IT might be thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has enough on his plate, as he faces the very real danger of schism in the Church of England next year, without creating more controversy by denying the validity of the story of the Birth of Jesus Christ as most people know it.

Yet in a BBC interview this week Dr Williams volunteered the view that the Three Kings never existed, that there were no oxen or asses in the stable, that it seldom snows in Bethlehem and that it is unlikely the rising star stood still in the heavens. All of that, he said, was a “legend” although as such “quite a good one”. He did not mention the angels, but he did face up to the most difficult question of all, that of the Virgin Birth. However, he had little comfort for the faithful, saying only that he was committed to belief in it “as part of what I have inherited” and adding that belief in it should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians have to jump. As a non-believer I have no problem with Dr Williams' frankness, or honesty, but I cannot help feeling that if I were a member of his flock I would wonder why he felt it necessary to come clean at this time, just as the faithful are looking forward to re-committing themselves to belief in events which their Archbishop thinks are no more than a legend.


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