Dull Dogma? Dorothy Sayers on the Drama of the Creeds.

“The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.”

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we bring you an exceptional piece of theology from renowned translator, novelist, and Christian thinker Dorothy Sayers. Sayers was also a friend of C.S. Lewis.

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. 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, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ?

The man we hanged was God Almighty.

. . . The Church’s answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: that Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, 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.

Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile. . . .

Possibly we might prefer not to take this tale too seriously—there are disquieting points about it. Here we had a man of divine character walking and talking among us—and what did we find to do with him? The common people, indeed, “heard him gladly”; but our leading authorities in Church and State considered that he talked too much and uttered too many disconcerting truths. So we bribed one of his friends to hand him over quietly to the police, and we tried him on a rather vague charge of creating a disturbance, and had him publicly flogged and hanged on the common gallows, “thanking God we were rid of a knave.” All this was not very creditable to us, even if he was (as many people thought and think) only a harmless, crazy preacher. But if the Church is right about him, it was more discreditable still, for the man we hanged was God Almighty.

So that is the outline of the official story—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 hero.

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Sayers, Dorothy L. Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Comments

  1. I don’t want to argue here but I do want to go on record as saying that the creation of the Catholic Creeds (and the canonization thereof) were actually a diabolical power grab by Rome rather than anything of God.

    • Christopher Porter says:

      I’d like to go on record as saying that the preceding comment is erroneous twaddle.

      If the claims of the Creeds are truthful summaries of the story of salvation, and they are, then that is the chief thing – and most certainly of God, in that sense.

      I say this as one labeled a “Protestant” who is quite thankful to God to be protected from certain Roman errors by the Biblical truths of the Creeds.

  2. A few years ago my pastor spent 3 & 1/2 years going through Acts, word by word, verse by verse and chapter. Living alongside Peter, John, James and the rest of the disciples, how they taught, loved and lived, I don’t see in most modern churches. They have reversed the process. Most modern churches have taken the relationship with God, that Jesus taught, and made it into a religion

  3. bryant w wilkerson says:

    I was rather thinking how pleasantly wonderful to hear it differently , that is the god man, Christ, from the perspective of having men crucify their creator and the creator enduring the cost of man. Truly Christ is the only way to reconciliation

  4. Why did she leave out the resurrection? Isn’t that the main point of the story of why God came to be human? I am amazed that no one has commented on this yet. No wonder women are not commenting and sharing this post.

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