Chesterton Knew The Importance of Ecumenical Dialogue

Chesterton Knew The Importance of Ecumenical Dialogue

Saturday, 31 December 2011

GK's Weekly, The Thing, Inge Versus Barnes


NONE of us I hope ever wished to be unjust to Dean Inge: though in such fights the button will sometimes come off the foil. And a cruel injustice is being done to him, in the suggestion widely circulated that he agrees with Dr. Barnes. Such things should not be lightly said of any gentleman. It is in accordance with the current legend, at least, that the Gloomy Dean even when he comes to bless should remain to curse. But if there is one isolated human being whom he can be imagined as wanting to bless, one would think it would be his ally, Bishop Barnes of Birmingham. And yet the alliance only serves to soften the curse and not to secure the blessing. If we may use such popular terms of such dignified ecclesiastics, we might be tempted to say that the Dean has found it necessary to throw over the Bishop. An interesting review by the Dean of the Bishop's recent book of sermons contains, of course, a certain number of rather conventional compliments and a certain number of rather abrupt sneers, we might say snarls, at various other people including the greater part of Christendom. But on the two striking and outstanding matters on which Bishop Barnes was condemned by the Catholics, he is almost as strongly condemned by the Dean of St. Paul's. Dean Inge is far too intelligent and cultivated a man to pretend to have much patience with the nonsense about testing Transubstantiation either by chemical experiments or psychical research. He tries to break it to his Broad Church colleague as gently as possible that the latter has made himself a laughing stock. But allowing for such necessary politeness between partners, it could hardly be stated better or even more plainly. He curtly refers the Bishop to the responsible definition of the doctrine in Father Rickaby's book on metaphysics; and drily observes that it will be found rather more subtle and plausible than the Bishop seems to be aware of. He also adds, with a grim candour which is rather attractive, that it is pretty disastrous to challenge Catholics about whether the Mass does them any spiritual good, since they would quite certainly unite in testifying that it does. After these frank and arresting admissions, it is a mere matter of routine, and almost of respectability, that the Dean should agree with the Bishop that all such sacramentalism is very deplorable; that the admittedly intelligent people he knows who say they have found Christ in the Mass and not in the Morning Service must be "natural idolaters" and that it is "obvious" that the Blessed Sacrament has an affinity with the lower religions. Also with the lower classes. That, I fancy, is what the Dean really finds so disgusting about it.

The point is, however, that the Dean definitely snubs the Bishop on the one great point on which the newspapers have boomed and boosted him. And he does exactly the same thing, if in a lesser degree, on the second and lesser matter which was similarly boosted. I mean, of course, the matter of Evolution. The Dean, of course, believes in Evolution, as do a good many other people, Catholic and Protestant as well as agnostic. But though he believes in Evolution, he does not believe in Bishop Barnes's Evolution. He comments with admirable clarity and decision on the folly of identifying progress with evolution; or even mere complication with progress. Nothing could be better than the brief and brisk sentences in which he disposes altogether of that idealisation of the scientific theory, which is in fact simply ignorance of it. In plain words, Bishop Barnes, for all his bluster, knows almost as little about Evolution as he does about Transubstantiation. The Dean of St. Paul's does not, of course, put this truth in such plain words; but he manages to make it pretty plain. His candour in this case also has to be balanced by general expressions of agreement with the Bishop, and somewhat heartier expressions of disagreement with everybody else, especially with the Bishop's enemies. The Dean alludes scornfully to the orthodox world, as if it necessarily repudiated certain biological theories; or as if it mattered very much if it did. The difference between the Broad Churchman and the Catholic Church is not that the former thinks Evolution true and the latter thinks it false. It is that the former thinks Evolution an explanation and the latter knows it is not an explanation. Hence the former thinks it all important; and the latter thinks it rather unimportant. Being unable to grasp this principle, the Dean has to fall back on quoting an old Victorian cant phrase; and saying that a new scientific discovery passes through three stages: that of being called absurd; of being called anti-scriptural; and of being discovered to be quite old and familiar. He might have added that it generally goes on to a fourth stage; that of being discovered to be quite untrue.

For that is the very simple fact which both Dean Inge and Bishop Barnes leave out; and which seems to be as utterly unknown to the more lucid rationalism of the one as to the cruder secularism of the other. Not only was the Archbishop of Canterbury right in suggesting that old gentlemen like himself had been familiar with Evolution all their lives; but he might have added that they were much more certain of it in the earlier part of their lives than they will be by the end of their lives. Those of them who have really read the most recent European enquiries and speculations know that Darwinism is every day becoming much less of a dogma and much more of a doubt. Those who have not read the speculations and the doubts simply go on repeating the dogma. While Dr. Barnes was preaching sermons carefully founded on the biology of fifty years ago, Mr. Belloc was proving conclusively before the whole world that Mr. H. G. Wells and Sir Arthur Keith were unacquainted with the biology of five years ago. In short, it is only just, as we have said, to insist on the difference between Dean Inge and Dr. Barnes; which is like the difference between Huxley and Haeckel. Everybody would be better and happier if Dean Inge were known as Professor Inge; and if Dr. Barnes were not only a Professor but a Prussian Professor. Then he could be boomed along with other barbarians attacking Christianity, without having the ecclesiastical privilege of actually persecuting Christians. But there are heathens and heathens and there are persecutors and persecutors. The Dean is a pagan Roman of the Senate House. The Bishop is a pagan Teuton of the swamps and fens. The Dean dislikes the Christian tradition in the spirit of Diocletian and Julian. The Bishop dislikes it in the simpler spirit of a Danish pirate staring at the rigid mystery of a Roman-British Church. Even the common cause and broad brotherly maxim of CHRISTIANI AD LEONES did not always, I fancy, reconcile the Roman and the Goth. These historical comparisons may seem fanciful; and indeed in one sense both parties are very much tied to their own historical period. They are both very Victorian; but even here there is a difference and a superiority. The superiority of the Dean is that he knows it and says so. He is man enough to boast of being Victorian and not to mind being called reactionary. Whereas the Bishop seems really to cherish the truly extraordinary notion that his notions are new and up-to-date.

Of course they have a philosophy in common; and it would be a cheap simplification to call it Materialism. Indeed, we should be almost as shallow in talking about Materialism as they are in talking about Magic. The truth is that the strange bigotry, which leads the Bishop to scream and rail at all sacramentalism as Magic, is in its inmost essence the very reverse of Materialism. Indeed it is nothing half so healthy as Materialism. The root of this prejudice is not so much a trust in matter as a sort of horror of matter. The man of this philosophy is always asking that worship shall be wholly spiritual, or even wholly intellectual; because he does really feel a disgust at the idea of spiritual things having a body and a solid form. It probably does really give him a mystical shudder to suppose that God can become as bread and wine; though I never understood why it should not give the same shudder to say that God could become flesh and blood. But whether or no these thinkers are logical in their philosophy, I think this is their philosophy. It has a very long history and an ancient name. It is not Materialist but Manichee.

Indeed the Dean uttered an unconscious truth when he said the sacramentalists must be "natural idolaters." He shrinks from it not only because it is idolatrous, but also because it is natural. He cannot bear to think how natural is the craving for the supernatural. He cannot tolerate the idea of it actually working through the elements of nature. Unconsciously, no doubt, but very stubbornly, that sort of intellectual does feel that our souls may belong to God, but our bodies only to the devil or the beast. That Manichean horror of matter is the only INTELLIGENT reason for any such sweeping refusal of supernatural and sacramental wonders. The rest is all cant and repetition and arguing in a circle; all the baseless dogmatism about science forbidding men to believe in miracles; as if SCIENCE could forbid men to believe in something which science does not profess to investigate. Science is the study of the admitted laws of existence; it cannot prove a universal negative about whether those laws could ever be suspended by something admittedly above them. It is as if we were to say that a lawyer was so deeply learned in the American Constitution that he knew there could never be a revolution in America. Or it is as if a man were to say he was so close a student of the text of Hamlet that he was authorised to deny that an actor had dropped the skull and bolted when the theatre caught fire. The constitution follows a certain course, so long as it is there to follow it; the play follows a certain course, so long as it is being played; the visible order of nature follows a certain course if there is nothing behind it to stop it. But that fact throws no sort of light on whether there IS anything behind it to stop it. That is a question of philosophy or metaphysics and not of material science. And out of respect for the intelligence of both these reverend gentlemen, and especially for the high intelligence of the Dean of St. Paul's, I much prefer to think that they are opposed to what they call Magic as consistent philosophers and not as inconsistent scientists. I prefer to think that they are thinking along the lines of great Gnostics and Buddhists and other mystics of a dark but dignified historical tradition; rather than that they are blundering in plain logic in the interests of cheap popular science. I can even understand or imagine that thrill of repulsion that seizes them in the presence of the divine materialism of the Mass. But I still think they would be more consistent and complete, if they made it quite clear that they carried their principle to completion; and said, as the Moslem says about Christmas, "Far be it from Him to have a Son," or the terrified disciples who cried, "Far be this from Thee," when God was going up to be crucified.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Will There Be Zombies?

I read this very good article a few months ago and thought I would print part of it here. There is another part towards the end of the article where John M├ędaille says that, "Growing a tomato is an act of resistance..." I was growing lots at the time so that hit home!

And what they have seen is something for which there is no parallel in history. Literature and the arts have always had, as their purpose, the transmission to the young of the most important values of a culture; they were the means of initiating the young into their own history, of telling them their own story. But never in history have such vast engines of persuasion and manipulation had, as their sole purpose, the degradation of the young, the stripping them of their minds and spirits; never has any society deliberately dedicated so much energy and wealth to corrupting its own young, to sacrificing its children to the idol of mindless consumption. There have been, to be sure, periods of bad literature and awful art, but even the worst was done with the best of intents; its purpose was never deliberate degradation for mere commercial advantage. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has once again affirmed that the organized corruption of the young is a commercial right, even as it has affirmed in the past that exposing them to prayer in the classroom would be a violation of their rights. No civilization has ever committed such crimes against its own children.

Or perhaps there is a precedent. The Carthaginians, under siege from the Romans in 146 BC thought they could revive their fortunes by sacrificing their children; 300 children were thrown into a furnace to the god Moloch, but the city fell anyway, the inhabitants were sold into slavery, and the ground sowed with salt so that nothing would grow there, so deep was the Roman revulsion with the city. Carthago delenda est, and no city more deserved its fate.

But what of our fate? Have we not, in a way, committed the same crime to be condemned to the same fate? Have we not condemned our children to be sacrificed to the fires of a commercial Moloch, and must we not suffer a fate much worse than Carthage? Well, after all of this, I have a rather odd message: be of good cheer. We can get through this; we can do this, and perhaps it is only us, and people very much like us, who can do it. I believe that if we keep our wits and our faith about us, we can show our neighbors how to live—once we relearn the art ourselves.

Monday, 26 December 2011

"I am dying", Father Christmas

“You look ill, Father Christmas.”

“I am dying,” he said.

I did not speak, and it was he who spoke again.

“All the new people have left my shop. I cannot understand it. They seem to object to me on such curious and inconsistent sort of grounds, these scientific men, and these innovators. They say that I give people superstitions and make them too visionary; they say I give people sausages and make them too coarse. They say my heavenly parts are too heavenly; they say my earthly parts are too earthly; I don’t know what they want, I’m sure. How can heavenly things be too heavenly, or earthly things too earthly? How can one be too good, or too jolly? I don’t understand. But I understand one thing well enough. These modern people are living and I am dead.”

“You may be dead,” I replied. “You ought to know. But as for what they are doing, do not call it living.”

G.K. Chesterton in The Shop of Ghosts

Saturday, 24 December 2011

GK's Weekly, The Thing, The Slavery Of The Mind


I HAVE chosen the subject of the slavery of the mind because I believe many worthy people imagine I am myself a slave. The nature of my supposed slavery I need not name and do not propose specially to discuss. It is shared by every sane man when he looks up a train in Bradshaw. That is, it consists in thinking a certain authority reliable; which is entirely reasonable. Indeed it would be rather difficult to travel in every train to find out where it went. It would be still more difficult to go to the destination in order to discover whether it was safe to begin the journey. Suppose a wild scare arose that Bradshaw was a conspiracy to produce railway accidents, a man might still believe the Guide to be a Guide and the scare to be only a scare; but he would know of the existence of the scare. What I mean by the slavery of the mind is that state in which men do not know of the alternative. It is something which clogs the imagination, like a drug or a mesmeric sleep, so that a person cannot possibly think of certain things at all. It is not the state in which he says, "I see what you mean; but I cannot think that because I sincerely think this" (which is simply rational): it is one in which he has never thought of the other view; and therefore does not even know that he has never thought of it. Though I am not discussing here my own religion, I think it only right to say that its authorities have never had this sort of narrowness. You may condemn their condemnations as oppressive; but not in this sense as obscurantist. St. Thomas Aquinas begins his enquiry by saying in effect, "Is there a God? It would seem not, for the following reasons"; and the most criticised of recent Encyclicals always stated a view before condemning it. The thing I mean is a man's inability to state his opponent's view; and often his inability even to state his own.

Curiously enough, I find this sort of thing rather specially widespread in our age, which claims to possess a popular culture or enlightenment. There is everywhere the habit of assuming certain things, in the sense of not even imagining the opposite things. For instance, as history is taught, nearly everybody assumes that in all important past conflicts, it was the right side that won. Everybody assumes it; and nobody knows that he assumes it. The man has simply never seriously entertained the other notion. Say to him that we should now all of us be better off if Charles Edward and the Jacobites had captured London instead of falling back from Derby, and he will laugh. He will think it is what he calls a "paradox." Yet nothing can be a more sober or solid fact than that, when the issue was undecided, wise and thoughtful men were to be found on both sides; and the Jacobite theory is not in any way disproved by the fact that Cumberland could outflank the clans at Drummossie. I am not discussing whether it was right as a theory; I am only noting that it is never allowed to occur to anybody as a thought. The things that might have been are not even present to the imagination. If somebody says that the world would now be better if Napoleon had never fallen, but had established his Imperial dynasty, people have to adjust their minds with a jerk. The very notion is new to them. Yet it would have prevented the Prussian reaction; saved equality and enlightenment without a mortal quarrel with religion; unified Europeans and perhaps avoided the Parliamentary corruption and the Fascist and Bolshevist revenges. But in this age of free-thinkers, men's minds are not really free to think such a thought.

What I complain of is that those who accept the verdict of fate in this way accept it without knowing why. By a quaint paradox, those who thus assume that history always took the right turning are generally the very people who do not believe there was any special providence to guide it. The very rationalists who jeer at the trial by combat, in the old feudal ordeal, do in fact accept a trial by combat as deciding all human history. In the war of the North and South in America, some of the Southern rebels wrote on their flags the rhyme, "Conquer we must for our cause is just." The philosophy was faulty; and in that sense it served them right that their opponents copied and continued it in the form "Conquer they didn't; so their cause wasn't." But the latter logic is as bad as the former. I have just read a book called, "The American Heresy," by Mr. Christopher Hollis. It is a very brilliant and original book; but I know it will not be taken sufficiently seriously; because the reader will have to wrench his mind out of a rut even to imagine the South victorious; still more to imagine anybody saying that a small, limited and agricultural America would have been better for everybody--especially Americans.

I could give many other examples of what I mean by this imaginative bondage. It is to be found in the strange superstition of making sacred figures out of certain historical characters; who must not be moved from their stiff symbolic attitudes. Even their bad qualities are sacred. Much new light has lately been thrown on Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart. It is not only favourable to Mary but on the whole favourable to Elizabeth. It seems pretty certain that Mary did not plot to kill Darnley. It seems highly probable that Elizabeth did not plot to kill Mary. But many people are quite as tenderly attached to the idea of a merciless Elizabeth as to that of a murderous Mary. That a man devoted to Protestantism should rejoice that Elizabeth succeeded, that a man devoted to Catholicism should wish that Mary had succeeded--all that would be perfectly natural and rational. But Elizabeth was not Protestantism; and it ought not to disturb anybody to discover that she was hardly a Protestant. It ought to be even less gratification to her supporters to insist that she was a tyrant. But there is a sort of waxwork history, that cannot be happy unless Elizabeth has an axe and Mary a dagger. This sense of fixed and sacred figures ought to belong to a religion; but a historical speculation is not a religion. To believe in Calvinism by faith alone is comprehensible. To believe in Cromwell by faith alone is incomprehensible. It is supremely incomprehensible that when Calvinists left off believing in Calvinism, they still insisted on believing in Cromwell. To a simple rationalist like myself, these prejudices are hard to understand.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

London Juventutem, Gone Mad!

