‘Excellent and Beautiful’ – Classic Books For Catholic Kids Paul Pagano, along with his wife Anna, run a small bookstore out of their home. They started it last year when they realized that their collection of classic children’s books, which they began for their own young family, was something they felt compelled to share with … Read more
Chesterton the Irishman “Most Irish consider G.K. Chesterton to be an Irishman and George Bernard Shaw to be an Englishman.” Dale Ahlquist, the intrepid head of the American Chesterton Society, visited Dublin to talk with the Chestertonians there about their favorite author. Here, Dale tells Regina Magazine’s Tamara Isabell about his trip, the Irish, and … Read more
‘Finding Grace’ in 1970s America by Dan Flaherty Finding Grace presents a penetrating retrospective on the radical changes of a turbulent eight-year span in America between 1972 and 1980. It tells the tale of a girl’s striving for sanctity as she comes of age during a time of revolutionary changes in the Church and in … Read more
Regina Magazine is happy to accept unsolicited queries and articles, though as a start-up publication we regret that we cannot pay writer or photographers at this time. Contributors should familiarize themselves with the magazine (see About Us and Our Story) before sending their submission, and include with it a cover letter giving an explanation of … Read more
William Byrd’s Secret Catholic Masterpieces
He was a hit-maker — Queen Elizabeth’s favorite composer, highly regarded at her wealthy and powerful Court. But in reality, William Byrd led a double life. Modern scholars, like Duke Musicology professor Kerry Robin McCarthy, continue to unearth more details of how Byrd somehow kept his reputation, his job, his property, and his life, as both a Court composer who played Elizabeth’s tune and as a heavily-fined recusant Catholic who wrote Mass music for hounded Catholic worshipers — all at the same time. It may be safe to say that Queen Elizabeth and his other Protestant contemporaries, like many of the rest of us, simply could not resist his genius. This is about not just Christmas Carols.
This article was inspired by Suzanne Duque Salvo’s July 2013 article “Upper Class and Underground,” in Regina Magazine. All quotes in this article are from Professor McCarthy’s 2013 biography, ‘Byrd,’ from The Master Musician series published by Oxford University Press.
by Roseanne T. Sullivan
As Duke University Music scholar Kerry McCarthy noted in her biography of William Byrd, the Catholic composer was born at “an unusually volatile moment in English history.” 1540 was the year that King Henry VIII “finished dismantling the monasteries and convents.” Monastic libraries were looted and their books used for scrap paper — some of which made its way into toilets, so despised were the ancient liturgies and music of the Catholic Church.
The Latin Mass was banned altogether; replaced with a stripped-down English service. “What had taken place daily at every pre-Reformation altar, from the humblest parish church to the greatest cathedral, was now a rare and dangerous luxury.”
But a closer look at two of Byrd’s works for Christmastide reveal a fascinating story. The first is an English carol from a Byrd songbook, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I’s Chancellor. The second is a set of Propers for a Christmas Mass from a collection that Byrd published later in his life and dedicated to a Baron who secretly held prohibited Catholic Masses in his home.
Holbein portrait of King Henry VII: “1540 [Byrd’s birth year] was the year the workshop of Hans Holbein produced the iconic ‘Rome portrait’ of the forty-nine-year-old Henry VIII, glowering at the viewer with fists clenched, the massive canvas barely able to contain his bulk.”
William Byrd published a wide variety of music, including religious music not specifically Catholic. Protestants allowed polyphonic settings of Psalm texts, so most of the religious works he published were motets that set Psalm texts in Latin or English. He also published religious songs in English.
It is clear, however, that Byrd subtly thumbed his nose at the Protestant majority by his choice of texts. Many were about throwing off oppressors and pleading for God to rescue an (allegorical) Jerusalem. Some were ‘gallows texts’—Psalm verses that were well-known among Catholics in England’s underground as the last words of martyred priests.
Monastic libraries were looted and their books used for scrap paper — some of which made its way into toilets, so despised were the ancient liturgies and music of the Catholic Church.
“Lullaby,” a Christmas Carol
In 1588, Byrd published an elegant songbook, Psalms, Sonnets and Songs. According to McCarthy, the elegance of this songbook may have been part of an attempt to reestablish his reputation at court. “He spent most of the decade under constant suspicion of illegal Catholic activities.“
Psalms, Sonnets and Songs (1588) title page, which reads in part “Songs very rare and newly composed are here published for the recreation of all such as delight in music, by William Byrd, one of the gentlemen of the Queen’s Majesty’s honorable Chapel. With the privilege of the royal majesty.”
Fortunately for Byrd’s reputation, the 1588 songbook was a hit, and his English Christmas carol from that songbook, “Lullaby,” became an enduring favorite. The Earl of Worcester wrote fourteen years later, in 1602, that “we are frolic [joyful] here in court … Irish tunes are at the time more pleasing, but in winter Lullaby, an old song of Mr. Byrd’s, will be more in request, as I think.”
In view of his earlier thinly-disguised protests in the texts of his Psalm settings, it is tempting to see a similar vein in his Lullaby, with this line, “O woe and woeful heavy day when wretches have their will!” and a prediction that even though the wicked king sought to kill the King (Jesus), the Son of God would reign, “whom tyrants none can kill.”
In spite of all the attendant risks, Byrd increasingly used his talents to serve the Catholic liturgy while almost the entire English population abandoned the ancient Faith.
Third Mass of Christmas Day, Puer Natus Est
In 1607, nineteen years after Lullaby, and about a decade after he published settings for the Ordinary of the Mass (his immortal Masses for Three, Four, and Five Voices still sung today), Byrd published his polyphonic setting of the Latin Propers for the third Mass of Christmas Day. This Mass was published in a collection called Gradualia, along with Christmas motets. Byrd had retired from the Royal Court to live in Essex by then, where he worshiped with, played and created sacred music for a gathering of Catholics in the home of Baron John Petre.
Byrd wrote in the dedication of his second Gradualia that the music had “proceeded from [John Petre’s] house, most generous to me and mine.”
Byrd had retired from the Royal Court to live in Essex by then, where he worshiped with, played and created sacred music for a gathering of Catholics in the home of Baron John Petre.
Byrd managed to get the necessary printing approvals for the Gradualia from no less a personage than Richard Bancroft, the Anglican Bishop of London. According to McCarthy, the bishop who gave the approval apparently did so because he thought the Propers would contribute to dissension in the ranks of Catholics.
Perhaps partly due to the danger of discovery that he envisioned for singers of his propers, Byrd kept the individual propers short. “His elegant little offertories and communions—some of them are barely a minute long—could hardly be further removed from the leisurely Latin motets.”
“When he described his settings of the Mass Proper in his 1605 preface, he called them ‘notes as a garland to adorn certain holy and delightful phrases of the Christian rite.’”
In spite of all the attendant risks, Byrd increasingly used his talents to serve the Catholic liturgy while almost the entire English population abandoned the ancient Faith. Perhaps he had his own end in mind.
In the will he signed in 1622, the year before he died, Byrd wrote this prayer, “that I may live and die a true and perfect member” of the “holy Catholic Church, without which I believe there is no salvation for me.”
A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Portrait commonly (but mistakenly) believed to be of Byrd, according to historian Kerry McCarthy. “There is no evidence that the well-known engraved portrait of Byrd; is anything but a fanciful eighteenth-century artist’s rendition of an Elizabethan gentleman.” This engraving by Gerard van der Guch, after a drawing by Nicola Francesco Haym, c.1729, is in the British Museum.
In his 1622 will, Byrd wrote this prayer, “that I may live and die a true and perfect member” of the “holy Catholic Church, without which I believe there is no salvation for me.”
One of the hottest pages on Facebook these days goes by the unlikely name of “The Catholic Gentleman.” Here’s Regina Magazine’s exclusive interview with the young gentleman behind this fascinating look into the minds and hearts of young American Catholics today.
Q. So, you are “The Catholic Gentleman” on Facebook, but who are you, really?
A. My real name is Sam Guzman, and I am 25 years old. I live in the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin, USA.
I am not a cradle Catholic; I am a convert. My journey to Catholic faith is too long to share here, but very briefly, I was raised protestant with a strong Reformed influence—as in the doctrines of John Calvin. In college, I strongly considered becoming a Baptist minister, and further on my road to Rome, an Anglican priest. Eventually, after much agonizing study and prayer, I realized that Jesus had founded only one true Church, and I had to unite with it to be faithful to him. My wife and I were confirmed in the Catholic and Apostolic Faith Easter of 2012.
By day, I am the Communications Director for Pro-Life Wisconsin, a legislative action and educational organization dedicated to defend the dignity of human life from conception until natural death.
I am married to a beautiful woman, and I am the father of three children—one in heaven, one just over a year, and one about to be born.
Q. How did you arrive at the idea for this page?
A. For many years, I have been a faithful reader of the site, The Art of Manliness—a blog which seeks to encourage a revival of classic manhood. AoM regularly features articles on everything from shaving, to starting a fire, to virtuous manhood. Frequently, posts will center on manly heroes, such as Teddy Roosevelt, and draw practical wisdom from their lives.
While praying about how I could serve the Church, the idea occurred to create a Catholic version of The Art of Manliness. Instead of inspiring men with the example of Teddy Roosevelt, I envisioned sharing the lives of the masculine gentleman saints from the history of the Church. After all, these extraordinary men modeled true holiness, masculinity, toughness, and courage better than anyone else.
Rather than sharing advice on the virtuous life from Ben Franklin, I envisioned blogging about the four cardinal virtues, the three theological virtues, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and other treasures of wisdom and knowledge left to us by Holy Mother Church. I realized more strongly than before that everything a man needs to know is contained in the Catholic faith, and I simply wanted to share that with the world. The Catholic Gentleman was born.
Everything a man needs to know is contained in the Catholic faith, and I simply wanted to share that with the world. Hence, The Catholic Gentleman was born.
Q. What are you trying to accomplish?
A. First and foremost, it is my desire to inspire men to be saints by creating an atmosphere—an ethos—of Catholic manliness. Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing more manly, challenging, or rewarding than the pursuit of holiness. The truest men were the saints.
Unfortunately, the Church has been effeminized and softened in recent years, and men have drifted away. This happened for a number of reasons, but seeking to deny it will do no good. It is a fact. Most men no longer see the Catholic faith as something worthy of a man’s interest, and this is a tragedy in the highest degree. I want to counteract this notion by presenting images that portray the strength, majesty, and beauty of the Catholic faith.
Along the way, I hope to encourage a revival of classic manliness. Men today are told that they are either fools, belching brutes, or effeminate fops. This simply isn’t true. Men (I include myself) need to know traditional manly arts like how to treat a lady, iron their pants, use technology responsibly, defend their families, or polish their shoes.
I want to emphasize that I am very much learning as I go. It has been said that the best way to learn is to teach, and I find that adage true. By no means do I consider myself the master of all things manly or Catholic. But that really isn’t the point. True masculinity is a journey, and we are all at different stages of it. I am the one managing the page and writing the posts, but this community is about journeying side by side, encouraging one another and learning together.
Finally, I want to have fun. Catholics know how to have a good time, and I want the page to be a place where men can talk about manly things and enjoy themselves. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world, and we all need somewhere to laugh and be encouraged, even if it is an online community.
Men today are told that they are either fools, belching brutes, or effeminate fops. This simply isn’t true.
Q. What is your definition of a Catholic Gentleman?
A. Above all, the Catholic gentleman has God at the center of his life, informing every decision, desire, and action. He loves and protects everything that is good and true. He fights zealously for the honor of Christ and his Bride, the Catholic Church. He pursue holiness with his whole heart, mind, and strength. He is a virtuous man.
The Catholic gentleman is also cultured and courteous. He doesn’t dress like a slob, and he is respectful of others. He is temperate and self-controlled. He knows how to treat a lady, and he cherishes true femininity. He is humble enough to learn from others, and he does not scorn wisdom or learning. He does not sink to the lowest common denominator or choose the path of least resistance. Instead, he is always ready to courageously embrace sacrifice and suffering.
The Catholic gentleman loves and protects everything that is good and true. He does not sink to the lowest common denominator or choose the path of least resistance.
Q. Can you give us some examples of Catholic gentleman — from history, from today?
A. There are countless Catholic gentleman, but among the saints, St. Francis de Sales is foremost. This humble man was universally known for his gentle courtesy and the warmth of his charity. He even earned the nickname, “the gentleman saint.” You can read my profile of him in the link above.
Among modern Catholic men, I believe Pope Benedict XVI is a shining example of Catholic gentlemanliness. While he is often overshadowed by the charismatic John Paul II and Pope Francis, Pope Benedict is a wonderful and holy man, and it is hard to overestimate his contributions to the Church. He possesses both a profound intellect and a profound humility, and throughout his pontificate, he sought to promote the treasures of Catholic culture—artistically, musically, and liturgically.
Q. Who are your fans? Male? Female?
A. Due to the nature of the content, most of the fans are men. However, I am continually surprised at how many women readers we have. While I can’t speak for all women, I believe women are drawn to true masculinity, just as men are drawn to true femininity. While feminism has sought to effeminize men, deep down women love men that are tough and strong, but who are also gentle and holy. That is my theory, anyway!
It is also worth noting that we have protestant readers. Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians have left comments that they enjoy the page. I always take the opportunity to encourage them to become Catholic!
Q. How do people react to your page? Any negatives?
A. We had one angry atheist pay a visit, but other than that, all the feedback has been very positive. It is incredible to see the passionate community that has formed in a short amount of time.
Q. What are your plans for the page you have created?
Long term, I want to give back to the fans with opportunities for them to share their projects and passions. I am still working out exactly how this will be done, but I am constantly receiving links to great things men are working on, and I want to share them in some way.
In addition, I am working on a book. While the blog is a great venue for sharing brief thoughts, I see the need for a full length book covering Catholic manhood. There are many such books for women, but only a few for men.
We had one angry atheist pay a visit, but other than that, all the feedback has been very positive. It is incredible to see the passionate community that has formed in a short amount of time.
Following the English Apostle of Common Sense into the Catholic Church
by Angie Gadacz
“Ask after the dox. Ask how long the dox has been in the world. How many nations or centuries have believed in the dox? How often the dox has proved itself right. In practice, how often have thoughtful men returned to the dox? In theory, pursue the dox, persecute the dox. In short, ask the dox whether it is orthodox.”
G. K. Chesterton
In the 1920s, British writer G. K. Chesterton famously used ‘common sense’ to find his way into the Catholic Church. Now, many decades later and half a world away, another Protestant has followed in Chesterton’s footsteps.
As an American Baptist Evangelical and a C.S. Lewis fan, Dale Ahlquist’s curiosity about Chesterton was piqued after learning how Chesterton influenced Lewis. As he read his way through Chesterton’s prolific work, Ahlquist was so stunned that he began to feel that his four years spent in a liberal arts college was ‘fraudulent.’
How was it that he had discovered one of the greatest writers of the last century — a giant intellect with unmatched literary accomplishment — yet had never heard about him at university? He had learned about most of Chesterton’s contemporaries such as George Bernard Shaw, yet Chesterton was never mentioned.
After 16 years, Dale was received into the Catholic Church, he says, due to Chesterton’s words.
Not to Let the Next Generation Be Cheated
Today, Ahlquist is one of the top Chesterton scholars in the world. Determined not to let the next generation be cheated, he has dedicated his life to educating people about the great truths promoted by Chesterton.
As president of the American Chesterton Society, he’s is an internationally sought-after speaker, giving Chesterton talks on a variety of topics at colleges and other venues. (Chesterton seemed to have something to say about virtually every topic.)
“Aside from Chesterton’s literary importance,” says Ahlquist, “is his importance as a great soul and a great teacher. He tells the truth that we need to hear. And he tells the truth with great wit and beauty.”
Ahlquist also hosts an EWTN television series, G.K. Chesterton-The Apostle of Common Sense. He does frequent radio interviews on Morning Air with Sean Herriot (a Relevant Radio program), Kresta in the Afternoon (an Ave Maria Radio program), and others. The Society has also produced about 50 Chesterton Minute radio segments for EWTN radio networks.
1920’s British English
How should a modern reader approach Chesterton?
As some may find his 1920’s British English to be somewhat daunting, Ahlquist has written a series of books to help new readers engage in Chesterton’s work. These serve as a virtual ‘intro to Chesterton’ course and include G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, and The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton. Ahlquist then recommends that new readers should pick up G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and read it through three times!
Saint G.K. Chesterton?
Recently, the Catholic world has focused on the American Chesterton Society. At the annual Chesterton conference on August 1, Ahlquist was delighted to announce that His Eminence Peter Doyle, Bishop of Northampton (UK) will start the process to determine if a cause for Sainthood should be opened for GK Chesterton.
Ahlquist says that he has been in regular contact with Bishop Doyle ‘through various forms of communication, although none face to face.’ He also worked with Bishop Doyle’s predecessor to open a cause for the canonization of G.K. Chesterton.
It took a long time to convince the Bishop that there was a local cult devoted to Chesterton, in spite of the obvious presence of a universal cult. When people in England started making their presence known to Bishop Doyle, however, he was very gracious.
Looking for a dose of common sense? If you’re tired of the insanity that pervades so much of our culture, visit www.chesterton.org.
Dale says of Bishop Doyle, “In addition to our persistence, I think he was very moved by the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman (2010), which created great excitement in the Catholic Church in England. Then, most recently, he found out that Pope Francis is not only a Chesterton fan, but, when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, approved a prayer for Chesterton’s intercession to be used for private devotion. That was an eye-opener.”
Dale and the American Chesterton Society are assisting in the process of working on Chesterton’s cause towards canonization. The clerics assigned to the cause will be required to conduct a thorough investigation into Chesterton’s life. The Society has spent years collecting this material; this may save much time in the research phase.
The Society’s goal is to show Chesterton’s great joy in defending the Catholic faith, and relevance to our own time. They publish Gilbert Magazine which addresses today’s controversial topics with Chesterton’s prophetic words. Certainly Chesterton saw the Culture of Death coming, Ahlquist says, pointing out that Chesterton confronted many of these problems squarely, as he foresaw today’s attacks against marriage, the family and the Faith.
“He is exactly what we need for today,” Ahlquist says. “It is great to see that the Church recognizes that he could be a saint. I am really privileged to have played a small role in the Chesterton revival. I hope I can do even more.”
Chesterton’s wit also seems to be contagious. Does Ahlquist have a favorite show to promote Chesterton?
“Well, I hear that “G.K. Chesterton – The Apostle of Common Sense” on EWTN is pretty popular, but I can’t bear to watch it,” he says with a twinkle. “The host is insufferable.”
By Robert Beaurivage
We live in times where the idea that ‘everything is relative’ has trumped all. Catholics in the West are now routinely admonished by our neighbors, politicians, academia and the media that our Faith is merely a matter of opinion, just one among many. Moreover, Catholicism is an opinion that some of our fellow men find particularly inconvenient.
Small wonder that today Catholics seem like a defeated people, befuddled by politics and economics. Gone is the conviction of Jesus’s first disciples when they went forth to “teach all nations.”
As a result of our befuddlement, Catholics now stand in danger of losing our patrimony, our inheritance, and our way through this Valley to the longed-for Paradise in the next. We also stand to lose everything that can make our way through this life so delightful –‘the Good, the Beautiful and the True’ elements of a Catholic society.
What can shake us out of our doldrums? Well, a large dose of ‘the Good, the Beautiful and the True’ would help. Luckily, we have the work of the great early 20th century Anglo-French writer and historian, Hilaire Belloc, to help us in this, our time of great need.
Vigour and humour
After being educated at John Henry Newman’s Oratory School (see article), Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc served his term of military service as a French citizen, with an artillery regiment. He then studied at Balliol College, Oxford, as a History scholar, where he obtained first-class honors.
One of the “Big Four” of Edwardian letters, Belloc’s appreciation for what made the Faith great is second to none. A Catholic historian with an understanding and love for the Catholic underpinnings that made Western Civilization great, Belloc had the heart of a poet — and the ability to entertain.
This was a great asset, as Belloc publically debated the major figures of his day. H.G. Wells remarked that “debating Mr. Belloc is like arguing with a hailstorm.” Belloc’s review of Outline of History famously observed that Wells’ book was a powerful and well-written volume, “up until the appearance of Man, that is, somewhere around page seven.” Wells’ riposte was a small book, Mr. Belloc Objects. Not to be outdone, Belloc responded with Mr. Belloc Still Objects.
Alas for the humourless and the politically-correct, Belloc wrote some of the most hilarious children’s verse of all time. Among his best-remembered poems are ‘Jim, who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion’ and ‘Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death.’
Belloc was powerfully built, a vigorous man given to long bouts of walking wherever he wanted to go. For example, in the days before online dating he walked from the Midwest to California to woo his San Francisco bride, Elodie. She accepted him, and theirs was a deeply happy marriage blessed with five children until her untimely death from influenza in 1914.
What Would Belloc Say?
Catholics today need to remember the other side of the coin. Despite all our many faults and scandals, we have the Truth. This is no credit to us, nor a measure of our superiority. The Truth is a gift, a trust given to us by God to pass on to others.
From Hilaire Belloc: Letter to an Anglo-Catholic
“IS there a God? Yes.
Is He personal? Yes.
Has He revealed Himself to men? Yes.
Has He done so through a corporation—a thing not a theory? Has He created an organism by which He may continue to be known to mankind for the fulfillment of the great drama of the Incarnation? Yes.
“Where shall that organism be found? There is only one body on earth which makes such a claim: it is the Catholic Roman Apostolic Church. That claim we of the Faith accept. The consequences of that acceptation are innumerable, satisfactory and complete. We are at home. No one else of the human race is at home.”
On Belloc and Drinking Songs
It will be young Catholics who will be charged with the noble cause of restoring society. To do this, they must understand our patrimony, that great gift. They must understand what we are, doctrinally as well as culturally. This is a tall order, to say the least. For example, in the long history of the Faith, the plethora of ancient heresies can result in confusing Arians with Donatists or Manicheans. But you will never forget what a Pelagian is if you have read Belloc’s The Pelagian Drinking Song.
Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.
No, he didn’t believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.
On a more sober note, Hilaire Belloc can teach us courage. When Belloc ran for Parliament, his campaign adviser sternly warned him not to speak about his Catholic Faith. Belloc took this as a challenge, and at the first opportunity addressed a political rally thus:
“I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative!”
There was stunned silence — followed by applause, and to the everlasting credit of his Anglican constituency, they elected Hilaire Belloc to Parliament.
Belloc’s boldness in the defense of the truth did not always lead to adulation and (worldly) success, however. Though one of the brilliant writers of his age, Belloc lived a life of frequent material want due to his lack of acceptance in the literary establishment — which he wore as a badge of honor. The brilliant English scholar and theologian Msgr. Ronald Knox said it best in his panegyric at Belloc’s funeral:
“He was such a man as saw what he took to be the evils of our time in a clear light, and with a steady hatred; that he found, or thought he had found, a common root in them and traced them back to their origins in history.
A prophet… is one who speaks out. He must not wrap up his meaning; he must not expect success. ‘To brazen-faced folk and hard-hearted thy errand is, and still from the Lord god a message thou must deliver, hear they, or deny thee a hearing; rebels all, at least they shall know that they have had a prophet in their midst.’ There is the double tragedy of the prophet; he must speak out, so that he makes men dislike him, and he must be content to believe that he is making no impression whatever.”
Belloc: Prophet and Catholic Muse
Belloc put many of the issues we struggle with today into a Catholic perspective.
He refused to view science as the modern dispenser of infallible doctrine. In his essay on Science as the Enemy of Truth, he opines on the “Modern Scientific Spirit” — not to be confused with the Scientific Method.
“It adds together numerically a comparatively small number of ascertained truths with regard to any object and then propounds its conclusion, as though by possession of these few gross certainties it had a sufficient basis for that conclusion. What is more, it very impudently puts forward such a conclusion against the sound conclusion arrived at by the powers of integration present in the common man.”
He also predicted the rise of Islam in his book The Great Heresies, and understood the malaise that was coming and what its effects would be.
As a historian, Belloc explodes the historical myths that the English-speaking world grew up with. To this day, his writings point out the folly of Western Civilization in deviating from those Catholic and Natural Law principles — our patrimony, which has come down to our times. He regales us with stories of good food, wine, and the real-life characters he meets along the way. He educates, informs and entertains.
Hilaire Belloc loved Life, but he loved two things best of all: his wife and his Church. For each he walked many miles on foot in search of his goal. In his delightful book, The Path to Rome, Belloc describes the journey he made to “see all of Europe, which the Christian Faith had saved.” He walked from southern France to Rome, to be present at Mass for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. Exhausted, Belloc traversed the last few miles of the Appian Way on a mule-driven cart– with feet dragging so his vow would not be broken.
Stout adventurer, brilliant teacher, great entertainer and fascinating muse — what more can we ask of a writer as we make our way down our own path of pilgrimage, under the banner of Faith, to our heavenly home?
About the author: Robert Beaurivage obtained a law degree in San Diego, and practiced there for awhile before returning back to his home state of Maine. He has an interest in current events, Catholic theology, and liturgy.
Today, we acknowledge G. K. Chesterton as one of the greatest Catholic minds of the twentieth century, and perhaps its greatest writer. More than 75 years after his death, Chesterton Societies abound in the English-speaking world, and many of his 90 books are in multiple printings.
But who was this man, really – this English convert, formidable intellect, prolific writer and staunch defender of the Catholic Faith?
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London, England on May 29, 1874. Though he thought of himself as a journalist, GKC was actually many things including a playwright, novelist, literary and social critic, poet, illustrator, essayist, apologist, hagiographer and broadcaster.
Chesterton wrote voluminously and brilliantly in most literary genres of the day. His prodigious output includes about ninety books and thousands of essays for London newspapers such as the Daily News, Illustrated London News, and G.K.’s Weekly.
Chesterton’s Early Years
Chesterton was born into a middle-class, liberal Unitarian family and retained fond memories of childhood. “What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world” (Autobiography, 1936).
GKC attended St. Paul’s School, where he was an academic under-achiever and forgetful student. He enrolled next in the London’s Slade School of Art, making no significant accomplishments. Somewhat later, he attended lectures in English literature at London’s University College. He did not earn a college degree.
Chesterton was a large figure of a man, at 6’ 4”, 300 lbs., cigar-smoking – and sporting a swordstick, cape and sombrero.
GKC’s Career and Marriage
During 1900, Chesterton began publishing essays for periodicals, collections of verse, and fantasies. His writing transformed him from an obscure scribbler into a Fleet Street legend and household name.
GKC was to become a familiar sight on Fleet Street. He was a large figure of a man, 6’ 4”, 300 lbs., cigar smoking, sporting a swordstick, cape and sombrero.
In 1901, Chesterton married Frances Blogg, a devoted Anglo-Catholic. The marriage was a happy one. Unhappily, though, the Chesterton’s could not have children of their own so they frequently entertained other people’s children in their home.
GKC publicly debated the leading figures of his day, including H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Clarence Darrow. Despite differences in views, Chesterton’s opponents admired him. He made no enemies. His life exemplified the Christian virtues of charity and humility.
Chesterton’s books, Orthodoxy (his 1908 companion volume to Heretics, 1905) and The Everlasting Man (1925), were destined to become classics of Christian apologetics. The latter book contributed to C.S. Lewis’ conversion to Christianity.
‘Because my name is Lazarus and I live.’
Immediately after his reception into the Church, G.K. Chesterton composed this sonnet:
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.
The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
GKC publicly debated the leading figures of his day — H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Clarence Darrow. Despite differences in views, Chesterton’s opponents admired him. He made no enemies.
Chesterton Converts to Catholicism. In 1922, GKC converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Frances converted four years later through her own convictions. Hilaire Belloc, the famous Catholic historian, essayist and poet, and Chesterton’s close friend, said, “He advanced towards the Faith over many years and was ultimately in full communion with it…. He approached the Catholic Church gradually but by a direct road. He first saw the city from afar off, then approached it with interest and at last entered. Few of the great conversions in our history have been so deliberate or so mature. It will be for posterity to judge the magnitude of the event.”
Chesterton was motivated to conversion by his concern for legitimate authority. The teaching authority of the Church exemplified a firm point of reference in a changing world. “The Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”
Even more significant to GKC was the Sacramental authority of the Church to forgive sins. To those critics who believe it is morbid to confess one’s sins, Chesterton replied, “The morbid thing is not to confess them. The morbid thing is to conceal your sins and let them eat away at your soul, which is exactly the state of most people in today’s highly civilized communities.”
“The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
Furthermore, in The Well and the Shallows (1935), Chesterton explains the role of the Virgin Mary in his conversion:
“I never doubted that the figure (of Mary) was the figure of the faith; that she embodied, as a complete human being still only human, all that this Thing had to say to humanity. The instant I remembered the Catholic Church, I remembered her; when I tried to forget the Catholic Church, I tried to forget her; when I finally saw what was nobler than my fate, the freest and the hardest of all my acts of freedom, it was in front of a gilded and very gaudy little image of her in the port of Brindisi, that I promised the thing that I would do, if I returned to my own land.”
Chesterton said, “The difficulty of explaining why I am a Catholic is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” He often challenged critics of the Church by turning their arguments around to expose their hollowness. For example, he says, “The most absurd thing that could be said of the Church is the thing we have all heard of it …. that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages…. The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them”.
“The morbid thing is not to confess your sins. The morbid thing is to conceal your sins and let them eat away at your soul, which is exactly the state of most people in today’s highly civilised communities.”
Few people have applied thought to defending Christianity and Catholicism as successfully as Chesterton. Hilaire Belloc said, “His mind was oceanic, subject indeed to a certain restriction of repeated phrase and manner, but in no way restricted to the action of the mind. He swooped upon an idea like an eagle, tore it with active beak into its constituent parts and brought out the heart of it. If ever a man analyzed finally and conclusively Chesterton did so.”
GKC died on June 14, 1936 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Étienne Gilson, the pre-eminent 20th century Thomist philosopher and historian of medieval philosophy, called Chesterton “one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed.”
Shortly after his death, Pope Pius XI declared Chesterton defensor Fidei, Defender of the Faith.