Saturday, May 29, 2004

Gerard Serafin reminds us all....
that it is Chesterton's birthday.
Christopher posts lots of links in honor of the day.

Here is a lengthy, but magnificent, quote, from the great G.K.C.:
"To a Roman Catholic there is no particular difference between those parts of the religion which Protestants and others accept and those parts which they reject. The dogmas have, of course, their intrinsic theological proportions; but in his feeling they are all one thing. The Mass is as Christian as the Gospel. The Gospel is as Catholic as the Mass. This, I fancy, is the fact which the Protestant world has found it most difficult to understand and about which some of the most unfortunate forms of ill-feeling have appeared. Yet it arises quite naturally from the actual history of the Church, which has had to contend incessantly with quite other and quite opposite heresies. She has not only had to defeat these sects to defend these doctrines, but to defeat other sects to defend other doctrines including the doctrines which these sects rightly hold so dear. It was only the Roman Catholic Church that saved the Protestant truths. It may be right to rest on the Bible, but there would be no Bible if the Gnostics had proved that the Old Testament was written by the Devil, or had littered the world with Apocryphal Gospels. It may be right to say that Jesus alone saves from sin, but nobody would be saying it if a Pelagian movement had altered the whole notion of sin. Even the very selection of dogmas which the reformers decided to preserve had only been preserved for them by the authority which they denied.

It is natural, therefore, for Catholics not to be always thinking of the antithesis of Catholic and Protestant any more than of Catholic and Pelagian. Catholicism is used to proposals to cut down the creed to a few clauses; but different people have wanted quite different clauses left and quite different clauses cut out. Thus a Catholic does not feel the special reverence paid to the Mother of God as any more of a controversial question than the divine honours paid to the Son of God; for he knows the latter was as much controverted by the Arians as the former by the Puritans. He does not feel the throne of St. Peter to be any more specially in dispute than the theology of St. Paul, for he knows that both have been disputed. There have been anti-popes; there have been Apocryphal Gospels; there have been sects dethroning our Lady and sects dethroning our Lord. After nearly two thousand years of this sort of thing, Catholics have come to regard Catholicism as one thing, all the parts of which are in one sense equally assailed and in another sense equally unassailable.

Now it is unfortunately impossible for a Roman Catholic to state the principle without its sounding provocative and, what is much worse, superior; but unless he does state it, he does not state Roman Catholicism. Having stated it, however, in its dogmatic and defiant form, as it is his duty to do, he may afterwards suggest something of why the system seems, to those inside it, to be not so much a system as a home, and even a holiday. Thus it certainly does not mean being superior in the sense of supercilious; for in this system alone, only the saint is superior because he feels he is inferior. It does not say that all heretics are lost, for it does say that there is a common conscience by which they may be saved. But it does definitely say that he who knows the whole truth sins in accepting half the truth. Thus the Church is not a movement, like all those which have filled the world since the sixteenth century; that is, since the breakdown of the collective attempt of all Christendom to state the whole truth. It is not the movement of something trying to find its balance; it is the balance. But the point here is that even those heretics, who snatched at half-truths, seldom snatched at the same half. The original Protestants insisted on Hell without Purgatory. Their modern successors generally insist on Purgatory without Hell. Their future successors may quite possibly insist on Purgatory without Heaven. It may seem a natural sequence to the worship of Progress for its own sake, and the theory that 'to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.' For the Catholic each of these things may be disputed in its turn, and all will remain."


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