Friday, October 22, 2010

Charles Williams, theologian

"It is not, of course, possible to deny that heaven—in the sense of salvation, bliss, or the presence of God—can exist in space; that would be to deny the Incarnation. But heaven, as such, only exists because of the nature of God, and to his existence alone all bliss is related. In a Jewish tradition God was called “the Place” because all places were referred to him, but not he to any place. With this in mind it might be well that private meditation should sometimes vary the original clause by “Our Father in whom is heaven”. The change is for discipline of the mind, for though it is incapable of the apparent superficiality yet it is also incapable of the greater profundity of the original. That depth prevents another error as easy as the first and perhaps more dangerous. It is comparatively easy to train the mind to remember that the nature of God is not primarily spatial; it is not quite so easy to remember that it is not primarily paternal—that is, that he does not exist primarily for us."
He Came Down From Heaven, Charles Williams

I cannot call this a book review because too much time has passed since I first read Charles Williams's book, He Came Down From Heaven. It is more of a meandering, and as the ideas of this Inkling roll over and over in my head I begin to comprehend their significance. I have to read him slower than most writers, endeavoring to absorb. The way he writes, George Eliot calls “a severe mental scamper.” If one attempts to define every line of his poetry or to quickly grasp the ideas of his books, they will go one way and miss him coming from the other direction. One must withhold judgment, in a sense, keep reading,and join him in the mental scamper to understand what he seeks. Perhaps reading Williams is like eating lobster tail or some such dish that you must work to get at but is more than worth all of the effort.

Williams's idea of Love- the theology of Romantic Love,and the practice of Substituted Love are explored in He Came Down From Heaven. In talking of Jesus's Incarnation,
Man having got himself into a state when he was capable of willingly shedding blood, the shedding of blood could no longer be neglected.

And,
What mankind could not do, manhood (the Son of Man) did, and a manhood which was at the disposal of all men and women.

On prayer,
Prayer, like everything else, was meant for a means of joy; but, in our knowledge of the good as evil, we have to recover it so, and it is not an easy thing. Prayer is thought of as a means to an end, but the end itself is sometimes only the means to the means, as with all love.

On repentance,
...repentance is no more than a passionate intention to know all things after the mode of heaven...

Williams is primarily thought of as a writer of novels, of supernatural stories- not as a theologian. In fact Thomas Howard asserted that he only knew of one theologian, Urs von Balthasar, who was interested in Williams as a theologian.

Henry Carpenter, in The Inklings, wrote that Williams
seemed in fact to be able to express his own thoughts best by taking phrases from the great poets, seemed to think largely in poetry...

Perhaps this is why so many are unable to understand the mental scamper. His writing reveals an intensity and emotion. Williams's father taught him that there were many sides to every argument, taught him that he must understand the reasoning too, taught him to absorb doubt and disbelief into his own beliefs.

When reading him, I am repeatedly struck with his reflections on Love. The influence of George MacDonald is obvious. Charles Williams considered that love towards another human being might be a step towards God. He also wrote that "Self-sacrifice (even Martyrdom) by itself (without love) is as remote from the way of salvation as self-indulgence."

Williams believed that
Hell has made three principal attacks on the Way of Romantic Love. The dangerous assumptions produced are: (1) the assumption that it will naturally be everlasting; (2) the assumption that it is personal; (3) the assumption that it is sufficient.

In a poem to Williams after his death, C.S.Lewis wrote
Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can't see the old contours. It's a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on
the ridge.
Is it the first sting of the great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold of
spring?

A hard question and worth talking a whole night on.
But with whom? Of whom now can I ask guidance? With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?

We can no longer ask guidance or exchange thoughts with Charles Williams, but we can (if we can exert ourselves) join in the mental scamper.

3 comments:

Anna said...

I like this guy. Thanks for all the interesting information about him and others like Jane Austen, Audrey Hepburn, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis and the list goes on. I have enjoyed it all immensely. I think that this may be one of your spiritual gifts Esther :). Also, I'm glad to be the first one to comment on Charles Williams. I feel so honored and know that you all have been leaving this space for me. Right?

Esther said...

Of course!

Lydia said...

Darling, I thank thee for thy pains :) I like these quotes and how he thinks on poetry, that's neat, and helpful when reading him to have a little background.