G. K. Chesterton on Mystic Light

In a brilliant analogy, G. K. Chesterton (in the conclusion to his second chapter of Orthodoxy ) likens the Absolute—what I’d call the ontological mystery, the Mystery of Being—to the sun. The sun is something that one feels and sees by, but when you attempt to look at the sun itself, you cannot really even discern its outline. It is a blur. Chesterton contrasts looking at the sun with looking at the moon, which is a dead, clearly outlined circle in the sky (akin to the tidy naturalist enterprise, which Chesterton likens to the psychological narrowness of the madman, to a “lunacy”):

The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world. But the Greeks were right when they made Apollo the god both of imagination and of sanity; for he was both the patron of poetry and the patron of healing. . . . [T]ranscendentalism . . . has . . . the position of the sun in the sky. We are conscious of it as of a kind of splendid confusion; it is something both shining and shapeless, at once a blaze and a blur. But the circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitable, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. For the moon is utterly reasonable; and the moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.

As the ground of all conditioned things (your existence is conditioned on your cells; your cells are conditioned upon the functioning of protein nano-machines; protein nano-machines are conditioned upon information contained in DNA, etc.) is there any one “thing” that has no conditions for its own condition? That is, is there something unconditioned, eternal, and uncreated that stops all infinite regresses of condition at itself? If so, should we call that one unconditioned thing that is the ultimate condition of all other things God?


This unconditioned First Thing, if it exists, would seem to be necessary to get anything going at all. If it didn’t exist, the conditions for another thing to exist would require an infinite regress–and so would never get started in its own existence at all.

So this unconditioned First Thing must exist. And if this First Thing exists, there’s really no escaping it–or of ever really doing anything contrary to it. It is, after all, the ultimate condition for doing in the first place. And for seeing. It is the first sun.

So what are you running from?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to G. K. Chesterton on Mystic Light

  1. Pingback: G. K. Chesterton, Nietzsche, and the Reelection of Barack Obama | Prometheus Unbound

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