But when he has managed to break free from ecclesiastical firefighting, Dr Williams has contributed much to the quality and tone of public debate. His opposition to the invasion of Iraq gave voice to the concerns of millions. The visit to Zimbabwe last year was a brave act of witness and solidarity with fellow Anglicans suffering the brutality of Robert Mugabe’s regime. Under his leadership, the Church of England has fulfilled its vocation to speak on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable, most notably in opposing aspects of the coalition’s welfare bill. And in debate with “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman, he has been a model of courtesy and goodwill.

Those virtues will perhaps be better appreciated in the halls and gardens of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he is to become master, than they were during the hurly-burly of church politics in a fractious, wasted decade.