Monday, June 6, 2011

Descent of the Dove - IV

Men are most foolish when we're in love - that's when our rash vows come: to marry, to walk to Jerusalem on our knees, to post a daily commentary on each chapter of Charles Williams' Descent of the Dove during each of the nine days of the Great Novena. It's the Holy Spirit, you know, He takes us beyond ourselves - out of our "comfort zones". Such is magnanimity.

In Chapter Four, Williams, like the Spirit, takes us on a wild ride of his own from the Fall of Rome to the Eastern Schism, covering more than five hundred years of time and a wide parabola of thought. It's hard to digest. But somehow central to this book are two words that Williams never defines - "Eros", a word we know, but a word that can mean a number of things; and "co-inherence", a word peculiar to Williams, and a word which means ... well, what? More on that later.

It has at least become clear to me that Williams is talking about the Descent of the Dove, or the operation of the Holy Spirit in human history, not merely in the Church as "church" but in the Church as "Christendom" - the workings of the Holy Spirit in the wider Christian culture.

For instance, Williams writes: "There were what may be called mass conversions [of barbarians], and therefore uninstructed conversions. This is not to say they were insincere [but] ... it is doubtful whether Christendom has ever quite recovered from the mass-conversion of fashionable classes inside Rome and of the barbaric races outside Rome ... It is at least arguable that the Christian Church will have to return to a pre-Constantine state before she can properly recover the ground she too quickly won."

Now that's a great phrase, "recover the ground she too quickly won". By this he seems to mean that the Church was challenged not only by the prolongation of time, but by its own geographical expansion and success. But Williams is quick to point out that even if the mass conversions of the Dark Ages were not heartfelt, a huge cultural shift had occurred all the same, and Christian man - even nominally Christian man - had a life whose focus was utterly different from that of Pagan man.

"There was a difference between self-sacrificed and un-sacrificed Deity; between the God who died of His own will for the salvation of men and the God who died at others' will for the reproductiveness of vegetables ... The rites of sorcery which, it was believed, were practised had not, as their single, if remote, aim, the creation of a new will towards love; the new Christian rites had no other essential aim."

And here we see what seems to be the key of Williams' concept of Christendom, the creation of a new will towards love.

Thus he keeps coming back to the quote of Ignatius of Antioch, "My Eros is crucified." This, he says, "was quite different from the old Stoic tolerance of things as indifferent to the wise man; this is the first spark of the fire of charity and joy," and he connects this observation to Boethius' realization that "every lot is good ... whether be it harsh or be it pleasing." In other words, that which is good may not be pleasing, that which is good may take us out of our "comfort zones" - but how? By demanding of our Eros a crucifixion, by calling forth our love, our passion, our desire, our longing - by calling our love to a suffering, an unbearable agony of self-giving for the sake of another, by keeping Eros from becoming mere eroticism and transforming it into a painful question of and desire for another, answered and satisfied when "it is finished" on the cross.

Thus, contrary to stoicism and Buddhism, both of which deny desire, and contrary to hedonism and modern contraceptive promiscuity, both of which fulfil only a parody of desire, Christ offers us satisfaction through the cross - "My Eros is crucified".

At least I think this is close to what Williams means.

As to "co-inherence" ... ? Well, "the inter-penetration of two separate orders" is perhaps the best way to say it; "incarnation" viewed from both ends, God becoming and interpenetrating man and everything man does, including his culture and his communities; and man lifted up and participating in the eternal existence of God, which is joy, eternal life, the Kingdom.

I am working through this book a chapter a day, however, and this is all preliminary. It's almost as confusing as the Eastern Schism, with which Charles Williams ends this chapter, and from which split the Body of Christ still suffers.

For unity in the Church ... HOLY SPIRIT COME!

No comments: