“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, August 29, 2009

G. K. Chesterton on the Paradoxes of Christianity

…G. K. Chesterton gives a very interesting description of the theme of paradox in Christianity in his book Orthodoxy. Christianity, observes Chesterton, is “attacked on all sides for all contradictory reasons.” For example, the doctrine of the depravity of man was ridiculed as excessive pessimism, while the doctrine of heaven and the salvation of the world was written off as a fairy tale. Chesterton writes,

“One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.”
What, asks Chesterton, are we to make of the strange claims of Christianity? Perhaps, he wonders, the wide range of errors of which it is accused actually reflect a diversity of errors in the thoughts and attitudes of its attackers – pride in the one who regards the idea of the sinful nature as an insult to humanity, a lack of proper desire, joy, or awe towards reality in the one denies that there is a spiritual reality beyond the physical (seeing no reason why there should be any; C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Weight of Glory” that we are far too easily pleased), or life beyond death, a stubborn lack of imagination in the one who sees no order or beauty in Nature, impatience in the one who sees moral rules as restrictive or legalistic, etc. (I am merely speculating here as to what might be the cause of peoples’ views.) Perhaps Christianity, although it is accused from all sides, is in fact the right shape, the norm, the center. Perhaps these paradoxical claims balance each other with a beautiful irregular symmetry such that neither side is compromised, but rather both shine undiminished:
“We want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy; love and wrath both burning…the idea of this combination is indeed central in orthodox theology…both things at once and both very thoroughly.”

“Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.”

“The Church not only kept seemingly inconsistent things side by side, but, what was more, allowed them to break out in a sort of artistic violence otherwise possible only to anarchists.”

Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescencies exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years.”
In view of this “great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium,” Chesterton concludes that “there never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”

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