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Monday, July 17, 2017

"ABCs of the Christian Life" (G.K. Chesterton)

TITLE: ABCs of the Christian Life: The Ultimate Anthology of the Prince of Paradox
AUTHOR: G.K. Chesterton (Foreword by Peter Kreeft)
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2017, (256 pages).

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, otherwise known as G.K. Chesterton is perhaps one of the wittiest and insightful authors I have ever known. Immensely quotable, he is a master with words. He uses ordinary words that can nuance the different meanings in a sentence. With theological insight and literary prowess, Chesterton's gift of writing is showcased in this book of selected 26 words that describe the Christian life. Using the number of English alphabets as a guide, each letter or phrase corresponds to a key Chesterton wit; a historical thought; a teaching moment; a recollection; or simply a random thought. Some of the language used have also been updated for modern readers. Gleaned from his books, articles, and many published materials, the words are very much Chesterton's, the selection the publisher's. The interests are wide-ranging. There are topics on spirituality such as Asceticism; Apologetics as in Orthodoxy; historical figures in St Thomas and St Joan; reflections on literature by Charles Dickens; comparative religions; and matters for daily living. Bethlehem is a reflection on Christmas. The chapter on "Suicidal Living" is an interesting one. Instead of some predictable essay about some problem-solving approach to the issue of suicide, Chesterton pokes deep into the human psyche, wasted virtues, loose vices gone mad, and surprisingly, humility. It is humility in the wrong place. Whether it is wrong ambition or misguided thinking that leads one toward suicide. There is that chapter on Queen Victoria, the model of "political unselfishness" who shows us that restraint is power in action. The letter X is represented strangely by the word "Sex." Chesterton reminds us that it must not be allowed to be a tyrant. On his own faith, "Catholicism," he insists that it is not a Church sect but a "ecclesia," a way of thinking. A nice thing about Chesterton's writings is that even as he dives deep into some philosophical thought, he would come up with a summary statement like a swimmer coming up for breath in a long distance swim.

There are many through-provoking phrases in this anthology.
  • "Now in truth while it has always seemed natural to explain St. Francis in the light of Christ, it has not occurred to many people to explain Christ in the light of St. Francis. Perhaps the word “light” is not here the proper metaphor; but the same truth is admitted in the accepted metaphor of the mirror. St. Francis is the mirror of Christ rather as the moon is the mirror of the sun." (35)
  • "Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed. . . . It is still bad taste to be an avowed atheist. But their agony has achieved just this–that now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian. . . But there are some people, nevertheless–and I am one of them–who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fght an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them." (55)
  • "Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some. . . in their almost too fastidious spiritualism, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. . . ." (60)
  • "The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues." (123)
  • "Comparative religion is very comparative indeed. That is, it is so much a matter of degree and distance and difference that it is only comparatively successful when it tries to compare. When we come to look at it closely we fnd it comparing things that are really quite incomparable. We are accustomed to see a table or catalogue of the world’s great religions in parallel columns, until we fancy they are really parallel. We are accustomed to see the names of the great religious founders all in a row: Christ; Muhammed; Buddha; Confucius. But in truth this is only a trick, another of these optical illusions by which any objects may be put into a particular relation by shifting to a particular point of sight. Those religions and religious founders, or rather those whom we choose to lump together as religions and religious founders, do not really show any common character. The illusion is partly produced by Islam coming immediately after Christianity in the list; as Islam did come after Christianity and was largely an imitation of Christianity." (113)
Behind it all, one soon realizes how much his own faith influences his writings. If you do not have time to read any of Chesterton's books, this anthology may very well push you to do that.

GK Chesterton is an English writer, poet, novelist, journalist, orator, and also a literary and art critic. He adheres to the Roman Catholic faith and has valiantly defended the Christian faith through one of his most popular books, Orthodoxy. Immensely quotable, his works are still widely admired and shared among social media and many literature communities. This anthology is simply a collection of Chesterton's works.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Ave Maria Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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