The Everlasting Man
The Everlasting Man is a Christian apologetics book written by G. K. Chesterton. Published in 1925, it is to some extent a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells’ The Outline of History, disputing Wells' portrayals of human life and civilization as a seamless development from animal life and of Jesus Christ as merely another charismatic figure. Whereas Orthodoxy detailed Chesterton's own spiritual journey, in this book he tries to illustrate the spiritual journey of humanity, or at least of Western civilization.
According to the evolutionary outlines of history proposed by Wells and others, mankind is simply another sort of animal, and Jesus was a remarkable human being, and nothing more. Chesterton's thesis, as expressed in Part I of the book ('On the Creature Called Man'), is that if man is really and dispassionately viewed simply as another animal, one is forced to the conclusion that he is a bizarrely unusual animal. In Part II ('On the Man Called Christ'), Chesterton argues that if Jesus is really viewed as simply another human leader and Christianity and the Church are simply another human religion, one is forced to the conclusion that he was a bizarrely unusual leader, whose followers founded a bizarrely and miraculously unusual religion and Church. “I do not believe,” he says, "that the past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades away into nature, or civilization merely fades away into barbarism, or religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into the religions of the world. In short I do not believe that the best way to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines."
Chapters and Quotations
- Introduction. “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”
“… the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.” On the Church “… the moment we are really impartial about it, we know why people are partial to it.” “Things that may well be familiar so long as familiarity breeds affection had much better become unfamiliar when familiarity breeds contempt.” “I am convinced that if we could tell the supernatural story of Christ word for word as of a Chinese hero, call him the Son of Heaven instead of the Son of God, and trace his rayed nimbus in the gold thread of Chinese embroideries or the gold lacquer of Chinese pottery, instead of in the gold leaf of our own old Catholic paintings, there would be a unanimous testimony to the spiritual purity of the story.”
- Part I
- On the Creature Called Man.
- Chapter 1, The Man in the Cave. “Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’…”
“An event is not any more intrinsically intelligible or unintelligible because of the pace at which it moves. For a man who does not believe in a miracle, a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a swift one.”
- Chapter 2, Professors and Prehistoric Men. “Science is weak about these prehistoric things in a way that has hardly been noticed…. An inventor can advance step by step in the construction of an airplane, even if he is only experimenting with sticks and scraps of metal in his own backyard. But he cannot watch the Missing Link evolving in his own backyard.”
“But the dogmatism of Darwinians has been too strong for the agnosticism of Darwin.” “We cannot be certain the Pithecanthropus ever worshipped, because we cannot be certain that he ever lived. He is only a vision called up to fill the void that does in fact yawn between the first creatures who were certainly men and any other creatures that are certainly apes or other animals.”
- Chapter 3, The Antiquity of Civilization.
- Chapter 4, God and Comparative Religion. “To compare the Christian and Confucian religions is like comparing a theist with an English squire or asking whether a man is a believer in immortality or a hundred-per-cent American. Confucianism may be a civilization but it is not a religion.”
“And the most ignorant of humanity know by the very look of earth that they have forgotten heaven.” “… one of the colossal cornerstones of the world: the Book of Job.”
- Chapter 5, Man and Mythologies. “Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snowman. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens; so that snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold.”
- Chapter 6, The Demons and the Philosophers. “Now it is very right to rebuke our own race or religion for falling short of our own standards and ideals. But it is absurd to pretend that they fell lower than the other races and religions that professed the very opposite standards and ideals.”
“Nature may not have the name of Isis; Isis may not be really looking for Osiris. But it is true that Nature is really looking for something; Nature is always looking for the supernatural.”
- Chapter 7, The War of the Gods and Demons. “The materialist theory of history, that all politics and ethics are the expression of economics, is a very simple fallacy indeed. It consists simply of confusing the necessary conditions of life with the normal preoccupations of life, that are quite a different thing.”
“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it.” “Why do they vaguely think of all chivalry as sentiment and all sentiment as weakness?”
- Chapter 8, The End of the World.
- Part II, On the Man Called Christ.
- Chapter 1, The God in the Cave
“… the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars…. Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet.” “… all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now turned inward to the smallest…. paradox of the divine being in the cradle.” “… the whole world once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.” “Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society….” The story of Bethlehem “… looks at the world through a hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic.” “No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated.”
- Chapter 2, The Riddles of the Gospel. “I maintain therefore that a man reading the New Testament frankly and freshly would not get the impression of what is now often meant by a human Christ. The merely human Christ is a made-up figure, a piece of artificial selection, like the merely evolutionary man.”
- Chapter 3, The Strangest Story in the World. “… while a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace.”
“He was exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge. What he said was always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often unexpectedly moderate.” “Socrates, the wisest man, knows that he knows nothing. A lunatic may think he is omniscience, and a fool may talk as if he were omniscient. But Christ is in another sense omniscient if he not only knows, but knows that he knows.” “Christ said, ‘Seek first the kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ Buddha said ‘Seek first the kingdom, and then you will need none of these things.’” “We are meant to feel that Death was the bride of Christ as Poverty was the bride of St. Francis.” “That is the meaning of the stirring and startling incident at the gates of the Temple, when the tables were hurled like lumber down the steps, and the rich merchants driven forth with bodily blows; the incident that must be at least as much of a puzzle to the pacifists as any paradox about non-resistance can be to any of the militarists.” “All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself.”
- Chapter 4, The Witness of the Heretics. “If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life.”
“Trinity, which is simply the logical side of love, …”
- Chapter 5, The Escape from Paganism. “… strictly speaking Europe is quite as old as Asia; indeed in a sense any place is as old as any other place. What we mean is that Europe has not merely gone on growing older. It has been born again.” (236)
“Islam was a product of Christianity; even if it was a by-product; even if it was a bad product. It was a heresy or parody emulating and therefore imitating the Church.”
- Chapter 6, The Five Deaths of the Faith.
- Conclusion. “Mahomet did not, like the Magi, find a new star; he saw through his own particular window a glimpse of the great gray field of the ancient starlight. So when we say that the country contains so many Confucians or Buddhists, we mean it contains so many pagans whose prophets have given them another and rather vaguer version of the invisible power; making it not only invisible but almost impersonal.”
“Nobody else except those messengers has any Gospel; nobody else has any good news; for the simple reason that nobody else has any news.” “… nowhere in this sad world are boys happier in apple trees, or men in more equal chorus singing a day as they tread the vine, than under the fixed flash of this instant and intolerant enlightenment; the lightning made eternal as the light.”
Influence on C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis credited The Everlasting Man with "baptising" his intellect, much as George MacDonald's writings had baptised his imagination, so as to make him more than half-converted well before he could bring himself to embrace Christianity. In a 1950 letter to Sheldon Vanauken, Lewis calls the book "the best popular apologetic I know," and in 1947 he wrote to Rhonda Bodle: "the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man." The book was also cited by The Christian Century in a list of 10 books that "most shaped [Lewis'] vocational attitude and philosophy of life".
- Found in A Severe Mercy
- Found in C. S. Lewis: The Collected Letters, Vol. 2
- The Christian Century June 6, 1962