The vision of a haloed host
That weep around an empty throne;
And, aureoles dark and angels dead,
Man with his own life stands alone.
‘I am,’ he says his bankrupt creed:
‘I am,’ and is again a clod:
The sparrow starts, the grasses stir,
For he has said the name of God.
I have loved this poem by Chesterton since first reading it some twenty years ago. I can’t help but think that Chesterton had Nietzsche in mind when he wrote it. The scene opens with a meeting of the Church, of the saints: what are we doing? We are in tears. Lamentations, and mourning abound. Why? Because we have been robbed of our purpose, our telos, our principle for existence. In this scene God is not dead, killed by the onslaught of German higher criticism, but he is gone, vanished. Much like Baal on Mt. Carmel there is no one to hear our cries. Moreover, there are no saints, as there are no halos (he uses the word aureoles, which are the gold plates that are behind the heads of saints, angels, and our Lord in icons). There is no sanctity. And it is now the angels who are dead. What is left? Man. Man with his will to self-determination
And now the real point: it is no longer God, the Lord of History, who is the selfexistent one, who speaks to Moses from the bush: “I AM WHO I AM.” No, it is man. Man asserts, man decrees, man affirms, man makes the laws, man establishes justice. Why? Because he is all that is, he alone exists, and he alone determines reality. But no sooner does he say it, then he himself turns back to the earth from which he was formed, and is again a clod. The sparrow and the grass, the two items that our Lord pointed to in the Gospels as comparable to man in only the most superficial ways, in that we men are so much better than either, react. Why, for we have arrogated to ourselves God’s name. And in this the sparrow and grass show human folly, for what are we in comparison: the beauty of the grass surpasses Solomon, but it lasts but for a day and then is throne in the furnace. The sparrow is fed by God, and if God so provides for them, won’t He do so for us, we who are of greater worth than many sparrows? But in denying God what has man become? Nothing but a more mature sparrow, a more sentient blade of grass. In denying God, man has become less than what he is, not more.