G.K. Chesterton, the Diabolist & “The Most Terrible Thing”

 

 

“That quiet conversation was by far the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) was a celebrated British journalist, detective novelist, artist and Catholic apologist. He wrote over one hundred books, thousands of newspaper columns, innumerable poems, a several plays. He gleefully debated society’s intellectual luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, Clarence Darrow and Bertrand Russell. It is easy to estimate that he engaged in hundreds of thousands of conversations with countless individuals during his sixty-two years of life. And yet Chesterton considered a conversation with a fellow art school student “the most terrible thing that has ever happened to me in my life.”.

 What happened?

It was a black, wintry night on the campus of the Slade School of Art in London. The chill resting on the school building’s stone steps was weakly countered by a gardener’s fire brilliantly emitting swarming red sparks. It was here that a young G.K. Chesterton found himself with a student he had gotten to know and whose company he found intriguing, yet at times unsettling. As Chesterton recalled,

“[He could] talk a foul triviality with his fellows, [yet could] also talk politics with a Socialist, or philosophy with a Catholic.”

“It was strange, perhaps, that he liked his dirty, drunken society; it was stranger still, perhaps, that he liked my society. For hours of the day he would talk with me about Milton or Gothic architecture; for hours of the night he would go where I have no wish to follow him, even in speculation.”

Chesterton was clearly impressed with his peer and would further describe him as a “gentleman” and a “sort of Super-Jockey”. But in spite of his intelligence, polish and facility with different topics and diverse people, there was something sinister about him. The conversation began when his friend asked Chesterton why he was “becoming orthodox” in his religious worldview. Fully considering this for the first time, Chesterton acknowledged that this was true and further answered,

“I am becoming orthodox because I have come, rightly or wrongly, after stretching my brain till it bursts, to the old belief that heresy is worse even than sin. An error is more menacing than a crime, for an error begets crimes…An Imperialist is worse than a pirate. For an Imperialist keeps a school for pirates…”

“I hate modern doubt because it is dangerous.”

His friend would delicately respond,

“You mean dangerous to morality. I expect you are right. But why do you care about morality?”

It was at this point that Chesterton perceived that something was terribly wrong. He tried to counter with a metaphor. Looking at the sparks flying from the fire, Chesterton replied,

“Give me those few red specks and I will deduce Christian morality. Once I thought like you, that one’s pleasure in a flying spark was a thing that could come and go with that spark. Once I thought that the delight was as free as the fire. Once I thought that red star we see was alone in space. But now I know that the red star is only on the apex of an invisible pyramid of virtues. That red fire is only the flower on a stalk of living habits, which you cannot see. Only because your mother made you say ‘Thank you’ for a bun are you now able to thank Nature or chaos for those red stars…The flame flowered out of virtues, and it will fade with virtues. Seduce a woman, and that spark will be less bright. Shed blood, and that spark will be less red. Be really bad, and they will be to you like the spots on a wall-paper.”

And his friend would rebut,

“But shall I not find in evil a life of its own?”

“Perhaps,” he said, in his tired, fair way. “Only what you call evil I call good.”

 With this, Chesterton was nearly (& uncharacteristically) dumbstruck. As his friend would descend the steps and depart, a shaken Chesterton admitted,

“I felt as if I wanted the steps swept and cleaned.”

It was shortly thereafter that Chesterton ceased to call him friend and instead dubbed him The Diabolist. But what was it that disturbed Chesterton so deeply about The Diabolist? It hinges on a simple Truth. Sin is wicked, but when recognized as sin, man can repent, seek and receive redemption. But if the worldview fails to recognize sin for what it is, or worse, celebrates the sin as some form of grotesque virtue, repentance is not sought and redemption is lost. Even more concerning, this worldview does not limit itself to a solitary sin which hurts the perpetrator alone. Instead, it eagerly embraces and encourages a multitude of other sins which visit their wicked results upon others. Thus, the Diabolist proudly trods upon the road to damnation and woe betide those who should find themselves in his path.

Years later, after reviewing a poem by the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley, Chesterton refused Crowley’s challenge for a debate. Chesterton was no shrinking violet when it came to vigorous exchanges with heavyweight intellects. But he drew the line when it came to engaging utter and flagrant depravity. While despairing of these men’s souls, he feared giving them public platform when there was virtually no chance of their conversion. Sometimes the darkest evil, it would seem, is better left alone in its blackness.

In the end, G.K. Chesterton recognized in The Diabolist the fearsome eternal ramifications and destructive temporal consequences of an intelligent, “reasonable”, winsome person who had chosen to live a life of inverted morality. His was a clever, unmoving “enlightenment” that led to the suicide of the soul. It was chilling. It was unnerving.

And it was the most terrible thing.

  • Eve Fisher

    No, the worst is at the very end of that essay, where the Diabolist says, “I tell you I have done everything else. If I do that I shan’t know the difference between right and wrong.” And Chesterton rushes out without daring to pause ‘and as I passed the fire I did not know whether it was hell or the furious love of God.’

  • Howard

    Even if the full truth is not known with certainty, there must be some pretty good guesses as to who was the Diabolist. Does anybody know? Was it someone who went on to be prominent, as Chesterton did?

    • Bob

      I believe it was Bill Cosby. Seriously, he is not only diabolical, he’s about 150yrs old!

      • Howard

        “Only what you call evil I call good.” New Coke?

      • Chanankat

        Cosby, no…Obama, YES!!!

  • Gonzalo Palacios

    Is it true that when one writes, reads, or comments on G. K. Chesterton one’s spiritual benefits define true happiness? Congratulations to Mr. Toner and to all of us who read his article.Gonhzalo T. Palacios

  • RantingCatholicMom

    I think the reason he called it the most terrible encounter is because there was no point of discussion. He simply had to walk away. Since thaqt was not something he did very often, it makes it more terrible than other encounters.

    • Howard

      There was that, but I think there was more — a glimpse of how each of us can choose to be deeply evil. Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson wrote about it in the short story “Poena Damni” in the collection The Light Invisible. Sometimes we see this in truly shocking actions, such as those in death camps like Auschwitz, if we realize that these actions were chosen not by fictional monsters but by real human beings very much like ourselves. (Those people, and there are many, who think that the lesson of World War II is “Germans are bad people” really don’t understand the lesson at all.) Sometimes we can see it in something that seems, to an outsider, like something trivial; St. Augustine saw it in his theft of pears. Very likely Chesterton saw the Diabolist as a man he could have become.

      • Captain America

        I deeply believe—as much as I possibly CAN believe—that a Good Man is one of the best and rarest creations of God.

        It is enormously difficult; the great challenge of life.

  • Mack

    That’s it?
    Yawn.

    • Deacon Steve Burdick

      Mack,
      Of course that is IT. It is the overthrowing of our Godly gifted humanity in relation to our everlasting soul. It is the embrace of sin as being good and redeeming. It is the loss of our immortality in grace and in unity with God.
      Case in point…. The latest bit in Iraq where the “true believers of Islam must murder those who they believe to be non believers of the right kind of Islam. Only by the blood on their hands will they prove their “true alignment, acceptability and purity”.
      This is the reality of evil, where Sin, murder, blood, and death not to mention perversion become truth. Rather than yawn… scream in horror!

    • HigherCalling

      The reason why you yawn at this encounter is because you, like most people in our morally adolescent culture, are likely numb to evil and willfully blind to the notion of sin. People like Chesterton and others who recognize untruth, disorder, and real wickedness, have a keen sense of the presence of evil and sin. Someone once related this perception to driving a car with a smudged and dirty windshield. So long as you are driving away from the sun, you can deal with the dirt and smudges because they are largely unnoticeable. But as you drive into the light, the imperfections become visible and dangerously impede advancement. The more we face the Light, the more visible sin and evil become. Chesterton recognized the evil of the Diabolist because he (GKC) was always facing the Light of truth. The fact that he saw it in this man more than in any other man he ever met, is probably an indication that he was actually in the presence of great evil. Where modern numbskulls yawn at it, linger in its presence, and are ultimately taken in by it, Chesterton smartly saw it for what it was and ran from it.

