Reading Orthodoxy

Grasping Chesterton’s Thought Takes Heavy Lifting, Like Trying to Pick Him Up

by Andiew Dosa

G.K. Chesterton grew to 300 plus pounds. His body of work is equally pi‘odigious. If we were asked to literally pick up Chesterton, it would be backbreaking. If we were committed to reading all of lits writings, we would i‘un out of life tinge. If we wei’e interested in undei‘standing hint, that too would take a tenacious effort. The effort is worth it, but it, in its own way, is back breaking.

Chesterton’s non-fiction particularly (e.g., Oi tliodoxy and The Everlasting Man) is a clialleiiging read. His fertile and creative wind fiIl the pages with dozens of big examples and descriptions, peiylexing tangents, and audacious assertions. Despite that, there is a flow to lits work, but it can be more like a iiaelting ice cap infused river than a gentle biook.

His arguments ai‘e i‘icli, creative, and decidedly not pedantic. He is not shy about using repctitive or complementary or contrasting/paTadoxical arguments twat follow quickly after each other. Sometimes you feel lie has piled argument upon argument, and you are sagging under their weight oi slieei nunibei‘s.

He speaks forcefully, and he must have gotten excited—you cci feel his passion. This man was also not equivocal. It has been suggested, lie “could wax rliapsodic about newly anything.” His response to life and all it contained for hint, whether it meandered across his path or lie rode out to confront it, was with all his soul and spirit. He loved things completely, or he felt thorough going disdain for things. He engaged everything.

Without care and an undei-standing of a few habits or patterns of lits style, it is easy to get lost. He offers so much; without discipline, you can feel spun about like in a maze. The fulness and richness of his uniting reveals the dexterity of lits mind, but that mind offers so many supports and building blocks to buttress lits points, you can get bogged down. So consider the following to make your reading easier.

    • Chesterton tpaically was a single main point of each chapter. He employs many aTguments in a chapter, but lae is building on a single premise or primary point.
    • His arguments and illustration or examples aide often provided in the form of couplets. The couplets may be parallels, contrasts, paradoxical.. If an argument or‘ couplet sidetracks you, leave it and move on. Something else way trigger your understanding of lits position.

Go up to the first few Paragraphs. The writing is not a match to Chesterton’s, but you can see an invitation of his habits and patterns. There is a lot of repetition, but with the ideas expressed differently, to biting home the point.

    • Sometimes Chesterton will list his conclusions or points that took him to his conclusion. They are still merely to illustrate his main point. Consider the end of Chapter Four, The Ethics of Elfland. He lists five steps lie took, but they are the journey toward his conclusion of that chapter‘ about the greatness and magic of routine.
    • Remember how he takes his journey. In Chapter V. The Flag of the World, p.72, he says: “I put these things not in their mature logical sequence, but as they came: and this view was cleared and sharpened by an accident of the time.” He was on his journey in life and observing and sensing matters, as they came, seemingly haphazardly, and he kept getting these perceptions.I think he then went about exploring what other people said or thought about life.Perhaps he was trying to put more structure or refinement to his thoughts or seeking deeper understanding. He found the philosophies of the modem man were bankrupt, insane, even idiotic. Ultimately he concluded Christianity was the MI embodiment of all his thoughts and yearning.It was what he had experienced.Perhaps another way to consider this is to say that Chesterton sensed the natural law, received it, and did not accept anything that fought against the natural law. The natural law reflected meaning and purpose, and Chesterton grasped the one thing—Christianity—that fully confirmed his sense, what he intuited, what he knew.I think Chesterton’s journey in life was most formed by an experience he had as a young boy.His parents took him to a parade. The parade was an event of one single entry. It was the emperor. G. K’s first impression was that this emperor was parading without clothes on. He turned quietly to his mother and said, with some wonder and shock: “The emperor is wearing no clothes!”As a child, he did not know to be more socially adept, and his comment reached the ears of a few people standing there.Several people rebuked him. The nihilist told him the emperor was wearing clothes, but it would not matter if he was clothed or naked. The materialist chided him for failing to understand that the emperor had no free will, and you could not question what he was doing.Richard Dawkins turned to him and blamed the church and Christians for forcing the emperor to be that way.There were two taylors walking away from the parade, but they stopped, and in unison, said that the clothes could only be seen by those of the highest class, the most sophisticated, best educated, the “in” crowd.And finally, Charles Darwin told him that there was global warming, and the emperor was adapting to the challenges of the environment, so he would survive. The emperor’s natural selection of skin rather than clothing to respond to the heat could not be doubted.But the child knew better.He screamed, “The emperor has no clothes!” G. K. knew the emperor also really knew he was unclothed—having heard the scream, the emperor immediately began to cover himself. Later, when G. K. was getting into bed for the night, the day’s main event still played in his memory. His father came in to read him a story.He brought with him nursery tales by Hans Christian Anderson, and be began to read about an emperor of great refinement and expertise. As the story unfolded, G. K. yelled out: “I knew he was naked.”In the third paragraph of chapter V., The Flag of the World, Chesterton says he began with a “primary feeling that the world is strange and attractive.” He says fairy tales expressed the primary feeling he had.Thus, he was being practical.If he saw something and sensed meaning about or in it, he did not think too much about it and think himself out of the meaning that was so plain. He stayed earnest like a child. In like earnest, he appreciated the ordinary man, and preferred him to the expert.Chesterton knew children sense meaning because of their clarity and simplicity. Thus, when nihilists argue there is no meaning, and were thinking too rationally, Chesterton reached the easy conclusion. Nihilists do not thinking clearly. In fact, he concluded that they were insane. Hence, the nihilist is the maniac of chapter 2.It is entirely likely that Chesterton would agree in principle, if not in choice of words, that the danger for us is to become too adult, and not maintain enough of the child.Madeleine L’Engle would put it another way. She has said the trouble potential publishers had with her Trilogy, beginning with “A Wrinkle in Time”, was not that the books were beyond children, but the books were beyond the adults, the publishers. It was as if adults lived in a room with windows you could not open and a door that was locked. Adults cannot get out of the room; children are not locked in.

