Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A Little Bit on G. K. Chesterton

[This was an entry commissioned for a book called Christianity A-Z. The editor never used it for the book. But here it is. May it spark interest in this incomparable thinker.]

GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON (1874--1936)

Prolific British Christian author whose huge corpus of writings includes works of literary criticism, biography, journalism, poetry, autobiography, novels, and Christian apologetics. Chesterton also worked as an editor and lecturer. His writings are known for their endless wit, insight, and humor, as well as their intellectual depth and force. As a master of aphorism, paradox, and pithy argument, Chesterton uniquely combines entertainment, education, and edification--and is exceptionally quotable on many topics. He converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1922, but remains a favorite writer of many Protestants as well as Catholics. His apologetic work, particularly The Everlasting Man (1925), significantly influenced C.S. Lewis to embrace Christianity. Many Chestertonian themes--such as Christianity as the fulfillment of pagan mythology and the life of the imagination as vital to Christian faith--can be found in Lewis’ writings as well. Besides his popular Father Brown detective novels, his most well-known and best books include Orthodoxy (1908), a wringing defense of Christianity, which takes on the prevalent nonChristian philosophies of the day (such as Nietzsche’s philosophy, scientism, pantheism, and pragmatism). It remains a powerful argument for Christianity even in postmodern times. Chesterton stressed the objective truth and reasonableness of the Christian faith by saying, “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” His work on Thomas Aquinas, The Dumb Ox (1933), was a popular treatment of the great medievel philosopher and theologian. Nevertheless, the eminent Thomist, Etiene Gilson, said of it, “I have been studying Saint Thomas all my life, and I could never have written such a book.” Saint Francis of Assisi (1923) is a warm and appreciative biography of the noteworthy Catholic saint who was a source of constant inspiration for Chesterton. Because of the breath of his knowledge and the productivity of his pen (and despite his some of his intellectual idiosyncrasies), Chesterton remains a rich source of Christian insight into the Third Millennium.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary

2 comments:

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks so much, Dr. Groothuis, for those thoughts on Chesterton. He is an author I have had a fascination about, yet have not read.

His manifold giftedness would seem to endear his works well to us who in our varied ways want to be Christ's letters to our world.

Tom G said...

I've come to know Chesterton late. His Everlasting Man is an astonishing (I use that word very advisedly) blend of wisdom, wit, and spice. His influence in C. S. Lewis is unmistakable; in fact, if you're wishing there was more of Lewis to read, you'll find much of his best qualities in Chesterton.