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Silence: A Christian History

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  150 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
A provocative history of the role of silence in Christianity by the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author

In this essential work of religious history, the New York Times bestselling author of Christianity explores the vital role of silence in the Christian story.

How should one speak to God? Are our prayers more likely to be heard if we offer them quietly at home
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 12th 2013 by Viking (first published April 1st 2013)
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Okay, it wasn't that bad. 2.5 stars.

I have to say that I was greatly disappointed by this book. Based on MacCulloch's Gifford Lectures in 2011, I had expected a coherent discussion of 'silence' as a practiced concept within the Christian tradition. It was that, but only to a small degree. Unfortunately, I also found it to be a hodgepodge of other things. MacCulloch expands the concept of 'silence' from a religious concept to include other forms of silence, in particular, the silence of various
Jan 10, 2014 Avril rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Warning - do not read this book without a basic understanding of Christian history or copies of MacCulloch's A History of Christianity and Reformation: Europe's House Divided beside you. This book is based on a lecture series and MacCulloch assumes a fair amount of knowledge in his hearers/readers. But for those who have that knowledge, or access to it, it's an educational read.

As someone who has always leaned towards religious silence I was surprised to discover what a minority tradition is is
Jan 11, 2014 Michael rated it it was amazing
A fabulous read by the eminent Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford University. After having read some of his other books, most notably his biography of Thomas Cranmer and "The First Three Thousand Years" (2011) I was curious how he would treat this topic, especially in light of controversies within my own denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church with controversies over contemplative prayer. MacCulloch weaves a narrative that begins in Scripture. God is a God who communicates and breaks silence, ...more
Al Bità
Trying to do justice to this type of book always leaves me in two (or more!) minds…

On the one hand, this beautifully written work should provide much pleasure for Christians wanting an excellent overview of the subject. My only caveat here is that the background history is extensive and quite scholarly, and possibly this quality might ultimately alienate a casual reader; but for those who persist, there is much that is enlightening and interesting, and if it were only for that (and for the quali
Adam Shields
Oct 22, 2013 Adam Shields rated it it was ok
Short Review: Diarmaid MacCulloch is an excellent historian. And the riffs off the idea of silence, while interesting as individual ideas are not cohesive. So on the whole the book lacks focus and organization. My problem is that it seems like MacCulloch is saying that there is no correlation within the idea of silence. So silence can be good, it can be bad, it can be sinful, it can be holy, it can be transcendent, etc. But if it can be everything then I am not sure what the point of the book ...more
Colin Heber-Percy
The reviews for "Silence: A Christian History" were universally positive. So perhaps it's me... I found this disappointing. The title of the book suggested that MacCulloch was intending here to investigate and explore - not a church, or an institution, or a period of history - but an idea. At no point, however, does he examine in any real depth the concept of silence itself. Instead he uses a rather vague definition of silence as a vehicle to go over some old ground - from the birth of ...more
Lucy Traves
Jul 15, 2013 Lucy Traves rated it it was ok
I found this book deeply disappointing. It took a fascinating subject and splashed about in the shallows. It was also very disjointed, its genesis as a series of lectures is all too evident. It's a shame as it has the bones of a very good book in it.
Apr 08, 2015 Rachel added it
I enjoyed it and learnt a lot I didn't expect to find here.
Dec 30, 2013 Edward rated it really liked it
I found this a mostly absorbing historical study of the religious history of Christianity, both the western Roman version with its Protestant offshoots, as well as the eastern Orthodox variety. The author concentrates upon the type of God that each has created and how this God is best worshiped. If God is seen as an absolute, a view I’d subscribe to, than this study moves beyond narrow religious interests and has a lot to say to anyone, including atheists and agnostics who have their own ...more
Craig Werner
Jul 18, 2014 Craig Werner rated it really liked it
Not quite what I was hoping for, but very much worth the time. As someone with a deep interest in Thomas Merton, Lane's The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Maitland's The Book of Silence, etc. I was anticipating a book that delved into the various forms of Christian mysticism over the millennia.
There's a bit of that here, but, as might have been expected from a historian whose reputation rests on the magisterial "Christianity: The First 3000 Years" and exhaustively detailed "The Reformation," MacC
Alex Echevarria
Jan 10, 2014 Alex Echevarria rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the sweeping A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, returns with a book based on a series of lectures on the value of silence in Christian religious practice.

Although I'm very much agnostic, I'm fascinated by religious experience. "Silence" is a very readable mediation on silence and noise, and their respective places in worship.