Here are a few other thoughts about not losing the thread of his apology (for his faith and life):

  • Be like Hansel and Gretel. Leave bread crumbs you can go back to to not lose your way. Keep hold of the main thread of his writing.
  • It seems every sentence is thought provoking. It stimulates your thoughts. But that may be red herrings to obscure the trail you are following.
  • Chesterton follows idea after idea with unexpected ideas. This too is provocative and, sometimes, can be overwhelming. Come back and enjoy them later, but don’t drop the thread.
  • On re-reading a section of the book, you may discover something you did not “read” before. Well, of course you read it, but it might have gotten lost on you, you might have left it behind, failed to appreciate it, or did not give it full attention because you were holding on to the thread. This too can make the thread harder to follow or vanish.

So with that to start, take the journey with Chesterton and enjoy the wild ride he takes you on. The following is an outline of the book, with some quotes Chesterton uses to make his point, and some quotes that are just delicious. And again, remember to find the thread. Then, don’t let go.

I. Introduction

    • “I will begin to worry about my philosophy when Mr. Chesterton has told me about his.” this is a copout. But God chose to use it. Chesterton wrote the book, and noted that Mr. G. S. Street “has inspired and created this book [yet) he need not read it.”
    • Man has a double spiritual need—the need for the familiar and unfamiliar, the practical

‘Dale Ahlquist, Founder and President of the American Chesterton Society offers a few good suggestions about reading this book, in his lecture on Orthodoxy, which we include here. romance of the strange and secure. Thus, a man sets sail for the exotic. He discovers his home. He claims the South Seas for England, though he has landed on the beach at Brighton—where he began the voyage.

      • G. K. Chesterton and us — we pursue with the utmost daring and discover what has been discovered before.
      • When setting foot on England’s shore, we are the “first” to do it, yet we truly are the last to do it.
      • Trying to be 10 minutes ahead of the truth actually means being 2000 years behind the truth.
      • Trying to be original amounts to inventing an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religions.
    • Trying to be original, or pursuing the original or even a heresy, leads to orthodoxy. The ultimate Orthodoxy is the Apostle’s Creed. The issue of how we got what we have is another dispute. Chesterton says he wants to understand God. Thus, exploring the source of the Creed is unimportant to him, though that is the modem man’s focus.
      • Question: what is the problem with inquiring into the source of the Creed? Chesterton suggests inquiring into the source is questioning the source.

Chesterton says: “1 will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”

II. The Maniac

  1. We ought to begin with what we can see, sin, and move to what we cannot see, divine sinlessncss, to address the need presented by what we can see. The solution to sin is not to redefine sin or to deny there is sin. Is truth a goal of the mind, reason?
  2. The first observation, at its core, is that there is something (the spiritual, truth?) beyond our mind and reason. Beware of your mind’s efforts to limit itself and its reach by concluding it is paramount. There is greater authority out there beyond us. True reason is reliable.
    • Today’s philosophy of sanity concludes that imagination is damaging to man’s mental balance. Really, it is reason which breeds insanity. “Sanity floats easily in an infinite sea, and reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. This is a departure from reality.
    • It is always perilous to the mind to reckon upon the mind.
    • Consider an argument with a madman (one whose reckoning is only upon himself—not elevated and truly great.) You may very well lose. He is not constrained or delayed by good judgment, sense of humor, charity or the “the dumb certainties of experience.”
    • The best answer to the madman is not direct refutation. It is adding light, air, sun—it is adding more. It is helping him see the world is bigger and he is smaller.
    • Madness is smallness. A small circle may be infinite, as a larger circle is. But that circle is small. Thus the madman is “consistent”, yet disconnected from greatness, true power.
    • Answering madness is to make the madman smaller relative to his circle, or to give him a bigger circle. He must be made smaller, which in turn makes him bigger because he fits a bigger truth.
  3. Consider the materialist. He is limited. He has nothing except the limited, the material. He has lost the immaterial/spiritual.
    • In contrast, Spirituality has not lost the material. It has both the spiritual and material. In fact, it’s material is greater than the material of the materialist. Spirituality makes even the material so much more.
    • Consider the symbol of the serpent in a circle, eating its own tail. Is this suicide? Cannibalism? Is the serpent empty despite its meal of itself? This symbol is a reflection on the smallness of madness.
    • It is the chief mark and element of insanity.
    • Reason employed here is without root; it is reason in the void. This is thinking without the first principle. It is beginning to think at the wrong end.
  4. If you start sane, what keeps you sane? Mysticism keeps men sane and healthy. Destroy mystery, create morbidity.
    • the whole secret of mysticism — man can understand everything by what he does not understand.
  5. Contrast and paradox are at the center of sanity. The circle symbolizes reason and madness; the cross, with paradox at its center, symbolizes mystery and health. Sanity welcomes contrast and paradox, which may coexist together.
  6. Does Chesterton suggest that faith and God are necessary for reason to attain truth? That reason is limited and needs more—something outside itself?

III. The Suicide of Thought

  1. Having a large and a generous heart, but not a heart in the right place (G. B. Shaw.)
    • “The modern world is not evil; in some ways … [it] is far too good.” Wild and wasted virtues. The old Christian virtues have gone mad—they are isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Some truth is pitiless, some pity is untruthful. Can we make righteousness and peace kiss the other?
    • A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth. Now, we assert ourselves and deny truth or , and if even we could learn truth. “The whole modem world is at war with reason….” “… [H]uman intellect is free to destroy itself.”
    • “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”
    • Religion and reason are authoritative, and methods of proof which cannot be proved.
  2. Modem intelligence destroy reason
    • The first attack on thought is Evolution, a modem intelligence, which destroys itself, if anything. It destroys rationalism, not religion. The second [opposite] attack on thought is from H. G. Wells — every separate thing is “unique,” and there are no categories at all. But if every chair is unique, how do we know what a chair as but for the category of chairs.. The third attack on thought is the false theory of progress — alter the tests instead of passing the test.”[I]f the standard changes, how can there be improvement [progress], which implies a standard? A fundamental alteration in the standard makes thought about the past or future impossible.
    • In response: apparent objective truth is not the whole matter, but there is an authoritative need to believe the things necessary to the human mind.
  3. The great fallacy of free thought is that it is neither free nor thought. In effect, it asks the questions and invents the answers. The great fallacy of free will is that the will is limited and the “free” is limited. There is always context and absolutes, including moral absolutes.
    • Entertain free thought about a giraffe, reject the limitations of a giraffe, and then describe a giraffe. What you describe, if a rejection of the concept of a giraffe, is not a giraffe.
    • Can you replace a curve with a straight line because you feel a straight line should be a curve or a curve should be a straight line?
    • “The worship of will is the negation of whale. To admire mere choice is to refuse to choose.”
    • “[Free thought] rebels against the law and tells us to will something or anything, but we [humans] have willed something. We have willed the law against which [free thought] rebels.”
    • “Will-worshipers”say will expands and breaks out. But the act of will is an act of “self-limitation.” Choose any one thing, you reject everything else. “The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into the world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental loss, but not from the laws of their own nature…. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel…. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.”
    • .. [A]II denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modem revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it…. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of time, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time.”
    • “Thinking in isolation and with pride ends in being an idiot.”
  4. The moral of the story: if you rebel against everything, you lose the right to rebel against anything. To live outside truth, morality, and God’s creation is to choose falseness, immorality, and death. Consider the child that saw the emperor was naked.

