About Jesus…

Having just read G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, so much stood out as, frankly, pure genius.  However, these few lines were among many that were just stunning, and I hope they inspire you to read this incredible journalistic and dare I say, playful, account of history, religion and the fact of Jesus of Nazareth….

IMG-4218“‘The first rational explanation of his life was that he never lived…

Then the idea that he was a divine being who did not exist gave place to the idea that he was a human being who did exist.

In my youth it was the fashion to say that he was merely an ethical teacher in the manner of the Essenes, who had apparently nothing much to say that Hillel or a hundred other Jews might not have said…

Then someone said that he was a madman with a Messianic delusion. Then others said that he was indeed an original teacher because he cared about nothing but Socialism; or (as others said) about nothing but Pacifism.

Then a more grimly scientific character appeared who said that Jesus would never have been heard of at all except for his prophecies of the end of the world… Among other variants on the same theme was the theory that he was a spiritual healer and nothing else…

There is another theory that concentrates entirely on the business of diabolism… as if Christ, like a young deacon taking his first orders, had got as far as exorcism and never got any further.

Now each of these explanations in itself seems to me singularly inadequate; but taken together they do suggest something of the very mystery which they miss.

There must surely have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him…

It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against blasphemy… rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim… when a strolling carpenter’s apprentice said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.'”

The Donkey

A great little poem from the perspective of the donkey by the gentle giant that was G. K. Chesterton.  Just right for Palm Sunday!

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.
*
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.
*
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.
*
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.
*
By G. K. Chesterton
The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1927)
I really love this poem.
It is a dark, pre-historical apocalyptic, self-aware observation of “The Donkey”.
The origins are Genesis-like, poet, intentionally non-scientific, that force the reader into a primitive age of beginnings and blood moons.
The self-understanding of the Donkey is as a devilish monster striding the earth, the ugliest, most pointless of all the creatures, “the devil’s parody” – no worse epithet could ever be used!  And if the donkey is the devil’s parody, then he bloody well won’t be doing what human beings tell him to do, that’s for sure!
Suddenly, at the end, rising from the Satanic melancholic doom and gloom, emerges a great secret.   And a great joke, and the joke is on us!
This beast knows he was chosen to carry the King of Kings as he rode into Jerusalem, as though enthroned.
It is no accident that the firstborn donkey, like the firstborn child, was to be redeemed with a lamb (Ex. 13:11-16).
100-10

The Last Laugh

Source:  donkeyheaven.org

The Donkey

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.
 *
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.
 *
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.
 *
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.
By the genius that is G. K. Chesterton, from The Collected Poems of G. K. Chesterton, 1927

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How secularism ‘avoids discussing what is good’

From the second chapter entitled ‘On the Negative Spirit’ of G. K. Chesterton’s book Heretics, he majestically dismantles the secualrized notion of “progress”, an idea that on the surface of things sounds mature but as Chesterton shows, is actually devoid of a telos, a true goal that most of human history (until the modern age) has been concerned with.  In other words, modern secularism is self-referential to the point of madness and absurdity, “It has no perfection to point to” hence,

“All I venture to point out, with an increased firmness, is that this omission (the absence of an enduring and positive ideal [or] absence of a permanent key to virtue), good or bad, does leave us face to face with the problem of a human consciousness filled with very definite images of evil, and with no definite image of good.  To us light must be henceforward the dark thing – the thing of which we cannot speak…

…  The human race, according to religion, fell once, and in falling gained the knowledge of good and evil.  Now we have fallen a second time, and only the knowledge of evil remains to us.  A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in our time fallen on our Northern civilization…”

20618693._UY475_SS475_And now we are set for the full force of Chesterton’s genius.  I have rearranged the shape of the following paragraph so that it can be seen more clearly, but the order of words and ideas is exact):

“… Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk what is good.

We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid talking about what is good.

We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.”  This is logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.”

He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.”  This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle for what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.”

He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.”  This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

Heresy, p.13

Chesterton later calls this “unconscious shirking” (p.14), before stating:  “What is the good of begetting a man until we have settled what is the good of being a man?  You are merely handing on to him a problem you dare not settle yourself.”

 

All this light and so much darkness

20618693._UY475_SS475_Concluding his astonishing Introductory Remarks in his book Heretics, G. K. Chesterton spins a yarn:

“I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting things done.  Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down.  A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages [one can’t help but think this is Thomas Aquinas], is approached on the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light.  If Light be itself good….”

At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down.  All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality.

But as things go on they do not work out so easily.  Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light;

some because they wanted old iron;

some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil.

Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post,

some too much;

some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery;

some because they wanted to smash something.

And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.  So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, tomorrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that it all depends on what is the philosophy of Light.  Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”

Heretics, p.7-8

(parentheses mine)

For Hair-Splitting

“Theological distinctions are fine but not thin. In all the mess of modern thoughtlessness, that still calls itself modern thought, there is perhaps nothing so stupendously stupid as the common saying, “Religion can never depend on minute disputes about doctrine.” It is like saying that life can never depend on minute disputes about medicine. The man who is content to say, “We do not want theologians splitting hairs,” will doubtless be content to go on and say, “We do not want surgeons splitting filaments more delicate than hairs.” It is the fact that many a man would be dead to-day, if his doctors had not debated fine shades about doctoring. It is also the fact that European civilization would be dead to-day, if its doctors of divinity had not debated fine shades about doctrine.”

G. K. Chesterton
[The Resurrection of Rome]

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randonnée refuge du Varan – vue sur le Massif du Mont-Blanc

The strangeness of it all

As I continue my reading journey into the rich and beguilingly complex tradition of Christian theology, I see more and more the inane ‘meh-nes’ of the challenge.  It’s not that I have a silly mentality that says “I have it right and you have it wrong”, irrespective of the facts or the evidence; it’s just that why would I espouse something I didn’t in fact think was right?

Gilbert K. Chesterton was no fool, and even a hundred years ago he recognised the pre-Richard Dawkins/George Bernard Shaw challenge to Christianity.  We forget all too easily that these challenges, if indeed they can be called that, are in fact very old, if not tired and weary challenges, to what is, arguably, a highly sophisticated if not nuanced discussion.  Chesterton made mention of “this halo of hatred around the Church of God.”  Of course there is.  This is a factual, true statement of the fact that where the True Church is, there will be opposition, hatred, persecution or whatever.  The Gospel draws and repels in near-as-damn-it equal measure!

It is not a surprise that Shaw begat Dawkins, in precisely the same way that Ludwig Feuerbach begat Karl Marx; Marx begat Freud and Freud begat Jean Paul Satre.  This begetting is as tedious as the begetting in the bible, but it serves a comparably important point:  We are where we are because of where we have come from.  Kierkegaard challenged the mid-19th century aggressors of Christianity, just as Chesterton challenged (in much funnier terms) the late 19th – early 20th century aggressors.  The point is that they are all of a piece:  a seemless woven thread of enlightenment…..wait…. of toxic enlightenment worldview that is simply blinded to a wider reality of knowing.  That’s why Paul Tillich asks – following Aquinas – why modern man, in this age of technology and specialisation, fails to ask questions about being, or about the God who is the Ground of all Being – a “fragmentation” of thought he rightly says is “symbolised only by the demonic.”

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