Evolutionary Hymn

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there’s always jam to-morrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we’re going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyes or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it’s god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature’s simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
‘Goodness=what come next.’
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it well may be).

C.S. Lewis ‘Poems’ 1964

T.S.Eliot on Charles Williams

"For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world. Had I ever to spend a night in a haunted house, I should have felt secure with Williams in my company; he was somehow protected from evil, and was himself a protection... To him the supernatural was natural, and the natural was also supernatural... Williams' understanding of Evil was profound... He is concerned, not with the Evil of conventional morality and the ordinary manifestations by which we recognize it, but with the essence of Evil; it is therefore Evil which has no power to attract us, for we see it as the repulsive thing it is, and as the despair of the damned from which we recoil."

T.S. Eliot's introduction to All Hallow's Eve (extract)

Michael Ward on Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian is woken by his tutor, Dr. Cornelius, in the middle of the night and taken up the dark stairway of a tower. There he sees the conjunction of two planets: "Tarva, the Lord of Victory, salutes Alambil, the Lady of Peace." According to Cornelius, "Their meeting is fortunate and means some great good for the sad realm of Narnia."

For that deeply troubled world, it is a memorable moment from the second book in C.S. Lewis' best-selling series, "The Chronicles of Narnia." This scene will have a prominent place in the new film version of "Prince Caspian," to be released on Friday.

As a believer in Natural Moral Law, C.S. Lewis thought that certain things were naturally good and other things were naturally bad. It wasn't just a question of human beings deciding what was good and what was bad. The very nature of the universe tells us something about how we ought to live.

One such thing it tells us to avoid - and where necessary to engage and defeat - is tyranny. In "Prince Caspian," Narnia suffers under a cruel, murderous tyrant, Miraz. His regime is not just an awkward political fact; it is a natural outrage. The health of each citizen and the Narnian universe is threatened by his dictatorship. To overthrow Miraz is a just act, in accordance with the true nature of things, which is why the Narnian planets foretell his downfall. As surely as fever in the human body is signified by a high temperature, so abuse of power in Narnia is signified by ominous portents in the heavens.

Lewis wrote "Prince Caspian" because he believed that in the real world, too, evil behavior has a natural payback. There is a moral cosmos, as well as a physical cosmos. This sort of belief is easy to caricature. Crackpot preachers are often quick to attribute the latest disaster to that human sin that happens to be their particular bugbear.

But the caricature does not replace the real thing. Although it may be difficult to see hard-and-fast links between one particular evil and one particular disaster, most people do believe that our actions are not consequence-free. You pollute the atmosphere, and you poison yourself as well as others. You pollute the moral order, and sooner or later you will kill yourself. Chickens do indeed come home to roost. If you act tyrannically, you will suffer for it ultimately as the natural moral law plays out.

This does not mean that one kind of tyranny is replaced by another. It means that strength can be justifiably put in the service of liberty and justice to restore the natural rule of law. As a seriously wounded veteran of World War I, Lewis knew all too well the horrors and stupidities of armed conflict. And, he was most certainly no warmonger. But he also felt that war could sometimes be warranted.

War should be a last resort, declared by lawful authority and conducted according to the natural moral law: It should be defensive, not imperialistic, and there should be limits to one's war aims, a fair chance of success, no torture of prisoners, no slavery, full personal accountability for the acts of those engaged, no intentional "collateral damage," and mercy and reconciliation after the conflict ends. These constraints define, for Lewis, what chivalry was all about - that tradition of gallantry that he felt had all but been forgotten in the modern era: the noble knight in selfless defense of a just cause to protect liberty and justice for the innocent.

The world of "Prince Caspian" is not a chaos, but a cosmos, a carefully structured world, both morally and materially, in which all individuals and events have spiritual significance. The story reflects Lewis's belief that the real world, too, is ordered and coherent, all the way up to the planets and stars. "The heavens are telling the glory of God," according to the words of his favorite Biblical psalm. It is the glory of God's natural law, he believed, to pull down the overly mighty from their thrones and exalt the humble and meek. The knight saves us from a world "divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable" - so Lewis wrote in "The Necessity of Chivalry." And the lessons of chivalry, mercy, liberty and justice from "Prince Caspian" are more than ever necessary in our troubled world today.

