The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Wm. B. Eerdmans, $30, 344 pp.
Rowan’s Rule is Rupert Shortt’s second book on Rowan Williams, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury. His first was Rowan Williams: An Introduction (Darton Longman and Todd, 2003). Following that book Shortt undertook a profile of the pope, Benedict XVI: Commander of the Faith (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005), and God’s Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation (Eerdmans, 2005). All four books are the work of a well-informed journalist who respects his subjects, taking them seriously and assessing them critically. (Shortt studied theology at Oxford and the University of London and is the religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement, having written earlier for the Tablet and Church Times.)
Rowan’s Rule has an enigmatic title. Ostensibly it refers to Williams’s role as the “primate of all England” and the titular head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. But given Shortt’s emphasis on Williams’s abiding interest in monasticism, it could equally be applied to his manner of life, a life deeply shaped by his regimen of prayer and contemplation. Shortt has described Benedict XVI as a “commander,” but in this case neither Williams’s personality nor the structure of the Anglican Communion readily allow for leadership of the commanding sort. Indeed, the driving...