Of course, I mean that Catholicism was not tried; plenty of Catholics were tried, and found guilty. My point is that the world did not tire of the church’s ideal, but of its reality. Monasteries were impugned not for the chastity of monks, but for the unchastity of monks. Christianity was unpopular not because of the humility, but of the arrogance of Christians. Certainly, if the church failed it was largely through the churchmen. … [T]he great ideals of the past failed not by being outlived (which must mean over-lived), but by not being lived enough. Mankind has not passed through the Middle Ages. Rather mankind has retreated from the Middle Ages in reaction and rout. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. (G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910), ch. 1.5)Although this passage was written some years before Chesterton’s formal conversion to Catholicism, one can be very certain that at no point after his conversion would he have taken a single word back; most likely, he would have restated it in a different yet equally blunt way. He also knew the Church wasn’t established for the sake of the righteous, but for sinners (cf. Mark 2:17): “The Church is justified,” he would write in The Everlasting Man (1923), “not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” His point was that Christian hypocrisy made the Christian ideal appear unachievable and not worth attempting.
To read the body of Chesterton’s work is to get quick baby pictures of the monster ideologies that plague our culture — free-market capitalism, socialism, modernism, and progressivism — before they climbed out of their cribs to eat our souls. Taken a century ago, the baby pictures are a marvelous corrective to the temptation to blame everything on the Sixties (or any of the last five presidents). However, the above passage reminds us that it more likely began five hundred years ago, with Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses, Henry VIII’s dynastic concerns, the trial of Galileo, and the widespread publication (thanks to the printing press) of classical literature.
Read the rest at Catholic Stand!