The Everlasting Man – Part 2, Chapter 4: The Witness of the Heritics

Everlasting ManI’ve been involved in an entirely agreeable and civil Internet discourse over the relationship of spirituality and doctrine.  It all started when a friend of mine posted up this quotation by Vance Havner: “A church can be straight as a gun barrel doctrinally and just as empty spiritually.” The argument was not disagreeing with the quotation that warns us not to become ‘white-washed tombs’ but over the nature of doctrine and spirituality. Of course in good sport I will not copy the discourse here. The danger of course is where we ourselves deem what is spiritual and drift into heresies. It is the Church and the Creed that proves that the spiritual is more than mere emotion.

Overview of Chapter:

Here in this chapter the church is proved true by an unusual rhetorical technique: Using the attacks against the church to defend the church.  When we look at true doctrine, the guiding light of the word, we see that with it we can stand against the world.

Outline of Chapter:

As Part one showed the regression of the world it also demonstrated the hole of the world.  The church did not just fill that void but gave the world it’s purpose back.  The church had its doctrine… its creed.  It was not crafted but it had a specific structure to it – it did not bend under pressure nor break when attacked. It had form while the world was formless.  In that sense it was like a second creation that opened the world.

“The creed was like a key in three respects; which can be most conveniently summed up under this symbol. First, a key is above all things a thing with a shape. It is a thing that depends entirely upon keeping its shape. The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness. That is where it differs from all that formless infinity, Manichean or Buddhist, which makes a sort of pool of night in the dark heart of Asia; the ideal of uncreating all the creatures. That is where it differs also from the analogous vagueness of mere evolutionism, the idea of creatures constantly losing their shape. A man told that his solitary latchkey had been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be annoyed. But a man told that his key was gradually growing and sprouting in his pocket, and branching into new wards or complications, would not be more gratified.”

Not only did the creed of the Church have a shape it was a specific shape.  A shape that is like no other – but like a key it serves a purpose.  It is not something to admire but it is something to use.

“Second, the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simple key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar.”

Keys are specific, they fit only one lock.  The church is specific it only fits the world.  It is not like the shapeless and aimless philosophies of man.  Keys like the church are also have unexplainable curves, angles, and unknown areas – a depth that does not make sense only at observation but it fits the ‘door’.

“Thirdly, as the key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but had got into a whole maze of holes and corners. The problem itself was a complicated problem; it did not in the ordinary sense merely involve anything so simple as sin. It was also full of secrets, of unexplored and unfathomable fallacies, of unconscious mental diseases, of dangers in all directions. If the faith had faced the world only with the platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it to, it would not have had the faintest effect on that luxurious and labyrinthine lunatic asylum. What it did do we must now roughly describe; it is enough to say here that there was undoubtedly much about the key that seemed complex, indeed there was only one thing about it that was simple. It opened the door.”

Now with the importance of the Creed in place, Chesterton deals with two attacks against the faith.  The first that the faith appeared in a simple time that now we have out grown.  The second that the church and its importance was impressed onto man by the power of the catholic church.  On the first attack:

“We may begin then with these two negations. It is nonsense to say that the Christian faith appeared in a simple age; in the sense of an unlettered and gullible age. It is equally nonsense to say that the Christian faith was a simple thing; in the sense of a vague or childish or merely instinctive thing. Perhaps the only point in which we could possibly say that the Church fitted into the pagan world, is the fact that they were both not only highly civilised but rather complicated. They were both emphatically many-sided; but antiquity was then a many-sided hole, like a hexagonal hole waiting for an equally hexagonal stopper. In that sense only the Church was many-sided enough to fit the world. The six sides of the Mediterranean world faced each other across the sea and waited for something that should look all ways at once. The Church had to be both Roman and Greek and Jewish and African and Asiatic. In the very words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, it was indeed all things to all men. Christianity then was not merely crude and simple and was the very reverse of the growth of a barbaric time. But when we come to the contrary charge, we come to a much more plausible charge. It is very much more tenable that the Faith was but the final phase of the decay of civilisation, in the sense of the excess of civilisation; that this superstition was a sign that Rome was dying, and dying of being much too civilised. That is an argument much better worth considering; and we will proceed to consider it.”

His first response is that the church is not simple because it fit the needs of the world.  Another one of my friends recently came back from a missions trip to Keyna – and it impressed her that the spiritual needs (just like medical needs) are universal.  God’s word and by extension the Church is the ‘treatment’ of those needs.  Looking at the early church, when at the appointed time it reached to the gentiles the Word as received by all. A simple faith in a simple time cannot still treat all mankind at all times, and yet the church does. Chesterton’s second response is geared more to the skeptics of the world who place themselves in positions of elitism that only the cool streams of history can answer.

