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Descent of the Dove

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  233 ratings  ·  34 reviews
The Descent of the Dove is an unconventional study of the Church as governed by the historical activity of the Holy Spirit. It's the most significant of Williams' theological writings.
"This book encapsulates Williams' view of the trajectory of church history. For Williams, church history has developed around a series of conflicts between opposing theological positions tha
Paperback, 354 pages
Published June 28th 1965 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Grand Rapids, MI) (first published 1939)
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Margaret Norwood
Reading "Descent of the Dove" is like being in a very deep conversation with someone you love, but who knows considerably more than you do and is assuming knowledge that you don't yet have. The more I knew of the historical period of which he spoke, the more I understood, appreciated and was enriched by William's work. When I did not know that of which he was writing, I felt an enormous desire to educate myself on the topic and then come back to join him in the conversation. It is a wonderful wo ...more
Jun 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have rarely wanted so badly to give a book five stars and not been able to. Williams was far and away one of Lewis' great influences and he clearly knew and thought more about the Church and theology than Lewis, and I think he was the reason Lewis took certain views of the Reformation and perhaps was the source for the social Trinitarianism in Beyond Personality. Williams' book is glorious and soars over all the sources and facts and dates to get to what really makes interesting history: judgi ...more
Dec 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How I made it through church history classes in seminary without having this book assigned is a mystery to me. Most historical surveys of any kind are dry accounts, only a slight improvement from reading chronicles. For Williams, church history is a drama wherein events and characters bear witness of coinherence--the presence of heaven in the matters of earth. Anything I've ever read by Williams is challenging to follow, but the view he gives his readers makes it worthwhile to persevere through ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Too intellectual, in the worst way -- presumptuous, abstracted, logically unsound. But it's one of those few books about which I can definitively say: this has changed the way I think about things. Williams is, here as always, comfortably poised at the convergence of orthodoxy, heresy, and and insanity. ...more
Simon Stegall
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief history of the Church by one of the Inklings. From reading it, you wouldn't be able to tell that Williams was an Anglican - you would probably think he was a Catholic since he is remarkably kind to the abominable uses of Indulgences in the Renaissance and the bizarre wickednesses of the Popes, but in fact this is just a characteristic of his charity (and more an indication of my own biases- a Catholic would probably be annoyed by his admiration of Luther and Calvin). He is without fail e ...more
Kyle Rapinchuk
Williams presents in this book a brief history of the church. It is poignant, informed, and surprisingly comprehensive for its comparatively short length. Williams also pierces to the heart of conflict within the Church throughout history, giving helpful insight into the struggles of various eras. He also provides interesting reflections, such as his lament that Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola should have so much in common as contemporaries and yet oppose one another (173). As a friend of Lewis an ...more
Apr 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd say it's influential to me, but I think I was influenced by it before I read it! I recognize Williams's approach to church history as one with which I've already been inculcated: he influenced the people who influenced me, I think. And those people did a good job of making Williams comprehensible for me. Some of the leaps of his writing style, and his assumed vocabulary are too much for me still, but I could read this far better now than I could have even 5 years ago. I so appreciate how per ...more
Andrew Stout
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable. More than anything, this history is an attempt to ground Williams' unique theories of co-inherence, exchange, and substitution in the life and heritage of the Church. Surveying Church history through the lens of these themes (as well as the themes of the complementary Ways of Affirmation and Negation) is very effective, shedding fresh light on many of the major events in the life of the Church. ...more
Douglas Wilson
Jul 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly good poetic history of the church from the perspective of a member of that prestigious Inkling group, and friend of the more famous of the bunch, C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien.
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another para-psychological thriller from the master.
I am giving this three stars based on my expectations in contrast with the actual content; I was expecting the content to be dealing more with the Holy Spirit and His role within the Church, but Williams really lays out a history of the Church, focusing around the conflicts and idea shifts it has undergone. Because I had a hard time getting my mind around this difference, I had a hard time absorbing a lot of this dense content. However, I am incredibly impressed that the Holy Spirit has accompli ...more
I'm not sure what to make of this book. I sensed a brilliance and depth in Charles Williams writing that was beyond me to understand. The Descent of the Dove was well written, with many fantastic quotes and ideas. Charles Williams is not shy about talking about the tragedies and compromises in church history. I also found it hard to say what the point of the book was. As a descriptive history The Descent of the Dove was excellent. But I think The Descent of the Dove was also a work of theology a ...more
David K. Glidden
Charles Williams was a member of the all male Oxford writers group, the Inklings, along with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, notably. He too wrote fiction but was also the author of several religious works, such as this sweeping history of Christianity, written from a perspective of faith. W. H. Auden treasured this book, which he read over and over —not only for the factual information it conveyed, but for the poetic, elegant way it was written. This volume deeply influenced Auden‘s late Christian long ...more
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The oddest book on the history of Christianity I have ever read (and I teach history). Yet it makes one think in ways that are new and refreshing. Heavy and contemplate, but also seems to barrel forward.
Steven Tryon
Fascinating, as expected. I am going to have to read it again before having much to say.
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read. By one of the Inklings, an associate & friend of C. S. Lewis & J. R. R. Tolkien.
Stephen Case
A good friend of mine once called Chesterton’s Everlasting Man “bullshit history.” He meant it in the best way possible. A similar label could be applied to this volume by the famously-forgotten lost Inkling, Charles Williams. I’ve written about Williams’ wonderful yet at-times-exasperating fiction here before. He’s difficult to classify. Like Chesterton, he sort of slips through the cracks by his works’ tendency to resolutely resist any pat classification. His fiction is not fantasy. Neither is ...more
May 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Charles Williams' take on Church History: I found it much harder to understand than his book "Witchcraft", which feels rather like a companion to this work. Nevertheless, I glimpsed much through the shifting clouds of his prose, and what I saw, I liked. Williams does this in his fiction as in his non-fiction: he sees the whole of reality in a different way and hardly bothers to spell it out for his readers. You sort of go along for the ride and the stuff he says about the passing vistas makes yo ...more
Mar 26, 2015 rated it liked it
A unique and worthwhile (if somewhat problematic) book. It's quite a conceit to try to tell a history of the church in a scant 275 pages, and if Williams doesn't succeed masterfully, he succeeds well enough to make it worthwhile. To get the problems out of the way, William's writing is as turgid and confusing as usual. It's also only understandable if you already know what he's talking about, sometimes on a very deep level, which means that while some chapters are silver others you basically jus ...more
This is the absinthe-binge of reading in Church history: you don't recommend it, you just buckle in and go for it and hope you don't regret it too much in the morning.