Michael Ward ~ Los Angeles Times (14 May 2008)

Immortality and Holiness

[Image: 'Ascension' - Vitali Linitsky]

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners--no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

C.S. Lewis: The Weight of Glory

Charles Williams, the odd Inkling

(The Times Literary Supplement ~ 18 June 2008)

The Archbishop of Canterbury admires a new consideration of the critic, poet and theologian Charles Williams.

Of the three central and iconic figures of the “Inklings”, Charles Williams has always been rather the odd man out in comparison with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. This is not only to do with Tolkien’s well-documented antipathy towards Williams; there is a whiff of brimstone in the nostrils of some when they read of his involvement in hermetic or occultist groups, and of his agonized and confused sexuality. The novels are bewildering in style and content (Ashenden quotes C. S. Lewis’s acerbic comment that Williams did not always know how to hit the golden mean between Dante and Wodehouse), the late poetry famously obscure, and the critical and theological essays wildly idiosyncratic. Yet it is impossible not to feel that he inhabited a larger world than either Tolkien or Lewis (as the latter acknowledged); and someone who made so deep an impact on both T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, neither of them carelessly generous in their literary or personal estimates of others, surely deserves a second look. Geoffrey Hill has recently stressed the energy and intelligence of Williams’s work on the history of English poetry. Theologians continue to circle round the doctrinal work with nervous respect. And the late “Taliessin” poems still excite something of the same uncertain fascination in a surprising variety of readers.

In Charles Williams: Alchemy and integration, Gavin Ashenden sets himself two main tasks and performs them with elegant efficiency. The first is to investigate Williams’s involvement in the occult during the 1910s and 20s. Ashenden notes that most of Williams’s biographers and commentators have wrongly associated him with the Order of the Golden Dawn – a potent influence on twentieth-century Western occultism. In fact, Williams’s association was with the group that broke away from the Golden Dawn under the leadership of A. E. Waite, the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and that attempted to adapt the Continental Rosicrucian tradition to British circumstances, rejecting ritual magic in the strict sense and building more consistently on Jewish and Christian sources.

It is clear that Williams’s interest in Kabbalistic vocabulary and speculation derived almost entirely from Waite (Ashenden follows Waite’s eccentric spelling, “Q’abalah” – a minor irritant in the book). Although Williams had ceased to be actively involved in the Fellowship after about 1930, there are countless traces of Waite’s characteristic ideas and terminology in the novels and the Taliesin cycles. Ashenden argues persuasively that Williams’s complex symbolism in these works of the human body as a kind of microcosmic geography is a development from the Kabbalistic schemata that Waite outlines. The Rosicrucian/Kabbalist melange of ideas was a crucial element in what was certainly Williams’ most original contribution to twentieth century Christian thought, his theological evaluation of the erotic. And what Ashenden establishes is that this was rooted less in any occult or pseudo-tantric practice than in the bridal imagery of Kabbalist literature as mediated by Waite.

This opens up the second of the questions that Ashenden sets out to clarify. Since the publication of Lois Lang-Sims’ recollections of Williams in her autobiography and the more recent publication of some of her correspondence with him, there has been much speculation about what look like elements of ritual sadism in Williams’s relationships with at least some women. Balanced assessment is difficult; but what Ashenden makes clear is that the exceptionally tormented and fantasy-ridden relation with Lang-Sims was going on during a period when Williams’s general mental balance was insecure. Ashenden has had access to Williams’s correspondence with Phyllis Jones, the Oxford University Press secretary who had engaged his affections with dangerous intensity in the 1920s; the correspondence continued for the rest of his life. Again, earlier biographers are corrected: it has been assumed and stated that the friendship had cooled on Williams’s side after Phyllis’s first marriage, but the letters suggest that his mythologically charged obsession with her changed hardly at all. The point, however, is that these letters illustrate vividly the turmoil of his mind in the early 1940s. His weaving of fantasy patterns in some of what he wrote privately at this time is on the edge of the psychotic, and he was clearly under exceptional mental strain.

