Tuesday 8 May 2012

The centrality of co-inherence to salvation - Charles Williams as prophet


Anyone who has approached the theological writings of Charles Williams will know the importance he places on the concept of co-inherence - yet this is a concept which I have found hard to grasp, and at times I have felt that Williams 'makes too much of it'.

But as I gradually come to grasp its meaning, I begin to see that co-inherence is of profound importance to the Christian life - an importance which it is hard to over-emphasise.

I shall try to explain in my own words.


Co-inherence relates to the second great commandment to 'love thy neighbour' (the first being to love God above all).

The deep meaning of this is that we save others, ourselves we cannot save - and it is by love of others that we may participate in the divine plan of salvation.


The necessity for the incarnation is that the human will is corrupt and humans cannot save themselves. We really cannot.

And the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ did not affect this fact.

The human will is still corrupt, humans still cannot save themselves.


Yet, by 'love of neighbour' we can save each other (our love being, as it were, added to the saving love of Christ which makes the whole operation possible).


The fundamental and immovable insufficiency of human will is neglected - we really cannot do anything at all for ourselves directly.

Attempts to live by The Law, spiritual strivings, the inculcation of good habits - these are all in vain.

We just are corrupt, and our will is poisoned at its roots, all such attempts will be perverted and turned against us.


But, by the new testament of Christ, our love can save others. This is the 'good news'. This is also 'the meaning of life'.


This means (I think) that we have no say in our own salvation.

Because if we did have any say in our own salvation, then we would refuse it - because we are wretched and corrupted creatures.

We would reject salvation - even if it was offered to us on a plate (as, in a sense, it really is).


BUT, we can be saved by the love of others - it is their love for us which saves us.

And vice versa, it is our love of others which saves them.


However the mystery is that love is inevitably and intrinsically a two way process.

One cannot love another without also being loved by them; or, love of another intrinsically entails love by that other (even when one party does not know the other, even when one is alive and the other dead).

Our love for another can, and will, save that other - whether they 'know about' it or not, whether they want it or not!

They may be be saved even if they do not consent to being saved - because if it required our consent to being saved, then nobody would ever be saved.


We can only love others by means of Christ's love - to put it in a simple metaphor, Christ's love will go into us that it may be transmitted to others, and only for that reason.

The saving love comes to us only as an indirect consequence of our love of others.


Or, to extend this simple metaphor, Christ brought this possibility into being as a extra to the already-existing possibility of salvation purely from love of God (which already existed for the prophets, for instance - I am assuming the prophets were saved, since at least some went directly to Heaven).


To put matters very crudely (my understanding being itself very crude) we have two routes to salvation - the direct route of love of God - which was available to humanity before Christ but is extremely rare and hard; and the indirect route of love of others which Christ 'brought into being'.

This indirect route being more possible to more people - a more accessible mode of salvation. (This the Good News).


And, this mode of salvation by love of others works retrospectively (in eternity). Love now is permanent in its effect, which means it is eternal - outside of time.

Thus co-inherence is the solution to the ancient problem of the virtuous pagan born before Christ - it is our love for them which saves them (or had saved them already, as it were, in the moment after death when their souls moved from Time to Eternity).


And co-inherence is also the solution to the problem of The Good non-Christian, and of the salvation of children, the mentally incompetent, the brain damaged and so on.

Such may be saved by the love of others (and by the loving prayers of others).


Co-inherence is therefore spiritual altruism - the real, underlying, proper other-wordly spirit of altruism.

By this account, co-inherence is - for most people, most of the time - just the most important thing in life.

So Charles Williams was not exaggerating its importance, not in the slightest; he was, indeed, the profound prophet of a fundamental but neglected truth.


Another way of thinking about this is that we cannot save ourselves because love of self is pride. Pride, the master sin, stands behind all human motivations as they relate to the self - whatever we try to do for, or by, or with ourselves will be subverted by pride. So how to escape this impasse? By love of God and of others; not by doings, as such, but by love (which may motivate doing, but may not - action may be impossible). Christ will 'supply' us with love, all the love that is ever needed, but only when that love is directed away from the self; when it is thereby freed from taint of pride. This combined with the recognition that love is eternal in its effects - an unceasing and ineradicable source of warmth and light for the soul that has been loved. The effect of us being loved is what compels us to choose salvation - without such compulsion we would not be able to accept it. Thus we may be saved without our knowledge or consent; and may do the same for others. It is an invisible economy of salvation (at least, its working are invisible in this world) .



Wurmbrand said...

Williams is truly a problematic figure. So much to offer for imaginative and theological reflection. On the other hand, I have a daughter about the age of the "Lalage" he was involved with, and were a man putting my daughter through the emotional and even physical stress that CW put Lois Lang-Sims through, and I fopund out about it, I might have been tempted to punch his lights out.

It is perhaps too bad, for him, that Williams had no daughter. He might have managed his feelings about women *much* younger than himself far better if he had. I was glancing at the Letters to Lalage book this afternoon and was additionally disturbed to see that the business with Lang-Sims was so late in his life, circa 1943. Even so late in his life, and after contact with the Inklings, he was up to his shenanigans.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - I feel much the same. But the more I read of Williams the more I realize he was a man living on the edge - only just keeping going.

I read Lang-Sims autobiography (well written) after reading Letters to Lalage, and I think it makes clear she was (as well as beautiful, intelligent and talented) a very strange and moody person, histrionic, and with a self-destructive quality that became very obvious at times.

I would guess that an observer might have seen the Lalage business, which was almost wholy pathological as a two-way and mutually-damaging and manipulative entanglement - and one which reflects very badly on C.W. - but that it actually was instigated by Lang-Sims.

George Goerlich said...

I apologize if this harms the discussion, but isn't it Christ's love that guarantees our salvation - while our choice is to repent and accept or reject? I mean so that Christ's love does not and would not be limited to only working via the love of other humans as the idea of co-inherence seems to suggest?

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - yes. I see CW's concern as trying to understand what humans are supposed to do in this world, before they die.