Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Charles Williams' marital infidelity


I think there will always be a major stumbling block for Christians in relation to Charles Williams, due to his marital infidelities.

Much has been made of the fact that his infidelities never went so far as actual sex - but this is hardly relevant to the problem.

My overall impression is that Charles Williams wanted to have sex with Phyllis Jones and the reason he did not was that she would not allow this - this is what Alice Mary Hadfield implies in her biographies, and it fits all the evidence we have. This kind of sexual limitation was not, therefore, a result of restraint but of constraint; which hardly counts in CW's favour!

And the quasi-magical, Tantric-inspired physical intimacies reported by his biographers, and most vividly in Letters to Lalage by Lois Lang-Sims, make clear that young women were strategically sought out, and put under psychological pressure to comply with CW's ritual demands.


The problem with all this is twofold:

1. Charles Williams was, from before he met Phyllis Jones, a theological innovator whose main idea was probably the new/ recovered spiritual path or via positiva of Romantic Theology - which was a sacramental view of erotic love, marriage and sex that was to serve as the major (but not exclusive) focus of Christian life. CW's extra-marital shenanigans with other women seem very subversive of the viability or validity of this path.

2. Most disturbingly, there does not seem to be much evidence of CW repenting his extra-marital infidelities, nor even resisting their temptations; even more disturbingly, he makes considerable efforts (post Phyllis Jones) to integrate extra-marital erotic love with his Romantic Theology - in a way which seems all the more self-serving as it is (at least to my understanding) utterly incoherent!

(On this basis, I find it very difficult to understand the elevated reputation of his late book on Dante and Romantic Theology - The Figure of Beatrice, since it reads more like a patchwork of rationalizations than a consistent and live-able theology.)


In sum, a full and frank acknowledgement of Charles Williams' marital infidelity is necessary to understanding his thought - since the apparent failure to repent of it, but instead to try and justify it theologically, had a destructive effect on the clarity and coherence of his Christian writings. Therefore, this effect must be noted and discounted if Williams' writings are to be as useful and helpful to Christians as, potentially, they might be.


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