Creedal complexity

The greater the variation and pluriformity of expression and entailment an idea admits, Newman insists, the more exactly it might be thought to approximate the thing for which it stands:

As views of a material object may be taken from points so remote or so opposed, that they seem at first sight incompatible, and especially as their shadows will be disproportionate, or even monstrous, and yet all these anomalies will disappear and all these contrarieties {35} be adjusted, on ascertaining the point of vision or the surface of projection in each case; so also all the aspects of an idea are capable of coalition, and of a resolution into the object to which it belongs; and the primâ facie dissimilitude of its aspects becomes, when explained, an argument for its substantiveness and integrity, and their multiplicity for its originality and power (Development, 1.1.2). 

This is precisely why Christianity cannot be reduced to a single succinct formulation, to one “leading idea”; the complexity of its creed, its combination of seeming contraries, its penchant for paradox, is not a vice, but a virtue:

I should myself call the Incarnation the central aspect of Christianity, out of which the three main aspects of its teaching take their rise, the sacramental, the hierarchical, and the ascetic. But one aspect of Revelation must not be allowed to exclude or to obscure another; and Christianity is dogmatical, devotional, practical all at once; it is esoteric and exoteric; it is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear (Ibid., 1.1.3). 

In Orthodoxy, Chesterton makes a similar point: “When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key” (Ch. 6).

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