What seems to have restored some balance was a kind of “renegotiation” of his marriage. The word is probably misleading; Williams was never literally unfaithful to his wife, but the various intimacies with younger women were not wholly innocent or unproblematic. Yet his correspondence with his wife between 1943 and his death two years later suggests that he had come to terms afresh both with the actual and specific responsibilities proper to marriage, and with the critical and more prosaic responses of his wife to his work and lifestyle. He writes of having been anchored again in an “ordinary” humanity, rather than a near-messianic bardic isolation. Ashenden does not quote it directly, but there is a chilling moment in Lois Lang-Sims’s recollections where Williams asks, with obvious self-reference, what kind of relationships are possible for someone who is not really human. It is the furthest point of his inhabiting of the bardic myth, and Ashenden’s discussion strongly suggests that it was a point at which he recognized extreme danger and – consciously or not – began to work in a different way at his marriage.
Ashenden, then, tells a story of integration. Williams’s obsessive mythologizing of personal sexuality settles privately into a strengthening of his marriage that better reflects the public refining of his theology of “romantic love”. And Ashenden’s discussions of some of the main fictional works show a parallel movement away from the fascination with spiritual power in its own right towards the developed doctrine of self-giving exchange – though that is not without its ambiguities, as the Lang-Sims correspondence shows.

Charles Williams: Alchemy and integration is altogether a very well-crafted book, using a great deal of epistolary and other documentation for the first time and opening up a good many new avenues for discussion as it lays to rest some, if not quite all, of the more lurid versions of his career. It should be the first swallow of a new summer in the study of someone who was, despite the oddities and even grotesqueries, a deeply serious critic, a poet unafraid of major risks, and a theologian of rare creativity.

Gavin Ashenden ~ CHARLES WILLIAMS Alchemy and integration
Kent State University Press.

Rowan Williams is Archbishop of Canterbury and was formerly Lady Margaret Professor Divinity at Oxford.

Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration

He was a close friend of T. S. Eliot, deeply admired by C. S. Lewis, inspirational for W. H. Auden in his journey to faith, and a literary sparring partner for J. R. R. Tolkien. Yet, half a century after his death, much of Charles Williams' life and work remains an enigma. The questions that arose from his immersion in Rosicrucian and hermetic culture and ideology - central to understanding Williams's thought and art - remain provocatively unexplored. For a decade of his early adulthood, Williams was a member of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, a form of neo-Rosicrucianism. There is widespread confusion about its nature, which is to be expected given that this was a semisecret society. Though Williams left his formal association with it behind, it enriched and informed his imaginative world with a hermetic myth that expressed itself in an underlying ideology and metaphysics. In "Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration", Gavin Ashenden explores both the history behind the myths and metaphysics Williams was to make his own and the hermetic culture that influenced him.

He examines and interprets its expressions in Williams' novels, poetry, and the development of his ideas and relates these elements to Williams' unpublished letters to his platonic lover, Celia, written toward the end of his life. Since one of the foremost ideas in Williams's work is the interdependence or coinherence of both our humanity and the creation, understanding the extent to which he lived and achieved this in his own life is important. Williams's private correspondence with Celia is of particular interest both for its own sake, since it was previously unknown, and for the insight it offers into his personality and muse.

(Review in Amazon.co.uk)

The Unmaking of All Life

[Image: Easter Springtide ~ Vitali Linitsky]

The central mystery of the Mass has been at all times the subject of dream and speculation, of theology and devotion. If it is the centre of Christian life, it is also and therefore, the centre of all life -- anyhow on this planet, and perhaps everywhere. For the mystery of the Redemption -- of which this is the sign and means -- lies close to the mystery of Creation.

The Sacrifice of the Crucifixion was the unmaking of all life that it should be remade after the great original pattern; a deliberate unmaking instead of an inevitable decay. So far as chaos could come again upon a world in which God was immanent, so far in that darkness it came; wounding and overwhelming the Sacred Body, inclosing and darkening the Sacred Spirit within. It is the nature of Omnipotence always to be able to endure more and to go farther than the utmost that can be brought against him; and perhaps this is the nature of the last Judgement, that He leaves to every man the choice of dealings with Him. If a man will shape his life upon a basis of pride and anger, then he shall find a greater pride and anger in God; if he is covetous and robs others, God shall be covetous and rob him; if he is full of love, then God shall be full of love.

The Mass is an invisible communication, not only of redemption but also of creation and judgement: it is an absorption of the communicant in his degree into eternity. It is therefore above all things the relation between his own soul and Love with which the lover is concerned; and though he passes into the mystery by the channels which Love has prepared, Love itself issues therefrom in all his terrible strength along the channels which the lover has prepared.

Charles Williams ~ Outlines of Romantic Theology
Apocryphile Press, 2005 (Berkley, California)