June 13: [Gilbert Keith Chesterton] Apologist and Writer, 1936

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Chesterton in 1905 by photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn.

About this commemoration

Born in 1874, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was one the intellectual giants of his day, and was known for his writing that spanned fields as diverse as literary criticism, fiction and fantasy, satire, and Christian apologetics. Chesterton often blended elements of such genres together, as indicated in his famous novel The Man Who Was Thursday, which combines a mystery plot with Christian imagery and symbolism. His work in the field of literary criticism was immensely influential in his day, and his book length study of Charles Dickens can be credited with bringing that author’s work back to the forefront of scholarly study.

As a young man, Chesterton had been fascinated with spiritualism and the occult, but his faith grew stronger over the years, as he devoted himself to the defense of what he called “orthodoxy,” which was for him, among other things, an acknowledgement of the mystery and paradox of Christian faith in an age of increasing skepticism. His spiritual journey toward the ancient faith of the Church culminated in his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in 1922.

In works such as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, Chesterton defended Christian faith with a unique blend of wit and religious fervor, while simultaneously satirizing the prevailing viewpoints of the day that often sought to dismiss faith as irrational and unnecessary. The latter work was particularly important to C.S. Lewis, who called it “the best apologetic work I know.” Today, Chesterton is still known and loved for his sharp wit, his intellectual tenacity, and his refusal to resolve the ambiguities of Christian faith in favor of facile and passing conceptions of truth. His work has influenced intellectual figures as diverse as Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy L. Sayers, and he is a figure beloved of Protestants and Catholics alike.


I  O God of earth and altar, who didst give G. K. Chesterton a ready tongue and pen, and inspired him to use them in thy service: Mercifully grant that we may be inspired to witness cheerfully to the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  O God of earth and altar, you gave G. K. Chesterton a ready tongue and pen, and inspired him to use them in your service: Mercifully grant that we may be inspired to witness cheerfully to the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 8


1 Chronicles 29:10–13

1 Corinthians 15:50–52

John 1:43–51

Preface of God the Father

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


18 thoughts on “June 13: [Gilbert Keith Chesterton] Apologist and Writer, 1936

  1. Although, unlike other converts from Canterbury to Rome (e.g., J.H. Newman), Chesterton never sneered at Anglicans, I remain troubled by our placing a convert to “the bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities” on the calendar of the Episcopal Church. If we really must have a Patron Saint of Detective Fiction, Dorthy L. Sayers, daughter of a C of E clergyman, Christian dramatist and apologist, translator of Dante and a life-long Anglican seems a better choice to me.

  2. Amen to John Morrell’s comment.
    What with Newman, Seaton, and Chesterton, one almost gets the impression that the best way to serve God is to leave the Anglican Communion. Is this the calendar of the Episcopal Church, or of the Ordinariate? A liturgical calendar, or a dictionary of saints and other nice people?
    Even more to the point, why include the deserters when there are so many loyal Episocpalians and Anglicans who have not been given a date? Such as John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (priest and patriot); James Madison, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson (vestrymen and fathers of religious liberty); John Marshall (church supporter and judge); Richard Channing Moore and William Meade (bishops, “the Ezra and Nehemiah” of the Diocese of Virginia), Sally Louisa Tompkins (nursing pioneer and philanthropist), Anna Ella Carroll (“the woman who saved the Union”); Elizabeth Van Lew (humanitarian); Robert E. Lee (churchman and post-war reconciler); John Johns (bishop, “twice savior” of Episcopal unity); Benjamin C.C. Parker and Archibald Romaine Mansfield (missionaries to and defender of sailors); Mary McLeod Bethune (educational pioneer); Franklin and Eleanore Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia (politicians); Emma Drant (deaconess and church planter) on the American side, and Thomas Coram (philanthropist and children’s advocate), Lachlan Macquarie (penal reformer, “The Father of Australia”); Benjamin Jowett, Rowland Williams, and Henry Bristow Wilson (Biblical scholars and theologians); Thomas Arnold (educational and church reformer), John Colenso (theologian and defender of African rights); John Snow (medical pioneer); Edith Cavell (nursing pioneer and humanitarian); Cecil Frances Alexander (poet, hymn writer, translator, philanthropist); Dorothy Sayers (author, Christian humanist, and Anglican apologist), and W.V. Adwry (priest and author) on the other side of the pond?

    • Steve, right on! I would add Ralph Vaughn Williams, Charles Williams, Percy Dearmer, T.S. Eliot and Michael Ramsey.

    • If that’s Wilbert Vere Awdry you’re referring to, he would be a really useful addition to HWHM.

      Chesterton, less so. I doubt that there is any serious case for calling him ‘one the intellectual giants of his day’; he was a lively writer and provocative essayist, but not a profound thinker. To judge by my own acquaintances, his fiction has outlived his religious writings, which seem to be seldom read. I see no example to follow, no insight to be grateful for. A fellow pilgrim, to be sure, but it would be best to leave it at that, I think.

