Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Aphorisms From G.K. Chesterton's Book Orthodoxy


Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Co., 1908; see online version)


The main point here, however, is that this idea of a fundamental alteration in the standard is one of the things that make thought about the past or future simply impossible. (ch. 3)


Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them. (ch. 7)


The man who disliked vestments wore a pair of preposterous trousers. (ch. 6)

Animal Rights

We may eventually be bound not to disturb a man's mind even by argument; not to disturb the sleep of birds even by coughing.

The ultimate apotheosis would appear to be that of a man sitting quite still, nor daring to stir for fear of disturbing a fly, nor to eat for fear of incommoding a microbe. (ch. 7)


Complete anarchy would not merely make it impossible to have any discipline or fidelity; it would also make it impossible to have any fun. (ch. 7)


Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly. (ch. 7)


It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. (ch. 6)


The great and very obvious merit of the English aristocracy is that nobody could possibly take it seriously. (ch. 7)


But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. (ch. 2)

Authority, Religious

But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. (ch. 3)


This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. (ch. 8)

Celibacy and Virginity

In fact, the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a colour: not merely the absence of a colour. (ch. 6)


Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things -- pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people. (ch. 6)


If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. (ch. 2)


It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. (ch. 6)


Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. (ch. 2)

Cross, The

But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. (ch. 2)

Dark Ages

And in history I found that Christianity, so far from belonging to the Dark Ages, was the one path across the Dark Ages that was not dark. (ch. 9)


Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. (ch. 7)


But even the machinery of voting is profoundly Christian in this practical sense -- that it is an attempt to get at the opinion of those who would be too modest to offer it. (ch. 7)


It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will.

The determinist makes the theory of causation quite clear, and then finds that he cannot say "if you please" to the housemaid. (ch. 2)


Any one setting out to dispute anything ought always to begin by saying what he does not dispute. (ch. 1)

Dogma (Catholic)

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. (ch. 9)


The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. (ch. 2)


If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time. (ch. 3)

Fairy Tales

The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. (ch. 2)

Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense.

Thus I have said that stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege. (ch. 4)


If I vow to be faithful I must be cursed when I am unfaithful, or there is no fun in vowing. (ch. 7)


Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do -- because they are Christian. (ch. 7)


But in Christian society we have always thought the gentleman a sort of joke, though I admit that in some great crusades and councils he earned the right to be called a practical joke. (ch. 7)


If our faith comments on government at all, its comment must be this -- that the man should rule who does not think that he can rule. (ch. 7)

Heresies and Heretics

To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom -- that would indeed have been simple.

To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame.

But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. (ch. 6)


It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything -- even pride. (ch. 3)


I mean that having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation and found them to be common nonsense. (ch. 9)

Jesus Christ

Really, if Jesus of Nazareth was not Christ, He must have been Antichrist.

For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God. (ch. 6)

Judaism and Jews

In the same conversation a free-thinker, a friend of mine, blamed Christianity for despising Jews, and then despised it himself for being Jewish. (ch. 6)

Liberalism (Theological)

Almost every contemporary proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny into the world.

It means freeing that peculiar set of dogmas loosely called scientific, dogmas of monism, of pantheism, or of Arianism, or of necessity.

For some inconceivable cause a "broad" or "liberal" clergyman always means a man who wishes at least to diminish the number of miracles; it never means a man who wishes to increase that number. (ch. 8)

Love (of Self)

A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship. (ch. 8)


Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze.

The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (ch. 2)


Man was a statue of God walking about the garden. (ch. 6)

Man, Common

But there is something psychologically Christian about the idea of seeking for the opinion of the obscure rather than taking the obvious course of accepting the opinion of the prominent. (ch. 7)

Man, Smallness Of

It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree. (ch. 4)


A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. (ch. 5)


But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. (ch. 2)

But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America.

The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.

The sceptic always takes one of the two positions; either an ordinary man need not be believed, or an extraordinary event must not be believed. (ch. 9)

Modernism and Modern Man

It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. (ch. 6)

The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind. (ch. 7)


To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I had only been born once. (ch. 4)


Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction. (ch. 5)

Mystery and Mysticism

The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.

The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. (ch. 2)


There is no equality in nature; also there is no inequality in nature.

The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother.

The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister.

To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved. (ch. 7)


They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men.

We have a censorship by the press.

The chieftain chosen to be the friend of the people becomes the enemy of the people; the newspaper started to tell the truth now exists to prevent the truth being told. (ch. 7)


A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. (ch. 3)

Optimism and Optimists

Christianity was accused, at one and the same time, of being too optimistic about the universe and of being too pessimistic about the world. (ch. 5)

St. Francis, in praising all good, could be a more shouting optimist than Walt Whitman. (ch. 6)

Original Sin

Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. (ch. 2)

God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it. (ch. 5)

If we wish to pull down the prosperous oppressor we cannot do it with the new doctrine of human perfectibility; we can do it with the old doctrine of Original Sin.

