6/26/14

"Rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy"

"ONLY the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man's environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest: if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this ─ that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy.

 Dives and Lazarus, by Leandro Bassano.
Oil on canvas, c. 1595; private collection.

“The most terrible thing"

G.K. Chesterton, the Diabolist & “The Most Terrible Thing”
By Tod Worner

That quiet conversation was by far the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a celebrated British journalist, detective novelist, artist and Catholic apologist. He wrote over one hundred books, thousands of newspaper columns, innumerable poems, a several plays. He gleefully debated society’s intellectual luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, Clarence Darrow and Bertrand Russell. It is easy to estimate that he engaged in hundreds of thousands of conversations with countless individuals during his sixty-two years of life. And yet Chesterton considered a conversation with a fellow art school student “the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”.

What happened?

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6/21/14

"An attempt to restore the Family"

“IT seems that the Bolshevist State has been moved to make an attempt to restore the Family; and I only hope that the Capitalist State will be inspired to attempt the same difficult task. For in this, it can be truly said, all we like sheep have gone astray; and very much like sheep indeed.”

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, Jan. 4, 1936.

The Many Identities of GKC

A review of Ian Ker's G.K. Chesterton: A Biography
By Chene Richard Heady


"English Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was considered, in his own lifetime, a major writer, a literary virtuoso able to compose effortlessly in seemingly any form. He was noteworthy particularly for his contributions to the essay, detective-fiction, and comic-verse genres. His reputation did not outlive him, however. By the 1950s, enthusiasm for his works persisted only in Catholic quarters and then, as Catholic universities sought to distance themselves from the so-called Catholic ghetto, it faded even there. Fortunately, over the past four decades Chesterton has slowly begun to accumulate a major author’s scholarly apparatus. He now possesses an academic journal devoted exclusively to his work (The Chesterton Review), a carefully edited Collected Works (Ignatius Press), titles in the major classics lines (Oxford World Classics, Penguin, Everyman), and even a collection of literary criticism on his writing edited by the living voice of the literary canon himself, Harold Bloom. Chesterton’s work is also presently undergoing something of a popular renaissance: Million-selling alt-rockers like Marcus Mumford and evangelical Protestant hipsters like Donald Miller cite him as a major influence, and the BBC has just renewed its Father Brown television series for a third season. The time is ripe for Ian Ker to give Chesterton the primary hallmark of literary significance he previously lacked: a scholarly biography published by a major university press.

"For serious Catholics, Chesterton’s accomplishments as one of the greatest modern apologists (Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, The Thing) might be sufficient to justify a biography. Some of his central arguments — faith as the precondition for reason, tradition as the democracy of the dead, orthodoxy as an exciting adventure, dogmatic belief as the source of all meaningful social reform, etc. — are still commonly employed as defenses of the faith. But even viewed simply as an entertaining story, Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s life is well worth the telling. His rise to fame is richly improbable: In about six years he metamorphosed from an unimpressive college dropout working as an entry-level editor for a minor press to one of England’s better known literary figures. His composition process — scribbling brilliant articles in pubs just under deadline, simultaneously dictating an essay on one subject while handwriting an essay on another, tossing off some of the best light verse of the century as a contribution to a local charity bazaar — is the stuff of legend. His religious transformations are also dramatic, as he moved from an essentially Unitarian childhood to art-school flirtations with nihilism to an eccentric Anglo-Catholicism and finally to Roman Catholicism. Even his physical appearance was striking: six-foot-four-inches tall, over three hundred pounds, wrapped in a dramatic cape, dragging a deliberately quixotic sword cane across urban London. Even among the generally flamboyant Edwardian generation of authors, Chesterton possesses an unusually entertaining story, and up until now his story has never been properly told."

• Continue reading this article at New Oxford Review

6/19/14

"Blasphemy"

"BLASPHEMY is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends on a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief, and is fading with it. If anyone doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion."

~G.K. Chesterton: Heretics.

"Wars have become more organised, and more ghastly"

"I DO not know whether Martin Luther invented mustard gas, or George Fox manufactured tear-shells, or St. Thomas Aquinas devised a stink-bomb producing suffocation. If wars are the horrid fruits of a thing called Christianity, they are also the horrid fruits of everything called citizenship and democracy and liberty and national independence, and are we to judge all these and condemn them by their fruits? Anyhow such a modern war is much greater than any of the wars that can be referred to religious motives, or even religious epochs. The broad truth about the matter is that wars have become more organised, and more ghastly in the particular period of Materialism." 

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, July 26, 1930.

"The witches"

"PEOPLE would understand better the popular fury against the witches, if they remembered that the malice most commonly attributed to them was preventing the birth of children."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man.

6/15/14

The Contented Man

THE word content is not inspiring nowadays; rather it is irritating because it is dull. It prepares the mind for a little sermon in the style of the Vicar of Wakefield about how you and I should be satisfied with our countrified innocence and our simple village sports. The word, however, has two meanings, somewhat singularly connected; the "sweet content" of the poet and the "cubic content" of the mathematician. Some distinguish these by stressing the different syllables. Thus, it might happen to any of us, at some social juncture, to remark gaily, "Of the content of the King of the Cannibal Islands' Stewpot I am content to be ignorant"; or "Not content with measuring the cubic content of my safe, you are stealing the spoons." And there really is an analogy between the mathematical and the moral use of the term, for lack of the observation of which the latter has been much weakened and misused.

The preaching of contentment is in disrepute, well deserved in so far that the moral is really quite inapplicable to the anarchy and insane peril of our tall and toppling cities. Content suggests some kind of security; and it is not strange that our workers should often think about rising above their position, since they have so continually to think about sinking below it. The philanthropist who urges the poor to saving and simple pleasures deserves all the derision that he gets. To advise people to be content with what they have got may or may not be sound moral philosophy.