IV. The Ethics of Elfland

  1. Should we trade in our ideals and childlike faith for practical politics? “[T]he primary feeling that this world is strange and yet attractive is best expressed in fairy tales.” See third paragraph 3 of Chap V (page 67?). So fairy tales have more to offer us than modem distractions as we search for meaning. Fairy tales best express our understanding the world is strange and attractive.
  2. The principal of democracy is twofold.
    • First, “things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any man. Ordinary things are more valuable [more extraordinary] than extraordinary things.” The essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things held separately.
    • Second, “the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common.” The Democratic faith is: “the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men.”
    • Democracy is not opposed to tradition. Tradition is democracy extended through time.
    • The ordinary, like fairy tales, better explains the world.
  3. Chesterton’s first and last philosophy — fairy tales, the entirely reasonable things. Fairy tales speak of nature, the divine, the supernatural. They are not earthbound, but heaven focused. They are not law and reason bound, but magic focused. [Fairy tales are like religious icons, in their proper use—as windows to the eternal. They are reminders of the other world as we live firmly planted in this world.]
    • We live with admiration and praise. And two emotions. First, life is as precious as puzzling. It was an ecstasy because it is an adventure, and it was an adventure, because it was an opportunity; Second, he felt gratitude for gifts of things and of life itself.
  4. The second great principle of the fairy philosophy—the Doctrine of Conditional Joy. The vision always hangs upon a veto—not doing something you could do at any moment, and without obvious explanation for why. “I did not feel disposed to resist any rule merely because it was mysterious.” Why complain that a blessing (even one chosen) meant you could not have other blessings. Feeling jealousy/envy because another person has a differwent/their blessing is foolish. Why question the blessing you received because there are blessings you did not receive; this robs you of the blessing you did receive.
  5. The modern world opposes the nursery tale/fairy tale. But fairy tales gave Chesterton two convictions. First, the world is a wild and startling/delightful place and could be different. Second, we ought to submit to the onorous limitations of so clear a kindness of this delightfulness.
    • The modern world speaks of scientific fatalism; there is no change, and only the nothing that has been since the beginning
    • The modem world is “solid for modem Calvinism—the need of things being as they are. This leaves out what things mean and represent. Is it nothing that routine is lifelessness? Could routine beat the rush of life. Children have vital lives with fears and free spirits —they want repetition and consistency. God has never tired of making a blade of grass. Repetition in nature is “a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical italicize encore.”
    • The small size of man compared to a tree, whale, or the cosmos belies his greatness. “The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its [the scientific universe’s] cosmos added nothing to it.” “According to these people the cosmos was one thing since it had one unbroken rule. Only (to read they would say) while it is one thing, it is also the only thing there is.” What is size if there is nothing to compare it to? “This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price: for there cannot be another one.”
    • Chesterton answers: first, this world does not explain itself. There is magic here. Second, magic must have a meaning and meaning must have someone to mean it. There is something personal in the world, as in a work of art. Third, this purpose is beautiful in its old design in spite of defects, such as dragons. Fourth, “the proper form thinks it is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them.” Fifth, and last, and strangest, All good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred.

V. The Flag of the World

  1. In Chap IV, Chesterton saw the world is strange and attractive. Now, he knows he is alive and has an attitude toward life. It is a sense of loyalty, not optimism. So then, he asks, to what do I owe my allegiance, my primary devotion? This world is the fortress to my family and the flag flying up front is about this world/this life I am passionate about and love. This is the flag of existence. If I love it, I want to make it better. What thinking/philosophy reflects this view and the loyalty/love I fed for the world?
    • [Consider the pirate bait and switch. It was common for pirates to have flags of various nations. When approaching a ship of a country, it would fly that country’s flag. When close enough to inflict harm, it would lower the flag and run up the Jolly Roger. Is the flag of the world like the pirate deception?]
