Tuesday 2 October 2012

Rowan Williams on the Person and the Individual

Kudos to Theos for their excellent fifth annual lecture yesterday evening, when Rowan Williams addressed a large gathering at the Central Hall Westminster in what will probably be one of his last public appearances as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The title of the lecture was: ‘The Person and the Individual: Human Dignity, Human Relationships, Human Limits’.

Taking his cue from Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky’s 1955 essay, ‘The Theological Notion of the Human Person’, the Archbishop gently but persuasively presented a case for a ‘personalist’ as opposed to an ‘individualist’ view of what it means to be human.

None of this will be news to those aware of the turn towards ‘relationship’ in recent discussions about personhood, but it was a delight to hear it articulated so compellingly, so unashamedly theologically, in broad strokes, taking in Richard Sennett (sociology) and Patricia Gosling (psychotherapy) along the way.

The range of questions afterwards allowed him to reflect, albeit briefly, on the implications of a ‘personalist’ perspective for education, apprenticeship, business, sexuality, abortion, tolerance, earth care, human rights, and more besides.

I was struck by his graciousness in responding to these and other fairly ‘loaded’ questions not directly related to the topic of the evening (most of which were posed, to the obvious chagrin of some fellow punters near me, by the BBC’s Mishal Husain who chaired the lecture and Q&A time). He was able to move almost imperceptibly from academic to churchman to pastor, as adept at citing lines from Father Ted as from Vladimir Lossky.

Asked about his ‘favourite’ Archbishop (where I suspect the questioner was trying to draw him out on who his successor should be), he replied that it would be a tie between St Anselm and Michael Ramsey!

Asked, right at the end of the evening, whether he leaves the Church of England in a worse state than when he took on the role of Archbishop, he replied, ‘No, I don’t think so’, adding – to the apparent delight of most of those gathered – that if God has called this community into existence, God will be faithful to it.

The audio of the lecture is available here.

No comments: