The Best Giving

In his biography of G. K. Chesterton , Ian Ker summarizes Chesterton’s analysis of Francis’s praise of creation:

“Francis’s ‘great gratitude’ for existence was not just a feeling or sentiment: it was ‘the very rock of reality,’ besides which ‘all facts’ were ‘fancies.’ This was ‘the fundamental fact which we over up, as with curtains, with the illusion of ordinary life’: ‘He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the gold truth.’ All good things ‘look better when the look like gifts’ – even if it did ‘seem a paradox to say that a man may be transported with joy to discover that he is in debt.’ Being ‘above all things a great giver,’ Francis ‘cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving.’”

Newman wrote a grammar of assent. Francis might have written (Chesterton says) “a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on the strongest ground when it stands on nothing . . . . It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that the man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be for ever paying it. He will be for ever giving back what he cannot give back, and cannot be expected to give back” (501).

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