This past Spring I joined the Rochester Chesterton Society. I had actually first encountered the society years ago, but had lost track of them until this year.
One of the group's activities is for members to spend a year all reading the same Chesterton book, a chapter or two at a time, and discussing what they read at the monthly meetings. At the time that I joined, they were just finishing up St. Francis of Assisi.
Before going on a summer break, the group’s leader announced that the next book will be Orthodoxy. He suggested that we all get a copy in time for the September meeting, and recommended that we get a hold of the annotated edition.
I actually had two copies of Orthodoxy. One was a battered Doubleday Image Book I’d gotten in the 1970s, the other the Ignatius Press edition.
Still, I ordered a copy of the annotated edition.
It arrived this summer.
When I first glanced at the notes, I was disappointed.
I’m an English and History teacher. I know who John Henry Newman, George Bernard Shaw, John Dryden, William Cowper and Hans Holbein are. I know what sophistry, rotters, gorgons and griffins are. I know the Apostle’s Creed.
I was confident in my knowledge and my ability to understand such references even without notes.
Ah, but then I stumbled across Hanwell, Joanna Southcote, Reginald John Campbell and Robert B. Suthers.
And suddenly, I understood what Chesterton meant in part when he talked about a man who "believes in himself."
"It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail because he believes in himself. Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness."
I readily admit that I am a sinner and weak, so it's not hard to admit the truth of his comments.
Besides, it could have been worse:
"The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."