      I make my usual protest against incorporating quotes from the commemorand in collects. It’s the liturgical equivalent of fast food—out of storage, a quick zap by someone on the SCLM, and there it is in our plate.

      • It was Wilbert Vere Awdry indeed: “He helped people see God in the ordinary things of life, and he made children laugh.”

  3. G.K. Chesterton was a Roman Catholic. Commemorating the apologists and writers of other denominations before we have exhausted the list of Anglican/Episcopal apologists and writers seems the wrong course for us.

    Collect: The opening phrase ‘O God of earth and altar’ is of course from his hymn (Hymnal 1982 #591). It is the strongest phrase in this very weak collect. It is fitting that the strongest phrase should be Chesterton’s own; but, the collect needs a rewrite.

    Readings: The New Testament reading (‘the trumpet shall sound’) is very nice – but too short at only two verses. The trumpet sounds … but only briefly! 🙂

    Bio: He needs a ‘He died in 1936’ statement.

  4. Did he ever say a prayer? Did he have a rule of life? Was he a participating part of a worshiping Church community?
    Did he give a hoot about anyone? Did he lift a finger in service, other than professionally as an author?

    I get the impression of a very successful, talented, conservative, professional author of Christian publications, but I don’t have a sense of a soul dwelling in the combination “c.v./persona” we have as our narrative today.

    IAside from ttis specific commemoration, I see ancillary issues about HWHM, but not exactly as others voice them. A large one is the goal of HWHM — “dictionary of saints” is a good way to summarize one approach, — a horrible approach, but an easy catch-all for a haphazard , mindless take on the task.

    I don’t see HWHM as a propaganda instrument, advertising and promoting TEC or Anglican Communion via poster children, celebrity testimonial, or religious success stories. The Anglican Way is, at least in part, to see God’s work in Christianity in its largest frame, not restricted by specific filters other than the Quadrilateral (and even THAT as applied aptly under the guidance of the Spirit). So ruling out holy women or holy men because they don’t have the right ecclesiastical parking permit on their windshield, seems wrong-headed to me. It’s God’s work that counts primarily, not denominational self-promotion.

    There are other unaddressed issues I’ve raised previously as “General Questions” about the direction of our calendar. I expect, with the plodding pace of conventions, work groups organized on the model of the diaspora, and the magnitude and delicate complexity of tasks assigned, all the fine points are NOT going to be resolved.

    Back to Chesterton, he had a great carreer, lots of peopke like his writings, but I want to know he lived his Christian life, and didn’t just write about Christian life. I can’t know that based on the present write-up.

  5. Lots of good comments here. I like Chesterton, but then I like a lot of writers whom I am not nominating for HWHM!

    I second the observation that Dorothy Sayers would be a more apt candidate for our calendar than GKC.

    The Collect (assuming we’re going to keep GKC, which I think is iffy): Oh, come on, folks! The world may have generally referred to him as “G. K. Chesterton,” but in collects we use full baptismal names. If we’re going to keep him, at least let’s name him as Gilbert Keith Chesterton. This is just sloppy.

  6. In one of her letters (June 1936) Dorothy L Sayers wrote to MRS Chesterton to praise GKC’s books which
    had had a strong influence on her (DLS)> She had read “Orthodoxy” when she was @ 15 and at school
    in Salisbury.

  7. “Wheree’er the Catholic sun doth shine
    there’s plenty of fun and good red wine.
    At least I’ve always found it so.
    Benedicamus Domino.”
    That verse alone should give him a place in the calendar.
    He is. needless to say, a favorite of mine.

  8. I have been away from HWHM & I’m enjoying catching up. Amen, amen to Dorothy Sayers. I enjoy the Father Brown mysteries & I’ve read Orthodoxy. It may indeed have influenced Sayers (I’ll certainly take her word for it) but I continue to have problem with adding those who turned their back on Anglicanism. I don’t think that’s the same thing as demanding our window sticker. There are many holy persons for whom I’d accept a commemoration in our calendar. But– as with Newman, when we explored this idea in a lot of detail– I am uncomfortable with adding people who weighed our way and found it seriously wanting. Not just converts to Rome, but converts FROM ANGLICANISM to Rome. (And John M– your fine old phrase cracked me up; thanks.)

    If however, that issue is deemed insufficient to decide about this commemoration, I strongly agree that we need some evidence in the bio that he was not just intellectually sharp, but in fact somehow HOLY. Great rhyme, Lionel, & I will quote it, but I don’t see that affection (yours, mine, the ABC’s, anyone’s) earns someone a spot in our calendar of Holy People. We have a lot of mission creep going on here…

  9. I suggest the subtitle should read “Author and Apologist”. During his lifetime, it would have been difficult to have been an Apologist without being a writer.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute “May 29,” for “in”.

    Last line, third paragraph: I am uncomfortable with “Protestants and Catholics”. I suggest, “Anglicans, Protestants, and Roman Catholics”.

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “in London” after “born”.

    Add a final paragraph: “Chesterton died at Beaconsfield in England on June 14, 1936.”

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