But to urge people to be content with what they haven't got is a piece of impudence hard for even the English poor to pardon. But though the creed of content is unsuited to certain special riddles and wrongs, it remains true for the normal of mortal life. We speak of divine discontent; discontent may sometimes be a divine thing, but content must always be the human thing. It may be true that a particular man, in his relation to his master or his neighbour, to his country or his enemies, will do well to be fiercely unsatisfied or thirsting for an angry justice. But it is not true, no sane person can call it true, that man as a whole in his general attitude towards the world, in his posture towards death or green fields, towards the weather or the baby, will be wise to cultivate dissatisfaction. In a broad estimate of our earthly experience, the great truism on the tablet remains: he must not covet his neighbour's ox nor his ass nor anything that is his. In highly complex and scientific civilisations he may sometimes find himself forced into an exceptional vigilance. But, then, in highly complex and scientific civilisations, nine times out of ten, he only wants his own ass back. 

But I wish to urge the case for cubic content; in which (even more than in moral content) I take a personal interest. Now, moral content has been undervalued and neglected because of its separation from the other meaning. It has become a negative rather than a positive thing. In some accounts of contentment it seems to be little more than a meek despair. 

But this is not the true meaning of the term; it should stand for the idea of a positive and thorough appreciation of the content of anything; for feeling the substance and not merely the surface of experience. "Content" ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased; placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being contented with bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring what you eat. It ought to mean caring for bread and cheese; handling and enjoying the cubic content of the bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being content with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a position; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. And in this sense contentment is a real and even an active virtue; it is not only affirmative, but creative. The poet in the attic does not forget the attic in poetic musings; he remembers whatever the attic has of poetry; he realises how high, how starry, how cool, how unadorned and simple—in short, how Attic is the attic. 

True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare. The absence of this digestive talent is what makes so cold and incredible the tales of so many people who say they have been "through" things; when it is evident that they have come out on the other side quite unchanged. A man might have gone "through" a plum pudding as a bullet might go through a plum pudding; it depends on the size of the pudding—and the man. But the awful and sacred question is "Has the pudding been through him?" Has he tasted, appreciated, and absorbed the solid pudding, with its three dimensions and its three thousand tastes and smells? Can he offer himself to the eyes of men as one who has cubically conquered and contained a pudding?

In the same way we may ask of those who profess to have passed through trivial or tragic experiences whether they have absorbed the content of them; whether they licked up such living water as there was. It is a pertinent question in connection with many modern problems. 

Thus the young genius says, "I have lived in my dreary and squalid village before I found success in Paris or Vienna." The sound philosopher will answer, "You have never lived in your village, or you would not call it dreary and squalid." 

Thus the Imperialist, the Colonial idealist (who commonly speaks and always thinks with a Yankee accent) will say, "I've been right away from these little muddy islands, and seen God's great seas and prairies." The sound philosopher will reply, "You have never been in these islands; you have never seen the weald of Sussex or the plain of Salisbury; otherwise you could never have called them either muddy or little." 

Thus the Suffragette will say, "I have passed through the paltry duties of pots and pans, the drudgery of the vulgar kitchen; but I have come out to intellectual liberty." The sound philosopher will answer, "You have never passed through the kitchen, or you never would call it vulgar. Wiser and stronger women than you have really seen a poetry in pots and pans; naturally, because there is a poetry in them." It is right for the village violinist to climb into fame in Paris or Vienna; it is right for the stray Englishman to climb across the high shoulder of the world; it is right for the woman to climb into whatever cathedrae or high places she can allow to her sexual dignity. But it is wrong that any of these climbers should kick the ladder by which they have climbed. But indeed these bitter people who record their experiences really record their lack of experiences. It is the countryman who has not succeeded in being a countryman who comes up to London. It is the clerk who has not succeeded in being a clerk who tries (on vegetarian principles) to be a countryman. And the woman with a past is generally a woman angry about the past she never had.

When you have really exhausted an experience you always reverence and love it. The two things that nearly all of us have thoroughly and really been through are childhood and youth. And though we would not have them back again on any account, we feel that they are both beautiful, because we have drunk them dry. 

~G.K. Chesterton: from A Miscellany of Men.

"You believed your father"

"WHEN your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say "My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell." No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy, Chap. IX.

Arnold Lunn on Chesterton

“WE ARE in some danger today of underestimating our debt to Mr. Chesterton, and of forgetting the impact which his books made on the minds of young men who were infected by the fallacy of Victorian rationalism. In those distant days many people still cherished the futile hope of reconstructing a positive ethical system on the basis of mere negation. Mr. Chesterton’s destructive criticism of the Huxley’s, Bradlaughs and Haeckels of our youth was as devastating as it was brilliant, and its value would be more appreciated today if it had not been so completely effective.”

~Arnold Lunn: Now I See.

6/13/14

Ahlquist: On the anniversary of Chesterton's death

Meeting Chesterton After His Death
By Dale Ahlquist

"Tomorrow, it will be 78 years since G.K. Chesterton took his last breath on this earth. His death was front page news around the world and was met with an outpouring of spontaneous groans and genuine grief. Thousands of people who had never met Chesterton but who had welcomed him into their homes through his newspaper columns felt as though they had lost a friend. But the next few decades passed and he was forgotten. Then something quite contrary happened. Thousands of people suddenly found a friend in Chesterton. His books and essays surged back into print, and people got to know him all over again, embracing the sense of wonder and joy that lives on in his words."

•  Continue reading this wonderful article here.

6/9/14

The Approach to Thomism

THE FACT that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a matter of common sense. Yet it wants a word of explanation, because we have so long taken such matters in a very uncommon sense. For good or evil, Europe since the Reformation, and most especially England since the Reformation, has been in a peculiar sense the home of paradox. I mean in the very peculiar sense that paradox was at home, and that men were at home with it. The most familiar example is the English boasting that they are practical because they are not logical. To an ancient Greek or a Chinaman this would seem exactly like saying that London clerks excel in adding up their ledgers, because they are not accurate in their arithmetic. But the point is not that it is a paradox; it is that paradoxy has become orthodoxy; that men repose in a paradox as placidly as in a platitude. It is not that the practical man stands on his head, which may sometimes be a stimulating if startling gymnastic; it is that he rests on his head; and even sleeps on his head. This is an important point, because the use of paradox is to awaken the mind. Take a good paradox, like that of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.” It is amusing and therefore arresting; it has a fine air of defiance; it contains a real if romantic truth. It is all part of the fun that it is stated almost in the form of a contradiction in terms. But most people would agree that there would be considerable danger in basing the whole social system on the notion that necessaries are not necessary; as some have based the whole British Constitution on the notion that nonsense will always work out as common sense. Yet even here, it might be said that the invidious example has spread, and that the modern industrial system does really say, "Give us luxuries like coal-tar soap, and we will dispense with necessities like corn."

So much is familiar; but what is not even now realised is that not only the practical politics, but the abstract philosophies of the modern world have had this queer twist. Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody’s system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody’s sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind.

It will be understood that in these matters I speak as a fool; or, as our democratic cousins would say, a moron; anyhow as a man in the street; and the only object of this chapter is to show that the Thomist philosophy is nearer than most philosophies to the mind of the man in the street. I am not, like Father D’Arcy, whose admirable book on St. Thomas has illuminated many problems for me, a trained philosopher, acquainted with the technique of the trade. But I hope Father D’Arcy will forgive me if I take one example from his book, which exactly illustrates what I mean. He, being a trained philosopher, is naturally trained to put up with philosophers. Also, being a trained priest, he is naturally accustomed, not only to suffer fools gladly, but (what is sometimes even harder) to suffer clever people gladly. Above all, his wide reading in metaphysics has made him patient with clever people when they indulge in folly. The consequence is that he can write calmly and even blandly sentences like these. “A certain likeness can be detected between the aim and method of St. Thomas and those of Hegel. There are, however, also remarkable differences. For St. Thomas it is impossible that contradictories should exist together, and again reality and intelligibility correspond, but a thing must first be, to be intelligible.”

Let the man in the street be forgiven, if he adds that the “remarkable difference” seems to him to be that St. Thomas was sane and Hegel was mad. The moron refuses to admit that Hegel can both exist and not exist; or that it can be possible to understand Hegel, if there is no Hegel to understand. Yet Father D’Arcy mentions this Hegelian paradox as if it were all in the day’s work; and of course it is, if the work is reading all the modern philosophers as searchingly and sympathetically as he has done. And this is what I mean by saying that a modern philosophy starts with a stumbling-block. It is surely not too much to say that there seems to be a twist, in saying that contraries are not incompatible; or that a thing can “be” intelligible and not as yet “be” at all.

Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled egos by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.

Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else; certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in the professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

To this question “Is there anything?” St. Thomas begins by answering “Yes”; if he began by answering “No”, it would not be the beginning, but the end. That is what some of us call common sense. Either there is no philosophy, no philosophers, no thinkers, no thought, no anything; or else there is a real bridge between the mind and reality. But he is actually less exacting than many thinkers, much less so than most rationalist and materialist thinkers, as to what that first step involves; he is content, as we shall see, to say that it involves the recognition of Ens or Being as something definitely beyond ourselves. Ens is Ens: Eggs are eggs, and it is not tenable that all eggs were found in a mare’s nest.

Needless to say, I am not so silly as to suggest that all the writings of St. Thomas are simple and straightforward; in the sense of being easy to understand. There are passages I do not in the least understand myself; there are passages that puzzle much more learned and logical philosophers than I am; there are passages about which the greatest Thomists still differ and dispute. But that is a question of a thing being hard to read or understand: not hard to accept when understood. That is a mere matter of "The Cat sat on the Mat” being written in Chinese characters; or "Mary had a Little Lamb” in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The only point I am stressing here is that Aquinas is almost always on the side of simplicity, and supports the ordinary man’s acceptance of ordinary truism. For instance, one of the most obscure passages, in my very inadequate judgment, is that in which he explains how the mind is certain of an external object and not merely of an impression of that object; and yet apparently reaches it through a concept, though not merely through an impression. But the only point here is that he does explain that the mind is certain of an external object. It is enough for this purpose that his conclusion is what is called the conclusion of common sense; that it is his purpose to justify common sense; even though he justifies it in a passage which happens to be one of rather uncommon subtlety. The problem of later philosophers is that their conclusion is as dark as their demonstration; or that they bring out a result of which the result is chaos.

Unfortunately, between the man in the street and the Angel of the Schools, there stands at this moment a very high brick wall, with spikes on the top, separating two men who in many ways stand for the same thing. The wall is almost a historical accident; at least it was built a very long time ago, for reasons that need not affect the needs of normal men today; least of all the greatest need of normal men; which is for a normal philosophy. The first difficulty is merely a difference of form; not in the medieval but in the modern sense. There is first a simple obstacle of language; there is then a rather more subtle obstacle of logical method. But the language itself counts for a great deal; even when it is translated, it is still a foreign language; and it is, like other foreign languages, very often translated wrong. As with every other literature from another age or country, it carried with it an atmosphere which is beyond the mere translation of words, as they are translated in a traveller’s phrase-book. For instance, the whole system of St. Thomas hangs on one huge and yet simple idea; which does actually cover everything there is, and even everything that could possibly be. He represented this cosmic conception by the word Ens; [Latin: "being" etc., etc.] and anybody who can read any Latin at all, however rudely, feels it to be the apt and fitting word; exactly as he feels it in a French word in a piece of good French prose. It ought only to be a matter of logic; but it is also a matter of language.

