Allow me to introduce
A few years ago, as I began to delve deeply into my Catholic faith – and serious reasons to hold it – I kept coming across quotes from some guy named G.K. Chesterton. The quotes were always funny, memorable, and expressive of a Truth that most other people couldn’t see.
One day I decided I would try to find out more about this Chesterton. Boy, I’m glad I did. And I’d love nothing better than to encourage you to check him out, too.
To that end, let me give a brief description of Chesterton and his importance. I’ll be quoting Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society and host of EWTN’s Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense.
In an article, “Who is this guy and why haven’t I heard of him?“, Alquist writes:
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) cannot be summed up in one sentence. Nor in one paragraph. In fact, in spite of the fine biographies that have been written of him, he has never been captured between the covers of one book. But rather than waiting to separate the goats from the sheep, let’s just come right out and say it: G.K. Chesterton was the best writer of the 20th century. He said something about everything and he said it better than anybody else. But he was no mere wordsmith. He was very good at expressing himself, but more importantly, he had something very good to express. The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century.
Chesterton argued eloquently against all the trends that eventually took over the 20th century: materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and spineless agnosticism. He also argued against both socialism and capitalism and showed why they have both been the enemies of freedom and justice in modern society.
And what did he argue for? What was it he defended? He defended “the common man” and common sense. He defended the poor. He defended the family. He defended beauty. And he defended Christianity and the Catholic Faith. These don’t play well in the classroom, in the media, or in the public arena. And that is probably why he is neglected. The modern world prefers writers who are snobs, who have exotic and bizarre ideas, who glorify decadence, who scoff at Christianity, who deny the dignity of the poor, and who think freedom means no responsibility.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born to be a writer in 1874. During his lifetime (he died at age 62 in 1936), he wrote thousands of articles, books, poems, biographies, social commentary, and any other kind of writing you can think of. And, no matter what he wrote, it was always readable and full of insight.
Chesterton was not born a Catholic. In 1922, after serious reflection and thought, he converted to the Catholic faith. This was no small deal in Anglican England. The explanation of his conversion is given in what is one of his most famous books, Orthodoxy.
The way that I became a lover of Chesterton was through his detective stories, The Father Brown Mysteries. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and I love Sherlock Holmes. Father Brown stories are rather like Holmes stories – more cerebral than violent. From there I worked my way into stuff like Orthodoxy, and The Everlasting Man. I can also recommend his biographies of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi.
Let me point you instead to two great places to start your discovery of Chesterton. These two links have many, many, many other links on their pages:
Quite frankly, much of his non-fiction work (social commentary) was way ahead of its time. Reading his words in today’s environment make him look like a prophet. Let me leave you with a few good Chesterton quotes to show what I mean, and to help convince you he’s worth reading.
The purpose of Compulsory Education is to deprive the common people of their commonsense.
It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.
If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
Though the academic authorities are actually proud of conducting everything by means of Examinations, they seldom indulge in what religious people used to descibe as Self-Examination. The consequence is that the modern State has educated its citizens in a series of ephemeral fads.”
When people talk as if the Crusades were nothing more than an aggressive raid against Islam, they seem to forget in the strangest way that Islam itself was only an aggressive raid against the old and ordered civilization in these parts. I do not say it in mere hostility to the religion of Mahomet; I am fully conscious of many values and virtues in it; but certainly it was Islam that was the invasion and Christendom that was the thing invaded
It is still bad taste to be an avowed atheist. But now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”
A strange fanaticism fills our time: the fanatical hatred of morality, especially of Christian morality.”
I might inform those humanitarians who have a nightmare of new and needless babies (for some humanitarians have that sort of horror of humanity) that if the recent decline in the birth-rate were continued for a certain time, it might end in there being no babies at all; which would console them very much
All but the hard hearted man must be torn with pity for this pathetic dilemma of the rich man, who has to keep the poor man just stout enough to do the work and just thin enough to have to do it