On this day in 1936, in Beaconsfield, “the lights went out…”


78th Commemoration of the Death of G. K. Chesterton

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Memento Mori.  Whenever I consider the death of someone I feel a connection to,  be it family or someone who seems like family, this scripture crosses my mind in much the same way Chesterton describes the last words of Sunday in The Man Who Was Thursday: “…Only in the blackness before it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere,…”  Yes, as Frances, his wife, wrote in her diary that day: “The lights went out…”.  They go out for each of us when we lose someone who understood our mind and our heart.

Chesterton became a kindred spirit, even a father, for me later in life,  just as he came to Orthodoxy and the Catholic faith late in his own life.  He came into my life at a time just shortly after I faced a very devastating betrayal.  And so he gave to me through his many essays and other writings, a kindly hand lifting me up as a father, a brother and a comrade, steady onward with Christ through this downward spiraling world in which I found myself. But before that, it was as if his spirit, (I was later to marvel on), had entered my life while that betrayal was in its course (but unknown to me at the time) by finding myself for a week in a little town, oddly enough, named Chesterton.

The events are too personal to divulge.  And to describe his presence in my life is an experience where words still fail -Except that when I began reading his words describing the “whys” and the “hows” of my little misadventure and how it related to the construct of the world, which his powerful, lithe, and omnivorous mind described down the bolts holding this awful man-made corruption together, I found the outline to my own sanity.  And it did indeed sound with a click of relief as if the whole country of bewilderment was explained and turned solid behind me.  For Chesterton, this relief was seeing Christianity for the first time, for me it was surviving the betrayal of good faith.

When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery falling into its place with a kind of click of relief. Having got one part right, all the other parts were repeating that rectitude, as clock after dock strikes noon. Instinct after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary the metaphor, I was like one who had advanced into a hostile country to take one high fortress. And when that fort had fallen the whole country surrendered and turned solid behind me. – G. K. Chesterton, The Flag of the World, Orthodoxy

That whole country of bewilderment I was in did surrender to Chesterton helping me understand what had happened.  And I had to recognize that it was, for me, a kind of death to a life that would no longer be mine anymore.  But it yielded a deeper relationship to Christ, a relationship of fellow suffering through the Cross on the path to God…and that has been the whole point of Chesterton’s life and writing.  If we take anything from his political coverage, his deconstruction of the financial corruption of Capitalism, his discovery of orthodoxy, his considerations of saints, writers, kings and peasants and the effect of their lives on us and we on them, his love of simple and legitimate play  – we must realize that when he was talking about all of those subjects, he was talking about God. Because he saw in all of us, the young man he once was, perplexed by questions, devastations, and depressions until the answers surrendered themselves and were made solid and simple, even when the answer was Job’s famous declaration: “There are things too wonderful for me to know”.  Even Chesterton, in his humility, wit and wisdom, knew when that, too, was the answer at times.  It is a spirit that pervades all of his writing.  This was the way he loved his fellow man.

“You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him…”
-G.K. Chesterton

On this day in 1936, G. K. Chesterton, writer, journalist, author, playwright, poet, and Christian apologist, died at his home in Beaconsfield, in the morning at 10am with his wife, Frances by his bedside. His last words were a greeting to her.

“Near the end of his life, Pope Pius XI invested Chesterton as Knight Commander with Star of the Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great (KC*SG).[24] The Chesterton Society has proposed that he be beatified.[25] He is remembered liturgically on June 13 by the Episcopal Church (USA), with a provisional feast day as adopted at the 2009 General Convention.[26]” – Wikipedia.  He is currently under consideration by the Catholic Church for Sainthood.


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