In His Own Words, Part 1

There is nothing harder to learn than painting and nothing which most people take less trouble about learning. An art school is a place where about three people work with feverish energy and everybody else idles to a degree that I should have conceived unattainable by human nature. Moreover those who work are, I will not say the least intelligent, but, by the very nature of the case, for the moment the most narrow; those whose keen intelligence is for the time narrowed to a strictly technical problem. They do not want to be discursive and philosophical; because the trick they are trying to learn is at once incommunicable and practical; like playing the violin.

Thus philosophy is generally left to the idle; and it is generally a very idle philosophy. In the time of which I write it was also a very negative and even nihilistic philosophy. And though I never accepted it altogether, it threw a shadow over my mind and made me feel that the most profitable and worthy ideas were, as it were, on the defensive .…

[T]he whole mood was overpowered and oppressed with a sort of congestion of imagination. As Bunyan, in his morbid period, described himself as prompted to utter blasphemies, I had an overpowering impulse to record or draw horrible ideas and images; plunging in deeper and deeper as in a blind spiritual suicide. I had never heard of Confession, in any serious sense, in those days; but that is what is really needed in such cases. I fancy they are not uncommon cases. Anyhow, the point is here that I dug quite low enough to discover the devil; and even in some dim way to recognise the devil. At least I never, even in this first vague and sceptical stage, indulged very much in the current arguments about the relativity of evil or the unreality of sin. Perhaps, when I eventually emerged as a sort of theorist, and was described as an Optimist, it was because I was one of the few people in that world of diabolism who really believed in devils.

—From The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton, 1936

By G. K. Chesterton

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #75 in 2002]

Next articles

Third-century church fathers and gnosticism

Church fathers repudiated gnostic ideas

Tertullian, Novatian, and others

The gnostic christ

Gnostic teachings about Christ in their own words

Various gnostic sources

The Dating Game

How we date gnostic and biblical manuscripts

Nicholas Perrin

The Unfolding Faith

A bird’s eye view of the early church, the emergence of the Gnostics, and the development of the biblical canon.

Michael Holmes and Nicholas Perrin
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