My Chesterton Quotations Book: Two Interviews

My Chesterton Quotations Book: Two Interviews February 15, 2021

[link for more information on the book, including purchase options]

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My book is entitled The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton: The Very Best Quotes, Quips & Cracks from the Pen of G. K. Chesterton (Dec. 2009): a collection of quotations. I was interviewed on 3 March 2010 for the show The Catholics Next Door, hosted by Greg and Jennifer Willits, which aired on The Catholic Channel (Sirius Satellite Channel 159), from 2008-2012. I tried to find my interview in their archive of the radio show, with no success. They still have a podcast today, called Imperfect Living.

They sent me written interview questions prior to the show. Here they are, with my replies:

The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton: The Very Best Quotes, Quips, and Cracks from the Pen of G. K. Chesterton

Publisher: Saint Benedict Press: recently merged with TAN Books; specializes in classic Catholic literature.

Basic Book Information

2100+ quotations. All single sentences, or aphorisms. From 34 non-fiction books and 229 articles written for The Illustrated London News. Organized under 281 topics, with extensive cross-referencing, indexed by source and by topic. 378 pages. GKC dates: 1874-1936.

Aphorism: a pithy, astute, proverb-like saying or maxim on a general truth. Biographer Maisie Ward: “all his paradoxes were either the startling expression of an entirely neglected truth, or the startling re-emphasis of the neglected side of a truth.”

Examples: A man’s friend likes him but leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else.

But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn.

No Catholic thinks he is a good Catholic; or he would by that thought become a bad Catholic.

Subjects Covered by Chesterton: Theology, morality, childhood, the arts, literature, science, philosophy, economic and social topics, agnosticism, education, history, politicians, everyday life, the family, and gender differences.

“How did you first get interested in GK Chesterton?”

I first heard of him as a result of my interest in C. S. Lewis, who has been my favorite writer for over thirty years (perhaps Chesterton is now!). He is often associated with Lewis, and is widely regarded as the greatest Christian apologist in the first third of the 20th century, with Lewis taking his place (in a way) in the second third of the century. An evangelical Protestant teacher at the non-denominational church I used to attend in the early 80s kept mentioning Orthodoxy as a wonderful book. I obtained a library copy around 1983 or so, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Lewis mentioned in his autobiography that The Everlasting Man was the book that influenced him the most. I had read portions of that book in the mid-80s, but didn’t read the whole thing (strangely enough) until just a few years ago. That was good, though, because the elaborate analogical reasoning he uses in the book probably would have been partially inexplicable to me earlier on.

“What books would you recommend for a new reader of GK Chesterton or for someone who wants to check out the author for the first time?”

I think Orthodoxy is the best introductory book because it is very straightforward and basic: almost the near-Catholic equivalent (in a way) of Lewis’ Mere Christianity, but with the object of explaining the necessity of tradition and orthodoxy. After that I would highly recommend What’s Wrong With the World (his social thought), St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis. I’m not much of a fiction reader at all but I know that The Napoleon of Notting HillThe Man Who Was Thursday, and the many Father Brown stories are very highly regarded.

“What compelled you to put together this book?”

I love to organize and categorize, so it was easy to collect these since all his books are online. I just cut-and-paste from the Internet versions (a lot less typing!). I wanted to share one of my favorite writers with everyone. If we love a writer, we want others to be aware of them, too, so we can share the pleasure. My favorite writers are Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Cardinal Newman. I have web pages about all three.

“Can you share a few favorite Chesterton quotes?”

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

Men have not got tired of Christianity; they have never found enough Christianity to get tired of.

(What’s Wrong With the World, 1910)

It is an almost invariable rule that the man with whom I don’t agree thinks I am making a fool of myself, and the man with whom I do agree thinks I am making a fool of him.

“What do you hope people will gain from this book?”

An appreciation for great writing, style, disagreement without hostility, the rationale for the Christian worldview, and the reasonable objections to non-Christian belief-systems.

“What do you think makes Chesterton special or unique among Catholic writers? Why is there so much interest in him by so many Catholics?”

He has extraordinary wisdom and insight combined with a certain innocence, playful wit, and joviality. He had common sense, and a very deep faith. But he wasn’t a cynic. In dashing the pretentiousness of the cynical and the prideful, he was being an idealistic and optimistic Christian. He was realistic while remaining joyful: always a very rare combination.

Chesterton’s time and place (England: early 20th century) was a lot like our own: moral relativism, agnosticism and atheism, over-emphasis on science and naturalism and the separation of faith and reason, occult and spiritualism, contraception, euthanasia, divorce, and laxity in sexual morals.

Everyone liked him, even his debate opponents. His writing is timeless. What Chesterton wrote in 1905 or 1925 is every bit as relevant today (if not more so) as anything written in the last month. Truth is truth, and doesn’t change according to fashion or the spirit of the age (zeitgeist).

Career as a Journalist He was a journalist by profession, and was not trained in theology. This is the case with almost all of the most influential apologists. C. S. Lewis and Thomas Howard were English professors. Malcolm Muggeridge was a journalist. Peter Kreeft is a philosophy professor. It enables them to write to the common man, rather than to other academics. Apologetics is about helping everyone to understand and defend Christianity, in order to live it out.

Education He attended the Slade School of Art, a department of University College, London, but never obtained a degree. He had studied English, French, History, and Political Economy, and lasted only a year in the Latin course before dropping it.

Wisdom When he wrote his book St. Thomas Aquinas in 1933 the academic Thomists (Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson and others) ecstatically praised it, and more than one of them said that Chesterton understood Aquinas better than they had, after 40-50 years of study. That is because Chesterton gets right down to heart of the matter or essence of any given topic: the first principles or premises.

Better-Known Books

Non-Fiction

1905 Heretics
1908 All Things Considered
1908 Orthodoxy
1910 What’s Wrong With the World
1920 The Superstition of Divorce
1924 St. Francis of Assisi
1925 The Everlasting Man
1926 The Catholic Church and Conversion
1926 The Outline of Sanity
1929 The Thing: Why I am a Catholic
1933 St. Thomas Aquinas
1935 The Well and the Shallows
1936 Autobiography

Fiction

1904 The Napoleon of Notting Hill
1905 The Club of Queer Trades
1908 The Man Who Was Thursday

1911 The Innocence of Father Brown
1914 The Wisdom of Father Brown

Representative Quotations

Abstinence

Everybody has always known about birth-control, even if it took the wild and unthinkable form of self-control.

The Bible

But it is unfair to turn round and blame the Bible because of all these legends and jokes and journalistic allusions, which are read into the Bible by people who have not read the Bible.

Children

If anybody chooses to say that I have founded all my social philosophy on the antics of a baby, I am quite satisfied to bow and smile.

Dialogue and Discussion

People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.

People do not seem to understand even the first principle of all argument: that people must agree in order to disagree.

Divorce

But the truth is that the innovators have as much sham optimism about divorce as any romanticist can have had about marriage.

The obvious effect of frivolous divorce will be frivolous marriage.

If people can be separated for no reason they will feel it all the easier to be united for no reason.

Dogmatism

The modern world is filled with men who hold dogmas so strongly that they do not even know that they are dogmas.

For the modern world will accept no dogmas upon any authority; but it will accept any dogmas on no authority.

Fashions and Fads

Anything that is fashionable is on the brink of being old-fashioned.

And the moral of it is that nothing grows old so quickly as what is new.

(Humor)

Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else.

The very notion of always talking in terms of tomorrow is a passing taste that will soon be a thing of yesterday.

A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship.

Incarnation

Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.

Intelligentsia

Why is it that for the last two or three centuries the educated have been generally wrong and the uneducated relatively right?

What we call the intellectual world is divided into two types of people — those who worship the intellect and those who use it.

Reason and Logic

The difficulty is not so much to get people to follow a commandment as to get them even to follow an argument.

What is new in this matter is not so much unreason as the fact of unreason not being recognised as unreasonable.

Writers

For instance, I am staring blankly at this sheet of paper and I firmly believe that something more or less intelligible will happen soon.

Whereas, as I have only too good reason to know, if you are writing an article you can say anything that comes into your head.

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Interview with Mike Davis from Aquinas and More Catholic Goods (3-12-10)

[This is a slightly edited version  of the interview, published on the Musings From a Catholic Bookstore blog; entitled, “Find Out For Yourself Why There’s Such Renewed Interest in G. K. Chesterton.” Be sure to check out the books and other items from my friends at this well-known online Catholic site: Aquinas and More Catholic Gifts for Good. They have been gracious enough to strongly support my work through the years.]

