The Place of the Lion, by Charles Williams

Chapter Eight

Marcellus Victorinus Of Bologna

In the street he hesitated. He had more or less recovered himself after the struggle, but he felt very strongly that he wasn’t ready for any more of the same kind. Suppose Richardson set about him too? On the other hand he had liked Richardson’s looks and he was anxious to gather some information. So far, what he had was emotional rather than intelligible. He didn’t quite see why he should be feeling so cheerful now, but he was. He looked back at those two squatting on the floor not merely with the satisfaction of victory but with an irrational delight that found an additional glee in the small efforts he made to arrange his collar and settle his clothing. The back of his neck was smarting, and his sides were as sore as if a much greater strength than of a mature but small and slight woman had attacked him. But these things did not disturb him. He looked up and down the street and came to a quick decision.

“Come,” he said, “let us go and see Mr. Richardson. Perhaps he’ll turn into a centipede or a ladybird. Like the princess in the Arabian Nights. Let’s hope I shall remember to tread on him if he does, though if it’s anything like the butterfly I shall be simply too terrified to do anything but scramble on to a chair. I wish I could understand something of what’s happening. So I do. Is this the right turning? Apparently. But what will be the end of it all?”

Defeated by this question, he was still staring at it as he came to 17 Bypath Villas. Richardson himself opened the door and took him into a kind of study, where he provided chairs, drinks, and cigarettes. Then he stood back and surveyed his visitor. Anthony spoke however before any question could be asked.

“I have,” he said, “been calling on Miss Wilmot. With her Mr. Foster.”

Richardson looked at him thoughtfully. “Have you though?” he said. “Which of them was responsible for the collar?”

“Foster,” Anthony answered. “Miss Wilmot merely tried to squeeze me to death. It was a very pretty five minutes, if it was real. My body tells me it was, but my mind still rebels; what there is left to rebel.”

“I’ve often wondered whether something of that sort mightn’t happen,” the other said, “if we got where we were supposed to be going. However . . . What did you want to ask me?”

Their friendly eyes met, and Anthony smiled a little. Then he again ran over his experiences of the past few days, but this time with more conviction. He had been driven into some kind of action, and now he spoke with the certainty that action gives, expecting yet more action and determined to shape it to his will. Richardson heard him to the end without interruption. Then:

“I suspected something of this on Wednesday night,” he said sharply. “I suspected it again when I met Foster in the town this afternoon. But I couldn’t see how it had begun. Now it’s all clear. You’re quite right about that, of course.”

“But why should they attack me?” Anthony asked. “Or why should whatever’s in them attack me?”

“I’ve known them for some time,” Richardson answered, “and though it isn’t my business to have more opinions than I can help about other people, still I couldn’t help seeing something. They were opposite types — Foster was a strong type and Miss Wilmot a weak. But each of them wanted strength and more strength. I’ve seen Foster frown when anyone contradicted him, and I’ve seen Miss Wilmot look at her friend when she overruled her, and there wasn’t much meekness in either of them. They wanted to get as far as they could all right, but I doubt if it was really to contemplate the principles of life. It was much more likely unconsciously to be in order to use the principles of life.”

“Meekness,” Anthony said meditatively. “I don’t know that I feel very meek myself at present. Ought I?”

“You won’t get very much safety out of this effort of yours if you go prancing about trying to beat these things by yourself,” Richardson answered sardonically. “My good man, what notice do you suppose any of them are going to take of — I don’t know your name.”

Anthony told him. “But look here,” he said, “you’re contradicting yourself. If they took notice of Foster, why shouldn’t they of me?”

“I don’t think they are taking much notice of him,” answered the other. “His wishes just happen to fit in with their nature. But presently their nature will overwhelm his wishes. Then we shall see. I should imagine there wouldn’t be much of Foster left.”

“Well, what ought one to do? What do you want to do?” Anthony asked.

Richardson leaned forward and picked up from the table a very old bound book and a very fat exercise book. He again settled himself in his chair, and said, looking firmly at Anthony —“This is the De Angelis of Marcellus Victorinus of Bologna, published in the year 1514 at Paris, and dedicated to Leo X.”

“Is it?” Anthony said uncertainly.

“Berringer picked it up in Berlin — it’s not complete, unfortunately — and lent it to me when he found I was interested to have a shot at translating. There’s nothing to show who our Marcellus was, and the book itself, from what he says in the dedication, isn’t so much his own as a version of a work by a Greek — Alexander someone — written centuries before ‘in the time of Your Holiness’s august predecessor, Innocent the Second.’ In the eleven hundreds about the time of Abelard. However, that doesn’t matter. What is interesting is that it seems to confirm the idea that there was another view of angels from that ordinarily accepted. Not very orthodox perhaps, but I suppose orthodoxy wasn’t the first requisite at the Court of Leo.”

