The Mystery of the Cross

Gilbert Keith Chesterton Chesterton (1874-1936) was a firmly committed Roman Catholic, an unashamed anti-Calvinist, and a richly gifted writer. Yet Chesterton made John Piper more of a Calvinist.

Given John Piper’s excellent thoughts on Chesterton’s famous book Orthodoxy, I returned to the book last night. The power at home was out from 4 PM until about midnight thanks to a massive storm that rumbled through the D.C. area knocking down huge trees (+100,000 people are still without power as I write). Last night, illuminated by the faint blue glow of a battery-powered LED lamp, I opened Orthodoxy. Here’s one excerpt:

“Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. …

The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid. …

Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.”

-Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Radford, VA: Wilder Pubs, 1908/2007) 17-18.