Chapter by Chapter Summary of The Everlasting Man by GK Chesterton

Attributed work at:

Introduction: The Plan of This Book

The Everlasting Man is a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity, by G. K. Chesterton.  Whereas Orthodoxy detailed Chesterton’s own spiritual journey, in this book he tries to illustrate the spiritual journey of humanity, or at least of Western civilization.


Part I On the Creature Called Man

I. The Man in the Cave

The cave man is a man like us because of his art, it is only the misrepresentation of the man of science that makes the ‘pre-historic’ man an animal.  The slow development of man is in fact more illogical than a swift development, the time of the process has nothing to do with the process itself.  In argumentation there is a tactic known as a time shift – a ‘red herring’ where the scope of an issue is trumped by the chronology of the issue.  By changing the time-frame, playing the blame game, changing a optimizing decision to a sufficiency decision, the issue is left behind.  Chesterton brings the argument away from the time battle to the issue of ‘Is there really a difference between us in the present and those in the past?’

Chapter 2: Professors and Prehistoric Men

Human civilization just like wars are constructed by the victors – however that view is a modern one.  Man has always been man with his flaws, solutions, mistakes, and creativity.  The issue at hand is the arrival of thought that brings the animal nature to man to explain away religion, because religion is the only thing that explains what it is to be man.

Chapter 3: The Antiquity of Civilization

Babylon and Egypt, two of the earliest civilizations, teach us that civilization does not happen in a linear progressive relationship but in parallel lines. What happens in the past happens today: they had technology, we have technology; they had a waning democracy, we have a waning democracy; they had art and mystery, we have lost that (by choice).

Chapter 4: God and Comparative Religion

In chapter 4 Chesterton links the chronological history talked about in the precious chapter and transitions into a more concrete history – the history of belief.  In contrast to belief humanism is the belief in non-belief – and is a modern invention.  Man did not create God, but Man did create the lie that he could create himself.  The more we separate ourselves from God the more less human we become.

Chapter 5: Man and Mythologies

Now we reach the second category in the division of religions (God; the Gods; the Demons; the Philosophers).  Last chapter was God and man’s flight from a ‘Numinous’.  In the progress (or regression) of civilizations we reach the next category of  ‘the Gods’.  There is a hint of something coming, a hero that fulfills the need expressed in these myths – but that world changing event is saved for the second half of the book.

Chapter 6: The Demons and the Philosophers

This chapter is divided into two parts: which are when things get really bad and the attempts to rationalize them.  It is said that things are darkest before dawn, but the darkness here is when we as all of mankind fled away from the light and into the shadows.

Chapter 7: The War of Gods and Demons

In this epic clash of the titans Chesterton writes about the earth yearning for a Saviour.  The darkness has overtaken the Earth, mankind is about to be crushed out by the Demons – and yet the divine keeps an ember alive for the Christ.  Remember that this history is from a secular point of view, this is an ‘outsiders’ perspective.  Even from this historic nosebleed section we can still see the stage being set for the most divisive event in history that divided time in two.

Chapter 8: The End of the World

Even after winning the war against the demons man lost the battle he could never win: the battle against his fallen nature.  What was won in the overt was lost in the covert.  Man’s civilization is fallen and lost.  The world would have ended millennia ago if it was not for some assistance from beyond the natural world.


Chapter 1: The God in the Cave

These two parts both start in the same way: in a cave.  Just as the only thing we know about ‘the caveman’ is through his art, the only thing we know about Christ (remember that the scriptures were wither not written or they were kept secret only open to the Jewish people – as they were the only ones who found value there) is through the art in the cave where he was born.  The Christmas story is too close to us, we must stop back and marvel and what happened.  It was no peaceful assembly, no little drummer boy, no peaceful onlooking animals – just the ordinary aspects of a dirty cave with dirt and dung everywhere.  It was true humility, and yet it brought both division and unity to the world.

Chapter 2: The Riddles of the Gospel

In this book, that really is a reductio ad absurdum argument this chapter takes that approach and applies it to Jesus.  In the first part of the book we have found that if man is just an animal then that leads to both the absurd (why would there be religion of any kind then?) and contradictions (why is there art?).  In this the second part we see if Christ is just a man, taking the same approach.  Now the difficult part about using reductio ad absurdum is that one must only follow the premise.  Chesterton does this by (just as he did with man) looking at Christ through a secular point of view until it contradicts itself.

Who is Christ?  What do we do with Him?  These questions have been the hounds from which we run from.  It seems that the light is so bright that we must dim it by putting Christ in a specific box – yet it is the plethora of boxes that confirm that He is more than the sum of the parts we try to put him in. When we look at the gospel we see weird things happen (remember this is from a secular point of view): riddles, statements that make no sense – even to the Jews, stories, the praising of the meek during a military occupation, and so forth.  Let us begin the journey to see if Christ was just a man…

Chapter 3: The Strangest Story in the World

The summary of the life of Christ comes to an end.  That end though was the whole purpose of his coming.  In Man’s point of view Jesus was killed by claiming something that he was  – the “I am’.  The argument that Jesus’ life was a mere fabrication misses the point that if it was fabricated then it really is an original fabrication.  Falsities need something to base themselves off of – yet here is something so frightening so original that we try to water it down.

The new can only rise after the old has passed away. Just  as a butterfly can take flight only after the caterpillar is done crawling in the dirt, so our myths, and philosophies were destroyed, annihilated, and even proved false during the life but most assuredly in the death of Christ.

Chapter 4: The Witness of the Heretics

Here in this chapter the church is proved true by an unusual rhetorical technique: Using the attacks against the church to defend the church.  When we look at true doctrine, the guiding light of the word, we see that with it we can stand against the world.

Chapter 5: The Escape from Paganism

The path of man and the path of the God in this chapter are contrasted.  In the whole first part of this book Man’s path was shown to be a falling (sometimes slow, but mostly a plummet) away from God.  The start of the second half was God rescuing man – not only that but all the attempts of man from the first half of history were either shown as complete and utter falsehoods (that had to surrender) or were reconciled.  Yet the church at that time in history for the most part were in Europe, the East was left to itself.  Thus we can see the great schism, the East shows a world that believes in ‘nothing’ while the West believes in everything, but the church believes in the eternal.

Chapter 6: The Five Deaths of the Faith

When we look at the history of the church to the untrained mind it seems that it continually shaped itself with creeds until it reached something that the people would accept.  This is not the case, in fact it is the opposite.  The church when ever it went for the popular view died.  Then the church came back without the popularity but with the truth.  The church cannot be destroyed externally (see last chapter) nor internally.   Man cannot destroy the eternal.

Conclusion: The Summary of This Book

A summary of the history of the world: Man is not just an animal, Christ was not just a man – and the divine madness was the sanity that stood against time.   Just as a bright light is a searing pain for those adjusted to the darkness, but then reveals all – the church (with Christ as the head) does the same to the world.

%d bloggers like this: