The Most Extraordinary Thing in the World

The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.

Attr. G. K. Chesterton

  1. A general web search for the most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man Chesterton turns up nothing with a source. More distressing, perhaps, is that there aren’t even very many unsourced versions of it. By the time I get to the second page of results, they’re not this quotation at all.
  2. Wikiquote doesn’t have it, even on the discussion page for GKC.
  3. It’s not on the Chesterton society web site.
  4. Google Books has most of Chesterton available, and this quotation is not in any of his works there. It is quoted in other books going back at least to the early 1990s, but never with a source that I can see.
  5. This site has a lot of GKC’s works online. Searching that site only turns up nothing.
  6. A friend consulted Sprug’s An Index to G. K. Chesterton, finding nothing.

Some say it’s in Heretics, but it isn’t.

Does it sound like GKC? The idea certainly sounds like him, and maybe even the phrasing, which makes me really hesitant to say that he didn’t say it. But I’d love to find a source.


June 27: Some of my friends who are more obsessed than I were able to tell that Carry a Big Stick: The Uncommon Heroism of Theodore Roosevelt, one of the books I found on Google Books that uses the quotation, has a footnote for the quotation on p. 212 referring to a Chesterton Omnibus. Unfortunately the whole note is not available as a preview on Google Books.  The only Chesterton Omnibus I have been able to find contains The Napoleon of Notting Hill, The Man Who Was Thursday, and The Flying Inn. The saying in question is not contained in any of those three works.

This leaves me more reluctant to say that he definitely didn’t say it, but I’d like to know for sure. No place nearby has it in the library, sad to say, and I’m not quite up to doing an interlibrary loan.

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What we are before God….

What we are before God we are and nothing more.

Attr. St. Anthony of Padua, according to a recent FB meme. It’s not on Wikiquote for him, and an Internet search for the phrase turns up several attributions to St. Francis (unsourced, of course). I found a page that attributes this version to Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more,” though of course it might not be original to him.

When I search for we are what we are before God and nothing more anthony of padua on Google, I get one hit from Pinterest on the first page and one from Facebook on the second, suggesting to me that the attribution to St. Anthony is pretty recent. The suggestion is all the greater since a Google Books search finds nothing at all.

Color me skeptical.