Juventutem London seem to have gone mad with their overly long blog posts of late. Was it really necessary, for example to have, Street instead of St, was there a reason for December, when Dec would have done? All that to one side I print their full post below for those who have the time to read it;

December Mass & Social
It will be taking place at St Mary Moorfields, Eldon Street at 6.30pm on 23rd December. Facebook

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

GK Chesterton Play, The Surprise, On Television

GK Chesterton, well known Catholic author, journalist and public debater, also wrote a couple of plays. His last play, The Surprise, a fascinating Catholic story spun around a travelling playwright who creates a set of puppets to perform one of his plays, is to be shown on EWTN. The play is 2 hours long and can be seen on Wednesday 21st December at 3am, Friday 23rd at 9pm or Saturday 24th at 11pm. You can watch EWTN online at or on sky 589. For Chesterton prayercards etc see;

Monday, 19 December 2011

Church Times Attack On Chesterton

I sent the following letter to the Church Times on the 7th November, as it seems they have not printed it, here it is;

Dear Sir

I really must object to your review of GK Chesterton's
Autobiography (The Church Times, 6th November 1936). Sidney Dark, your reviewer, says a few 'nice' things, only to negate most of them with a 'but'.

He complains that, "There is no man to whom I am more attracted than the man who persists in talking about himself. Being born an artist, Gilbert Chesterton inevitably talked about himself, for that is the way of the artist. His peculiar characteristic, which, by the way, he shared with Bernard Shaw, was that he hardly ever talked about anything else." One would expect this to be the case in an Autobiography, but the main complaint made by Chestertonians about this book is that it contains so little about Chesterton!

It is also a tad strange, as Mr Dark tells us so much about himself in the review of GKC's book; "I knew [Cecil Chesterton] more than I ever knew [GKC]", "I myself love reading it aloud", "I once suggested that Lord Lonsdale had much more in common with members of the Ironmoulders, Union than Mr. Arthur Henderson."

All very interesting I'm sure. But the issue today, seventy-five years after the death of GK Chesterton is no longer whether he is 'The Far Too Happy Warrior', but is he a very jolly Saint in Heaven? (

God bless
Stuart McCullough
Catholic GK Chesterton Society

Maybe they will print my letter in 75 years!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

GK's Weekly, The Thing, Some Of Our Errors


THE thoughtful reader, studying the literature of the enlightened and scientific when they advise us about ethics and religion, will be arrested by one phrase which really has a meaning. Nay, he will observe, with increasing interest and excitement, that it really contains a truth. Most of the phrases that are supposed to go along with it, and to be of the same sort, will be found to be not only untrue but almost unmeaning. When the Modernist says that we must free the human intellect from the mediaeval syllogism, it is as if he said we must free it from the multiplication-table. Some people can count or reason quicker than others; some people put in all the steps and are safe; some people leave out the steps and are still right; many leave out the steps and are consequently wrong. But the process of multiplication is the same, and the process of demonstration is the same. Men think in that way, except when they escape from it by ceasing to think. Or again, when we find in the same context the remark that some Christian doctrine which we do know is "only a form of" some Pagan cult that nobody really knows, we realise that the mathematician is treating the unknown quantity as the known. But when we find among these fallacies the remark I speak of, we shall be wise to pause upon it with greater patience. It is the remark, "We need a restatement of religion"; and though it has been said thirty thousand times, it is quite true.

It is also true that those who say it often mean the very opposite of what they say. As I have remarked elsewhere, they very often intend not to restate anything, but to state something else, introducing as many of the old words as possible. By this time not only the word religion, but also the word restatement, is becoming rather an old word. But anyhow the point is that they do not really mean that we should give freshness and a new aspect to religion by calling it roly-poly or rumpti-foo. On the contrary, they mean that we should take something totally different and agree to call it religion. I mention, with some sadness, that I have said this before; because I have found it quite difficult to get them to see a fact of almost heart-breaking simplicity. It seems to strike them as being merely a fine shade of distinction; but it strikes me as a rather grotesque and staggering reversal. There would be the same fine shade of difference, if somebody of a sartorial sort came to me protesting that my aged father was waiting in rags on my door-step, and urgently needing a new hat and coat, and indeed a complete equipment; if he made the most animated preparations for the reclothing of my parent, and the whole episode ended by his introducing me to a total stranger begging for my father's old hat.

Now I do really believe that there is a need for the restatement of religious truth; but not the statement of something quite different, which I do not believe to be true. I believe there is a very urgent need for a verbal paraphrase of many of the fundamental doctrines; simply because people have ceased to understand them as they are traditionally stated. It does not follow from this that the traditional statement is not the true statement. It only means that the traditional statement now needs to be translated; although translation is seldom true. This is especially the case in connection with Catholic ideas; because they were originally stated in what some call a dead language and some an everlasting language. But anyhow, they were stated in a language that has since broken up into other languages, and mixed with other dialects, and produced a popular PATOIS which is spirited, and often splendid, but necessarily less exact. Now I do think that the Catholic culture suffers very much from the popular misunderstanding of its original terminology. I do think that Catholics are themselves to blame, in many cases, for not realising that their doctrines need to be stated afresh, and not left in language that is intrinsically correct but practically misleading. Those who call themselves liberal, commonly take for granted that the fault is with a dead language, as against a language that has developed. If they were really liberal, they could enlarge their minds to see that there is a case for the language having degenerated. But in either case, it is practically true that there are misunderstandings, and that we ought chiefly to desire to make people understand. And I think we have faults and follies of our own in this matter; and that it is not always the fault of our enemies that they misunderstand. There are cases in which we, more or less unconsciously, misinform them. We do not allow enough, in justifying the words that we speak, for the difference in the words that they hear. And I propose to say a few words in this article upon what I may call Catholic criticisms of Catholic faults; or what are (in many cases) merely Catholic accidents and misunderstanding.

For instance, there is a sort of misunderstanding that is simply mistranslation. Probably we have never properly explained to them the real case for using Latin for something that must be immutable and universal. But as half of them are howling day and night for an international language, and accepting a journalese jibberish with plurals in "oj" because they can get no better, some glimmering of the old use of Latin by Erasmus or Bacon might reasonably be expected of them. Of the full defence of such a hieratic tongue I may say something later. But for the moment I am thinking of certain mistakes which arise very largely by our fault and not theirs. It is not the Church's Latin that is to blame; it is the English Catholic's English. It is not because we do not translate it into the vulgar tongue that we are wrong; it is because we do. Sometimes, I am sorry to say, we translate it into a very vulgar tongue. When we do translate things into English, they often only serve as a luminous argument for leaving them in Latin. Latin is Latin, and always says exactly what it means. But popular versions of Latin things often only serve to make them unpopular.

