Chesterton on the Fall and the execution of a tyrant
In his essay about mankind’s Fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, GK Chesterton takes the view that the Fall is the only enlightening and encouraging view of life. We think he also offers clarity to questions about free will and a tyrant’s recent execution after a lengthy trial and a verdict of guilty on multiple charges of murder.
Chesterton writes that the Fall holds
that we have misused a good world, and not merely been entrapped into a bad one. It refers evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will. Every other creed except that one is some form of surrender to fate. A man who holds this view of life will find it giving light on a thousand things; on which mere evolutionary ethics have not a word to say. For instance, on the colossal contrast between the completeness of man’s machines and the continued corruption of his motives; on the fact that no social progress really seems to leave self behind; on the fact that the first and not the last men of any school or revolution are generally the best and purest; as William Penn was better than a Quaker millionaire or Washington better than an American oil magnate; on that proverb that says: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” which is only what the theologians say of every other virtue, and is itself only a way of stating the truth of original sin; on those extremes of good and evil by which man exceeds all the animals by the measure of heaven and hell; on that sublime sense of loss that is in the very sound of all great poetry, and nowhere more than in the poetry of pagans and skeptics: “We look before and after, and pine for what is not”; which cries against all prigs and progressives out of the very depths and abysses of the broken heart of man, that happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory; and that we are all kings in exile.
The Fall suggests that those who believe a murderer ought to be allowed to live and repent have truth to their claim – as much truth as those who believe that a community has a right to calmly and legally say, ‘You made your choice. You murdered. Now you must die for it.’ Because the Fall posits a fallen mankind, it recognizes the need for courts of justice. Because the Fall believes we can rise, it does not believe the tyrant is doomed, only, realistically, that on this earth each of us may run out of time to say, ‘I am so sorry. Let me begin again.’ For Chesterton the story of the Fall affirms a God of truth who loves us, and holds out the hope that every soul can be made whole.
Chesterton's quote comes from “The Outline of the Fall” in The Thing. Born in London in 1874, Chesterton has been called a reactionary, a romantic Christian, a wit, a half-wit, and a glory to English letters.