“Stronger than strong pain”

Pagans were not impressed by the torture of Christians merely because it showed that they honestly held their opinion; they knew that millions of people honestly held all sorts of opinions. The point of such extreme martyrdom is much more subtle. It is that it gives an appearance of a man having something quite specially strong to back him up, of his drawing upon some power. And this can only be proved when all his physical contentment is destroyed; when all the current of his bodily being is reversed and turned to pain. If a man is seen to be roaring with laughter all the time that he is skinned alive, it would not be unreasonable to deduce that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he had thought of a rather good joke. Similarly, if men smiled and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces, the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental honesty: they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinary as conjuring. The Pagan said to himself: “If Christianity makes a man happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the street?” The Secularists laboriously explain that martyrdoms do not prove a faith to be true, as if anybody was ever such a fool as to suppose that they did. What they did prove, or, rather, strongly suggest, was that something had entered human psychology which was stronger than strong pain. If a young girl, scourged and bleeding to death, saw nothing but a crown descending on her from God, the first mental step was not that her philosophy was correct, but that she was certainly feeding on something.

All Things Considered (1908).

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Published in: on May 23, 2019 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  

“No authority”

We hear a great deal about ideas being accepted without examination because they come by authority. It is my experience nowadays that any idea will be accepted without any examination so long as it does not come by authority. This can be practically tested at any moment. Indeed, it makes a rather amusing parlour-game. Go into a crowded drawing-room and say, “I have had a revelation from heaven that it is dangerous to wear galoshes,” and your friends will see, even if they do not say, that it is a silly idea. They will think it a silly idea because you give what is, after all, a reason for it. But if you simply say, without any reason or authority whatever, “Don’t you know it’s very dangerous to wear galoshes?” all their faces will instantly alter with intelligence and alarm, and they will discuss every aspect of this important piece of news except the question of where it came from…

It is, after all, even in the rational sense, something in favour of any formula that any public authority has made itself responsible for endorsing it. But in practice, if your remark has some authority, people will resist and criticize it. If it has no authority, they will surrender and swallow it. Such is the detached and daring freedom of the modern mind.

Illustrated London News, 16 June 1917.

Published in: on May 15, 2019 at 12:37 pm  Comments (3)  

“On the seventh day of creation”

The most unfathomable schools and sages have never attained to the gravity which dwells in the eyes of a baby of three months old. It is the gravity of astonishment at the universe, and astonishment at the universe is not mysticism, but a transcendent common-sense. The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of stars, new grass, new cities, a new sea.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on April 24, 2019 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

“A paradox in its center”

The cross, though it has at its head a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape.  Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing.  The circle returns upon itself and is bound.  The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.

Orthodoxy (1908).

Published in: on April 17, 2019 at 11:56 am  Leave a Comment  

“Faults and follies”

When we reverence anything in the mature, it is their virtues or their wisdom, and this is an easy matter. But we reverence the faults and follies of children.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on April 10, 2019 at 10:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Impenitence

The soul does not die by sin but by impenitence.

— The Resurrection of Rome (1930).

(Hat-tip: Society of GKC)

Published in: on April 3, 2019 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  

“The wind moves the trees”

The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind. When people begin to say that the material circumstances have alone created the moral circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility of serious change. For if my circumstances have made me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am right in altering those circumstances?

The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts—including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.

— Tremendous Trifles (1909).

Published in: on March 27, 2019 at 11:44 am  Leave a Comment  

“Every brick”

A city is, properly speaking, more poetic even than a countryside, for while Nature is a chaos of unconscious forces, a city is a chaos of conscious ones. The crest of the flower or the pattern of the lichen may or may not be significant symbols. But there is no stone in the street and no brick in the wall that is not actually a deliberate symbol—a message from some man, as much as if it were a telegram or a post-card. The narrowest street possesses, in every crook and twist of its intention, the soul of the man who built it, perhaps long in his grave. Every brick has as human a hieroglyph as if it were a graven brick of Babylon; every slate on the roof is as educational a document as if it were a slate covered with addition and subtraction sums. Anything which tends, even under the fantastic form of the minutiae of Sherlock Holmes, to assert this romance of detail in civilization, to emphasize this unfathomably human character in flints and tiles, is a good thing. It is good that the average man should fall into the habit of looking imaginatively at ten men in the street even if it is only on the chance that the eleventh might be a notorious thief.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on March 20, 2019 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Two kinds of ascetics

There are two kinds of ascetics in the world… The first ascetic surrenders things because he could enjoy them; he is the Catholic monk. The second ascetic surrenders things because he could not enjoy them; he is the Puritan. The first is in the tradition of the Pagan sacrifices; he sacrifices the best beast to his gods. The second slaughters only black beetles upon the altar. Briefly, the first offers to give up his goods, the second offers to give up his bads, to heaven. That is why Protestant asceticism (as in the case of total abstinence) is a thing so much more militant and regimentary; it is not left as the wild vow of one man, it is turned into ordinary ethics… The Protestant ascetic… is too good to drink wine. But any stupid monk who was a man of any humility would know that the question was: whether he was good enough to drink it.

Independent Review, January 1906.

(Hat-tip: Society of G.K. Chesterton)

Published in: on March 13, 2019 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  

“The common clay of earth”

There is always in the healthy mind an obscure prompting that religion teaches us rather to dig than to climb; that if we could once understand the common clay of earth we should understand everything.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on March 6, 2019 at 11:11 am  Leave a Comment