How can Rowan Williams reconcile his Christianity with the Greek tragic vision?by Edith Hall / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Can there be a Christian reading of tragedy? Can a pre-Christian, pagan, literary genre, which confronts the gross unfairness of human pain, be reconciled with the idea of a loving deity? Expectations must be high of a book about tragedy professing to explore these questions by Rowan Williams. He is the most intellectually renowned British churchman alive, a former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He has always enriched his prolific theological and church-historical studies with intense reflections on philosophy and literature; in addition to his more than 30 volumes on Christianity, he has published on Fydor Dostoyevsky and WH Auden and even volumes of his own poetry. The Tragic Imagination is a short monograph, a little over 40,000 words, arguing for the past and continuing importance of tragic drama and its compatibility—indeed affinity—with a philosophically inflected Christian outlook.
As Archbishop, Williams elicited criticism from Anglicans who regarded him as too scholarly to be an effective leader, and too interested in analytical complexities to be an effective interpreter of the Gospel. On the other hand, he disappointed the political left, who felt he failed to deliver on the hopes inspired by his sensitivity to interfaith issues, apparent preparedness to embrace a degree of cult…