“A man might very well have said, for instance, ‘Pleasure has been pursued so extravagantly that there will be a reaction into pessimism. Perhaps it will take the form of asceticism; men will mutilate themselves instead of merely hanging themselves.’ Or a man might very reasonably have said, ‘If we weary of our Greek and Latin gods we shall be hankering after some eastern mystery or other; there will be a fashion in Persians or Hindoos.’ Or a man of the world might well have been shrewd enough to say, ‘Powerful people are picking up these fads; some day the court will adopt one of them and it may become official.’ Or yet another and gloomier prophet might be pardoned for saying, ‘The world is going down-hill; dark and barbarous superstitions will return, it does not matter much which. They will all be formless and fugitive like dreams of the night.’ Now it is the intense interest of the case that all these prophecies were really fulfilled; but it was not the Church that fulfilled them. It was the Church that escaped from them, confounded them, and rose above them in triumph.”

Look at the history of the church, it has been attacked by every angle on every side.  Yet she still stands, unchanged. The twist is that the church is blamed for the heresies that it destroyed – those were simple faiths.  Take Gnosticism – it is easier and simpler to believe in secret knowledge that can change than the unchanging rock of the Word of God with its wonderful paradoxes.  This attack on the church uses the very things the church stood against as attacks.  If the Creed is such a simple thing then why did it attack the popular, pervasive, and simpler heresies of the day?

“Now the curious fact is this; that the very heresies which the early Church is blamed for crushing testify to the unfairness for which she is blamed. In so far as something deserved the blame, it was precisely the things that she is blamed for blaming. In so far as something was merely a superstition, she herself condemned that superstition. In so far as something was a mere reaction into barbarism, she herself resisted it because it was a reaction into barbarism. In so far as something was a fad of the fading empire, that died and deserved to die, it was the Church alone that killed it. The Church is reproached for being exactly what the heresy was repressed for being. The explanations of the evolutionary historians and higher critics do really explain why Arianism and Gnosticism and Nestorianism were born–and also why they died. They do not explain why the Church was born or why she has refused to die. Above all, they do not explain why she should have made war on the very evils she is supposed to share.”

The second refutation also takes the same approach.  That the church and its creed were man-made.  This time forced upon the people of Rome by the Emperor.

“Take another rationalistic explanation of the rise of Christendom. It is common enough to find another critic saying, ‘Christianity did not really rise at all; that is, it did not merely rise from below; it was imposed from above. It is an example of the power of the executive, especially in despotic states. The Empire was really an Empire; that is, it was really ruled by the Emperor. One of the Emperors happened to become a Christian. He might just as well have become a Mithraist or a Jew or a Fire-Worshipper; it was common in the decline of the Empire for eminent and educated people to adopt these eccentric eastern cults. But when he adopted it, it became the official religion of the Roman Empire; and when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it became as strong, as universal and as invincible as the Roman Empire. It has only remained in the world as a relic of that Empire; or, as many have put it, it is but the ghost of Caesar still hovering over Rome.’ This also is a very ordinary line taken in the criticism of orthodoxy, to say that it was only officialism that ever made it orthodoxy. And here again we can call on the heretics to refute it.”

Just as before Chesterton uses the attacks upon the heretics to refute this attack.  It seems that the lies told by Dan Brown in his conspiratorial fictions are nothing new.   Though Brown has had two movies (that flopped) made from his stories, there is another tale that had been forgotten that needs to be told.  A true story about how one man stood against the world to defend the nature of Jesus.  The story of Athanasius which could be also titled “Athanasius contra mundum”

“The truth is that the trumpet of true Christianity, the challenge of the charities and simplicities of Bethlehem or Christmas Day never rang out more arrestingly and unmistakably than in the defiance of Athanasius to the cold compromise of the Arians. It was emphatically he who really was fighting for a God of Love against a God of colourless and remote cosmic control; the God of the stoics and the agnostics. It was emphatically he who was fighting for the Holy Child against the grey deity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He was fighting for that very balance of beautiful interdependence and intimacy, in the very Trinity of the Divine Nature, that draws our hearts to the Trinity of the Holy Family. His dogma, if the phrase be not misunderstood, turns even God into a Holy Family. That this purely Christian dogma actually for a second time rebelled against the Empire, and actually for a second time refounded the Church in spite of the Empire, is itself a proof that there was something positive and personal working in the world, other than whatever official faith the Empire chose to adopt. This power utterly destroyed the official faith that the Empire did adopt. It went on its own way as it is going on its own way still.”

Thoughts:

The own servility and survival  of the church it witness enough to stave off any attacks against it.  Even when the darkest time come, when it seems that it is contrary to the whole world is against it, the simple reply is the whole world is contrary to the church.  The world has become topsy-turvey, but the church knows which way is up.

In my Internet online discourse about doctrine I gave an example that doctrine in like a frame of a house (of course Jesus in the foundation) but the spiritual walk is the furnishing that make a mere house into a home.  It is the doctrine that is the proof that the church is true not the mere emotions and feelings.  Athanasius did not feel that he was right, he knew the Truth. The nameless and countless martyrs knew the Truth and died for it.  No one dies for feelings but people do die for truth.  More than just feelings, it is the creed that directs us otherwise we may err into horrors like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsHH_HYSkH8

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