He Came Down from Heaven
Charles Williams

Charles Williams

These pages: He Came Down from Heaven

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the Inklings

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He Came Down from Heaven

Copyright © 1938 by Michael Williams


Chapter IV

The Precursor and the Incarnation of the Kingdom


What then of all the great tradition, the freeing of slaves at the Exodus, the determination of the prophets, the long effort against the monstrous impiety of Cain? The answer is obvious; all that is assumed as a mere preliminary. The rich, while they remain rich, are practically incapable of salvation, at which all the Apostles were exceedingly astonished. Their astonishment is exceedingly funny to our vicariously generous minds. But if riches are not supposed to be confined to money, the astonishment becomes more general.



The miracles of Christ are accidental, however efficient; the kingdom of heaven fulfils all earthly laws because that is its nature but it is concerned only with its own, and to try to use it for earth is to lose heaven and gain nothing for earth. It may be taken by violence but it cannot be compelled by violence; its Incarnation commanded that he should be awaited everywhere but his effectiveness demanded nowhere. Everything must be made ready and then he will do what he likes. This maxim, which is the condition of all prayer, has involved the Church in a metaphysic of prayer equivalent to “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.”



The new way of pardon is to be different from the old, for the evil is still to be known. It is known, in what follows, by the Thing that has come down from Heaven. He experiences a complete and utter deprivation of all knowledge of the good. The Church has never defined the Atonement. It has contented itself with saying that the Person of the kingdom there assumed into himself the utmost possible capacities of its own destruction and they could not destroy it. [...] Its impotency is deliberate. It denies its self; it loses its life to save it; it saves others because it cannot, by its decisions, save itself. It remains still exclusive and inclusive; it excludes all consent to the knowledge of evil, but it includes the whole knowledge of evil without its own consent. It is “made sin,” in St. Paul’s phrase.
A new knowledge arises. Men had determined to know good as evil; there could be but one perfect remedy for that—to know the evil of the past itself as good, and to be free from the necessity of the knowledge of evil in the future; to find right knowledge and perfect freedom together; to know all things as occasions of love. The Adam and their children had been involved in a state of contradiction within themselves. The law had done its best by imposing on that chaos of contradiction a kind of order, by at least calling definite things good and definite things evil. The prophets had urged this method: repent, “cease to do evil, learn to do well.” But even allowing that, in all times and places, it was possible to know what was good and what was evil, was it as easy as all that?



All is most well; evil is “pardoned”—it is known after another manner; in an interchange of love, as a means of love, therefore as a means of the good. O felix culpa—pardon is no longer an oblivion but an increased knowledge, a knowledge of all things in a perfection of joy.
It was not inappropriate that the condition of such a pardon should be repentance, for repentance is no more than a passionate intention to know all things after the mode of heaven, and it is impossible to know evil as good if you insist on knowing it as evil. Pardon, as between any two beings, is a re-identification of love, and it is known so in the most tender and the most happy human relationships. But there is a profound difference between any such re-identification of love between heaven and earth and between earth and earth. What may be justly required in the one case must not be required in the other. It is all very well for the Divine Thing of heaven to require some kind of intention of good, not exactly as a condition of pardon but as a means of the existence of its perfection. Men were never meant to be as gods or to know as gods, and for men to make any such intention a part of their pardon is precisely to try to behave as gods. It is the renewal of the first and most dreadful error, the desire to know as gods; the reversal of the Incarnation, by which God knew as Man, the heresy of thought and action denounced in the Athanasian Creed—it is precisely the attempt to convert the Godhead into flesh and not the taking of the manhood into God. The intention to do differently may be passionately offered; it must never be required—not in the most secret recesses of that self which can only blush with shame to find itself pardoning and with delight at the infinite laughter of the universe at a created being forgiving another created being. The ancient cry of “Don’t do it again” is never a part of pardon.



Beyond the Petrine law he cast the Johannine—“if I will that he tarry till I come . . .” but the coming may be from moment to moment and the tarrying from moment to moment. “Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?“ It is as if, from moment to moment, he withdrew and returned, swifter than lightning, known in one mode and another mode and always new. The new life might still be sequential (in the order of time) but every instant was united to the Origin, and complete and absolute in itself.
Chapter V

The Theology of Romantic Love
The great love poets may have been monogamic in the sense of having one lady at a time; it cannot be said that they had one lady all the time. Nor indeed can it very easily be maintained that Dante was a striking example of New Testament monogamy, considering the extent to which his imagination concentrated itself on one woman while he was married to another. It is part of the incredible irony of the kingdom of heaven that it should produce the most stupendous and scientific statement of the experiment from a poet whom the stricter moralists of the experiment are compelled to disavow or to disguise.
The first appearance of Beatrice produces three separate effects: it moves the heart as the seat of spiritual emotions, the brain as the centre of perception, and the liver as the place of corporal emotions. It is much to be wished that English literature had kept liver as well as heart; we have to use one word for both emotional states—what (reverting to the old ambiguity of heaven) we might call the spiritual and the spatial heaven of romantic love.