  • Steve Brown

    The Diabolist was a homosexual.

    • Howard

      It is likely that he engaged in sodomy, but from the account there is no reason to believe that he did this due to any particular temptation, but rather because it was one of a long list of experiences he knew to be wrong. Just as a saint like Mother Theresa may endure a “Dark Night of the Soul” in which consolations are removed, an anti-saint (or whatever the word should be) may not longer feel the pleasures or even the temptations to sin and yet continue to sin out of a perverse pride. “Through [the promptings of perverseness] we act without comprehensible object; or, if this shall be understood as a contradiction in terms, we may so far modify the proposition as to say, that through its promptings we act, for the reason that we should not.”

      • GaryLockhart

        “Just as a saint like Mother Theresa(sic)”

        No “h” In Teresa.

        http://www.motherteresacause.info/

        • Howard

          That one trips me up just about every time. I usually remember to go back and check, but it obviously got away from me this time.

      • Howard

        There is also this from Chesterton’s own The Everlasting Man: “For most cannibalism is not a primitive or even a bestial habit. It is artificial and even artistic; a sort of art for art’s sake. Men do not do it because they do not think it horrible; but, on the contrary, because they do think it horrible. They wish, in the most literal sense, to sup on horrors. That is why it is often found that rude races like the Australian natives are not cannibals, while much more refined and intelligent races, like the New Zealand Maories, occasionally are. They are refined and intelligent enough to indulge sometimes in a self-conscious diabolism. But if we could understand their minds, or even really understand their language, we should probably find that they were not acting as ignorant, that is as innocent cannibals. They are not doing it because they do not think it wrong, but precisely because they do think it wrong.”

        • Chanankat

          You just described today`s world, from punk rock to gen y & z…i was in the Emily Carr School of Art and it was the same…the Diabolists had by then become the teachers.

    • captcrisis

      Chesterton was probably a closet gay and did not want to be led further into temptation.

      • Douglas Pearson

        Deaf to love? You should find out something of the man.

        • claycosse

          I’ll say. Read his love letters to his wife. Ridiculous and spiteful comment. It doesn’t deserve to be dignified with any further response.

          • captcrisis

            He talked about Love, but he didn’t practice it. He loved his wife and his very narrow circle of friends. But on his own terms — “To love is to love the unloveable” — he was deaf to actual Love. As the posted anecdote shows.

          • rod mason

            More towering nonsense from the troller captcrisis. Is there any other kind of love for you other than “homolove,” captcrisis? It would seem not. Pathetic.

          • captcrisis

            Chesterton was very into “homolove”, if by that you mean loving his own particular culture, his particular brand of Catholicism. He was a “localist”, something one cannot afford to be in today’s world.

          • Phil Steinacker

            Instead of engaging in projectile vomiting, why don’t you cite somethig of substance to support your ignorant claims? Why should a twisted homosexual seeking validation by denigrating others or claiming they’re as twisted as he warrant any respect unless he can PROVE rather than opine?

            Fool.

          • Montague

            … His consistent debating foes were all what we’d call frenemies. H. G. Wells, Bernard Shaw – they themselves declared that the world was not thankful enough for Chesterton. That should they be wrong and Chesterton right, they joked, they’d get into heaven on the merits of knowing him. And these are enemies of his philosophy, not friends.

            I do not think you have any idea what you are talking about. In all his writing, there is almost never any anger, any hatred – and when there is, it is always a rage against the inhuman and the evil, against that which oppresses man, like wage-slavery.

          • claycosse

            There is that one quote on Nietzche where he says that Nietzsche talked about the ubermensche but was afraid of a cow. That was the closest thing to a mean-spirited or ad hominem attack I’ve ever read from him and (a) it was true and (b) it was funny. And I’ve read a lot of his stuff, so I’m working from a pretty broad cross section.

          • claycosse

            I’d be curious to know what you’re basing this on. I’ve never heard he was anything but a loving person. His notably included George Bernard Shaw, who he couldn’t have disagreed with more.

