The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday: A NightmareThe Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My edition of G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday includes an explanatory note at the end of the text, taken from one of Chesterton’s columns published the day before his death, in which he calls attention to the work’s subtitle and the fact that most people ignore it. For me, that subtitle– “A Nightmare”– is one of the biggest riddles of the work. As I reread it recently for a course I’m auditing, “The Catholic Imagination in 20th-Century Fiction,” that question kept coming back to me: in what terms does Chesterton view this story as a nightmare?

It’s certainly dreamlike. The protagonist, Gabriel Syme, is an undercover policeman charged with infiltrating a secret ring of anarchists. He does so by a remarkable chain of events that results in him being elected to the Central Council of Anarchists, a body in which each member is given the codename of a day of the week (hence the title). The monstrous leader of this council and of the worldwide society of anarchists is Sunday, a figure that looms over the entire narrative like a thunderhead.

The course of the novel is one of sudden reversals and switches, a series of unmaskings that are sudden and sweeping and– eventually– somewhat ludicrous. Our hero soon realizes he is not the only person on the council who is not what he appears. The frequent and increasingly elaborate disguises are certainly dreamlike. So are the sudden changes of scenery (moving from London to the French countryside and back almost effortlessly), the weird weather (a breakfast on a balcony followed by a sudden snowstorm), and the bizarre chases.

There is also throughout the book the dreamy quality that makes all of Chesterton’s work so memorable, but it is a sharp and specific dreaminess: his characteristic attention to beauty and the mythological vistas in the everyday. Syme’s prosaic London and its various scenes (buildings along the river, rides in hansom cabs through neighborhoods, glimpses of bushes across a meadow) are glorified– even sanctified– by Chesterton as things of true terror and sublimity. Syme notes, for instance, during a duel in which he realizes he may likely die, that he is not only fighting against anarchy on behalf of all ordinary and wonderful things (a parallel here I think to how Chesterton saw himself as a philosophical champion against the anarchy of nihilism) but that he would be satisfied to lay his whole life beneath a certain almond bush glimpsed across the field, looking upward through its branches.

Though aspects of the novel have a feel of a nightmare (especially the penultimate twist that seems to have Syme and his allies alone against the world), it is the final unmasking, the revelation of the nature of Sunday himself, which takes place during the most dream-like sequence of a novel, that I still don’t see in light of the subtitle. The identity of Sunday, and what it signifies for Chesterton’s view of nature and the universe, is the central theme of the novel. In many ways, I think Syme’s experience with Sunday is an analogy of Chesterton’s conversion experience: he thought he was a man alone, defending the ordinary against the forces of anarchy, but in all his defiance he found himself continually driven back to orthodoxy, always finding the figure that he thought the greatest architect of anarchy grinning out from the cracks of reality. He kept, he has Syme say, feeling he was seeing the backside of nature– all its grimness and cruelty and beauty– but he (in the character of Syme) finally sees its face. And it’s that final realization that I have trouble understanding in the context of the tale as nightmare.

The final twist might be seen coming a long way off, and the ones leading up to it might start to feel a bit ridiculous, but the entire novel still feels fresh and exuberant, if a bit slapdash. Chesterton’s prose is easy and engaging, even when it’s dashing off on a tangent to describe clouds above the city at sunset or how the buildings across the river look like monsters. This is the point, for him. The buildings are monsters. The sunset is a flame. And this may perhaps be the most poignant part of the thing called the Catholic imagination, the thing that rings through all of Chesterton’s work– the idea that the world is almost shockingly, unbelievably good, and the greatest adventure is living among the ordinary things of creation and seeing them so.

A dream, perhaps. But I hope not a nightmare.

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30 thoughts on “The Man Who Was Thursday

  1. danielottojackpetersen

    Now here’s where I really wish you had some regular and erudite commenters on this blog. I want to hear some reactions to your excellent question.

    You’ve captured what Chesterton’s doing in his prose style beautifully and illumined it afresh for me. Chesterton maybe marries rigorous philosophy with spontaneous, exuberant artistry better than almost anyone else I’ve seen (perhaps Borges, who admired GKC, does it too, but in such a different register).

