Author: Dominic Manganiello

A Terrible Beauty: True and False Visions of the Good in Descent into Hell and Till We Have Faces

In a memorable passage from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, beauty is described as being an “awful thing…mysterious as well as terrible” (97). This strikingly paradoxical view of the beautiful, especially as it relates to the numinous, resonates in the writings of the Inklings. Charles Williams, for instance, points out that while caritas is often likened to “our immediate emotional indulgence,” it should be properly understood in the sense of the “otherness and terror of God.” Encountering the ultimate Other means, in effect, that “Christ exists in the soul, in joy, in terror, in a miracle of newness. Ecce, omnia facio [Behold I make all things new]” (He Came Down, 9-11). C.S. Lewis concurs that divine goodness implies “something more stern and splendid than mere kindness,” since “even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, ‘a lord of terrible aspect’” (The Problem of Pain, 27-9). This majestic Dante-esque figure, at once frightening and attractive, appears under various guises in Descent into Hell and Till We Have Faces. In their respective novels, Williams and Lewis depict the changing faces of beauty in order to highlight the great difference between true and false visions of the good.