Friday, July 31, 2009

Jaki: A Chestertonian Comment about Baptism

For today, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a meditative - and most discursive - excerpt about baptism, Christ, the Church, heresy, and several other topics but united in one vision by GKC and SLJ...

Let us recall this - we who are also shufflers, cowards, and snobs - and be grateful.

--Dr. Thursday

This is the context within which Chesterton comes up with his finest illustration of the importance of the insignificant in the eyes of that truly Super-Being, which is God: "Mr. Shaw cannot understand that the thing which is valuable and lovable in our eyes is man - the old beer-drinking, creed-making, fighting, failing, sensual, respectable man. And the things that have been founded on this creature immortally remain; the things that have been founded on the fancy of the Superman have died with the dying civilizations which alone have given them birth. When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward - in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have tailed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link."

This is the only theologically dogmatic passage in Heretics, whose author was still to write Orthodoxy. It took him a dozen years more to shed the last threads of his being himself a heretic. Heresies, or the urge to remain embedded in heresies, is innate with man, with fallen man. Man owes his sole escape from the clutches of hereticism to Christ alone. Surprising as it may seem, heresies appeared on the scene only after the Son of God came as the Son of Man among men. The monotheism of Jews was of course a heresy in the midst of universal polytheism or idol worship. But the Jews were not as a rule persecuted as heretics. In fact, the Romans assured them the privilege of not being obligated to sacrifice to Jupiter or the emperor.

The Jews owed this special status of theirs to their resolve to remain a race, a particularity, a heresy of sorts, though a heresy intended by God up to a point. But with Christ's coming, universality or catholicity was to rule supreme. His final command to his apostles was to teach all men, to make disciples of all of them, by baptizing them in the name of a triune God. Then, and this shows the greatness of the author of Heretics, heresies began in an apparently most trivial manner, but for a reason most profound. The reason is tied to the ageold custom of stating or asserting something firmly. For once somebody does this, he becomes dogmatic and challenges others to agree with his dogma lest they become heretics in reference to him.

With Christ universal truth entered history. Until his coming, leave aside the Jews as provincial by rule, there were only opinions. Nobody was asked to die for Plato's theory of the five perfect bodies, or for Aristotle's doctrine of potency and act. Nobody followed Socrates in drinking the hemlock so that one may keep one's conscience clean just before the moment of death. With Christ a new divine economy about truth entered history, the dispensation of Truth writ large. Here, too, grace did not suppress nature but elevated it. The age-old human penchant to be assertive now was grafted onto a divine policy of self-assertion. This began when Christ asserted of himself that he was the life, the way, and the truth. Had he said that he was the idea of life, the idea of the way, the idea of the truth, he merely would have anticipated Hegel and that would have been the end of it. Christianity would have been nipped in the bud before it could have blossomed. But Christ went on to asserting that he was the bread of life and that he was the Son of God.

[SLJ, "Heretics and Dogmatists: or the Gist of Chesterton's Heretics"in A Late Awakening 212-4]

No comments: