“When Man was Rejected of Men”

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In one of his greatest works, The Everlasting Man, author G.K. Chesterton takes a few pages to reflect on the Passion of Christ, the Son of Man. Noting that mankind had already done everything it could to seek its true purpose and search for God—from the philosophers to the mythmakers, to the crowning Roman Empire to the simple common folk—Chesterton shows how each of these great attainments of man’s life could not satisfy the heart and soul of man. Even more, all of the accomplishments of mankind were, indeed, crumbling before the very eyes of the world. When the Word made Flesh, the Living God, came before them, man was already falling from the very heights of greatness he had achieved on his own without God. And so, Jesus was truly rejected by all.

The priests and the Pharisees, the keepers of the greatest monotheism up to that time, became as jealous of Jesus as they were of their religion. Chesterton points out how blind they had become even by the Light of their beliefs, for they kept everything, like a secret treasure, hidden away in the tabernacle. But even the best philosophies among them could not make headway against this greatest of religions known to the world of antiquity. Yet this religion, too, could not fully satisfy the heart of man; and even it was falling with the corruption of its leaders.

Rome, the greatest power on earth, the kingdom upon which “the sun never set,” was built of all the best mankind could be on its own. From its humble roots of the defeated Trojans, according to Virgilian legend, Rome bore what Chesterton termed the almost “divine dignity of the defeated.” It was Rome that conquered the demons of Carthage for the love of their own gods of life and the home, standing “for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry.”[1] In essence, Rome was the embodiment of the greatest man could be on his own. And yet, it is a Roman, “he who is enthroned to say what is justice” who “can only ask ‘What is truth?’”[2] It is the responsible Roman who tries to clear his name of responsibility. “Standing between the pillars of his own judgment-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.”[3]

Finally, the crowds of the common people, so dearly loved by Jesus, also turned from the best to the worst. Chesterton explains the workings of a mob: how “its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative.”[4] That Good Friday, the common man, along with all the other representatives of mankind, totally rejected Christ. “Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ.”[5] Barabbas was chosen and the Son of God was cast out, for the people took the counsel of Caiaphas: that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”[6] Mankind was failing and falling, for it could not even value the life of Man himself before the State.

Chesterton masterfully reveals in these passages how the fullness of humanity turned against the Son of Man, the Living God become Incarnate in the world. The Passion of Christ was not a chance occurrence, taking place at the whim of a few people in authority: every state of the mind and soul of man was well-represented, from the leaders of the Chosen people to the governing Romans to the common man himself. And so, “the mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.”[7]

[1] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume II (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 342.

[2] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 342.

[3] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 342.

[4] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 343.

[5] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 343.

[6] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 18:14), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 22 March, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

[7] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 344.

Marissa Standage

Marissa Standage

Marissa Standage is simultaneously studying at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and Angelicum Academy to earn her bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology, and also loves her teaching post at Highlands Latin School of Pasadena. As the oldest of six, Marissa was home schooled right through high school, and has enjoyed a deep love for the Catholic faith, family, and education based on Socratic discussion. Between her college work and teaching, her favorite past-times include spending time with her family and friends, writing epic fantasy stories, reading, baking sourdough bread (and all kinds of other sourdough goodies from chocolate cake to crackers), and knitting socks. In the midst of this full and wonderful life, she is striving to discern God's plan for her in this world, and to cultivate the virtues in the daily opportunities to grow in His love.

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One Response

  1. Most apropos, gracious and wise to steer our 21st century to that all and forever
    pivotal 1st century when man fell ( for a couple o days anyway ) again.

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