Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lions and Lambs and Louis

There is a chapter in G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy in which he examines the paradoxes of Christianity. He found it simply amazing that critics of Christianity could hold that the Church was simultaneously two contradictory things. One of his examples is that there are those who consider followers of Christ to be entirely too pacifistic, while asserting at the same time that Christianity is the cause of all wars and bloodshed.

Here is another case of the same kind. I felt that a strong case against Christianity lay in the charge that there is something timid, monkish and unmanly about all that is call "Christian," especially in its attitude toward resistance and fighting. The great skeptics of the 19th century were largely virile. Bradlaugh in an expansive way, Huxley in a reticent way, were decidedly men.

In comparison, it did seem tenable that there was something weak and overpatient about Christian counsels. The gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep.

I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I should have gone on believing it. But I read something very different. I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned upside down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood. I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the Earth and smoked to the sun. The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valor of the Crusades. It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did. The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and, yet, the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes.

What could it all mean? What was this Christianity that always forbade war and always produced wars? What could be the nature of the thing which one could abuse first because it would not fight, and second because it was always fighting? In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.

I bring this up because today is the feast day of St. Louis IX. He is a canonized saint of the Church. As king of France, he fostered learning, literature and the arts. He was also a crusader, who did not shirk the responsibility of defending Christendom with his sword. Chesterton recognized him for this.

And, sometimes, this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is - Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.

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