Theologian of paradox: Reflections on Tomas Halik
by Frank Brennan
my source: Religion and Ethics
my source: Religion and Ethics
We Christians everywhere are still in the Easter season, celebrating the central event of our faith - the resurrection of Christ.
The Czech Catholic priest Tomas Halik, in his latest book Night of the Confessor: Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty, says the Easter story can be read in one of two ways. On one hand, it can read quote simply as a drama in two acts in temporal succession: the passion and death of Jesus followed by his resurrection. Alternatively, it can be read as a drama in one act "in which both versions of the story take place at the same time." The latter is his preference, and hence:
"a great deal within ourselves, within the Church, within our faith, and within our certainties has to die off, to be crucified, in order to make room for the Resurrected one."
This single-act drama of death and resurrection resonates with the deep and abiding paradox of human existence, resurrection being a reinterpretation of death and "not its subsequent happy outcome," the paradox of victory through an absurd defeat.
For Halik, the believer, with hope rather than mere optimism, is able to enter into the Jesus story "and in the light of it to understand and live one's life afresh, to be capable of bearing its paradoxical character, and not to fear the paradoxes that life presents."
All human beings live with paradox. Some, like Halik, believe they can wrestle more authentically with the paradoxes of life as members of a community of faith, even one that takes seriously ideas of tradition and authority, as well as individual conscience and cultural authenticity - being bound, in other words, to membership of a hierarchical Church rather than being adrift as an isolated self-determining individual.
In July last year, I joined Tomas Halik in conversation for Radio National's Encounter program. He is urbane, well educated and very well connected, often being in the right place at the right time.
For example, he recalled being with Pope John Paul II the day before the Berlin Wall fell. The Pope turned away from the television and said, "This is the end of communism, and you must be prepared, it will come very soon." Halik was on sufficiently good terms with the Polish pontiff to joke, "Holy Father, excuse me, I don't believe that papal infallibility works in the political affairs. I think there will be some five years of perestroika in our country." John Paul II thought differently: "No, no, you must be prepared, it will come very soon." It came in ten days.
Halik was also a close friend of Vaclav Havel and helped to orchestrate the official invitation for John Paul to visit their home country, which was "regarded, on the basis of census returns, as the most atheistic country not only of the European Union but possibly of the entire planet." He then spent a month with the Pope as he prepared for his first visit to the post-Communist world.
Halik, by training a psychotherapist, knows more than his prayers. Night of the Confessor is a collection of essays from Halik's annual retreat which he makes at a remote hermitage with time for reflection, contemplation and amusement. He confesses, "Self-mockery is something I practice all the time, and I have often cast an ironic gaze on this 'playing the hermit' that I do every summer." As a globe-trotting lecturer and active Czech citizen he says:
"It is necessary for us Christians to learn contemplation once more: the art of inner silence, in which God will be able to speak to us through our own lives and His unique events."
It is immediately apparent that Halik is not one for religious optimism and pious answers. In fact, he finds hope in the crises of religion which provide "enormous windows of opportunity opened to us by God."
Hence, he writes neither for those certain in their faith nor for those certain in their antipathy or indifference to faith. His intended audience is neither the Pell cheer squad nor the Dawkins acolytes. He reaches out to those who find kernels of truth and seeds of doubt in both. He imagines the reader who is "prepared to suspend for the time being the moment of agreement or disagreement."
Halik thus makes his appeal both to believers and non-believers, who find themselves perplexed and tantalized by the mystery and paradox of life. He often recalls Oskar Pfister's response to Freud's question as to whether a Christian could be tolerant of atheism:
"When I reflect that you are much better and deeper than your disbelief, and that I am much worse and more superficial than my faith, I conclude that the abyss between us cannot yawn so grimly."
It is telling that, although he was a close friend of John Paul II, Halik does not have much time for the worldviews of most of his fellow priests and bishops. He says he hates attending clergy conferences - seeing them as a form of penance - largely because he sees his fellow attendees as old, tired and stale.
He sees plenty wrong with the institutional church but he is no iconoclast. He sees the Church as "a community of the shaken" rather than a collection of people "sharing en masse an unproblematised tradition that is accepted as a matter of course." Acknowledging the polarized nature of the Church, he cannot identify with either pole.
"Although I am in favour of calm and sober discussion of the issues raised by groups of liberal Catholics and I believe that on certain matters they are right, I radically oppose the view that democratization and liberalization of the structures, discipline, and certain areas of moral teaching of the Church will usher in a new springtime of Christianity and avert the crisis of the Church."
Following such a course, he believes the Church would lose its distinctiveness and "gradually dissolve in the limitless pap of postmodern society and would have nothing to offer." But neither does he want the Church to "turn into a stale sect of backward looking fuddy-duddies and oddballs." In a slightly patronising manner, he admits to great sympathy
"with those believers who treat the institutional aspects of the Church - the powers that be - in the way that mature adults treat their aging parents; such a relationship brings more freedom but entails more responsibility."
Some of us watching events like the Vatican's treatment of Bishop William Morris in Australia and now the nuns in the United States can see room for more due process, natural justice and transparency, if not democratization, in a Church committed to the dignity of all.
Having been the general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops, Halik knows what he is talking about when he considers the state of the institutional church:
"Viewed overall, the state of the Church is not too encouraging. In the space of a single generation, the deepening dearth of priests will lead to the collapse of the entire structure of parish administration, and I cannot see sufficient courage or creativity among those who have assumed responsibility for running the Church as an institution to find some real alternatives or at least to systematically prepare the community of believers for a situation in which they will soon have to live their faith without support of many things that the Church has regarded for centuries as essential and matter of course."
And so he warns:
"We must not allow ourselves to be drawn into the murky waters of cynicism, passivity, and bitterness. However, nor must we don the rosy spectacles of illusory optimism."
Halik's self-described "favourite theologian" is Nicholas Lash from Cambridge University (apparently, they love catching up over a whisky). One of his essays follows the contours of Lash's book Holiness, Speech and Silence in which he speaks of the rabbit on the violin:
"If you come across a rabbit playing Mozart on the violin, you can bet your bottom dollar that the rabbit is acting supernaturally. Rabbits have not got it in them to play the violin. Moreover, things being the way they are with human sinfulness, if you come across human beings acting with consistent kindness, selflessness, and generosity, the same assumption is in order."
At home with paradox, Halik does not only seek to carve out a private domain for religious communities outside the free and secular public square. He thinks religious citizens make a real contribution to the common good of society. So he claims:
"The oft repeated assertion that Christianity benefits from persecution is true only to a certain extent; when the Church is squeezed out of public life for too long, there tend to be negative consequences for society as a whole."
He even thinks religion can be good for atheists, claiming that atheism suffered in Czechoslovakia
"due to the lack of free and objective discussion about religion. It lacked the requisite self-reflection that can come only from a dialogue of partnership."
While Halik sees the Church as a community that can instil a person's original, untested, unreflective faith, he also regards it as a privileged space in which those whose original faith has been shaken can arrive at a "second-wind faith" - a faith that is at home with paradox, engaged with the world, and accepting of the inevitable shortcomings of the Church.
Halik is not one for the certainties of the Catechism or the latest Vatican declaration. The certainty of doctrine and submissiveness to religious authority are no substitute for facing the hard reality of true religious experience. This well-connected cleric in good Vatican standing proclaims:
"The religion that is now disappearing has tried to eliminate paradoxes from our experience of reality; the faith we are maturing toward, a paschal faith, teaches us to live with paradoxes."
Tomas Halik has learned how to live with paradox, and he writes with a mature sense of hope. He is one confessor worth attending to, by day and by night.
Father Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University.
by G. K. Chesterton
(click the title to listen)
Why I Believe in Christianity
I mean no disrespect to Mr. Blatchford in saying that our difficulty very largely lies in the fact that he, like masses of clever people nowadays, does not understand what theology is. To make mistakes in a science is one thing, to mistake its nature another. And as I read God and My Neighbour, the conviction gradually dawns on me that he thinks theology is the study of whether a lot of tales about God told in the Bible are historically demonstrable. This is as if he were trying to prove to a man that Socialism was sound Political Economy, and began to realise half-way through that the man thought that Political Economy meant the study of whether politicians were economical.
It is very hard to explain briefly the nature of a whole living study; it would be just as hard to explain politics or ethics. For the more a thing is huge and obvious and stares one in the face, the harder it is to define. Anybody can define conchology. Nobody can define morals.
Nevertheless it falls to us to make some attempt to explain this religious philosophy which was, and will be again, the study of the highest intellects and the foundation of the strongest nations, but which our little civilisation has for a while forgotten, just as it has forgotten how to dance and how to dress itself decently. I will try and – explain why I think a religious philosophy necessary and why I think Christianity the best religious philosophy. But before I do so I want you to bear in mind two historical facts. I do not ask you to draw my deduction from them or any deduction from them. I ask you to remember them as mere facts throughout the discussion.
1. Christianity arose and spread in a very cultured and very cynical world -in a very modern world. Lucretius was as much a materialist as Haeckel, and a much more persuasive writer. The Roman world had read <God and My Neighbour>, and in a weary sort of way thought it quite true. It is worth noting that religions almost always do arise out of these sceptical civilisations. A recent book on the PreMohammedan literature of Arabia describes a life entirely polished and luxurious. It was so with Buddha, born in the purple of an ancient civilisation. It was so with Puritanism in England and the Catholic Revival in France and Italy, both of which were born out of the rationalism of the Renaissance. It is so to-day; it is always so. Go to the two most modern and free-thinking centres, Paris and America, and you will find them full of devils and angels, of old mysteries and new prophets. Rationalism is fighting for its life against the young and vigorous superstitions.
2. Christianity, which is a very mystical religion, has nevertheless been the religion of the most practical section of mankind. It has far more paradoxes than the Eastern philosophies, but it also builds far better roads.
The Moslem has a pure and logical conception of God, the one Monistic Allah. But he remains a barbarian in Europe, and the grass will not grow where he sets his foot. The Christian has a Triune God, “a tangled trinity,” which seems a mere capricious contradiction in terms. But in action he bestrides the earth, and even the cleverest Eastern can only fight him by imitating him first. The East has logic and lives on rice. Christendom has mysteries-and motor cars. Never mind, as I say, about the inference, let us register the fact.
Now with these two things in mind let me try and explain what Christian theology is.
Complete Agnosticism is the obvious attitude for man. We are all Agnostics until we discover that Agnosticism will not work. Then we adopt some philosophy, Mr. Blatchford’s or mine or some others, for of course Mr. Blatchford is no more an Agnostic than I am. The Agnostic would say that he did not know whether man was responsible for his sins. Mr. Blatchford says that he knows that man is not.
Here we have the seed of the whole huge tree of dogma. Why does Mr. Blatchford go beyond Agnosticism and assert that there is certainly no free will? <Because he cannot run his scheme of morals without asserting that there is no free will>. He wishes no man to be blamed for sin. Therefore he has to make his disciples quite certain that God did not make them free and therefore blamable. No wild Christian doubt must flit through the mind of the Determinist. No demon must whisper to him in some hour of anger that perhaps the company promoter was responsible for swindling him into the workhouse. No sudden scepticism must suggest to him that perhaps the schoolmaster was blamable for flogging a little boy to death. The Determinist faith must be held firmly, or else certainly the weakness of human nature will lead men to be angered when they are slandered and kick back when they are kicked. In short, free will seems at first sight to belong to the Unknowable. Yet Mr. Blatchford cannot preach what seems to him common charity without asserting one dogma about it. And I cannot preach what seems to me common honesty without asserting another.
Here is the failure of Agnosticism. That our every-day view of the things we do (in the common sense) know, actually depends upon our view of the things we do not (in the common sense) know. It is all very well to tell a man, as the Agnostics do, to “cultivate his garden.” But suppose a man ignores everything outside his garden, and among them ignores the sun and the rain?
This is the real fact. You cannot live without dogmas about these things. You cannot act for twenty-four hours without deciding either to hold people responsible or not to hold them responsible. Theology is a product far more practical than chemistry.
Some Determinists fancy that Christianity invented a dogma like free will for fun -a mere contradiction. This is absurd. You have the contradiction whatever you are. Determinists tell me, with a degree of truth, that Determinism makes no difference to daily life. That means – that although the Determinist knows men have no free will, yet he goes on treating them as if they had.
The difference then is very simple. The Christian puts the contradiction into his philosophy. The Determinist puts it into his daily habits. The Christian states as an avowed mystery what the Determinist calls nonsense. The Determinist has the same nonsense for breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper every day of his life.
The Christian, I repeat, puts the mystery into his philosophy. That mystery by its darkness enlightens all things. Once grant him that, and life is life, and bread is bread, and cheese is cheese: he can laugh and fight. The Determinist makes the matter of the will logical and lucid: and in the light of that lucidity all things are darkened, words have no meaning, actions no aim. He has made his philosophy a syllogism and himself a gibbering lunatic.
It is not a question between mysticism and rationality. It is a question between mysticism and madness. For mysticism, and mysticism alone, has kept men sane from the beginning of the world. All the straight roads of logic lead to some Bedlam, to Anarchism or to passive obedience, to treating the universe as a clockwork of matter or else as a delusion of mind. It is only the Mystic, the man who accepts the contradictions, who can laugh and walk easily through the world.
Are you surprised that the same civilisation which believed in the Trinity discovered steam?All the great Christian doctrines are of this kind. Look at them carefully and fairly for yourselves. I have only space for two examples. The first is the Christian idea of God. Just as we have all been Agnostics so we have all been Pantheists. In the godhood of youth it seems so easy to say, “Why cannot a man see God in a bird flying and be content?” But then comes a time when we go on and say, “If God is in the birds, let us be not only as beautiful as the birds; let us be as cruel as the birds; let us live the mad, red life of nature.” And something that is wholesome in us resists and says, “My friend, you are going mad.”
Then comes the other side and we say: “The birds are hateful, the flowers are shameful. I will give no praise to so base an universe.” And the wholesome thing in us says: “My friend, you are going mad.”
Then comes a fantastic thing and says to us: “You are right to enjoy the birds, but wicked to copy them. There is a good thing behind all these things, yet all these things are lower than you. The Universe is right: but the World is wicked. The thing behind all is not cruel, like a bird: but good, like a man.” And the wholesome thing in us says. “I have found the high road.”
Now when Christianity came, the ancient world had just reached this dilemma. It heard the Voice of Nature-Worship crying, “All natural things are good. War is as healthy as he flowers. Lust is as clean as the stars.” And it heard also the cry of the hopeless Stoics and Idealists: “The flowers are at war: the stars are unclean: nothing but man’s conscience is right and that is utterly defeated.”
Both views were consistent, philosophical and exalted: their only disadvantage was that the first leads logically to murder and the second to suicide. After an agony of thought the world saw the sane path between the two. It was the Christian God. He made Nature but He was Man.
Lastly, there is a word to be said about the Fall. It can only be a word, and it is this. Without the doctrine of the Fall all idea of progress is unmeaning. Mr. Blatchford says that there was not a Fall but a gradual rise. But the very word “rise” implies that you know toward what you are rising. Unless there is a standard you cannot tell whether you are rising or falling. But the main point is that the Fall like every other large path of Christianity is embodied in the common language talked on the top of an omnibus. Anybody might say, “Very few men are really Manly.” Nobody would say, “Very few whales are really whaley.”
If you wanted to dissuade a man from drinking his tenth whisky you would slap him on the back and say, “Be a man.” No one who wished to dissuade a crocodile from eating his tenth explorer would slap it on the back and say, “Be a crocodile.” For we have no notion of a perfect crocodile; no allegory of a whale expelled from his whaley Eden. If a whale came up to us and said: “I am a new kind of whale; I have abandoned whalebone,” we should not trouble. But if a man came up to us (as many will soon come up to us) to say, “I am a new kind of man. I am the super-man. I have abandoned mercy and justice”; we should answer, “Doubtless you are new, but you are not nearer to the perfect man, for he has been already in the mind of God. We have fallen with Adam and we shall rise with Christ; but we would rather fall with Satan than rise with you.”
Reprinted in The Religious Doubts of Democracy (1904) and “The Blatchford Controversies” (in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 1)
Why I Am A Catholic
by G.K. CHESTERTON
The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that…” As, for instance, (1) It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior; in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth; as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man; even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside; working through wills and not laws; and so on.
Or I might treat the matter personally and describe my own conversion; but I happen to have a strong feeling that this method makes the business look much smaller than it really is. Numbers of much better men have been sincerely converted to much worse religions. I would much prefer to attempt to say here of the Catholic Church precisely the things that cannot be said even of its very respectable rivals. In short, I would say chiefly of the Catholic Church that it is catholic. I would rather try to suggest that it is not only larger than me, but larger than anything in the world; that it is indeed larger than the world. But since in this short space I can only take a section, I will consider it in its capacity of a guardian of the truth.
The other day a well-known writer, otherwise quite well-informed, said that the Catholic Church is always the enemy of new ideas. It probably did not occur to him that his own remark was not exactly in the nature of a new idea. It is one of the notions that Catholics have to be continually refuting, because it is such a very old idea. Indeed, those who complain that Catholicism cannot say anything new, seldom think it necessary to say anything new about Catholicism. As a matter of fact, a real study of history will show it to be curiously contrary to the fact. In so far as the ideas really are ideas, and in so far as any such ideas can be new, Catholics have continually suffered through supporting them when they were really new; when they were much too new to find any other support. The Catholic was not only first in the field but alone in the field; and there was as yet nobody to understand what he had found there.
Thus, for instance, nearly two hundred years before the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution, in an age devoted to the pride and praise of princes, Cardinal Bellarmine and Suarez the Spaniard laid down lucidly the whole theory of real democracy. But in that age of Divine Right they only produced the impression of being sophistical and sanguinary Jesuits, creeping about with daggers to effect the murder of kings. So, again, the Casuists of the Catholic schools said all that can really be said for the problem plays and problem novels of our own time, two hundred years before they were written. They said that there really are problems of moral conduct; but they had the misfortune to say it two hundred years too soon. In a time of tub-thumping fanaticism and free and easy vituperation, they merely got themselves called liars and shufflers for being psychologists before psychology was the fashion. It would be easy to give any number of other examples down to the present day, and the case of ideas that are still too new to be understood. There are passages in Pope Leo’s Encyclical on Labor [also known as Rerum Novarum], released in 1891] which are only now beginning to be used as hints for social movements much newer than socialism. And when Mr. Belloc wrote about the Servile State, he advanced an economic theory so original that hardly anybody has yet realized what it is. A few centuries hence, other people will probably repeat it, and repeat it wrong. And then, if Catholics object, their protest will be easily explained by the well-known fact that Catholics never care for new ideas.
Nevertheless, the man who made that remark about Catholics meant something; and it is only fair to him to understand it rather more clearly than he stated it. What he meant was that, in the modern world, the Catholic Church is in fact the enemy of many influential fashions; most of which still claim to be new, though many of them are beginning to be a little stale. In other words, in so far as he meant that the Church often attacks what the world at any given moment supports, he was perfectly right . The Church does often set herself against the fashion of this world that passes away; and she has experience enough to know how very rapidly it does pass away. But to understand exactly what is involved, it is necessary to take a rather larger view and consider the ultimate nature of the ideas in question, to consider, so to speak, the idea of the idea.
Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves. The truth about the Catholic attitude towards heresy, or as some would say, towards liberty, can best be expressed perhaps by the metaphor of a map. The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.
There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.
On this map of the mind the errors are marked as exceptions. The greater part of it consists of playgrounds and happy hunting-fields, where the mind may have as much liberty as it likes; not to mention any number of intellectual battle-fields in which the battle is indefinitely open and undecided. But it does definitely take the responsibility of marking certain roads as leading nowhere or leading to destruction, to a blank wall, or a sheer precipice. By this means, it does prevent men from wasting their time or losing their lives upon paths that have been found futile or disastrous again and again in the past, but which might otherwise entrap travelers again and again in the future. The Church does make herself responsible for warning her people against these; and upon these the real issue of the case depends. She does dogmatically defend humanity from its worst foes, those hoary and horrible and devouring monsters of the old mistakes. Now all these false issues have a way of looking quite fresh, especially to a fresh generation. Their first statement always sounds harmless and plausible. I will give only two examples. It sounds harmless to say, as most modern people have said: “Actions are only wrong if they are bad for society.” Follow it out, and sooner or later you will have the inhumanity of a hive or a heathen city, establishing slavery as the cheapest and most certain means of production, torturing the slaves for evidence because the individual is nothing to the State, declaring that an innocent man must die for the people, as did the murderers of Christ. Then, perhaps, you will go back to Catholic definitions, and find that the Church, while she also says it is our duty to work for society, says other things also which forbid individual injustice. Or again, it sounds quite pious to say, “Our moral conflict should end with a victory of the spiritual over the material.” Follow it out, and you may end in the madness of the Manicheans, saying that a suicide is good because it is a sacrifice, that a sexual perversion is good because it produces no life, that the devil made the sun and moon because they are material. Then you may begin to guess why Catholicism insists that there are evil spirits as well as good; and that materials also may be sacred, as in the Incarnation or the Mass, in the sacrament of marriage or the resurrection of the body.
