Just a few years ago, Rowan Williams was one of the most important representatives of Christian churches worldwide. Ahead of time, he resigned as primate of the Anglicans in 2012 – and presents himself liberated at age 65.
Whoever meets Rowan Williams since he laid down the mitre of the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to find him relieved. Relieved of the burden of the primate's office of a difficult Anglican world communion; relieved of the responsibility for cohesion of the disputants about women bishops and homosexual bishops; relieved of a crosier and heavy golden vestments. A simpler life? "Well, what do you think?", he exuberantly asked the chief reporter of the "Daily Telegraph" during a home story in Cambridge.
On Sunday Rowan Williams turned 65. The almost palpable exhaustion of a man who needed for his impossible office "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros," as he himself said, is gone, the resilience back. And apparently also the creativity of the Welsh bard and poet. After ten turbulent years in office (2002-2012), he had accepted a call to Magdalene College in Cambridge.
Most recently, he completed a play about William Shakespeare (1564-1616) at the turn of the year – on his 400th birthday. Death anniversary. Deeply Rowan Williams went for it into the Shakespeare research.
The thesis of the once supreme Anglican: the poet was most likely Catholic. The play is based on fictional conversations between the young Shakespeare and the Catholic religious Edmund Campion (1540-1581). Williams: "We know that they both stayed in the same house in Lancashire. I thought it was wonderful to play with the thought: What might a Jesuit martyr and a man like Shakespeare have had to say to each other?"
Even as primate, professor-poet Williams took time to write. Some of the poems recently published as a book were written at that time. "Well, I've had a full-time job," he says dryly. Which he nevertheless also gladly took over? – "Not too much. Why also? Well, there was that foolish, vain and immature part of me, I suppose, that said, 'Oh, an important post – how exceedingly nice.' But the rest of me that warned, 'Oh, stop it now!'"
Much of the ridicule that was poured on him during his tenure still irks Williams today. "Some people said he was too nice a person for the job, too intelligent and even too saintly to run a church whose members could fight like a bag of cats," writes The Telegraph. Others would have said that he was "far too much out of the world to be of any use". – "Oh yeah, I remember that," Williams hooks in. "So my ass: God writes poetry."Yet poetry is not "out of the world.". "It's a way of connecting particularly intensely with this much-maligned entity we call 'the world."
There it is again, that reflected intellectuality that brought even many of his compatriots to the edge of their English skills. Popularity and populism were never his thing. With rhetorical brilliance, Williams frequently put his hand in the wounds of society, addressing uncomfortable truths. Unfortunately, he often failed to translate himself in the process.
Before his episcopal career, Williams taught at Oxford. A true liberal by background, as Primate he repeatedly had to bridge the gap between traditionalists and overly left-wing reformers. "His liberals" felt forgotten by their erstwhile comrade-in-arms in the process. Another Shakespearean motif: Falstaff from "Henry V"."
When the native Welshman became "Canterbury" in December 2002, he was a comparatively young hopeful at 52: bard, poet, druid. But his office as a servant of church unity has pushed him to the right many a time against his will. His lesbian and gay friends in particular would have felt let down by him.
A treat of his tenure was the "Royal Wedding" of Crown Prince William and Kate Middleton in April 2011. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who also described himself as "the nation's quirky parish priest," had a better place to be than hundreds of TV cameras and millions of Britons watching on TV when he gave the couple his blessing on behalf of the people and the church.
He is currently writing a new collection of poems – by hand. About the pain of crossing out whole paragraphs, he says, "That's the moment you kill your own children. That's when you're buzzing through your head: 'Oh yeah, that's clever! It's clever! No, it isn't – it's sheep shit…"The poet without the primate can even be uncouth if he wants to be.