Unfortunately there is no satisfying translation of the word Ens. The difficulty is rather verbal than logical, but it is practical. I mean that when the translator says in English ‘being’, we are aware of a rather different atmosphere. Atmosphere ought not to effect these absolutes of the intellect; but it does. The new psychologists, who are almost eagerly at war with reason, never tire of telling us that the very terms we use are coloured by our subconsciousness, with something we meant to exclude from our consciousness. And one need not be so idealistically irrational as a modern psychologist, in order to admit that the very shape and sound of words do make a difference, even in the baldest prose, as they do in the most beautiful poetry. We can not quite prevent the imagination from remembering irrelevant associations even in the abstract sciences like mathematics. Jones Minimus, hustled from history to geometry, may for an instant connect the Angles of the isosceles triangle with the Angles of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; and even the mature mathematician, if he is as mad as the psychoanalyst hopes, may have in the roots of his subconscious mind something material in his idea of a root. Now it unfortunately happens that the word ‘being’, as it comes to a modern Englishman, through modern associations, has a sort of hazy atmosphere that is not in the short and sharp Latin word. Perhaps it reminds him of fantastic professors in fiction, who wave their hands and say, “Thus do we mount to the ineffable heights of pure and radiant Being: or, worse still, of actual professors in real life, who say, “All Being is Becoming; and is but the evolution of Not-Being by the law of its Being.” Perhaps it only reminds him of romantic rhapsodies in old love stories; “Beautiful and adorable being, light and breath of my very being”. Anyhow it has a wild and woolly sort of sound; as if only very vague people used it; or as if it might mean all sorts of different things.

Now the Latin word Ens has a sound like the English word End. It is final and even abrupt; it is nothing except itself. There was once a silly gibe against Scholastics like Aquinas, that they discussed whether angels could stand on the point of a needle. It is at least certain that this first word of Aquinas is as sharp as the point of a pin. For that also is, in an almost ideal sense, an End. But when we say that St. Thomas Aquinas is concerned fundamentally with the idea of Being, we must not admit any of the cloudier generalisations that we may have grown used to, or even grown tired of, in the sort of idealistic writing that is rather rhetoric than philosophy. Rhetoric is a very fine thing in its place, as a medieval scholar would have willingly agreed, as he taught it along with logic in the schools; but St. Thomas Aquinas himself is not at all rhetorical. Perhaps he is hardly even sufficiently rhetorical. There are any number of purple patches in Augustine; but there are no purple patches in Aquinas. He did on certain definite occasions drop into poetry; but he very seldom dropped into oratory. And so little was he in touch with some modern tendencies, that whenever he did write poetry, he actually put it into poems. There is another side to this, to be noted later. He very specially possessed the philosophy that inspires poetry; as he did so largely inspire Dante’s poetry. And poetry without philosophy has only inspiration, or, in vulgar language, only wind. He had, so to speak, the imagination without the imagery. And even this is perhaps too sweeping. There is an image of his, that is true poetry as well as true philosophy; about the tree of life bowing down with a huge humility, because of the very load of its living fruitfulness; a thing Dante might have described so as to overwhelm us with the tremendous twilight and almost drug us with the divine fruit. But normally, we may say that his words are brief even when his books are long. I have taken the example of the word Ens, precisely because it is one of the cases in which Latin is plainer than plain English. And his style, unlike that of St. Augustine and many Catholic Doctors, is always a penny plain rather than twopence coloured. It is often difficult to understand, simply because the subjects are so difficult that hardly any mind, except one like his own, can fully understand them. But he never darkens it by using words without knowledge, or even more legitimately, by using words belonging only to imagination or intuition. So far as his method is concerned, he is perhaps the one real Rationalist among all the children of men.

This brings us to the other difficulty; that of logical method. I have never understood why there is supposed to be something crabbed or antique about a syllogism; still less can I understand what anybody means by talking as if induction had somehow taken the place of deduction. The whole point of deduction is that true premises produce a true conclusion. What is called induction seems simply to mean collecting a larger number of true premises, or perhaps, in some physical matters, taking rather more trouble to see that they are true. It may be a fact that a modern man can get more out of a great many premises, concerning microbes or asteroids than a medieval man could get out of a very few premises about salamanders and unicorns. But the process of deduction from the data is the same for the modern mind as for the medieval mind; and what is pompously called induction is simply collecting more of the data. And Aristotle or Aquinas, or anybody in his five wits, would of course agree that the conclusion could only be true if the premises were true; and that the more true premises there were the better. It was the misfortune of medieval culture that there were not enough true premises, owing to the rather ruder conditions of travel or experiment. But however perfect were the conditions of travel or experiment, they could only produce premises; it would still be necessary to deduce conclusions. But many modern people talk as if what they call induction were some magic way of reaching a conclusion, without using any of those horrid old syllogisms. But induction does not lead us to a conclusion. Induction only leads us to a deduction. Unless the last three syllogistic steps are all right, the conclusion is all wrong. Thus, the great nineteenth century men of science, whom I was brought up to revere (“accepting the conclusions of science,” it was always called), went out and closely inspected the air and the earth, the chemicals and the gases, doubtless more closely than Aristotle or Aquinas, and then came back and embodied their final conclusion in a syllogism. “All matter is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible.” They were not wrong in the form of their reasoning; because it is the only way to reason. In this world there is nothing except a syllogism – and a fallacy. But of course these modern men knew, as the medieval men knew, that their conclusions would not be true unless their premises were true. And that is where the trouble began. For the men of science, or their sons and nephews, went out and took another look at the knobby nature of matter; and were surprised to find that it was not knobby at all. So they came back and completed the process with their syllogism; "All matter is made of whirling protons and electrons. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of whirling protons and electrons." And that again is a good syllogism; though they may have to look at matter once or twice more, before we know whether it is a true premise and a true conclusion. But in the final process of truth there is nothing else except a good syllogism. The only other thing is a bad syllogism; as in the familiar fashionable shape; "All matter is made of protons and electrons. I should very much like to think that mind is much the same as matter. So I will announce through the microphone or the megaphone, that my mind is made of protons and electrons." But that is not induction; it is only a very bad blunder in deduction. That is not another or new way of thinking; it is only ceasing to think.

