Rowan Douglas Williams (born 1950)


  • Student of Donald MacKinnon (1913-1994)
  • Doctoral supervisor, Donald Allchin (1930-2010)
  • Williams is similar
  • Williams is less philosophically centred
    • Intense concentration on themes from:
      • culture
      • politics
      • ethics
  • Poet in English and translates from Welsh

Williams tackles the complexity of modern reality and its fragmentation out of conflict and tragedy.

From Schleiermacher's typology of poetic, rhetorical and descriptive, theology has these responsibilities:

  • The celebratory (internal understanding)
  • The communicative (with different cultural settings)
  • The critical (conservative and radical academic)

Williams weaves between them:

  • Affirming Church Fathers origins
  • Interrogative (critical)
  • Questioning (critical)
  • Exploring (critical)
  • Dealing with cultural environment (communicative)
  • Seeking fullness of vision (celebratory)

Williams is not systematic; he is:

  • Discussive
  • Dialogue
  • Holding back
  • Looking at both sides whilst pursuing tradition
  • Nuance
  • Not sound bites
  • Reticent not polemical
  • Orthodoxy combined with sacramental practice (Orthopraxy)

He avoids:

  • Controversial theses
  • Confrontational arguments
Argues against:

  • Reverting to sociology and psychology
Argues for:

  • Bringing in theology and Church

Social focus of theology:

  • Practical
Radical past:

  • Anti-nuclear
    • Arrested at Lakenheath
  • Part of Jubilee Group
  • Anti Iraq War 2002
    • Petition
  • Part of establishing Affirming Catholicism, loss of support after English Archbishop actions

Some subjects:

  • Anti-creationism
  • Anti-War
  • Arianism study
  • Biblical interpretation
  • Christology in full
  • Church community and holy living
  • Contingencies of history
  • Conversion
  • Economic and social justice
  • Ethical dimensions of intellectual life
  • Ethics and...
    • Gospel historically costly
    • Hermeneutics of suspicion under the judgment of God
  • History of spirituality
  • Human nature
  • Language
  • Life costly
  • Narrative
  • Nicaea and Chalcedon
  • Orthodox but no finality in theological systems
  • Pacifism
  • Patristics
  • Politics
  • Power
  • Race
  • Repentance
  • Resurrection in full
  • Sacraments
  • Sexuality and Homosexuality
  • Trinity
  • War and peace
  • Word and Spirit

Some people:

  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Karl Barth - rejects one way direction
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Sergei Bulgakov: Russian Orthodox theologian, priest, philosopher and economist
  • Richard Hooker
  • St. John of the Cross
  • Vladimir Lossky (Ph.D topic)
  • Martin Luther
  • Raimundo Pannikar
  • On Philip Pullman
    • His Dark Materials
  • Karl Rahner
  • John Spong - too 'thin' (why bother?)
    • Against his Twelve Theses
  • St. Teresa of Avila
  • the Philokalia
  • John Zizioulas
  • Christos Yannaras
  • Maria Skobtsova, murdered in a German concentration camp


(1972) (ed.) Gemini Twin, Oxford: Gemini Press, 1974.

(1972) (ed.) The Gemini Poets, Cambridge: Gemini Press.

(1976) Pascal P. (R W translator from French), The Religion of the Russian People, London: Mowbrays.

(1979) The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St John of the Cross, London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

(1982) Eucharistic Sacrifice: the Roots of a Metaphor, Grove liturgical studies, no.31, Bramcote: Grove Books.

(1982) Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

(1983) The Truce of God, London: Collins, with Faith Press.

(1984) and Collier, M., Beginning Now: Pt.1; Peacemaking Theology: A Study Book for Individuals and Groups, London: Dunamis.

(1987) Arius: Heresy and Tradition, London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

(1988) with Beck, A., Hunt, R, (eds.), Speaking Love's Name: Homosexuality - Some Catholic and Socialist Reflections, London: Jubilee Group.

(1989) (ed.) The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick, Cambridge University Press.

(1989) Christianity and the Ideal of Detachment (1988 Frank Lake Memorial Lecture), Lingdale Papers, No 12, Clinical Theology Association.

(1989) Violence, Society and the Sacred, Oxford Project for Peace Studies.

(1990) The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St John of the Cross, London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

(1994) After Silent Centuries, Oxford: Perpetua Press.

(1994) Mission and Christology, Church Missionary Society, Welsh Members Council.

(1994) Open to Judgement, London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

(1999) Bulgakov, S. (R W ed., R W introduces), Sergii Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology, Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

(2000) Christ On Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgement, London: Fount.

(2000) Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement, Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

(2000) On Christian Theology, Challenges in Contemporary Theology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

(2001) & Rowell G., Stevenson K. (compilers), Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(2001) Arius: Heresy and Tradition, 2nd edition, London: SCM Press.

(2001) & et al, Darkness Yielding: Angles on Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, Sheffield: Cairns.

(2002) & Aiken, N., Family Prayers, London: SPCK.