    The question about the subtitle is intriguing. It’s been too many years since I read it (which is probably also why I was a bit incensed that you gave it a 3/5 when my younger self who read it over a decade ago knows perfectly well that it’s a clear 6/5). But I seem to recall having the impression that the nightmare aspect was that the ending signalled not a theistic transcendence and cohesion, but rather a more pantheistic duality – the latter being a definite nightmare to Chesterton.

    Reply
    1. boldsaintcroix Post author

      Firstly, the stars are pretty meaningless and arbitrary, reflecting much less on the quality of the book than how much I enjoyed that particular read (or how I was feeling at the moment). Goodreads requires a star rating, so there it is.

      Thanks for the feedback on this. I agree that the vision of God that Sunday represents is a much cruder and perhaps crueler than the Catholic vision of God Chesterton would ultimately come to embrace. (More monstrous?) Someone in class mentioned that Chesterton was never shy about his physical similarities to Sunday, which made me wonder for an instant (but not much longer) if Sunday was actually Chesterton, and the nightmare was creating characters only to have them demand from you an ultimate account of their existence and experiences.

      Reply
    1. boldsaintcroix Post author

      Thanks for the comments and for the link. I’ll have to check out that essay (and perhaps share it with the class). My personal favorite of Chesterton’s fiction is Manalive, which I reviewed here a while ago. I remember trying the Father Brown stories knowing that Wolfe’s Patera Silk was modeled on the hero, but they didn’t quite click. (It was a while ago though.) I haven’t read nearly enough of his essays or columns.

      Reply
      1. johnowentrout

        I know! I mentioned it to Daniel in one of our first few online exchanges. Before reading Daniel’s essays, this oh-so-brief Chesterton essay was the closest I had seen anyone get to attempting a “theology of monsters.”

        I put together a short “favorite Chesterton essay” list last year. I’ll try to find it and post it here.

  2. Gregorio Montejo

    Since I first discovered Chesterton’s essay of nightmares (the one which John linked to above), I’ve come to believe that it is one of the keys to unlocking the mystery of The Man Who Was Thursday (TMWWT), the nature and purpose of his artistry, and perhaps even Chesterton’s deepest notion of God. Chesterton had a life-long fascination with the grotesque and the monstrous, which he sees not as the denial of beauty and goodness, but rather as integral to a true understanding of creation’s transcendent beauty—a beauty that to limited human eyes often appears as more awe-inspiring and fearful than the comfort we usually associate with merely pleasant visions. His insight is the source of Chesterton’s delight in paradox, where seemingly irreconcilable features of the world, such the grotesque and the beautiful, are seen to be distinct yet intrinsically conjoined aspects of the same phenomenon. For Chesterton, the paradigmatic response to this encounter with the world’s intrinsic paradox is laughter, a mirth that arises from shocked delight. Perhaps this is why Chesterton delights in, and identifies so closely with, the figure of the gargoyle, and its essential function in the design of the medieval cathedral, which is, among other things, a pious human representation and homage to the terrible beauty of the divine as we encounter it in creation. In fact, Chesterton characterizes himself as nothing more than a humble a carver of gargoyles in words rather than stone, who leave the construction of the cathedral’s angels and saints to other craftsmen (see, for example, his seminal introductory essay: “On Gargoyles”).

    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/gargoyles.html

    Perhaps most paradoxically of all, the terrifying awesomeness of those nightmare figures that we encounter within certain dark areas of creation are terrible precisely because they are so superabundantly beautiful that hey strike us monstrous. It is the overwhelming glory of God’s beauty which at times leaves us in darkness. Here, we see Chesterton’s implicit alliance with an older conception of God, one that can be traced back to the apophatic tradition, which locates our most profound encounters with the God of beauty in those moments when we seem least able to comprehend him. The Creator may wear a frightening mask to hide his face, but it is only there to protect us from the blinding brilliance of his Shekinah. Or to you another metaphor, in this world we only get to see the back of God’s luminous visage, just as Moses prayed to God to show His glory, but the Lord said ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’” (Gen. 33:18-20). This passage is clearly alluded to at the climax of TMWWT:

