The path to orthodoxy involves ‘great peril to walk’

The Council of Nicaea, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus

Orthodoxy, that reasoned attempt to maintain in its whole the Apostolic Tradition as found in Scripture and the living life of the Church, is a narrow road, as we read in Leo the Great, Sermon 25:

Not only on works of virtue, not only on observance of the commandments lies that ‘narrow and difficult way leading to life,’ (Mt 7:14) but — along with these — on the path of faith. It involves great peril to walk, without stumbling, down the one path of sound doctrine among the dubious opinions of the unlearned and falsehoods which have the appearance of truth. It involves great labor and great peril to avoid every risk of deception when from all around snares of error set themselves in the way. (Trans. Agnes Josephine Conway and Jane Patricia Freeland for the ‘Fathers of the Church’ series)

To tread a path so perilous, how could it be naught but exciting, naught but thrilling, naught but a romance (in the mediaeval sense of the word). So thought G K Chesterton in his work Orthodoxy:

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. …

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. (In context at The Chesterton Society)

These images of the persistence of Orthodoxy fit well with what I was reading earlier today in D. H. Williams,* who argues — for ‘Free Church’ evangelicals (i.e. Baptist types) — that the Tradition of the faith is not opposed to Scripture as many think, but that Tradition and Scripture co-inhere, for Scripture informs Tradition and was formed in the same period as the Tradition.

Through the decades, centuries, millennia, the Church has responded to crises of belief from within and from without. She responded to the challenges presented her by pagans and Jews, by Gnostics and Marcionites, by Donatists and Meletians, by Arians & Pneumatomachi, Appolinarians & Eutychians, by Manichaeans and Cathars. At each turn in this road fraught with peril, she saw what lay ahead and through prayerful consideration and reasoned examination, she determined which of the paths ahead of her was the narrow road that leads to Christ.

Thus, Tradition is not only not opposed to Scripture, it is not dead. It is the living deposit of faith coming from the Apostles through the historic Church to our hands. We are entrusted with this faith, these truths, and must communicate them to our own age, responding to the dangers along the trail, both within the Church and out.

And as we do so in this reeling, rollicking ride, may we always truth in love (one without the other is neither).

*D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants, 34-39. He draws on concepts of tradition from Alisdair MacIntyre.

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