(2002) Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin, Norwich: Canterbury.

(2002) Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, revised edition, London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

(2002) The Poems of Rowan Williams, Oxford: Perpetua Press.

(2002) Writing in the Dust: Reflections on 11th September and its Aftermath, London: Hodder & Stoughton.

(2003) Griffiths, A, (originally, English translation by R W on facing pages), Wele'n Sefyll rhwng y Myrtwydd, Y Drenewydd/ Newtown: Gwasg Gregynog.

(2003) Silence and Honey Cakes: The Wisdom of the Desert, Oxford: Lion.

(2003) Teresa of Avila, London: Continuum.

(2003) The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ, Norwich: Canterbury Press.

(2004) Anglican Identities, London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

(2005) The Truce of God: Peacemaking in Troubled Times, revised and updated edition, Norwich: Canterbury.

(2005) Why Study the Past?: The Quest for the Historical Church, Sarum Theological Lectures, London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

(2005) Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love

(2007) Tokens of Trust: An introduction to Christian belief, Canterbury Press.

(2007) ed. Higton, Mike, Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology, SCM Press.

(2007) Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another, New Seeds.

(2008) Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction, Baylor University Press.

(2009) Choose Life, Bloomsbury.

(2012) Faith in the Public Square, Bloomsbury

(2012) The Lion's World - A Journey into the Heart of Narnia, SPCK.

(2014) Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Eerdmans.

(2014) The Edge of Words, Bloomsbury.

(2015) Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Westminster John Knox Press [reprint from 2014]

(2015) Meeting God in Paul, SPCK.

(2016) On Augustine, Bloomsbury.

(2016) Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian life, SPCK.

(2017) God With Us: The Meaning of the Cross and Resurrection - Then and Now, SPCK.

(2017) Holy Living: The Christian Tradition for Today, Bloomsbury.

(2018) Christ the Heart of Creation, Bloomsbury.

(2018) Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons, SPCK.

(2019) Luminaries: Twenty Lives that Illuminate the Christian Way, SPCK.

(2020) The Way of St Benedict, Bloomsbury.

(2021) Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought and the Eastern Christian Tradition, Bloomsbury.

Life path:

  • From Abertawe/ Swansea
  • Welsh speaking
  • Dynevor School
  • Theology at Christ College Cambridge
  • Wadham College Oxford for DPhil
  • Lecturer, College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, 1975-1977
  • Lecturer, Wescott House, 1977
  • Ordained, 1977 and 1978
  • Married Lecturer, Jane Paul, 1981
  • Lecturer in Divinity University of Cambridge, 1984
  • Dean and Chaplain of Clare College, Cambridge, 1984
  • Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford, 1986
  • Residentiary Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, 1986
  • Ph.D, 1989 on Lossky
  • 1989 founded Institute for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
    • Later Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality
  • Missed becoming Bishop of Southwark
    • Too pro gay rights for Carey, Archbishop
      • Later retracting his stance somewhat when Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Anglican Bishop of Monmouth, Church in Wales, 1992-2002
  • Archbishop of Wales, 1999-2002
  • 104th Archbishop of Canterbury Dec 2002 to Dec 2012
  • Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, Jan 2013 Oct 2020

As Archbishop of Canterbury he seems to have emphasised the Anglican Communion, which, due to its divisions, is impacting on parties in provinces all the more. His idea for a Covenant, which could exclude those who do not opt in, especially if some provinces want other provinces not to opt in, has the potential to formalise a split and potentially lead to other Covenants and splits between parishes. His approach, when the Nigerian Church takes a hard line in a country that could imprison gay men simply for meeting together, can be seen as morally neutral especially if the job is interpreted as trying to keep the Anglican Communion together whatever the ethical argument. It would be bizarre to exclude those who are inclusive towards minorities (to a different Covenant) and yet include those who would have them criminalised just for being who they are.

Williams has also emphasised real presence, which for some in its timing has sounded like a plea for closeness to Roman Catholicism, although it is likely to be his view. He recognises a distance from the Articles on this. Nevertheless Williams' approach appears to be heavily based on narrative, and one wonders what the detail adds up to in a wider sense.

He has moved quite a difference from some published views and his part in establishing Affirming Catholicism, which tries to replicate (but cannot) the old Broad Church approach for the whole Church of England. Much liberal theology has become more radical, and many evangelicals have become more strident: they identify Affirming Catholicism with other liberals. Williams cannot satisfy these evangelicals despite his lurch to the theological right, and has lost the support of many liberals. The division point is faced by open evangelicals, who explore evangelical theology, to either go with theological liberals or more conservative evangelicals (many of whom dismiss open evangelicals); open evangelicals might support Williams but for his Anglo-Catholicism (this group already split into liberals and sidelined traditionalists after the ordination of women in 1994). One wonders how Williams can return to his theological pursuits after the damage to him of the Archbishop post, which not only has limited his freedom to explore but has led to him stating views he did not state in his reasoned work.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful