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.

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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.

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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


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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


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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


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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


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What I Saw In America

For years [Chesterton] forbore visiting America, but [finally] he decided to cross the Atlantic, in order, he announced, to “lose my impressions of the United States.”
NEW YORK TIMES (1936)

Inclement weather aside, the Chestertons seemed to have relished the prospect of this, their first trip to America. When Maisie Ward was researching her biography of Chesterton, she discovered that “Frances kept clippings of almost all their interviews” during their travels in the United States. G. K., for his part, seems to have looked on the first days following their arrival with a mixture of amusement and curiosity.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 20


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The Toast of London

Though the knight-errant who seeks for giants and cuts their heads off is out of date, nothing can be more modern than Sir Chesterton of Overroads, who seeks for convictions and turns them inside out.

—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1916)

It is one of Mr. Chesterton’s jolly maxims that a man should be able to laugh at himself, poke fun at himself, enjoy his own absurdity. It is an excellent test of mental health. Man is a tragi-comedian. He should see himself the quaint “forked radish” that he is, fantastic as well as wonderful. He should see his mind ready to do battle and die, if need be, for an idea, but equally ready to get into a passion because his egg is boiled too hard. He should, in a word, see himself not as a hero, but as a man of strange virtues and stranger follies, a figure to move him to alternate admiration and laughter.

—ALFRED GEORGE GARDINER (1914)

In April 1914 A. G. Gardiner, editor of the Daily News and an accomplished essayist, published a new edition of his book of character portraits, a collection called Prophets, Priests, and Kings. As its title indicated, people from all three groups were the subject of profiles—including King Edward VII, Kaiser Wilhelm, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, John Singer Sargent, George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, General William Booth of the Salvation Army, and Florence Nightingale. All were leading figures in the worlds of politics, the visual arts, literature, and philanthropy. Chesterton was numbered among them, and the resulting prose portrait revealed the man who was G. K. C. at the height of his powers and celebrity.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 18


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Mr. Shaw’s Insistent Demand

When one breathes Irish air, one becomes a practical man. In England I used to say what a pity it was you did not write a play.

—GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, 1909

Chesterton’s first play, Magic: A Fantastic Comedy in a Prelude and Three Acts, caused a considerable stir when it was first staged in 1913. Despite a mixed reaction from critics, it was in many ways an auspicious debut.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 17


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The Great Ballad

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

Chesterton had been dead for nearly five years when these lines from his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, appeared in the Times of London under the heading “Sursum Corda” (lift up your hearts). Devastating news had reached England of the fall of the island of Crete to a combined force of German and Italian troops. More than twelve thousand British Commonwealth soldiers were now prisoners of war, and the nation was trying to come to terms with this, one of the darkest moments of World War II.

Kevin Belmonte, Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton, from Chapter 16


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