“Who do you say I am?” Paradox at the Heart of Orthodoxy


Christ Appearing to His Disciples After the Resurrection, by William Blake, ca. 1795

“It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”[1]

What Christians believe is of utmost importance and Christian orthodoxy is defined not only by specific dogmas but by the theories that have been rejected.  The modern mind tends to think of the concept of orthodoxy in a negative light.  It is seen as confining and oppressive.  That orthodoxy has often been used as a tool for tyranny is true, but its abuse does not render it useless.

The line of demarcation that has been drawn between orthodoxy and heresy protects our faith from being transformed from a ‘somewhere’ into an ‘everywhere.’  It brings together a believing community in which a ‘nobody’ is transformed into a ‘somebody.’  From its beginning, Christianity has opened its doors to all:  slave and free, Gentile and Jew.  Yet, without a system of beliefs, the doors would be nothing more than illusions opening up to an emptiness beyond.  Orthodoxy protects the riches that lie behind these doors by taking heretical ideas seriously.  And thankfully, as divisive as heresies can be, in a way, they are “often a prompter of orthodoxy” and clarity.  Orthodoxy then represents what G.K. Chesterton called one of those “limitations that do in fact preserve and perpetuate enlargement, like a wall built round a wide open space.”[2]

The borders of our beliefs are found in Scripture and the church of Christ has diligently sought to discover, articulate, and guard them.  This underscores another important fact: heresies originate from within the church, not from without.  Often times, they represent a butting up against the limits of these boundaries.  Heresy is a succumbing to the temptation to solve the inevitable mysteries that stare back at us from the infinite beyond.

Nowhere are Christianity’s beliefs more important than those surrounding the second person of the Trinity, in all of His divine fullness, becoming a man.  The heart of our faith could be said to lie within Christ’s.  Chesterton would liken this heart to a seed.  And nowhere are the dogmas more mysterious and, thus, subject to heresy than this infinitesimally small though profoundly large point.  Jesus is at once our friend and a mystery, as close as One who would long to gather us in His arms like chicks and yet as distant as One who could call galaxies into existence with a word.

This closeness and disparity reflect the hypostatic union of extremes in Christ: the human and the divine.  Our creeds ring with joy that such a meeting equipped Him to effect the impossible: a reconciliation between us and God.  “Bethlehem,” wrote Chesterton, “is emphatically a place where extremes meet.”[3]  The immeasurable distance between heaven and earth is concentrated in this paradox, “that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”[4]

For Chesterton, paradoxes like the personhood of Christ are examples of seeds “of dogma” that when put “in a central darkness” or mystery, branch “forth in all directions with abounding natural health”.  In other words, a doctrine such as Christ’s personhood is difficult to understand in and of itself, not unlike the difficulty of looking at the sun directly with the naked eye.  Still, like the sun, it enables us to see God more clearly and thus, understand His world and our place in it.

Chesterton excelled at turning these paradoxes of our faith that tend to frustrate us (and enliven the church’s detractors) from inconveniences into adventures.  Paradoxes are the juxtaposition of extremes and it was this aspect of the dogmas of Christianity that caught his attention as an atheist.  He would spend his career as a Christian exploring and reveling in these, playfully tossing them back at enemies as proof of the Gospel’s truth.

In this combining of extremes, Chesterton wrote that “Christian doctrine detected the oddities of life … [for] to discover a plan for being merciful and also severe — that was to anticipate a strange need of human nature. For no one wants to be forgiven for a big sin as if it were a little one.”[5]

Chesterton writes, “we must remember the difficult definition of Christianity already given; Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other. The one explanation of the Gospel language that does explain it is that it is the survey of one who from some supernatural height beholds some more startling synthesis.”[6]  The union of God and man in one, our Lord and Saviour, represents one such blazing that pours a blessed and humbling light on us.  Christ is the “super-human” paradox that confounds and confronts and in Him, we bask in hope and salvation, the beacon of our faith.[7]

In the end, Christianity has paradox at its heart and it should come as no surprise for it describes the miraculous reconciliation of two most disparate things: our perfect, omnipotent God and fallen, impotent man.


Christ the Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5-6), by William Blake

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London, 1934), 140.
[2]G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, (Tacoma, WA: Angelico Press, 2013), 79.
[3] Ibid., 147.
[4] Ibid., 145.
[5] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 140.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Psalm 62:6, ESV.

One thought on ““Who do you say I am?” Paradox at the Heart of Orthodoxy

  1. Pingback: Divine Providence and Human Free-Will | Along the Beam

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