I will venture to take one example, about which I feel very strongly. Will somebody with better authority than I have announce in a voice of thunder, through a trumpet or with a salute of big guns, the vital and very much needed truth that "dulcis" is not the Latin for "sweet"? "Sweet" is not the English word for "dulcis"; any more than for "doux" or "douce." It has a totally different connotation and atmosphere. "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" does not mean "it is sweet and decorous to die for our country." It means something untranslatable like everything that means anything; but something more like "It is a gracious thing and of good report to die for our country." When Roland was dying in the mountains, having blown his horn and broken his sword, and thought of "La doulce France" and the men of his line, he did not sully his lips by saying "sweet France," but something like "beautiful and gracious France." In English the word "sweet" has been rendered hopelessly sticky by the accident of the word "sweets." But in any case it suggests something much more intense and even pungent in sweetness like the tabloids of saccharine that are of concentrated sugar. It is at once too strong and too weak a word. It has not the same savour as the same word in the Latin languages, which often means no more than the word "gentle" as it was used of "a perfect gentle knight." But English Catholicism, having in the great calamity of our history gone into exile in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (at the very moment when our modern language was being finally made) naturally had to seek for its own finest enthusiasms in foreign languages. It could not find a salutation to the Mass or the Blessed Virgin except in French or Italian or Spanish or some such tongue; and it translated these things back into a language with which the exile had lost touch and in which his taste was not quite firm and sure. It seemed to be thought necessary to use the word "sweet" in every single case of the kind; which produces not only something that did not sound English; but something which did not sound in the least as the Latin or French sounded. In a certain number of cases, of course, it is exactly the right word; just as it is from time to time in ordinary English poetry. Sometimes it is right because it is so obviously the natural and inevitable word that it would seem more affected not to use it than to use it; as in the song of Burns; "My love is like the melody that's sweetly played in tune." Sometimes it is right because there is something to be a salt to its sweetness, as in Sir Philip Sidney's line; "Before the eyes of that sweet enemy France." Similarly it is often exactly right in good Catholic translations or compositions in English. But this fixed notion that it must always be used wherever some such tender expression would be used in Romance literature is simply a blunder in translation; and a blunder that has had very bad effects in fields much more important than literature. I believe that this incongruous and inaccurate repetition of the word "sweet" has kept more Englishmen out of the Catholic Church than all the poison of the Borgias or all the poisonous lies of the people who have written about them.

Ours is at this moment the most rational of all religions. It is even, in a sense, the most rationalistic of all religions. Those who talk about it as merely or mainly emotional simply do not know what they are talking about. It is all the other religions, all the modern religions, that are merely emotional. This is as true of the emotional salvationism of the first Protestants as of the emotional intuitionalism of the last Modernists. We alone are left accepting the action of the reason and the will, without any necessary assistance from the emotions. A convinced Catholic is easily the most hard-headed and logical person walking about the world to-day. But this old slander, of a slimy sentimentalism in all we say and do, is terribly perpetuated by this mere muddle about words. We are still supposed to have a silly sort of devotion, when we really have the most sensible sort, merely because we have taken a foreign phrase and translated it wrong; instead of either leaving it in Latin for those who can read Latin or trusting it in English to people who can write English. But if in this case we admit that the misunderstanding is more our fault than our opponents' fault, the fault which we confess is the very reverse of the fault of which the opponents complain. It has not arisen through the Catholic practice of saying prayers in Latin. On the contrary, it has arisen through the Protestant practice of always saying them in English. It has come through yielding merely weakly and mechanically to the Protestant pressure in the days when our tradition was completely out of fashion. In other words, it has come through doing exactly what they advised us to do, and not doing it well. Of course I do not mean that it is not a good thing to have good popular translation when it is done well. I think it is a very good thing indeed. But while I see what there is to be said for the cult of the vernacular, the Protestant critic does not see what there is to be said for the fixed form of the classic tongue. He does not see that there is something to be said even for the general idea that Catholic poetry should be in the vernacular like the Divine Comedy and Catholic worship in the fundamental language like the Mass.

It is a question between a dead language and a dying language. Every living language is a dying language, even if it does not die. Parts of it are perpetually perishing or changing their sense; there is only one escape from that flux; and a language must die to be immortal. The style of the English Jacobean translation is as noble and simple a thing as any in the world; but even there the words degenerate. It is not their fault; but ours who misuse them; but they are misused. No language could lift itself into a loftier or simpler strain than that which begins, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people"; but even then, when we pass on to "speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem," we stumble over a word we have vulgarised.

But the world plays havoc with all such words, whether they are in the English Bible or the Latin Canon. There are many words of Catholic usage which have in practice been thus misused. When an outsider hears that a Catholic has refrained from something for fear of "causing scandal," he instantly has an irritated impression that it means a fear of setting all the silly old women in the town talking gossip. Of course it means nothing of the kind. It does not mean that in Greek. It does not mean that in Latin. It ought not to mean that in English. It ought to mean what it says; the fear of tripping somebody up, of putting a stumbling-block in the way of some struggling human being. If I encourage to carousals a man who must be kept off drink, I am causing scandal. If I talk what might be a wholesome realism for some hearers, to a young and innocent person who is certain to feel it as mere obscenity, I am causing scandal. I am doing what for me is right, at the risk of making him do what for him is wrong. To say that that is unjustifiable is manifest moral common sense. But it is not conveyed in modern English by talking about causing scandal. All that is conveyed in modern English is that the person so acting is disdaining idle chatter and irresponsible criticism; which is exactly what all the saints and martyrs have consistently lived and died by doing. And that is a good example of what I mean by translation; or, if the word be preferred, by restatement. But that does not mean turning round and abusing the old statement, which was really quite correctly stated. It only means restating exactly what the old statement states.

