O Champion General, we your City ascribe to you the victory in gratitude for being rescued from calamity, O Theotokos. But since you have invincible power, free us from all kinds of perils so that we may cry out to you: Rejoice, O Bride unwedded!
When he perceived what had secretly been ordered, to the abode of Joseph urgently reported the bodiless one and said unto the Unwedded: The Lord who has bowed the heavens in His descent, in you is contained completely and without change; and beholding Him in your womb taking the form of a slave, astounded I cry out to you: Rejoice, O Bride unwedded!
(Troparion and Apolytikon of the Great Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos)
JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord Of The Rings, never cared much for Charles Williams. In one occasion, he referred to him as “that witch-doctor”, and lamented his growing influence over this friend and CS Lewis. By all accounts, Charles Williams never was as central a participant in the Oxford literary circle that included both Tolkien and Lewis, and witnessed the birth of both Middle Earth and Narnia as they emerged from the crania of their creators. Williams was not an academic. He attended, but never graduated from University. In another, more primordial sense, Williams was as different from Tolkien as anybody could be. Tolkien was the voice of Deep England, and Deep England was aways a rural, almost Arcadian vision. I think the American version of this, the mythology of the Plain Man with his Plain Speech speaking the Plain Truth is invariably Red State-rural, or at least small-town. Throughout all of Tolkien’s works, there is a mistrust of the Machine, an abhorrence of the Algorithm, a wistful desire for a simpler more straightforward relationship between men and the natural world as well as between men and other men.
Williams, on the other hand, was a life-long Londoner and an urbanite through and through. Unlike the romances of Tolkien and Lewis, Williams’ novels are set either in cities or in a countryside to which urban denizens have retired, but which is to them what rural spaces are to the majority of us; a restful and aesthetically superior extension of the city, economically dependent on it, to which a favored few who can afford it are allowed too escape from time to time. It is telling that the one Lewis romance set in an urban environment, That Hideous Strength, is considered the one book of his that is most influenced by Charles Williams. In Tolkien, the City was seen as either a a necessary evil (Minas Tirith) or as the embodiment of the diabolical (“lovely Lugbürz”). Even though the first glance of Peter Jackson’s Edoras provoked the comment from my son – ‘he’s king of that?’ – there is never any doubt where Tolkien’s sympathies lay. The Companions of the Ring, even the restored King himself, spend as little narrative time in Minas Tirith as possible.
In contrast, Williams both saw and expanded upon one of the central visions of the Scriptures; we began our career in a Garden, but we are not to return to it. Whether or not the cherub with the double-edged sword will still be keeping guard or not, it will be unnecessary. The Tree of Life has been uprooted and replanted in a City, which City is our final destiny. It is not for nothing that the City gives the name to that most desirable state of man; civilization, apart from which there is only savagery and barbarism. For Williams, the Image of the City was the Image of what he calls the vicarious life. Christians are always being exhorted to “live for others”. Williams says that the City makes it known that we not only live for others, but because of others. Others have labored and you have entered upon their labors. You only have to spend a day in a major city where there is a sanitary strike to understand just how little of an abstraction this is. Cities are the places par excellence, where human energies are collected, weighed and measured, and submitted to the process of Exchange. For Exchange, to Williams, is not primarily a Christian doctrine explaining how the virtues of Christ are applied to the accounts of sinful men. Exchange is, because of Christ’s sacrifice, the very Life of the Universe. A sodium atom may live unto itself and remain as it is, volatile and intolerant of light, and a chlorine atom may remain as it is, corrosive and poisonous, or one may surrender an electron to the other and they may become the Power That Preserves.
If the City is primarily the engine of Exchange, it is to be contrasted to what Williams calls the Infamy. The Infamy is that which either precludes participation in Exchange, or that which compels it unwilling. Williams contrasts the City, which he poetically describes as something that can be founded
¿Y fue por este río de sueñera y de barro
que las proas vinieron a fundarme la patria?
“and was it for me that against this sleepy, muddy river
the ships’ prows slapped to found my native city?”
Jorge Luis Borges , “The Mythological Foundation of Buenos Aires”
with its counterparts the Nation and the State. The Nation is something that emerges from the quantum foam of Nature into the currents of History. There is a measure of fatalism in the statement “He is a German” that is lacking in the statement “He is a Berliner,” and an assumption of participation in the latter that is not present in the former. It is hard for us Americans (speaking hemispherically not nationally) to understand the subtle interplay between soil and DNA that composes a robust nationalism, and there is a place for a robust nationalism. After all, it is “the Nations” that will participate in the City, and who will be the sources of its wealth, not individuals. A case in point is Miami. Miami is a vibrant city that owes its vibrancy to the number of nations that participate in it. This makes it a wonderful city to go restaurant hopping in, but not an easy city to govern. Miami could never be the capital of the Shire, but I have a suspicion that Heaven will be more like Miami than it will be like the Shire. The problem with the Nation is that no one who was not born into it could possibly be a participant in it. This was the heresy of National Socialism and all other similar ideologies, the absorption of the City into the Nation.
The State, on the other hand, is a far more volitional and less organic creature. We Americans (speaking nationally, not hemispherically) almost always mean “the State” when we speak of “the Nation”, that is to say, those intentional and explicit manipulations whereby the process of Exchange is spelled out in painful and stultifying detail and to which all are compelled to participate. The Law has a breathtaking pedigree, but it is telling that the State speaks more often of “due process” when people speak more often of justice. The State is parasitical on the City and continually seeks to subjugate it, but it is never capable of doing so completely. That would be like a virus so virulent that it killed 100 percent of the organisms it infected. Historically, though, the State appears always to seek that point of stasis where the maximum amount of energy is diverted to the wielders of its levers and just enough is retained in the grid to ensure ongoing activity. The problem is that when that point is passed, the City does not stutter to a halt like a car running out of gas. It collapses like a car going off a cliff. this is the heresy of Communism and other sympathetic ideologies; the absorption of the City into the State.
For the City, even the Earthly City which is an icon of the true City, has a source of Life hidden from both the Nation and the State. Even though she was founded by Cain (!!!), she is the Mother of Us All (Galatians 4:26). Her charter is the last stanza of the great Creed: I believe in the Holy Ghost, Who propels her inexorably Godward, in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is her true Name, I believe in one Baptism, her process of Naturalization, for the Forgiveness of Sins, the coin of Her realm, the Resurrection of The Dead, the restoration of her lost unity, and the [Exchanged and Exchanging] Life of the Age to Come.
“The City is simultaneously hierarchical and republican.”
Charles Williams, He Came Down From Heaven