02 June 2012

Ron Reed and Charles Williams

On Thursday evening, I had a delightful, memorable conversation with Ron Reed, Founding Artistic Director of Pacific Theatre, playwright, actor, director, author, etc., etc. He is here at the C.S. Lewis Colloquium to share two dramatic presentations: a reading of Freud's Last Session, and a performance of Bright Particular Star

Ron told me about a play that he hopes to write somewhere soon, on the friendship between Lewis and Tolkien--and on the fading of that friendship, and of many other friendships that Lewis began with intensity, then allowed to cool over the years (arguments could be made that this is the case with Arthur Greeves, Tolkien, maybe even Owen Barfield). I insisted that any play about CSL & JRRT must include Charles Williams. So we sat down and talked about Williams. 

Ron pulled no punches. His first line about Williams was "I don't trust that guy." Indeed. 

We both shared our concerns about his sexuality, his rituals, and (especially) the strange nature of his theology of Coinherence, Substitution, and Exchange. Ron said that in practice, Exchange turns into "Enmeshment," even co-dependence. Again I say: Indeed. 

So after a while, Ron asked me to share anything that I think Williams "got right," doctrinally speaking. I could only think of two-and-a-half things off the top of my head. 

- The Centrality of the Atonement. Williams believed so firmly in the reality and necessity of Christ's death and resurrection that he wrote (in either The Forgiveness of Sins or He Came Down From Heaven, I can't remember which) that if the Passion had not yet happened in the history of the world, it certainly would in the future, for it is built into the essence of nature, history, and narrative. 

- The Importance of the Incarnation. For all his involvement in a secret society, Williams was no Gnostic. Well, he believed (at least for at time) in secret knowledge, but he never made the mistake of dividing body and soul. He emphasized the importance of the body, and even went so far as to say that the sin of the Fall was a sin of intellect, with the result that the body was less fallen than the soul! 

- A Balance between the Via Affirmativa and the Via Negativa. This is the one he got half right. He really, really tried to show the validity of both ways and to encourage the practice of both, each in its correct context. However (as I wrote in a paper): balance does not necessarily mean correct practice. It is possible to have the two scales on the balance even, but to have some incorrect items on one side or another. In our fallen, finite state: “The perversions of both ways are more comfortably sustained than the tension which imagery demands, and which the Christian faith traditionally has required” (Schideler 27). Several of these perversions mar the Christian apologetic of Williams’ poetry.

Then that night, after our conversation, I lay awake thinking of more things Williams “gets right.” I thought of six more—well, in two of them he at least adds some valuable aspects to the conversation. They are:

1. The simultaneity of all times
2. The power of prayer
3. The theological significance of language/words
4. Submission of the Self to God
5. The nature of the Fall
6. The problem of Evil

I posted this list on Ron's facebook wall, and his response has got to be one of the funniest things I've ever read. He wrote:

I'm envisioning a Charles Williams quiz. “Match the items in Group One with the appropriate concepts in Group Two”:
1. The nature of
2. The power of
3. The problem of
4. The simultaneity of
5. The submission of
6. The theological significance of
7. The top five supernatural thriller writers of

A. all times
B. evil
C. language/words
D. prayer
E. the fall
F. the Self to God
G. the twentieth century

Ah, the fun we nerds have.


Anonymous said...

I bet that conversation was a blast. I've not read enough of Williams to have a feel for his theology. Now I will be a bit more wary in approaching him. Nevertheless, no human being can be expected to be completely flawless in their theology and--as you point out--he definitely has much to commend him.

Iambic Admonit said...

Don't be wary of his fiction & poetry, though! Those are not to be missed.

Rosie Perera said...

I don't know how I managed to miss this post when you wrote it. I'm glad you got to meet Ron in person!