Although one may assume that Prof. MacCulloch sees silence as an absolute good, he also delves into the dark silences
Apr 15, 2015 Holly rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, 2015-reads
Silence is not difficult to read or particularly scholarly, as some reviewers have complained. (As a scholarly indexer I know academic writing, and this is not scholarly.) But it assumes a groundwork of knowledge on the part of the reader and it is highly detailed, while at the same time vague and meandering. What I mean is: these were originally lectures and as such cover a lot of ground quite quickly and without depth. The prose reads/sounds complex until one realizes it's often just a lot of ...more
B.J. Richardson
Jan 28, 2014 B.J. Richardson rated it liked it
This is in many ways nothing more than a rehash of MacCulloch's History of Christianity with a specific look at silence. In some ways that was what I was expecting with this. what I did not expect, and what sorely disappointed me, was the all encompassing umbrella of topics, however tenuously, he fits under the idea of silence. He scatters the idea in so many directions that there is no cohesiveness to the book. If you must read MacCulloch, you are better off sticking to his History but even ...more
Margaret Sankey
Nov 09, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
MacCulloch spins off from his massive research into Christian history an examination of the role of silence--including Old Testament people struck mute, Hannah's silent prayer, hermits, Cluniac sign language (later adapted for work with the deaf), oblate children and vows of silence, Carthusians and extreme silence, icons enabling private silent prayer at home, Quakers and the acoustics of church buildings. A second half of the book examines silence as a negative space--obfuscating silence under ...more
Jon Cooper
Dec 06, 2015 Jon Cooper rated it liked it
I have always enjoyed the author's works, and this is the sort of subject that I enjoy the most. But this was a terrible read - basically from start to finish. Simply: I was bored. Really bored. Still; it's worth checking out (at a library) for the eighth chapter.

The book is really an appendix to his larger work ("Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years"), and probably belongs there (even if it would push the page count closer and closer to 2000). But it took me longer to read "Silence" th
Paul L'Herrou
May 25, 2016 Paul L'Herrou rated it liked it
Interesting history of the uses and mis-uses of silence in Western religion. Pray in silence or with words? Monastic silence. Silence of desert monastics. Various traditions of silence vs. words/noise at various times in history of Christianity and with various threads of the reformation. Good qualities of silence vs. uses of silence to ignore or hide abuses and failures. It is a book that is best read in chunks, however there was a large gap in my reading because this book was mislaid in ...more
Lucas Johnson
Occasionally an avid reader will simply pick a book off the shelf without thinking and find something good. The history of silence before God is a subject that is ripe for harvest. I was a quiet and nearly silent child during much of my schooling, so this is a subject dear to me. I do think a studied stance of silence can open your mind to observing and listening to others. A true silence, however, is far from being aloof and unconcerned. I would have liked to see more discussion of the concept ...more
Angela Joyce
May 22, 2013 Angela Joyce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faith-in-general
First off, though I can't praise this enough, it's probably a good idea to read this author's "History of Christianity" first, or at least watch the excellent series of the same name on DVD, because familiarity with the subject will greatly enhance one's understanding of this new book. That said-- it's absolutely marvelous. I grew up Christian and would have loved to read an author like this long before now.
Sep 07, 2013 Jane rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
well, it was very interessting, but not as interesting as I thought it was going to be. I suspect I need to read more of him, but also to be more knowledgeable than I currently am. Recommended, anyway. Theologians have terrific names. My best discovery from this book was Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.
Dec 29, 2013 Ma marked it as abandoned
I didn't like this book. It wasn't what I was looking for. I was hoping for a book on the role of silence in Christian worship historically, which is not at all what this book is. Plus it was boring. I've tried to read other book by MacCulloch and never been able to finish one. Too bad. He picks good topics, but just can't write books that hold my interest.
May 16, 2016 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general
This one is not for the spiritually naive, but, notwithstanding the author's theological and moral proclivities, it is a very interesting discussion of how the concept of silence has been understood throughout Christendom. His comments on sinful silences (including scandals relating to child molestation) are interesting.
Andrea Engle
Feb 24, 2016 Andrea Engle rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-read-2016
An extraordinarily thought-provoking book ... basically, as the title suggests, exploring the role of Silence in Christian history ... sometimes Silence has been the foundation of great good, at others a cloak for monstrous evil ... weaves together myriad strands of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions ... a stellar accomplishment ...
May 12, 2014 William rated it liked it
Could have been better. It had some interesting ideas about a few moments in Christian history, but it also was too rooted in a modern consciousness and not enough in the long view. Pace was a little slow too.
Sep 25, 2013 Tovis rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book that dips into silence. One should probably read up on history and such prior to reading this book.
Sep 11, 2016 Toby rated it liked it
Shelves: church-history
These are a selection of lectures on a very interesting theme but I didn't find that they held together terribly well as a book.
Dec 05, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, though at times a little too academic. An interesting view of the role of silence in the Christian religion over the centuries
Malcolm Yarnell
Oct 03, 2014 Malcolm Yarnell rated it it was amazing
I will be reviewing this for an academic journal, so I cannot say much. However, the rating I give it should give you a clue...
Kate Padilla
Aug 27, 2013 Kate Padilla rated it really liked it
I really liked how he approached this from an academic angle. I found it very objective and enlightening.
Matt Hunt
started off really interesting and well written but seemed to turn into a long list of names of different saints, martyrs, bishops, philosophers etc with not enough words in between.
Jon Sleeman
Jon Sleeman rated it liked it
Dec 06, 2014
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