Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christ the Caveman

Continuing from the last post, I now turn to the second part of G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man...

Running with the observation that Christ was born in a cave, Chesterton discusses the impact of
The Caveman! I'll focus on his discussion of Christ's birth, although the bulk of the second half is devoted to more on comparative religions and the particular observation that drove Chesterton inexorably to faith-- that Christianity best explains the seeming paradoxes of life.

Excerpts-- thanks to Gutenberg.net in Australia-- from chapter 1 of part 2...

First, what he observes about Herod's rivalry with the baby Jesus:

We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some rumour of a 
mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the capricious despots of 
Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new generation of the 
populace….By the very nature of the story the rejoicings in the cavern 
were rejoicings in a fortress or an outlaw's den; properly understood
it is not unduly flippant to say they were rejoicings in a
dug-out. It is not only true that such a subterranean chamber
was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the enemies were
already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a sky. 
It is not only that the very horse-hoofs of Herod might in that sense
have passed like thunder over the sunken head of Christ.  It is
also that there is in that image a true idea of an outpost, of a
piercing through the rock and an entrance into an enemy territory.
There is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world;
of shaking the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod
the great king felt that earthquake under him and swayed
with his swaying palace.
That is perhaps the mightiest of the mysteries of the cave. It is
already apparent that though men are said to have looked for hell
under the earth, in this case it is rather heaven that is under
the earth….

Second, what he observes about the entire picture of Bethlehem:

This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types
in the old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other
king who warred upon the children.  It is simply not true to say
that other religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals.
It is not true to say that any one of them combines these characters;
it is not true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them.
Buddhism may profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess
to be equally military.  Islam may profess to be equally military;
it does not even profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle.
Confucianism may profess to satisfy the need of the philosophers
for order and reason; it does not even profess to satisfy the need
of the mystics for miracle and sacrament and the consecration
of concrete things.  There are many evidences of this presence
of a spirit at once universal and unique.  One will serve here which
is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that no other story,
no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event,
does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant
impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem.  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.


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