Friday, April 11, 2014

Schall on Chesterton

James V. Schall, Schall on Chesterton: Timely Essays on Timeless Paradoxes. Catholic University of America Press, 2000. 267 pages. ISBN 0-8132-0963-3

It is a real treat when you have one of your favorite writers writing about one of your other favorite writers. Fr. Schall says in this book that he is using essays by Chesterton to think with Chesterton on the truth of things. Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a famous Catholic writer who lived from 1874-1936. The publisher has this to say about Chesterton: He "was a gifted journalist, essayist, biographer, poet, novelist, playwright, philosopher, debater, and defender of common sense, of Christianity, and of the Catholic faith." Reading Chesterton gives the reader a well-rounded education. Chesterton was also a major influence on the life and writings of C. S. Lewis. Two of the most influential books on Lewis's life and conversion were The Everlasting Man by Chesterton and Phantastes by George MacDonald.

We have steadily been reading through the works of Chesterton in our book group. What I have found in reading his works is that Chesterton has a broad Christian humanistic vision. He writes within the Great Christian Tradition. His writings tie in faith and reason, reason and imagination. One cannot get a better view of the Christian faith than Chesterton.

The publisher summarizes the content of the book: "In this book of essays, Father James V. Schall, a prolific author himself and a prominent Catholic writer, brings readers to Chesterton through a witty series of original reflections prompted by something Chesterton wrote--timely essays on timeless issues. Like Chesterton, Schall consciously leads the reader to the reality of what is, of what is true and what is at the heart of things." Schall is a gifted essayist, as was Chesterton. These essays helps the reader to think on the important things of life. How can I see life from a Christian perspective. It is written in clear prose and is intelligible to the general reader.

Schall on Chesterton includes an introduction on Chesterton and a reflection on Chesterton at the end. He makes the following observation of Chesterton: "Chesterton in fact possessed a singular intelligence in which everything, even the smallest remark, seemed to be related to Wisdom. He could not see something without seeing everything, yet he really saw the something, the particular, the variable, the unique." Schall also notes that paradox is a prominent element in the writings of Chesterton, as it is in the Bible.

This book includes over 40 essays. Some of the topics discussed: pride, tradition, the direction of the world, stars, books, dectective stories, war, babies, virtue, duty, humanism, secular things, Belloc, return of Christ, dogmas, the ten commandments, and many more. It is quite interesting how Chesterton can talk about any one thing and talk about everything. This is a book of wisdom that leads to the "truth of things." What is truth? How are we to live our life? How can we experience joy and wonder in this world? These are the types of questions answered by Schall and Chesterton.

Schall makes an interesting note about the writing of these essays: "Let me say one final thing about these essays. I almost never knew, when I sat down to write them, what I was going to write about. They usually arose from something that I just picked up and began thumbing through. I began to realize that Chesterton was simply alive with thought, that he was amazingly coherent. Once I began a line of thought that he had somehow suggested to me, it was impossible not to continue, to complete the thought in my own fashion. These essays are, in this sense, my essays, not Chesterton's. All good teachers, even ones that we have never met, lead us not to themselves, but to the truth, to what is. Chesterton never failed to do this. I realize, now that I am older, that I shall simply never have the time to read and fathom all that is in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aqinas, Johnson, or Chesterton. It cannot be done. And yet, one has the uncanny impression with all these writers, Chesterton included, that everything that they knew and wanted us to know was somehow contained in a mere fragment of their work" (Xiii-xiv). I have never met Chesterton or Schall. I know them, however, through their books. One could not hope for better teachers than Chesterton and Schall.

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