    • The social contract is not reflective of the morality guiding us or my commitment to life/the world and life. “Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, ‘I will not hit you if you do not hit me’….”
    • The optimist or pessimist does not reflect the passion/loyalty we have. Optimists defend, jingoistically, the world which needs reform, but they will not reform the world. Hence, they are not truly loyalty to the world. The worldly optimist says we fit into the world. The Christian optimist says we do not fit into the world.
    • A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boa War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it.
    • The strange and strong loyalty of women is also not quite right. Could it be, Chesterton asks, that their support is a bit blind to the true need, and not bound, as love would be, to the true need?
    • “Before any cosmic act of reform we must have a cosmic oath of allegiance.” “Can [the ordinary man] hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?” [This repeats the main point of the chapter.]
    • Do we value life? To not value life is blasphemous—Matthew Arnold and Schopenhauer. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.
    • There is a “consistency” in Christianity. What was believable 2000 years ago is believable today.
    • Chesterton found “two huge and unmanageable machines, of different shapes and without apparent connection–the world and the Christian tradition. I had found this hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. “

VI. The Paradoxes of Christianity

  1. Chesterton picks up the thread from the last chapter. which was concerned to urge the first of these mystical coincidences, or rather ramifications. Paradoxes make the case for Christianity.
    • Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. The most flaming vices, yet a mystical talent for combining vices that seemed inconsistent with each other. Angular and aggressive squareness and enervating and sensual roundness.
    • Christians live in a nightmare or fool’s paradise.
    • Christianity: The black mask on the white world, or the white mask on a black world.
    • Christians—cowards for clinging to this comfortable world, yet a fool to stand by so uncomfortable a world. When a pessimist complains that Christianity’s world was too pessimistic, you have to wonder.
    • Christianity was this cabaret of the weirder and wickeder, a home of two opposing vices. It was a faith for a man who was too fat in one place and too thin in another. And an odd shaped fellow—or a fellow might be the right shape.
    • My rational thoughts were of the odd shape of the religion, but not yet did I see the odd shape of the rationalistic mind.
  2. The case for Christianity — was it made by its paradoxes or by the inconsistencies, hypocrisy of its detractors. The problem was with the attacker, not the attacked?
    • Hate this faith for it promoted the timid, monkish and unmanly; Hate this faith for it taught men to fight too much. The faith bathed the world with blood.
    • Get angry at the man who does not get angry, then angry at the man for he is so angry as to make the most huge and horrible thing in human history. Christianity abused the world. Did we need the Monasteries and the Crusades?
    • “In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.”
    • “It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?”
    • “…if this evil existed, then there was in this evil something quite supreme and unique.” “An historic institution, which never went right, is really quite as much of a miracle as an institution that cannot go wrong.””Now, it was just at this point of the speculation that I remembered my thoughts about the martyr and the suicide. In that matter there had been this combination between two almost insane positions which yet somehow amounted to sanity…. Thus was born the faith of paradoxes, and the paradoxes were sanity and both the extremes and all sane points in between.””There was more to it than that Christianity was merely sensible and stood in the middle. It is that “we want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy; love and wrath both burning…. Christ was … both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.””Everywhere the creed made a moderation out of the still crash of two impetuous emotions.” Christianity is more, but not “[bjeing a mixture of two things, it is [not] a dilution of two things; neither is present in its full strength or contributes its full colour.” “Christianity sought by this same strange expedient to save both of them. It separated the two ideas and then exaggerated them both. In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before.” “… Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious. The Church was positive on both points. One can hardly think too little of one’s self. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.””We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.””Thus, the double charges of the secularists, though throwing nothing but darkness and confusion on themselves, throw a real light on the faith.””There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad.”

