Letters to a Diminished Church Part 4

letterstoadiminishedchurch Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers

The Image of God (Chapter 4)

“It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the ‘image’ of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created.’ The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and ability to make things.” (24)

“All language about God must, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, necessarily be analogical…The fact is that all language about everything is analogical; we think in a series of metaphors. We can explain nothing in terms of itself, but only in terms of other things. Even mathematics can express itself in terms of itself only so long as it deals with an ideal system of pure numbers; the moment it begins to deal with numbers of things it is forced back into the language of analogy.” (25)

“To complain that man measures God by his own experience is a waste of time; man measures everything by his own experience; he has no other yardstick.” (26)

Examples of analogy
God as king
God as Father

“When we use these expressions, we know perfectly well that they are metaphors and analogies; what is more, we know perfectly well where the metaphor begins and ends…Ou r own common sense assures us that the metaphor is intended to be drawn from the best kind of father acting within a certain limited sphere of behavior, and is to be applied only to a well-defined number of the divine attributes.”

“The analogical statements of experience that I want to examine are those used by the Christian creeds about God the Creator.” (28)

“It is the artist who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing. A whole artistic work is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts.” (30)

“Outside our own experience of procreation and creation, we can form no notion of how anything comes into being.” (32)

“Poets have, indeed, often communicated in their own mode of expression truths identical with the theologian’s truths; but just because of the difference in the modes of expression, we often fail to see the identity of the statements.The artist does not recognize that the phrases of the creeds purport to be observations of fact about the creative mind as such, including his own; while the theologian, limiting the application of the phrases to the divine Maker, neglects to inquire of the artists what light he can throw upon them from his own immediate apprehension of truth. The confusion is as though two men were to argue fiercely whether there was a river in a certain district or whether, on the contrary, there was a measurable volume of H2O moving in a particular direction with an ascertainable velocity, neither having any suspicion that they were describing the same phenomenon.” (32)

“Our minds are not infinite; and as the volume of the world’s knowledge increases, we tend more and more to confine ourselves, each to his special sphere of interest and to the specialized metaphor belonging to it. The analytic bias of the last three centuries has immensely encouraged this tendency, and it is now very difficult for the artist to speak the language of the theologican or the scientist the language of either. But the attempt must be made; and there are signs everywhere that the human mind is once more beginning to move toward a synthesis of experience.” (33)

Letters to a Diminished Church Part 3

letterstoadiminishedchurch Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers

The Dogma is the Drama (Chapter 3)

15 & 16 – “It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if, in this nominally Christian country, where the Creeds are daily recited, there were a number of people who knew all about Christian doctrine and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is.”

Sayers describes her play The Zeal of Thy House
“…involves a dramatic presentation of a few fundamental Christian dogmas–in particular, the application to human affairs of the doctrine of the Incarnation. That the Church believed Christ to be in any real sense God, or that the eternal word was supposed to be associated in any way with the word of creation; that Christ was held to be at the same time man in any real sense of the word; that the doctrine of the Trinity could be considered to have any relation to fact or any bearing on psychological truth; that the church considered pride to be sinful, or indeed took notice of any sin beyond the more disreputable sins  of the flesh—all these things were looked upon as astonishing and revolutionary novelties, imported into the faith by the feverish imagination of a playwright. I protested in vain against this flattering tribute to my powers of invention, referring my inquirers to the creed, to the gospels, and to the offices of the Church; I insisted that if my play were dramatic it was so, not in spite of the dogma, but because of it—, in short, the dogma was the drama. The explanation was, however, not well received; it was felt that if there were anything attractive in Christian philosophy I must have put it there myself.”

Sayers’ in regard to us following Christ…

20 – “Perhaps we are not following Christ all the way or in quite the right sprit. We are likely, for example, to be a little sparing of the palms and hosannas. We are chary of wielding the scourge of small cords, lest we should offend somebody or interfere with trade. We do not furnish up our wits to disentangle knotty questions about Sunday observance and tribute money, nor hasten to sit at the feet of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. We pass hastily over disquieting jests about making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness and alarming observations about bringing not peace but a sword; nor do we distinguish ourselves by the graciousness with which we sit at meat with publicans and sinners. Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore–and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which we passed through the world like a flame. She continues “Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious–others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ. It is the dogma that is the drama–not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to lovingkindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death–but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.”

Letters to a Diminished Church Part 2

Dorothy Sayers

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers

What Do We Believe? (Chapter 2)

9 – “In ordinary times we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is. If, now and again, this remote and academic problem is so unmannerly as to thrust its way into our minds, there are plenty of things we can do to drive the intruder away. We can get the car out or go to a party or to the cinema or read a detective story or have a row with a district council or write a letter to the papers about the habits of the nightjar or Shakespeare’s  use of nautical metaphor. Thus we build up a defense mechanism against self-questioning because, to tell the truth, we are very much afraid of ourselves.

10 – “Is there indeed anything you value more than life, or are you making a virtue of necessity? What do you believe? Is your faith a comfort to you under the present circumstances…we shall do well to reply boldly that a faith is not primarily a comfort, but a truth about ourselves. What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

11 – I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things. “That is the thundering assertion with which we start; that the great fundamental quality that makes God, and us with him, what we are is creative activity…He is God the Father and Maker. And, by implication, man is most god-like and most himself when he is occupied in creation. And by this statement we assert further that the will and power to make is an absolute value, the ultimate good-in-itself, self-justified and self-explanatory.”

11 – “Our worst trouble today is our feeble hold on creation. To sit down and let ourselves be spoon-fed with the ready-made is to lose our grip on our only true life and our only real selves.”

12 – “The creative will pressed on to its end, regardless of what it may suffer by the way. It does not choose suffering, but it will not avoid it, and must expect it. We say that it is love, and sacrifices itself for what it loves; and this is true, provided we understand what we mean by sacrifice. Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to that-which-loves I think it does not appear so. When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity.”

Letters to a Diminished Church Part 1

I rarely visit Christian bookstores, but after family dinner one night we were just across the street from one and we decided to shop. Fortunately, I checked the clearance section and stumbled upon an incredible buy, Letters to a Diminished Church subtitle Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy Sayers. The following posts will pursue Sayers’ thoughts concerning the church.

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged (Chapter 1)

2 – We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine–dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama…The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ?

3 – “The common people, indeed, ‘heard him gladly’; but our leading authorities in Church and State considered that he talked too much and uttered too many disconcerting truths. So we bribed one of his friends to hand him over quietly to the police, and we tried him on a rather vague charge of creating a disturbance, and had him publicly flogged and hanged on the common gallows, ‘thanking God we were rid of a knave.’…But if the Church is right about him it was more discreditable still, for the man we hanged was God Almighty.”

4 – “So that is the outline of the official story–the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore–on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. lion1To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as ‘that fox’; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a ‘gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’; he assaulted indignant trades men and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had a ‘daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,’ and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.”

6 – “The right Faith is, that we believe that Jesus Christ is God and man, Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who although he be God and man yet is he not two, but one Christ. There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequence.”

6 – “That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. ”

Back to Sayers’ original question, What do you think of Christ?