it does not matter "what Cod does" or "what we do" "1 Williams. As I have suggested. as WilHams himself indicates. has often risked [using] . In perhaps a paradigmatically self-effacing movement. the spiritualizing of matter . baptized. for WilHams. 90. . On Christian Theology. even though they are at its core. the image of incarnation. in spirit and flesh to the ways in which human beings Hke you and me betray and kill each other in spirit and flesh. the reader should expect his pneumatological procHvities. .'*^ What is particularly illuminating in WilHams's academic essays is the manner in which he opens room for the Spirit and even encourages the reader to join him in what he would call "celebratory theology.276 Anglican Theological Review to reflect on the third member of tlie Trinity and its activity in the Hfe of the church. Jesus is the "meaning of meaning": "He is vulnerable. says the story. Civen that. . is himself'sacrament. this movement is part of WilHams's own spirituaHty and part of his substrate mystagogical project. In what follows. It is the mystery of a Cod who is wilHng to risk ultimate vulnerabiHty that secures meaning for our own embodied nature. [as a] wonderfully resourceful tool for making sense of a sacramental community with a social conscience and a cultural homeland. is the paschal mystery."^^ This ideological employment of the incarnational theme threatens to obscure the true message of Cod's incarnation in Jesus Christ. or as WilHams frames it. with its long-standing enthusiasm about the incarnational principle. On Christian Theology. "3 Williams. . forgiving and heaHng. I will underscore these movements by citing instances where WiUiams employs those three manifestations of his spiritual theology."^"' For WilHams. which. 189. offering himself as the means of a new covenant. "•2 Williams. 85. 93. He is careful because "AngHcan tlieology. the embodiment of our faith and spirituaHty is the embodiment of Jesus. Who we are as a species is tied up in who Jesus is as a person. systematic theology is "properly inseparable" from spirituaHty. The Wound of Knowledge." He "solves" complex theological problems by reminding us that theology is a spiritual practice. the fusion of heaven and earth.'" WilHams uses this understanding to redirect "weary controversies" in sacramental theology. . This understanding is communicated through the sacraments and rooted in Christ's own embodiment: "Jesus. WilHams is careful not to overplay the themes of incarnation or embodiment in this theology.

In WilHams's theology. we receive Jesus' own body broken for us. "by those already caught up in Cod's work. but rather the acceptance of our creaturely vulnerabiHty and the progressive réévaluation of human notions of power. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor. we encounter Christ and the mystery of our embodiment.ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 277 in sacramental actions. Through the sacraments we stand in the place that Christ stands—in our human frailty exhibiting the divine vulnerability. In accepting judgment—in accepting our vulnerabiHty—^we participate in the divine Hfe-giving. and activity of the church—as an extension of Jesus' own Hfe and message—is intrinsically pubHc and poHtical. Judgment is not about condemnation. On Christian Theology.^ In this meditation on the sacramental nature of Christ's incarnation and our own embodiment in relationship to it." actively opening themselves up to receive. As Paul wrote. He reminds us that the sacraments are performed in obedience to Jesus Christ. This embodied existence. discem the good. "But God chose what is fooHsh in the world to shame the wise. WilHams's spiritual sensibiHties are able to take complex theological concems and remind us that ultimately the "Spirit is active where broken flesh and shed blood become the sign and promise of human wholeness and union with the Father. we are united with Cod and the process of divinization continues. 32. we receive it and it redeems our own embodied and broken existence. 124. 204-205.^^ The transformative goal of judgment is the reaHzation that the human community finds its true identity in Hght of the Hfe and ministry of Jesus Christ. 1:27). In other words. this dimension is framed around the central metaphor of judgment. In being united with Christ. and conduct transformative action. self-giving expression of abundant Hfe manifest in Christ Jesus. Wilhams. WilHams is able to underscore the sacramental nature of creation."^^ As we encounter the sacraments in the church or refracted in creation. . Specificafly in the Eucharist. Ultimately. which contains many registers and connotations but is chiefly reflective of the human propensity to evaluate concrete and particular situations. On Christian Theology. Wilhams. Christian Hfe. On Christian Theology. WilHams suggests that the Christian message requires an expression of openness: Williams. judgment is above all a means of conversation—"a complex process of interaction" that leads to conversion and transformation.

