The Harrisonburg C. S. Lewis Society will meet to discuss The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton on Thursday, October 14, 7:30 pm, at Barnes & Noble in Harrisonburg, VA.
Overview Lewis and Chesterton
The first letter in which Lewis mentions Chesterton is one to Arthur Greeves dated 4 November 1917. It is early in Lewis’s adventure at Oxford and before he goes to the war. Then 22 December 1920 he writes to Leo Baker and mentions that Chesterton won’t get to see their poems. Lewis was trying throughout to get published as a poet. In a letter to Greeves October 17, 1929 Lewis shares a comment made by Barfield that he thought that the idea of the spiritual world as a home was a feeling he found in Macdonald, Chesterton, and Lewis. In Surprised by Joy Lewis says (223):
“Then I read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense. Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken. You will remember that I already thought Chesterton the most sensible man alive “apart from his Christianity.” Now, I veritably believe, I thought – I didn’t of course say; words would have revealed the nonsense—that Christianity was very sensible “apart from its Christianity.” But I hardly remember, for I had not long finished The Everlasting Man when something far more alarming happened to me. Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. “Rum thing, “ he went on, “All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.” To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity. If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not – as I would still have put it – “safe,” where could I turn? Was there no escape?
A fascinating letter from Lewis to a Mr. Fridama of Clifton, New Jersey briefly explained Lewis’s conversion journey. He mentions “… the strong influence of 2 writers, the Presbyterian George Macdonald & the R.C., G.K. Chesterton.” And he also adds his argument with Owen Barfield who was an Anthroposophist which Lewis terms a kind of Gnosticism.
The Everlasting Man
Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society offers a lecture on-line on the topic of The Everlasting Man (http://chesterton.org/discover/lectures/44everlastingman.html) It begins:
C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he read Chesterton’s book, The Everlasting Man, but he wasn’t afterwards, prompting him to observe that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.
Of all of Chesterton’s literary monuments, this is perhaps his greatest, for he eloquently and concisely packs the whole human story between the covers of one book. He begins by pointing out that the main problem with the critics of the Church is that they are too close to it to see it properly. They cannot see the big picture, only the small picture that directly affects them. With their sulks and their perversity and their petty criticism they are merely reacting to the Church. What they need to do is back up. And that’s what Chesterton has the reader do in this book. Back up far enough and to see the Church in all its startling beauty and unexpected truth.
The book was written as a kind of rebuttal to H.G. Wells’ popular book, The Outline of History. Chesterton said that Wells was like an author who disliked the main character in his book. Wells glossed over the two biggest points in history. The first is the uniqueness of the creature called man and the second is the uniqueness of the man called Christ.
Questions by Chapter
1. What is Chesterton reacting to in writing his book and to what extent do you think that this sets the program for the book?
Introduction The Plan Of This Book
2. Chesterton talks about going home and presents challenges to the Christian project presented by Christians themselves. Francis Xavier’s challenges are described as well as seeing from both the inside and the outside. How can you relate this to Lewis and to Christianity?
Part I On the Creature Called Man
I. The Man in the Cave (23)
3. What questions does Chesterton raise that contradict the usual understanding of the scholars?
II. Professors and Prehistoric Men (41)
4. Chesterton engages the ideas of professors inferring things about prehistoric man from cave paintings. Would you agree with or challenge Chesterton? And on what grounds?
III. The Antiquity of Civilization (57)
5. How old is civilization and how do we know? Chesterton points out a misapplication of the theory of evolution (73) how does this resonate with C.S. Lewis?
IV. God and Comparative Religion (84)
6. Chesterton mentions Comte in this chapter and talks of how difficult it is to truly understand the religions of primitive peoples. What are the implications of Chesterton’s observations?
V. Man and Mythologies (103)
7. Chesterton tends to sound themes over and over almost as chords throughout. What are some of the themes that emerge or are sounded in this chapter on mythologies?
VI. The Demons and the Philosophers (119)
8. Here Chesterton draws history with a broad brush. What do you think about his contrasts between the dark side of man and the world of the philosophers? What themes is Chesterton developing?
VII. The War of the Gods and Demons (141)
9. War isn’t about states but about men. How does the view of war differ for Chesterton between the state and the individual? Is the chasm small or large and do you agree with Chesterton?
VIII. The End of the World (156)
10. What world has ended? What world emerged?
Part II On the Man Called Christ
I. The God in the Cave (171)
11. Chesterton continues with a theme of inversion. How does he echo the theme of the cave and related to earlier themes in the book? Can you think of some more caves?
II. The Riddles of the Gospel (189)
12. Chesterton points out the local limitations of the critics and Lewis draws a lesson from this in “On the Reading of Old Books.” What riddles did you find most arresting?
III. The Strangest Story in the World (202)
13. What is the strangest story in the world and why is it strange?
IV. The Witness of the Heretics (218)
14. Chesterton sees the creed as a key and the criticism of the church as more applicable to the heresies than to the church? Does he make an effective case? Which part do your agree with or disagree with?
V. The Escape from Paganism (237)
15. Chesterton attributes the longevity of European civilization to Christianity. How does he develop his case and what examples did you find interesting or compelling?
VI. The Five Deaths of the Faith (255)
16. The Faith has often been down for the count and seemed to be a dead thing or a thing near death and each time it rose again. Chesterton points out how unusual this is? Are we in another phase of the apparent death of the Church? Does this crisis come as a dividing line between historical epochs?
Conclusion The Summary Of This Book (267)
17. Sum up with Chesterton the theme and pattern of the book. In particular what is Chesterton’s view of man and how does he describe what he calls “the strangest story in the world”?
Appendix I: On Prehistoric Man (277)
18. What is significant to Chesterton about prehistoric man that is emphasized here?
Appendix II: On Authority and Accuracy (279)
19. This appendix is Chesterton pointing out some slight inaccuracies. Which, if any, do you think were significant and why?
A General Question:
A General Question:
20. What ideas of Chesterton most impressed you and were there any that you thought were off base? Try to explain why you were impressed and if you disagreed on what ground you disagreed.