My senior year of college, I took a class called Philosophy of Religion. It was amazing. We went through writings by proponents of various religions and compared their philosophy to that of Christianity. The professor was a huge fan of the Socratic method of learning, and used it liberally in our class. Each day was a new discussion and the class never felt long enough. For one of the papers in the class, we read The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton. I can’t remember what exactly we were supposed to write in regards to the book, it may have just been a book report, but I do remember being entranced by Chesterton’s writing.
While rereading Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis, I rediscovered the fact that Lewis was largely influenced by Chesterton’s writing, and specifically The Everlasting Man. I knew that I had to reread Chesterton’s book as soon as possible after finishing Surprised by Joy. And read it I did! I took an entire day, settled in, and read straight through it.
The Everlasting Man was written by G. K. Chesterton as a response to H. G. Wells’s evolutionary materialism. In this tome, Chesterton argues that man did not go from barbarianism to civilization, but rather has always been civilized. He demonstrates the consistency and uniqueness of the Christian faith, and how it meets the needs of the both the heart and mind through being a story that is true.
There are some differences in his theology from Protestant theology, since Chesterton was a Catholic. He seems to believe that the history of Christianity begins with Jesus’s ministry, and of course, he believes the Catholic Church to be the only true church. Despite his shortcomings, I do believe there is value to be drawn from Chesterton’s writings. He writes beautifully and his word pictures are incredible. I love especially his analogies with caves – taken from the evolutionary idea that men were once brutish cavemen. Take, for example, this quote, taken from his description of Good Friday, and later the Resurrection:
Since that day [Good Friday], it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.
They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded by the authority of the Caesers. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.
On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.
Just… take a minute. Let those words saturate you. Read them out loud. Beautiful, aren’t they? This was the kind of writer Chesterton was. He grips your soul with his words, and brings you to the places he wants you to see. I love it so much.
The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton gets 4/5 stars.