The wise Anglican priest who instructed me in how to go about hearing confessions closed his lesson with some memorable words: “I’ve never thought less of someone after hearing their confession.”
If only it were generally the same for biographies. Some people’s lives have a priestly dimension. That is to say, their struggles have an elevated quality—they are struggles on behalf of us all; their example inspires far beyond the circle of people who directly identify with their circumstances. In short, when the bell tolls for them it tolls for us too—somehow even more than when it tolls for us alone. Rowan Williams is such a person. And the astonishing thing about this biography—this confession, if you like—is that Williams emerges from it with a reputation that is, if anything, more positive than it already was.