Posts Tagged 'G.K. Chesterton'

Chesterton on Divorce

Oh, now this is good stuff…

G.K. Chesterton from The Well and the Shallows (Ignatius, 2006)

As in that one matter of modesty, or the mere externals of sex, so in all the deeper matters of sex, the modern will has been amazingly weak and wavering. And I suppose it is because the Church has known from the first the weakness which we have all discovered at last, that about certain sexual matters She has been very decisive and dogmatic; as many good people have quite honestly thought, too decisive and dogmatic. Now a Catholic is a person who has plucked up courage to face the incredible and inconceivable idea that somebody else may be wiser than he is. And the most striking and outstanding illustration is to be found in the Catholic view of marriage as compared to the modern theory of divorce; not it must be noted, the very modern theory of divorce, which is the mere negation of marriage; but even more the slightly less modern and more moderate theory of divorce, which was generally accepted even when I was a boy. This is a very vital point or test of the question; for it explains the Church’s rejection of the moderate as well as the immoderate theory. It illustrates the very fact I am pointing out, that Divorce has already turned into something totally different from what it was intended, even by those who first proposed it. Already we must think ourselves back into a different world of thought, to understand how anybody ever thought it was compatible with Victorian virtue; and many very virtuous Victorians did. But they only tolerated this social solution as an exception; and many other modern social solutions they would not have tolerated at all. My own parents were not even orthodox Puritans or High Church people; they were Universalists more akin to Unitarians. But they would have regarded Birth-Prevention exactly as they would have regarded Infanticide. Yet about Divorce such liberal Protestants did hold an intermediate view, which was substantially this. They thought the normal necessity and duty of all married people was to remain faithful to their marriage; that this could be demanded of them, like common honesty or any other virtue. But they thought that in some very extreme and extraordinary cases a divorce was allowable. Now, putting aside our own mystical and sacramental doctrine, this was not, on the face of it, an unreasonable position. It certainly was not meant to be an anarchical position. But the Catholic Church, standing almost alone, declared that it would in fact lead to an anarchical position; and the Catholic Church was right.

The above discourse on divorce began with Chesterton lamenting the cowardly non-decision of the 1930 Lambeth Conference that lead to the moral justification of using birth-control; hence the reference above to “Birth-Prevention.” Chesterton preferred this term to the more common term “Birth Control”, because as he says “it [birth control] is in fact, of course, a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.” Yep.

But I digress. Continuing the theme of divorce, Chesterton writes:

Any man with eyes in his head, whatever the ideas in his head, who looks at the world as it is to-day, must know that the whole social substance of marriage has changed… Some divorced persons, who can be married quite legally by a registrar, go on complaining bitterly that they cannot be married by a priest. They regard a church as a peculiarly suitable place in which to make and break the same vow at the same moment… Numbers of normal people are getting married, thinking already that they may be divorced. The instant that idea enters, the whole conception of the old Protestant compromise vanishes. The sincere and innocent Victorian would never have married a woman reflecting that he could divorce her. He would as soon have married a woman reflecting that he could murder her. These things were not supposd to be among the daydreams of the honeymoon. The psychological substance of the whole thing has altered; the marble has turned to ice; and the ice has melted with most amazing rapidity. The Church was right to refuse even the exception. The world has admitted the exception; and the exception has become the rule.


Chesterton Hath A School!

It’s been a while since I ventured over to the American Chesterton Society website, so I was caught a bit off guard this morning when I saw this logo in the lower left hand corner of the home page:


That’s right. There is a new high school starting up in Minnesota that will have a distinct Chestertonian flavor. Now, you can’t go wrong there. As I always say, we can’t get enough of Chesterton in this world. Some disagree, but those who do clearly belong to the number of the reprobate and are blinded by their own sin. May God have mercy on their souls.

The Academy is beginning with 9th and 10th grade this year, and will be adding 11th grade the following year, and 12th the year after. The school will obviously be a private school, but will also be independent of the diocese (sometimes a good thing). To begin with, the Chesterton Academy will be funded primarily by American Chesterton Society fund raising efforts, but the hope is to, at some point, spin the school off to be its own, self supporting entity.

Not surprisingly, the curriculum will be classical and Catholic. The website also notes that the Chesterton Academy will have an “Emphasis on General Knowledge – not  Specialization”; in other words, a liberal education – which is a good thing in high school (and undergrad too, for that matter). The website also states there will be a “Mixture of Socratic Method and Lecture format”. This seems to be a popular model for “classical” schools. From what I understand, this is the model adopted by Thomas Aquinas College in  Santa Paula, California. Although, TAC seems to take this model a step or two further, which is great for college, but may not be advisable in a high school environment.

The Academy’s current board of advisors include Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. of EWTN fame , Charles Rice – Professor Emeritus of Law at Notre Dame, and Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J – founder and Editor of Ignatius Press.

To learn more, visit the Chesterton Academy website.

Orthodoxy, Barth Style

karl-barth_with-pipeG. K. Chesterton has his way of defending orthodoxy. Karl Barth has his. Chesterton was a literary fencer, thrusting and parrying his opponent with ease, as he deftly used words to inflict damage on his opponent. In my limited reading of Barth, he seems to much more of a middleweight boxer, theologically jabbing his opponent time and time again, with knockout punches thrown often at precisely the right moments. I greatly enjoy the masterful art of Chesterton’s writing, as readers of this blog know, but I am starting to warm up to the fighting style of the great Swiss theologian from Basel too.

As I stated earlier, Karl Barth – the 20h century Swiss Reformed theologian – was a mighty antidote to Liberal Protestantism that was en vogue at the time. In fact, he is a mighty antidote to liberal Catholicism as well. One of his main opponents seems to have been Paul Tillich, the standard bearer, so to speak, for Liberal Protestantism. Tillich’s theology is based very much on natural knowledge to the almost complete negation of revelation in any meaningful sense. In what I’ve read, Barth was instrumental in causing divine revelation to be taken seriously again in theology; revelation as in God actually became flesh and dwelt among us as Scripture reveals to us. This was otherwise known as a move back to orthodoxy. Here is an excerpt from his 1935 work Credo (Wipf & Stock, 2005):

Care should be taken to avoid regarding this presupposition of the Biblical witness (which after all Dogma does no more than make explicit), as a metaphysic superfluous and alien to Christian faith, and therefore getting rid of or emasculating it. The Theology of modern Protestantism has done that again and again. This modern Protestantism has punished itself with the most varied and disastrous relapses in to just those heathen religious views which the Church fathers of the first centuries rightly and successfully resisted. It can be asserted and proved with the utmost definiteness and accuracy that the great theological-ecclesiastical catastrophe of which the German Protestantism of the moment is the arena, would have been impossible if the three words Filium eius unicum [His only Son] in the properly understood sense of the Nicene trinitarian doctrine had not for more than two hundred years been really lost to the German Church amongst a chaos of reinterpretations designed to make them innocuous. This catastrophe should be a real, final warning to the evangelical Churches, and, especially to the theological faculties of other lands, where so far as trinitarian dogma is concerned, no better ways are being trodden. Christian faith stands or falls once and for all with the fact that God and God alone is its object. If one rejects the Biblical doctrine that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, and indeed God’s only Son, and that therefore the whole revelation of God and all reconciliation between God and man is contained in Him – and if one then, in spite of that, speaks of “faith” in Jesus Christ, then one believes in an intermediate being and then consequently one is really pursuing metaphysics and has already secretly lapsed from the Christian faith into a polytheism which will forthwith mature into further fruits in the setting up of a special God-Father faith and a special Creator faith; and in the assertion of special spiritual revelations. The proclamation of this polytheism can most certainly be a brilliant and a pleasant affair, and can win continuous widespread approbation. But real consolation and real instruction, the Gospel of God and the Law of God, will find a small and ever-diminishing place in this proclamation. The Church of Jesus Christ as the assembly of lost and rescued sinners will come less and less to be built by this proclamation. How could it be otherwise than that error at a crucial point makes it utterly impotent? It is just here that a circumspect Dogmatics will give warning. It will have to ask the whole Church to consider that the ground out of which it has sprung and out of which alone it is able to live, is the admittedly rigid and uncompromising recognition that no one knows the Son, but the Father, and no one knows the Father, save the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him (Matt. xi. 27).

In the paragraphs immediately preceding the one above, Barth speaks of the neccesity of the revelation of Jesus Christ. We cannot come to a specifically Christian dogmatics through natural knowledge alone, or with natural knowledge at all, as Barth would say. In fact it is only in the light of Christ that the weight of our sin becomes fully realized. Only in the light of Christ’s sacrifice is the great chasm that separates us from God made known. If our sin is not really that bad, as we are want to think, then why did God have to condescend to become man and die for us? And we must recognize that Christ had to die for me because of my sins, not merely for others as the word “us” can mislead us to believe. Only in this light, is our metaphysical situation before God (to steal a phrase from Deitrich von Hildebrand) made known. And the fact that God died for us and for our sins is a matter of revelation, not mere philosophical reasoning. Revelation is indispensable for the Christian.

Chesterton’s Critique of Capitalism

The upcoming General Election here in the United States coupled with the ongoing economic crisis around the world got me thinking about all things political and economic. In such a mood, I ventured over to one of my book cases and lo and behold there sat on the shelf G.K. Chesterton’s The Outline of Sanity. For those who do not know, The Outline of Sanity is the book in which Chesterton pulls together the arguments for a political-economic theory known as Distributism. On the heels of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, the Distributist movement was gaining momentum in the early 1900s when Chesterton wrote The Outline of Sanity, particularly in Great Britain but also here in the United States to a lesser extent. Distributism, often described as the alternative to Capitalism and Socialism, is considered by its proponents to be more in line with Rerum Novarum than either Capitalism or Socialism. Distributism, it is said, avoids the erroneous foundation of greed upon which Capitalism rests and the totalitarian principles upon which Socialism rest. On what exactly Distributism is I shall leave for another post.

The point of this post is to look at Chesterton’s critique of Captialism in The Outline of Sanity. Assuming that most of us in the Western world are card carrying Capitalist to larger or lesser degree, I thought it would be interesting to examine a critique of our preferred economic theory by a writer most of my readers are familiar with and respect. I, for one, think Chesterton makes some very good points even if some of what he is saying is particuar to the time and place in which he lived, and not necessarily analogous to our own situation. However, everything he says is pertinent to our own situation, even if not in the same exact way. In some ways we 21st century subjects of a global economy are worse off than Industrialized England in 1926 when The Outline of Sanity was written. If you think differently, perhaps you have not been reading the newspapers of late. Not that they won’t recover, but the free markets are crashing all over the globe in large part because we are so globalized.

With it becoming more and more apparent with each passing day that our free market economy, built on capitalist principles, is in many ways a house of cards (perhaps I exaggerate – I hope), here is part of Chesterton’s critique of Capitalism. From The Outline of Sanity (IHS Press):

In the Labour disputes of our time, it is not the employees but the employers who declare that business is bad. The successful business man is not pleading success; he is pleading bankruptcy. The case of Capitalists is the case against Capitalism. What is even more extraordinary is that its exponent has to fall back on the rhetoric of Socialism. He merely says that miners or railwaymen must go on working “in the interests of the public.” It will be noted that the capitalists never use the argument of private property. They confine themselves entirely to this sort of sentimental version of general social responsibility. It is amusing to read the capitalist press on Socialists who sentimentally plead for people who are “failures.” It is now the chief argument of almost every capitalist in every strike that he himself is on the brink of failure.

I only have one simple objection to this simple argument in the papers about Strikes and the Socialist peril. My objection is that it leads straight to Socialism. In itself it cannot possibly lead to anything else. If workmen are to go on working because they are the servants of the public, there cannot be any deduction except that they ought to be the servants of the public authority. If the Government ought to act in the interests of the public, and there is no more to be said, then obviously the Government ought to take over the whole business, and there is nothing else to be done. I do not think the matter is so simple as this; but they do. I do not think the argument for Socialism is conclusive. But according to the Anti-Socialist [i.e. Capitalist], the argument for Socialism is quite conclusive…

In the last paragraph it is noted that if we were left to the logic of the leader-writers on the Socialist peril, they could only lead us straight to Socialism. And as some of us most heartily and vigorously refuse to be led to Socialism, we have long adopted the harder alternative called trying to think things out…. Now the capitalist system, good or bad, right or wrong, rests upon two ideas: that the rich will always be rich enough to hire the poor; and the poor will always be poor enough to want to be hired. But it also presumes that each side is bargaining with the other, and that neither is thinking primarily of the public. The owner of the omnibus does not run it for the good of all mankind, despite the universal fraternity blazoned in the Latin name of the vehicle. He runs it to make profit for himself, and the poorer man consents to drive it in order to get wages for himself…. Now the case for capitalism was that through this private bargain the public did really get served. And so for some time it did. But the only original case for capitalism collapses entirely, if we have to ask either party to go on for the good of the public. If capitalism cannot pay what will tempt men to work, capitalism is on capitalist principles simply bankrupt….

Capitalism is contradictory as soon as it is complete; because it is dealing with the mass of men in opposite ways at once. When most men are wage earners, it is more and more difficult for most men to be customers. For the capitalist [i.e. employer] is always trying to cut down what his servant [i.e. employee] demands, and in doing so is cutting down what his customer can spend. As soon as his business is in any difficulties, as at present in the coal business, he tries to reduce what he has to spend on wages, an in doing so reduces what others have to spend on coal. He is wanting the same man to be rich and poor at the same time.

And not to be worried. Chesterton critiques Socialism as well, albeit not nearly as exhuastively. I’m sure it’s because he knows his readers are, in large part, staunch capitalists in no need of convincing that Socialism is wrong. In a later post, I will provide Chesterton’s critique of Socialism, along with why Chesterton believes the capitaist society in which he lived was remarkably similar to the Socialist utopia.

The Sneer of Suicide

Here’s more of G. K. Chesterton’s delightful insistence that the world be looked at with wonder and appreciation. Granted, this time he writes from a very different angle, but the point remains the same. In Chapter 5 of Orthodoxy, Chesterton writes:

Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer.

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