What is really meant, and what is much more reasonable, is that the old syllogists sometimes set out the syllogism at length; and certainly that is not always necessary. A man can run down the three steps much more quickly than that; but a man cannot run down the three steps if they are not there. If he does, he will break his neck, as if he walked out of a fourth-story window. The truth about this false antithesis of induction and deduction is simply this; that as premises or data accumulated, the emphasis and detail was shifted to them, from the final deduction to which they lead. But they did lead to a final deduction; or else they led to nothing. The logician had so much to say about electrons or microbes that he dwelt most on these data and shortened or assumed his ultimate syllogism. But if he reasoned rightly, however rapidly, he reasoned syllogistically.

As a matter of fact, Aquinas does not usually argue in syllogism; though he always argues syllogistically. I mean he does not set out all the steps of the logic in each case; the legend that he does so is part of that loose and largely unverified legend of the Renaissance; that the Schoolmen were all crabbed and mechanical medieval bores. But he does argue with a certain austerity, and disdain of ornament, which may make him seem monotonous to anyone specially seeking the modern forms of wit or fancy. But all this has nothing to do with the question asked at the beginning of this chapter and needing to be answered at the end of it; the question of what he is arguing for. In that respect it can be repeated, most emphatically, that he is arguing for common sense. He is arguing for a common sense which would even now commend itself to most of the common people. He is arguing for the popular proverbs that seeing is believing; that the proof of the pudding is in the eating; that a man cannot jump down his own throat or deny the fact of his own existence. He often maintains the view by the use of abstractions; but the abstractions are no more abstract than Energy or Evolution or Space-Time; and they do not land us, as the others often do, in hopeless contradictions about common life. The Pragmatist sets out to be practical, but his practicality turns out to be entirely theoretical. The Thomist begins by being theoretical, but his theory turns out to be entirely practical. That is why a great part of the world is returning to it today.

Finally, there is some real difficulty in the fact of a foreign language; apart from the ordinary fact of the Latin language. Modern philosophical terminology is not always exactly identical with plain English; and medieval philosophical terminology is not at all identical even with modern philosophical terminology. It is not really very difficult to learn the meaning of the main terms; but their medieval meaning is sometimes the exact opposite of their modern meaning. The obvious example is in the pivotal word “form”. We say nowadays, “I wrote a formal apology to the Dean”, or “The proceedings when we wound up the Tip-Cat Club were purely formal.” But we mean that they were purely fictitious; and St. Thomas, had he been a member of the Tip-Cat Club, would have meant just the opposite. He would have meant that the proceedings dealt with the very heart and soul and secret of the whole being of the Tip-Cat Club; and that the apology to the Dean was so essentially apologetic that it tore the very heart out in tears of true contrition.

For “formal” in Thomist language means actual, or possessing the real decisive quality that makes a thing itself. Roughly when he describes a thing as made out of Form and Matter, he very rightly recognises that Matter is the more mysterious and indefinite and featureless element; and that what stamps anything with its own identity is its Form. Matter, so to speak, is not so much the solid as the liquid or gaseous thing in the cosmos; and in this most modern scientists are beginning to agree with him. But the form is the fact; it is that which makes a brick a brick, and a bust a bust, and not the shapeless and trampled clay of which either may be made. The stone that broke a statuette, in some Gothic niche, might have been itself a statuette; and under chemical analysis, the statuette is only a stone. But such a chemical analysis is entirely false as a philosophical analysis. The reality, the thing that makes the two things real, is in the idea of the image and in the idea of the image-breaker. This is only a passing example of the mere idiom of the Thomist terminology; but it is not a bad prefatory specimen of the truth of Thomist thought. Every artist knows that the form is not superficial but fundamental; that the form is the foundation. Every sculptor knows that the form of the statue is not the outside of the statue, but rather the inside of the statue; even in the sense of the inside of the sculptor. Every poet knows that the sonnet-form is not only the form of the poem; but the poem. No modern critic who does not understand what the medieval Schoolman meant by form can meet the Schoolman as an intellectual equal.

~G.K. Chesterton: St. Thomas Aquinas, Chap VI.

St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi:
With Introductions by Ralph McInerny and Joseph Pearce.
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Remembering Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens died June 9, 1870.

"THE hour of absinthe is over. We shall not be much further troubled with the little artists who found Dickens too sane for their sorrows and too clean for their delights. But we have a long way to travel before we get back to what Dickens meant; and the passage is along an English rambling road ─ a twisting road such as Mr. Pickwick travelled. But this at least is part of what he meant: that comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel, but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which, through God, shall endure for ever. The inn does not point to the road: the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters. And when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world."

 ~G.K. Chesterton: Charles Dickens.


Christopher Dawson on Religion

If the modern man is indeed the heir of all the ages, he is of the kind of heir who tells the family solicitor to sell the whole damned estate, lock, stock and barrel, and give him a little ready money to throw away at the races or the night-clubs. He is certainly not the kind of heir who ever visits his estate: and, if he really owns all the historic lands of ancient and modern history, he is a very absentee landlord. He does not really go down the mines on the historic property, whether they are Caves of the Cave-Men or the Catacombs of the Christians, but is content with a very hasty and often misleading report from a very superficial and sometimes dishonest mining expert. He allows any wild theories, like the wild thickets of thorn and briar, to grow all over the garden and even the graveyard. He will always believe modern testimony in a text-book against contemporary testimony on a tombstone. He sells the family portraits with much more than the carelessness of Charles Surface,[1] and seldom even knows enough about the family even to save a favourite uncle from the wreck. For the adjective “fast,” which was condemnation when applied to profligates, has become a compliment when applied to progressives. I know there are any number of men in the modern world to whom all this does not in the least apply; but the point is that, even where it is obviously applicable, it is not thought particularly culpable. Nevertheless, there are some of us who do hold that the metaphor of inheritance from human history is a true metaphor, and that any man who is cut off from the past, and content with the future, is a man most unjustly disinherited; and all the more unjustly if he is happy in his lot, and is not permitted even to know what he has lost. And I, for one believe that the mind of man is at its largest, and especially at its broadest, when it feels the brotherhood of humanity linking it up with remote and even barbaric things.