    “His face frightened me, as it did everyone; but not because it was brutal, not because it was evil. On the contrary, it frightened me because it was so beautiful, because it was so good. . . . It was like the face of some ancient archangel, judging justly after heroic wars. There was laughter in the eyes, and in the mouth honour and sorrow. . . . Then, and again and always, . . . that has been for me the mystery of Sunday, and it is also the mystery of the world. When I see the horrible back, I am sure the noble face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain that evil could be explained. . . . I was suddenly possessed with the idea that the blind, blank back of his head really was his face—an awful eyeless face staring at me! And I fancied that the figure running in front of me was really a figure running backwards, and dancing as he ran. . . . It was exactly the worst instant of my life. And yet ten minutes afterwards, when he put his head out of the cab and made a grimace like a gargoyle, I knew that he was only like a father playing hide-and-seek with his children. . . . Listen to me!” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—?”

    Reply
    1. boldsaintcroix Post author

      Thank you for these insights! I’ll add the gargoyle essay to my reading short-list. What you say here about Chesterton’s views on God seems somewhat related to what he says at the end of one of his work (Orthodoxy?) about having the sense that there was something too large and overwhelming in Jesus’ earthly ministry that could be shared, that was always hidden. Chesterton said, if I recall, that it was his mirth. There’s something about that here, it seems– the hidden joy or the hidden beauty in the outwardly broken or painful. Perhaps?

      Reply
      1. Gregorio Montejo

        I think that when you raise the question of brokenness or pain in relation to apophaticism you are broaching an intrinsically related yet conceptually distinct subject. On the one hand, we have God’s seeming incomprehensibility, his silence and remoteness, his obscurity, which—as the tradition of negative theology indicates—is often the result of our limited ability to perceive and comprehend his utter transcendence. This God hidden in darkness is the Deus absconditus of the mystics who must travail through the dark night of the soul, which is indeed often experienced as a profound spiritual suffering. But as John of the Cross explains, this is pain with the purpose, for this deliberate remotion of God from the soul is often the means whereby the soul enters into that passive purification of the spirit which leads to the unitive way of perfection (Cf., La noche oscura del alma, Bk. II, chaps. 7 f).

        Closely aligned to this topic though is the problem of pain, that is, how to reconcile an all-good and all-powerful God with all the evil and suffering found in the world. Chesterton had a life-long fascination with the Book of Job, and in some ways TMWWT can be seen as a kind of allegory about the problem of evil, and Chesterton’s attempt to fashion a modern theodicy in the face of such evil. In Chapter 15, tellingly entitled “The Accuser,” Syme/Job hurls this charge at Sunday/God:

        Syme sprang to his feet, shaking from head to foot.
        “I see everything,” he cried, “everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’ No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’
        “It is not true that we have never been broken. We have been broken upon the wheel. It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into hell. We were complaining of unforgettable miseries even at the very moment when this man entered insolently to accuse us of happiness. I repel the slander; we have not been happy. I can answer for every one of the great guards of Law whom he has accused. At least——”
        He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.
        “Have you,” he cried in a dreadful voice, “have you ever suffered?”
        As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?”

        Here is an astonishing response to the problem of pain! One that I think can only be fully understood if it is placed alongside this even more radical passage from the book Orthodoxy, which was written concurrently with THWWT, a passage that grounds its theodicy in Christ’s cry of dereliction, the moment where the Deus absconditus becomes obscure even unto himself, and the God-man undergoes a purgative dark night of the soul at the very moment when he is suffering the greatest agonies of the passion on the Cross:

        Lastly, this truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point–and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay, (the matter grows too difficult for human speech,) but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

      2. boldsaintcroix Post author

        Excellent commentary here, thanks! I need to re-read Orthodoxy. I’m wondering also what the role of the dedicatory poem at the beginning of TMWWT implies. Chesterton wrote this when he was a recent convert, correct? How much of the theology here is him working through his own doubts and questions on the nature of God, and will his views remain largely the same throughout his life?

  3. johnowentrout

    I found it! I had posted it as a comment in the FB Lafferty fan group last May. Here’s the complete comment rescued from obscurity to gain new life as a blog comment. As you can see, I heartily approve of Gregorio’s “On Gargoyles” recommendation above.

    ——

    I haven’t read any O’Brien or Rabelais, but I’m a big Chesterton fan.

    So, I’m no help to Bill, but here’s an answer to Kevin’s request as to where to start with Chesterton.

    Here are links to a few of my favorite Chesterton essays/articles. I’m sure that ten other Chesterton fans would each give you completely different lists of essays!

    The Nightmare
    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/nightmare.html

    Cheese
    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/cheese.html

    The Poet and the Cheese
    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/misc.html#2H_4_0002

    Fairy Tales
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11505/11505-h/11505-h.htm#FAIRY_TALES

    The Ethics of Elfland
    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/orthodoxy/ch4.html

    Slum Novelists and the Slums
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/470/470-h/470-h.htm#chap19

    Babies and Distributism
    http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2008/chesterton_birthcontrol_oct08.asp

    On Running After One’s Hat
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11505/11505-h/11505-h.htm#ON_RUNNING_AFTER_ONE'S_HAT

    On Gargoyles
    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/gargoyles.html

    Pickwick Papers
    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/dickens_A_C_1.html#III

    As for fiction and poetry, check out The Man Who Was Thursday and The Ballad of the White Horse. I’ve also read The Ball and the Cross and The Napoleon of Notting Hill and various shorter poetry. It’s all good, but Chesterton shines brightest as an essayist. I’ve only read a few of the Father Brown stories but they are what many people think of when they think of Chesterton.

    ——

    Reply
    1. boldsaintcroix Post author

      I read the Ballad of the White Horse aloud to my sons when they were younger. I think it might be the last epic written in English. It’s fantastic, and the only way to enjoy it properly is read aloud. Thanks for the list– I’ll be sure to check these out.

      Reply
  4. Gregorio Montejo

    The dedicatory poem evokes the same spiritual journey to Christianity that is defended with great vigor in Orthodoxy. Chesterton’s parents were lukewarm Unitarians who baptized G.K. in the Anglican church, more out of a concern for social convention rather than any kind of religious conviction. During his adolescence Chesterton was a thoroughgoing agnostic—he imbibed the ambient late-Victorian decadence, particularly its new-found obsession with Nietzsche, its trifling with the occult, as well as some the Yellow Book aestheticism of Wilde and Beardsley. After he left art school Chesterton underwent a gradual conversion to creedal Christianity, aided along by his marriage to a pious woman, and culminating in his embrace of Anglicanism, and the writing of TMWWT and Orthodoxy (1908). Chesterton’s spiritual journey, however, was not yet complete—he converted to Catholicism in 1922. Of course, the seeds of that conversion were planted much earlier. I would trace it all the way back to his friendship with Belloc and the first Father Brown writings (1911).

    A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
    Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
    Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
    The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay;
    Round us in antic order their crippled vices came—
    Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
    Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
    Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
    Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
    The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
    They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
    Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
    Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
    When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us
    Children we were—our forts of sand were even as weak as we,
    High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.
    Fools as we were in motley, all jangling and absurd,
    When all church bells were silent our cap and bells were heard.

    Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
    Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
    I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
    Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
    And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
    Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
    Or sane and sweet and sudden as a bird sings in the rain—
    Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
    Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
    Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.
    But we were young; we lived to see God break their bitter charms.
    God and the good Republic come riding back in arms:
    We have seen the City of Mansoul, even as it rocked, relieved—
    Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.

    This is a tale of those old fears, even of those emptied hells,
    And none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells—
    Of what colossal gods of shame could cow men and yet crash,
    Of what huge devils hid the stars, yet fell at a pistol flash.
    The doubts that were so plain to chase, so dreadful to withstand—
    Oh, who shall understand but you; yea, who shall understand?
    The doubts that drove us through the night as we two talked amain,
    And day had broken on the streets e’er it broke upon the brain.
    Between us, by the peace of God, such truth can now be told;
    Yea, there is strength in striking root and good in growing old.
    We have found common things at last and marriage and a creed,
    And I may safely write it now, and you may safely read.

    Reply
      1. Gregorio Montejo

        Joseph Pearce, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G. K. Chesterton (2001) is a good biography.

