Preface and Introduction to THE UNIVERSE AND MR. CHESTERTON (2nd ed.)

(printed with permission of Angelico Press: from the second, revised edition of The Universe and Mr. Chesterton )
Preface  (2019)

Shortly after World War II, and the atomic trauma of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an American author published a short book addressed to the public at large; it was entitled: The Universe and Dr. Einstein. Lincoln Barnett’s slim volume is still considered one of the best short presentations of Einstein’s mind-bending theory. That title inspired my own book’s title, for reasons it may be worth explaining. The first component of Einstein’s theory (“Special Relativity”) was promulgated in the opening decade of the 20th century, contemporary with Max Planck’s analogous re-reading of nature—this time in the opposite order of magnitude—with the beginnings of Quantum Mechanics. Each theory radically revised the meaning we give to the word “universe.” In the vastness of galaxies and light-years, time and space began to look weird, and the solid matter under our feet seemed to start quaking with the buzzing world of atoms. Einstein and Planck went both far beyond and daringly beneath the world of everyday appearances, claiming to find new ways of accounting for what we experience on the deceptive surface of things.

In the same decade that saw Relativity and Quantum theories assail our senses with doubts, at least one contrasting theoretician was also at work. In the face of those two theories’ apparently more comprehensive and deeper takes on the world around us—astronomically transcending and abysmally underpinning the surfaces, we were told—this other student of the cosmos had penned a small book of his own. In it, he suggested we turn our attention in the other direction: back to those surfaces. A vista more far-reaching and fundamental than the celebrated disclosures of the new physics was awaiting us there, he proposed. Still, he was writing about the selfsame universe analyzed by Einstein and Planck. Or was he?

His discovery was simple enough: if instead of looking beyond or beneath the world, you returned to your childhood instincts and simply looked at it, you might notice once again what every two-year-old still knows, namely: what the world really and truly looks like. Greeting it face-to-face with your naked quintet of senses, could it be that instead of being deceived by “appearances,” you are in fact being positioned to see the world as it truly is, with its deepest meaning and most seminal message on unmistakable display? Could that meaning and message turn out to reveal something far more intimate than quarks and pions, and far more exalted than pulsars and quasars?

For the author I’m referring to, this natural view of things is the proportioned view, the one which only displays its marvels to our senses in their original constellation. A huge optical telescope and a high-resolution microscope may reveal distant grandeurs and infinitesimal mini-structures respectively, but both instruments will have eyepieces of roughly the same size, proportioned to the sovereign human eye, still stationed anatomically in our head. Even the high sophistication of radio telescopes and electron microscopes will only deliver their findings when our eyes of flesh turn to them to scrutinize their readouts. As interesting as the new scientific dimensions undoubtedly are, the world we encounter with our unaided senses, explore by walking about on our two legs, and ponder with a mind custom-made to order images and peer into archetypes—that world is the realest world of all for this third author. And the “right view” of that world (the orthos doxa in Greek) was the title he thus gave to his little book about eloquent surfaces: Orthodoxy. The author, G.K. Chesterton, not only recaptured and defended the common view of the cosmos; he also plumbed its rootedness in metaphysical and moral principles. Never having studied this in technical philosophical literature, he somehow caught sight of it in all literature and indeed all experience. Unlike Nietzsche, whose abyss famously looked back at him as he peered into it, Chesterton suggested that it is the “superficial” universe itself that is looking back at us, and bidding us to return the gaze.

Like Einstein’s theory, though, Chesterton’s short book (some 150 pages) is not always an easy read. Many will be puzzled by the itinerary of the man’s unique style and perhaps dazed by the impact of his steadily unloaded insights. Thus, just as Barnett’s book provided Relativity with a sort of primer, the present book renders a similar service in approaching what is probably the most brilliant and seminal of Chesterton’s books. It also requires that we approach his thought by taking a philosophical detour. We will need to spend some time pondering the modern philosophers who first fashioned this new, “scientific” approach to the world with which Chesterton wrestled. Often enough, its promoters claimed legitimacy precisely by appealing to the new physics.

Although the insights of Chesterton do not negate or question those of Einstein or Planck, they do keep them at bay, and vigorously deny them the prerogative of robbing us of a prior and more fundamental perspective. This is no small service, for it is this perspective that makes us human. And there is more. The Christian faith he had earlier rejected turned out to be in holy collusion with this proportioned perspective, and in a way that surprised no one more than Chesterton himself. The purpose of the present book—and then, I propose, of Orthodoxy itself—is to help us reset our cognitive software and take a new look at the world. We will discover that new look to be an old look, as we gaze again like children at the grandiose spread of reality before us, courtesy of the universe and Mr. Chesterton.

*     *     *

This second edition has been only slightly revised in order to accommodate a partial change in perspective in my own thinking since penning this text now some thirty years ago. One matter regards the relation between Chesterton’s thought and Eastern philosophies. Chesterton died in 1936 and his exposure to the “wisdom of the East” was minimal and even sketchy. It could hardly allow for a proper evaluation of the vast philosophical contributions of India and China. He himself says as much, as I mention in the concluding pages of the second chapter of Part 1. Thus, the contrast of his basically Thomistic metaphysical point of view with “Oriental” thought—often enough highlighted in my study—needs to be further nuanced. It has only been since the middle of the last century, well after his death, that more adequate translations of Eastern philosophical texts have become available. Late 19th and early 20th century popular versions—a better word may be “pop”—of Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism and related schools (the sorts that Chesterton encountered), often seemed to suspiciously resonate with certain philosophical trends of the times. Skepticism, relativism, pragmatism, pantheism and especially atheism and evolutionism were typically chaperoned into hastily arranged marriages with the philosophies from beyond the Indus. It was against these hybrid heresies, above all, that Chesterton directed his critiques. Eastern thought, at its best, is anything but unsubtle. Nonetheless, Chesterton’s suspicions are well heeded today, since survivals of the superficial theosophies of his time are still very much with us, however much serious scholarship has left them behind.

On another front, some readers of the first edition thought I was unfair to the three modern masters I single out as engineers of the post-classical approach to philosophy. This applies especially to Husserl. I will only point out here—as I clearly did in the text—that I never proposed to engage with their entire philosophical work, or even major parts of it. My intent was only to address their initial choice not to begin philosophizing with a prior, uncritical acceptance of the ontological evidence of cosmic existence. What concerned me was how this initial choice impacted where their philosophy ended up.

Of course, there is much to learn from all of them, including Descartes. Certainly Kant will continue to be reread and discussed for the foreseeable future. Husserl in particular has been vastly influential in redirecting many contemporary thinkers “to go back to things themselves.” Their tutorship under his guidance, however, has borne fruit only insofar as they accepted his initial method of careful attention to phenomena as they are given, and not by following up in his latter obsession with reducing all knowledge to what he calls “strict science.” Thinkers such as Edith Stein, the Lublin school of phenomenology, along with the students of Dietrich von Hildebrand, for instance, all have shown how realist employment of Husserl’s early methodology can be fruitfully developed.

For the most part, the original text stands as it was in the first edition. Several typographical errors have been corrected, and occasionally slight stylistic adjustments have been made in the interest of readability.

I am pleased that Angelico Press has judged The Universe and Mr. Chesterton worthy of a new edition, and, notwithstanding the qualifications mentioned above, I am happy to say that after three decades, my mind still assents and my heart still responds to the arguments presented.

Scott Randall Paine

 *     *     *

Introduction (1999)

To have a right view of things is to be orthodox. To be universal is to be catholic. Those, at least, were the meanings these Greek words were born with. And in the Western tradition, a person who endeavored to put the orthodox, catholic view of things into rational, articulate form was designated by another Greek word: philosopher. The fact that Orthodoxy has come to signify the Eastern half of Christendom, and Catholicism, the greater part of the Western half, is surely no accident. Philosophy and Christianity are akin in their deepest resources. Both are about the Logos (the Word)—the first considers the Logos by Whom the world was made; the second believes in a Logos by Whom the world was saved.

