I will say it right now. Chesterton is my favorite papist. This is something you could probably figure out from how much I quote him, but how much I have learned from him extends far beyond that.
One of the things I learned from him is the fundamental stance of a reformer — in order to do any good whatever, a person must have a clear-eyed view of what needs to be corrected, and he must have a fundamental loyalty to that which he seeks to correct. It was Chesterton who taught me how to be a good Protestant, how best to be an evangelical son.
In Orthodoxy, in the chapter “The Flag of the World,” he writes about how women are fiercely loyal to their men, but notes this is no blind loyalty. They stick with their men through thick and thin, but they see and understand their man’s faults all right. They are “almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.”
You don’t need to have a reason to love your people. When you have a reason your attachments become mercenary and opportunistic. To reapply Chesterton, and to change cities, we should not love Geneva because she is great. She became great because we loved her. Protestantism built one of the world’s great civilizations, but that is not why I love it. I would have loved the doctrines of grace before we were allowed to build anything, and were still hiding from soldiers on the Piedmont.
We need to think more about this matter of loyalty. We have drifted far from it, and have moved over to a rarefied definition of love. We think that in order to criticize something, we must also “love” as we do so, and this would be quite right if our definition of love included the important component of loyalty. As it is, we have multitudes of snarky, prickly, uncorrectable and destructive Christians, who believe it is their responsibility to leave this church, leaving a wide swath of mayhem in their wake, just so long as they send a letter to the elders that begins, “It is with grief in our hearts that we write this letter . . .” Lots of love, floating about fifty feet above all the action, but down in the action, no loyalty at all
This loyalty we must cultivate has a set of temptations that come with it, of course, just like everything good. Those temptations pull us toward factionalism, party spirit, sectarianism, and blinkered confessionalism. Loyalty can be corrupted and overdone. But it can also be abandoned or lost, and when it is, the result is not real catholicity, but rather giving way to the temptations that go with catholicity — emergent latitudinariansim and all the rest of it.
There is much more to be said about this, but in the meantime, Chesterton really is good for what ails you. When I read him, I don’t imitate the content of his loyalties (e.g. I am not an Englishman, I am not a Catholic). But I greatly admire the way he knows how to be loyal. He knows what it means, and his exuberant way is contagious.