Friday, February 17, 2012

The importance of mystery in a person's life

Artist: Heinrich Tomec

Do pardon the repeated use of generic masculine language in this passage by G. K. Chesterton and consider the times in which it was written. (It is just too good, in my opinion, not to it use it for that reason alone.)

From what I can discern, by "the ordinary man", Chesterton is referring to the person who is not particularly sophisticated in the sense, perhaps, of being thoroughly up to date in some regard. He seems to contrast this with "the morbid logician" to which he refers toward the end of this passage:
As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus, he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus, he believes that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.


  1. This is outstanding. I love it, even if I am sometimes a morbid logician. But then, that's my mystery. ;-)
    I'm going to share this on my blog.

  2. I love it too...some wonderful writing Sister. Thank you!

    annie c

  3. I love this quote because it says so much that is freeing and true. Yet, as is often the case for me, I have found something to question. And the very premise of Chesterton's quote says that's a good thing.

    What I question is assigning all these qualities to the “ordinary man.” I think such qualities are better assigned to the “wise man or the wise woman.” And there is certainly nothing at all ordinary about being a person of wisdom.

    To be clear, if we look over the population of the world I am quite certain that we would find many ordinary people who live with one foot on the earth and another in fairy land. But, though there may be many who doubt their gods, I think there are few indeed who 'leave themselves free' to doubt their gods; but also free to believe in them. And those who do 'feel free' to doubt and also believe are far from ordinary.

  4. I'm glad you like it, Tom.

    I'm glad you like it, Annie.

    Well, Tom. I'm not hugely surprised that you found something with which to take issue. I can't tell you the specific context of this passage but I can tell you that Chesterton was writing during the early part of the last century. He was probably contrasting "the ordinary man" with the academics of the time who thought humans ought to adopt a strictly rationalistic world view.

    Hope that speaks to the issue somewhat!

  5. Ok. That explains his perspective anyway.

  6. Paradox. Label the generalization of man, woman, ordinary man, common man, it doesn't matter; what matters is that they are at peace living in a world of paradox. Boy are we as a society in a mess. It seems we have gone more and more the other way. Everything must be right or wrong, good or evil--paradoxes are not allowed. Yet, paradoxes exist all around us and with that belief comes awareness. Is that what Chesterton was referring to, paradox?
    Carolyn L.

  7. I think that's highly likely, Carolyn.

    You know, in the early Church, an ability to live with paradox was one mark of orthodoxy. Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that an INABILITY to handle paradox was one indicator of heresy.

  8. Just how early was that time? Being okay with paradox seems such a novel idea that it seems hard to imagine the church ever being okay with it. Just remembered the stories of the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers often dealt with the idea of paradox and not in a scary fashion, but in a "it just is" fashion.
    Carolyn L.


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