The Everlasting Man – Part 2, Chapter 6: The Five Deaths of the Faith

Everlasting ManThere is a dichotomy of things on this earth: either things, beliefs, and people change or they die.  A stagnant pool will only kill the animals that live in it. On the other hand things not of this earth are the reverse: if they change – that is become corrupted – they will die.  If a foundation of a house is changed, damaged or affected it must be replaced.  That which is not of Earth and dies, dies only to be resurrected purified later.  The church has been attacked on every side and has dies – but it had come back shedding the false skin of heresy every time.  This cannot be called progress but a purification.

Overview of Chapter:

When we look at the history of the church to the untrained mind it seems that it continually shaped itself with creeds until it reached something that the people would accept.  This is not the case, in fact it is the opposite.  The church when ever it went for the popular view died.  Then the church came back without the popularity but with the truth.  The church cannot be destroyed externally (see last chapter) nor internally.   Man cannot destroy the eternal.

Outline of Chapter:

Everything dies.  For us Christians though Jesus has defeated death – even death of the church.  It can be said that ore ‘dies’ when it is purified. The old has passed away and it has become new – but there is still the continual growth.  Like when a child loses their ‘baby-teeth’ there is a death there but the promise of life.  When the Church dies either to heresy, apathy, or whatever it will be resurrected because it is too young – it is not something in which the spirit has left buit something of constant renewal.

“I have said that Asia and the ancient world had an air of being too old to die. Christendom has had the very opposite fate. Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave. But the first extraordinary fact which marks this history is this: that Europe has been turned upside down over and over again; and that at the end of each of these revolutions the same religion has again been found on top. The Faith is always converting the age, not as an old religion but as a new religion. This truth is hidden from many by a convention that is too little noticed. Curiously enough, it is a convention of the sort which those who ignore it claim especially to detect and denounce. They are always telling us that priests and ceremonies are not religion and that religious organization can be a hollow sham, but they hardly realize how true it is. It is so true that three or four times at least in the history of Christendom the whole soul seemed to have gone out of Christianity; and almost every man in his heart expected its end. […]The Church in the West was not in a world where things were too old to die; but in one in which they were always young enough to get killed. The consequence was that superficially and externally it often did get killed; nay, it sometimes wore out even without getting killed. And there follows a fact I find it somewhat difficult to describe, yet which I believe to be very real and rather important. As a ghost is the shadow of a man, and in that sense the shadow of life, so at intervals there passed across this endless life a sort of shadow of death. It came at the moment when it would have perished had it been perishable. It withered away everything that was perishable.”

Historically when the world (the Western world) fell after Rome fell, the dark ages officially begun.  However the dark ages began before the barbarians stormed the gate – it came with the decadence and apathy of Rome.  The church was there when Rome and the world fell into darkness. The world thought that was the end of the church, but she survived and flourished.  When Islam invaded in the crusades the world thought that the technology advanced culture would destroy the church, but it did not.  Externally with threats aqnd teh actuallity of collapse and invasion the church was expected to die.

“The Dark Ages ended as the Empire had ended, and the Church should have departed with them, if she had been also one of the shades of night. It was another of those spectral deaths or simulations of death. I mean that if nominalism had succeeded, it would have been as if Arianism had succeeded, it would have been the beginning of a confession that Christianity had failed. […] What was the meaning of all that whisper of fear that ran round the west under the shadow of Islam, and fills every old romance with incongruous images of Saracen knights swaggering in Norway or the Hebrides? Why were men in the extreme west, such as King John if I remember rightly, accused of being secretly Moslems, as men are accused of being secretly atheists? Why was there that fierce alarm among some of the authorities about the rationalistic Arab version of Aristotle? Authorities are seldom alarmed like that except when it is too late. The answer is that hundreds of people probably believed in their hearts that Islam would conquer Christendom; that Averroes was more rational than Anselm; that the Saracen Culture was really, as it was superficially, a superior culture.”

Yet die the church did.  It died at least five different time (“with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin”), five different times the church fell from corruption within and without.  Yet, it was the heresy that died when the church was resurrected.

“In our own case we can see this oft-repeated process close at hand; we know how completely a society can lose its fundamental religion without abolishing its official religion; we know how men can all become agnostics long before they abolish bishops. And we know that also in this last ending, which really did look to us like the final ending, the incredible thing has happened again; the Faith has a better following among the young men than among the old. When Ibsen spoke of the new generation knocking at the door, he certainly never expected that it would be the church-door. At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died. How complete was the collapse and how strange the reversal we can only see in detail in the case nearest to our own time.”

That which is eternal is eternal and lasts, that which is not shall pass away.  One facet of history is that what stands the test of time is confirmed as truth – what is not truth passes away into obscurity or becomes a bygone relic only to be studied but not applied.  The church just by the test of history has stood the tides and sandstorms of time.

“‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ The civilization of antiquity was the whole world: and men no more dreamed of its ending than of the ending of daylight. They could not imagine another order unless it were in another world. The civilization of the world has passed away and those words have not passed away. In the long night of the Dark Ages feudalism was so familiar a thing that no man could imagine himself without a lord: and religion was so woven into that network that no man would have believed they could be torn asunder. Feudalism itself was torn to rags and rotted away in the popular life of the true Middle Ages; and the first and freshest power in that new freedom was the old religion. Feudalism had passed away, and the words did not pass away. The whole medieval order, in many ways so complete and almost cosmic a home for man, wore out gradually in its turn and here at least it was thought that the words would die. They went forth across the radiant abyss of the Renaissance and in fifty years were using all its light and learning for new religious foundations, new apologetics, new saints. It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.”


The battle between the corruptible and the incorruptible continues.  Every time the eternal is knocked down the seemingly defeated, it stands brushes off the dust it has accumulated and reenters the fray refreshed.  Nietzsche was only half right, we can kill God (in fact we did) but in spite of this God continually resurrects the world and the church.  Like the glorious time when God was killed, when the church dies; just like with Christ is rises in glory and shakes the foundations of the world.


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