Monday, February 15, 2010

The Thrilling Romance of Orthodoxy

I recently started reading G. K. Chesterton's 1908 classic Orthodoxy. After only a few pages, I was so taken with it that I posted as part of my Facebook status: "[Reading this book is] like walking into the sunshine and breathing in fresh air after spending a day in a cramped, dark room." Responses were interesting, particularly the observation from one person that "Orthodoxy per se and walking out into sunshine and breathing fresh air seem so very much to me like oxymorons." Back when I was younger, I shared that view. I do so no longer. And so I find that the following passage from Chesterton's book really strikes home why orthodoxy is, indeed, freedom, life, and adventure.

"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 statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as 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 moment 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, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, 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 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."

~ G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)


Joe Rawls said...

The connection he makes between modernism and snobbery is absolutely on-target.

Jim said...

Chesterton was such a visionary historian, if you can use those words together.

Thank you for pointing out that orthodoxy is not simply tradition, it's a tradition of courage, truth, and daring in the battle for 'the faith given once to the saints.'