I could give many other examples of words which were right in their Latin use, but which have become obscured in their English misuse. I always feel it in the necessarily frequent phrase "offending" God; which had originally almost the awful meaning of wounding God. But the word has degenerated through its application to man, until the sound of it is quite petty and perverted. We say that Mr. Binks was quite offended or that Aunt Susan will take offence; and lose sight of the essential truth, and even dogma that (in that lower sense) God is the very last to take offence. But here again we should not abuse the Latin language; we should abuse our own vulgarisation of the English language. Upon this one point, of the restatement of religious ideas, the reformers are right in everything except the one essential; which is knowing where to throw the blame.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Protestants Occupy My Local Bus Stop For Christmas!

Not sure how many of these posters are out there, and have no plans to find out. But standing on my local bus stop I got a photo of this one. (So it's my photo, which you can only use if you print-off and distribute some GK Chesterton prayercards).

A very good idea, but could someone tell the Prods what Christmas ends with!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

GK's Weekly, The Thing, The Roots Of Sanity


THE Dean of St. Paul's, when he is right, is very right. He is right with all that ringing emphasis that makes him in other matters so rashly and disastrously wrong. And I cannot but hail with gratitude the scorn with which he spoke lately of all the newspaper nonsense about using monkey-glands to turn old men into young men; or into young monkeys, if that is to be the next step towards the Superman. Not unnaturally, he tried to balance his denunciation of that very experimental materialism which he is always accusing us of denouncing, by saying that this materialism is one evil extreme and that Catholicism is the other. In that connection he said some of the usual things which he commonly finds it easy to say, and we generally find it tolerably easy to answer.

For instance, it is a good example of the contradictory charges brought against Rome that the Dean apparently classes us with those who leave children entirely "unwarned" about the moral dangers of the body. Considering that we have been abused for decades on the ground that we forced on the young the infamous suggestions of the Confessional, this is rather funny.

Only the other day I noted that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle revived this charge of an insult to innocence; and I will leave Dean Inge and Sir Arthur to fight it out. And when he charges us with indifference to Eugenics and the breeding of criminals and lunatics, it is enough that he has himself to denounce the perversion of science manifested in the monkey business. He might permit others to resent equally the schemes by which men are to act like lunatics and criminals in order to avoid lunacy and crime.

There is, however, another aspect of this matter of being right or wrong, which is not so often associated with us, but which is equally consistent with our philosophy. And it has a notable bearing on the sort of questions here raised by Dean Inge. It concerns not only the matters in which the world is wrong, but rather especially the matters in which the world is right. The world, especially the modern world, has reached a curious condition of ritual or routine; in which we might almost say that it is wrong even when it is right. It continues to a great extent to do the sensible things. It is rapidly ceasing to have any of the sensible reasons for doing them. It is always lecturing us on the deadness of tradition; and it is living entirely on the life of tradition. It is always denouncing us for superstition; and its own principal virtues are now almost entirely superstitions.

I mean that when we are right, we are right by principle; and when they are right, they are right by prejudice. We can say, if they prefer it so, that they are right by instinct. But anyhow, they are still restrained by healthy prejudice from many things into which they might be hurried by their own unhealthy logic. It is easiest to take very simple and even extreme examples; and some of the extremes are nearer to us than some may fancy.

Thus, most of our friends and acquaintances continue to entertain a healthy prejudice against Cannibalism. The time when this next step in ethical evolution will be taken seems as yet far distant. But the notion that there is not very much difference between the bodies of men and animals--that is not by any means far distant, but exceedingly near. It is expressed in a hundred ways, as a sort of cosmic communism. We might almost say that it is expressed in every other way except cannibalism.

It is expressed, as in the Voronoff notion, in putting pieces of animals into men. It is expressed, as in the vegetarian notion, in not putting pieces of animals into men. It is expressed in letting a man die as a dog dies, or in thinking it more pathetic that a dog should die than a man. Some are fussy about what happens to the bodies of animals, as if they were quite certain that a rabbit resented being cooked, or that an oyster demanded to be cremated. Some are ostentatiously indifferent to what happens to the bodies of men; and deny all dignity to the dead and all affectionate gesture to the living. But all these have obviously one thing in common; and that is that they regard the human and bestial body as common things. They think of them under a common generalisation; or under conditions at best comparative. Among people who have reached this position, the REASON for disapproving of cannibalism has already become very vague. It remains as a tradition and an instinct. Fortunately, thank God, though it is now very vague, it is still very strong. But though the number of earnest ethical pioneers who are likely to begin to eat boiled missionary is very small, the number of those among them who could explain their own real reason for not doing so is still smaller.

The real reason is that all such social sanities are now the traditions of old Catholic dogmas. Like many other Catholic dogmas, they are felt in some vague way even by heathens, so long as they are healthy heathens. But when it is a question of their not being merely felt but formulated, it will be found to be a formula of the Faith. In this case it is all those ideas that Modernists most dislike, about "special creation" and that Divine image that does not come merely by evolution, and the chasm between man and the other creatures. In short, it is those very doctrines with which men like Dean Inge are perpetually reproaching us, as things that forbid us a complete confidence in science or a complete unity with animals. It is these that stand between men and cannibalism--or possibly monkey glands. They have the prejudice; and long may they retain it! We have the principle, and they are welcome to it when they want it.

If Euclid were demonstrating with diagrams for the first time and used the argument of the REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM, he would now only produce the impression that his own argument was absurd. I am well aware that I expose myself to this peril by extending my opponent's argument to an extreme, which may be considered an extravagance. The question is, why is it an extravagance? I know that in this case it will be answered that the social feature of cannibalism is rare in our culture. So far as I know, there are no cannibal restaurants threatening to become fashionable in London like Chinese restaurants. Anthropophagy is not like Anthroposophy, a subject of society lectures; and, varied as are the religions and moralities among us, the cooking of missionaries is not yet a mission. But if anyone has so little of logic as to miss the meaning of an extreme example, I should have no difficulty in giving a much more practical and even pressing example. A few years ago, all sane people would have said that Adamitism was quite as mad as Anthropophagy. A banker walking down the streets with no clothes on would have been quite as nonsensical as a butcher selling man instead of mutton. Both would be the outbreak of a lunatic under the delusion that he was a savage. But we have seen the New Adamite or No Clothes Movement start quite seriously in Germany; start indeed with a seriousness of which only Germans are capable. Englishmen probably are still English enough to laugh at it and dislike it. But they laugh by instinct; and they only dislike by instinct. Most of them, with their present muddled moral philosophy, would probably have great difficulty in refuting the Prussian professor of nakedness, however heartily they might desire to kick him. For if we examine the current controversies, we shall find the same negative and defenceless condition as in the case of the theory of cannibalism. All the fashionable arguments used against Puritanism do in fact lead to Adamitism. I do not mean, of course, that they are not often practically healthy as against Puritanism; still less do I mean that there are no better arguments against Puritanism. But I mean that in pure logic the civilised man has laid open his guard; and is, as it were, naked against the inroads of nakedness. So long as he is content merely to argue that the body is beautiful or that what is natural is right, he has surrendered to the Adamite in theory, though it may be, please God, a long time before he surrenders in practice. Here again the modern theorist will have to defend his own sanity with a prejudice. It is the mediaeval theologian who can defend it with a reason. I need not go into that reason at length; it is enough to say that it is founded on the Fall of Man, just as the other instinct against cannibalism is founded on the Divinity of Man. The Catholic argument can be put shortly by saying that there is nothing the matter with the human body; what is the matter is with the human soul.

In other words, if man were completely a god, it might be true that all aspects of his bodily being were godlike; just as if he were completely a beast, we could hardly blame him for any diet, however beastly. But we say that experience confirms our theory of his human complexity. It has nothing to do with the natural things themselves. If red roses mysteriously maddened men to commit murder, we should make rules to cover them up; but red roses would be quite as pure as white ones.

In most modern people there is a battle between the new opinions, which they do not follow out to their end, and the old traditions, which they do not trace back to their beginning. If they followed the new notions forward, it would lead them to Bedlam. If they followed the better instincts backward, it would lead them to Rome. At the best they remain suspended between two logical alternatives, trying to tell themselves, as does Dean Inge, that they are merely avoiding two extremes. But there is this great difference in his case, that the question on which he is wrong is, in however perverted a form, a matter of science, whereas the matter in which he is right is by this time simply a matter of sentiment. I need not say that I do not use the word here in a contemptuous sense, for in these things there is a very close kinship between sentiment and sense. But the fact remains that all the people in his position can only go on being sensible. It is left for us to be also reasonable.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

GK's Weekly, The Thing, A Spiritualist Looks Back


WE hear much about new religions; many of them based on the very latest novelties of Buddha and Pythagoras. But I have come to a conclusion which I fear will offend still more. I fancy that all modern religions are counter-religions; attacks on, or alternative to the Catholic Church. They bear no likeness to the natural pagan speculations that existed before the Catholic Church, or would exist if it had never existed. The attitude of Dean Inge is certainly much more like that of Plotinus than that of Plato. But it is even more like that of Porphyry than that of Plotinus. He is exactly like some pagan of the decline; it is not necessary for him to know very much about the Christian superstition; as soon as he heard of it, he hated it.

In a recent work, which I have considered in this place, he is careful to insist that the word PROTESTANT had an old meaning which was not merely negative. And he has certainly fulfilled an old meaning that is positive; if the word Protestant means a man who doth protest too much. He is so very anxious to explain what he thinks about the Catholic Church that he cannot keep it out of any article about M. Coue or Monkey Glands.

The Dean stands by himself; and must be presumably described as an Anglican, for want of anything else in particular to call him. But it is very interesting to observe that even those who seem to go out into the wilderness to stake out their own Promised Land, like the Mormons, are eventually found to be as much a mere reaction against orthodoxy as the Modernists. Their march towards the new Utopia is found to be only a rather longer and more elaborate manoeuvre of one of the armies besieging the Holy City. We imagined that these new schismatics had finally gone off to pray; but we always find (a little while afterwards) that they have remained to scoff. They always come back to boo and riot in our churches when they have got tired of trying to build their own.

One who thus reveals all that he does not know, and certainly ought to know, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He broke out the other day into a diatribe, which was supposed to begin with the relations of his new religion to others, but which turned with incalculable rapidity into mere abuse of his old original family religion, as if there were no other in the world.

Perhaps he is right; and there is not. But you would think a man fresh from founding a new religion might have a few new things to say about that; instead of old and negative things to say about something else. But the special strictures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Catholic orthodoxy had a certain very curious character, which alone makes them worth noting at all. In themselves they are almost indescribably stale and thin and shabby; and have been thrashed threadbare in a hundred controversies. But the odd thing which I want to remark about them is this; that they are not only old, but old-fashioned, in the sense that they do not even fit into what is now fashionable. They had some meaning sixty years ago. They have no meaning at all for anybody who looks at the living world as it is-- even at the world of new faiths or fads like Spiritualism. But the Spiritualist is not looking even at the Spiritualist world. He is not looking at the human world, or the heathen world, or even at the worldly world. He is looking only at the thing he hates.

