Rigidity yielding a little, like justice swayed by mercy, is the whole beauty of the earth. The cosmos is a diagram just bent beautifully out of shape. Everything tries to be straight; and everything just fortunately fails.~G.K Chesterton
As I see the corn grow green all about my neighbourhood, there rushes on me for no reason in particular a memory of the winter. I say “rushes,” for that is the very word for the old sweeping lines of the ploughed fields. From some accidental turn of a train-journey or a walking tour, I saw suddenly the fierce rush of the furrows. The furrows are like arrows; they fly along an arc of sky. They are like leaping animals; they vault an inviolable hill and roll down the other side. They are like battering battalions; they rush over a hill with flying squadrons and carry it with a cavalry charge. They have all the air of Arabs sweeping a desert, of rockets sweeping the sky, of torrents sweeping a watercourse. Nothing ever seemed so living as those brown lines as they shot sheer from the height of a ridge down to their still whirl of the valley. They were swifter than arrows, fiercer than Arabs, more riotous and rejoicing than rockets. And yet they were only thin straight lines drawn with difficulty, like a diagram, by painful and patient men. The men that ploughed tried to plough straight; they had no notion of giving great sweeps and swirls to the eye. Those cataracts of cloven earth; they were done by the grace of God. I had always rejoiced in them; but I had never found any reason for my joy. There are some very clever people who cannot enjoy the joy unless they understand it. There are other and even cleverer people who say that they lose the joy the moment they do understand it. Thank God I was never clever, and I could always enjoy things when I understood them and when I didn’t. I can enjoy the orthodox Tory, though I could never understand him. I can also enjoy the orthodox Liberal, though I understand him only too well.
… Just as the train appeared to be reaching its desired destination it suddenly picked up steam and went crashing off down the tracks and into the distance. What had been barely disputed until yesterday became a cause to destroy someone’s life today. Whole careers were scattered and strewn as the train careened along its path. ~Douglas Murray
In recent years, a particular cadence has arisen among a number of prominent intellectuals that laments the decline of Christianity here in the West. They are concerned about the ideologies that are rushing into the resulting vacuum, noting that many are woefully inept when it comes to navigating the complex moral terrain of human existence. What is astounding is that many of the thinkers are not professing believers. Case in point: the English journalist and author, Douglas Murray.
“There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking.”
“I’m beginning to strongly suspect that nobody actually understands G.K. Chesterton,” a friend recently remarked. “They just like quoting him when convenient.” I had to laugh at this for I am guilty as charged. Chesterton both confounds and delights me, and I am confident that I have quoted him on numerous occasions without really understanding his meaning. He had a way with words that makes the temptation to repeat him too hard to resist! Yet, it is when he confounds me that I enjoy his writing the most. He challenges me to slow down and think. Most of all, he teaches me about the joy of existence; that existence itself is good, something so easily forgotten in the toils of daily life.
“The hot weather, which has been almost coincident with the new reign, might serve, perhaps as another omen, if I were one who likes omens—or like hot weather. Unfortunately, I am one of those heretics who tend (during a strong summer) to the somewhat hasty opinion of certain early Christians, that Apollo is a devil. Or if he is a beneficent deity, he is one of a highly searching and even ruthless sort; a flaming fact, picking out and emphasing other facts; making the world all too realistic. The chief gift of hot weather to me is the somewhat unpopular benefit called a conviction of sin. All the rest of the year I am untidy, lazy, awkward, and futile. But in hot weather I “feel” untidy, lazy, awkward, and futile. Sitting in a garden-chair in a fresh breeze under a brisk grey and silver sky, I feel a frightfully strenuous fellow: sitting on the same garden-chair in strong sunshine, it begins slowly to dawn on me that I am doing nothing. In neither case, of course, do I get out of the chair. But I resent that noontide glare of photographic detail by the ruthless light of which I can quite clearly see myself sitting in the chair. I prefer a more grey and gracious haze, something more in the Celtic-twilight style, through which I can only faintly trace my own contours, vast but vague in the dusk and distance.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “Illustrated London News,” June 11, 1910.
