Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Paradox Conceptualized for Drama

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Paradox Conceptualized for Drama

Article excerpt


The year 1995 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Charles Walter Stansby Williams. A prolific Anglo-Catholic writer, Williams left a body of work which presents the reader with a provocative array of religious thought that has as much impact today as it did during the time in which it was written.

Williams is best known for his novels, but he also wrote poetry, drama and non-fictional material. Charles Williams was extremely eloquent, and he lectured extensively. It is fair to say that his ideas deeply influenced a younger generation both in London and at Oxford University.

Gerald Weales states the following: "Charles Williams is the most fascinating product of the English religious drama revival" (Religion in Modern English Drama, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961, p. 142). The legitimacy of such a statement takes into consideration the fact that Williams was commissioned to write the second Canterbury Festival play, which was performed in 1936, and also recognizes the large number of highly original religious verse dramas that were written by Williams.

Some of Williams's contemporaries who were also involved in the writing of religious verse drama were T.S. Eliot, Christopher Fry and Dorothy Sayers. In a biography of Dorothy Sayers written by James Brabazon the following observation is made while comparing Sayers and Williams: "At the heart of all these contrasts was one fundamental difference: that where Dorothy expounded the laws of the spiritual world like an exceptionally brilliant law student, Williams seemed to inhabit that world, and to understand in his blood and bones the truths of which the laws were merely man-made formulations" (James Brabazon, Dorothy L. Sayers, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981, p. 225). Dorothy Sayers herself stated in a letter to Miss Sheila Cudahy dated August 20, 1948, in which she compared Williams to C. S. Lewis, that: "Lewis is a writer of highly disciplined talent; Williams was a truly profound and original mind, with the authentic mark of genius" (James Brabazon, Dorothy L. Sayers, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981, p. 223).

An important source of mental stimulation for Williams was his association with the "Inklings." The name was first given to a group of undergraduates who met at University College, Oxford to read writing-in-progress aloud to one another, and was bestowed upon that group by Edward Tangye Lean, who was then editor of the University magazine, Isis. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were members of that early group. Later, Lewis transferred the name to a circle of friends who met in his rooms at Magdalen College for the same purpose. The name, according to Tolkien, "was a pleasantly ingenious pun in its way, suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink" (J. R. R. T. to William White, 11 Sept. 1967, in White's Image of Man in C. S. Lewis).

Charles Williams moved from London to Oxford in 1939 and was immediately invited by Lewis to join the "Inklings." There is no doubt that Williams gained tremendously from being in the company of intellectual equals who not only cared deeply about religion and the writing process, but who were also objectively honest in their criticism of one another's work.

To illustrate Williams's talent and his tenacity in struggling with complex theological materials this article isolates one particular quest of his which may be described as a paradox conceptualized for drama.

The statement "This also is Thou; neither is this Thou"1 brings together Charles Williams's understanding of the Way of Affirmation of Images and the Way of Negation of Images-terms which are derived from Dionysius the Areopagite. Each Way has a long and honored religious history. The former Way accents an approach of involvement in life, whereby the works of the universe are seen as the handiwork of God for the benefit of humankind. …

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