I hope that doesn't sound patronizing: I certainly don't "know better" than Charles Williams. It's more whistling in the dark, because you don't read Charles Williams to set your feet on the firm rock of fact. You do it because, after amassing all the facts, you're anxious to feel the rocks shift dramatically, to unleash the kineti
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Surely the most underrated author of the 20th Century, Charles Williams was a member of the illustrious "Inklings" of Oxford. While J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are far more famous, they both admired the virtuosity and beautiful writing skill in their beloved friend Charles Williams.
Among his greatest works, The Descent of the Dove is the glorious story of the Holy Spirit's work in the visible Church and how He, through her, begat astonishing change in the World as well.
Williams narrative is we
Scott Barber
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Charles William's gives us a very different Church History, one than moves like a rush of wind through the developments of Christendom, never stopping anywhere very long, but weaving a thread through it all, the thread of "co-inherence" and of "my Eros is crucified." This is essential historical reading, mainly because it is so perspectival. There is no pretence; this is William's spirited and helpful view of it all, and he tells it that way. Watch him ignore and disdain giants you love, and res ...more
Sherry Thompson
I was reading this and hope to get back to it eventually.
It's a bit involved, but I'm sure it will be worth it in the long run--I love Charles Williams.
I stopped reading this almost as soon as I made the original note. Still hope to get back to it! I love CW's spiritual thriller novels, and I really want to get into his nonfiction!

Just as with "The Problem of Pain", I ended up putting this reading on hold. I'm now "lying" and saying I finished it. After all this time, I would need to begin over
Oct 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Descent of the Dove mixes great commentary, poetic language, and sentences that jump out at you with a strong opinion that you should disagree with at some time in the narrative, narrow focus, and a seventy+ year old understanding of the history of the life of the church that rarely felt prophetic. Please do not make this your first or only entry into the topic of church history (if you do much of it will probably be incomprehensible anyway), read it responsibly after having a few opinions ...more
Jan 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you know nothing about the history of Christianity, then read another book and then come back to this one. Not an event-by-event account of the church in time, it instead follows movements and developments of thought. Williams' language is almost poetic, at times dense, but definitely unique. Learned, theological, and chiefly concerned with the co-inherence of God and man, Williams presents the story of Christianity like no one else. ...more
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clearly, the Holy Spirit is leading the world into the Anglican Communion. Other than that, an interesting book, and worth reading whatever your denominational background. It's an overview of church history, but theologically motivated, so more interested in orthodoxy than quite a few more historyish histories. ...more
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Charles Williams' history of the Church brings his unique voice to non-fiction. He has great insight into how philosophical questions shaped the Church's development and continue to do so. ...more
Jun 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short review of Christendom by a poet, with an emphasis on those times in history when the Holy Spirit adjusted the rudder of complacency both in the Church and in her people.
Erik Graff
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Catholics/High Church Anglicans
Recommended to Erik by: Barry Wood
Shelves: religion
I enjoyed this rather idiosyncratic church history more than the novels written by Williams and probably would have appreciated the latter more if I'd read this first.
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Charles Walter Stansby Williams is probably best known, to those who have heard of him, as a leading member (albeit for a short time) of the Oxford literary group, the "Inklings", whose chief figures were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. He was, however, a figure of enormous interest in his own right: a prolific author of plays, fantasy novels (strikingly different in kind from those of his friends), ...more

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77 likes · 22 comments
“The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.” 7 likes
“The Church expected the Second Coming of Christ immediately, and no doubt this was so in the ordinary literal sense. But it was certainly expected also in another sense. The converts in all the cities of Asia and (soon) of Europe where the small groups were founded had known, in their conversion, one way or another, a first coming of their Redeemer. And then? And then! That was the consequent task and trouble — the then. He had come, and they adored and believed, they communicated and practiced, and waited for his further exhibition of himself. The then lasted, and there seemed to be no farther equivalent Now. Time became the individual and catholic problem. The Church had to become as catholic — as universal and as durable — as time.” 3 likes
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