Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Thrill of Orthodoxy

Between the devil and the G. K. C.

As we begin a New Year of the Lord’s grace today – 1 Advent, Year C – what can we say with certainty beyond our personal inclinations, hunches, regardless of how “sincere” we think or feel about them? (Hitler was, after all, sincere.)

A major mentor in the Faith to whom C. S. Lewis turned (with his close friend J. R. R. Tolkien) was that giant of Christian defense in the early 20th century, Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Chesterton wrote in his classic, Orthodoxy:

“The church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfillment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious. The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean, and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten forests of the north … if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.

“This is the thrilling romance of orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting … To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom – that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” [147-150]

As we prepare our hearts and lives this Advent, we pledge our fealty to the humble King born in Bethlehem. Our Massketeer swords we transmute into plowshares and bells (more on that to come, eh, Aramis?). And we honor the Magisterium by the Holy Spirit and in the Name and power of the Christ Child who guards the deposit of Catholic truth for all Christians and men of good will – whether they acknowledge the work of Christ's historic Church, or not.

No comments: