Monday, May 29, 2006

Chesterton on Great Men

It's such an appropriate day for me to finish up Chesterton's Heretics on Chesterton's birthday. Heretics is the sort of book that makes me sit back and sigh once in awhile and just enjoy the pleasure of witty wisdom. It brings tears to my eyes and makes me laugh a lot.

Today John and the four older kids are taking advantage of the last possible day to visit the Vatican Exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I've been outside watching the two little ones swim in the kiddie pool and ride tricycles in the very warm weather. But I couldn't resist running inside quickly to share this:

[pause while I run outside to check on Kate and Frank]

All very great teachers and leaders have had this habit of assuming their point of view to be one which was human and casual, one which would readily appeal to every passing man. If a man is genuinely superior to his fellows the first thing that he believes in is the equality of man. We can see this, for instance, in that strange and innocent rationality with which Christ addressed any motley crowd that happened to stand about Him. "What man of you having a hundred sheep, and losing one, would not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which was lost?" Or, again, "What man of you if his son ask for bread will he give him a stone, or if he ask for a fish will he give him a serpent?" This plainness, this almost prosaic camaraderie, is the note of all very great minds.

To very great minds the things on which men agree are so immeasurably more important than the things on which they differ, that the latter, for all practical purposes, disappear. They have too much in them of an ancient laughter even to endure to discuss the difference between the hats of two men who were both born of a woman, or between the subtly varied cultures of two men who have both to die. The first-rate great man is equal with other men, like Shakespeare. The second-rate great man is on his knees to other men, like Whitman. The third-rate great man is superior to other men, like Whistler.

No comments: