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Silence

Byrne, Francis (1990) Silence. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the broad spectrum of silence in three areas - religion, philosophy and sociology. It endeavours to outline the rich tradition of silence - particularly through the monastic and mystical elements - in both Eastern and Western religions. It shows the inter-relatedness of silence to solitude and of action and contemplation. The rise of Irish monasticism is discussed and the growth of the 'silent orders' within the Western Church - the Carthusians and Camaldolese, for example - whose aim was to remain hidden from the world in silence. How important is the virtue of silence in the various monastic Rules? What does the Rule of Saint Benedict say in this regard? There is a sifting of the wisdom of the early Desert Fathers whose ’sayings' on silence are still very relevant for Man's spiritual well-being. Some of the Western Fathers - like Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose and Gregory the Great add their own perspicacity to an important element in the Christian's life which is a sine qua non for true prayer.

It also looks at the Quakers' understanding of silence which plays such a central role in their lives and Meetings. The writings of their founder, George Fox, and some leading modern Quakers, are outlined, The teachings of Dogen are personified in his Shobogenzo and this work has shaped much of the Japanese approach to Zen Buddhism. It will be shown how the Zen tradition links wisdom with silence.

Two of the longest chapters deal with the profound insights I discovered in my research of the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. The former is a resplendent inheritor of the ascetical arm of the early Desert Fathers and includes a close examination of The Philokalia. Orthodox. One cannot pass over the enormous influence which the 'holy mountain' of Mount Athos has had on Greek spirituality and Byzantine worship. The writings of Gregory Palamas, the defender of the hesychasts and their Jesus Prayer formula, are studied along with those of John Climacus and Maximus the Confessor. Russian Orthodox spirituality represents a well of silence. This tradition stretches back a thousand years and gave birth to a strong contemplative and mystical strain. It was influenced by Byzantine trends, especially the Hesychast Movement in the fourteenth century. This form of spirituality is mirrored in the lives of the Saints, one of whom, Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833) declared: 'No one has ever repented of silence'. A classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, reflects the simplicity and beauty of a layman's spirituality based on the continual recitation of the Jesus Prayer. Monasticism, which became popular at the beginning of the eleventh century in Russia, has had an enduring influence on its spiritual development. I include a study of the Monastic Rule of Iosif Volotsky in relation to the role of silence.

Silence is threatened by modern technology and noise pollution. In the chapter 'Noise and Man' I highlight this, detailing the views of sociologists and psychologists.

The Swiss philosopher Max Picard feared for the well-being of Man during and after World War Two with the proliferation of mass-media communication. He maintained that the Radio had become the chief destroyer of Man's inner harmony. Television, as a medium of entertainment and education, was appearing on the horizon at the time of his death. His major work, The World of Silence, gives a deep and poetical understanding of silence and its intimate connection with language. The phenomenon of silence and its ontological significance is outlined by American philosopher Bernard Dauenhauer. Silence is not viewed in isolation from other phenomena, but is seen to have an intrinsic relationship with it.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Frodsham, John
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/50553
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