      • rod mason

        captcrisis, you’re obviously some kind of troller, just what kind is open for interpretation. One thing’s for certain, you’re the kind of shallow,callow sort that probably voted for Obama before he “evolved,” thinking “well, at least Obama’s OPEN to the gay thing”, etc. Now you’re obviously ‘over the moon’ for Obama, in his “evolved” state, hence your vapid, self-mocking, and really pointless comment. Of course Chesterton wasn’t a “closet gay.” I don’t believe even any of his enemies attributed that kind of towering nonsense to Chestertton. And you’re really out of your depth at this site. Why don’t you head for one of the homo sites that might “get” your pathetic attempt at humor. Just saying.

      • Phil Steinacker

        Brother, your heart is thoroughly corrupted by your desire that the rest of us ratify your twisted sexuality by assigning to others the disordered nature of your own soul.

        Accusing others of sharing your sick proclivities is a tactic used by pathetic homosexuals for decades. Why don’t you try saying something original, thoughtful, and challenging for a change?

  • littleeif

    “Only what you call evil, I call good.”
    Is this not the unforgivable sin? Perhaps that is why Chesterton recoiled in horror. It is the voice of the devil.

    • Howard

      No, the unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29), which is usually understood (for instance, by St. Augustine) to be final impenitence.

      • Montague

        To call any good a god is idolatry; but to call evil, actual non-being, god – is that not true and final impenitence? It is, certainly, as far from God as possible.

        Or to quote Chesterton:

        “There is one sin: to call a green leaf gray,
        Whereat the sun in heaven shuddereth.
        There is one blasphemy: for death to pray,
        For God alone knoweth the praise of death.” (Ecclesiastes)

        • Howard

          For one thing, the Diabolist did not say, “What you call evil, I call god.” I’m not sure if you misread the statement.

          Regardless — no, that is not final impenitence. Final impenitence is to refuse to repent and die in sin. Oscar Wilde was a decadent who probably had much in common with the Diabolist, but he repented and died a Catholic.

          • Montague

            I didn’t misread. I was being deliberate… when any good takes the place of God, it is being treated as (if not called) a god.

            Final impenitence is invariably the love of nothing (or hatred of everything); because everything good comes from God, and the rejection of God must lead to it. Or rather, final impenitence will lead (in hell) to the acceptance of such evil. That is my theory, at least, which I do not think is contrary to Church teaching…

            A sort of reverse sanctification, or the progression of damnation.

          • Howard

            “Final” refers to time, not to degree, and neither we nor the angels — good or bad — know what the state of anyone’s soul will be at death. I have better reason to hope for Benedict XVI than for Charles Manson, but the final chapter has not been written for either man’s life. If it would be presumption to prejudge the eternal fate of Benedict or Mason, how much more presumptuous is it to declare a man guilty of final impenitence base on a few conversations and one overheard line, all reported to us second-hand and occurring some time before the man’s death!

          • Montague

            …I did not say that that man had entered such a state! Nor did Chesterton. But he feared he might and hoped that he had not (as do I).

            My point was that such a state (final degree of impenitence) seems to be the logical result of (temporally speaking) final impenitence. Idolatry must either be repented of, or finally slide down into infinite decay (or as close as one can get to total decay).

          • Howard

            Actually, Chesterton never said anything at all in this essay about the unforgivable sin, final impenitence, or idolatry — all that is introduced only in this comment thread. Sure, Chesterton feared for the man’s soul, and also for his own, but he did not misuse the language, and we don’t have to, either.

            Chesterton did call the man’s death a “suicide”, and elsewhere he said, “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. 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. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men. As far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” He also said (which seems to be close to your point), “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.” Let’s just leave it at that.

          • Montague

            …Similarly, I did not say Chesterton said what I just said about the progression of evil. As you said, it was introduced in the comments.

            Now, as to whether I’m misusing language, that’s another matter – but it has little to do with what Chesterton said or didn’t say per se.

            …And then you quote things to support the idea that Chesterton agrees with my theory… I’m just rather confused over what’s at stake in this conversation. Are we arguing? I don’t think so…

          • Howard

            UGH!!! Let me use an analogy. This is like you saying that the same force causes an apple to fall to the ground and the moon to stay in orbit. Fine; no problem; I can find lots of supporting citations for this idea. However, you want to say that the force that pulls on the apple and the moon is called the strong nuclear force. No, it’s called gravity. There is a strong nuclear force, but it is something else. You would be confusing the terminology.