        I can also recommend these studies of G.K.’s theology:

        Hugh Kenner, Paradox in Chesterton (1948)
        Aidan Nichols, G.K. Chesterton, Theologian (2009)
        Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians (2009)
        Ralph C. Wood, Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God (2011)

  5. johnowentrout

    Stephen, I’m curious. What other titles are you reading for this course? I’d love to see the syllabus.

    Reply
    1. boldsaintcroix Post author

      Right now we’re in Viper’s Tangle by Francois Mauriac. I believe Brideshead Revisited is next. We’re snowed in today, but if I make it in to the office tomorrow I’ll copy and paste the list.

      Reply
    2. boldsaintcroix Post author

      Sorry for my tardiness. Here’s the list of books we’re tackling in the course. It’s an undergraduate course, so we’re not going too deep. Besides TMWWT, we’ve just finished Mauriac’s Viper’s Tangle (which was fantastic, and which I’ll be posting on soon). Then we start Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (which I’ll be sitting out on, as I need to get my own novel finished by a deadline next week), followed by Greene’s Heart of the Matter, Spark’s Girls of Slender Means, O’Connor’s The Violent Bear it Away, and Percy’s Love in the Ruins. Students then get to read a novel of their choice from an additional list, to which I suggested the professor add Wolfe’s Peace and Fifth Head of Cerberus. I’d like to add a Lafferty novel as well, but I’m not sure which one to recommend. Past Master?

      Reply
      1. Gregorio Montejo

        This is a terrific list of books! I think I would really enjoy taking a class like this. Past Master is always a good choice when asking folks who are probably not familiar with Lafferty’s work to read one of his novels. With St. Thomas More as the protagonist, this would also fit nicely with the theme of the class devoted to 20th century Catholic fiction. Also, the novel has a fairly linear narrative, so it is one of Lafferty’s easier books to comprehend. However, if my sole criteria were to choose the most deeply Catholic novels by Lafferty, irrespective of their structural and thematic difficulties, then I would probably choose two other, more challenging works. My first choice would most certainly be Fourth Mansions (1969), a book which melds some of Lafferty’ wildest flights of imaginative fantasy with elements draw from the Spanish mystical tradition, primarily Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, but also St. John of the Cross. There are also trenchant critiques of modernist Catholic theology, along with thematic elements drawn from Jungian psychology, and a host of other elements too multifarious to describe in a brief comment.

        My second choice is much more challenging. Arrive at Easterwine: The Autobiography of a Ktistec Machine (1971) is a bewildering mélange of stylistic and conceptual elements which bursts the boundaries of the conventional SF novel, and which usually fails to meaningfully coalesce during the course of a first reading, yet this heady literary concoction is so rich that it easily rewards a second or third reading, with each further reading revealing to the patient lector an ever increasing array of conceptual insights and aesthetic splendors. This is arguably R.A. Laffety’s most deeply theological novel, and the key to understanding the book is to take its opening conceit seriously. Epiktistes, the prototypical Ktistek machine, a sentient super-computer who has been created in order to carry out three specific tasks, to undertake a search to find a leader, a love, and a liaison, a series of tasks so onerous that over the span of the novel they prove to be Three Great Failures, which nevertheless allow Epiktistes to gradually discover, even in the midst of this failure, the true God-shaped structure of existence. No brief précis can do even minimal justice to this immensely complex, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel—perhaps Lafferty’s greatest achievement.

      2. boldsaintcroix Post author

        I’ve read all three and agree. They would probably be my top picks for someone interested in Lafferty for the first time, though his short stories I often find more accessible. And they’re each at the top of my list of Lafferty novels that I need to read a second time to truly wrap my head around.

  6. danielottojackpetersen

    Well, I’m a dunce. Here I wish you’d have erudite commenters and then never return to find my wish fulfilled! Well, not never. Here I am at last. (Guess I forgot to tick the ‘notify me of new comments via email’ option.) What an incredible discussion here.

