Gilbert K. Chesterton
"To My Father"
The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain
mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said,
"Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,"
put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth "Blessed
is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised."
The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men can see,
and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that
expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains;
blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we
realize that things might not be we cannot realize that things are.
Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light
as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness,
all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine.
Until we picture nonentity we underrate the victory of God,
and can realize none of the trophies of His ancient war.
It is one of the million wild jests of truth that we know nothing
until we know nothing,
A man ought to eat because he has a good appetite to satisfy,
and emphatically not because he has a body to sustain. A man ought
to take exercise not because he is too fat, but because he loves foils
or horses or high mountains, and loves them for their own sake.
And a man ought to marry because he has fallen in love,
and emphatically not because the world requires to be populated.
The food will really renovate his tissues as long as he is not thinking
about his tissues. The exercise will really get him into training
so long as he is thinking about something else. And the marriage will
really stand some chance of producing a generous-blooded generation
if it had its origin in its own natural and generous excitement.
It is the first law of health that our necessities should not be
accepted as necessities; they should be accepted as luxuries.
Let us, then, be careful about the small things, such as a scratch
or a slight illness, or anything that can be managed with care.
But in the name of all sanity, let us be careless about the
important things, such as marriage, or the fountain of our very
life will fail.
Mr. Wells, however, is not quite clear enough of the narrower
scientific outlook to see that there are some things which actually
ought not to be scientific. He is still slightly affected with
the great scientific fallacy; I mean the habit of beginning not
with the human soul, which is the first thing a man learns about,
but with some such thing as protoplasm, which is about the last.
The one defect in his splendid mental equipment is that he does
not sufficiently allow for the stuff or material of men.
In his new Utopia he says, for instance, that a chief point of
the Utopia will be a disbelief in original sin. If he had begun
with the human soul--that is, if he had begun on himself--he would
have found original sin almost the first thing to be believed in.
He would have found, to put the matter shortly, that a permanent
possibility of selfishness arises from the mere fact of having a self,
and not from any accidents of education or ill-treatment. And
the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest
difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give
an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones.
They first assume that no man will want more than his share,
and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share
will be delivered by motor-car or balloon.
It is true enough, of course, that a pungent happiness comes chiefly
in certain passing moments; but it is not true that we should think
of them as passing, or enjoy them simply "for those moments' sake."
To do this is to rationalize the happiness, and therefore to destroy it.
Happiness is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized.
Suppose a man experiences a really splendid moment of pleasure.
I do not mean something connected with a bit of enamel, I mean
something with a violent happiness in it--an almost painful happiness.
A man may have, for instance, a moment of ecstasy in first love,
or a moment of victory in battle. The lover enjoys the moment,
but precisely not for the moment's sake. He enjoys it for the
woman's sake, or his own sake. The warrior enjoys the moment, but not
for the sake of the moment; he enjoys it for the sake of the flag.
The cause which the flag stands for may be foolish and fleeting;
the love may be calf-love, and last a week. But the patriot thinks
of the flag as eternal; the lover thinks of his love as something
that cannot end. These moments are filled with eternity;
these moments are joyful because they do not seem momentary.
The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly
summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues,
and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome
calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such
things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them.
The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted,
but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. Now much easy
and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon
those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two
facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact
(in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)--the first
evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice
and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues
of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues.
And the second evident fact, which is even more evident,
is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues,
and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are
in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.
As the word "unreasonable" is open to misunderstanding, the matter
may be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian
or mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this
is not true of any of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues.
Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man
and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper
limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity
means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.
Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.
And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.
Humility is the thing which is for ever renewing the earth and the stars.
It is humility, and not duty, which preserves the stars from wrong,
from the unpardonable wrong of casual resignation; it is through
humility that the most ancient heavens for us are fresh and strong.
The curse that came before history has laid on us all a tendency
to be weary of wonders. If we saw the sun for the first time
it would be the most fearful and beautiful of meteors.
Now that we see it for the hundredth time we call it, in the hideous
and blasphemous phrase of Wordsworth, "the light of common day."
We are inclined to increase our claims. We are inclined to
demand six suns, to demand a blue sun, to demand a green sun.
Humility is perpetually putting us back in the primal darkness.
There all light is lightning, startling and instantaneous.