            So “littleeif” started this thread by suggesting that calling evil good is the unpardonable sin. Of course Scripture and Tradition both denounce calling evil good and they both talk about an unpardonable sin, only they do not say what littleeif said. I pointed that out, and you jumped in to defend littleeif on the grounds that frankly do not make much sense. First you changed the quote to make it about idolatry, which it wasn’t, and then insisted that idolatry is the same as final impenitence, which it is not. Then you kind of admit that final impenitence has to do with one’s state at death (which the Diabolist was not near when Chesterton knew him), and you correctly note that living in a state of sin makes it more likely that one will die in a state of sin, but then you again insist that this supports your idea that idolatry is the same thing as final impenitence! I can agree with and support much of what you are saying, but not the misuse of the phrases “unforgivable sin” or “final impenitence”.

          • Montague

            Well, I think we can get closer to a solution here if I clearly define what I meant.

            As far as I understand (correct me if I’m wrong) your thesis (or at least the position you hold to be likely, and which uses the terminology accurately) is that the Unforgivable Sin is Final Impenitence, that is, dying in sin.

            My argument is that Claiming for Evil the Place of Good is the natural end of Final Impenitence, hence, also in some fashion the same as the Unforgivable Sin.

            My reasoning was unclear in my previous comments – which I will entirely accept as my fault. My process of thought went something like this:

            Sin is often defined in part as inordinate love. When in regards to the love which we ought to have towards God, loving anything before Him is generally termed Idolatry (“thou shalt have no other gods before Me”).

            Now, we know that God is the source and fountain of all good things. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” “In Him all things,” etc. Now, since sins may be thought of as inordinate loves, all sins deny or defy the source of all goods, that is, The Good (that is to say, God).

            When one dies in sin, one is in a state of disordered loves. Since (if Final Impenitence is indeed the unforgivable sin) one cannot any longer repent, they henceforward can only live according to the untruth of disordered love, that is, the denial of God as the Highest Good.

            By rejecting God, they must also (if, in hell, the inexorable logic proceeds) begin to reject the goods they idolized. Yet they cannot return to God. So eventually, they will love lesser and lesser things, until all that is left is nothing, or absolute privation.

            Since evil can be defined as the privation of good (Privation of The Good, exile from God), an any love the damned may have will become directed at that evil, in the place of God – it is the ultimate idolatry (replacement of loving God, Who is The Good, with loving Evil).

            In other words, the logical result of damnation (and Final Impenitence) is loving evil as if it were good. This is, or is exceedingly similar to, the state into which Chesterton feared his acquaintance might fall.

            It was of this general principle of a theory of hell which I was referring. Obviously, it does not have full confirmation as a theory (it may be suggested that sinners cannot actually love Evil, only approach it asymptotically; or else that God will mercifully suspend sinners from degrading past some level).

            Thus, I do not think I have abused the terminology beyond the point of merely being unclear (which was wrong of me; but not exactly what you seem to accuse me of). Going from one concept to another seems to be a fairly well-supported train of thought in orthodox theology, at least, as far as I have read. To employ the analogy you graciously provided at the beginning of your last comment, I may have committed the error of confusing (somewhat) the strong nuclear and the gravitational (per se). However, I was (trying to) argue that they were inextricably linked into a certain shape, as described in a universal equation, or something along those lines.

            [Also, I did not once argue that the Diabolist in Chesterton's story did or did actually fall into a final state of damnation or whatnot; if I was unclear about that, I beg your pardon; but also that you ignore that question as irrelevant to my thesis. I was only concerned with the state itself that GKC feared the diabolist might enter, and how it relates to the unforgivable sin and so on.]

            I hope I was clear this time, and sorry for the length of this comment.

            Sincerely yours,
            -Christian Boyd

      • Dagnabbit_42

        Hmm.

        Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit seems, in the gospels, to be something Christ warns against when others (having observed Him doing good) call Him and His deeds evil.

        So there is, in this warning against the “unforgivable sin,” a hint that it is related to calling good evil and calling evil good; to calling God a devil (and presumably to calling a devil, God)

        I think therefore that it is correct to associate this deliberate inversion of evil and good with “the unforgivable sin.”

        Yet Christ specifically says that he who slanders the Son of Man is not committing the unforgivable sin, while he who slanders the Holy Spirit, is. Why the distinction? Both are God; if someone calls the Second Person of the Trinity diabolical, how can that be less bad than similarly slandering the Third Person?

        And Augustine — who does not teach a theological notion without having a pretty good argument behind it — says “final impenitence.”

        These are our bits of data:
        1. Good-to-Evil inversion;
        2. Slandering the Third Person of the Trinity (though not the Second);
        3. Final impenitence.

        I do not think we have to “pick one.” I think that, like much in Catholic theology, we have here a “both/and” situation rather than an “either/or.”

        I think they’re all right.

        Why should this be so, when the three items appear different?

        Well, first, sin is a mystery of a sort: The “mystery of iniquity,” the sheer insanity of something that a man keeps doing even after he knows it makes no sense to do it, keeps lusting for long after he’s ceased to find indulging in it pleasurable.

        So, when we are talking about making sense of sin, we should expect it to be like “making black of white” or “making oranges of socket-wrenches” or even “making slithy toves gyre and gimball.” Sin is so empty of concrete and internally-consistent truth — an onion whose layers, when peeled away, reveal exactly nothing at the center — that we may expect the truest things we can say about really bad sin to fizzle and sputter into a lobotomized incoherence, a madman’s giggle.

        In the meantime, when you investigate good, and especially when you peel away the layers to reveal the Giver of All Good Things and find that He who is at the center is bigger than the layers peeled away — that like a TARDIS, good is bigger on the inside than on the outside, that the Gift is far too vast to fit in the wrapping-paper and keeps bursting out at the folded corners — then you see that many disparate things will have a revealed unity, reflective of the Trinity, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

        Certainly the Holy Spirit calls a man continually to repentance, and this is good. The Holy Spirit indeed leads every man continually from one good deed to another, deeds which were providentially prepared for us beforehand “that we should walk in them.”

        Now to sin is to prefer the goods which come from willfully doing an evil over the goods which come from refusing the evil and doing something permissible.

        Yet whether a man sins or does not sin, he begins to have “Knowledge of Good and Evil”: He learns progressively the difference between them and the nature of each, either as the sinner knows, or as the saint knows.

        The saint learns the power of temptation and all its wily arguments and tactics…and also, in the end learns that it has an end, that its attractiveness is finite and its power to beguile really can be overcome. He learns not to despair of overcoming tempation. He learns the nature and guises of the enemy, and the full measure of the enemy’s strength.

        But the sinner learns how sin is a cheat; how it initially seems to satisfy but the craving returns and is less satiated the second time than the first; how it becomes habitual and gradually ceases to allow a man much freedom to choose or to contemplate; how he begins to feel like a passenger behind his own eyes and feels that his own depraved habits of mind and body seem to steer him; how he the shock of iniquity becomes the thrill of iniquity, and then the dullness of iniquity, and then, as even good becomes insipid and the colors of the world fade to gray, the despair of iniquity.

        That is how the sinner experiences “The Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Now at any point he may still (because God in His grace and mercy will enable him to do it, the moment he tries) recall himself to a kind of sanity and a kind of objective perspective and say to himself: “This is where my sin has got me; I know it full well. Sin is evil, for how could all of this gray muck, this cloud of meaninglessness, this choking silt miring the springs of my life, be seen to be anything else?”

        He can know this, if he wills; and if he allows himself to know it, he can admit it and even repent of it, if he wills. It is the only logical, the only sensible, the only sane choice.

        But — mystery of iniquity! — he may not make that choice!

        It is the Holy Spirit which bids him to melt his frozen heart and crack the crust of stone, to unclench his fists and breathe deeply the clean air, and admit with a relieved laugh that sin is stupid and s****y and utterly without merit.

        But — mark this — to continue the lie will require him to say otherwise. He will have to say that sin is BETTER than the alternative. He will have to say that obeying God’s laws would produce a WORSE outcome than to disobey them. That God either does not know what is good for us, or knows but lies about it, to selfishly deny us the good.

        That, in the end, is what a man declares when he rejects the appeal of the Holy Spirit to repent evil and embrace good. He declares that the Holy Spirit does not know better; that the Holy Spirit is a liar who is trying to talk him into obeying something less good than his own slavery to sin.

        There, I think, is the connection. The Holy Spirit wants to sanctify and to water the seed of faith that it might grow the stalk of hope and blossom into charity. To resist this is to call it less good than the sin one prefers, and to accuse the Holy Spirit of lying about what is truly our best hope and greatest benefit.

        If you keep saying that the Holy Spirit’s idea of sanctification is wrong, that sin is better for you than saintliness, and if you keep resisting His call to reverse this opinion and repent your sin…do that unceasingly until the end, and what will become of you?

        Well, you’ll have called saintliness sin, and sin, the highest good;

        And, you’ll have called the Holy Spirit a tempter and a cheat and a liar;

        And, you’ll have chosen final impenitence.

        A nice little Unholy Trinity, that. Three suicides for the price of one.

        • Howard

          Then a blind and dumb demoniac was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it they said, “It is only by Be-elzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Matthew 12:22-24

          So you are wrong. The Pharisees were not saying that the effect was evil, but that the means was evil.

          As for Augustine, I notice that you are going to great lengths to try to use the Church Fathers to shore up an amateur interpretation of what “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” means instead of actually reading what they had to say about it. If you want to take up the argument further, take it up with them. I have nothing more to say about it.

        • Steve

          It was the HS on Pentecost that swept through them all to create the RCC. So what of rejecting the RCC the same way as the HS – is that one and the same? If so then a lot of people are stuffed – or are we at a Sodom & Gomorrah bargaining situation? Or is it different – can you call the RCC’s stance on…gay marriage (eg only) wrong – and it’s no big deal?

  • George Bochenek

    It was a wise decision that Chesterton made. I would consider debating Aleister Crowley only if I KNEW that the Holy Spirit was yelling in my ear so that His words would come out of my mouth, AND a legion of angels with swords drawn were at the ready as well to back me up. If ever there was a person as possessed as Crowley , I’ve not heard of him/her. On the other hand, perhaps Judas Iscariot – but no – even he had some regrets! Intelligent man, that Chesterton!

    • Howard

      I get the impression that Crowley was a pompous fraud of a kind that never seems to entirely disappear — comparable with Madam Blavatsky or Rasputin. He lead a more “successful” life than Charles Manson, but received less adulation than Jim Jones or Sun Myung Moon. I have no desire to study Crowley in detail, but are you really sure he stood out from the crowd I have just mentioned?

    • rod mason

      Provocative insights, George B. I believe that really GOOD Catholics should have at least a nodding acquaintance with the life and writings of Crowley. A tremendous study in evil was he. And his exit line on his deathbed: “I am perplexed, confused……..” Chilling.

      • guest

        You don’t need to study evil up close to know its nature. That is a temptation. Good knows both good and evil; evil knows neither.

  • Merengue

    The answer to any discussion that takes this bent is love. Alyosha had it right.

  • douglas kraeger

    Perhaps he should not have debated. Maybe he should have, not only so as to not scandalize the weak in faith, but to ask his opponent a few simple questions so as to show the audience the fundamental basis that the other was working on: that there is nothing evil in any action, no matter what. The audience would reject the opponents clear position, once they saw past the vagueries and illusions because the correct questions would make it clear. If he asked, ” Is it absolutely evil for a man to sell his three year old child to drug dealers in payment of his debts while retaining his pleasure boat because he likes to go boating on the weekends? ” If the opponent evaded the question, the people would see the evasion and understand the man could not be taken seriously. That he was turned to evil, a denial of goodness and truth.Perhaps by God’s grace?

  • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

    You wonder how many people Chesterton would debate today. How many have crossed the line into “utter and flagrant depravity?” I suspect it is more common now than it was in Chesterton’s day.

    • rod mason

      You’re on to something more than you know,Randy G. Fr. Dwight Longenecker has recently had a piece dealing with the possibility that we’re living in the Last Times. Human depravity will be hugely extant in many humans at that time. And remember Jesus’ plaintive question “Will the Son of Man find any faith left on earth when He come again”? (paraphrased) Very concerning times, indeed.

      • captcrisis

        Another interesting question is whether Chesterton would still advocate Jews being required to wear special oufits, so as to identify them as Jews.

        • Montague

          Well, to paraphrase Aquinas, Jewish law demands it, so who are we to disagree?

          Chesterton was about the first person to predict and hate Hitlerian Germany; he was also not so weak in the art of reason as to distinguish what he wanted from what the Germans wanted, just as he distinguished between his patriotism and their perversion thereof. Rest assured, Chesterton is no “anti-semite.” As he said, (and I quote roughly) “we owe God to the Jews.”

        • leilaleis

          Chesterton was racist and antisemitic, it’s true. However, in that he was a man of his time. I suspect that if he were alive today, he would be homophobic, anti-Muslim, and racist, but not anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism is no longer fashionable in conservative, religious circles.

          • claycosse

            Don’t trust us–please find out for yourself. Read what he wrote. Some of what he says is not politically correct by our standards, but it is not hateful. Not ever. Read him and see for yourself. Many Jews have taken up for him against those who call him anti-semitic.

    • Howard

      I’m not really sure. Depravity is more widespread, but it’s mostly the casual depravity of weak people in a culture that no longer honors virtue. By historical standards, it’s really hard to say. Brothels were rampant during the Renaissance, for example, and Tudor England was a blasphemy that evolved into the iconoclasm of the English Civil War. In the US we’ve had slavery and state-mandated eugenics.

  • lirretired

    I’m thinking of lyrics from the Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
    Know when to fold ‘em
    Know when to walk away
    And know when to run

  • wlinden

    ….whereupon Crowley, when Chesterton declined to spend the rest of his life in the gutter with him, declared victory.

  • TGJ999

    The serpent, the deceiver, is the mask of Satan, the adversary. The heart of Satan is devil, diabolus, the accuser. The worm that ever writhes in the heart of Satan is the first challenging accusation of God: “Why did You not make me God?” For man, to have given a life of assents to the sinuous coils of the deceiver is to become a hardened adversary that descends into the Devil’s seething hell.

  • cestusdei

    There are many like this diabolist nowadays.

  • Delphi

    Wow…of course this diabolist was true evil. Trying to turn the world on its end by redefining what we know to be good. Often the very intelligent are quite good at convincing themselves with this moral relativism….I believe that’s why it’s said in the Bible that “the meek shall inherit the Earth.” We know what is right and wrong – as children we know to crave life and the warmth of our parents’ arms. You don’t need a PhD to know goodness. Everything on this planet seeks to grow and to live. But our minds are capable of much cunning and confusion, and those who’ve been in the shadows for too long often can no longer see the truth clearly…everything starts to look the same in the dark… Chesterton was a wise man, and he knew, there is nothing to gain, and no winning, when battling those who have already lost. And so I imagine it was with a cold shiver, and perhaps the stirring of goosebumps, that he pulled his long cloak about himself to stand up, and walk away from those steps that night.

  • MichaelNewsham

    Well, since they were apparently both in their early twenties, I would say the Diabolist was a member ( or more probably a young wannabe) of the fashionable fin-de-siecle, Mauve Decade, Wilde/Rimbaud Decadent school. He probably ended up as a banker living in the suburbs and condemning these young folk in the 1920s with their crazy short skirts and jazz music.

  • Paul Frantizek

    Outstanding read. Thanks for setting it out for others.

  • James Stagg

    Excellent article. Thank you!

  • john cronin

    G K Chesterton obviously led a fairly sheltered life if this was the worst thing that ever happened to him. What utter triviality. Has anyone looked up his cousin A K by the way?

  • Mary Petnel

    Wow – this gave me chills !


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