PART II TRUE MYSTICS, OR LANDING ON ONE'S FEET
GEORGE MACDONALD: CHESTERTON'S INSPIRING MYSTIC
As part of this brief study of Chesterton's mysticism I would like to extend a tribute, as Chesterton does, to George MacDonald, the mystical man of letters of the nineteenth century. He was one Chesterton's inspirations.
In his Introduction to George MacDonald and His Wife (1924), Greville MacDonald's book about his parents, Chesterton pays supreme literary homage to a novel by MacDonald which, he says, changed his whole life. Often the question is posed to us: "What is the best book you have ever read?" Chesterton, for his part, says that this is not a realistic question to ask, since "our minds are mostly a vast uncatalogued library". Nevertheless, he does answer the query in his own case:
In order to put Chesterton's comments about MacDonald's influence within a certain framework, it is well worthwhile to turn to C.S. Lewis's Introduction to MacDonald's fantasy novel, Lilith, in which he makes some very salient observations about the kind of literature MacDonald wrote. It is widely known that MacDonald was a fundamental inspiration for Lewis, who maintained that he never wrote a book without quoting him. He even went so far as to say that MacDonald's novel Phantastes converted and baptised his imagination at a time when Christianity was furthest from his mind:
What kind of literature did MacDonald write? From a literary point of view, Lewis rates it as third class. But in the kind of literature MacDonald wrote, the literary style is not the most important thing. MacDonald, Lewis points out, wrote
In his Autobiography, Chesterton recalls how the truths of fairy tales endured as the foundational truths of his inner world. George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblins was instrumental in preparing Chesterton's mind for Christian dogma. It would be a fascinating study, if it has not already been done, to draw parallels between the Christian truths in MacDonald's writings and Chesterton's own religious thinking.
Chesterton describes for us the "home" truth, so to speak, with which his own imagination was baptised when he read The Princess and the Goblins. Through this book he was given an imaginative appreciation of the doctrine of original sin - which was fertile soil for the Holy Spirit to begin the process of his conversion:
Chesterton had read in the gospel the Lord's words about hatred, adultery, greed, murder, etc., coming from within, from the heart, and that "nothing outside a man can defile him"(Mk.7:20). This experience of the goblins coming from within is universal, only denied by people who will not take responsibility for their own actions. We do not "progress" away from the goblins; nor do we launch a final and successful attack upon the castle. To our dying day, we experience the goblins within and are called to an eternal vigilance. What Lewis said of himself could be applied to Chesterton:
George MacDonald, through his Christian fantasies, buried deep within Chesterton's mind the seeds of truth. When Chesterton finally read the gospels, the simple images of The Princess were "more corroborated than corrected when I came to give a more definite name to the lady watching over us from the turret, and perhaps to take a more practical view of the goblins under the floor." (166)
Throughout the course of writing this book I have been aware of MacDonald's gentle, mystical spirit. I believe, as Chesterton did, that he was a mystic. Whether he was in all respects an orthodox Christian is another question. Nonetheless, it is very probable that, if Chesterton has become one of our spiritual fathers of the 20th century, it is partially thanks to the spiritual fatherhood of George MacDonald. The Father from whom all fatherhood proceeds used MacDonald's wisdom to sow some of the first seeds of the gospel in Chesterton's mind.
As was mentioned in the Introduction, mystics cannot communicate their experiences to others. In this sense they have no pupils: there are no formulas or propositions that guarantee a mystical contact with the Presence. In the realm of the actual mystical experience, the Finger of God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, touches each chosen vessel anew, in every age, with an unusual awareness of the Presence.
MacDonald was such a man, touched by the Spirit. While the actual mystical experience cannot be communicated to others at second hand, the insights derived from the mystic's primary contact with the Presence can be shared with others to their great spiritual profit. Often these insights re-emphasize some key truth about God or the deposit of faith that has fallen into abeyance on account of the temper of the times. In this way, MacDonald kindled others with the warmth of his mystical fire. God can raise up mystics like him in any place and in any time, out of his tender mercy for his wayward children, to transcend the darkness of the times. I believe he has raised up Chesterton for this reason. The 20th century has surely been in need of genuine mystics.
Both Chesterton and Lewis point to the fact that MacDonald transcended his times. Lewis describes this uplifting action of the Holy Spirit in MacDonald's mysticism in terms of his escape from the Freudian formulas for dysfunction:
Contrast this understanding of the Father with Blake's distorted visions of Urizen, that "tyrannical personality and resemblance to traditional depictions of Jehovah, that aged tyrant, propping up a discredited social order" and you can readily discern who the genuine mystic is.
It is common knowledge that Chesterton too was blessed with a deep and humanely good relationship with his own father. Joseph Pearce, in his biography, quotes E.C. Bentley, Chesterton's best friend, as saying that Chesterton "never met `with greater kindliness -- to say nothing of other sterling qualities -- than that of his father, the businessman whose feeling for literature and all beautiful things worked so much upon his sons in childhood.'" 
Chesterton, drawing no doubt on his own balanced appreciation of fatherhood, commented on one of my own favorite sayings from MacDonald: "God is easy to please but hard to satisfy." He explains that some mystics who have not completed their tumbling try to satisfy God, and become too harsh, "just as some optimists are doubtless too much occupied with insisting that He is easy to please." 
MacDonald could easily have become a forerunner of the New Age movement, like Blake; or a forerunner of the complete reduction of the Christian faith to anthropology, like Feuerbach; or a forerunner of the denial of God and the reduction of all inner life to the psyche, like Freud. But he became, as Chesterton asserts, a forerunner of the reunion of Christendom:
Chesterton, too, I believe, was a mystic, a bright morning star of authentic Catholic mysticism in the 20th century. Not only is his teaching a guide to orthodox faith, but his mysticism is a light guiding our path through the dark forest. And perhaps the greatest blackness in that forest has been the erroneous belief, born of fear, that to love the good things of the earth is an obstacle to God and Christ, and that we must choose between the two realities.
Not so! Rightly understood, these created realities are the very place where the Good God can be especially experienced. Chesterton had a vivid, uncommon appreciation of the Presence in the good things he could see with his eyes: "I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do."
In his "Prayer in Darkness", in which he frames this "fierce pleasure" of his in the poignant language of poetry, Chesterton caps his thoughts, in the last stanza, with an extraordinary allusion to Christ on Calvary:
 In G.K.C. As M.C., Ed. J.P. de Fonseka, 163-64.
 Introduction to Lilith, xi-xii, Eerdmans, 1981.
 Introduction to Lilith, v-vi.
 Binden, 17.
 Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton, 4.
 (G.K. Chesterton, Blake, 168)
 The Works of G.K. Chesterton, Wordswoth Poetry Library, (Hertfordshire, 1995) 117.
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