Chesterton As Spiritual Father
Contents Table
Key to Symbols
Next paragraph
Previous paragraph
Contents List

Next paragraph Contents List Contents List

     G.K. is a new Abba emerging from the desert of the modern world to proclaim the "New Religion" of the Gospel of Christ.  As a rather stocky journalist we may not exactly classify his kind of holiness with the asceticism of the desert-dwellers.  But would not G.K. possibly have thought of himself (since his notions of sanctity reflect his own ideals) -- would he not have thought of himself as a poor man's St.Anthony?  Like Anthony, he would fight the lies about the Gospel.  Through his experience he knew that demons were real, as real in the modern world as they were for Anthony in his cave.  And, like Anthony, he would do battle with them.

     In the following passage he was talking  about motives which impel men to war.  They apply par excellence to our ultimate war with the demons:

            Men fight hardest when they feel that the foe is at once an old enemy and an eternal stranger, that his atmosphere is alien and antagonistic.  Men are moved in these things by something far higher and holier than policy; by hatred.  That is, when two visions of the world meet; or in more modern language when two moral atmospheres meet.  EM  141-42

            The Second World War was such a conflict.  It as not simply over a country desiring more land or more resources.  It was a battle to the death between two opposing ideologies, two moral atmospheres.  I for one have never been able to understand how one could have been a pacifist in the face of such a conflict.  And the ultimate battle for G.K. was between Christ and the devil, whatever form these may take on the surface of thought and action.

Belief in  the Devil Makes You More Charitable
Next paragraph Previous paragraph Contents List

     Talk about paradoxes.  The existence of the devil and his temptations is one of the factors behind G.K.'s celebrated charity towards his intellectual foes, towards everyone, really.  He believed that erroneous ideas affected moral behavior, and often people were not aware that their ideas were erroneous.  Maybe people were supercilious because they were theosophists, not theosophists because they were supercilious.  We could prolong this list indefinitely: maybe people are grouchy because they harbor pessimistic ideas, not pessimistic because they are grouchy; maybe people are sad and unpleasant because they have fatalistic and harsh ideas, not harsh because they are unpleasant people. And so forth. 

            The  devil is the father of lies, as Jesus said.  If you believe that Satan is alive and active, tempting people with lies, you will be more charitable and compassionate.  You will not be attributing all evil to them:

            If we do not believe in the devil, we naturally attribute all the evil in human beings to those human beings alone; and regard many of our fellow-creatures as fiendish originators when they are only tempted or tormented victims.  Nobody can doubt that there are things in the world that can only be called devilish; and to say that there are no devils, is really to say that human beings are devils.  151      

Discerner of Thoughts
Next paragraph Previous paragraph Contents List

     The fathers of the desert were geniuses in discriminating among the multitude of thoughts in the mind -- logismoi, they were called.  They knew very well what a "new" school of psychology is discovering, that you can't really have a human actin without a thought; and that your thoughts have a powerful effect on your being.  St.Anthony, in a celebrated conversation with his followers, once said that true knowledge was the ability to discern between good and evil.

            G.K. saw very clearly how intellectual error begets moral error, and he understood that this was his particular battle ground: "I have come to attach much more importance that most modern people do to the influence of intellectual error upon moral character; but for that very reason, I am readier to admit that gallant and glorious fight that is often made by moral character against intellectual error" ("Heresy of Hustle," 151)            G.K. saw that the  was often the instigator of false ideas.

            In the opening paragraphs of "Demons and the Philosophers" in The Everlasting Man, he gives some truly penetrating insights as to just why the human race, down through the ages -- and even moreso in our own time -- is drawn to fraternize with demons.  His insights are on a more intellectual plane than would have ben those of St. Anthony of St. Pachomius, but this is part of G.K.'s real genius: he saw that bad thinking is harmful.  The  may tempt us in a sensual way, with imaginings of false delights so that we succumb to something sinful.  But he can also tempt us with false ideas as ideas, which can then lead us to evil.  A false idea is even more harmful  than a moral fault, for wrong ideas beget moral faults.  G.K.'s spiritual fatherhood is in this area of discerning false ideas.