    First of all, let me say that I was obviously dead wrong in my young reading of Thursday as to the nature and import of the ending (and of Sunday generally). Somewhere along the way in my early engagement with Chesterton, I think I erroneously lumped Thursday together with Napoleon of Notting Hill (which, if you haven’t read, you must – incredible!) as pre-conversion novels and I obviously consequently read Thursday as a struggle-toward-faith statement rather than a fictional companion piece to Orthodoxy. Now I’m very keen to read it again the right way. Interestingly, though I didn’t get Sunday or the ending right, this novel provided huge spiritual sustenance for me as an early to mid twenty-something and I revisited passages all the time as personal mottos and creedos.

    Gregorio’s commentary and quotes from GKC here have freshly nourished me in the fight of faith – genuinely. I’m a very enthusiastic writer in public (can’t help it!), but I struggle with dark and negative feelings frequently off the screen. This discussion very sincerely heartened me. The agonising struggle we all experience (and, as Chesterton would have it, every dandelion and fly experience) is built in, in a way, to creation. It’s the Fall to be sure, but I think it may have already been in operation before the Fall and in the eternal communion and counsel of God. It’s just that now the agony is entangled with sin, mired in the prideful self-incurvature that wreaks such ubiquitous ruin and misery, when in fact the struggle, even in paradise, was designed to draw us outward into love and glory. Does not the Holy Trinity agonise in community from all eternity? Because genuine self-sacrificial love can’t be a created thing, but uncreated, and thus the members of the Trinity have literally (in a transcendent way) laid down their lives for one another, died to themselves for the good of one the other, eternally? I don’t know if this sounds nearly blasphemous, but it has always struck me that the historical cross must have come from an eternal holy cross in the heart of the Trinity, even though there is no sin to be atoned for in that blessed community. But there is love. And if scripture directs us to look at the cross to see divine love (e.g. 1 John), then cruciform love must be eternal. It’s an awe-inspiring, shattering thought. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

    At any rate, this relates to the ‘darkness’ and ‘monstrosity’ of God, which I can’t help but guess is not only a reactive phenomenon in relation to created humans, but, again, is an eternal phenomenon in the Trinity, where that same hide and seek, donning and discarding and donning again of the gargoyle mask, is enacted between the members of the Trinity in holy hilarious love. It seems to me that grotesquery, comedy, darkness, hiddenness, monstrosity (in a certain sense), dread, struggle, mischievousness, and so on are never the problem. Sin and only sin is the problem, the venom that poisons everything, the inordinate self-love that twists absolutely everything else to its perverted, distorted anti-purpose. Both eternity and the world redeemed, it seems to me, do not/will not lack monstrosity, but will lack the poisonous sin that deforms wildly beautiful things into ‘monsters’ in the evil sense we often use that word (murderous eaters of others and stuffers of selves – cf. Uncle Screwtape). Such sinful ‘monsters’ will be seen at last to not even have truly been monsters at all, not those holy horrors that make our skin crawl with their own kind of dreadful goodness (with maws that swallow us not to our negation and their bloated self-aggrandisement, but that masticate us to our glorious transformation, as Aslan claims to have swallowed whole kingdoms, as Snuffles chewed the explorers into new iterations). Such impostors will be seen at last to have been nothing more than anti-monsters, because they were anti-being, which is all that sin can bend things toward. Real monsters will rise to glory as along with all other creation, Leviathan and Behemoth bellowing and thrashing in the thronging choir of endless praise.

    Again, please correct my bad theology! This is where it’s yearning toward at least. And this thread has helped me rediscover how crucial GKC has been and will be to these yearnings. Thanks all!

    Reply
    1. boldsaintcroix Post author

      No, seriously. If anyone ever asks me to give an account of the time and effort I spent on this silly blog and these reviews, I’ll be able to say, “Well, there was those comments that grew out of that Chesterton post . . .”

      Reply
  7. boldsaintcroix Post author

    Daniel: better late than never! I’m glad these reviews bear some useful fruit. I’m curious, have you ever read any of the mystical Orthodox Christian theologians like Alexander Schmemann or Vladimir Lossky?

    Reply
      1. boldsaintcroix Post author

        Very highly. Read Alexander Schmemann’s FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD. Then, if you like what you’re hearing, read Lossky’s MYSTICAL THEOLOGY OF THE EASTERN CHURCH.

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