…we must point out the irony that critics have chastised Chesterton for misquoting other writers, while he is the most misquoted writer of all. No one would be more pleased than G.K. Chesterton. – The American Chesterton Society
Today we are doing a bit of sleuthing! You might say, we are very much taking up the hat of Father Brown and trying to pin down where a couple of popular quotes attributed to G. K. Chesterton come from. We have been inspired by Mike Miles, a fellow Chesterton admirer and editor of The Speaker Articles who inquired about the source of a recent ( and very popular!) quote we shared on our G.K. and Frances Chesterton Facebook Fan page. (He in fact shared another Chesterton quote from a book penned by Pope Francis and which was originally going to be the subject of today’s post as I was going to elaborate more on the quote and share its source. And that’s when it began to get interesting!) So today we are hot on the mystery of “The Trail of the Source of Two Quotes!” which are as follows:
“When man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.”
“Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”
Here is the first quote as it appears in Pope Francis’ book: The Name of God is Mercy. Please note that he is quoting Cardinal Giacomo Biffi as in reference to past conversations where it may have come up.
As I began my search on this quote in happy anticipation of reading more context, I came upon this article by the American Chesterton Society. I encourage you to read it as it points out that not only is this quote one of the most popular attributed to Chesterton, but it often takes on two other forms, neither of which actually matches verbatim the quote above.
Many learned Chesterton scholars and writers have been involved in this source mystery: Aidan Mackey, Geir Hasnes, Umberto Eco, Bob Dylan, Paul Johnson, Michael Novak, Vittorio Messori, Rawley Meyers, Barry Warmisham, Dale Ahlquist, Dr. Pasquale Accardo, and John Peterson.
Finally, it stands (as the article points out) that the most plausible explanation for the quote being traced back to Chesterton’s own writings must be awarded to writer, Robin Radar of Zambia, who, interestingly enough, leads us back to Father Brown with the following quotes “….divided between two adjacent Father Brown stories:”
It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense. [“The Oracle of the Dog” (1923)]
You hard-shelled materialists were all balanced on the very edge of belief — of belief in almost anything. [“The Miracle of Moon Crescent” (1924)]
After this piece was posted ( 1.24.2016) Mike Miles added a further source for the quote in the following:
“Only the silly moderns use the word Pagan as meaning a man who will not believe in anything. Whereas a Pagan means a man who will believe in anything. ” (“Daily News,” June 22, 1905)
One mystery remains…
Thus having solved the one mystery, we move on to the mystery of the second quote, “Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” This may have been solved more easily….although since I haven’t the jury of 12 learned men as above to research this more, at least we have a place to start. And it appears that the quote is from a book called “The Gospel of Luke” by William Barclay. The page can be seen below again from Google Books:
For further commentary on this source, we can look to a blog post by Father Horton, entitled Chesterton: Fearless, happy, and in constant trouble? This is the only source found so far that points out a discrepancy. There has been no further scholarship to investigate whether Barclay claimed it from Chesterton writings, either directly or a paraphrase.
But as pointed out by the American Chesterton Society, whether these are mis-attributions to Chesterton or not, that for all the critics who took Chesterton to task for his own misquotes, it would seem that he is the most misquoted writer of them all. And that irony would, no doubt, have given him a good chuckle.