Father Brown and his creator

THE beguilingly innocent detective ‘Father Brown’ has been enjoying a fine run on afternoon television.

His exploits demonstrate the versatility of his creator, one Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

All that some folk know about Chesterton is that he was of a substantial girth, of great ‘abdominal dignity.’

The story is told that he once met George Bernard Shaw, the tall, slim, vegetarian. “To look at you, Shaw, one would imagine there is a famine in the land!”

Quick as a flash the Irishman replied, “Yes, and to look at you, Chesterton, one would imagine that you had caused it.”

The ready wit belied a mind of a serious turn. He was a gifted poet, best known for a brief poem about the donkey which conveyed the Saviour into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

But he was also a journalist, essayist and biographer. He wrote penetrating studies of St. Francis of Assisi, and his great hero, Charles Dickens.

A century ago, ‘Everyman’s Library’ made classic literature available at a reasonable price, and each Dickens novel published in that series included an introductory essay by Chesterton.

When the ‘Library’ was revived a few years ago, the Chesterton essays were reprinted as an appendix to each Dickens novel.

But this master of literature was also a devout Christian believer, who became a devoted member of the Roman Catholic church. He saw though shallow patriotism, declaring, “it is sometimes easy to give one’s country blood, and easier to give her money. Sometimes the hardest thing of all is to give her truth.”

The truth of Christianity moulded his thinking. He was a great apologist for the Christian faith, and his writing influenced the young atheist C.S. Lewis; leading Lewis to remark that “a young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading”

To those who would dismiss religion as something irrelevant for the modern world, Chesterton opined, “One can hardly think too little of oneself. One can hardly think too much of one’s soul.”

In the same vein, he scorned those who boasted of keeping an open mind on religious truth. “The point of having an open mind,” he said, “like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid”.

He continued: “The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms; it is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.”

But he aimed his shafts not only at complacent unbelievers, but also at half-hearted followers of Christ who failed to live out their creed.

“It is not that Christianity has been tried, and found wanting. It is just that it has not been tried”.

Have you tried it, yet?