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May 29 G.K.Chesterton's quest for orthodoxy


One of the greatest writers in the English language at the beginning of the 20th Century. On an intense spiritual journey that took him from unitarianism into the occult, then via Anglicanism to Catholicism. Writing poetry, criticism, fiction, biography, columns, public debate, and a famous radio series he was one of the most influential voices of his time.




Baptised into the Church of England, his family were practising Unitarians (albeit irregularly). Unitarianism had emerged in the northern Baltic countries and they believed that the God in Christianity is one entity, as opposed to a Trinity, they believed Jesus was a saviour and inspired by God in his moral teachings, but that he was not a deity or God incarnate. In this unorthodox climate, as a young man, Chesterton became fascinated with the occult and, along with his brother Cecil, experimented with Ouija boards. He married, Frances Blogg in 1901 bud sadly the couple were unable to have children. The marriage lasted the rest of his life and Chesterton credited Frances with leading him back to Anglicanism, before he entered full communion with the Catholic Church in 1922. An oracular man of letters, his literary corpus and legacy is impressive and various biographers have identified him as a successor to such Victorian authors as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman, and John Ruskin. An important cultural presence, in 1931, the BBC invited Chesterton to give a series of radio talks. He accepted, tentatively at first. However, from 1932 until his death, Chesterton delivered over 40 talks per year. He was allowed (and encouraged) to improvise on the scripts and his talks were very popular. A BBC official remarked, after Chesterton's death, that "in another year or so, he would have become the dominating voice from Broadcasting House.

His writing was prolific, poetry, criticism, fiction, biography, columns, public debate, and he was known to early-20th-century newspaper readers as “GKC”. His book ‘Orthodoxy’ is a masterpiece of Christian apologetics and another book ‘Everlasting Man’ was a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells' The Outline of History. Wells' had portrayed human life and civilisation as a seamless development from animal life and of Jesus Christ as merely another charismatic figure. Chesterton illustrated the spiritual journey of humanity, or at least of Western civilisation. C. S. Lewis, credited The Everlasting Man with "baptising" his intellect. However, perhaps his most enduring creation was the fictional priest-detective Father Brown who was perpetually correcting the bewildered folks at the scene of the crime and wandering off at the end with the criminal to exercise his priestly role of reconciliation and repentance. In this Chesterton often clothed complex abstract ideas in accessible, concrete and memorable images. The Father Brown series is full of carefully concealed parables, for example, in the story "The Flying Stars", Father Brown entreats the character Flambeau to give up his life of crime:

"There is still youth and honour and humour in you; don't fancy they will last in that trade. Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down. The kind man drinks and turns cruel; the frank man kills and lies about it. Many a man I've known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber of the rich, and ended stamped into slime.

T. S. Eliot wrote He was importantly and consistently on the side of the angels. Behind the Johnsonian fancy-dress, so reassuring to the British public, he concealed the most serious and revolutionary designs—concealing them by exposure ... Chesterton's social and economic ideas...were fundamentally Christian and Catholic. He did more, I think, than any man of his time—and was able to do more than anyone else, because of his particular background, development and abilities as a public performer—to maintain the existence of the important minority in the modern world. He leaves behind a permanent claim upon our loyalty, to see that the work that he did in his time is continued in ours

There is a campaign to beatify him, with an influential group of Catholic, mainly in America proposing it. It has now reached the prayer-cards stage, with people being encourage to pray for his intercession. However unfair accusations of anti-semitism taint his legacy, leading to one of his admirers, Ann Farmer, to publish a book in his defense called Chesterton and the Jews: Friend, Critic, Defender. When Chesterton died in 1936, he was morbidly obese & his coffin was too huge to be carried down the stairs of his house and so went out of a second-floor window like the paralyzed man lowered through a hole in the roof in the Gospel. His words have felt for many to have been prophetically right as one commentator has said fearing and detesting the centripetal, black-hole suck of the almighty modern Self, he faced the other way: into the fact of Creation. At his funeral the famous preacher Ronald Knox said in a homily, all of this generation has grown up under Chesterton's influence so completely that we do not even know when we are thinking Chesterton