The Invasion of the Angelicals

What happens when the Divine Celestials, the eternal Forms and Archetypes through which God has made the world—strength, beauty, subtlety, wisdom—are let loose into the world? Here is a question the philosopher Plato never considered, I’m sure, but which the poet-theologian Charles Williams dared to envision in The Place of the Lion: when the Angelicals directly reveal themselves in the material world, they inevitably absorb the world back into themselves.

That they entered the world in their unmediated glory was an accident. An adept named Berringer sought to pierce the veil and “see the world of principles from which this world comes” and in the process was overcome and became an open doorway into the world of beast and man. And so the invasion begins, and the creatures of the world are gradually re-possessed by the eternal Ideas they were created to embody. The Angelicals manifest themselves as giant animals, each conforming to its particular quality: the lion of strength, the serpent of subtlety, the butterfly of beauty, the eagle of wisdom. Glen Cavaliero elaborates:

The Place of the Lion works less through images than through a myth, one peculiarly suited to Williams’s imaginative gifts. Its symbolism is drawn from Neo-Platonism and from medieval angelology. Williams makes use of the Cabbalistic teaching that strength, subtlety, beauty and wisdom are not mere abstractions, but absolutes existing in their own spiritual world. In this novel the archetypal world, by means of the experiments of a spiritual adept, is opened upon this one, so that angelic powers are let loose to walk the earth. … They absorb into themselves all kindred types and even those human beings in whom they are the dominating element, so that those who idolise strength turn into and are finally devoured by the Lion, the subtle and cunning are absorbed by the Serpent, and so with everyone according to his nature. In some the annihilation is joyous, in others horrible. (Charles Williams: Poet of Theology, p. 73)

There can be only one solution. The Angelicals must be restored to heaven and the doorway closed. But just as the doorway was opened by a human being, so it must be closed by a human being. But who can command the Lion? Who can summon the Serpent? Only one who is willing to surrender himself in love to the Omnipotence.

Redemption is consummated with the dramatic recapitulation of the Adamic naming of the animals:

The glade ran straight down to the bottom of the steep descent, and there in its centre was the fire that surged in the shape of a tree—no, it was a tree, one of two that grew there, side by side, and otherwise alone. … But while she looked, the figure of Anthony came between her and the trees, if indeed it were still Anthony, and yet she knew it was. But he was different; he seemed gigantic in the uncertain light, and he was passing with huge strides down the glade. As he moved it seemed to her that he was wearing not clothes but skins, as in some old picture Adam might have fared forth from Paradise. He went on till he was about half-way down the glade, and then he stood still. About him the wind had become a terrific storm; it soared and rushed through the great trees on either hand, yet over it she heard his voice crying. He had stood still, and turned a little, and upon one mighty shoulder there perched a huge bird—at least, it seemed like a bird and, as he called it spread its wings and again closed them. …

Anthony—Adam—whatever giant stood before her between the trees of an aboriginal forest—was calling as he had called in the streets of the town. But now he uttered not one word but many, pausing between each, and again giving to each the same strong summons. He called and he commanded; nature lay expectant about him. She was aware then that the forest all round was in movement; living creatures showed themselves on its edge, or hurried through the grass. At each word that he cried, new life gathered, and still the litany of invocation and command went on. By the names that were the Ideas he called them, and the Ideas who are the Principles of everlasting creation heard him, the Principles of everlasting creation who are the Cherubim and Seraphim of the Eternal. In their animal manifestations, duly obedient to the single animal who was lord of the animals, they came. She saw the horse pushing its head over his shoulder; she saw the serpent rearing itself and lightly coiling round his body. Only, but now motionless, the eagle sat on his shoulder, observant of all things, as philosophical knowledge studies the natures and activities of men.

They were returning, summoned by the authority of man from their incursion into the world of man. …

She looked again upon the glade of the garden where the image of Adam named the beasts, and naming ruled them. But now he was farther from her, nearer to those two mysterious trees in the centre. Among the shapes that pressed about him she could not at first well discern one from another, but as she leaned and strained to see she beheld them gathering into two companies. There fell over the whole scene a strange and lovely clearness, she from the wings of a soaring wonder that left the shoulder where it had reposed and flew, scattering light. The intermingled foliage of the trees of knowledge and of life—in indeed they were separate—received it; amid those branches the eagle which was the living act of science sank and rested. But far below the human figure stood and on either side of it were the shapes of the lion and the lamb. His hand rested on the head of the one; the other paused by him. In and for that exalted moment all acts of peace that then had being through the world were deepened and knew their own nature more clearly; away in villages and towns such spirits as the country doctor in Smetham received a measure of content in their work. Friendships grew closer; intentions of love possessed their right fulfilment. Terrors of malice and envy and jealousy faded; disordered beauty everywhere recognized again the sacred laws that governed it. Man dreamed of himself in the place of his creation. (Chapter 16)

Once having shared this vision of the world’s paradisal healing, I do not think I can ever read Genesis 2 quite the same again.

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4 Responses to The Invasion of the Angelicals

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A series of reflections on The Place of the Lion can be found over at Sørina Higgins’s blog.


  2. Agni Ashwin says:

    “What happens when the Divine Celestials, the eternal Forms and Archetypes through which God has made the world—strength, beauty, subtlety, wisdom—are let loose into the world?”

    How does this statement fit with the idea that it was through God the Son that God the Father made the world?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Agni, Williams is only using the myth of the archetypes for purposes of telling a story. He isn’t making any truth claims about them. He was an orthodox churchman.


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