Sunday, August 2, 2020

The tumble and force of novelty

Thomas Howard in "The Touchstone of Orthodoxy" (1979):
.... There is wheat and there is chaff. Distinctions have to be made. There is good stuff and bad stuff. And the only way to sort out the good from the bad is to discriminate. There is no question of a moral democracy, any more than there is of a gastronomic democracy. If you eat vegetables, they will do you good; if you eat toadstools, they will kill you. Somebody has to discriminate between the two and tell us which is which. They are not neutral data for our stomachs. Again, there is no moral democracy any more than there is a mathematical democracy. Two plus two equals four, and we may knock our foreheads on the floor and turn purple in the face because this stark datum doesn't grab us right, or we may shout that our math teacher is an uptight traditionalist and pig—we may adopt this line, I say, but "two plus two equals four" remains unthreatened by our tantrum.

We need a touchstone. We need to learn to discriminate. Your big job in life is to learn the discipline of discrimination, if you didn't learn it in school. The moral vision furnishing this touchstone I am speaking about is that of ancient orthodoxy.... [T]he moral vision that obtains here is that of catholic orthodoxy, that is, of the dogmatic tradition taught by the apostles, received by the Church, and agreed upon by all orthodox Christians always and everywhere, whether Anabaptist, Reformation, Latin, or Eastern. The Vincentian Canon is a useful way of phrasing it: quod semper, quod ubique, et quod ab omni-bus creditum est: what has always been believed, everywhere, and by everyone. Any serious and thoughtful Christian is a dogmatist, not in the sense of being pig-headed or ostrichlike, but in the sense of having a lively awareness that he stands in a defined tradition of received teaching that has been articulated by the holy prophets and apostles and handed down through the centuries. It is spelled out in the Bible and guarded and proclaimed by the Church. The Christian vision is a vision of the eternal, that is, of majestic fixities and mysteries that stand in judgment upon our history and our existence. The Word that was Incarnate in the drama played out on the stage of our history was the Word that articulated order out of chaos in the beginning and that will utter the final summing up at the end. ....

It is particularly difficult now for Christians to keep their wits about them and their sights unblurred. The sheer tumble and force of novelty that comes at us all makes it nearly impossible to keep clear in one's own imagination—or in one's moral vision, shall we say—the fixities arching over the broil of our history and our fashions. ....
From The Night Far Spent, Ignatius, 2007, pp. 269-271, 272.

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