Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Ian G. Weeks
Charles Williams (1886-1945) was an Anglican theologian who developed two main theological ideas, that of "Exchange" or "Substituted Love", and that of "the Beatrician Vision". These two formed aspects of what Williams called "Romantic theology"; the ideas are separate but complementary, as both spring from Williams' assumption of the reality of incarnation. Williams sought to rehabilitate the idea of Romanticism by giving the word his own definition: the perception of the Divine as it is present in and as it shines through created things. For Williams, the meaning of incarnation is precisely this presence of the Divine in the created order, and the accessibility of God through created things and beings, which thus become revelations of incarnation. Since Williams holds incarnation to be the constituent fact of human (i.e. redeemed) reality, he maintains that men have become in a literal through mysterious sense members of Christ and members of one another. This gives a profound efficacy to the acts we perform on behalf of others. This is a brief description of the radical concept Williams called "Substituted Love" - the concept for which he is most widely known and the one to which critics have devoted most attention. My thesis is one of the few studies that have focused on Williams second concept, the "Beatrician Moment" or "Beatrician Vision" (so named after Dante's beloved Beatrice). For Williams the Beatrician vision is sexual love personified for the lover in a particular person, who thus becomes a revelation or locus of incarnation. One can be temperamentally disposed to this kind of revelation, but for those who are not, I have provided an exhaustive explanation of this idea. I then synthesize the relevant passages from Williams' theological works, examine and criticize in depth his attempt to rehabilitate the theology of sexual love, and his insistence that his idea is a legitimate development of the principle of incarnation, which the Church has often betrayed by depreciating the body and sexuality. I also examine Williams' criteria for distinguishing between true and false or pseudo-Romanticism, and consider the possibility that Romantic adoration need not always occur in a sexual content. I conclude that Williams' complaint about the Church's historical attitude to the redeemed body is justified, and that he has offered a valid alternative. After promulgating some criteria which help us to assess the genuineness of a religious vision. I conclude that Beatrician adoration as Williams develops it satisfies these criteria. Finally, I conclude that it is possible to experience the Beatrician Vision without feeling logically compelled to accept a Christian theological explanation, although one must still admire and profit by Williams' examination of Beatrician love.
Williams, Charles, "The incarnational theology of Charles Williams" (1976). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3354.