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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Chesterton Revisited

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Five years ago, on a routine day during my fist year of seminary, I received in the mail a delightful gift. My dear friend Toby Becker, who worked at that time for a nationally known publisher of catholic papers and books, had sent me a slim paperback edition of G.K. Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas.

As a first year divinity student, the gift was appropriate. But somewhat in the same way that a sailor will disdain a glass of water, I slipped it onto my shelf without actually reading it; I was reading far too much about Aquinas and his ilk as it was. But this morning I opened it for the first time and began to read it (out loud, as Chesterton is most enjoyably to be read). NPH readers will be treated today to an entire excerpt from the book, a vintage piece of Chestertonian argument and wit. Enjoy.

"The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need. This is surely the very much mistaken meaning of those words to the first saints, "Ye are the salt of the earth," which caused the Ex-Kaiser to remark with all solemnity that his beefy Germans were the salt of the earth; meaning thereby merely that they were the earth's beefiest and therefore best. But salt seasons and preserves beef, not because it is like beef; but because it is very unlike it. Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality. "If salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?" is a much more pointed question than any mere lament over the price of the best beef. If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world."

Thanks again (or for the first time), Toby.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:05 AM


Hi, son-in-law - just checking in on your new blog address. I just wrote you a comment and have promptly lost it! :( So, here's a repeat:

Just wanted to say that I particularly liked the first couple of sentences in this passage. I never thought of saints being "antidotes" - but it makes sense. And I liked the last sentence, too. Actually, it's a good passage, all of it, but those first and last parts just stood out for me. I've read a couple of G. K. Chesterson things, but never this. Do you think John has it? I'll have to see. :)

Amazing, huh, how we can pick something up a few years down the road that we didn't bother with earlier, and find that we enjoy it and "get" it? I guess that's called "maturity"!? :)
commented by Blogger mama-in-law, 9:37 PM  

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