“Larger than the old cosmos”

We must grasp from the first this character in the new cosmos; that it was larger than the old cosmos.  In that sense Christendom is larger than creation; as creation had been before Christ.  It included things that had not been there; it also included the things that had been there.  The point happens to be well illustrated in this example of Chinese piety, but it would be true of other pagan virtues or pagan beliefs. Nobody can doubt that a reasonable respect for parents is part of a gospel in which God himself was subject in childhood to earthly parents. But the other sense in which the parents were subject to him does introduce an idea that is not Confucian.  The infant Christ is not like the infant Confucius; our mysticism conceives him in an immortal  infancy.  I do not know what Confucius would have done with the Bambino had it come to life in his arms as it did in the arms of St. Francis.  But this is true in relation to all the other religions and philosophies; it is the challenge of the Church.  The Church contains what the world does not contain. Life itself does not provide as she does for all sides of life. That every other single system is narrow and insufficient compared to this one; that is not a rhetorical boast; it is a real fact and a real dilemma.  Where is the Holy child amid the Stoics and the ancestor-worshippers? Where is Our Lady of the Moslems, a woman made for no man and set above all angels? Where is St. Michael of the monks of Buddha, rider and master of the trumpets, guarding for every soldier the honour of the sword? What could St. Thomas Aquinas do with the mythology of Brahminism, he who set forth all the science and rationality and even rationalism of Christianity?  Yet even if we compare Aquinas with Aristotle, at the other extreme of reason, we shall find the same sense of something added.  Aquinas could understand the most logical parts of Aristotle; it is doubtful if Aristotle could have understood the most mystical parts of Aquinas.  Even where we can hardly call the Christian greater, we are forced to call him larger. But it is so to whatever philosophy or heresy or modern movement we may turn.  How would Francis the Troubadour have fared among the Calvinists, or for that matter among the Utilitarians of the Manchester School?  Yet men like Bossuet and Pascal could be as stern and logical as any Calvinist or Utilitarian.  How would St. Joan of Arc, a woman waving on men to war with the sword, have fared among the Quakers or the Doukhabors or the Tolstoyan sect of pacifists? Yet any number of Catholic saints have spent their lives in preaching peace and preventing wars.  It is the same with all the modern attempts at Syncretism.  They are never able to make something larger than the Creed without leaving something out.  I do not mean leaving out something divine but something human; the flag or the inn or the boy’s tale of battle or the hedge at the end of the field. The Theosophists build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists.  They call a Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon.  It was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history. If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were already melting.  It was an awful and an appalling escape.  Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realise that the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.

The Everlasting Man (1925).

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 6:38 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://chesterton.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/larger-than-the-old-cosmos/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: