I have never encountered a mind like that of G.K. Chesterton. He is often labeled the “Apostle of Common Sense”–but don’t let this label mislead you. You may assume (as I did) that since you already have common sense that his writings would simply affirm that which you already know. I thought the same thing–but I was wrong: I needed to be straightened out, to be purged of trite platitudes, to be reacquainted with the cosmos. In other words, I needed to be convinced of common sense. Could the same be for you?
Chesterton was a jolly, large man with a humorous–but biting–wit. And he has bitten through the modern philosophies that most of us unknowingly hold in his book Orthodoxy. He, with his giant intellect & imagination (a rare amalgam that few can create, to be sure), humorously declares much of our common sense to be common nonsense. If one could mic-drop in a book, this book would have dozens (hundreds?) of instances of it.
In Orthodoxy, Chesterton philosophically recounts his arrival at Christianity as the truth ( i.e. as the best way to explain all that is). But it does not read like philosophy. It’s more like looking through a book of familiar pictures and seeing things that you had never seen before in them. Through these “pictures”, he cuts through the common philosophies of his age (many of which are of our age, as well).
This is why I am doing this blog series: because the world & the Church needs someone like Chesterton (if not Chesterton himself!). Admittedly, of his writings I have only read Orthodoxy–but I have devoured it (and have highlighted nearly half of it). I spent nearly a year ruminating over its pages, and I am excited to be treading through them once again to draw out provocative, wise, & edifying passages in order to challenge our minds, hearts, & imaginations.
So, let us begin with a passage from the first chapter, “Introduction: In Defence of Everything Else”. Chesterton first explains how this book was brought about. In a previous publication, Heretics, he criticized numerous philosophies, and he was then criticized by critics for not providing his own philosophy–so Orthodoxy was his answer to their challenge. The book really gets going when he illustrates his arrival at Christianity.
Chesterton admits that he previously sought out truth like an explorer seeks out undiscovered land: he had hoped to find something that no one had yet discovered. But when he found his “new” truth, he found that it was not a new truth at all, but an old truth. It would like if our explorer, after months of exploring, spied new land on the horizon, but upon arrival at its shores found that it was actually his homeland: an old land which he had known all along. And so he humbly begins:
“[I]f this book is a joke it is a joke against me. I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before… It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne. I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it. I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths. And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom.”¹
Let that last sentence sink in:
“When I fancied that I stood alone…”
“When I thought that I had finally been the one to discover the truth…”
“…I was really in the ridiculous position…”
“…I realized how much of an idiot I was…”
“…of being backed up by all Christendom.”
“…for I had only discovered what the Church had been saying for years.”
*drops the mic*
treasures & measures,
¹ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 23.