Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chesterton on the Meaning and Significance of Easter

Another Chesterton reading from The Everlasting Man (1925) -- this time from Part 2, ch. 3 ("The Strangest Story in the World"):

The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving the world [of the first century]. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city, and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society.

The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes the urban population live on rumour. Just as its myths at the best had been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative.

Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we recognise the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares and scoops. But there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world.

We have noted it already as the neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the condemnation and still more of the individual condemned.

It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing.

The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people.'

Yet this spirit in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs; men still to be honoured for ever.

It was failing through its weakness in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism; but it was only failing as everything else was failing.

The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

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 Caesars.

For in that second cavern [N.B.: for Chesterton, the "first" was the cave in which Jesus was born on the outskirts of Bethlehem] 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.

1 comment:

  1. Chesterton is a strangely neglected Christian writer. As Anglicans, we've neglected him because of his Catholic leanings. And he also wrote novels, apparently. Rather good ones.
    But he didn't write theology, at least in the form we usually expect it. If anything, what he wrote was prophecy, demonstrating that the England of a hundred years ago is not as far away as we thought it was.