By G. K. Chesterton (Essential Writings ed. William Griffin, 2003)
The Everlasting Man is probably the book that has languished on my Recently Read and to be Blogged list the longest … so that “Recently” has to be interpreted pretty loosely. As described in the past, I “discovered” Chesterton in early 2014, with Orthodoxy (1908) being my first bit of Lenten reading … that turned into a couple of reads over the next few months before I finally blogged about it in June [LINK]. By that time I had already described my “history” with Chesterton in a post about The Ballad of the White Horse, to which I would also refer the reader [LINK]. Thirdly, I would point to my post from March 2015 when I attended the first Louisiana Chesterton Conference [LINK] – which experience inspired me to organize the Chesterton Society of Natchitoches [LINK], which meets weekly to read and discuss his writings. In any case, almost two years ago I proceeded read The Everlasting Man twice back-to-back and was as floored by its wit and wisdom as I had been by Orthodoxy.
We have not read The Everlasting Man in the Chesterton Society group … yet. We’re currently making our way through Orthodoxy (my fourth time), having in the past year or so begun by reading Saint Francis, a rather idiosyncratic account that is more an extended meditation than a biography – “hagiography” would not be incorrect as an attempt to categorize it – and then tackled a collection of three- to five-page snippets from a broad range of his books and essays grouped thematically, the Essential Writings volume.
It is our intention to read The Everlasting Man together immediately after Orthodoxy. The two books do complement each other nicely, in my opinion, even though – or probably because – they come from widely separate phases of Chesterton’s life. As Chesterton’s answer to the challenge thrown down after he wrote an entire book of essays taking down the various Heretics [LINK] and heresies current in his day (which seem to all still be with us in even more virulent form today), that he had written much about what he did not believe but not laid out what he did believe, Orthodoxy is a general apologia for Christianity itself, in essence for Catholicism even though it was written long before Chesterton ever made his final conversion to Rome; The Everlasting Man was written a year or so after that conversion, and sets forth an overall view of history placing Christ at the very center – as He must be, His Incarnation being the single most important event in history. And, of course, as always it is filled to the brim with rich verbal imagery and eminently quotable turns of phrases in typically Chestertonian paradox in service to Truth. Finally, it is one of the most influential books of Christian philosophy written in the 20th c., deeply influencing a host of other figures from C. S. Lewis, who at least partly owed his reversion from atheism to the Christianity of his youth to reading it (leading to his later observation that a committed atheist must be careful what he reads), to the great Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose Life of Christ I just started reading as part of an online reading club [LINK] and am finding replete with allusions and imagery I remember well from Chesterton, most notably referring to Our Lord, because of his birth in the stable – often throughout history, and reputedly in Bethlehem that cold winter’s night, located in caves – as “the Cave Man.” Having read The Everlasting Man through twice back-to-back in 2014, I'm eager to dive into it again with the group as soon as we finish Orthodoxy (which will be no time soon, however ... it is taking us two or three weeks at least per chapter).
If you have not read Chesterton, do yourself a favor – do so. Now. If possible, find an existing Chesterton Society group near you [LINK]. Or find some like-minded individuals and start your own. You won't regret it.