It is no secret, however, that the collaboration one would expect between philosophy and Christianity has been rare and troubled in the modern world. As Christendom has been halved, quartered and decimated in denominations with the progress of the centuries, philosophy too has broken off into “sects” of warring schools. Both seem to grow less catholic and less orthodox as time goes on. As a result, Christianity makes less and less sense to the modern philosopher and the modern philosopher’s view of the world typically falls out of step with the everyday assumptions of the man in the street.

The Aristotelian philosopher’s view was once considered right and universal, at least by many. Aristotle was considered to be a man quite literally in touch with the universe he viewed. In the main he trusted both his senses and his reason to be reliable registers of the real, and encouraged by this confidence, philosophically vindicated the canons of common sense. What moved early Christians to call their faith orthodox and catholic was precisely the way in which the universe with which the common, everyday man was in contact turned out to be touched and transfused with new meaning by Christ. Christ was in touch with man and his world in a way no other religious figure had ever claimed to be.  In more ways than one, His Gospel made sense.

Now our first sense-contact with the world around us, together with our intellect’s reaction to it, constitute what Aristotle and Aquinas hold to be the foundation of all human knowledge: the grasp of being. In contrast, most influential modern philosophers have attempted to pursue wisdom without taking that first touch as their point of departure. And not only do they usually end up out of touch with everyone’s common experience, but characteristically articulate world-views quite out of reach of supernatural revelation.

These were the conclusions to which G. K. Chesterton came in a small volume published in England in 1908. He quite deliberately entitled the book “Orthodoxy,” and it is far from insignificant that fourteen years later he became a Catholic. In the book, he tells the story of how he had discovered an astonishing and radical affinity between common-sense philosophy and the common man’s Christianity. The right view of the universe, to which his own philosophical quest had led him, turned out to be uncannily connected with the doctrine taught by Christianity for 2,000 years. And the righter the view became, and the more philosophical its articulation, the more catholic it grew.

The greater part of Chesterton’s writings can be understood as so many attempts to recapture a lost common wisdom that once linked in spiritual brotherhood the sage with the saint. But it was in the book Orthodoxy that this link was first fully profiled and unambiguously affirmed.

Unfortunately, the man’s work has seldom been consulted for these lessons in remedial metaphysics. It is in the service of such a disclosure that the present book is offered. It is only a beginning, but it is precisely the beginnings of thought that are so befuddled today. And Chesterton’s message about those beginnings brings us back to that sovereign touchstone of all philosophical reflection: the universe. Chesterton was a spokesman for the common man and his common universe. He came to believe that in God’s plan, it is only by touching and viewing that universe that a man becomes orthodox and catholic—both in the original senses of those words, and, for Chesterton, in the ultimate, upper-case sense as well. In the pages that follow, I hope it will become evident how deeply and how surprisingly true this is.

In order to philosophically explore the way first principles are secured, and the epistemological and moral consequences of their betrayal, we shall begin with Chesterton’s intellectual crisis as a youth. His eloquent description of how he recovered those principles—and how that recovery saved him from madness—will form a vivid test-case in the matter of principles. In Part I, we shall look at that crisis itself and its issue. In Part II, we shall examine the way three modern philosophers have attempted to avert such crises by forging new principles of their own. In Part III, the philosophical content of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy will be analyzed as a speculative challenge to any such attempt at originality in first principles. Part IV, finally, will highlight three inalienable features of any philosophy which is true to the first salute of the universe.

The Universe and Mr. Chesterton

The Universe and Mr. Chesterton

(Second, revised edition)

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The Bible’s opening words “In the beginning”—later echoed in St. John’s Gospel—suggest an affinity between the Christian project of saving the world and the philosophical project of understanding it. Philosophy too ponders the beginnings, the principles of our knowledge and our universe. Although G.K. Chesterton was hardly a professional philosopher, he did turn a particularly alert mind to those beginnings—not with treatises on metaphysics or ethics, but with the example of a life of writing that gave eloquent witness to the theoretical and moral principles of Western thought at its best. That witness not only invites us to take a more objective look at the claims of Christianity, but also to welcome the lessons of wisdom implicit in sense experience. If this stance put Chesterton at odds with much of modern philosophy, it was only because it put him face to face with a world many philosophers could no longer see, but only scrutinize. In the present book, Chesterton’s way of looking at the universe generates as much existential impact as a religious conversion. And conversions—whether religious or philosophical—redirect our easily distracted mind to a universe that is naturally evident only by being supernaturally significant.

