Can truth be given and received in words?

By Simon Barrow
November 14, 2013

The sixth and final presentation in the "Making representations: religious faith and the habits of language" Gifford Lecture series was delivered by Dr Rowan Williams at the University of Edinburgh on Thursday 14 November 2013.

Its theme was 'Can truth be spoken?' and it follows on from one on 'Extreme language - discovery under pressure' (

In previewing his message, Dr Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalen College Cambridge, has written: "In what sense can we legitimately think about silence as a mode of knowing? We need to be cautious about using such a notion as an excuse for giving up the challenges of truthful speech.

"But it is true that, if what is ultimately most important is to be attuned to the reality that we invite to 'inhabit' us, silence may be the most appropriate means of representation.

"The challenge is to frame silence in order to render it meaningful; that is, as more than an absence of sound or concept.

"To identify such deliberate and 'strategic' silence -- in meditation, in music, but also in aspects of our habitual discourse -- is to raise the question of how silence 'refers' and so puts all we say in a new, and questioning, light."

At the beginning of the series, Dr Williams said that in reconsidering the nature of language and religious or philosophical belief, he would be offering a fresh account of what counts for 'natural theology'. To date the content has been more implied than overt in its theological themes and resonances. In his conclusion the approach becomes more explicit. (Summary to follow.)


* On the whole series:

* Representing reality: Williams is back in his element:

* Language as unfinished business:

* The physicality of language and the fleshy word:

* Fresh discovery through 'language under pressure':


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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