Ian Ker’s Chesterton

Ian Ker’s biography of Chesterton is reviewed in the London Times. The reviewer, Bernard Manzo, remarks that:

Dogmas, for Chesterton, create thought; they create the possibility of argument, and perception (“with this idea once inside our heads, a million things become transparent as if a lamp were lit behind them”). Whether one accepts or rejects Christianity, one must ultimately avail oneself of dogma (“every man in the street must hold a metaphysical system, and hold it firmly”); so that one cannot so much prove the dogmas of Christianity as show that the alternative dogmas (of materialism, fatalism or whatever) issue in absurdities and contradictions, and that the dogmas of Christianity sustain values that would be lost if those values were affirmed in isolation. To affirm, for instance, the total autonomy of reason could be to destroy reason – because reason can doubt itself, and annihilate itself. One must have faith in reason. To affirm the goodness of the world might be to countenance a kind of quietism; but Christianity affirms all at once the goodness of the world, its separateness from the highest good, and its fallenness from its own intrinsic perfection: the world is good, but one must fight for goodness in this world – we must “hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing”. More than that, for Chesterton, Christianity maintained a balance between potentially competing ideas and values – indeed, potentially dangerous ideas and values – and the achievement of this balance was in itself an intimation of its divinity. Reflecting, in Orthodoxy, on the “gigantesque” and wild “diction” of Christ – “full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea” – Chesterton remarked that “Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other”, and that “the one explanation of the Gospel language that does explain it, is that it is the survey of one who from some supernatural height beholds some more startling synthesis”. The danger here is that one might call mere contradiction “mystery”; but Chesterton took the view that the reasonableness of the “startling synthesis” of Christianity could be shown by its making sense of experience as a whole, where other philosophies issued in contradictions, or in a denial of certain aspects of common experience. For Chesterton, the mysteries of Christianity made sense of common sense.

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2 Responses to Ian Ker’s Chesterton

  1. I’m so glad you stopped by @St. Ambrose blog this morning.

    When is the BIG move? How exciting … how frightening! I wish you well in your new adventure.

    One of the other bloggers is involved in the study group you inquired about, she’s double checking on the meeting because of the July 4th holiday. Someone will get back to you with an answer.

    God Bless!

  2. Thomas says:

    Hi Holly,
    exactly (re exciting/frightening). great to meet another blogger!

    We’re loading June 30th and starting out July 1st (I’ll drive 26′ Penske, and MaryAlice will drive car, with 3 cats) and hope to get to SLC on the 4th. Hopefully our daughter doesn’t go into labor before then!

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