Tuesday 15 May 2012

Charles Williams regrettable tendency to regard co-inherence as therapeutic 'magic'


Charles Williams was the prophet of co-inherence for the modern age - and for that we must be grateful; indeed profoundly grateful since this is a teaching we lack and sorely need.


Yet Williams did confuse the issue by his recurrent tendency to regard (or portray) co-inherence in a 'magical', secular and therapeutic fashion, rather than as a matter of Christian salvation.


In her early biography - An Introduction to Charles Williams - Alice Mary Hadfield states that she had an unresolved disagreement with CW about the applicability of co-inherence beyond Christianity: Williams persisted in trying to open-up co-inherence as a possibility outside of Christianity while AMH felt that co-inherence was a part of Christianity.

I feel that AMH was correct - and that in trying to push co-inherence outside of Christianity, CW made the concept incoherent - indeed at times it begins to sound either like a magical technology or just wishful thinking.


For example, if his novel Descent into Hell is read from a Christian perspective, it is a profound work; but from a non-Christian perspective it is an occult work; because CW discusses co-inherence as effective by mere act of will and without love.

So that one person can (it is asserted) take on the burden of pain or fear from another simply by assenting to this, like picking up and carrying a parcel for them.


Now, in the first place this (even if wholly effective) is entirely a non-Christian act of altruism, and in the second place it is a purely therapeutic act - which starts and finishes in the relief of human suffering.

Yet in other places, notably his greatest theological writing - for example in He Came Down from Heaven and Descent of the Dove - Williams makes clear that co-inherence is about love and salvation - it is about saving others by our love for them; and about us being saved not by our own efforts but by the love of others for us.

This strikes me as an insight of first rank importance, the implications of which have barely yet been explored.


Why did Williams tend at times to make this error of detaching co-inherence from Christian salvation and love?

My guess is that there were good and bad reasons (as usual) - good reasons would include the hope that by establishing co-inherence as a habit then people might be more likely to become Christian; bad reasons might include a residual (from his early adult life) belief in the reality and potentially benign nature of magic, and an element of wishful thinking that co-inherence might be effective and helpful despite the lack of love.


(I sense in CW a difficulty or reluctance in distinguishing Christian love and pathological infatuation. His personality was one of extreme charm and magnetism, but he does not strike me as a naturally loving person - and his enormous and sincere efforts to become so seem forced and, at times, counter-productive. Perhaps - despite his convincing arguments for the validity of the Via Positiva/ Way of Affirmation/ Romantic Theology - Williams missed his personal vocation as celibate religious?)



Wurmbrand said...

Williams's imagination and thinking were slanted by his interest in the occult and his view of himself as a poet.

Maybe at the very end of his life he was getting free of the occult. He wanted to write a non-occult novel. But (as we've seen) occultism seems to have affected him even late in life, even after he'd been part of the Inklings for, I suppose, quite a few years. I do wonder if he often remembered experiences that had been induced by occult rituals or esoteric meditations.

Williams had a higher idea of the poet than the other Inklings, I think. As the esoteric adept as a man apart, so, for Williams, is the poet.

In both cases there may be the temptation to think and feel that ordinary morals are for ordinary mortals -- ?

I wonder if there isn't in Williams a combination of self-preoccupation with lack of self-knowledge.

Bruce Charlton said...


I'm not sure about self-knowledge. It sometimes seems like he may be trying to suppress accurate self-knowledge by sheer pressure of business and activity.

When I wrote "he does not strike me as a naturally loving person - and his enormous and sincere efforts to become so seem forced and, at times, counter-productive" I was thinking of Williams letters to his wife published in To Michal from Serge (from which I have read generous excerpts on Google books - therefore not the whole thing).

These are very strange productions indeed, especially when one remembers they had been married more than 20 years - the tone is so frantic, artificial and lacking in intimacy. Yet he wrote these long letters almost every day for about 6 years - so he cannot be faulted for lack of effort.

A further factor is that his wife was by all accounts a very moody and difficult person, and perhaps required continual mollification.

George Goerlich said...

Does this means that Williams thought that if I were to somehow become anxious and put myself through pain it could eliminate the pain and anxiety in another (e.g. my neighbors)? As in, a very material and visible relief in this world?