Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Chesterton on our attitude toward the universe

I was preparing a talk for my Youth Group and decided to draw upon this wonderful quote from Chesterton, in which he talks about the importance of having a general, all-encompassing philosophic attitude towards the universe that underlies all of our practical judgments about how to live life:

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good--" At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark (Heretics, I).

Nothing like coming back to Chesterton!


Curtis said...

When I die, they will find that quote written in gold script on my heart.

Any idea whether Fr. Vincent McNabb might've been in GK's mind when he wrote this bit or was Heretics too early in his career for that? The grey-clad monk has always reminded me of Fr.McNabb's writings on economics.

Mr S said...


Kinda makes one wonder what he would say about the OF vs. EF.


CO said...

Ahhh, another Tragedy of the Commons. Where private property is absent, chaos is present. The position of pope is a prime example.

"I will defend my light. Help the monk up or begone foul creatures...."

(To any Chesterton guru) Did Chesterton ever show any similarities between the papal authority and private property?