If you’ve never read Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, you should. I’m sure I read it four times before I began to understand it and see the genius of it. It’s worth the effort, I promise. I wasn’t gonna post today but after I read this section, I had to share it. His thoughts on the beautiful paradox of the Christian Church: (If you’re like me, you’ll have to read it more than once!)
It is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. 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 an 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 to 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 the 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. If a small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of the symbolism might 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 was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity; and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of a statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast as any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say she went merely mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to the left and right , so exactly to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman; it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those 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 those fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all have 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.
Ha! Being a pastor’s wife in what seems like an impossible ministry situation I had to smile while reading this – and maybe even chuckled outloud a few times!! good stuff
Claire @ A Little Claireification says
That is absolutely brilliant.
I’ve read here for a while, but this is my first time commenting.
I’m so glad you posted this today! Exactly what I needed to see.
I love Chesterton’s works, but I’ve never read this particular passage. Just fantastically phrased!
I love this Edie. What you say touches my heart and soul. The path to righteousness is narrow and so many stand on the sides trying to justify themselves and tear us down at the same time. The Truth comes to us in His word and it’s up to us to live by it. Stay courageous and don’t feel like you have to go back and clarify your thoughts because of negativity. Blessings to you and your family.
I was raised Baptist but about two years ago “converted” (ha-ha) to the Presbyterian faith and have been regularly immersed in orthodoxy for the first time in my life. I’m bewildered by my own untamed lion that seems to rear it’s ugly head every time I learn something new to me since I thought I already pretty well knew it all. It has really opened my eyes to the need for accuracy and how a slight leaning to the left or right will turn into being miles and miles of course down the road.
I’m so glad you shared this with us.
Not only did I have to read this more than once, I had to look some words up too. Edie, I not only love your heart, but you’ve got a brain I love also. I have been following your blog for less than a year and have learned so much. Thank you for sharing your faith, your journey, your family and your wonderful, brilliant, amazing intellect.
Kathleen Jaeger says
This is deep….I like it. Chesteron’s Orthodoxy has been on my to read list for awhile…perhaps the time is coming soon when I will tackle it.
Melissa McIntyre says
Mmmmm…I just love to “chew on meat”! Love this Edie! It IS hard and it IS maddening to keep that balance! It would definitely be easier to just give up or into some for of legalism! Thank you for this, it is ever so refreshing to read things in my inbox that have depth and are VERY relevant! 😉
I just downloaded this the other day (it is free on Kindle…at least here in the UK) and have been wondering whetjer it’s the right time for me to read it for the first time. I guess, after reading this, it is! Thank you Edie!
“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which to stands.” Thank you Edie, for helping me keep my balance.
Edie Wadsworth says
Isn’t the Church and the orthodoxy he refers to that of the Catholic Church and the reasons why other Christian demoninations don’t preach the truth and why the dogma of the original first Church (the Catholic church that Jesus gave us) shouldn’t change? Honestly I haven’t read the book but its often touted as a Catholic appologetic so I found your thoughts on it interesting since you are Lutheran. I’m Catholic so it’s something that is on my list to read… I may be reading it from a different perspective though. Thanks for you thoughts on the book! I always find you book reviews educational and interesting! 🙂
Edie Wadsworth says
Yes, I think he was talking about all the various heresies that have plagued the Church over the centuries, many born out of the reformation. But I would add that Martin Luther never intended to start a new church, only to reform the one true, catholic church. I do see it as an apologetic to the one true, apostolic and christian church, which I think is found in small smatterings of people from all denominations. But the heresies are many, with new ones being invented everyday. The modern heresies are all the more troubling because they’re so darn sensible. I love this picture he paints of the incredible nimbleness and yet unchanging truth of Christianity. He is a gem and I’m so thankful for his writing! Great question, by the way. I think my readers are too smart for me.
Edie, Thank you for responding to my comment! Your writings in this blog has been a major inspiration in getting me back to the Catholic church after an almost 30 year absence. I originally read your blog for design ideas but found so much more! Your blot posts on Lent and confession reminded me of my Catholic roots and gave me the strength to go to confession for the first time in 30 years. It was wonderful experience and I have no idea why I waited so long! God works in mysterious ways and is obviously working through you in ways you may not be aware of. Sorry to get so personal be wanted to say thank you and God bless!
Edie Wadsworth says
I don’t know if I’ve ever been given a higher compliment, Jackie.
Thank you so much for letting us share in your joys!!