This is the side of things which tends most truly to spiritual wonder. It is significant that in the greatest religious poem existent, the Book of Job, the argument which convinces the infidel is not (as has been represented by the merely rational religionism of the eighteenth century) a picture of the ordered beneficence of the Creation; but, on the contrary, a picture of the huge and undecipherable unreason of it. ‘Hast Thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is?’ This simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality as it is the basis of nonsense. Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook. The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of things, has decided that ‘faith is nonsense,’ does not know how truly he speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith. ”
~ Gilbert Keith Chesterton, The Defendant, 1902
How true! It is definitely impossible to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism. Do you remember Dante’s Paradiso (Canto X)?
O Thou insensate care of mortal men,
How inconclusive are the syllogisms
That make thee beat thy wings in downward flight!
Nonsense is therefore about as actually an instrument of the search for the ultimate truth as faith. Of course, as Chesterton pointed out elsewhere (“Child Psychology and Nonsense” in Illustrated London News, October 15, 1921), there are “two ways of dealing with nonsense in this world,”
One way is to put nonsense in the right place; as when people put nonsense into nursery rhymes. The other is to put nonsense in the wrong place; as when they put it into educational addresses, psychological criticisms, and complaints against nursery rhymes or other normal amusements of mankind.
And now, after making it clear that, somewhat unexpectedly, nursery rhymes and the Book of Job have something very important in common, let’s make “the well-meaning person” say that faith is nonsense—he does not actually know how truly he speaks…
|Giovanni Di Paolo, Illustration of Dante's Paradiso (Canto X) |
The First Circle of the Twelve Teachers of Wisdom (British Library - London)