            One of his insights about the human race and demons is that communication with them is a phenomenon which occurs not in a so-called primitive stage of a civilization but rather in its developed stages:

            In the accounts given us of many rude and savage races we gather that the cult of demons often came after the cult of deities, and even after the cult of one single and supreme deity.


            And all over the world the traces can be found of this striking and solid fact, so curiously overlooked by the moderns who speak of all such evil as primitive and early in evolution, that as a matter of fact some of the very highest civilizations of the world were the very places where the horns of Satan were exalted, not only to the stars but in the face of the sun.  119-20   

            Reading the opening sections of "Demons and Philosophers" should be very frightening for our civilized nations.  We, especially in North America, are a very practical, pragmatic people.  Technology is almost a metaphysical mind-set; we desire to get things done.  G.K. says that one of the temptations to invoke evil spirits is precisely their practicality.

            To start with, some impulse, perhaps a sort of desperate impulse, drove men to the darker powers when dealing with practical problems.  There was a sort of secret and perverse feeling that the darker powers would really do things; that they had no nonsense about them.  And indeed that popular phrase exactly expresses the point.  The man consulting a demon felt as many a man felt in consulting a detective, especially a private detective; that it was dirty work but the work would really be done.  The  really kept his appointments and even in one sense kept his promises.

            ..........................................................with the idea of employing the demons who get things done, a new idea appears more worthy of the demons...of making oneself fit for their fastidious and exacting society. ...with the appeal to the lower spirits comes the horrible notion that the gesture must not only be very small but very low... of an utterly ugly and unworthy sort.  Sooner or later a man deliberately sets himself to do the most disgusting thing he can think of, it is felt that the extreme of evil will extort a sort of attention or answer from the evil powers under the surface of the world.  118-19

                 Traditionally we understand evil spirits as haters of humankind, envious of our redemption by Christ.  We are still capax dei, but they have lost their birthright forever; they are diabolically jealous.  Thus, black magic becomes inhuman.  G.K. attributes cannibalism and human sacrifice, especially of children, to demons.  And when we consider the plague of abortion in our own time, can we fail to see the 's hatred of the human race at work.

                 But without dwelling much longer in these dark corners, it may be noted as not irrelevant here that certain anti-human antagonisms seem to recur in this tradition of black magic.  There may be suspected as running through it everywhere, for instance, a mystical hatred of the idea of childhood.  122

            G.K. is grateful that Rome defeated Carthage, and that Christianity did not have to contend with the Carthaginian child-eating Moloch but instead with the milder Zeus and Saturn and Apollo.  It is mostly in our own time that the child-eating Moloch rises before us for battle.  (And isn't it significant that when the Child of Peace entered upon his reign the  unleashed his fury in the destruction of children in Israel.)

The Modern World "Rediscovers" the Demonic
Next paragraph Previous paragraph Contents List

            In a fall issue of Time Magazine there was an (can we call it hopeful?) article on the rise of belief in Satan.  The enormity of evil in the world is just too staggering to be understood simply in terms of human malice, great as that may be. One of G.K.'s themes is that the modern world keeps "discovering" things which the Church has known for 2,000 years.  Take the demonic, for example.

            Of course, nobody believes the fantastic tale of St. George and the Dragon.  But suppose, says G.K., just suppose, by way of example, someone did believe it and went to the traditional site of this mythological battle to get proof.  He finds "on that very field of combat, the bones of a gigantic monster...or...hieroglyphics representing maidens...being sacrificed to such a monster....  He has not found a single detail directly in support of St. George, but he has found a very considerable support of St. George and the Dragon" (New Jerusalem, 170-71. 

            A modern example of what G.K. is driving at here comes to mind.  Nobody believes anymore in the fantastic story of the Star of Bethlehem.  A romantic and beautiful literary touch to the birth of the Saviour of the world, that's all.  But suppose, just suppose, someone did believe it, and set out to prove it.  And he came across -- which is an actual fact -- astronomical Chinese charts at the time of Christ showing that 3 planets converged in the heavens at that time; it has never happened before and will never happen again.  Such a convergence would have been an unusually bright and new constellation in the sky.  Modern research is uncovering things which lend unexpected weight, and a rational basis, to the "myths" of old.

            So too in this area of the supernatural and the demonic: "There has been a return of mysticism without the Christianity.  Mysticism itself has returned, with all its moons and twilights, its talismans and spells...and brought with it seven s worse that itself" (177).  The problem is we now have the s without the Redeemer.  170

            G.K. mentions one area in particular where the demons have showed up: in our excursions into the vast interior spaces of the psyche.  It is not modern theology that has rediscovered the demons, but psychology:

            ...psychological study...has brought us back into the dark underworld of the soul, where even identity seems to dissolve or divide, and men are not even themselves.

            .......................................................dual personality is not so very far from diabolic possession,

            .......................................................And if the dogma of subconsciousness allows of agnosticism, the agnosticism cuts both ways.  A man cannot say there is a part of him of which he is quite unconscious, and only conscious that it is not in contact with the unknown.  He cannot say there is a sealed chamber or cellar under his house, of which he knows nothing whatever; but that he is quite certain that it cannot have an underground passage leading anywhere in the world.  177

            G.K., of course, is not calling all modern psychology demonic.  But he is saying that we get into very deep waters here, and, if they are unconscious, we cannot know if we are opening underground passages to the demons.

            Another area where the demonic is appearing with still greater clarity is in " a mass of fiction and fashionable talk of which it may truly be said, that we miss in it not demons but the power to cast them out.  It combines the occult with the obscene; the sensuality of materialism with the insanity of spiritualism" 178.

            What we really lack here is not the supernatural but only the healthy supernatural.  177  "We have not found St.George, but we have found the Dragon. We have found, in the desert, the bones of the monster we did not believe in...because they are there.  Christian demonology has survived in the form of heathen demonology.  179

The Mild-Mannered Christ
Next paragraph Previous paragraph Contents List

            Many people point to Christ as a great poet or prophet or moralist.  In many ways he is very much alive to modern people.  But if people rally set off to discover Christ -- read the Gospels as if for the first time with unprejudiced eyes (which is how G.K. tried to present Christ in the EM), what will they discover?

                 It is that the exorcist towers above the poet and even the prophet; that the story between Cana and Calvary is one long war with demons.  He understood better than a hundred poets the beauty of the flowers of the battle-field; but he came out to battle.  And if most of his words mean anything they do mean that there is at our very feet, like a chasm concealed among flowers, un unfathomable evil.  185

            I submit that in the following closing remarks in this chapter from The New Jerusalem we have one of the great keys to G.K.'s life and writings.  In a few paragraphs he mentions the mind, fairy-tales, theology, drama, and the gospels -- all areas in which he wrote and to which he applied his great mind.  And if battle is an all-pervasive theme in his writings, in his own mind it is a battle with this "unfathomable evil at our feet":

(in the realm of the mind) ... in all our brains, certainly in mine, were buried things as bad as any buried under that bitter sea [he is referring tot he legend that Sodom and Gomorrah were buried under the Dead Sea], and if He did not come to do battle with them, even in the darkness of the brain of man, I know not why He came.  Certainly it was not only to talk about flowers or to talk about Socialism.

(fairy tales)   The more truly we can see life as a fairy-tale, the more clearly the tale resolves itself into war with the dragon who is wasting the fairyland.

(theology)   I remember distinguished men among liberal theologians, who found it more difficult to believe in one  than in many.  They admitted in the New Testament an attestation to evil spirits, but not to a general enemy of mankind.

(drama)   As some are said to want the drama of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, they would have the drama of Hell without the Prince of Darkness.  187-88 

                 ...the language of the Gospel seems to me to go much more singly to a single issue.  The voice that is heard there has such authority as speaks to any army; and the highest note of it is victory rather than peace.  When the disciples were first sent forth with their faces to the four corners of the earth, and turned again to acclaim their Master, he did not say in that hour of triumph, 'All are aspects of one harmonious whole,' or 'the Universe evolves through progress to perfection,' or 'all things find their end in Nirvana' or 'the dewdrop slips into the shining sea.'  He looked up and said, 'I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.'"  189

The Devil and Father Brown
Next paragraph Previous paragraph Contents List

            G.K.'s "inspiration" for the Father Brown stories was also, in a curious manner, connected with Satan's presence in the world, or rather, with a priest's awareness of such Evil.  In a      conversation with Fr. O'Connor, G.K. said he was about "to support in print a certain connection with some rather sordid social question of vice and crime."  Fr. O'Connor disagreed with his position.

