Saintly Thoughts

An Odd Defense of Orthodoxy

It is no doubt true, as many scholars now claim, that there was no obvious and clear heir to the teaching's of Jesus Christ in the first few centuries before the proto-orthodox became dominant.  Thus the claim made by the orthodox Christians (and while the definition is far more muddled in our own day what with the proliferation of sects, most now existing Christian communities may be seen as in some way descendants of the orthodox, though in that descent some of them have returned to older forms once thought extinguished) that their's was obviously the true interpretation of the faith from the very beginning and that no other form of Christianity had a legitimate claim is likely untrue...at least from a purely logical point of viewe.  We can't say this for certain, but knowing as we do that the fathers were not above mis-characterizing their opponents in their polemics, it seems a safe assumption that the claims about the historical centrality of what later became orthodoxy to the early church were likely somewhat exaggerated.  I wish to make it clear at this point that I am not herein launching a critique (per se) against orthodoxy--in fact, this might be seen as a defense of orthodoxy.   To my way of thinking, the situation that we find ourselves in now seems far more natural (if more confusing) than the artificial hegemony enjoyed by the Church following her entrenchment as an engine of the pre-medieval Roman state.  The human spirit is a large and varied thing, and Christ Himself (if we take even half the things said about him seriously) suggests multiple reasonable interpretations (and even more unreasonable ones).  If it had been his intention to be clear while he was on earth, surely he would have made sure that those writings left concerning him were not as varied and contradictory as they ended up being, or at the very least would have established an official cannon.  But this was left to men, and men (while often doing very good works) are just as likely to bungle whatever they set their hands to.  Is, then, there any use or purpose to orthodoxy?  Leaving aside rather obvious arguments made from the pragmatic perspective of church authority and human community, I say yes--I stand for orthodoxy specifically because the general course of the orthodox interpretation (while admittedly formed midst the power dynamics springing from the preeminence in money and prestige of the Church in Rome) appears to always strike a middle course between extremes of interpretation (spirit and flesh), and as such plays the role of the Aristotelian Mean.  There is something here that we should ponder, because if this is so, and Christianity is not the result of a logically coherent system but the outgrowth of a system by which small men battled other small men in the realm of politics and life for ascendancy, we need to think very carefully about how pure we wish to be when considering our own criterion of doctrinal purity while yet holding on to the importance of doctrine as such (for that is the middle path).  In an odd way, in looking to God to be the measure of all things, the dialectical process draws our eyes back to human persons--just as a belief in the false ascendancy of humanity draws our eyes back to God (though lest you think me a sophistical dialectician, I will suggest that the former symbol represents a truth greater than the latter).  For, without this dialectical muddle, we would veer either into the realm of pure spirit which is too ethereal for beings such as we, or we would descend to the level of beasts, far lower than what we were meant for.  That is what orthodoxy stands for, the balance the spiritual and the material symbolized and revealed in the incarnation.  There will always be this constant tension, back and forth, within the heart of a religion so long as it has viability, and perhaps that is why sects in and of themselves (even believing as we must that none have approached too closely to orthodoxy, since such does not exist as a Platonic Form to be grasped out in the ether) are not such a bad thing.  I believe more and more that this necessary tension represents the closest thing to truth that may know in this life, but it is so hard for me to conceive and to wish to live in such a world, me who wants nothing more than the hard and fast rule of the obviously good and true to lead me.  That rule does not exist, and orthodoxy veers ever farther from its center the more that it seeks out such a rule.  The God that Is in the heavens is never what we think He will be (though we may have a pretty good idea, at times).  Again and again, if there is one thing that scripture teaches it is that His ways are mysterious and elusive to mankind [I should add to humanity as we are, this is likely a practical inexplicability rather than an inherent ineffability].  We expect, based on those symbols that we think we have come to understand, that we will see the next step in the chain of Being, but we do not.  It's funny, the foundation of the faith is that the faith itself is not built on the foundations of law and predictability, yet we continue to expect it to be, likely because we have built our churches in our own image and not in the true image of the Divine One.  I do not say that such is inherently and evil thing, I cannot imagine that it could be any other way, but we must always be on our guard.  Perhaps the true sign of orthodoxy is not rigidity of belief in a code or creed as such but a continuing willingness and ability to turn in trust yet again to the God who continuously surprises us and gives us the unexpected.  I think it is a grand thing that in this day and age Christians of every stripe (Catholic and Protestant alike) are delving into the heritage of Church History.  One thing we must not do, however, is pine for days which never existed, when the world was simpler and Christ was planted on his throne.  Such a day never was and never will be in this age of man.  Let us not despair, and let us love before we understand; for if we wait to love until we have understanding, then we shall never love.  But let us proceed with great trembling and trepidation, for this freedom and love does not guarantee truth, and what good may come must ofttimes follow great suffering.