For instance, he says, exactly as did our Calvinist great-grandmother, that the Confessional is a most indelicate institution; and that it is highly improper for a young lady of correct deportment, in the matter of prunes and prisms, to mention such things as sins to a strange gentleman who is a celibate. Well, of course, all Catholics know the answer to that; and hundreds of Catholics have answered it to Protestants who had some sort of right or reason to ask it.

Nobody, or next to nobody, has ever had to go into so much morbid detail in confessing to a priest as in confessing to a doctor. And the joke of it is that the Protestant great-grandmother, who objected to the gentleman priest, would have been the very first to object to a lady doctor. What matters in the confessional is the moral guilt and not the material details. But the material details are everything in medicine, even for the most respectable and responsible physician, let alone all the anarchical quacks who have been let loose to hear confessions in the name of Psychoanalysis or Hypnotic Cures. But though we all know the old and obvious answers, what I find startling is this: that our critic does not see the new and obvious situation.

What in the world is the sense of his coming with his prunes and prisms into the sort of society that surrounds us to-day? If a girl must not mention sin to a man in a corner of a church, it is apparently the only place nowadays in which she may not do so. She may sit side by side with him on a jury and discuss the details of the foulest and most perverted wickedness in the world, perhaps with a man's life hanging on the minuteness of the detail. She may read in novels and newspapers sins she has never heard of, let alone sins she is likely to commit or confess. She must not whisper to an impersonal presence behind a grating the most abstract allusion to the things that she hears shouted and cat-called in all the theatrical art and social conversation of the day.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must know as well as I do that modesty of that sort is not being regarded at all by the modern world; and that nobody dreams of attempting to safeguard it so strictly as it is safeguarded in Catholic conversation and Catholic confessions. We can say of Rome and Purity what Swinburne said, in another sense,
about Rome and Liberty--"Who is against but all her men, and who is beside her but Thou?" And yet the critic has the impudence to accuse us of the neglect of what all but we are neglecting; simply because that charge was used against us a century ago, and anything used against us can be used over and over again, until it drops to pieces. The old stick of the old grandmother is still good enough to beat the old dog with, though if the old grandmother could rise from the dead, she would think the dog the only decent object in the landscape.

I mean nothing flippant when I say that the only interesting thing about all this is its staleness. I have no unfriendly feelings towards Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to whom we all owe so much gratitude in the realm of literature and entertainment, and who often seems to me entirely right in his manner of defending Spiritualism against Materialism. But I do realize, even if he does not realize, that, at the back of the whole business, he is not defending Spiritualism, and not attacking Materialism; he is attacking Rome.

By a deep and true ancestral instinct with him, he knows that this is ultimately the one Thing to be either attacked or defended; and that he that is not against it is for it. Unless the claim of the Church can be challenged in the modern world, it is impossible really to set up an alternative modern religion. He feels that to be a fact, and I am glad to sympathize with him. Indeed, it is because I would remain so far sympathetic that I take only one example among the doctrines he denounced; and deliberately avoid, for instance, his strangely benighted remarks on the cult of the Blessed Virgin. For I confess to a difficulty in remaining patient with blindness about that topic. But there are other parallel topics.

He has some very innocent remarks about what he considers grotesque in the sacramental system; innocent, because apparently unconscious of what everybody else in the world considers grotesque in the spiritualistic system. If any Christian service was so conducted as to resemble a really successful seance, the world might well be excused for falling back on the word "grotesque," a favourite word of Dr. Watson. Indeed, we may well question whether the institution of the Red-Headed League or the episode of the Yellow Face at the window, or any of the fantasies of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, were any more fantastic than some that have been submitted to us
seriously enough by the school of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I do not say that this test of external extravagance ought to be final, or that no defence of such details could be made. But when Sir Arthur deliberately gibes at our ceremonies, we may at least be allowed to smile at his. Suppose any Catholic rite before the altar consisted of binding a human being hand and foot with ropes; should we ever hear the last of the horrible survival of human sacrifice? Suppose we declared that the priest went into a trance and that clouds of thick white stuff like cotton-wool came out of his mouth, as a manifestation of celestial grace; might not some of our critics be heard to murmur the word, "grotesque"? If we conducted a quiet little evening service in which a big brass trumpet careered about in the air and patted people on the head, caressed a lady with intimate gestures of affection, and generally exhibited itself as about as attractive an object as a philandering trombone or an amorous big drum, would not our critics have something to say about the unwholesome hysteria and senseless excitement of Popery? If the Spiritualist goes out of his way to challenge us to a duel in the matter of dignity, I do not really think it can be reasonably said that he is on stronger ground than we.

But I remark on all these charges, not in order to show how they recoil upon themselves, but in order to show how the Spiritualist is driven to return upon himself, and to react against his origins, and to forget all else in making war upon his mother.

The man of the modern religion does not quarrel with the modern world, as he well might, for its neglect of modesty. He quarrels with the ancient mother, who is alone teaching it any modesty at all. He does not devote himself to condemning the modern dances or the fashionable comedies for their vulgar and obvious indifference to dignity. He brings his special charge of grotesque extravagance against the only ceremonial that really retains any dignity. It seems to him, somehow, more important that the Catholic Church should be, on the most minute point, open to misunderstanding, than that the whole world should go to the devil in a dance of death before his very eyes. And he is quite right; at least, the instinct of which this is a symbol is quite right.

The world really pays the supreme compliment to the Catholic Church in being intolerant of her tolerating even the appearance of the evils which it tolerates in everything else. A fierce light does indeed beat upon that throne and blacken every blot; but the interest here is in the fact that even those who profess to be setting up new thrones or throwing new light are perpetually looking backwards at the original blaze if only to discover the blots. They have not really succeeded in getting out of the orbit of the system which they criticize. They have not really found new stars; they are still pointing at alleged spots on the sun, and thereby admitting that it is their native daylight and the centre of their solar system.