Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Chesterton a ‘prophet of our times’

By 
  • April 7, 2016

TORONTO – Although much of his work relies on long outdated references, there is still an inherent value to reading G.K. Chesterton’s essays, novels and short stories for Canadians today.

“In a world in which the fundamental realities of family, of gender, of social responsibility are challenged, we need the restorative sanity of G.K. Chesterton,” said Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins.

“We can all benefit from his marvellous writings and most edifying life.”

That benefit extends beyond the simple pleasure derived from the timeless humour throughout the late British writer’s work, said Collins. For while the comical nature of Chesterton classics such as the Father Brown stories, The Emperor’s New Clothes and Tremendous Trifles attracts many readers, it is the embedded insight and wisdom regarding matters of daily life which serve as the true benefit.

“We need to look to him for insight and for example,” said Collins. “In a world that I think in some ways has gone mad, he is a source of sanity, he is grounded and we all need to be that.”

Collins went on to note characteristics of Chesterton, and subsequently his writing, such as a sense of everlasting wonder, clarity in thought and communication as well as an ability to “not have his vision dulled by repetition” as qualities today’s Christians would do well to embody.

Collins spoke alongside Fr. Ian Boyd, founder and editor of The Chesterton Review, former media baron Conrad Black and Dermot Quinn, a professor at Seton Hall University and advisor to the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture, at the recent Chesterton Institute lecture. Held on April 2 at the University of St. Michael College, the event was a joint effort between the Archdiocese of Toronto, Seton Hall and the Chesterton Institute.

Born in 1874, Chesterton penned about 80 books, hundreds of poems, about 200 short stories, another 4,000 essays and a number of plays. Before his heart failed in 1936, Pope Pius XI dubbed Chesterton, a Catholic convert, a knight commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Quinn, who spoke last before the group of four fielded questions, also called Chesterton a man worth admiring.

“Chesterton was eccentric, titillating, vigourous and wise; a man worthy of admiration,” he said. “Chesterton continues to be received in this way.”

Rebekah Lamb, an assistant professor of literature at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ont., said her students are fascinated with Chesterton and his writing. Lamb taught a course last semester on his relationship with peers he considered friends, some of whom did not subscribe to Christian views.

“His friendship with George Bernard Shaw was a friendship of opposites; Shaw didn’t believe in God,” she said. “Chesterton, of course, has the opposite view yet he was able to treat Shaw with such dignity. So the goal of my course was to try to impart the way you can dialogue and disagree with other people in charity.

“He has a lot to teach us.”

An avid reader of Chesterton since he was a teenager, Collins is proof of that lesson.

“The study and reading of Chesterton over these 50 years has been fruitful in my own life and a source of refreshment and a source of great assistance. Over the years I’ve learned both from his wisdom and from his examples. In my current role as the archbishop of Toronto, the challenges that we find as Christians in an increasingly secular society, I have become ever more convinced that Chesterton is a prophet of our times.”

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