Category Archives: G. K. Chesterton

Crying Out For Myth and Parable

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After reading this essay, I want to read Bradley Birzer’s book:

Myth, Tolkien thought, can convey the sort of profound truth that was intransigent to description or analysis in terms of facts and figures, and is therefore a more powerful weapon for cultural renewal than is modern rationalist science and technology.[11] Myth can emphasize the beauty of God’s creation as well as the sacramental nature of life.[12] “Our time, sick nigh unto death of utilitarianism and literalness, cries out for myth and parable,” American novelist and political philosopher Russell Kirk explained. “Great myths are not merely susceptible of rational interpretation: they are truth, transcendent truth.”[13] Tolkien believed that myth can teach men and women how to be fully and truly men and women, not mere cogs in the vast machine of modern technological society.

In his inimitable way, Chesterton once wrote that

imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.[14]

Besides offering an essential path to the highest truths, myth plays a vital role in any culture because it binds together members of communities. “It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by a majority of the people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad,” Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy.[15] Communities “share symbols and myths that provide meaning in their existence as a people and link them to some transcendent order,” political theorist Donald Lutz explains. “The shared meaning and a shared link to some transcendent order allow them to act as a people.”[16] The man “who has no sympathy with myths,” Chesterton concluded, “has no sympathy with men.”[17] One cannot, it seems, separate men from their myths.

….For Tolkien, however, even pagan myths attempted to express God’s greater truths. True myth has the power to revive us, to serve as an anamnesis, or way of bringing to conscious experience ancient experiences with transcendence. But, Tolkien admitted, myth could be dangerous, or “perilous,” as he usually stated it, if it remained pagan. Therefore, Tolkien thought, one must sanctify it, that is, make it Christian and put it in God’s service.

Who Are You?

From Alan Jacobs:

In one of my classes I have been teaching the book of Job, and finding myself (not for the first time) surprised that this strange and even shocking book made its way into the canon of the sacred books of the Jewish and the Christian people. It’s fascinating to read the Talmudic commentary on Job: the rabbis did not know who wrote it (some thought Moses), they did not know when it was written, they did not know whether it is a piece of historical writing or a fable. All they knew was that it is a holy book. And that is a remarkable thing.

The best thing I have ever read about Job is the brief Introduction to the book by G. K. Chesterton. Here’s a taste:When, at the end of the poem, God enters (somewhat abruptly), is struck the sudden and splendid note which makes the thing as great as it is. All the human beings through the story, and Job especially, have been asking questions of God. A more trivial poet would have made God enter in some sense or other in order to answer the questions. By a touch truly to be called inspired, when God enters, it is to ask a number of questions on His own account. In this drama of skepticism God Himself takes up the role of skeptic. He does what all the great voices defending religion have always done. He does, for instance, what Socrates did. He turns rationalism against itself. He seems to say that if it comes to asking questions, He can ask some question which will fling down and flatten out all conceivable human questioners. The poet by an exquisite intuition has made God ironically accept a kind of controversial equality with His accusers. He is willing to regard it as if it were a fair intellectual duel: “Gird up now thy loins like man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me” (38:3). The everlasting adopts an enormous and sardonic humility. He is quite willing to be prosecuted. He only asks for the right which every prosecuted person possesses; he asks to be allowed to cross-examine the witness for the prosecution. And He carries yet further the corrections of the legal parallel. For the first question, essentially speaking, which He asks of Job is the question that any criminal accused by Job would be most entitled to ask. He asks Job who he is. And Job, being a man of candid intellect, takes a little time to consider, and comes to the conclusion that he does not know.  

Read it all here.

               

 

We are Sane and We are One

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Creation Day

Between the perfect marriage day
And that fierce future proud, and furled,
I only stole six days—six days
Enough for God to make the world.

For us is a creation made
New moon by night, new sun by day,
That ancient elm that holds the heavens
Sprang to its stature yesterday—

Dearest and first of all things free,
Alone as bride and queen and friend,
Brute facts may come and bitter truths,
But here all doubts shall have an end.

Never again with cloudy talk
Shall life be tricked or faith undone,
The world is many and is made,
But we are sane and we are one.

I’ve been reading Chesterton again.  This poem was written shortly after his marriage to Frances Blog in 1901.