“To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
– G. K. Chesterton
Is it okay to start a book review with that? That’s how I feel after finishing Orthodoxy.
I’m glad I read it, but I admit I didn’t understand all of this classic published in 1908 by English writer and theologian G. K. Chesterton.
“I do not propose to turn this book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more obvious arena. Here I am only giving an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty.”
In speaking to his future readers, Chesterton says,
“If he does read it, he will find that in its pages I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”
And so he begins his explanation of how he came to believe in Christianity.
“In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. . . . this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”
“I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me to-morrow.”
To give you insight into how the book works, here are its nine chapters:
- In Introduction in Defense of Everything Else
- The Maniac
- The Suicide of Thought
- The Ethics of Elfland
- The Flag of the World
- The Paradoxes of Christianity
- The Eternal Revolution
- The Romance of Orthodoxy
- Authority and the Adventurer
Clear now? Maybe not.
But even though the book is wordy and confusing at times with a profligate mix of metaphors and allegories and obscure references to things I don’t know about, I do find great merit in it (to say otherwise would be an affront to the many before me who see it as a masterpiece). And perhaps I’ll tackle it again in a few years and put more of the pieces together.
There is this popular and beautiful passage:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon.”
And more quotes to think about from Orthodoxy:
“Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness.”
“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”
“The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else, are both insane, but their insanity is proved not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives. They have both locked themselves up in two boxes, painted inside with the sun and stars; they are both unable to get out, the one into the health and happiness of heaven, the other even into the health and happiness of the earth.”
“You may alter the place to which you are going; but you cannot alter the place from which you have come.”
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Are you a Chesterton fan? Which works would you recommend? Please share here.
- What are you singing?
- Memorizing Isaiah 55:13