In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton has a chapter on the paradoxes of Christianity. At the end of the chapter he points out that the beauty of these paradoxes demands accurate proportion. To shift the proportion is to ruin the paradox altogether, with disastrous results for humanity. For this reason, he calls the church the “lion tamer” of bad doctrine.
I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of irregular equilibrium.
It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer.
The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfillment of prophecies, are ideas which, anyone can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious. The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean, and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten forests of the north. Of these theological equalizations I have to speak afterwards.
Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, Even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties.
The church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.