G.K. Chesterton: The 150th Anniversary

Mr Stuart McCullough

The best report of the birth of GKC is in his own autobiography, published shortly after his death:

Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian.

He went on to become a renowned journalist and author of more than 100 books. He is perhaps best remembered today for his crime fiction stories about Fr Brown. For more than a decade now, the BBC has been airing series after series (eleven so far!) of Father Brown, which is very loosely based on Chesterton’s Fr Brown stories. Most Chestertonians, if they ever watched it at all, soon stopped, as the name of the priest is about the only connection between Chesterton’s short stories and what the BBC have produced.

On 30 July 1922, Chesterton was received into the Catholic Church and over the following years became one of the most prolific and eloquent defenders of the faith, attracting many converts in his lifetime and many more after his death in 1936.

Cardinal Pacelli, the Vatican Secretary of state and the future Pope Pius XII, sent a telegram on behalf of Pope Pius XI, to the Archbishop of Westminster on the occasion of Chesterton’s death, which described Chesterton as a ‘gifted Defender of the Catholic Faith’. The Times newspaper decided not to print this because of the long use of this title by the Protestant Kings and Queens of England.

Chesterton was a strong opponent of eugenics, as shown in his book, Eugenics and Other Evils, before the Nazis and Stalin rose to power but still at a time when respectable politicians all over Europe were publicly supporting the eugenics movement. In 1925, Chesterton wrote an introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which he wrote, ‘The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him, whether he is part of the surplus population; or if not, how he knows he is not.’

In 1905, he published Heretics, an excellent book looking at many of the leading errors of his time (and ours) and those who expounded them. Some retorted in response to this book, ‘It is easy to criticise, but what does Mr Chesterton believe?’ Chesterton was very happy to reply with his 1908 book, Orthodoxy.

When his friend H G Wells published his useless Outline of History, Chesterton sat down to write his own real history, The Everlasting Man, with Christ at its centre. He also wrote masterly biographies of St Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas.

A conference celebrating Chesterton’s life, works and legacy will be held in London on Saturday 1 June 2024. The programme includes, among other talks, an in- depth look at The Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy, presented by Fr David Sherry and Kennedy Hall respectively, and a consideration of the cause for his beatification by myself.

Tickets for the conference are available until 17 May (Early Bird price until 3 May) at www.corner-cabinet.com/events

27 July 2024 will also see the 14th Annual GK Chesterton Walking Pilgrimage. For more information, including the prayer for his beatification, visit www.catholicgkchestertonsociety.co.uk


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