Mar 15, 2006

Nothing Ordinary about this Time

Online Edition – March 2006, Vol. XII, No. 1

Nothing Ordinary about this Time

by George Weigel

The late Dorothy Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories, was a gifted amateur theologian, as the notes she wrote to her translation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” readily attest. Her skills as a writer and a theologian met in a talent for apologetics, of which this bracing piece is a prime example:

“The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama. That drama is summarized quite clearly in the creeds of the Church…. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a central problem: ‘What think ye of Christ?’….

“The Church’s answer is categorical and uncompromising and it is this: That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact … the God ‘by whom all things were made’. His body and brain were those of a common man; His personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms. He was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; He was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be ‘like God’ — He was God….

“If this is dull, then what, in heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore — on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him ‘meek and mild’, and recommend Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand. True, He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as ‘that fox’; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a ‘gluttonous man and winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners’; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; he cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God, either….

“‘And the third day He rose again’. What are we to make of this? One thing is certain: if He were God and nothing else, His immortality means nothing to us; if He was man and no more, His death is no more important than yours or mine. But if He really was both God and man, then when the man Jesus died, God died too; and when the God Jesus arose, man rose too, for they were one and the same person…. There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequence. Now we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all”.

(From The Greatest Drama Ever Staged, 1938)

According to Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy, this is the drama we celebrate every Sunday. So what are we doing now in “ordinary time”? There is nothing “ordinary” about redeemed time — which, in the Church’s liturgical year, once pivoted around the great feasts of Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost. Now, we’re told that the time after Epiphany and Pentecost is “ordinary”.

No, it isn’t. And it shouldn’t be called that, either.


George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC. This column appears here with his kind permission, and is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, of the Archdiocese of Denver.



George Weigel