Archives for posts with tag: GK Chesterton

The following is a slightly expanded version of my comments under the thread “The Empire of Lies”, an essay from John C. Wright (February 13, 2016).

“Either there is truth or there is not.”

After this opening line, Mr. Wright proceeds to demonstrate that the statement “there is no truth” is impossible and self-destroying, an absurdity even if only for the sake of argument. Such an argument is sustained solely for expediency, for moral reasons, in order to pass vice for virtue, virtue for vice, and evildoing for good works. In short, nihilism.

The origin of such extreme moral outlook is sin unacknowledged, unrepented, and conscience stifled accordingly. As Jacques Maritain explained, when we sin, the will (or the “reason of the heart” as Blaise Pascal would put it) listens to emotions and sentiments and averts its inner eye from the sound principles of the practical intellect, that is, the truth as seen by the conscience. By blurring objective truth about the objective good, the will is generally able to trick a poorly formed conscience into taking an evil for a good, or a lesser good for a greater good, or evil means as expedient to attain some good.

But the guilt remains. To evade the guilt efficiently, there is no other way than to attack the principles, the axioms themselves (identity, reason for being, finality, causality, etc.), and ultimately the transcendentals above the principles: no objective beauty, goodness or truth, thus no moral obligation.

Now, what is truth? The shortest and simplest definition is: Truth is the conformity of the mind to things. An honest search for truth makes licit almost any question. For example, the question “Either there is a God (or gods), or there is not” implies that the human mind might be able to discover the truth, or accept the revelation of truth.

If there are things, there is a God, because nothing contingent can exist if there is no necessary being which is the first cause and reason for being of everything else. Hence the same reasoning applies to truth: if there is something, there is truth in the same measure that things do exist and are good and beautiful, and at least partly knowable.

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Three Reformers, Three Rebuilders

In his essay on Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau, Jacques Maritain pointed out the fateful ideas that were ferments in transforming Christendom into the modern secularist world. Reviewing the book once again, I came to the conclusion that the 20th century, though it featured the most horrendous consequences of de-Christianization, also saw refreshing beams of light. Three great writers, in particular, responded and gave an accurate assessment of the damage, and paths of healing.

Against the individualistic view of religion brought forth by Martin Luther, another German-speaking theologian stands for a comprehensive view of Redemption and reconciliation founded on the transcendentals –the Beautiful, the Good and the True– thus on classical philosophy and theology. Amongst a phenomenal production, Father Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) gave the Church his monumental trilogy: Herrlichkeit (Glory, or “Theo-aesthetics”), Theodramatik and Theologik. He also tellingly chose Communio as the name of the quarterly theological journal he founded.

Against the rationalistic destruction of philosophy effected by a great scientist but terrible philosopher, René Descartes, Maritain himself (1882-1973) opposed his life’s work to spark a renewal of Thomism, or philosophia perennis. The common philosophy of humanity, enveloped and exemplified everywhere in the works of saint Thomas Aquinas, can be developed and applied to every new problem of any human culture.

Against the false, unreal worldviews and the false moral superiority à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau pervading the post-modern thought, the English-speaking world was graced with a literary genius who is a miracle of sanity. Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), also a Thomist, is known to his admirers as the “apostle of common sense”.

 

The chronological order and the overlap of these three writers and their fields recall the logical order of operation of the transcendentals in human life.

In high quality literature and poetry, beauty leads to the True and the Good. Chesterton was also a great poet and a fine artist; Maritain wrote beautifully and was a connoisseur of fine art; von Balthasar was an incredibly well-read man, a translator, a literary critic of French and German literature and an excellent pianist.

Metaphysics is the highest and deepest inquiry into truth that the human intellect unaided by faith can achieve. The common and precise language and categories of classical theist philosophy are the frame for the basic principles in every science, especially theology.

Theology, supporting itself on the gifts of faith and Divine Revelation proceeding from the Goodness of God, explains spiritual reality and its embodiment in worship and Christian life, where man responds to the call to holiness, or the invitation to the perfection of goodness.

 

(Linked document updated Feb. 28, 2016)

I found this marvelous insight on the Church Militant in the letter Chesterton wrote to his mother the very day of his baptism (July 1922):

I have thought about you, and all that I owe to you and my father, not only in the way of affection, but of the ideals of honour and freedom and charity and all other good things you always taught me: and I am not conscious of the smallest break or difference in those ideals but only of a new and necessary way of fighting for them. I think, as Cecil did, that the fight for the family and the free citizen and everything decent must now be waged by [the] one fighting form of Christianity.

