Saturday, January 28, 2012

One thing leads to another

On one of my favorite Christian blogs the other day, I was reading a three-post series by a woman others affectionately call Martha of Ireland in which, among other things, she quoted G. K. Chesterton, specifically from his 1908 book “Orthodoxy”:

[Editor’s note. My non-Christian readers may want to skip over this part, but I hope you don't. --RWP]

“This is the thrilling romance of orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.

...It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom—that would indeed have been simple. 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.”

and then a reader (not me) replied:

“Not to be a modernist or snob or worse yet a dull heretic, but do you think orthodoxy has changed since the days of Chesterton, Martha? It doesn’t seem like a whirling adventure. Is it still?”

and Martha said:

“Yes, I think so. It hasn’t really changed; orthodoxy is viewed as the dull, safe, routine consensus of the majority, while the new thing and daring interpretation is seen as bold, lively and a jolt of adrenaline to the system.

But daring interpretations and new lights on old texts have a strange way of being the same old thing dressed up in new clothes, and the cutting-edge modernity of one decade becomes the stale, dated fashion relics of the next. Meanwhile, orthodoxy goes plodding on, swerving around the pothole on the left and the diversion on the right, all the time being sneered at or patted on the head as ‘simple faith for simple folks’ and swimming against the current of the age.”

[Editor’s note. Non-Christian readers who opted to skip may resume reading at this point. --RWP]

...all of which prompted me to stop and read Wikipedia’s article on G. K. Chesterton and while doing that I happened to read that Chesterton’s friend Edmund Bentley invented the clerihew, which diverted my attention to Wikipedia’s article on the clerihew, and that article included links to articles about both Balliol rhymes (about which nothing more will be said here) and double dactyls, which are one of my favorite forms of light verse.

I especially liked this double dactyl by John Hollander:

Higgledy piggledy,
Benjamin Harrison,
Twenty-third president
Was, and, as such,

Served between Clevelands and
Save for this trivial
Didn’t do much.

It made me think, naturally, of Newt Gingrich.

“Whoa!” I can hear you thinking, “Hold your horses just a minute! What does a clerihew about Benjamin Harrison have to do with Newt Gingrich?”

I’m glad you asked.

As we all know (or should), Benjamin Harrison, America’s 23rd president, was the grandson of America’s ninth president, the eminently forgettable William Henry Harrison, a Whig who was elected President in 1840 on the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” (Tippecanoe was Harrison, who originally gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against American Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, and the “Tyler too” part of the equation was his vice-presidential running mate, John Tyler). Upon the untimely death of William Henry Harrison from pneumonia in April 1841, one month after his inauguration (it is believed that he caught the pneumonia at his inauguration), Tyler became America’s tenth president.

Well, as luck would have it, there was a story in the news this week that two of John Tyler’s grandsons are still alive. Yes! A hundred and seventy years later! Tyler, our most prolific president, was born in 1790 and fathered fifteen children, eight with his first wife, who had died, and seven more with his second wife, Julia Gardiner, thirty years his junior, whom he married during his Presidency. Their youngest, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853 when former President Tyler was 63 years old. Lyon Gardiner Tyler fathered six children of his own, two of them with his much younger second wife, Sue Ruffin, whom he married in 1923 when he was 70. Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. was born in 1925 and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. These are the two presidential grandsons who are still with us today, aged 87 and 83, respectively.

If you didn’t get all that, here is a summary in pictorial form:

So anyway, these two gentlemen were interviewed this week by members of our ever-vigilant press. And this news article reveals that one of them thinks Newt Gingrich is “a big jerk” -- not, as it turns out, because of his political views, but because, as this other news article states, “He needs to stick with the same wife.”

It’s a little late for that. Newt has been married three times. His first wife was Jackie, his second wife was Maryanne, and his current (and, it is hoped by all and sundry, not the least being the surviving grandson of President Tyler, his last) wife is Calista.

How to end this post and tie it all up in a neat package? Hmmm. How’s this?

If Calista goes the way of her predecessors (I trust and pray that she won’t, especially since Newt left the Southern Baptists and joined the Roman Catholics), I’m pretty sure Newt’s number four wife will not be Martha of Ireland.

But you know how one thing leads to another.


  1. Jesus wasn't orthodox In fact, he trashed the orthodox up one side and down the other. To point out that orthodox people avoid some of the more ridiculous side streets that Christianity has taken doesn't suggest that their way is the right way; it simply assumes that the truth lies between the extremes, but what is the basis for such an assumption?

  2. Snow, I wasn't saying Jesus was orthodox. I was merely quoting a passage Chesterton wrote in 1908. He was talking about the Roman Catholic Church actually, not the Eastern Orthodox Church or Orthodox Jewry.

    But if "orthodox" means "the right way" (and it does), then I would say Jesus was indeed orthodox and the orthodox weren't.

    I think of the Apostle Paul's words in Romans 3:4, "Let God be true, but every man a liar."

    But this post wasn't meant to trigger a theological discussion....

  3. "But this post wasn't meant to trigger a theological discussion.... "

    Oops, sorry. I didn't know that you had a certain kind of response that you were looking for, so I just wrote what came to mind.

  4. Wait! Don't go away mad! (if I made you mad, that is -- it's hard to tell in print)...

    I want you to write just what came to mind. After all, one thing leads to another. I lost my head there for a minute.

    Chesterton seems to have been saying, "The Roman Catholic Church is always right" which I would certainly contend is ridiculous. Or maybe he is saying, "The Roman Catholic Church has actually been wrong from time to time, but it gets straightened out in the end" which I also disagree with. Maybe I'm just reading between the lines and making the RCC = orthodoxy in his mind. Maybe he didn't mean that at all.

    In my opinion, Christian orthodoxy can be found across the spectrum of all believers and denominations in the things Christians hold in common: the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, atonement, the Ascension, the concept of the triune God (not three Gods, one), and maybe a few other things. But things like mode of baptism, the five points of Calvinism, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, whether God created the earth in six literal days -- those types of things are not, IMHO, part of the essentials of Christian orthodoxy.

    I hope I'm not boring you. I value your opinions a great deal.

  5. I suppose that, for Christians, it goes back to examining the basis for believing that the orthodox views you outlined were the correct views as opposed to simply the victorious views. For you, the long history of orthodox belief that stretches across denominations is impressive if not inspiring, whereas for the others, it's a case of attempting to unearth what the early Christians believed as opposed to the beliefs that were enjoined upon them in later years. Have you read any of the Gnostic Gospels?