I have been reading this book since last December with some friends at our Ambleside Online book club. I was about to quit reading after the first part, but one of us revived the book study, and we are now on chapter 3. Only three more chapters and the conclusion separate us from the end of the book. I am glad to read books, and re read some chapters, with other friends and taking some time. I can say I am now into Chesterton’s style much more than before, and I have enjoyed his humor. I don’t exhaust his references and I don’t get it all, by no means, but I can tell you that if you aspire to a decent understanding of the topic, enjoying the reading, and learning from it, reading in company will help you tremendously, and your efforts will be repaid generously by this author.
Part II, Chapter 3. This chapter is titled THE STRANGEST STORY IN THE WORLD
But the purpose of this book is to point out that something unique has been swamped in cheap generalisations; and for that purpose it is relevant to insist that even what was most universal was also most original.
A baby born in a manger, a child who is higher than man, it’s (if I understand Chesterton correctly), a story we are very familiar with, and that has lost its uniqueness or originality because it is so familiar to us in the Western world.
1. He observes we have come to venerate children (really?, this was his comment in 1925, almost a 100 years later, our culture worships childhood, and there has been so many wonderful benefits to all that, but with it too, there is such a chaos, confusion, damage done to our children and their childhood years. CM comes to my mind, (how not), children are born persons (I’d add, no less, as in the past, no more, as of now, when they are regarded as little gods).
Back to the chapter. I loved this sentence, Peter Pan does not belong to the world of Pan but the world of Peter. It is so clever, so Chesterton like,
2. He points to the rich literary quality of Jesus Christ when he talks in three degrees, as in the parable of the lilies of the field. From the small flower to the flamboyant palaces and pavilions, then, a third overturn, shrivels it to nothing once more. All that while picking a flower from the field. Chesterton: There is nothing that really indicates a subtle and in the true sense a superior mind so much as this power of comparing a lower thing with a higher and yet that higher with a higher still; of thinking on three planes at ones. (…), that the citizen is higher than the slave and yet that the soul is infinitely higher than the citizen or the city.
My favorite part of the book. 3. He makes us look at Jesus with fresh eyes. There is no other person who was as humble as Jesus, yet he claims to be God (which is a trait of the lunatics, a characteristic of those who suffer megalomania). No other religious founder who is seriously regarded claimed to be great, nor God himself. According to Chesterton, Jesus’ personality was very complex, he represented the two extremes of human variation, that meekness and that greatness. Another quote who also showcases Chesterton’s style: What he said was always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often unexpectedly moderate.
4. His behavior, his miracles. They were done in simplicity. I wish Chesterton had expanded a bit more on this… I understand that for Christ it was a very low key place and time to perform a miracle, and that He, in his greatness, was about to perform a miracle, but in his simplicity, did not choose one that will make Him particularly famous, an amazing miracle, at least for his first one. He also hesitated, and Chesterton makes a big point out of that hesitation but I am not sure why. Something to do with Jesus timing, that had been planned from the beginning, and it had to happen in a certain sequence, I believe.
5. Jesus a wondering teacher. That to Chesterton means Jesus was the definition of ‘human’, human as different to brutes. We humans are less normal and less native than brutes (I believe Chesterton means ‘animals’ with brutes), some persons are without homes, poor and hopeless. Now Chesterton compares Jesus to other wondering teachers (like the peripatetics in Greece), and to Socrates Buddha, and Confucius. All of those teachers, Chesterton says, seemed to have never ending conversations, with no defined beginning and not definite end. Socrates seemed to invite his audience to a never ending picnic. And now Chesterton talks about the problem of death for these teachers. “Socrates did indeed find the conversation interrupted by the incident of his execution. “ Buddha sorted the problem of death differently. He renounced life and exercised self-denial, and attained peace that he wants others to attain too. There have been diverse ways from the great teachers to deal with death, but non like Jesus.
6. For Jesus, death was the goal. Wow. This blew me away. I am so close to Jesus’ words as a christian, that sometimes I miss the power and uniqueness of His life on earth, His teachings… For Chesterton, Christ end of the journey was death. The death of Socrates is very different to the death of Christ, His death was the culmination of his journey, His bride. I am adding that no common man could have transcended death, that the culmination of one’s life, teachings, existence, was death, could not and never will be any mortal’s reason for his existence. Only the Son of God could conquer death.
7. Apollonious performed a miracle and vanished. Jesus never vanished after His miracles. He stayed. The story of the Gospel is more than words, beyond criticism. We can argue as much as we want, Chesterton says, The grinding power of the Gospel story is like the power of mill stones, according to Chesterton (and who would disagree, if you have heard it?), words don’t touch it, couldn’t add to it, or diminish it. I was so moved this past week, as I read this chapter and we had a full week of learning about the life of Jesus, by taking some distance and trying to look at it all with fresh eyes, as when you tell children about Jonah, or David and Goliath for the first time. Today at my friend Heather’s, she was able to bring so much laughter and joy by going back to the beginnings of our friendship, and by talking about us before we were accustomed to each other, and our antics and accents, etc. And I kept thinking about all this life, and learning, and love, and service… and how it is much about being like a child again, as when you first move into a different place, or when you first met your husband, your new born baby.
Back to the book…
8. The world cannot save itself. The mob that gathered at Good Friday, Chesterton says, it’s a great representation of all the philosophies, religious groups, and teachers, of all humanity. Christ died for all the people. The tomb was a second cavern were all mythologies and gods died. When the friends of Christ went to the tomb the third day, they did not realized that the world had died in the night, and that was the first day of a new creation.
This was a remarkable chapter, a first culmination of a special book that invites a christian and anyone to look and listen to this Everlasting Man, a Man like no other, with a life like no other, and a death like no other.