From G. K. Chesterton’s Biography by Maisie Ward
Chapter 23 on Chesterton’s conversion and baptism

Excerpts:
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The Meaning of Words

My first university studies were in translation. I never worked in the field because I am not perfectly bilingual, having never lived in English. I read and write often in English, but I speak it only occasionally and I still make mistakes that my readers are welcome to point out to me.

Translators have an unflattering Italian proverb: Traduttore, traditore – “Translator, traitor”. In any translation, no matter how literal, there are things lost, added, interpreted. It is the essential part of the trade to choose the words, phrases or style conveying a meaning as close as possible to the original, but even a very good translation will have a different ring, as both the language and the translator have a different voice and style. A fair translation is usually not quite as good as an original text of high quality, but in some rare cases an original of relatively lesser quality might appear in translation as the work of a genius, like Belloc said about Kipling and Chesterton :
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“There are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands” (Chesterton)

When Chesterton wrote his book Orthodoxy (1908), he was still Protestant but, like many other Catholic converts, several years before crossing the threshold (1922) he already admired how the good doctrine (ortho doxa) was profound and coherent. He called the heresies dull, and of course they are. Catholicism’s truly divine equilibrium is so fascinating and fills the mind so overwhelmingly that every heresy is pale and utterly boring in comparison.
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Recently, John C. Wright posted a quote of Bruce Charlton expressing that a return to Antiquity pagan morals and philosophy would be more likely to lessen the divide between our modern pagans and Christianity than direct Christian preaching. Dr Charlton was calling (half-seriously, of course) for pagan missionaries. Here is my take on the subject (in three different posts, slightly edited):

1. Interesting, but we have no need of pagan missionaries. We already have them anyway and they only wreak havoc: from the 18th and 19th centuries we had the Enlightenment prophets and the Progress worshippers. We still have many of those, but for half a century it has been much worse with the New Age missionaries. Absolutely nothing good can come from this church of the velvet-gloved Satan. And they are almost all impossible to convert without much fast and prayer and exorcisms.

Belloc made the following comparison between the modern pagans and the old while explaining why the “Modern Attack”, as he calls the new paganism, is so very dangerous to the Faith: “A man going uphill may be at the same level as another man going down hill; but they are facing different ways and have different destinies. Our world, passing out of the old Paganism of Greece and Rome towards the consummation of Christendom and a Catholic civilization from which we all derive, is the very negation of the same world leaving the light of its ancestral religion and sliding back into the dark.” (Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies, 1938)
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The following piece is the first chapter of Father Henri de Lubac’s book The Drama of Atheist Humanism.

I found this remarkable English translation at IgnatiusInsight.com. I can certify it is outstanding, as I have the book in French and studied translation. The translator — certainly a theologian — captured and rendered wonderfully the poetic style, profound insight and exact theological, philosophical and historic views of the original, which is the work of a genius.

In this text written and published during World War II, the author presents the liberation from fate and idols and the awakening to human dignity experienced by Christian converts in Antiquity, followed by the reversal of atheist humanism. This reversal is examined in the rest of the book through considerations on the atheism of Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and Comte.


 A Tragic Misunderstanding

A wonderful piece of sculpture adorning the cathedral of Chartres represents Adam, head and shoulders barely roughed out, emerging from the earth from which he was made and being molded by the hands of God. The face of the first man reproduces the features of his modeler. This parable in stone translates for the eyes the mysterious words of Genesis: “God made man in his own image and likeness.”
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I wrote the following page a few years ago to accompany GKC’s article “Philosophy for the Schoolroom” included after. It was an answer to a friend’s comment acknowledging doubt as a normal scientific attitude. As a cradle Catholic I never really saw a divide between faith and reason but it seems it has to be explained even to a pious Catholic convert. It was probably a remnant of former agnosticism or Protestant fundamentalism, or both. The philosophical comments inspired from Maritain were written more recently and reworked until now.


 Faith and reason

There is a widely spread state of mind pretending that faith and reason exclude each other and that being skeptical on everything is a fundamental scientific attitude. But, on the contrary, doubting everything is not at all scientific thinking. Science has to question everything, especially its postulates, but a true scientific mind does not doubt everything in the first place. I learned this from the works of French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. Then I read recently the following article by G. K. Chesterton.
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