The two paths

Lately I find that the choice before those who populate the former Christendom is reduced to two paths: 1. To go Christian. 2. To go mad.

I realize there are non-Christian readers who will disagree with this assessment. But notice how ecumenical I was. I didn’t say “Catholic,” I said “Christian.” As someone who took fifty years to find the One Holy (from a standing start), I am sympathetic to those who may be dawdling. Let me also concede that our Roman Church is in such an extravagant outward mess, that conversion is presently discouraged. (But that’s all the more reason to come aboard. We need your help.)

Recently in Idleposts I have touched, from several successive angles, on what might be called “problems of translation,” and “good sense.” The pope in Rome pushed the discussion along with his extempore proposal to destabilize recitation of the Lord’s Prayer — some last freeboard against the mounting waves. He is an accomplished boat-rocker, determined to rock the Barque of Saint Peter as she struggles to level in the modernist storm.

This is … “not done,” as the cultivated used to say, over tea. … Still, it must be grasped that the elevation of Bergoglio to the captaincy was a symptom, not the cause of our terrible disorder. It showed a loss of judgement.

For the rôle of the Catholic Church, within a world that is not entirely Catholic, must be kept in view. In my humble but unalterable opinion, held even before I was received, the steadiness of her doctrinal position is of some moment. No other institution — whether gentle reader considers it to be divine or not — can sport her two-thousand-year record of maintaining, or repeatedly recovering, a coherent body of thought and teaching. This is sanity, par excellence. She has thus a responsibility towards all the non-Roman confessions, including to my mind the Eastern ones, to act as lodestar. Even those who disagree with her positions, benefit from keeping them in sight.

She has another function, that we are rediscovering, and must never again discount. In a world going or gone mad (as the world is inclined to go on its own cognizance), she must be the last monastic refuge of the sane.

Oddly enough, to the moralists, I care more about this than I do about whether remarried divorcees are illicitly taking Communion, or the many other instances of what tea-drinkers call “bad form.” The crucial thing, in  a time of convulsion and catastrophe, is to maintain Christ’s self-consistent course. If the law is breached, the breach can be repaired; rescind the law and everything is lost. And I mean everything, for in addition to the Barque, all lesser ships are lured towards the shoals.

It was possible in the past to be, as I think my own parents were, not Christian and yet not mad. I think that can be done for one generation, at most two. That was certainly the case with the Victorian sceptics, who lost their faith but remained stiffly moral, dispensing with anything beyond a vague theism but hardly questioning the biblical commandments. Their children, however, lost the rest of the connexion. They took everything into their own hands — and lived shameful self-destructive lives. They kept some of their parents’ (irritating) earnestness, but their judgement went haywire.

The sublime Fr George Rutler, whose homiletic works I try never to miss, made this point last Sunday. Insanity, he explained, is not a loss of brains. It is a loss of judgement. This is a point often made by apologists for Christianity. The madman may reason perfectly well. He may indeed be a teapot short and stout, on his own phantastical premisses; or a “trans-sexual,” or whatever pleases. It makes sense if you can be anything you decide. As Chesterton put it: “The madman is not someone who has lost his reason, but someone who has lost everything except his reason.”

For better or worse (i.e. for better), the Christians in their rise and creation of “Western Civ” carried off everything of value from the cabinet of ancient, “secular,” Greek and Roman Civ, carefully assimilating it into what they now knew by divine revelation. They achieved, in this way, a kind of monopoly on sanity. After all these years we can’t detach again. We would have to start over from scratch, but even scratch has fallen into chaos. The only game in town for the sane is the old Christian one. But look around: not everyone is playing.