In His Own Words, Part 2

on absent-mindedness

I used to say that my autobiography ought to consist of a series of short stories like those about Sherlock Holmes; only that his were astonishing examples of observation, and mine astonishing examples of lack of observation. In short, they were to be “Adventures” concerned with my absence of mind, instead of his presence of mind.

One, I remember was called “The Adventure of the Pro-Boer’s Corkscrew,” and commemorated the fact that I once borrowed a corkscrew from Hammond and found myself trying to open my front-door with it, with my latch-key in the other hand. Few will believe my statement, but it is nonetheless true that the incident came before and not after the more appropriate use of the corkscrew. I was perfectly sober; probably I should have been more vigilant if I had been drunk.

Another anecdote, expanded into “The Adventure of the Astonished Clerk,” accused me of having asked for a cup of coffee instead of a ticket at the booking-office of a railway station, and doubtless I went on to ask the waitress politely for a third single to Battersea. I am not particularly proud of this characteristic, for I think that presence of mind is far more really poetical than absence of mind.

on Confession

When people ask me, or indeed anybody else, “Why did you join the Church of Rome?” the first essential answer, if it is partly an elliptical answer, is, “To get rid of my sins.” For there is no other religious system that does really profess to get rid of people’s sins. It is confirmed by the logic, which to many seems startling, by which the Church deduces that sin confessed and adequately repented is actually abolished; and that the sinner does really begin again as if he had never sinned. And this brought me sharply back to those visions or fancies with which I have dealt in the chapter about childhood. I spoke there of the indescribable and indestructible certitude in the soul, that those first years of innocence were the beginning of something worthy, perhaps more worthy than any of the things that actually followed them: I spoke of the strange daylight, which was something more than the light of common day, that still seems in my memory to shine on those steep roads down from Campden Hill, from which one could see the Crystal Palace from afar.

Well, when a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world to a Crystal Palace that is really of crystal. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.

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

By G. K. Chesterton

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

Next articles

In His Own Words, Part 1

Chesterton’s take on the art school experience.

G. K. Chesterton

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
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