Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history 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 one 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 some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness.

The Paradoxes of Christianity, 149

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 never was 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.

The Paradoxes of Christianity, 148-49

This startling swiftness with which popular systems turn oppressive is the third fact for which we shall ask our perfect theory of progress to allow.  It must always be on the look out for every privilege being abused, for every working right becoming a wrong.  In this matter I am entirely on the side of the revolutionists.  They are really right to be always suspecting human institutions; they are right not to put their rust in the princes nor in any child of man.  The Chieftain chosen to be the friend of the people becomes the enemy of the people; the newspaper started to tell the truth now exists to prevent truth being told.  Here, I say, I felt that I was really at last on the side oft he revolutionary.  And then I caught my breath again: for I remembered that i was once again on the side oft he orthodox.

Christianity spoke again and said: “I have always maintained that men were naturally backsliders; that human virtue tended of its own nature to rust or to rot; I have always said that human beings as such go wrong, especially happy human beings, especially proud and prosperous human beings.  This eternal revolution, this suspicion sustained through centuries, you (being a vague modern) call the doctrine of progress.  If you were a philospher you would call it, as I do, the doctrone of original sin.  You cay call it the cosmic advance as much as you like; I call it what it is – the Fall.”

The Eternal Revolution, 173-174

Almost every contemporary proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny into the world.  for freeing the church now does not even mean freeing it in all directions.  it means freeing that peculiar set of dogmas loosely called scientific, dogmas of monism, of pantheism, or of Arianism, or of necessity.  And every one of these… can be shown to be the natural ally of oppression.  In fact, it is a remarkable circumstance (indeed not so very remarkable when one comes to think of it) that most things are the allies of oppression.  There is only one thing that can never go past a certain point in its alliance with oppression– and that is orthodoxy.  I may, it is true, twist orthodoxy so as partly to justify a tyrant.  But I can easily make up a German philosophy to justify him entirely.

The Romance of Orthodoxy

All quotes from:

G.K Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908).  Harold Shaw Publishers, Colorado Springs.  2001.

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