The Power of Silence

by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Ignatius, £14

This is a deeply impressive book, equal to Cardinal Sarah’s earlier one, God or Nothing. In that volume, Sarah described at length his childhood in Guinea and the development of his priestly vocation as he moved up the hierarchy to become an archbishop. In this one we learn in detail of his inner life, his wide reading of spiritual classics, and the saints and theologians who have guided his thinking, as well as his uncompromisingly Catholic response to the secular world.

It is significant that St Augustine, another African bishop, is among his favoured authors. For Sarah, the “city of God” must always, at some level, be separate from the city of man: neither a fortress Church nor one that is blithely (and blindly) ecumenical.

Often one is inclined to skip a book’s introduction. This one matters, for it describes how the book came to be written: through the silent prayers of a young monk, Brother Vincent-Marie of the Resurrection, who was dying of multiple sclerosis. He could no longer speak, so the cardinal visited him several times at the Abbey of la Grasse, and often spoke to him on the phone, communicating with him in a friendship that was “born in silence [and] grew in silence”. Clearly their dialogue forced Sarah, like his young friend, to “enter ever more deeply into the truth of things”.

This book, like its predecessor, is the result of a long interview with the French journalist Nicolas Diat. Diat, who has numbered the paragraphs of the cardinal’s responses to make them easier to refer back to, acts more as a facilitator than an interviewer. In his questions he prompts Sarah to develop his reflections, rather than reply to questions fired at point-blank range, as is the way with political interviews.

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