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Knight of the Holy Ghost: A Short History of G.K. Chesterton

by Dale Ahlquist

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

The introduction begins with the Canticle of Sirach. This puts us in a place where we long for G.K. Chesterton. He has regained a resurgence in popularity. “He describes the enemy without fear, describes the truth with precision, error with howling laughter, and the battle with an almost raucous joy.” The author then invites us to look over some of his famous quotes: “”We don’t need a Church that moves with the world; we need a Church that moves the world.” ”Freedom of speech means practically in our modern civilization that we must only talk about unimportant things” “” how can it be more important to teach a child how to avoid disease than how to value life?” These are just some of the wonderful ideas we read in the introduction on pages xi and xii. We know that quoting Chesterton is delicious. The trouble with a biography of Chesterton is that it is truly difficult to ‘capture him”. The good thing is that he wrote just as he talked.

The next section of the book is about Chesterton the man. In this section we see how deeply he was invested in his faith and his great love for his wife, Frances, even though she was an Anglican. As far as Chesterton’s conversion, the author states: “Though his conversion should be the most natural thing in all of the world, with all of his intellectual strength bearing down on one conclusion, it was painful, as painful as death. But in this faith, death is followed by resurrection.” Frances was unable to have children, both Frances and Chesterton dreamed of having 7 children, they had none. What they did was fill their house with other people’s children. They even went so far to have parties called NO-Adults-Allowed Parties. He had a great time catching buns in his mouth and enjoying other antics. When Chesterton was asked why he became Catholic, he answered: “To Get Rid of my Sins!” “He said that only the Catholic Church can do that, and when a man steps out of the Confessional, he is only 5 minutes old. His whole life has started over again.” Because of his large size, many accused him of overdrinking, he stated: “Theology and alcohol are things the nature of which can be easily explained and universally applied.” Apparently, he smoked like a chimney. He had a passion for justice but was not judgmental. He stated: “The reward of chastity is a clearness of the intellect.” One of his biggest worries was that he was neglecting his work. Chesterton was a compulsive and comic doodler and really loved looking at Art. Chesterton said he believed in the devil before he believed in God. “He was tempted to what he would later call the ultimate act of selfishness, the ultimate sin, suicide.” He said that faith should be aggressive, not doubt. His writing and speaking became more and more in demand, including France, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Palestine, Italy and America. In one of his speeches on marriage he stated: “A time is coming—very soon—when you will find that you want this ideal of marriage. You will want it as something hard and solid to cling to in this fast dissolving society. You will want it even more than you want to want divorce today.”

The next section, Chesterton the writer, is filled with stories that we would say Amen to today. “Chesterton argued that the disintegration of rational society is directly connected to a ‘drift from the hearth and the family’ the solution of course is a drift back.” This seems so true to our society today and the fracturing of our families and their interactions. He continues: “Americans though they claim to love freedom, actually prefer lawlessness. The modern world is the enemy of freedom. Liberty with its attendant risks is preferable to a controlled society regulated by the state and dictated by commerce. Power is in the hands of the few and most everyone else is, one way or another, dependent on those few. It is simply a matter of injustice, even if it is not a simple matter to cure injustice.” “There are some readers who enjoy Chesterton but who want nothing to do with how he distributes wealth in our society.” Just as you cannot separate Chesterton from his Catholicism, you cannot separate him from his ideas on Catholic social teaching. You cannot separate him from his passion for God or his passion from his neighbor. You cannot separate the two great commandments. Chesterton wad dedicated to both. He gave his entire life to serving them. There was nothing wasted about the effort.” The Father Brown Stories are stories that are beloved. The series started with a friendly conversation about an article Chesterton was proposing to write about ‘some rather sordid social questions of vice and crime’. This priest-sleuth whose strength was two-fold: first he could solve crimes because he could get inside not only the criminal mind but the criminal heart and secondly, the criminals would not suspect him to suspect them. These videos continue to be popular today.

The last section is about Chesterton, the saint. “The mystic says Chesterton, shows us the other side of things. The mystic is in two worlds at once, and the spiritual world with its greater reality is not obscured by the physical world with its lesser but still very important reality.” What Chesterton understands and his whole life demonstrates is that there is a wholeness to holiness and a wholesomeness to holiness so that it is really possible to be in the world and not of the World. …it is possible to consume the world but not be consumed by the world. Chesterton is the Knight of the Holy Ghost and Dale Ahlquist presents the information in such a way as to engage and entice all of us to live a life in relationship to the work of Chesterton, filled with the Holy Spirit and a joy of knowing Christ in his life.

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