Mr. Christopher Dawson has written studies of historic and pre-historic problems which have been admired by men distinguished in every way, and especially distinguished from each other. His work has been most warmly praised by critics as different as Dean Inge and Mr. Aldous Huxley and the Rev. C.C. Martindale. [2] But I, for one, value his researches for one particular reason above the rest: that he has given the first tolerably clear and convincing account of the real stages of what his less lucid predecessors loved to call the Evolution of Religion. Whether myths and mystical cults were really evolved along one consistent line, I do not know. But theories about mythology or cults or mysteries were most certainly not evolved along any consistent line. They cut across each other and almost immediately became a tangle of contradictions. First we had the Sun Myth illuminating everything like the sun, and enabling Bishop Whatley to prove that Napoleon was a mythical character. [3] Then we had Herbert Spencer and Gran Allen, [4] who said that everything came from ghosts and graves and the worship of ancestors; and then Professor Frazer, who (with all his genius) could not see the sacred tree for the golden bough. Now, whatever else be true of these theories of evolution, they are not evolved. The grave does not grow out of the sun; nor even the oak out of the grave; and on no possible theory is Frazer a development of Spencer. They are contrary guesses; and if there is evidence for all of them (as no doubt there is), the evidence only increases the confusion. Mr. Dawson has ordered the confusion without contradicting the evidence; and his conclusion is that there were, broadly four stages in the spiritual journey of humanity.

The first notion, with which the lowest and most primitive savages seem to have begun, was very like the notion with which many of our Higher Thinkers hope that all humanity will end. It was a broad belief in what is now called “the spiritual element in life”; in a spirit almost impersonal but still superior to our material minds; of which we may gain encouraging glimpses and visions. This is the stage of the Shaman, or medicine-man, who, as an independent individual mystic, can tap the vast and vague supernatural power that pervades the world. By special magic rites, with special material objects, herbs or stones or what not, he could release the mysterious force. For note that this is not pantheism; the sacred tree is hidden in the wood or the dryad is imprisoned in the tree. Now I could not be content with this magic, whether or no it suit the Higher Thinkers. But I have no sympathy with this magic; I count no man large-minded or imaginative who has not sometimes felt like a medicine-man. It is quite natural to me, walking in the woods, to wonder fancifully whether whistling back the note of a certain bird, or tasting the juice of a certain berry, would release a glamour or give back a fairyland. I call that being the heir of all ages.

The second stage is that of the static archaic culture, in which a whole people live a ritual life, generally founded on the seasons of seed or harvest, in which there is not distinction between sacred and profane, because ploughing or fishing are religious forms; and no distinction between king and priest, because the Sacred Emperor rules the whole round of ritual life like a god. China and Egypt and other cultures were of that sort. Here again, I should be dissatisfied with a religion that was a pageant of nature; for I feel the soul, in Sir Thomas Browne’s noble phrase, as something other than the elements, that owes no homage unto the sun.[5] But I am much more dissatisfied with a man, pretending to be a man of culture, who merely despises the ritual. I can never see a pageant of harvest without feeling that it is religious, and it gratifies me to think that I am feeling like the first Emperor of China. I call that being the heir of all ages.

The third phase described is the rise of the world religions, the moral and universal religions; for Buddha and Confucius and the Hebrew Prophets and the first Greek philosophers appeared roughly at the same time. And with them appeared the idea expressed in Sir Thomas Browne’s phrase: that the soul is greater than the sun. Henceforth the conscience is more than the cosmos. Either it condemns the cosmos, or ignores the cosmos, as in Buddhism; or it gives a mystical meaning, as in Platonism; or it sees it as an instrument for producing a grander good, as in Judaism and Christianity. Now I do not myself care about the Buddhist extreme, which almost unmakes the world to make the soul. I do not like Nirvana, which seems indistinguishable from death. But I would not be seen dead in a field, not in a field of any paradise, negative or positive, with the man who has no admiration for the superb renunciation of Buddha, or for the Western equivalent, the star-defying despair of the Stoics. No man has really been alive who has not some time felt that the skies might fall, so that the justice within his conscience should be done; and in the richer tapestry of the Christian there is also a dark thread of the Stoic. I call that being the heir of the ages.

I will not complete the four phases here, because the last deals with the more controversial question of the Christian system. I merely use them as a convenient classification to illustrate a neglected truth: that a complete human being ought to have all these things stratified in him, so long as they are in the right order of importance, and that man should be a prince looking from the pinnacle of a tower built by his fathers, and not a contemptuous cad, perpetually kicking down the ladders by which he climbed.

~G.K. Chesterton: Illustrated London News, Jan. 7, 1933.

+++

Notes:

1. A likeable rake in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “School for Scandal.”

2. William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) was an English liberal theologian and dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for many years. Rev. C(yril C(harlie) Martindale (1879-1963) was a Jesuit author of a number of books and tracts defending the Roman Catholic Church and religion.

3. Richard Whately, English archbishop of Dublin (1787-1863), was a writer on logic and opponent of the Oxford movement. He held a number of controversial views that made him unpopular. His “Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte” (1819) mocks the methods used by philosophical skeptics.

