Thursday, February 05, 2009

GKC's Greatest Paradox?

Well, I have been a Chestertonian most of my life - ever since I heard my father reciting Lepanto when I was perhaps four or five - though I was about 30 when I began my serious reading of his works. Since the late 1980s I've read just about all the GKC books there are, and all the major ones multiple times - and have picked through them far, far more carefully than almost any known person can or ever will pick through them, because I am - er - let us say - "the AMBER collector"... but all this about me is not important. What is important is that I've had to apply all the tricks of computing, including some very high-tech trickery which I used in my doctoral research, in order to hunt for quotes for my friends and relatives... No, we never did find the quote, and speaking professionally, it is very unlikely that it has escaped the hunt altogether: for the simple reason that it is not there to be found.

(Do not feel envious. It was a lot of very dull and very tedious work, and the computer did NOT help with most of it - and besides that was back in the 1990s.)

But it is true that I, like Smaug the dragon of The Hobbit, sleep upon a vast amber-coloured treasure trove of GKC, and I also have tools that would make "Goggle and Company" try to hire a hobbit to burglar my lair. (Heh, heh.) But I am no "search engine" (whatever that is). I do not have the books memorised, but just as the jewels of Smaug's bed slowly embedded themselves in him, so too the far more valuable gems of GKC have finally begun to penetrate my dullness. One of the best for me to recall at this moment is this, which I almost know by heart now: is the test of a good encyclopaedia that it does two rather different things at once. The man consulting it finds the thing he wants; he also finds how many thousand things there are that he does not want.
[GKC "Consulting the Encyclopaedia" in The Common Man]
Now, in today's excerpt from Orthodoxy we shall find something I have not noticed before. Our President Dale Ahlquist has often remarked that one discovers, on re-reading a Chesterton book, that somehow GKC has snuck into one's house and changed the book since the last time it was read.... but that means he has burglared himself into AMBER also, and changed that as well. For in today's excerpt, we shall read a sentence of three short words which I believe is the greatest of all his many paradoxes. And we all know there are many... he is spoke of as "the Master of Paradox" (though I have argued elsewhere that title belongs to our Lord; GKC is merely His disciple). GKC was being accused of "paradox" as early as 1904:
The Blatchfordian position really amounts to this - that because a certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely or necessary, therefore it cannot be true. And then this bashful being, veiling his own talents, convicts the wretched G. K. C. of paradox! I like paradox, but I am not prepared to dance and dazzle to the extent of Nunquam, who points to humanity crying out to a thing, and pointing to it from immemorial ages, as a proof that it cannot be there.
[GKC The Blatchford Controversies CW1:375]
We must not accuse the wretched GKC of paradox - especially when God is responsible for their existence. GKC is merely the trumpeter, the announcer, the evangelist who brings us the good tidings, as inverted, as amazing, as unbelievable, and as crazy as they seem.

And, I am merely a lesser vessel, one who stores up and repeats these gems, proclaiming them through the marvels of electricity (you wonder why it is called AMBER? Try the dictionary, or see GKC:
...we have to go on using the Greek name of amber as the only name of electricity because we have no notion what is the real name or nature of electricity.
[GKC "Vulgarity" in The Common Man]
Ahem. (Yes, that really is where the name is derived from!) As I have said, I have hunted elusive quotes and figures and paradoxes all through the deep-delved mansions of the AMBER collection... but this sentence stands high above the others. And it is time for you to know about it too.

But, in order to give you a little thrill, and perhaps entice you into reading some more of what GKC wrote, I am not going to tell you what it is... yet.

((If you want to know it, you must click here, and read on...))

But it's not obvious. You will most likely read right past it. I have, several times, until my guardian angel nudged me this time. Don't worry, I will let you know.

