Thursday, June 14, 2018

G.K. Chesterton, RIP

From the Archbishop of Westminster, Arthur Hinsley, writing of G.K. Chesterton after his death on June 14, 1936:

We have lost a man, a big man of unique strength, a man of courage and conviction. G.K., as he was everywhere known, was an ardent Catholic, a lover of liberty, a sound philosopher, an apologist of highest value, a keen, clean humourist. He will be sadly missed in days when men in the mould of St. Thomas More are rare. Those who share our heritage of English speech may well owe a great debt to G.K. Chesterton for his work as a master artist. Some will certainly repay him with the meed of so many words. But his friends and comrades in the rank of the Church militant will remember chiefly that he staunchly fought the good fight and upheld the faith. To them words without prayers will seem a scant and empty requital of his unswerving loyalty.

Father Vincent McNabb, O.P. wrote that the shock of the words CHESTERTON IS DEAD made him moan almost with despair because of what he and the world had lost:

Londoner of Londoners. English of the English. Gilbert Chesterton towered shoulder high about his contemporaries. His massive body, crowned with a massive head, struck me as being only the well-proportioned outward visible sign of the massive intellectual, spiritual reality within. And this inward reality was in the sphere of memory, mind and heart. His memory was not just beyond the average, but far beyond the average. Had it not been balanced by equal powers of mind it would have been, as in lesser minds, a danger or even a disease. But Gilbert Chesterton's memory was a storehouse of such ordered facts that from it, almost at will and always at need, he could bring forth things old and new. In control of this vast, densely filled memory was a mind of more than average power. It was not just a power of reason - though few could reason better - it was an unusual power of instant intuition; which, the philosophers say, is to be found only in a few men; and, as the theologians say, is found in all the angels.

One of his books he called
An Outline of Sanity. The title was the man. His was the same healthy mind that recognizes in the outline the first necessary line of thought received or thought expressed. His thought about things was always the deep philosophical recognition not of resemblance but of differences. Unconsciously he acted on the principle that "a philosopher is one who knows how to divide." His rapidly moving intelligence recognised in one principle a hundred conclusions; and in one phenomenon of nature or one fact of history recognised a hundred principles. This made him the best of listeners. But whilst he listened even to something he had already heard and perhaps knew better than the speaker knew, his giant mind was tracing within the accurate outline of the subject an elaborate diaper of thought. The myriad epigrams of his style were not carefully designed effects. But they were the irrepressible and spontaneous results of a clear mind always set with philosophic instinct on discerning differences.

Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, was born on June 14, 1958. He wrote about Chesterton's death in 2014 for Crisis Magazine:

His death was front page news around the world and was met with an outpouring of spontaneous groans and genuine grief. Thousands of people who had never met Chesterton but who had welcomed him into their homes through his newspaper columns felt as though they had lost a friend. But the next few decades passed and he was forgotten. Then something quite contrary happened. Thousands of people suddenly found a friend in Chesterton. His books and essays surged back into print, and people got to know him all over again, embracing the sense of wonder and joy that lives on in his words.

We have witnessed a revival, and it has, of course, been personally gratifying as Chesterton has proved to be my friend, my hero, my mentor, my Virgil, who led me, not through the Inferno but through the comedy which is indeed divine. It is a great joke that he led this Baptist to the Catholic Church.

Chesterton's Eternities:

I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well hath He spoken: "Swear not by thy head.
Thou knowest not the hairs," though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees,

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.

Image: Self-portrait of Chesterton based on the Distributist slogan "Three acres and a cow"

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