Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Adult Faith Formation, January 12th -- Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton, Session 1: Introduction

 Introduction to GK Chesterton and the book Orthodoxy.

Listen online [here, part 1]!

Listen online [here, part 2]!


Adult Faith Formation Series – Spring 2021 – Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton

January 12th – Introduction to GK Chesterton and Orthodoxy

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.

It has been found difficult; and left untried. - GK Chesterton



I. Why this book?

1. Father’s experience reading this book in seminary.

2. A good introduction to the writings of GK Chesterton

3. After an adult faith formation series on Flannery O’Connor, GK Chesterton is delightful.



II.  Who is GK Chesterton?

Born, 29 May 1874. Died, 14 June 1936.  Baptized as a child into the Anglican Church of England but not raised in a devout family.  As a child was fascinated with the occult. 

Married Frances Blogg in 1901 and credited his wife with bringing him back to Orthodox Christianity – first Anglicanism and eventually Catholicism (they converted in 1922). The couple could not have children, but had a very close and loving marriage.  It is reported that on several occasions he sent a telegram to his wife Frances, writing such things as "Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?" to which she would reply, "Home".

GK Chesterton was a journalist, and is most famous for his weekly opinion column int “The Illustrated London News,” which also accounts for his charming, polemical style and the many references to various people and subjects of the day.  Chesterton was also very famous for his Father Brown stories, which have the priest-detective presenting the Christian worldview as he solves various crimes and mysteries. Further, Chesterton had studied art, and was a very talented sketch artist.

Chesterton as a large man, 6’4” and about 286 lbs. Often defended smoking and drinking, in moderation, as well as the enjoyment of food. He saw the true religion as an invitation to joy, and an affirmation of all that is good in the world. His friend, Hilaire Belloc says, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There's always laughter and good red wine. At least I've always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!”   GK Chesterton loved St Thomas Aquinas, because St Thomas and the Dominican Tradition defends what is truly good in the material world. The proper love of creation, leads us to love the Creator – hence, Chesterton once said that St Thomas could, after the manner of “John of the Cross” or “Teresa of Jesus,” be called “Thomas of the Creator.”  This is key to understanding Chesterton’s project – what is wrong with modern man is not that he loves the world too much or that he enjoys life too much, but the great sin of the modern world is pessimism and rejection of joy, wonder, and the goodness of creation.  “Nor shall iron dooms make dumb, man wondering ceaselessly. If it be not better to fast for joy, than feast for misery.”

Chesterton dies of congestive heart failure at the age of 62, his last words having been spoken to his wife.  Fr Ronald Knox preached the sermon at his Requiem Mass, “All of this generation has grown up under Chesterton’s influence so completely that we do not even know when we are thinking Chesterton.”   There was a popular movement for the cause of sainthood of GK Chesterton, but this does not seem to be going anywhere at the moment.  In our time, the strongest devotion to Chesterton seems to be in the USA – note especially Dale Ahlquist and the Chesterton Society.


Writings: More academic books like Orthodoxy and the Everlasting Man. Essays like Tremendous Trifles and What’s Wrong with the World. Novels like The Ball and the Cross, Napoleon of Notting Hill, and The Man Who Was Thursday.  Short Stories like The Father Brown Stories. Poems like The Ballad of the White Horse and Lepanto. Many journalist writings. And countless others. Extremely prolific thinker and writer.   Chesterton wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4,000 essays (mostly newspaper columns), and several plays.



III. The circumstances of the book “Orthodoxy”

A. Chesterton had written a book “Heretics” in which he exposes the false theories of many of the prominent thinkers and writers of his day.  “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”


B. The heretics Chesterton criticizes are not generally Christian, but are heresies against reason and thought. They include Rudyard Kipling (known for “The Jungle Book”), Bernard Shaw, and HG Wells (“Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds”).  He also attacks Eugenics, Evolution, New Age Easternism, Neo-Paganism, etc.


C. The book “Orthodoxy” defends “Orthodox Christianity” – not “orthodox” as in Eastern Orthodox, but in the sense of traditional, credal Christianity.  However, this book was written when Chesterton was still Anglican, a full 14 years before converting to Catholicism.


D. The book is offered as an intellectual auto-biography: Explaining how Chesterton himself came to recognize that Orthodox Christianity is the true answer to the riddles of life and human existence; what made Christianity appealing to himself.  It has since become a classic of Christian apologetics, though in a style quite different from most apologetic works.   (note: Apologetics simply means defending the faith against objections, and proving its doctrines to non-believers).



IV.  Some pointers to help with the enjoyment of Orthodoxy

A. Chesterton frequently references other thinkers/writers of his day, or of the recent past. Most of these are not particularly important, but some would be good to be familiar with.

1. George Bernard Shaw: Known simply as Bernard Shaw, he was very influential as a playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist. Promoted eugenics and opposed religion. A dear friend of Chesterton.

2. Leo Tolstoy: Famous for “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” Tolstoy is obsessed with pacifism and the peasant class, Tolstoy does not really believe anything is worth fighting for, nor does he believe in organized religion.

3. Friedrich Nietzsche: One of the greatest enemies in Orthodoxy, Nietzsche is a nihilist who rejects absolute truth and ultimately believes in nothing. 

4. Rudyard Kipling: Famous for “The Jungle Book,” Kipling is so focused on be a man of the world that he forgets the beauty of his own culture.

5. HG Wells: Famous for “Time Machine,” “The Invisible Man,” and “The War of the Worlds,” Wells is criticized as an aimless progressive. One who believes that nothing can endure and that all things must be in a constant state of change and progress.  Politically, Wells was a socialist.


B. Notes about Chesterton’s journalistic style: 

1. Polemical, but charming: After the book “Heretics” a certain critic, G.S. Street said, “I will begin to worry about my philosophy when Mr. Chesterton has given us his.”  Chesterton replies in Orthodoxy, “It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation.”

2. Quick, clever, and paradoxical: Called “the prince of paradox.” “Whenever possible Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories – first carefully turning them inside out.” (Time Magazine)

3. Adventure of Truth:  “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

4. Joy, Gratitude, and Wonder:  “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”   “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”




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