Let us not forget where we are. We were hearing about how people like Mr. Blatchford insist that "Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism." and how GKC rebuts this statement... today we'll hear from another foe, Annie Besant (1847-1933) who was an English Theosophist, who was for "free thought" and also "limitation of population" - a strange mix:
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. I want to love my neighbour not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world, not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one's self, but as one loves a woman, because she is entirely different. If souls are separate love is possible. If souls are united love is obviously impossible. A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship. If the world is full of real selves, they can be really unselfish selves. But upon Mrs. Besant's principle the whole cosmos is only one enormously selfish person.
Wow. Here we see another example of Chestertonian Scholasticism: even when he rebuts an error, he teaches, and enlarges upon the topic. There is something remarkable here in this very mature insight into the nature of real, authentic love: "I want to love my neighbour not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world, not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one's self, but as one loves a woman, because she is entirely different. If souls are separate love is possible."

Now, we are almost there. We have set the stage. If I have done this right, you ought to have goosebumps, or whatever the term is... But let us read on.
It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say "little children love one another" [See 1 John] rather than to tell one large person to love himself. This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. The oriental deity is like a giant who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it; but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its own accord shake hands with him. 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 a divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed. Yet there is another and yet more awful truth behind the obvious meaning of this utterance of our Lord. According to Himself the Son was a sword separating brother and brother that they should for an aeon hate each other. But the Father also was a sword, which in the black beginning separated brother and brother, so that they should love each other at last.
Yes, a long paragraph. And no sentences of three words! No, it was a relative clause, but it can stand on its own. And it is SO shocking, since it is SO counterintuitive. Everyone, lover, or beloved, thinks of love as something which brings us closer. The whole formula of matrimony, of popular idiom - "and the two shall be as one"... In the greatest song of love ever sung, the so-called "Priestly Prayer" of Jesus after the Last Supper, we read this:
And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou hast given me: that they may be one, as we also are.
[Jn 17:11]
Yes, "That they may be one": which in Latin is Ut Unum Sint, a great encyclical of John Paul II. But none of these people ever thought to write this all but insane trio of words:
"love desires division"
You think this is crazy. You think it's nuts. And you think I am nuts for making a big deal about lunacy!

Don't try to hide behind your computer - I can hear you murmuring: "Whoa - you're crazy, Doc!"

You may be right. I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for.

Yes, I know Billy Joel wrote that, though it sure sounds like something Gabriel Gale would say. (He's the hero of GKC's The Poet and the Lunatics.) But don't forget what St. Paul said:
...the foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
[1 Cor 1:25]
It is not really so crazy at all - just utterly unexpected - as well as a signpost pointing to a very difficult yet very enticing trail of thought. Indeed, in a very few pages (probably next week) we shall hear something which is a mere corollary of this statement, something which approaches the greatest of all mysteries: the nature of the Trinity - as well as the lesser but very important (and related) question about the nature of love.

Certainly the correct study of this remarkable statement requires a powerful background in ontology, which I do not have. It may be that for an Aquinas, or a Gilson, or a Pope Benedict XVI, it is "obvious"... whatever that word might mean when applied to a paradox. But it provides a great clue to one of the greatest of mysteries: why did God create the universe - and us - and me in particular? It is very mystical, as mystical as it is the height of intellectual challenge.

GKC went into this some pages back: "This answer was like the slash of a sword; it sundered; it did not in any sense sentimentally unite. Briefly, it divided God from the cosmos." [CW1:281] and again I refer you to the discussion of the Hebrew verb bara (to divide, hack) in Fr. Jaki's Genesis 1 Through the Ages. There is a whole lot of very putrid and tiresome whining in our era about "peace on earth" (which for some diseased reason ought to begin, not with the incarnate God, as the angels sang, [Lk 2:14] but "with me"! Or that illogical alien idea of "infinite combinations in infinite diversity" - merely a paraphrase of those for whom (as GKC said) "the universe is an immense melting-pot". Formally illogical and truly sick; it was bad enough in a fictional setting where the prime directive existed only to be violated, but people have dragged it into our real world and it reeks. Or in some places we are commanded (most intolerantly) to be "tolerant": we are "get along" in "peaceful coexistence" and we are to be "one" though diverse. All of these horrible threats might be right out of Mordor or from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named... Yes, they come from our Enemy, and they are mind-darkening, hope-killing, love-destroying... People have forgotten what Tolkien pointed out:
"It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden," answered Ëowyn. "And those who have not swords can still die upon them."
[JRRT, The Lord of the Rings Book VI Chapter V "The Steward and the King"]
Indeed: "It needs but one foe to breed a war". Yes, and there is a threat from those who wish this evil and untrue "one-ness"! We Christians have been warned in the Gospels:
Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.
[Mt 10:34]
We are not "one" in the amorphous way desired by our foes. We are one Body, the mystical Body of Christ, but very distinctly its members, and very different individuals, endowed with many distinct and different gifts.

This idea that we are "one" is dangerous - and sick since it is so unreal. Yet, far more dangerous is the idea that GOD and "us" are one (one in the here-and-now, not in our future reward, the hoped-for enjoyment of His presence). And it is this ersatz "unity" which is what GKC is warning us of. Please recall how last week we considered the mystical matter of the two statues, one with open eyes, one with closed eyes...
This is the meaning of that almost insane happiness in the eyes of the mediaeval saint in the picture. This is the meaning of the sealed eyes of the superb Buddhist image. The Christian saint is happy because he has verily been cut off from the world; he is separate from things and is staring at them in astonishment. But why should the Buddhist saint be astonished at things? - since there is really only one thing, and that being impersonal can hardly be astonished at itself. There have been many pantheist poems suggesting wonder, but no really successful ones. The pantheist cannot wonder, for he cannot praise God or praise anything as really distinct from himself. Our immediate business here, however, is with the effect of this Christian admiration (which strikes outwards, towards a deity distinct from the worshipper) upon the general need for ethical activity and social reform. And surely its effect is sufficiently obvious. There is no real possibility of getting out of pantheism any special impulse to moral action. For pantheism implies in its nature that one thing is as good as another; whereas action implies in its nature that one thing is greatly preferable to another. Swinburne, in the high summer of his scepticism, tried in vain to wrestle with this difficulty. In "Songs before Sunrise," written under the inspiration of Garibaldi and the revolt of Italy he proclaimed the newer religion and the purer God which should wither up all the priests of the world:
What doest thou now
Looking Godward to cry
I am I, thou art thou,
I am low, thou art high,
I am thou that thou seekest to find him, find thou but thyself, thou art I.

Usually, we expect to find a correlation from our text to one or another of GKC's fiction. Today, we find a correlation to one of his plays: "The Surprise". Like a grand mystery story of detective fiction, we must be careful not to reveal the "solution" here for those who have not yet read it. It is not yet common to our heritage, though it ought to be: it is a powerful commentary on Orthodoxy and on Christianity. But I have said enough on this. Please read it and you will rapidly grasp the point. (There is, in fact, a clue: it is in the last four words of both Act I and Act II.)

But let us proceed.
Of which the immediate and evident deduction is that tyrants are as much the sons of God as Garibaldis; and that King Bomba of Naples having, with the utmost success, "found himself" is identical with the ultimate good in all things. The truth is that the western energy that dethrones tyrants has been directly due to the western theology that says "I am I, thou art thou." The same spiritual separation which looked up and saw a good king in the universe looked up and saw a bad king in Naples. The worshippers of Bomba's god dethroned Bomba. The worshippers of Swinburne's god have covered Asia for centuries and have never dethroned a tyrant. The Indian saint may reasonably shut his eyes because he is looking at that which is I and Thou and We and They and It. It is a rational occupation: but it is not true in theory and not true in fact that it helps the Indian to keep an eye on Lord Curzon. That external vigilance which has always been the 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.
First, a few notes: "King Bomba" was the nickname given to Ferdinand II (1810-59) king of the Two Sicilies (1830-59) for his cruel bombardment of his own cities. Lord George Curzon (1859-1925) was governor of India 1898-1905. That command to "watch and pray" is what Jesus told the apostles in the garden of Gethsemani. [Mt 26:41, Mk 14:38, Lk 21:36] Also, the bit about hunting the eagle might be a reference to Lamentations 4:19, which comes shortly after a verse about watching!