The diagram of process is clear. Dante is on the circumference, and the things that happen there make a difference to him; he has with them no fixed and always equal relation: only he sees the centre. The Love of the New Life is in the centre; to it all parts of the circumference, all times, all experiences, have this equal relation. In humility and good will Dante answered Love when things went well, but Love answers Love however things go. But beyond that is the state where there is, in effect, no circumference; or rather, every point of the circumference is at the centre, for the circumference itself is caritas, and relation is only between the centre and the centre. This is love-in-heaven.

It is possible to follow this method of love without introducing the name of God. But it is hardly possible to follow it without proposing and involving as an end a state of caritas of the utmost possible height and breadth, nor without allowing to matter a significance and power which (of all the religions and philosophies) only Christianity has affirmed.

If, however, we retain the name and idea of God, and if there is any common agreement about the state of exalted experience known as the state of “falling in love”, then it is possible to go further and relate that experience to the Incarnation of the kingdom. [...] The beloved (male or female) is seen in the light of a Paradisal knowledge and experience of good. Christ exists in the soul, in joy, in terror, in a miracle of newness. Ecce, omnia nova facio. He who is the mystical child of the lovers sustains and supports them: they are the children of their child.

A theology of this kind will be at the disadvantage of all other kinds of theology, and give rise (within itself) to heresies. Extremists of one kind will claim for the beloved a purity as nonexistent as the purity of the Church militant upon earth. Her, or his, humanity is an extremely maculate humanity, and all the worship under heaven ought not to prevent her lover from knowing (with reasonable accuracy and unreasonable love) when she is lazy, lewd, or malicious. She has a double nature, and he can have double sight. On the other hand it will be supposed that the death of Beatrice implies the non-existence of Beatrice; that the disappearance of the glory implies the falsity of the glory. A similar disappearance has not been supposed to invalidate the fact and authority of Christ [...]



It is perhaps a pity that the clergy as a whole are so often among the disparagers. A natural hesitation over the uncovenanted graces leads them not so much to say wrong things as to say the right things in the wrong tone. Their proper concern with one rule of morality leads them to be careless of another. The Divine Thing that made itself the foundation of the Church does not seem, to judge by his comments on the religious leaders of his day, ever to have hoped much from officers of a church. The most he would do was to promise that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. It is about all that, looking back on the history of the Church, one can feel they have not done.

Hell has made three principal attacks on the Way of Romantic Love. The dangerous assumptions produced are: (I) the assumption that it will naturally be everlasting; (2) the assumption that it is personal; (3) the assumption that it is sufficient.



(I). The assumption that the Beatrician state is everlasting is false. “The right faith is that we believe and confess” that it is eternal but is not everlastingly visible, any more than the earthly life of Christ. Its quality may deceive hasty imagination, and it may be expected to return quickly as was Christ by the Church. It may not. Its authority remains unimpaired.

But the fallen state of man produces—again as in religion—something remarkably like a tendency to regard the revelation and the glory as one’s own private property. Once the emotions have yielded to that falsity, the intellect too often is either thwarted or even betrayed into supporting them. Until a state of sanctity has been achieved, there will no doubt always be something proud or possessive in our attitude towards the thing that is called love. But, on the whole hypothesis, love does not belong to lovers, but they to it. It is their job, as it is their direction, and salvation. It is for this reason that all such sins as envy and jealousy are mortal. Jealousy does not mean only sex-jealousy; it need not even relate to the lovers at all. [...] It is, always and everywhere, idolatry; it is a desire to retain the glory for oneself, which means that one is not adoring the glory but only one’s own relation to the glory. It ought perhaps, for fear of misunderstanding, to be added that the strictest monogamist ought to disapprove of jealousy as strongly as anyone else; the two things are entirely separate. But it must be admitted that we might be a little nearer, intellectually, to pure love, if jealousy had been as passionately denounced as divorce in the Christian Church. The envious man identifies the kingdom with himself, and by a frantic effort to retain the outward manifestation of the kingdom destroys it in himself, and with it his capacity to see it outside himself. A sin which is, by its essence, destructive of goodwill is worse than a sin which need not be, in its essence, more than disordered goodwill.