VII. The Eternal Revolution

  1. “The following propositions have been urged: First, that some faith in our life is required even to improve it; second, that some dissatisfaction with things as they are is necessary even in order to be satisfied; third, that to have this necessary content and necessary discontent it is not sufficient to have the obvious equilibrium of the Stoic.” How do you create Utopia? What can change this world?”… [Mature does not say that cats are more valuable than mice; nature makes no remark on the subject. She does not even say that the cat is enviable or the mouse pitiable. We think the cat superior because we have (or most of us have) a particular philosophy to the effect that life is better titan death. But if the mouse were a German pessimist mouse, he might not think that the cat had beaten him at all. He might think lie had beaten the cat by getting to the grave first.Or he might feel that he had actually inflicted frightful punishment on the cat by keeping him alive. Just as a microbe might feel proud of spreading a pestilence, so the pessimistic mouse might exult to think that he was renewing in the cat the torture of conscious existence. It all depends on the philosophy of the mouse. You cannot even say that there is victory or superiority in nature unless you have some doctrine about what things are superior. You cannot even say that the cat scores unless there is a system of scoring. You cannot even say that the cat gets the best of it unless there is some best to be got.”
  2. Generally Modems fail to express a legitimate ideal, victory, scoring system, clock, figure of speech, metaphor. “It all depends on the philosophy of the mouse.”
    • The collapse and blunder of our age is to intend to alter the real to suit the ideal, instead of altering the ideal. “The modern young man will never change his environment, for he will always change his mind.”The only sensible modems are those who take what they happen to want, and say that is the ultimate aim of evolution. God has given up the colors of a palette, not the colors of a picture. This is not a world, but the materials for a world. What shall we paint? He has given us a subject, model, fixed vision. Why debate the mere words evolution or progress, or reform? We see a thing out of shape, mean to put it into shape, and we know what shape.
    • The first requirement about the ideal of progress—it must be fixed. Failures should not trigger changes in the ideal, or the failures are unfruitful. Changes in the ideal make failures fruitless. “How can we make sure that the portrait painter will throw the portrait out of window instead of taking the natural and more human course of throwing the sitter out of window?”
    • “A strict rule is not only necessary for ruling; it is also necessary for rebelling.” There must be an eternal test. What on earth is the current morality, except in its literal sense–the morality that is always running away?” “There must at any given moment be an abstract right and wrong if any blow is to be struck; there must be something eternal if there is to be anything sudden.” ‘You may alter the place to which you are going; but you cannot alter the place from which you have come.’
    • The next necessity is of any ideal of progress. Progress is not natural “If we are bound to improve, we need not trouble to improve.” If the end of the world is to an elaborate and artistic result, there must be a design in it, either human or divine. If the world is turned into art, then there is an artist.Some humanitarians argue for a cosmic creed—we are progressing, growing more lenient. “1 think it wrong to sit on a man. Soon, I shall think it wrong to sit on a horse. Eventually (I suppose) I shall think it wrong to sit on a chair. That is the drive of the argument And for this argument it can be said that it is possible to talk of it in terms of evolution or inevitable progress. … This drift may be really evolutionary, because it is stupid.””Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals. On the evolutionary basis you may be inhumane, or you may be absurdly humane; but you cannot be human. That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.””Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them.” “Twice again, therefore, Christianity had come in with the exact answer that I required. I had said, ‘The ideal must be fixed,’ and the Church had answered, ‘Mine is literally fixed, for it existed before anything else.’ I said secondly, ‘It must be artistically combined, like a picture’; and the Church answered, ‘Mine is quite literally a picture, for I know who painted it.’ Then I went on to the third thing, which, as it seemed to me, was needed for an Utopia or goal of progress. And of all the three it is infinitely the hardest to express. Perhaps it might be put thus: that we need watchfulness even in Utopia, lest we fall from Utopia as we fell from Eden.”We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change.” … “It will not be necessary for any one to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press. We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.””This startling swiftness with which popular systems turn oppressive is the third fact for which we shall ask our perfect theory of progress to allow.” …”I have listened to scientific men (and there are still scientific men not opposed to democracy) saying that if we give the poor healthier conditions vice and wrong will disappear. I have listened to them with a horrible attention, with a hideous fascination. For it was like watching a man energetically sawing from the tree the branch he is sitting on.”[The Doctrine of Sin) Christianity offers an answer/explanation for every challenge or presumption. Do we trust the rich? The person in the street? The aristocracy? The socialist? The conservative? The Progressive? Christianity says the position of man, his “advances, nature, nurture, environment, education, strengths, talents, opportunities, poverty, wealth, property, merely mask the underlying problem. Man is broken and sinful. Beware man. The danger is man, is in man. “For it is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history.”

