01 April 2009

Charles Williams On the Liturgy


A short but sweet phone conversation with Esteban Vázquez brought to remembrance my small but cherished library of works by Charles Williams. I don’t know if someone died with no interested heirs, or some Inklings scholar became suddenly impoverished and was forced to sell all of his books, but one day several years ago I happened to stop by my favourite local used bookshop and found a (relatively) large collection of Williams’s books. Most of the novels were there—I think The Greater Trumps was the only one missing—as well as The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante (Cambridge: Brewer, 2000), The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (Vancouver: Regent College, 2002), and a collection of essays called, ‘The Image of the City’ and Other Essays, ed. Anne Ridler (Oxford: Oxford U, 1970). I even found Williams's letters to his wife, though I selflessly gave this as a gift to my father-in-law.

From the essay collection I found a passage I had long recalled as particularly entertaining, and read it to Esteban. He insisted that I immediately get off of the phone to post it here. While I have, nevertheless, waited until such time as my phone began to lose power, I assure you that this was written a mere twenty minutes after hanging up. It is fresh from a real live conversation, in other words. The passage is from a short piece called ‘The Liturgy’ (in ‘The Image of the City’, pp. 121-3), being Williams’s review, published originally in Time and Tide, of The High Church Tradition by G.W.O. Addleshaw, 1941. I have added a few more lines to what I read to Esteban.

This book is a study of the Liturgy of the Church of England as it was received by the Anglican Divines of the seventeenth century. ‘The superficial writer on religious matters would not gain a hearing in the 17th century, unless his superficialities had been purged away by a knowledge of the Fathers. Unless he had read his Chrysostom . . . his opinions would have been rule out of court.’ These are healthy sentences for present-day writers to consider; those learned clergymen are no longer figures of fun. To dispute with them, as Johnson said of the poets of something the same period, ‘it was at least necessary to read and think’. They, as it were, breathed orthodoxy; therefore the liturgy was their natural and holy speech. Mr Addleshaw quotes from one of them, Thomas Comber, a description of it as ‘the life and soul of religion, the anima mundi, that universal soul which quickens, unites, and moves the whole Christian world’.

It was not therefore their habit to twiddle and twist the anima mundi to the supposed momentary needs of the crowd—or indeed the Court. Edification and order were its secrets; the sacred City could not be built by everyone raising his own little pile of bricks. Men were to be part of it, and so only it of them. The Eucharist, which was the centre and consummation of all the Rites, was the union of the City. (pp. 121-2)

1 comment:

The Ochlophobist said...

A nice little anti-crowd ditty in there. I like it.