The Descent of the Dove is Charles Williams’ audacious and passionate history of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Written at the beginning of the Second World War, by a close colleague of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, it is an invaluable glimpse into the mind of a major Christian thinker at a turning point in history. Williams’ vivid style and deep erudition are brought to bear on an almost impossible task: a history of the Spirit which blows wherever it wills, and confounds logic or expectation. The result is a radical and fascinating vision of Christianity’s history, which has a lot to suggest about its potential futures.
When St. Paul preached in Athens, the world was thronged with crosses, rooted outside cities, bearing all of them the bodies of slowly dying men. When Augustine preached in Carthage, the world was also thronged with crosses, but now in the very centre of cities, lifted in processions and above altars, decorated and jewelled, and bearing all of them the image of the Identity of dying Man. There can hardly ever have been—it is a platitude— a more astonishing reversion in the history of the world. It is not surprising that Christianity should sometimes be regarded as the darkest of superstitions, when it is considered that a thing of the lowest and most indecent horror should have been lifted, lit, and monstrously adored, and that not merely sensationally but by the vivid and philosophic assent of the great intellects of the Roman world.