But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king. (ch. 9)


Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness.

There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.

It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.

The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable.

It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. (ch. 6)

There is only one thing that can never go past a certain point in its alliance with oppression -- and that is orthodoxy. (ch. 8)


There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. (ch. 6)


The pantheist cannot wonder, for he cannot praise God or praise anything as really distinct from himself. (ch. 8)

Paradox (in Christianity)

The spirits of indignation and of charity took terrible and attractive forms, ranging from that monkish fierceness that scourged like a dog the first and greatest of the Plantagenets, to the sublime pity of St. Catherine, who, in the official shambles, kissed the bloody head of the criminal.

It is not a mixture like russet or purple; it is rather like a shot silk, for a shot silk is always at right angles, and is in the pattern of the cross.

Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years. (ch. 6)

Pessimism and Pessimists

The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises -- he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things. (ch. 5)

Insincere pessimism is a social accomplishment, rather agreeable than otherwise; and fortunately nearly all pessimism is insincere.

And it did for one wild moment cross my mind that, perhaps, those might not be the very best judges of the relation of religion to happiness who, by their own account, had neither one nor the other. (ch. 6)

Just as a microbe might feel proud of spreading a pestilence, so the pessimistic mouse might exult to think that he was renewing in the cat the torture of conscious existence. (ch. 7)


One "settles down" into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a gay self-forgetfulness.

It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. (ch. 7)

Progress and “Progressives”

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another.

What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century. (ch. 5)

Some fall back simply on the clock: they talk as if mere passage through time brought some superiority; so that even a man of the first mental calibre carelessly uses the phrase that human morality is never up to date.

The only intelligible sense that progress or advance can have among men, is that we have a definite vision, and that we wish to make the whole world like that vision.

But it is clear that no political activity can be encouraged by saying that progress is natural and inevitable; that is not a reason for being active, but rather a reason for being lazy. (ch. 7)

Rationality and Reason

It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. (ch. 3)


For mere resignation has neither the gigantic levity of pleasure nor the superb intolerance of pain. (ch. 7)

Revelation (Book of)

And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. (ch. 2)

Revolution and Revolutionaries

For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.

In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines.

By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything. (ch. 3)

Man will sometimes act slowly upon new ideas; but he will only act swiftly upon old ideas.

To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan.

They are really right to be always suspecting human institutions; they are right not to put their trust in princes nor in any child of man. (ch. 7)

Riches and Rich Men

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich.

But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest -- if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this -- that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy.

For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable.

The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt.

But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor. (ch. 7)

Scientists and Scientism

He is a sentimentalist in this essential sense, that he is soaked and swept away by mere associations. (ch. 4)

Secularism and Secularists

The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them. (ch. 8)


In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position at this moment. (ch. 7)

Skepticism (Religious) / “Freethinkers”

If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction?

But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn.

As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. (ch. 3)

One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool's paradise.

It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.

But if this mass of mad contradictions really existed, quakerish and bloodthirsty, too gorgeous and too thread-bare, austere, yet pandering preposterously to the lust of the eye, the enemy of women and their foolish refuge, a solemn pessimist and a silly optimist, if this evil existed, then there was in this evil something quite supreme and unique.

Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad -- in various ways. (ch. 6)

Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church. (ch. 8)

The sceptic is too credulous; he believes in newspapers or even in encyclopedias.

It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence -- it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed.

The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstacies, while his brain is in the abyss. (ch. 9)

Spirit of the Age (Zeitgeist)

It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. (O, ch. 6)


It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life.

A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. (ch. 5)


I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller. (ch. 4)


It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time.

It is the democracy of the dead. (ch. 4)

I was always rushing out of my architectural study with plans for a new turret only to find it sitting up there in the sunlight, shining, and a thousand years old. (ch. 7)

Transcendence (of God)

By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation -- Christendom. (ch. 8)

Trinity and Trinitarianism

For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) -- to us God Himself is a society. (ch. 8)


A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. (ch. 3)

But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.

The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion. (ch. 9)


How can I denounce a man for skinning cats, if he is only now what I may possibly become in drinking a glass of milk? (ch. 7)


Paganism declared that virtue was in a balance; Christianity declared it was in a conflict: the collision of two passions apparently opposite. (ch. 6)


There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. (ch. 6)

War (and Christianity)

The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades.

The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and yet the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes. (ch. 6)


Exactly as complete free thought involves the doubting of thought itself, so the acceptation of mere "willing" really paralyzes the will.

So he who wills to reject nothing, wills the destruction of will; for will is not only the choice of something, but the rejection of almost everything. (ch. 3)


The same women who are ready to defend their men through thick and thin are (in their personal intercourse with the man) almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.

A man's friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else. (ch. 5)

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