I saw in a newspaper paragraph the other day the following entertaining and deeply philosophical incident. A man was enlisting as a soldier at Portsmouth, and some form was put before him to be filled up, common, I suppose, to all such cases, in which was, among other things, an inquiry about what was his religion. With an equal and ceremonial gravity the man wrote down the word “Methuselahite.” Whoever looks over such papers must, I should imagine, have seen some rum religions in his time; unless the Army is going to the dogs. But with all his specialist knowledge he could not “place” Methuselahism among what Bossuet called the variations of Protestantism. He felt a fervid curiosity about the tenets and tendencies of the sect; and he asked the soldier what it meant. The soldier replied that it was his religion “to live as long as he could.”
“This is, I suppose, the whole subtlety of the sin of pride; all other sins attack men when they are weak and weary; but this attacks when men are happy and valuable and nearer to all the virtues. And when it attacks most easily the results are vilest.”
By G.K. Chesterton, from The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (a collection of essays edited by Dorothy E. Collins and published in 1975)
“It will not, I imagine, be disputed that the one black and inexcusable kind of pride is the pride of the man who has something to be proud of. It is true that you often do hear people saying, as they say other idle and unmeaning things while they are really watching a bird fly or expecting the dinnerbell, that such and such a person is vain, but has some right to be. But you do not find these people actually regarded with anything short of the most delightful loathing; whereas the nice old donkeys who are vain without any earthly ground for vanity at all, are not only universally and rightly beloved, but are made Cabinet Ministers and Bishops, and covered with a continual admiration. And this popular feeling is right. The universal objection to the people who are proud of genuine calibre is not any mere jealousy of them; it is not a paltry or panic-stricken resentment of their admitted superiority. It is, like a great many other things which ordinary people feel in a flash and could not possibly defend, entirely philosophical. The instinct of the human soul perceives that a fool may be permitted to praise himself, but that a wise man ought to praise God. A man who really has a head with brains in it ought to know that this head has been gratuitously clapped on top of him like a new hat. A man who by genius can make masterpieces ought to know that he cannot make genius. A man whose thoughts are as high as the stars ought to know that they roll almost as regardless of his power. A man who possesses great powers ought to know that he does not really possess them.
“A verbal accident has confused the mystical with the mysterious. Mysticism is generally felt vaguely to be itself vague—a thing of clouds and curtains, of darkness or concealing vapours, of bewildering conspiracies or impenetrable symbols. Some quacks have indeed dealt in such things: but no true mystic ever loved darkness rather than light. No pure mystic ever loved mere mystery. The mystic does not bring doubts or riddles: the doubts and riddles exist already. We all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. The mystery of life is the plainest part of it. The clouds and curtains of darkness, the confounding vapours, these are the daily weather of this world. Whatever else we have grown accustomed to, we have grown accustomed to the unaccountable. Every stone or flower is a hieroglyphic of which we have lost the key; with every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand. The mystic is not the man who makes mysteries but the man who destroys them. The mystic is one who offers an explanation which may be true or false, but which is always comprehensible—by which I mean, not that it is always comprehended, but that it always can be comprehended, because there is always something to comprehend. The man whose meaning remains mysterious fails, I think, as a mystic … ”
“The Church is the only thing that ever attempted by system to pursue and discover crimes, not in order to avenge, but in order to forgive them.”
“The Divine Detective” an essay by G.K. Chesterton, 1909
“Every person of sound education enjoys detective stories, and there are even several points on which they have a hearty superiority to most modern books. A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive. But those who have enjoyed the roman policier must have noted one thing, that when the murderer is caught he is hardly ever hanged. “That,” says Sherlock Holmes, “is the advantage of being a private detective”; after he has caught he can set free. The Christian Church can best be defined as an enormous private detective, correcting that official detective—the State. This, indeed, is one of the injustices done to historic Christianity; injustices which arise from looking at complex exceptions and not at the large and simple fact. We are constantly being told that theologians used racks and thumbscrews, and so they did. Theologians used racks and thumbscrews just as they used thimbles and three-legged stools, because everybody else used them. Christianity no more created the mediaeval tortures than it did the Chinese tortures; it inherited them from any empire as heathen as the Chinese.