      “Aristocracy is not an institution: aristocracy is a sin; generally a very venial one. It is merely the drift or slide of men into a sort of natural pomposity and praise of the powerful, which is the most easy and obvious affair in the world.”

      “In short, I had spelled out slowly, as usual, the need for an equal law in Utopia; and, as usual, I found that Christianity had been there before me. The whole history of my Utopia has the same amusing sadness. I was always rushing out of my architectural study with plans for a new turret only to find it sitting up there in the sunlight, shining, and a thousand years old.”

VIII.—The Romance of Orthodoxy

    1. Christianity, especially if not weakened by liberalizers, has a far greater positive impact on society and culture, than the modem or “liberal” theories, philosophies, or ideas. Christian doctrines allow for/promote progress; these alternatives do not. As Chesterton puts it, at the beginning of Chapter IX, 9: “[O]rthodoxy is not only (as is often urged) the only safe guardian of morality or order, but is also the only logical guardian of liberty, innovation and advance.”In Chapter VIII, 8, he says: “In the few following pages I propose to point out as rapidly as possible that on every single one of the matters most strongly insisted on by liberalisers of theology their effect upon social practice would be definitely illiberal. Almost every contemporary proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny into the world. For freeing the church now does not even mean freeing it in all directions. It means freeing that particular set of dogmas loosely called scientific, dogmas of monism, of pantheism, or of Arianism, or of necessity…. There is only one thing that can never go past a certain point in its alliance with oppression–and that is orthodoxy.”
    2. Chesterton speaks of orthodoxy, Christian doctrines, and specifically six fundamental planks of the faith.2 The first is actually dealt with in Chapter 7 and identifies the profound vulnerability or limitation of man. ‘Professor Freddoso lists these six, and we will largely repeat his points and the passages he cites in support.
      • ORIGINAL SIN (vs. Oligarchy) started in Chapter 7: “Now let us take in order the innovations that are the notes of the new theology or the modernist church. We concluded the last chapter with the discovery of one of them. The very doctrine which is called the most old-fashioned was found to be the only safeguard of the new democracies of the earth. The doctrine seemingly most unpopular was found to be the only strength of the people. In short, we found that the only logical negation of oligarchy was in the affinnation of original sin. So it is, I maintain, in all the other cases.”
      • MIRACLES (vs. Naturalism or Materialism) “The only thing which is still old-fashioned enough to reject miracles is the New Theology. But in truth this notion that it is “free” to deny miracles has nothing to do with the evidence for or against them. It is a lifeless verbal prejudice of which the original life and beginning was not in the freedom of thought, but simply in the dogma of materialism. The man of the nineteenth century did not disbelieve in the Resurrection because his liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it. He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow him to believe it. Tennyson, a very typical nineteenth-century man, uttered one of the instinctive truisms of his contemporaries when he said that there was faith in their honest doubt. There was indeed. Those words have a profound and even a horrible truth. In their doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate; a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos. The doubts of the agnostic were only the dogmas of the monist….”A holiday, like Liberalism, only means the liberty of man. A miracle only means the liberty of God. You may conscientiously deny either of them, but you cannot call your denial a triumph of the liberal idea. The Catholic Church believed that man and God both had a sort of spiritual freedom. Calvinism took away the freedom from man, but left it to God. Scientific materialism binds the Creator Himself; it chains up God as the Apocalypse chained the devil. It leaves nothing free in the universe. And those who assist this process are called the ‘liberal theologians’.””Reform or (in the only tolerable sense) progress means simply the gradual control of matter by mind. A miracle simply means the swift control of matter by mind…. If a man cannot believe in miracles there is an end of the matter; he is not particularly liberal, but he is perfectly honourable and logical, which are much better things. But if he can believe in miracles, he is certainly the more liberal for doing so; because they mean first, the freedom of the soul, and secondly, its control over the tyranny of circumstance.”
      • DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE (vs. Pantheism and Immanentism, and especially Buddhism) “The truth is that the difficulty of all the creeds of the earth is not as alleged in this cheap maxim: that they agree in meaning, but differ in machinery. It is exactly the opposite. They agree in machinery almost every great religion on earth works with the same external methods, with priests, scriptures, altars, sworn brotherhoods, special feasts. They agree in the mode of teaching; what they differ about is the thing to be taught.””All humanity does agree that we are in a net of sin. Most of humanity agrees that there is some way out. But as to what is the way out, I do not think that there are two institutions in the universe which contradict each other so flatly as Buddhism and Christianity.””A short time ago Mrs. Besant, in an interesting essay, announced that there was only one religion in the world, that all faiths were only versions or perversions of it, and that she was quite prepared to say what it was. According to Mrs. Besant this universal Church is simply the universal self. It is the doctrine that we are really all one person; that there are no real walls of individuality between man and man. If I may put it so, she does not tell us to love our neighbours; she tells us to be our neighbours. That is Mrs. Besant’s thoughtful and suggestive description of the religion in which all men must find themselves in agreement. And I never heard of any suggestion in my life with which I more violently disagree…. Upon Mrs. Besant’s principle the whole cosmos is only one enormously selfish person.””We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as of divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed.””That external vigilance that has always been a mark of Christianity (the command that we should watch and pray) has expressed itself both in typical western orthodoxy and in typical western politics: but both depend on the idea of a divinity transcendent, different from ourselves, a deity that disappears. Certainly the most sagacious creeds may suggest that we should pursue God into deeper and deeper rings of the labyrinth of our own ego. But only we of Christendom have said that we should hunt God like an eagle upon the mountains: and we have killed all monsters in the chase…. If we want reform, we must adhere to orthodoxy.”
      • TRINITY (vs. Unitarianism) “There is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanansian Creed may be an enigma for t he intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world.”
      • HELL (vs. Universalism) “To hope for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable. It is tenable, but it is not specially favourable to activity or progress. Our fighting and creative society ought rather to insist on the danger of everybody, on the fact that every man is hanging by a thread or clinging to a precipice. To say that all will be well anyhow is a comprehensible remark: but it cannot be called the blast of a trumpet. Europe ought rather to emphasize possible perdition; and Europe always has emphasized it. Here its highest religion is at one with all its cheapest romances. To the Buddhist or the eastern fatalist existence is a science or a plan, which must end up in a certain way. In a thrilling novel (that purely Christian product) the hero is not eaten by cannibals; but it is essential to the existence of the thrill that he might be eaten by cannibals. The hero must (so to speak) be an eatable hero. So Christian morals have always said to the man, not that he would lose his soul, but that he must take care that he didn’t. In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man “damned”: but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call him damnable.”
      • DIVINITY OF CHRIST (vs. Arianism)

