G K Chesterton
Dates: 29 May 1874 – 14 June 1936
Occupation: Writer, Catholic apologist.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a larger than life figure, both physically and in his manner, and was described by George Bernard Shaw as ‘a man of colossal genius’. Author of the ‘Father Brown’ stories, Chesterton was also well known for his books on Catholic apologetics, many written before he himself finally joined the Church.
Chesterton’s was a long spiritual journey, from dabbling in the occult to his final embracing of the Catholic faith. One of his influences was his fellow writer, and lifelong Catholic, Hilaire Belloc. Chesterton’s delay in joining the Church was influenced partly by a desire not to offend his wife (who later followed him) or his mother.
Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man was influential in the conversion to Christianity of C S Lewis, who himself became a great Christian apologist.
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
“It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.”
“Saving the grace of God, my own conversion to Catholicism was entirely rational; and certainly not at all ritualistic … I accepted it because it did afford conviction to my analytical mind. But people can see the ritual and are seldom allowed to hear of the philosophy.”
“One mark distinguishes all the wild innovations and insurrections of modern intellectualism; one note is apparent in all the new and revolutionary religions that have recently swept the world; and that note is dullness. They are too simple to be true.”
“To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think. … The Catholic convert has for the first time a starting-point for straight and strenuous thinking. He has for the first time a way of testing the truth in any question that he raises.”
“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it.”
“The danger when men cease to believe in God is not that they will believe in nothing but that they will believe anything.”
“The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
“We have come out of the shallows and the dry places to the one deep well; and the Truth is at the bottom of it.”
Chesterton’s wife Frances converted not long after her husband, but commented that she “had a hard fight not to let my love for him lead me to the truth”. After her conversion, her friend Maisie Ward wrote that she had “never known a happier Catholic … once the shivering on the bank was over and the plunge had been taken. One would say she had been in the Church all her life.”
Huge amounts of material about G K Chesterton are available on the internet, but his own books speak most eloquently of his journey in faith. Chesterton also has a place of prominence in Joseph Pearce’s book, Literary Converts.