                 And, merely as a necessary duty and to prevent me from falling into a mare's nest, he told me certain facts he knew about perverted practices which I certainly shall not set down or discuss here.  I have confessed on an earlier page that in my own youth I had imagined for myself any amount of iniquity; and it was a curious experience to find that this quiet and pleasant celibate had plumbed those abysses far deeper than I. I had not imagined that the world could hold such horrors.  Auto 317

            G.K. does not say specifically that what Fr. O'Connor related to him was about the  or ish practices, but the context lends itself to this interpretation.  G.K. refers to his earlier chapter "when he met the "; also, "such horrors" seems to refer to more than mere human depravity.  And, in a few moments, he will refer to "Satanism."

            When he and Fr. O'Connor returned to the house they entered into conversation with two hearty and healthy young Cambridge undergraduates about music and art and related matters.  When Fr. O'Connor left, these budding scholars began talking in this manner: "It's all very well to like religious music and so on, when you're all shut up in a sort of cloister and don't know anything about real evil in the world."And then, G.K. relates what was, for him, the original inspiration for Fr. Brown:

            To me, still almost shivering with the appalling practical facts of which the priest had warned me, this comment came with such a colossal and crushing irony, that I nearly burst into a loud harsh laugh in the drawing room.  For I knew perfectly well that, as regards all the solid Satanism which the priest knew and warred against with all his life, these two Cambridge gentlemen (luckily for them) knew about as much of real evil as two babes in the same perambulator.  And then sprang up in my mind the vague idea of making some artistic use of these comic yet tragic cross-purposes, and constructing a comedy in which a priest should appear to know nothing and in fact know more about crime than the criminals.


The Man Who Was Evil
Last paragraph Previous paragraph Contents List

            And what was his frame of mind at the time of writing The Man Who Was Thursday?  "I was still oppressed with the metaphysical nightmare of negations about mind and matter, with the morbid imagery of evil...with the burden of my own mysterious brain and body; but by this time I was in revolt against them; and trying to construct a healthier conception of cosmic life.  103

            People were trying to figure out what the novel was all about.  If they had paid attention, G.K. said, to the subtitle -- "A Nightmare" -- they might have answered some of their own questions."

            Especially were people intrigued by the symbolic identity of "the monstrous pantomime ogre who was called Sunday" (103).  Some thought "he was meant for a blasphemous version of the Creator.  But Sunday "is not so much God, in the sense of religious or irreligious, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism."  103

            But the meaning of Sunday goes through a metamorphosis even in the writing.  "Even in the earliest days and even for the worst reasons, I already knew too much to pretend to get rid of evil. I introduced at the end one figure who really does, with a full understanding, deny and defy good"(104).  G.K. emphatically denies he arrived at this conception from priests:  "I had learned it from myself.  I was already quite certain that I could if I chose cut myself off from the whole  life of the universe" (104).

            And it is here, I think very significantly, that he relates the response of his wife Frances whenever she was asked why she became a Catholic: "The  made me do it."  This could apply with even greater force to G.K. himself.  I believe we could say about G.K. that the  made him into the battling warrior for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful -- for God.  The  is stupid as well as devious.  When G.K. was dabbling in the  murkier regions of the human soul the  thought he would finally capture him for himself by making himself known in a very tangible way.  It backfired.  G.K.'s encounter with the Evil One was one of the most powerful of all the knocks over the head from reality that he ever received.  His heart was too big to be satisfied  with evil and nothingness as the ultimate explanation of everything.  He reasoned that if there was an Evil there must be a Good, and he dedicated his life to revealing, and fighting for, the uproarious Life and Joy at the heart of all things.

Previous paragraph Contents List

. . . o o o . . .