Wednesday 20th September 2017

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GKC… The Man Who Was Not A Child Of His Age

May 18, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a child in many ways. He was a child of the universe, a child of nature, a child of wonder, and a child of God.
But he was most certainly never a child of his age. An age is always narrow and one-sided. It has the infelicity of obstructing the timeless wonders of creation. “Every stone or flower is a hieroglyphic,” he wrote, “of which we have lost the key.”
He was a man possessed with a vision that was enlarged by his faith. “The Catholic Church,” he remarked, “is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
One of Chesterton’s editors described him as having “the freshness and directness of the child’s vision.” Journalist William Oddie states that when he thinks of Chesterton, a phrase that constantly comes to mind is: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it.”
“All my mental doors open outwards into a world I have not made,” he wrote. “My last door opens upon a world of sun and solid things. . . . The post in the garden; the thing I could neither create not expect…it is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Chesterton and his wife were unable to have children. Nonetheless, he gave a children’s party every year from which adults were rigorously excluded. One excluded parent asked if Mr. Chesterton was really as clever as everyone said. “Oh yes,” came the youngster’s reply, “you should see him catching buns in his mouth.”
Chesterton’s writings are relevant to our age because they are equally relevant to all ages. “The Catholic Church, as the guardian of all values,” he remarked, “guards also the value of words.”
And how Chesterton valued words, their meanings, their playfulness, and how they are windows to the world! “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”
In so saying, Chesterton reminds us, however subtly, that the words “fashions” and “fallacies,” so similar in sound, can be light years away from each other in meaning. “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might have gone wrong.”
Here, G.K. offers courage to people who are right and know that they are right. After all, the importance of an open mind is its capacity to grasp the truth. On the other hand, he chastises those who lack the will to re-examine their own assumptions. He could be playful, profound, and philosophical in a single epigram: “Pride is the falsification of fact by the introduction of self.”
To introduce G.K. Chesterton is to introduce him to his immense volume of writings. His life was free of both scandal and adventure. His words revealed his soul. And they were countless: more than four thousand articles, several biographies and an autobiography, the Father Brown priest/detective series, several plays, two hundred short stories, approximately eighty books on a variety of topics, and several hundred poems.
With regard to Saint Thomas Aquinas: “The Dumb Ox,” Thomistic scholar Etienne Gilson said: “I consider it as being without possible exception the best book ever written on St. Thomas Aquinas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement.”
G.K. had the uncanny ability to write two distinct articles at the same time, one by hand while dictating the other to a secretary. His close friend Hilaire Belloc said of him: “His mind was oceanic. He swooped upon an idea like an eagle, tore it with active beak into its constituent parts and brought out the heart of it. If ever a man analyzed finally and conclusively Chesterton did so.”
Concerning “Women’s Liberation,” Chesterton displayed both humor and insight:
“Twenty million young women rose to their feet with the cry, ‘we will not be dictated to,’ and proceeded to become stenographers.”
Concerning the claim that child raising confines a woman to a small world, Chesterton questioned how it be a large career to tell other people’s children about arithmetic and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe. “How can it be broad,” he asked, “to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?. . . I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”
Above all, Chesterton saw himself as a journalist. He wanted to bring his message directly to the ordinary citizen. He believed strongly in democracy and was not willing to deny a person his vote simply because of the accidental fact that he was no longer among the living. Therefore, he believed in tradition. He distrusted men who were clever and those who knew more and more about less and less.
“When civilization wants a library catalog or the solar system discovered,” he wrote, “or any trifle like that kind, it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done that is really serious, it collects 12 of the ordinary men standing about. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the founder of Christianity.”
Chesterton was adept at expressing a beautiful thought in a beautiful way. Two citations suffice to illustrate the point:
“If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?”
“The vow is to the man what the song is to the bird. . . . It is not easy to mention anything on which the enormous apparatus of human life can be said to depend. But if it depends on anything, it is on this frail cord, flung from the forgotten hills of yesterday to the invisible mountains of tomorrow.”
G.K. Chesterton, by all accounts, was a man of exceptional charity. He was always able to see something good in opponents with whom he disagreed intellectually.
For him, humanity was always more important than ideas.
Some of his admirers have seen reason to begin pressing for this great writer and human being’s canonization.

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