On Tuesday evening, January 19, 2021, I was privileged to listen to an on-line lecture by the Great Joseph Pearce, as he was introduced. Sponsored by the Institute of Catholic Culture, the talk was the first in a two-part series on G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (1925). As Dr. Pearce has something of a reputation as a Chesterton scholar, I expected to hear something that might deepen my understanding of this unique individual. Not that all individuals aren’t unique, of course, but Chesterton made a career of it.
|Doctor Pearce Disappoints|
Cutting to the chase, I was badly disappointed. Not by Dr. Pearce’s performance, of course. Frankly, anyone engaged in effective education — especially in our short-attention-span age — has to be something of a showman, if only to hold his or her own in competition with 140-character pronouncements from our purported leaders. As a lecturer, Dr. Pearce delivered.
It was Dr. Pearce’s analysis of The Everlasting Man that I found more than a little lacking. Of course, I realize that many Chestertonians probably agree with Dr. Pearce’s reading of Chesterton’s book and its importance and place in his body of work.
I have long been aware that my understanding of Chesterton differs radically from that of vetted and approved Chestertonians, some of whom have been, shall we say, vocal in their, er, grounds for disagreement. Others (such as Dr. Pearce) have remained completely silent, at least so far as speaking to me goes. I assume this is because they agree with me (qui tacit consentire videtur — silence gives consent), have no adequate response and so remain silent so as not to remove all doubt about being fools, or just plain don’t care one way or another, into which category I have tentatively placed Dr. Pearce. Or maybe I just drive them into an insensate fury so that they are rendered completely speechless. . . .
|"We were sailing along, on Moonlight Baaaay . . ."|
As Chesterton said, however, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it” — and the general opinion at least among the vocal Chestertonians is that I am definitely going against the stream of the accepted interpretation of the works of the Apostle of Common Sense. How (or if) others deal with it is not my concern.
So, exactly what did I find so disappointing in Dr. Pearce’s presentation? After all, I can’t just declare that I find one of the world’s leading experts — or any other human being, for that matter — lacking in something, and refuse to say what, specifically, it is. That’s even in the Bible:
But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Matt. 18:15-17.)
This is called “fraternal correction,” and the Catholic Church takes it very seriously. If you don’t tell someone what’s wrong, and you go immediately to treating him (or her) like a heathen or publican, then you 1) give “scandal” and 2) run the risk of committing calumny if what you think the other has done turns out not to be the case. (If the individual really is guilty, then you’ve “only” given scandal and committed backbiting.)
|"And at 3:00 every day the Catholics come by in their speedboats!"|
And if you think that’s nothing, “calumny” — telling falsehoods that harm another’s reputation — is a “mortal sin” (meaning you go straight to Hell, do not pass Purgatory, do not gain 200 days indulgence) that “cries to Heaven for vengeance” (meaning God will mete out punishment, and it won’t be a slap on the wrist), and for which reparation (making whole by restoring what the person lost because of your acts) must be made.
Even then, it’s almost impossible to make reparation for calumny, which is why the Catholic Church treats it so seriously. St. Francis de Sales once had a woman confess calumny to him. To impress upon her the seriousness of what she had done, he told her to wait for a windy day, take a feather pillow and go to the top of the church steeple, rip open the pillow, and scatter the feathers to the wind. She was then to report back to him for further instructions.
|"Yup. You heard me. Gather 'em up again."|
The woman did as she was told, and then presented herself to St. Francis, telling him she had scattered the feathers to the four winds and no doubt the seven seas, probably ticking off all the neighbors as well. She asked what else she had to do, and he told her: “Now go and gather all the feathers up again.”
So, to avoid the possibility of being accused of calumny or even backbiting, I did go to Dr. Pearce first. I submitted a question regarding what appears to be the main difference between my understanding of The Everlasting Man and the rest of Chesterton’s work, and that of a number of Chesterton’s vocal fans. To be sure Dr. Pearce saw it, I sent it in when I registered for the event, and again during the question and answer period. Since I received no answer or acknowledgment to either submission, I give the question here, precisely as I submitted it twice:
|H.G. Wells outlining history|
Chesterton wrote “The Everlasting Man” in response to former Fabian H.G. Wells’s “Outline of History.” Chesterton was opposed to all forms of socialism, including Fabian socialism, equating it with modernism (G.K.’s Weekly, May 10, 1930). Given Chesterton’s stand on socialism, how do you think he would have viewed today’s socialists, e.g., Keynes’s protégé and Fabian E.F. Schumacher’s Fabian tract or his “New Age Guide to Economics”, “Small is Beautiful”?
And why do I consider this question worth raising and blogging about? Well, for one, it’s my opinion, and I’m entitled to it. More important, perhaps, is the fact that I have been researching the subject of Catholic social teaching and its relation to socialism and modernism for many years. I believe I have uncovered a number of facts of which many of today’s experts in Catholic social teaching seem to be completely unaware. Since — again in my opinion — you can’t understand Chesterton’s work without understanding the true story of the development of Catholic social teaching, this matter should be brought out into the light of day, and not treated as a shameful secret of some kind.
Who knows? The experts might even be persuaded to change their minds once they see the facts, some of which found their way into CESJ’s latest book, Economic Personalism.
In future postings I’ll get into specifics about Chesterton’s work and its compatibility with the Just Third Way of Economic Personalism. Until then, however, buy a copy, or get one of the free downloads of the book.