“This truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point–and does not break.”

“Let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

Chapter 9

Authority and the Adventurer

  1. Chesterton argues Christianity is true and also effective at social progress and reform. Christianity cannot be reduced to moral and social teaching. It must be recognized as spiritual. You cannot isolate the moral teaching.
    • He continues what he started in Chapter 8, which contended that orthodoxy is both the only safe-guardian of morality or order and the only logical guardian of liberty, innovation and advance. “But even supposing that those doctrines do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? …’ This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a pleasure to try to answer it”
  2. Chesterton finds Christianity is true and arguments against it are insubstantial and not factual. Professor Freddoso offers a worthwhile mad as he analyses Chesterton’s presentation along three points’:
  • Rationality and the Arguments against Christianity The agnostic does not offer facts, only misstatements. For example, man is just another animal, religion arose in ignorance and fear, the Catholic religion’ is full of doom and gloom, Jesus was a gentle creature, Christianity flourished only in the dark ages of ignorance, or strongly religious people like the Irish are week, unpractical, and behind the times:”Thus these three facts of experience, such facts as go to make an agnostic, are, in this view, totally turned around. I am left saying, ‘Give me an explanation, first, of the towering eccentricity of man among the brutes; second, of the vast human tradition of some ancient happiness; third, of the partial perpetuation of such pagan joy in the countries of the Catholic Church.’ One explanation, at any rate, covers all three: the theory that twice was the natural order interrupted by some explosion or revelation such as people now call ‘psychic’. Once Heaven came upon the earth with a power or seal called the image of God, whereby man took command of Nature; and once again (when in empire after empire men had been found wanting) Heaven came to save mankind in the awful shape of a man. This would explain why the mass of men always look backwards; and why the only corner where they in any sense look forwards is the little continent where Christ has His Church””The sceptic is too credulous; he believes in newspapers and encyclopedias. Again the three questions left me with three very antagonistic questions. The average sceptic wanted to know how I explained the namby-pamby note in the Gospel, the connection of the creed with mediaeval darkness and the political impracticability of the Celtic Christians. But I wanted to ask, and to ask with an earnestness amounting to urgency, ‘What is this incomparable energy which appears first in one walking the earth like a living judgment and this energy which can die with a dying civilization and yet force it to a resurrection from the dead; this energy which last of all can inflame a bankrupt peasantry with so fixed a faith in justice that they get what they ask, while others go empty away; so that the most helpless island of the Empire can actually help itself?”There is an answer, it is an answer to say that the energy is truly from outside the world…. It is no injustice…to say that only modern Europe has exhibited incessantly a power of self-renewal recurring often at the shortest intervals and descending to the smallest facts of building or costume. All other societies die finally and with dignity. We die daily. We are always being born again with almost indecent obstetrics…. For our civilization ought to have died, by all parallels, by all sociological probability, in the Ragnorak of the end of Rome. That is the weird inspiration of our estate: you and I have no business being here at all. We are all revenants; all living Christians are dead pagans walking about. Just as Europe was about to be gathered in ‘It may be quibbling, but Professor Freddoso may be making a common error in asserting that Chesterton was arguing for Catholicism. Chesterton had not yet become Catholic when he wrote Orthodoxy.. silence to Assyria and Babylon, something entered into its body. And Europe has had a strange life—it is not too much to say that it has had the jumps—ever since”
  • Rationality and Belief in the Supernatural Chesterton accepted miracles and the “objective occurrence of the supernatural” is more based on evidence than his opponents’ rejection of these things. This is in effect his argument against Hume’s ad hominem against the ignorant masses who are the source of most miracle stories:”Somehow or other the extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost.If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism–the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are a dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence—it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred” (pp. 157-158).
  • Rationality and the Truth of Christianity Given this belief in the supernatural, he then must choose among the competing claims as to the nature of the supernatural, and to distinguish good spirits from bad ones.”It is not enough to find the gods; they are obvious; we must find God, the real chief of the gods. We must have a long historic experience in supernatural phenomena–in order to discover which are really natural. In this light I find the history of Christianity, and even of its Hebrew origins, quite practical and clear. It does not trouble me to be told that the Hebrew god was one among many. I know Ile was, without any research to tell me so. Jehovah and Baal looked equally important, just as the sun and the moon looked the same size. It is only slowly that we learn that the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite. Believing that there is a world of spirits, I shall walk in it as I do in the world of men, looking for the thing that I like and think good” (pp. 160-161). So the main strategy is to argue that once the question becomes one of choosing a particular account of the world, an account which includes a recognition of the supernatural—both the good supernatural and the bad supernatural—Christianity and particularly Catholicism looks really good. “I have now said enough to show (to any one to whom such an explanation is essential) that I have in the ordinary arena of apologetics, a ground of belief. In pure records of experiment (if these be taken democratically without contempt or favour) there is evidence, first, that miracles happen, and second that the nobler miracles belong to our tradition. But I will not pretend that this curt discussion is my real reason for accepting Christianity instead of taking the moral good of Christianity as I should take it out of Confucianism.”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 tomorrow. 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 tomorrow, 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 tomorrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before. There is one only parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. 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 truth 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 the truth tomorrow as well as today. And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother, at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated…

    “I give one instance out of a hundred; I have not myself any instinctive kinship with that enthusiasm for physical virginity, which has certainly been a note of historic Christianity. But when I look not at myself but at the world, I perceive that this enthusiasm is not only a note of Christianity, but a note of Paganism, a note of high human nature in many spheres…. With all this human experience allied with the Christian authority, I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the Church right; or rather that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach. Celibacy is one flower in my father’s garden, of which I have not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day.

    “This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophers say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all the creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden.” And Chesterton believes that this philosophy has obvious advantages over the superficially more liberal, but in truth enslaving, philosophies of the modernist: “The outer ring of Christianity is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests; but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom. But in the modem philosophy the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within.

    “And its despair is this, that it does not really believe that there is any meaning in the universe; therefore it cannot hope to find any romance; its romances will have no plots. A man cannot expect any adventures in the land of anarchy. But a man can expect any number of adventures if he goes travelling in the land of authority. One can find no meanings in a jungle of scepticism; but the man will find more and more meanings who walks through a forest of doctrine and design.”

    Chesterton makes his final point: “All the real argument about religion turns on the question of whether a man who was born upside down can tell when he comes right way up. The primary paradox of Christianity is that the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition; that the normal itself is an abnormality…. It is only since I have known orthodoxy that I have known mental emancipation.”

    “And when rationalists say that the ancient world was more enlightened than the Christian, from their point of view they are right. For when they say ‘enlightened’ they mean darkened with incurable despair. It is profoundly true that the ancient world was more modern than the Christian. The common bond is in the fact that ancients and moderns have both been miserable about existence, about everything, while mediaevals were happy about that at least. I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable about everything–they were quite jolly about everything else.

    I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at peace about everything–they were at war about everything else. But if the question turn on the primary pivot of the cosmos, then there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides, but he lived in a gayer universe…. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.”

    In concluding, I confess an affection for Chesterton’s extraordinary ability to turn a phrase. The article may have suffered for this affection. It was difficult to leave out some much of what he said. I fell prey to the greatness of his prose. Still, it was better that we had more of his own words than an amateur’s attempts to summarize him. Thus, it is hoped that these notes will help clarify what Chesterton has offered us all, a timeless apologetic work.
    AAD, April 2008