Reading Chesterton

“I’m beginning to suspect that nobody understands G.K. Chesterton,” a friend recently remarked. “They just like quoting him when convenient.” I had to laugh at this for I am guilty as charged. Chesterton both confounds and delights me, and I am confident that I have quoted him on numerous occasions without really understanding his meaning. He had a way with words that makes the temptation to repeat him too hard to resist! It is when he confounds me that I enjoy his writing the most. He challenges me to slow down and think. Most of all, he teaches me about the joy of existence; that existence itself is good, something so quickly forgotten in the toils of daily life.

“There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we ourselves are incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real. It is the fundamental fact of being, as against not being; it is unthinkable, yet we cannot unthink it, though we may sometimes be unthinking about it; unthinking and especially unthanking.”[1]

Continue reading “Reading Chesterton”

Telling the Truth Through Whimsy

G.K. Chesterton wrote extensively on the subjects of creativity, imagination, and art, and did so as an accomplished artist in his own right. During his distinguished career, he produced an impressive body of poetry, sketches, novels, short stories, essays, and even a few works of drama. Chesterton’s keen insight is that man, unlike the brute, beholds the world he inhabits with wonder and celebrates that wonder through artistic creation. The goal of good art is to awaken the beholder to the “white light of wonder”—a light that reveals the truth of things.

Continue reading “Telling the Truth Through Whimsy”

The Power of Yes

61D43A0B-2786-44C8-AD71-0381A3E23F10John Updike’s Rabbit, Run, was published on this day in 1960. It was only his second novel, but it confirmed his place in the ranks of contemporary Masters of Literature. He said he loved Christianity because it was a religion of “yes” rather than “no.” In his study of Updike, writer Jack de Bellis wrote: “Updike has repeatedly remarked that a God who is not part of daily human affairs is not very real for him. Barth provided him with a God who infuses himself in all aspects of his Creation, thus enabling Updike to “open to the world again.” So, Barth, with T. S. Eliot, G. K. Chesterton, and Miguel Unamuno, helped him “believe.”

That’s the beauty of Christianity – we help each other believe.

Continue reading “The Power of Yes”

Chesterton vs Wells

H.G Wells was born on September 21, 1866. He was a brilliant thinker, but his humanistic worldview sparked a grand debate with none other than G.K. Chesterton.  Chesterton wrote The Everlasting Man in 1925 as a literary rebuttal of Wells’ Outline of History in which Wells characterized human life as a seamless extension of animal life.  In his book Defiant Joy, author Kevin Belmonte notes Chesterton’s desire to position his book as a counter-point dialog with Wells. One of the most famous passages explores the distinct differences between mankind and animals.

Continue reading “Chesterton vs Wells”

G.K. Chesterton

When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother’s knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.

G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy


Continue reading “G.K. Chesterton”

Men Must Endure Their Going Hence

Chesterton’s Autobiography, published posthumously in the autumn of 1936, was the last flowering of his literary gifts. It was a bittersweet achievement but a very worthy addition to the Chesterton canon. And since it was completed before his passing, it seems fitting here to discuss its contents and something of the critical reception it had.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 25


Continue reading “Men Must Endure Their Going Hence”

The Pillar of the Apennines

[Chesterton] had, said Mr. Eccles, an intuitive mind. He had, too, read more than was realized.

—MAISIE WARD (1943)

Mr. Chesterton’s little volume makes one of the pleasantest introductions to St. Thomas that could be desired.

—TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT(1933)

It would be easy to say that Chesterton was drawn to Saint Thomas Aquinas because they were much alike.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 24


Continue reading “The Pillar of the Apennines”

Chaucer

There is at the back of all our lives an abyss of light, more blinding and unfathomable than any abyss of darkness; and it is the abyss of actuality, of existence, of the fact that things truly are, and that we are ourselves incredibly and sometimes almost incredulously real.

—G. K. CHESTERTON

These were some of the most beautiful and life-affirming words that Chesterton ever wrote. They were a kind of centerpiece to one of the great works of his later career, Chaucer (published in 1932).

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 23


Continue reading “Chaucer”

Chesterton vs Wells

H.G Wells was born on September 21, 1866. He was a brilliant thinker, but his humanistic worldview sparked a grand debate with none other than G.K. Chesterton.  Chesterton wrote The Everlasting Man in 1925 as a literary rebuttal of Wells’ Outline of History in which Wells characterized human life as a seamless extension of animal life.  In his book Defiant Joy, author Kevin Belmonte notes Chesterton’s desire to position his book as a counter-point dialog with Wells. One of the most famous passages explores the distinct differences between mankind and animals.

Continue reading “Chesterton vs Wells”

Saint Francis

The detail over which these monks went mad with joy was the universe itself; the only thing really worthy of enjoyment. The white daylight shone over all the world, the endless forests stood up in their order. The lightning awoke and the tree fell and the sea gathered into mountains and the ship went down, and all these disconnected and meaningless and terrible objects were all part of one dark and fearful conspiracy of goodness, one merciless scheme of mercy.
—“FRANCIS,” FROM VARIED TYPES (1903)

Long ago in those days of boyhood my fancy first caught fire with the glory of Francis of Assisi.” So wrote Chesterton in the opening pages of one of his best-beloved books, St. Francis of Assisi, published in 1923. This medieval saint, it seems, had always held a special place in his moral imagination, and the writing of this biographical study was fulfilling a debt of gratitude.

But it was an odd pairing of kindred souls, to be sure. Francis, the ascetic saint, and Chesterton the ebullient bon vivant—a man whose appearance and habits ran so dramatically counter to any notion of asceticism.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 21


Continue reading “Saint Francis”