He paused and turned the pages. “I think I’ll read you a few extracts,” he said. “Most of the dedication is missing; the rest is the usual magniloquence.

“‘For it may rightly be said that Your Holiness both roars as a lion and rides as an eagle, burdens as an ox, and governs as a man, all in defence of the Apostolic and Roman Church: in this singularly uniting the qualities of those great angels, so that Your Holiness is justly’— his adverbs are all over the place —‘to be called the Angel of the Church.’ Well, we can miss that; probably Leo did. The beginning of the text is missing, but on page 17 we get down to it. You’ll have to excuse the English; it amused me to do it in a kind of rhetoric — the Latin suggests it.

“‘These orders then we have received from antiquity, and according to the vision of seers, who nevertheless reserved something from us, that by the devotion of our hearts and the study of the Sacred Word we might ourselves follow in their footsteps and enlarge the knowledge of those secret things which are laid up in heaven. For by such means the Master in Byzantion’— that’s the Greek, of course —‘expounded to us certain of the symbols and shapes whereby the Divine Celestials are expressed, but partly in riddles lest evil men work sorcery, not certainly upon those Celestials themselves — for how should the propinquity of the Serene Majesty be subject to such hellish markings and invocations? — but upon that appearance of them which, being separated from the Beatific Vision, is dragon-like flung forth into the void. As it is written: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels, and the dragon was cast out. Which is falsely apprehended by many of the profane vulgar, or indeed not at all, for they . . . ’”

“Half a second,” said Anthony. “I’ve a feeling for the profane vulgar. What is he talking about?”

“‘They’,” Richardson read rapidly, “‘suppose that the said dragon is himself a creation and manifest existence, and not rather the power of the Divine Ones arrogated to themselves for sinful purpose by violent men. Now this dragon which is the power of the lion is accompanied also by a ninefold order of spectres, according to the hierarchy of the composed wonders of heaven.’”

“The what?” Anthony exclaimed.

“‘The composed wonders of heaven,’” Richardson repeated; “‘and these spectres being invoked have power upon those who adore them and transform them into their very terrible likeness, destroying them with great moanings; as they do also such as inadvisedly set themselves in the way of such powers, wandering without guide or intelligential knowledge, and being made the prey of the uncontrolled emanations.’”

“Do stop a moment,” Anthony said. “Who are the uncontrolled emanations?”

Richardson looked up. “The idea seems to be that the energies of these orders can exist in separation from the intelligence which is in them in heaven; and that if deliberately or accidentally you invoke the energy without the intelligence, you’re likely eventually to be pretty considerably done for.”

“O!” said Anthony. “And the orders are the original Dionysian nine?”

“Right,” Richardson agreed. “Well, the next few pages are mostly cursing, and the next few are about the devotion of the Eastern doctor who found it all out. Then we get a little aesthetic theory. ‘For albeit those who paint upon parchment or in churches or make mosaic work of precious metals have designed these holy Universals in human shape, presenting them as youths of beautiful appearance, clothed in candid vestures, and this for the indoctrination of the vulgar, who are thereby more easily brought to a humble admiration of such essence and dare to invoke them worthily under the protection of the Blessed Triune, yet it is not to be held by the wise that such human masculinities are in any way even a convenient signification of their true nature; nay, these presentations do in some sense darken the true seeker and communicate confusion, and were it not written that we should have respect to the eyes of children and cast no stone of offence in the way of little ones, it would have been better that such errors should have been forbidden by the wisdom of the Church. For what can the painting of a youth show of those Celestial Benedictions, of which the first circle is that of a lion, and the second circle is that of a serpent, and the third circle is —’

“The next eight pages are missing.”

“Damn!” Anthony said heartily. “Doesn’t he tell you anywhere else?”

“He doesn’t,” Richardson said. “When we pick him up he has got right on to the ninth circle which is that of goodness only knows what and is attributed to the seraphim, and he dithyrambs on about the seraphim without giving any clear view of what they are or what they do or how one knows them. Then he quotes many texts about angels in general and becomes almost pious: the sort of thing that Erasmus might have thrown in to placate his enemies the monks. But there’s a bit soon after which may interest you — here we are —‘written in the Apocalypse. For though these nine zones are divided into a trinity of trinities, yet after another fashion there are four without and four within, and between them is the Glory of the Eagle. For this is he who knows both himself and the others, and is their own knowledge: as it is written We shall know as are known— this is the knowledge of the Heavenly Ones in the place of the Heavenly Ones, and it is called the Virtue of the Celestials.’”

He stopped and looked at Anthony. “Tell me again,” he said, “how did you seem to escape from the shape this afternoon?”

“As if I were in an aeroplane — O but . . . ” Anthony stopped. Richardson went on reading.

“‘As it is written The Lord brought you out of Egypt on the back of a strong eagle. And To the woman were given two wings of a great eagle.’ That,” he added, “is what Marcellus Victorinus of Bologna thought was the key to the situation.” He shut the books and put them down. After a moment he added: “Not that that’s really all,” and picked them up again.

“No,” said Anthony, “don’t. Tell me yourself — it’ll be simpler for me, and I want to understand.”

“I can’t possibly tell you,” Richardson said, “because I don’t understand it myself. Here we are —‘But also the Master hid from his pupils certain things concerning the shapes and manifestations of the Celsitudes, and spoke secretly of them. For it is said that he instructed his children in the Lord how that the knowledge of them was of different kinds, and that the days of their creation within this earth were three — that is to say, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh. And the times in which we now live are the sixth, when man has dominion over the apparitions of the Divine Universals, but there was a time before that when man was but dust in their path, so awful and so fierce were they. As it is written: let him have dominion but not he has it, and if any have no such dominion and yet seek them out he shall behold them unsubdued, aboriginal, very terrible. But the third day is the Sabbath of the Lord God, and all things have rest.’” Finally, Richardson went on, “this is his colophon —‘All these things here have I, Marcellus Victorinus, clerk, of the University of Bologna, gathered out of the writings which remain of all that was taught by Alexander of Byzantion, concerning the Holy Angels, their qualities and appearances. And I invoke the power and authority of the Sacred Eagle, beseeching him to cover me with his wings in the time of danger and to bear me upon his wings with joy in the place of the Heavenly Ones, and to show me the balance of all things within the gates of Justice; and I offer prayer to him for all who shall read this book, beseeching them in their turn also to offer prayer for me.’”

“And how,” said Anthony after a long pause, “does one set about finding the Sacred Eagle?”

Richardson said nothing, and after another pause Anthony went on: “Besides, if this fellow were right, what harm would the Divine Universals do us? I mean, aren’t the angels supposed to be rather gentle and helpful and all that?”

“You’re doing what Marcellus warned you against,” Richardson said, “judging them by English pictures. All nightgowns and body and a kind of flacculent sweetness. As in cemeteries, with broken bits of marble. These are Angels — not a bit the same thing. These are the principles of the tiger and the volcano and the flaming suns of space.”

“Yes,” Anthony said, “I see. Yes. Well, to go back, what does one do about it?”

Richardson shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve done all I can,” he uttered, in a more remote voice. “I’ve told you what Marcellus said, what he thought was the only safe method of dealing with them. Myself, I think he was right.”

Anthony felt a sudden collapse threaten him. He leaned back in his chair; exhaustion seized on his body, and helplessness on his mind. Belief, against which he had been unconsciously struggling for days, flooded in upon him, as the sense of a great catastrophe will overtake a man who has endured it without realizing it. It was true then — the earth, the world, pleasant, or unpleasant, accustomed joys, habitual troubles, was the world no longer. They, this room in which he sat, the people he knew, were all on the point of passing under a new and overwhelming dominion; change was threatening them. He thought of Tighe on his knees before his butterflies; he thought of Foster crouched back like a wild animal, and Dora Wilmot’s arm twisting like a serpent under his foot; and beyond them he saw in a cloud of rushing darkness the forms of terror that ruled this new creation — the lion, the soaring butterfly, the shaking ripples of the earth that were themselves the serpent. They grew before his blinded eyes moving to a kind of super-natural measure, dancing in space, intertwining on their unknown passages. And then mightier than all, sweeping down towards him, vast wings outspread, fierce beak lowered, he saw the eagle. It passed through those other forms, and came driving directly down. They still moved in a giant pattern behind it, and then it seemed to sweep them forward within its wings. It came rushing at him; he felt his lower jaw beginning to jerk uncontrollably; his eyes were shut; his heart was swelling till it must, it must, break; he was leaning sideways over his chair. But in that moment he forced himself upright; he forced open his eyes, and saw Richardson leaning against the mantelpiece and the book of Marcellus Victorinus on the table.

“The place, I think,” Richardson was saying, “is in Berringer’s house. You either go or you don’t; you either invoke or you don’t; you either rule or you don’t. But certainly in this present dispensation even the angelic universals were given to the authority of men. So far as man chooses. There is another way.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30