A pattern of glory
CHARLES Williams, the leastknown member of the Oxford writers who called themselves "The Inklings" and who included CS Lewis and !RR Tolkien. was born in London and, as his parents recounted, seemed immediately to feel at home in Church from the first time he was taken there.
This spiritual instinct or gift stayed with him always and grew from his first. almost Platonic poetry, The Silver Stair (1912), up to mature masterpieces like the short play, Seed of Adam (1935) and the novels, The Greater Trumps (1932) and Descent into Hell (1937).
From the start of his literary career. Williams saw life and art in terms of reflected Divine Glory and believed that a work of art should be a picture of the "revealed pattern of the Universal", or a "diagram of glory-, as he once described it.
He worked as a proof-reader at the Oxford University Press. first in London and later in Oxford, where he met CS Lewis, joined "The Inklings" and was invited by Lewis to lecture at the University. His literary interests were wide, his reading spanning Milton, Shakespeare and Wordsworth (about whom he wrote in a fascinating critical work called The English Poetic Mind (1932) and the popular thrillers of Sax
Rohmer (the "Fu Manchu" novels). In his own writing, too, he worked in all forms: poetry, novels, plays, criticism and theology. He had the ability to write beautifully and precisely. with great imaginative depth and spiritual insight.
In 1930, Williams' first novel appeared, War in Heaven, and. whilst it didn't sell too well, it aroused a certain interest. The novel is a kind of supernatural thriller concerning a search and struggle between an Archdeacon and magicians for the Holy Grail. Six other novels followed, the most ambitious being the penultimate, Descent into Hell, which was admired by the poet TS Eliot. Here, Williams shows the world of the supernatural breaking constantly through the thin veil of nature to reveal the experience and sense of what he called "co-inherence", the bearing of one another's burdens which Catholics call "the Communion of Saints and Sinners". Throughout the novels. Williams deals constantly with the theme of the responsibility of goodness and the selfish abuse of power.
In a very deep sense, the novels
all have happy endings, like Dante's Divine Comedy, a work Williams loved and wrote a revealing study of in 1943 called The Figure of Beatrice.
In Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), two late books of poems, Williams uses the Arthurian legend, investing the situations and characters with highly compact mystical meaning. His late works were mainly theological, such as He Came Down From Heaven (1938) and The Forgiveness of Sins (1942) and an essay on The Cross, where he deals deeply with the Incarnation and substituted love.
Williams died in 1945 and, although respected by several writers, remained largely unknown. His was an art in which the realities of the supernatural were accepted and expressed as readily as most people accept physical objects. He was aware that we are all caught up in a higher mystery but what many people choose not see it. He made that mystery concrete. in generally beautiful prose and verse, to reveal that: Christ brings us all to the sight of the pattern of glory which is he.
(Seed of Adam) Williams' seven novels and several of his theological works are currently published by Eerdmans.