12. as arising from the refusal to know and love oneself as a creature. a body. . "•s Williams."^^ While this is one way of characterizing his theology. our violent obsessions with privilege. WilHams is also keenly attuned to the means through which theology. watchfulness and the expectation of the Spirit's drastic appearance in judgment. conversion." suggesting that WilHams is "happier vidth narrative than with system. in the darkening of sense and spirit in prayer" Yet he holds this sentiment in tension vwth our embodied encounter with the divine: "But we should not allow the weighty and important language of 'Cod at work in nothingness' to deceive us into thinking that Cood Friday is *'' Williams. the study of spirituaHty through WilHams's theology requires our self-impHcation in the task.278 • Anglican Theological Review "Cood doctrine teaches silence. 1 (2003): 73. . . no. is prone to ideological co-optation and political maneuvering." Scottish Journal of Theology 56. As we have already indicated. So the ideological purgation of the theological enterprise is also a personal purgation. On Christian Theology. for us and for the whole world. "Rowan Williams on Ghristian Doctrine. it identifies the real damaging pathologies of human Hfe. Therefore the theological enterprise requires a posture of openness—openness to criticism of the gospel. and the other WilHams uses the practice of contemplation to illustrate this posture: "Contemplation . in the void of Cood Friday and Holy Saturday. the self. In his view the role of the theologian is twofold: (1) to be judged by the gospel and the tradition that emerges from it. ^^ Geoffrey Wainwright. control and achievement. is a deeper appropriation of the vulnerabiHty of the self in the midst of the language and transactions of the world. WilHams affirms the role that purgation plays in freeing us to encounter Cod: "There is indeed a sense in which we meet Cod in emptiness and silence. Ceoffrey Wainwright lauds Williams for his innovative approach to systematic theology."^^ Being open to the judgment of the "world" is one way in which those who find their ultimate meaning in Jesus begin the process of purgation. recognition. calHng him an advocate of an "open system. On Christian Theology. Hke any human discourse. I beHeve that it is better to speak of WilHams's resistance to closure as a manifestation of his spiritual and theological suppori of purgation. if decidedly intellectual in orientation. 43."^^ Such openness in systematic theology is quite distinct. and (2) to judge the tradition.

Like the dance of the Trinity. WilHams is forever inviting and enticing the reader to stand more fufly in the place where Christ stands. 62. WilHams's spiritual theology beckons us to join the dance to purge ourselves of our own self-interests. and to open ourselves to the judgment of the gospel. we witness the dance of WilHams's mystagogy: from embodiment to judgment to purgation. in imitation of Christ."^^ 5" Williams. On Christian Theology. flnd our desire for God kindled and be moved to seek "the knowledge of God through the practice of self-cmcifying service. and Rowan Williams. 2001). 52 Wilhams. humble. I have been making one overarching point: in the various topics and differing styles of his theology. At the Spirit's behest. 51 Ceoffrey RoweU. WilHams vwites: "The hope of the editors is that this book will be not only a tool for study but what earHer Christian generations called an encheiridion—a handbook for faithful Hving. In his preface to Love's Redeeming Work."^^ And in this tension—or perhaps juxtaposition—^we have a picture of WilHams's spiritual theology Hved out. the magnificent genealogy of AngHcan theology and discourse WilHams edited with Geoffrey Rowell and Kenneth Stevenson. xiii. but with our Hves."^^ I would suggest that we let this statement speak for all of WilHams's theology.ROWAN WILLIAMS'S THEOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY 279 not history or that the soul in the night of contemplation ceases to be bound up in its material creaturehood. 207. As he himself engages in conversation with the saints Hving and those who have gone on before. never ceasing to be critical of human motivation for selfdeception. . a resource for vwsdom in leading an intelHgent. And with that. WilHams invites us to converse—to enter the conversation not only at an intellectual level. and grateful Hfe of discipleship. to embrace our own vulnerable creatureHness. The Wound of Knowledge. and yet rejoicing in Cod's self-forgetting and self-effacing work in redeeming incarnate and creaturely existence by becoming vulnerable with it. Kenneth Stevenson. this continual movement flnds us occupying the place where Christ resides. Conclusion In my engagement with the theology of Rowan WilHams. Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness (New York: Oxford University Press. following the example of Rowan WilHams and afl of God's saints. May we.

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