College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

5. Getting behind noise in Christian history

'Getting behind noise in Christian history', lecture 5 in Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch's Gifford lecture series on silence and Christianity

Lecture abstract

So far, the story has largely been about overt history: the positive utterances and actions of public Christianity.

We turn now to further and more complex varieties of silence: first the phenomenon of ‘Nicodemism’, simultaneously audible to those with ears to hear, and not to be heard by others. New politic silences were caused by the fissuring of Western Christianity, through efforts to sidestep the consequent violence and persecution; a rediscovery of classical discussion of silence took place on the eve of the Reformation in the writings of Italian civic humanists, and this tradition fused with the debate about Nicodemism and the place of quiet versus overt toleration.

Over the centuries, particular groups who represented the ‘Other’, some Christian, some not, have made themselves invisible simply in order to survive: crypto-Judaism and its effect on Christianity are discussed, together with examples of Christian Nicodemism, notably the Reformation ‘Family of Love’ and the growth of a distinctive gay sub-culture within nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-Catholicism.

We move to those things best left unsaid in order to build identity in Christian organisations and newly-evangelised regions, and the way in which themes and dogmatic position once considered vital and central for the Christian life have been quietly abandoned without much acknowledgement of their one-time importance. We scrutinise Christian problems in dealing honestly with sexuality, with a specific example.

Finally we turn to the confused reaction of Churches to shame over past sin, the example being complicity in the slave trade.

Lecture video