Dorothy Sayers' consummate defence of Christian orthodoxy
CREED OR CHAOS:
Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster
by Dorothy L. Sayers
(Sophia Institute Press, Forthright Edition, 1999, 116pp. NB: Out of print but obtainable via Internet)
I have long been an admirer of Dorothy Leigh Sayers; not, I confess, as a reader of her defences of Christian orthodoxy but of the adventures of the inimical Lord Peter Whimsy in her series of detective novels in which he featured.
My introduction to her theological work was to pick up this volume of the text of lectures she gave at various places in England in the early- to mid-1940s. I chanced upon it on a visit to that repository of many treasures, the Caroline Chisholm Library in Melbourne. A visit will always turn up a treasure and if you are not already a member perhaps you might consider joining.
I have put fingers to the keys to write this review not just to urge others to read it but also to thank those who help run the library service, many voluntarily, for the wonderful resource they ensure is available for such as myself.
The full title of this volume is Creed or Chaos: Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe). It was the latter that took my attention for it highlights the pertinence of the arguments advanced by Dorothy Sayers in response to what is still the greatest threat to the human race, the drive to separate faith from reason. She illustrates clearly how ultimately reasonable the Christian Creed is and how terrifying the consequences of acting in 'unbelief.'
I would also especially like to bring Dorothy Sayers to the attention of young Christians, and to place this consummate defence of Christian orthodoxy in their hands to arm them so they can go out and demonstrate that life truly is a choice: Creed or Chaos.
Sayers calls the Creed, 'The greatest drama ever staged ... 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 the hero' (pp. 8-9). 'If this is dull,' she continues, 'then what, in Heaven's name is worthy to be called exciting? (p. 9).
Chapter Three, 'The Dogma Is The Drama', is my favourite. The author's description of the utter silliness of a generally uninformed, or misinformed, view of what Christians believe had me doubled up with mirth.
For example: 'Q: What does the Church think of God the Father? A: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment; He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favouritism. He likes to be truckled to and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary' (pp. 31- 32).
If you want the answers to 'What does the Church think of God the Son?' and 'What was Jesus Christ like in real life?' you are going to have to read the book.
In the chapter bearing the book's title, Sayers writes, 'Theologically, this country is at present in a state of utter chaos, established in the name of religious toleration, and rapidly degenerating into the flight from reason and the death of hope' (p. 45). This certainly rings true of today's Australian social, political and moral landscape.
Here Sayers analyses the consequences for a society that refuses or rejects the Christian creed. And the recent passage of the iniquitous Abortion Law Reform Bill in Victoria is chilling proof that we are, here and now, right in the midst of that very 'flight from reason.'
Dorothy Sayers begins the chapter entitled 'Strong Meat' with a quote from St Augustine of Hippo: 'Cibus sum grandium; cresce, et manducabis me' ('I am the food of the full- grown; become a man and thou shalt feed on me' (Confessions, Book 7, Ch 10). Sayers comments: 'Here is a robust assertion of the claim of Christianity to be a religion for adult minds' (p. 77).
The Christian creed is one of reality, and the only fact of life that is beyond any shadow of a doubt is that the body and the mind will deteriorate and die. No flight into sentimental fantasies of childhood or youth will alter that fact.
Our Lord said, 'Unless ye become as little children ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven' (Matthew, Ch 18), but children, as Sayers points out, have one thing in common - they want to grow up.
Our Lord did not mean we should regress to a childish state but rather we should, like a child, want to grow spiritually. She concludes: 'The spirit alone is eternal youth; the mind and the body must learn to make terms with Time' (p. 80). This chapter contains a cogent treatment of a topic which is very rarely discussed. For this reason alone it is well worth reading.
The last chapter is an interesting treatment of the seven deadly sins. With her usual freshness of view, Dorothy Sayers gave this lecture the title 'The Other Six Deadly Sins'. Here she points out that 'to the majority of people the word immorality has come to mean one thing and one thing only', namely lust, which is seen as the only deadly sin. Her aim was to remind us of the other six.
I recommend this book as one worth taking the time to read. It also includes some brief biographical details of Dorothy Sayers at the back for those for whom this volume may have sparked an interest in her other writings.
The Foreword is also deserving of note. After acknowledging Dorothy Sayer's service to truth in her defence of Christian orthodoxy, its author writes: 'May that Bright Truth now embrace her tenderly [Sayers having died in 1957], and may it embrace you, too, as you read on!' (p. xiv).
If that doesn't make you 'read on' then perhaps the drama of Christian doctrine is not for you.
Terri Kelleher practised as a solicitor for 15 years, was founding President of the Pro-Life Group, Monash University, Melbourne, and has been a staunch supporter of the pro-life cause for 30 years. She has had numerous articles published and produced materials for home schooling.