(3). The third assumption is even easier than the others: that it is sufficient to have known that state of love. A kind of Calvinism seizes the emotions; the heart has recognized the attributed perfection and stops there. It feels as if of the elect, and it goes on feeling that till it ceases to feel anything. [...] To be in love must be followed by the will to be love; to be love to the beloved, to be love to all, to be in fact (as the Divine Thing said) perfect.

The kingdom came down from heaven and was incarnate; since then and perhaps (because of it) before then, it is beheld through and in a carnality of joy. The beloved—person or thing—becomes the Mother of Love; Love is born in the soul; it may have its passion there; it may have its resurrection. It has its own divine nature united with our undivine nature. In such a doctrine the Gospels take on other meanings. The light that lighteth every man is seen without as well as within. But that, by definition, is the nature of the kingdom.
Chapter VI

The Practice of Substituted Love
We are not to deny to others the means of their love because those means may seem to indulge us. [...] Neither self-sacrifice, as such, nor self-gratification, as such; both may be sacraments of love at any moment, but neither is covenanted. The denial of the self affects both. “It is no more I that live, but Christ that liveth in me” is the definition of the pure life which is substituted for both.



As the single tyranny of Cain developed into the social tyranny in Egypt and in Israel itself, so the law gathered round itself the clamour of the prophets for social justice [...] Under the organized effort of Rome towards at least something of the Virgilian equity, this had been defined in the moral duty of all classes and individuals declared by the Precursor; it had become the gospel of the Precursor as of Virgil, except that the one gospel expected beyond itself what the other hardly could. Messias had shown that he would demand and assume its fulfilment by all who wished to follow his own gospel. It had to be left, then, to men to choose or not to choose. The direct concern of the new kingdom was with other things, with the love that had substituted itself for men, and with the love between men that was to form itself after the manner of that original love.
The Church (it was early decided) was not an organization of sinless men but of sinful, not a union of adepts but of less than neophytes, not of illuminati but of those that sat in darkness. Nevertheless, it carried within it an energy not its own, and it knew what it believed about that energy. It was the power of the Reconciler, and the nature of the Reconciler was of eternity as of time, of heaven as of earth, of absolute God as of essential Man.

There are always three degrees of consciousness, all infinitely divisible: (i) the old self on the old way; (ii) the old self on the new way; (iii) the new self on the new way. The second group is the largest, at all times and in all places. It is the frequent result of romantic love. It forms, at any one moment, the greatest part of the visibility of the Church, and, at most moments, practically all of oneself that one can know, for the new self does not know itself. It consists of the existence of the self, unselfish perhaps, but not yet denied. [...]

Those who accuse the Church accuse it—justly—of not being totally composed of new selves; those who defend it defend it—justly—as being a new way.

The one who gives has to remember that he has parted with his burden, that it is being carried by another, that his part is to believe that and be at peace [...] The one who takes has to set himself—mind and emotion and sensation—to the burden, to know it, imagine it, receive it—and sometimes not to be taken aback by the swiftness of the divine grace and the lightness of the burden. It is almost easier to believe that Messias was probably right about the mysteries of the Godhead than that he was merely accurate about the facts of everyday life. One expects the burden always to be heavy, and it is sometimes negligible; which is precisely what he said.
It is the everlasting difference between the gospel of Christ as one who is to be imitated and one who is to be believed, between one who is an example of living and one who is the life itself; between the philosophies that advise unselfishness as the best satisfaction in life and the religion that asserts exchange to be the only possible means of tolerable life at all. The denial of the self has become metaphysical. He came to turn the world upside-down, and no one’s self-respect will stand for that. It is habitual to us therefore to prefer to be miserable rather than to give, and to believe that we can give, our miseries up.



It is with the intention of substituted love that all “intercessory” prayer must be charged, and with care that there is no intention of emotional bullying. Even prayer for the conversion of others is apt to be more like prayer for their conversion to the interceder’s own point of view than to the kingdom. The old self on the new way has always enjoyed himself most at prayer.



Chapter VII

The City
We are unhappy enough anyhow, and if Christianity is to mean a little more unhappiness, more discipline, more trials—the prospect not unnaturally drives men to that plea for annihilation which (the Church declares) is the only thing the Omnipotence will never grant, except indeed by the annihilation which is he. On the other hand, there is an offensive cheerfulness encouraged by some Christians which is very trying to any person of moderate sensibility. We are to be bright; we are to smile at strangers; we are (last horror of daily life!) to get into conversation with strangers. It is some comfort to reflect that Messias was against our being bright as he was against our being gloomy. He was against our being anything at all. He indicated continually that it was our wish to do or be something by ourselves, even to be saved by ourselves, that was the root of the trouble.

text checked (see note) Aug 2005

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Background graphic copyright © 2005 by Hal Keen