Saturday, October 16, 2004

Chesterton On Christian Virtues

From G.K. Chesterton's book "Heretics":

...charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.
...
It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake, and eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.
...
Whatever may be the meaning of the contradiction, it is the fact that the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic. Whatever may be the meaning of the contradiction, it is the fact that the only kind of charity which any weak spirit wants, or which any generous spirit feels, is the charity which forgives the sins that are like scarlet. Whatever may be the meaning of faith, it must always mean a certainty about something we cannot prove. Thus, for instance, we believe by faith in the existence of other people.
A Reflection:

The great advantage of Christianity rests upon the seeming unreasonableness of its virtues. When the shallow optimism of the world cannot help the truly hopeless and despairing, only Christian hope remains to help them. Where the fashionable kindness of so called humanists falter in the midst of the real sins of Man, there Christian charity stands alone to forgive. And at last, after their fruitless pedantry collapses upon itself, the heathen high-brows start doubting the very notion of truth itself (as a lot of them now doubt it), only Christian faith can carry on the burden of sanity for the rest of mankind.


Atheists and agnostics can be jolly, kind, polite, insightful, intelligent people. Yet Christ did not suffer and die on the cross to make us mere pleasant gentlemen. He didn't found the Church to make mankind merely civilized. The Church and the Cross are there to make us saints, and to save mankind from the fashionably crude ethics of paganism.