G.K. Chesterton: Esential Writings

I was surprised to see a volume on G.K. Chesterton in the Modern Spiritual Masters series from Orbis book. I’ve thought of GKC as a literary figure and as an apologist, but not a spiritual master. After reading the book, I am not ready to call GKC a “spiritual master” but I have a deeper appreciation of this man’s passion for God and clear thinking.

The editor of the volume, William Griffin, sorted through GKC’s vast amount of writing and selected 175 pages of text. Many of the texts are drawn from GKC’s works Orthodoxy and Heretics. The volume concludes with a transcript of the famous debate with George Bernard Shaw about Distributism (an economic theory which GKC promoted). None of Chesterton’s poetry or fiction is included in this anthology.

In his helpful, and at times funny, introduction, Griffin points out 3 characteristics of GKC’s life and writings indicating the key characteristics of his spirituality. The notes preceding each selection highlight how each of these characteristics is present in the passage. The first two charateristics of “Paradoxy” and “Hilarity” are familiar to anyone who has read GKC before. GKC is a master of paradox and often uses parodox to point to mystery and absurdity. “Hilarity” is more difficult to pin down and depends on your sense of humor. I enjoy GKC’s wit but know that it is not to everyone’s taste. “Humility” is the third characteristic pointed out. It is not a virtue I would have associated with GKC. This anthology didn’t convince me. While GKC is humble, in the sense of being rooted in reality, his intellectual flights are hard to reconcile with the earthiness I associate with humility. His thought always seems a little “airy” to me.

The writings are classified into seven sections which are not clearly defined but go under the titles: “Habits of the Heart,” “Habits of Mind,” “Habits of Soul,” “Habits of Observance,” “Habits of Discernment,” “Habits of Belief,” and “Habits of Debate.”

Overall, the book is worth reading. If you like GKC already you will have a chance to appreciate him anew. If you don’t know GKC you will get a nice taste of his non-fiction work. If you don’t like GKC you will find more of what you don’t like.

A brief note on the Modern Spiritual Masters series. I am excited by the volumes presented so far. These volumes offer a broad selection of writers. They are a nice size and feel good in the hands (never to be underestimated). They are short enough to be an introduction, but long enough to have some substance. Thank you again, Orbis books!

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