4. Grant Allen (1848-1899) was a writer on topics of science and evolution. His The Evolutionist at Large (1881) and The Evolution of the Idea of God (1897) are on Chesterton’s mind here. See March 25, 1911.

5. The passage from Religio Medici (pt. 2 sect. 11) reads, “There is surely a piece of Divinity in us, something that was before the Elements, and owes no homage unto the Sun.” (See also June 20, 1925.)


Amazon

"A living Church"

"I HAVE another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross; some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre. One fine morning I saw why windows were pointed; some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven. Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast."

~G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy, Chap. IX.

6/8/14

"The Freethinker"

"YOU hold that your heretics and sceptics have helped the world forward and handed on a lamp of progress. I deny it. Nothing is plainer from real history than that each of your heretics invented a complete cosmos of his own which the next heretic smashed entirely to pieces. Who knows now exactly what Nestorius taught? Who cares? There are only two things that we know for certain about it. The first is that Nestorius, as a heretic, taught something quite opposite to the teaching of Arius, the heretic who came before him, and something quite useless to James Turnbull, the heretic who comes after. I defy you to go back to the Freethinkers of the past and find any habitation for yourself at all. I defy you to read Godwin or Shelley, or the deists of the eighteenth century, or the nature-worshipping humanists of the Renaissance, without discovering that you differ from them twice as much as you differ from the Pope. You are a nineteenth-century sceptic, and you are always telling me that I ignore the cruelty of Nature. If you had been an eighteenth-century sceptic you would have told me that I ignore the kindness and benevolence of Nature. You are an Atheist, and you praise the deists of the eighteenth century. Read them instead of praising them, and you will find that their whole universe stands or falls with the deity. You are a Materialist, and you think Bruno a scientific hero. See what he said, and you will think him an insane mystic. No; the great Freethinker, with his genuine ability and honesty, does not in practice destroy Christianity. What he does destroy is the Freethinker who went before."

~G.K. Chesterton: The Ball and the Cross, Chap VIII.


"What the Church is like"

"AND I feel above all, this simple and forgotten fact; that whether certain charges are or are not true of Catholics, they are quite unquestionably true of everybody else. It never occurs to the critic to do anything so simple as to compare what is Catholic with what is Non-Catholic. The one thing that never seems to cross his mind, when he argues about what the Church is like, is the simple question of what the world would be like without it.

"That is what I mean by being too narrow to see the house called the church against the background called the cosmos."

 ~G.K. Chesterton: The Thing.

Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter, by Giovanni Battista Castello.
Illumination on vellum, 1598; Musée du Louvre, Paris

6/4/14

In Defense of Sanity

Recommended reading:In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton

"So three of the world's leading authorities on Chesterton - Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Aidan Mackey - have joined together to select the "best" Chesterton essays, a collection that will be appreciated by both the newcomer and the seasoned student of this great 20th century man of letters."



On the Intellect of Yesterday

IS the present generation better educated than the last generation? Is it more intelligent than any one of any number of past generations? Most of those writing on the subject say ‘Yes’. Most of them, by a curious coincidence, belong to the present generation, or some very recent generation. I have no axe to grind in the matter; neither the ancestral axe of Brutus, red with the blood of his sons, nor the latest pattern of guillotine on which a revolutionary son can enthusiastically execute his father. There are some matters in which the world has lately veered towards my own opinions; some matters in which it has turned away from them. But I have enough intellectual curiosity to have doubts, and certainly enough to make distinctions.

I think there would be a case for maintaining this: that the world has improved in everything except intellect. In artistic sensibilities, and even in social sympathies (at least, of a certain kind), I think there has been a quickening and a response. I think it probable that the number of people who can rapidly get used to a foreign fashion or style of ornament, who can guess what an eccentric artist is driving at, who can feel the emotions evoked by unusual music, is larger than it was in mid-Victorian times. But these things do not appeal to the intellect. And I think they appeal to the modern mood because they do not appeal to the intellect. They make signals to the sentimental part of human nature, and the code of those signals is learned more quickly than it would once have been. But when it comes to anything like a strain on the intellect as such, I think that most modern people are much stupider than those in the age of my father, and probably very much stupider than those in the age of my grandfather. I have reasons for my belief, but it illustrates my point that the modern reader would hardly listen to a long process of reasoning. I believe I could even prove it, if people now were patient enough to listen to proof.

First, it must be realized that liveliness in the preacher does not mean liveliness in the congregation. On the contrary, the extreme liveliness in the preacher is produced by dullness in the congregation. I am ready to believe, for instance, that Mr. Lloyd George is a more purely entertaining speaker than Cobden. But that is because Mr. Lloyd George speaks to men who want to be entertained. Cobden spoke to men who wanted to be convinced. The listeners provided something of the liveliness needed to carry them through a purely logical process. When there was a congregation of logicians, as there was in some of the old Scottish Calvinist kirks, the preacher could reckon on being followed when his discourse was a pure demonstration in logic. It is when the congregation is dull that it wants to be amused. Cobden stood for various views which I do not myself find convincing; but his audience was convinced, it was not merely amused. Now, a man cannot be convinced by an argument without following the argument. He can be amused, even if he goes to sleep in the middle of the argument and wakes up just in time to hear a joke about Tories drinking beer or Bolshevists sharing boots. I believe there is infinitely less of this intellectual attention to an argument than there used to be.