GKC brings the unfortunate Eastern mess of pronouns into even harder resolution here:
If an Asiatic god has three heads and seven arms, there is at least in it an idea of material incarnation bringing an unknown power nearer to us and not farther away. But if our friends Brown, Jones, and Robinson, when out for a Sunday walk, were transformed and amalgamated into an Asiatic idol before our eyes, they would surely seem farther away. If the arms of Brown and the legs of Robinson waved from the same composite body, they would seem to be waving something of a sad farewell. If the heads of all three gentlemen appeared smiling on the same neck, we should hesitate even by what name to address our new and somewhat abnormal friend. In the many-headed and many-handed Oriental idol there is a certain sense of mysteries becoming at least partly intelligible; of formless forces of nature taking some dark but material form, but though this may be true of the multiform god it is not so of the multiform man. The human beings become less human by becoming less separate; we might say less human in being less lonely. The human beings become less intelligible as they become less isolated; we might say with strict truth that the closer they are to us the farther they are away.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:215]
Or, if that's too unclear, try this, from the same source:
A man told that his solitary latchkey had been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be annoyed.
All this, of course, looks like some very heavy theory at first, and then one realizes that it is dealing with eminently practical matters. So, too, do both Buddhism and Christianity. Especially Christianity.

I checked, and the book really has "external" vigilance, not "eternal" as in the famous misquoted quote: "The condition upon which God hath given liberty is eternal vigilance." - which is from a 1790 speech by John Philpot Curran (1750-1817), upon which GKC makes a very important addendum: "which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin" [The Thing CW3:312]

Vigilance - yes. Let us remember about those eyes which look out!

Here again, therefore, we find that in so far as we value democracy and the self-renewing energies of the west, we are much more likely to find them in the old theology than the new. If we want reform, we must adhere to orthodoxy: especially in this matter (so much disputed in the counsels of Mr. R. J. Campbell), the matter of insisting on the immanent or the transcendent deity. By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social indifference - Tibet. By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation - Christendom. Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself. By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself.
I hunted for a short introduction to R. J. Campbell, and was amazed to find that much of the ILN essay for March 23, 1907 (CW27:422 et seq) is about him - it is very valuable as an example of GKC's care in argument. Here is a sample:
Mr. Campbell and his admirers are not keeping the truth and altering the form. On the contrary, they are keeping the form and altering the truth. ... Mr. Campbell would like to preach anew doctrine, but still to preach it in a particular chapel, in a particular dress, and under particular conventions. Now, what he ought to do is to preach the old and really interesting doctrine of his sect, but to preach it from somewhere else - say, the top of a tree. ... I understand that the actual documents of Mr. Campbell's settlement are Calvinistic. I do not in any sense mention this in order to express a reproach towards him, but merely as expressing an aspiration for him. It would be very delightful if Mr. Campbell could see his way to continue to preach the doctrine, but to change its expression of form. Calvinism is a highly intellectual and reasonable doctrine; personally I think it atrocious, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that it has not been expressed adequately in fresh and modern shapes.
There's more in this excellent essay, and more to say about our main text, but I must stop here. Next week we shall hear something even more startling - a phrase which might almost border on heresy - but is simply an enlargement of the great paradox we have learned today. Get ready.


  1. Wow, Dr. Thursday. This has got to be one of your very best essays. Congratulations. Very good!

  2. I have never felt so repulsed by the diversity agenda as when you stated it here. Good job!

  3. Dr. Thursday: Thank you for "Love desires division". I never realized Matthew's gospel and GKC could give new insights into the very limitations of atheism!

  4. After years of being taught these doctrines of the core similarity of all religions/ oneness as the only path to peace etc. this was so refreshing and wonderful. Thanks for posting


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