Now there is no other corporate mind in the world that is thus on the watch to prevent minds from going wrong. The policeman comes too late, when he tries to prevent men from going wrong. The doctor comes too late, for he only comes to lock up a madman, not to advise a sane man on how not to go mad. And all other sects and schools are inadequate for the purpose. This is not because each of them may not contain a truth, but precisely because each of them does contain a truth; and is content to contain a truth. None of the others really pretends to contain the truth. None of the others, that is, really pretends to be looking out in all directions at once. The Church is not merely armed against the heresies of the past or even of the present, but equally against those of the future, that may be the exact opposite of those of the present. Catholicism is not ritualism; it may in the future be fighting some sort of superstitious and idolatrous exaggeration of ritual. Catholicism is not asceticism; it has again and again in the past repressed fanatical and cruel exaggerations of asceticism. Catholicism is not mere mysticism; it is even now defending human reason against the mere mysticism of the Pragmatists. Thus, when the world went Puritan in the seventeenth century, the Church was charged with pushing charity to the point of sophistry, with making everything easy with the laxity of the confessional. Now that the world is not going Puritan but Pagan, it is the Church that is everywhere protesting against a Pagan laxity in dress or manners. It is doing what the Puritans wanted done when it is really wanted. In all probability, all that is best in Protestantism will only survive in Catholicism; and in that sense all Catholics will still be Puritans when all Puritans are Pagans.
Thus, for instance, Catholicism, in a sense little understood, stands outside a quarrel like that of Darwinism at Dayton. It stands outside it because it stands all around it, as a house stands all around two incongruous pieces of furniture. It is no sectarian boast to say it is before and after and beyond all these things in all directions. It is impartial in a fight between the Fundamentalist and the theory of the Origin of Species, because it goes back to an origin before that Origin; because it is more fundamental than Fundamentalism. It knows where the Bible came from. It also knows where most of the theories of Evolution go to. It knows there were many other Gospels besides the Four Gospels, and that the others were only eliminated by the authority of the Catholic Church. It knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory; and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science. It does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded. To conclude is to shut up; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up. It does not, in the conventional phrase, believe what the Bible says, for the simple reason that the Bible does not say anything. You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means. The Fundamentalist controversy itself destroys Fundamentalism. The Bible by itself cannot be a basis of agreement when it is a cause of disagreement; it cannot be the common ground of Christians when some take it allegorically and some literally. The Catholic refers it to something that can say something, to the living, consistent, and continuous mind of which I have spoken; the highest mind of man guided by God.
Every moment increases for us the moral necessity for such an immortal mind. We must have something that will hold the four corners of the world still, while we make our social experiments or build our Utopias. For instance, we must have a final agreement, if only on the truism of human brotherhood, that will resist some reaction of human brutality. Nothing is more likely just now than that the corruption of representative government will lead to the rich breaking loose altogether, and trampling on all the traditions of equality with mere pagan pride. We must have the truisms everywhere recognized as true. We must prevent mere reaction and the dreary repetition of the old mistakes. We must make the intellectual world safe for democracy. But in the conditions of modern mental anarchy, neither that nor any other ideal is safe. just as Protestants appealed from priests to the Bible, and did not realize that the Bible also could be questioned, so republicans appealed from kings to the people, and did not realize that the people also could be defied. There is no end to the dissolution of ideas, the destruction of all tests of truth, that has become possible since men abandoned the attempt to keep a central and civilized Truth, to contain all truths and trace out and refute all errors. Since then, each group has taken one truth at a time and spent the time in turning it into a falsehood. We have had nothing but movements; or in other words, monomanias. But the Church is not a movement but a meeting-place; the trysting-place of all the truths in the world.
From Twelve Modern Apostles and Their Creeds (1926); reprinted in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 3 Ignatius Press, 1990