It is illustrated, for instance, in the great modern change in the Press. I am not now arguing about whether Lord Northcliffe’s revolution in journalistic methods was morally or socially good. I only say it may well stand for something which is intellectually very much to the bad. When I was a boy, the papers printed long and detailed reports of speeches by Gladstone or Goschen or Asquith, on complex controversies of economies and finance. Perhaps they were not worth printing; perhaps they were not worth reading; but they were read. Now, it may be very bright and pleasant to have all Gladstone’s subtle and searching logical distinctions swept away in favour of the fixed and unfailing headline of ‘What Did Mr. Gladstone Say in 1885?’ It may be very comfortable to forget all the luminous legal distinctions of Asquith, and agree that that statesman never said anything in this life except ‘Wait and See’. But it is not a proof of increased intellectual activity that we are satisfied with the simple and soothing quotations. The minds of our fathers may have been occupied in futile and pedantic hair-splitting, but their minds were really capable of splitting a hair. It may be more cosy to be stunned with a blow on the head by a club than to have one of your hairs split by a needle, but it is not any better tribute to the quality of your head, or of anybody else’s.

Or take another test from another type of inquiry. When all the drawing-rooms began to buzz suddenly with the name of Einstein, some of us were enabled to guess that they must once have buzzed quite as abruptly with the name of Darwin. Some of us are inclined to guess that Darwinism became a fashion long before anybody really thought it was a fact. Doubtless any number of society ladies went about saying that Professor Darwin was really too wonderful, just as they afterwards went about saying that Professor Einstein was really too wonderful. But, when all is said, there is no comparison between the two cases. Any number of people did really attack the study of biology, in order to agree or disagree with Darwin. Hardly one person in a thousand thought of attacking the higher mathematics in order to agree with Einstein. People did talk about Darwinism as well as about Darwin. Most of those who talk about Einstein talk about Einstein. They know nothing but the name and the notion that something very important has happened in connexion with the name. The talk about Darwin may have been popular science, but it was science, and it was popular. The talk about Einstein may rather be called popular nescience. He has not made astronomy really popular, as the other made biology really popular. And I believe that the reason is a certain increased laziness of the intellect; that fewer people are ready for a long, sustained logical demonstration, quite apart from whether we think that the demonstration really demonstrates. In my boyhood there were any number of funny little atheists running about ready and eager to prove what they had learned from the work of Darwin. So there were any number of fanatical little Free-Traders eager to prove what they had learned from the speeches of Cobden. I do not find men now so eager to prove things; but, at the most, to assure me that they have been proved.

One way of putting it is that this is a psychological age, which is the opposite of an intellectual age. It is not a question of persuading men, but of suggesting how they are persuaded. It is an age of Suggestion; that is, of appeal to the irrational part of man. Men discussed whether Free Trade was false or true; they do not so much discuss whether Empire Free Trade is false or true, as whether it is booming or slumping; whether it is based on an understanding of Mass Psychology, or whether its opponents or supporters have what Americans call Personality. It is all great fun, and there is doubtless a truth in it, as in other things. But, whatever else it is, it is not a mark of stronger mentality, and any old Scotch Calvinist farmer, who could follow his minister’s desolate and appalling sermon to Seventeenthly and Lastly, had an immeasurably better brain.

~G.K. Chesterton: All is Grist, V.

6/3/14

"Once abolish the God, and the Government becomes the God"

"But the truth is that it is only by believing in God that we can ever criticise the Government. Once abolish the God, and the Government becomes the God. The fact is written all across human history; but it is written more plainly across that recent history of Russia; which was created by Lenin. There the Government is the God, and all the more the God, because it proclaims aloud in accents of thunder, like every other God worth worshipping, the one essential commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

"...The truth is that Irreligion is the opium of the people. Wherever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world. But, above all, they will worship the strongest thing in the world. And, by the very nature of the Bolshevist and many other modern systems, as well as by the practical working of almost any system, the State will be strongest thing in the world. The whole tendency of men is to treat the solitary State as the solitary standard. That men may protest against law, it is necessary that they should believe in justice; that they may believe in justice beyond law, it is necessary that they should believe in a justice beyond the land of living men. You can impose the rule of the Bolshevist as you can impose the rule of the Bourbons; but it is equally an imposition. You can even make its subjects contented, as opium would make them contented. But if you are to have anything like divine discontent, then it must really be divine. Anything that really comes from below must really come from above."

~G.K. Chesterton: from Christendom in Dublin.

Poem: The Modern Manichee

He sayeth there is no sin, and all his sin
Swells round him into a world made merciless;
The midnight of his universe of shame
Is the vast shadow of his shamelessness.
He blames all that begat him, gods or brutes,
And sire not sons he chides as with a rod.
The sins of the children visited on the fathers
Through all generations, back to a jealous God.

The fields that heal the humble, the happy forests
That sing to men confessed and consoled,
To him are jungles only, greedy and groping,
Heartlessly new, unvenerably old.

Beyond the pride of his own cold compassion
Is only cruelty and imputed pain:
Matched with that mood, a boy’s sport in the forest
Makes comrades of the slayer and the slain.

The innocent lust of the unfallen creatures
Moves him to hidden horror but no mirth;
Misplaced morality rots in the roots unconscious,
His stifled conscious stinks through the green earth.
The green things thrust like horrible huge snails,
Horns green and gross, each lifting a leering eye
He scarce can call a flower; it lolls obscene,
Its organs gaping to the sneering sky.

Dark with that dusk the old red god of gardens,
Still pagan but not merry any more,
Stirs up the dull adulteries of the dust,
Blind, frustrate, hopeless, hollow at the core;
The plants are brutes ties with green rope and roaring
Their terrible dark loves from tree to tree:
He shrinks as from a shaft, if by him singing,
A gilded pimp and pandar, goes the bee.

He sayeth, “I have no sin; I cast the stone,”
And throws his little pebble at the shrine,
Casts sin and stone away against the house
Whose health has turned earth’s waters into wine.
The venom of that repudiated guilt
Poisons the sea and every natural flood
As once a wavering tyrant washed his hands,
And touching, turned the water black with blood.    

~G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton introduces Rudyard Kipling



G. K. Chesterton introduces Rudyard Kipling to a Canadian Literary Society.