Saturday 2 June 2012

Charles Williams - "phenomenally religious"


From An Introduction to Charles Williams, by Alice Mary Hadfield page 38-9:

Adolescence fell away and the man emerged. His mind was phenomenally religious... There was no trace of reaction against the religious atmosphere of his youth either now or later on.

His concern with the sense of God and God's impact everywhere was too pervading to allow any reaction, even any relief.

...he was driven to be about one business only. He pursued it in all the guises of work, poetry, marriage and relationships, and also in the more recognized medium of church life.

The sense of God's presence was by no means always helpful, and could become an oppression. If, as he said to me, every time one broke any part of matter - a match, an envelope, food - one was breaking Christ's body, the whole thing became unbearable.

He found a solution in his strong sense of ceremonial. which at one moment was concerned with adoration and the next was thoroughly enjoying the details of its own behaviour. He loved, indeed, to play and to adore, and he maintained the need of both.

The old prankishness and burlesque of his schooldays found a way in this to give relief to the burden of his sense of the extreme, almost the desperate, seriousness of every detail of the ordinary person's daily struggle with life.


Hence, Williams idea of Byzantium - which he (accurately) intuited had been the most complete earthly realization of his own attempt to sustain the constant sense of God and God's impact everywhere.

It was Williams tragedy that he himself had to create (by his personal force, charisma) the public reality of ceremony and play which he subjectively required to function - and this was never more than temporarily or partially successful; and also continually subverted by pride, self-will, limitations of ability and energy, and the sense of its own self-refuting circularity.


But, in dealing with Charles Williams, I think we need to accept the judgement of authoritative witnesses that he was a man to whom what might be, in others, merely inklings, notions and philosophical theories, were instead matters of daily, hourly experience.

As C.S Lewis said in The Novels of Charles WIlliams (published in the essay collection Of this and other worlds):

...illumination of the ordinary world is only one half of a Williams story. The other half is what he tells us about a different world...

What have we then? At the lowest, one man's guess about unknowable things. But all who do not from the outset rule out the very possibility of these things will perhaps admit that one man may guess better than another.

And if we think a man is guessing very well indeed, we begin to doubt whether 'guessing' is the right word...

I am convinced that both the content and the quality of his experience differed from mine and differed in ways which oblige me to say that he saw further, that he knew what I do not know.


This is CS Lewis speaking about someone he knew intimately, and of course Lewis is generally considered the greatest Christian teacher of the past century.

Listen again to what Lewis said:

Charles Williams saw further... he knew what I do not know.


From this, I would argue that the many (millions of?) serious admirers of Lewis are all-but obliged to (at least attempt to) engage with Charles Williams and his work - difficult and hazardous as that task will be for most of us.


NOTE: I presume that the phrase of AM Hadfield's phenomenally religious is a pun: intended to imply not only the extreme degree of his religiousness, but also that it was focused on phenomena - on the minute particulars of everyday experience and action.


1 comment:

George Goerlich said...

I think this answers my question from your other post - that is, some people apparently are aware and feel as very real things that may only be ideas to others.

This sounds that it may be somewhat of a predisposition, though perhaps in an ideal Byzantine-type society even those who were not predisposed would come to feel it.