Thursday, May 30, 2013

Limits and Limitations

This I have to say to polyamory, postmodernism, those who think form doesn't matter in poetry or art, and to anyone who might be wondering, "Is God's law GOOD for me? It sounds sorta restrictive." Or, to anyone who might think, "If I accept the Christian creed, with all of its definite statement, it will limit my freedom of mind." Or, to anyone who believes gender roles are necessarily constrictive. Or, to anyone who believes that real freedom means freedom from all limits...

This is say: Da Vinci painted within the lines. Shakespeare used the form of the Sonnet. Far from stifling creativity, and free expression, form and order, and set limits, brought full blossom to the genius of these men.

This also I say, or rather, this is what someone else said that I agree with: limits are not the same as limitations. Limits provide an environment, the only possible environment, for playfulness.


But to “play with words” within the traditions of theology and liturgy is not to strive for innovation. The theologian or liturgist, as Stanley has also taught us, is not charged with the task of originality, but with that of fidelity to a living tradition that has some parameters, to a language with rules of speech. There are things we know we can’t say—like, for instance, “that majestic mountain over there is God”—but such limits are not limitations. Rather, they are, as Wendell Berry observes, “inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning.”

From, “And God Said . . .”: Creation, Word-Care, and the Care of the World, Debra Dean Murphy.


Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.

Chesterton, "Authority and the Adventurer," Orthodoxy.


All next day at Beacon House there was a crazy sense that it was everybody's birthday. It is the fashion to talk of institutions as cold and cramping things. The truth is that when people are in exceptionally high spirits, really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions. When men are weary they fall into anarchy; but while they are gay and vigorous they invariably make rules. This, which is true of all the churches and republics of history, is also true of the most trivial parlour game or the most unsophisticated meadow romp. We are never free until some institution frees us; and liberty cannot exist till it is declared by authority. Even the wild authority of the harlequin Smith was still authority, because it produced everywhere a crop of crazy regulations and conditions. He filled every one with his own half-lunatic life; but it was not expressed in destruction, but rather in a dizzy and toppling construction. Each person with a hobby found it turning into an institution. Rosamund's songs seemed to coalesce into a kind of opera; Michael's jests and paragraphs into a magazine. His pipe and her mandoline seemed between them to make a sort of smoking concert.
The bashful and bewildered Arthur Inglewood almost struggled against his own growing importance. He felt as if, in spite of him, his photographs were turning into a picture gallery, and his bicycle into a gymkhana. But no one had any time to criticize these impromptu estates and offices, for they followed each other in wild succession like the topics of a rambling talker.

Chesterton, Manalive, Chapter III, "The Banner of Beacon."

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