Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Patron Saints of Earth

Concerning G.K. Chesterton’s view of sainthood, Dale Ahlquist observes that one of the saint’s most profound characteristics is not his saintliness, but his humanness.

“[Saints] are just like us, with all the human variety and frailty and fascination and personality and pain and talent and lack of talent that you expect to find in any human being.”
Far from being the halo-crowned type of mystic, Chesterton says, a true saint has his hands in the dirt rather than his head in the clouds. Saints can afford to be dirty, he argues, while the seducer must be clean.

Of course, the Reformed insistence upon the tension between the already and the not yet demands that a saint be both otherworldly and worldly. “Head in heaven, fingers in the mire” in the words of one poet, “The face of a sinner, but the hands of a priest” in the words of another.

It is here that the seeming heaven/earth dialectic appears in its most acute form. If we turn earthly pleasure into a false god we err on the one side, while we err on the other by turning it into a false devil. It was not a rebellion against hell that caused Lucifer to lose favor, but a rebellion against a proper angelic enjoyment of heaven. Likewise, it was not Adam’s enjoyment of earth that precipitated his fall, but it was his failure to enjoy earth creaturely, that spelled his undoing.

In a word, just as it is wrong to enjoy earth too much, it is equally wrong to enjoy it too little.