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Praise for The Universe and Mr. Chesterton

“The definitive study of Chesterton, the philosopher.”— JOHN PETERSONGilbert Magazine

The Universe and Mr. Chesterton is an excellent introduction to the thought of the most Thomistic journalist who ever wrote. Paine shows why a man who never made a formal study of the Doctor Angelicus could write, according to Etienne Gilson, the best book ever written about him.”— THADDEUS KOZINSKIReview of Metaphysics

“A stimulating work of great eloquence which will be of keen interest to the numerous fans of this author who ‘could not speak about anything without speaking about everything,’ but also to anyone interested in simply acquainting themselves with this colorful figure.”— GUY HAMELINDialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review

About the Author

SCOTT RANDALL PAINE is a priest of the archdiocese of Brasilia, and professor of Medieval Philosophy and Oriental Thought at the University of Brasilia. A native of the United States, since 1974 he has lived, studied and taught in various countries of Europe, Asia and South America. He has published widely in both Portuguese and English on religious and philosophical topics, including most recently an anthology of the works of the British philosopher, Bernard Kelly (Angelico Press, 2017). He has been Visiting Scholar at Munich’s Hochschule für Philosophie, the National University of Singapore and Harvard Divinity School. His current writing and research can be followed at disciplinedwonder.com.

Narciso negado

narcissus (2)

Sua vida é sua, sua mesmo, e vai ter que se responsabilizar por ela.  Mas isso não significa que ela é sobre você, ou acerca de você.  Por outras palavras, o tema da sua vida não é Sua Senhoria.  Buscar o sentido dela olhando só dentro da sua individualidade espácio-temporal sempre vai fracassar. É o dilema de Narciso. Mesmo esse garoto devia ter notado, enquanto mirava seu lindo rosto na água, que seus olhos, suas narinas, suas orelhas e até seus lábios e sua língua se orientam–todos!–para fora. Nossa face não tem a capacidade inata de fitar com seus olhos em si mesma, sem ficar vesgo e louco. O espelho pode servir para fazer a barba ou botar a maquiagem, mas além disso, é um gerador incansável de maya (o finito fingindo de ser o infinito, o temporal fingindo de ser o eterno). Nossa vida é sobre algo que transcende a nós mesmos, verdades e valores acima de nós mesmos. Além do rosto, também nosso corpo é uma testemunha inconfundível desse fato.open

O sentido da nossa vida articula-se no tempo e na história como um convite para desvendar um mistério vis-à-vis nossa cara; não é um convite para sentar-nos enquanto alguém pinta nosso retrato. Respondemos a esse convite não apenas caminhando, literalmente, com nossas pernas em busca das coisas que precisamos para sobreviver (idas para o supermercado, a escola, a casa dos amigos, ou até destinos turísticos…). Também peregrinamos com nossos sentidos e imaginação nas artes e nos estudos humanísticos, para juntar à nossa experiência limitada as experiências dos nossos semelhantes na história, amplificando a envergadura do nosso horizonte humano. Peregrinamos, ademais, com nosso inteleto e razão na filosofia e nas ciências (aprofundando o contato da mente com o mundo que a circunda e fecunda).  Finalmente, peregrinamos com nosso coração, na espiritualidade e religião, porque existe um imenso mundo também dentro de nós, o qual nos extravasa infinitamente, mas também nos abraça com a atmosfera animadora da eternidade. A sua descoberta é sempre nova, mas sua experiência é intuitivamente perene.  É “a beleza tão antiga e tão nova,” de que fala Santo Agostinho.  

Este perene não é um “velho” que passa, mas um perpétuo que se perpetua. O perene é o presente, o permanentemente presente, o implacavelmente atual, o fiavelmente circundante–aquilo que, mesmo negado, continua tacitamente pressuposto. Quando uma obra de literatura ou de arte se torna um “clássico,” é porque ganhou a capacidade de se desengajar da sua situação espacial e cronológica e entrar em contato com uma realidade profunda que está sempre acessível àqueles que têm a chave para destrancá-la.  Uma tal obra vira um limiar à vista de outras paisagens que temos que vislumbrar de tempos em tempos. Se não, corremos o risco de cairmos na água em que o coitado Narciso afogou.

19 - Open Door

Cultos de personalidade

É fácil apontar aos cultos de personalidade obviamente fanáticos, como aquele do Mao-tse Tung, Hitler, Stalin, e dos tiranos norte-coreanos; ou, numa chave mais “espiritual”, do Bhagwan Rashneesh (“Osho”), do David Koresh, do Jim Jones, etc., e achar, com grande confiança, que você nunca cairia sob o encanto de um tal charlatão.  Quando, porém, você assiste aos vídeos e documentários sobre esses personagens e seus cultos,  e vê os rostos e ouvir as vozes nas entrevistas de seus seguidores, vai ver e ouvir entre eles algumas pessoas obviamente inteligentes,  presumivelmente equilibradas, até pessoas profissionais (médicos, advogados, professores, etc.)–sem qualquer marca óbvia de fanatismo ou extremismo. Porém, estão cheias de convicção de que seu “guru” é simplesmente maravilhoso, e praticamente isento de falhas sérias.  Chegam até lágrimas nos seus olhos ao falarem dele.

Os católicos têm um exemplo ainda mais preocupante na figura de Marcial Maciel, o célebre fundador dos Legionários de Cristo, uma das congregações masculinas mais bem sucedidas dos fins do século XX, com milhares de membros jovens bem disciplinados e exemplares (e acrescento que estou falando com admiração sincera). Até São João Paulo II achou Maciel um homem exemplar, talvez até um santo. Mas foi revelada aos poucos sua vida secreta e, finalmente, ficou claro que sua pessoa foi equivocada em matéria que qualquer teólogo católico consideraria gravemente pecaminosa (e a justiça civil, criminosa). Mesmo assim e apesar da fiabilidade dessas revelações, ele fez coisas boas–inclusive a própria congregação–e sua comunidade de padres está sobrevivendo apesar das manifestações bem públicas dos seus delitos. Acho isso bom e rico em lições. Sem dúvida, os “sobreviventes” sabem distinguir bem entre os bons frutos e o caráter problemático do fundador, a quem eles, por anos e anos, tinham chamado–com grande afeição de devoção–nuestro padre (“nosso pai”).  O cristão sabe bem que Deus usa instrumentos às vezes altamente imperfeitos para realizar seus planos. Contudo, temos que manter os olhos abertos.

O fato é que mesmo pessoas extremamente dotadas e (especialmente) carismáticas podem sim fazer coisas admiráveis e atrair um séquito significante, mas sem ser realmente admiráveis nos olhos de Deus, ou de qualquer pessoa que tem longa e diferenciada experiência com seres humanos; os seguidores mais comprometidos desses líderes são, amiúde, pessoas jovens–por definição, sem muita experiência de vida. Charme, em si, não é uma virtude. Mesmo um Hitler ou um Stalin podiam ser altamente charmosos em relações sociais.  Para discernir entre os confiáveis e os menos fidedignos precisamos critérios objetivos para identificar os líderes, os mestres  que–mesmo com grandes contribuições à nossa cultura, ou à nossa consciência política–talvez carecem algumas das virtudes mais cruciais para ficarmos minimamente do lado de Deus na grande luta que é a nossa vida.

Estou pensando em vários casos, tanto da esquerda quanto da direita. São líderes na Europa, nos Estados Unidas e na América Latina–tanto líderes políticos como culturais ou até religiosos–que podem atrair milhares de seguidores. Sugiro apenas que as pessoas apliquem esses critérios a qualquer um deles, antes de virar um “seguidor”. Pode até aprender muito com eles, mas para segui-los, busquem no caráter deles, antes de mais nada, três sinais indicadores:

  1. A capacidade de aceitar crítica com graça e humildade. Quem fica tipicamente irritado e resistente a qualquer crítica às suas posições, sua pessoa ou seus atos, e tende a ridicularizar tais críticas e recusar a engajar as pessoas que as falam com tranquilidade e seriedade (ou aceitar debates públicos), não merece discípulos. Platão ficou circundado não apenas por discípulos submissos, mas também por colegas no mesmo nível dele (alguns dos quais discordaram fortemente com teses básicas do platonismo!). Aristóteles deixou um exemplo ainda mais impressionante. Ele ficou 20 anos na Academia de Platão, ouvindo posições das mais díspares, interagindo com elas e depurando suas próprias posições em diálogo com elas. O que hoje em dia chamamos “peer review” (avaliação pelos pares)–mesmo se abusado e exagerado às vezes (como tudo nesta vida)–é uma manifestação sadia e realista daquilo que todo intelectual público precisa na definição e elaboração das suas próprias ideias. Quem trabalha sozinho, ou se gaba em ser “auto-didata,” é especialmente suscetível ao perigo de “endogamia intelectual.”  “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master” (Ben Johnson).  Platão teve Sócrates e os desafiantes sofistas;  Aristóteles, Platão e sua turma; Plotino, Amônio Sacco e colegas; Agostinho teve Ambrósio e outros companheiros cultos; Tomás de Aquino, Alberto Magno e os colegas dominicanos, franciscanos e professores do clero secular….e assim por diante.  Tomás, de bom escolástico, aprendeu engajar, ativa e respeitosamente, todas as abordagens plausíveis contra suas posições antes de articulá-las (as famosas objectiones).  Quem não sabe fazer isso, ou algo análogo, não deveria ser seguido.
  2. Uma visão diferenciada (digamos, “colorida”) da realidade, sem a tendência a caracterizar as coisas em termos preto/branco. Especialmente desqualificador é a demonização de alguma corrente de pensamento ou de política e a recusa de identificar os elementos bons e positivos sem os quais, no final das contas,  ninguém poderia aderir a eles to begin with.  A partir do bem nas posições a serem atacadas, o ataque pode prosseguir com acerto e humildade.
  3. Medida e modéstia nas palavras. Alguém que nunca para de falar–que fala e fala e fala (especialmente possível hoje no mundo da mídia social!), que tem algo a dizer sobre tudo, e que dá a impressão de nutrir um amor exagerado pelo som da sua própria voz, não é um mestre confiável. O Hitler e também os ditadores do comunismo de cunho soviético são famosos pelos seus discursos de horas a fio. Um mestre verdadeiramente sábio será alguém que até prefere o silêncio, e que, pelo menos, costuma calar muito antes de abrir a boca.

Finalmente cabe observar que o apego pessoal a um professor ou mestre, pelo menos nos primeiros meses e anos de aprendizagem, é normal e praticamente inevitável. Começamos nossa vida como crianças com confiança totalmente acrítica em nossos pais, e é bom assim. Mas não é bom uma pessoa de 25 ou 30 anos continuar viver sob a guarda-chuva dos seus pais e recusar a ganhar sua independência tanto econômica quanto intelectual. Igualmente com nossos professores; eles fazem uma contribuição preciosa à nossa formação por um tempo estritamente delimitado, e depois a relação deveria terminar. Teremos que reconhecer que eles são também humanos, que têm fraquezas e que um vínculo permanente de discípulo para com eles só vai prejudicar nosso amadurecimento. Há só uma grande exceção a isso; estou escrevendo este texto na Semana Santa, dedicada aos dias mais silenciosos daquele que é o Verbo em carne.  Sete brevíssimas palavras serão proferidas por ele Sexta Feira Santa à tarde. Ele é a única personalidade que merece um culto.

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