We recently had the opportunity to interview Dave Armstrong, noted Catholic apologist and prolific author, about his new book The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton. If you’re not familiar with Dave’s work, you need to get up to speed. He’s simply one of the best Catholic apologists writing today. Do yourself and your faith a big favor by reading one of his books during this Lenten season.
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This new book is a bit different from your previous books, tell us about your motivation to write this one.
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I wanted to put together a collection that would show the depth and breadth of Chesterton’s writings, and introduce new readers to him. He’s been one of my favorite writers for years. It’s like finding a huge cave filled with gold, diamonds and silver: you don’t know where to look first. But anywhere and everywhere you look it is glorious. Human beings like to share with others the things they love. That was largely my motivation with this book: if we love a writer, we want others to be more aware of them, too.
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What will readers take away from your new book?
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Besides lots of pithy quotations for use in many ways, hopefully, an appreciation for great writing, style, disagreement without hostility, the rationale for the Christian worldview, and the reasonable objections to non-Christian belief-systems. The reader will learn to think more Christianly.
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Can you tell us about the process you went through to write your new book?
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I love to organize and categorize, so it was easy to collect these since virtually all of his books are online. I just cut-and-paste from the Internet versions (a lot less typing!). Basically I heavily skimmed about 50 of his books, and kept an eye out for catchy sentences and thoughts. Every citation in the book is one-sentence long. That’s how I decided to do it. It’s amazing how easy it is to “find quotations” (with a great writer like Chesterton, anyway) if you put your mind to it. I’m actually a fairly slow reader, but when looking for something in this manner, I seem to be able to read much faster (probably sort of like speed reading).
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How was it different than your previous efforts?
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The unique process of combing through an author’s many books in order to glean the most quotable material out of them. It’s all editing. That’s how it was different. I did a book on the Church fathers, where I cited a lot of their statements (which is most similar to this one), but in that book I also had a lot of my own argumentation, whereas in this one I have nothing of my own except the categories and introduction.
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Chesterton was such a prolific writer. What was it like combing through such a vast array of writings to put together your new book?
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It was like being a kid in a candy store with a $100 gift certificate! Riches everywhere, and what a joy to find them! It was a wonderful time for me.
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Many people might think that Chesterton is too intellectual, or even inaccessible, for them. Can you speak to that issue, in general, and also as it relates to your new book?
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That seems to be an impression that a lot of folks have. I don’t feel that way about Chesterton, myself. I think he had a gift of expressing profound truth and wisdom, yet in a manner that can be grasped by the average person. He wrote for the masses, which is what I try to do myself, as an apologist, and non-academic. He tends to write in short, concise, catchy sentences (which is why it was easy to collect a lot of fabulous quotations). It’s not like reading “heavy theology” from one like, say, St. Thomas Aquinas, or St. John Henry Cardinal Newman.
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In doing all your research for the book, did you learn anything new about Chesterton that you can share with us? Do you have a different opinion of him and his work now?
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I think the main thing I came away with from the project was a deeper appreciation of just how flat-out, exceedingly wise the man was. I think he is one of the wisest men who ever lived: on the level of a Socrates or a Confucius or Solomon or Blaise Pascal. It’s extraordinary. That is what struck me the most, as opposed to some specific subject matter or facts. It’s quite striking, the more of his work one reads.
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How do you think knowledge of Chesterton’s work can impact one’s Catholic faith?
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It can bring a confidence that we are right square in the middle of truth, and that we have insights as Christians, and Catholic Christians, that are not able to be attained in their fullness anywhere else. And he fosters a happy, joyous, optimistic faith and walk with God. You see that the most, perhaps, when he writes about children. He never lost his wonder at creation and life and God and His universe. He was literally like an overgrown child: but a very thoughtful one. May we all be struck with such a “limitation”!
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If someone wants to read a specific work by Chesterton, what would you recommend and why?
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For a first book, I always suggest Orthodoxy, because it is one of the “quintessential” Chesterton books. It presents his outlook in a concise, more-or-less introductory way, and is about the topic of tradition, and why it is important and crucial. Chesterton was Anglican when he wrote it (around 1908), not yet Catholic (he was received in 1922), so that may help to give it a very wide appeal. Yet nothing in it (that I am aware of) could be said to be contrary to the Catholic faith.
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What new books can we look forward to from you in the future?
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I’m just about to finish (perhaps this very day) a book about John Calvin (in honor of his 500th birthday in 2009), entitled, Biblical Catholic Answers for John Calvin. It is mostly a set of replies to Book IV of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. It has a lot about the doctrine of the Church, the papacy, and the sacraments. I feel that Calvin has had considerably more influence on the historical course of Protestantism than Martin Luther did, and so his arguments (and errors) need to be directly dealt with.
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But there is also a lengthy section at the end of the book (as in my book about Luther) that details exactly what Catholics and Calvinists can agree on. There is quite a bit, when it is all collected in one place. So one can see my usual combination of apologetics and ecumenism there. I am always happy to find as much agreement with our non-Catholic Christian brethren as possible. We need to rejoice about that, too, and not just fret about the differences and divisions (as recent popes have been stressing). There is good news as well as bad news along those lines.
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In the near future, I hope to put together two books about the Blessed Virgin Mary, and salvation and justification, from existing writings.
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I’d like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to Mike Davis, the good folks at Aquinas and More bookstore and all my readers. I appreciate all of you very much, and encourage you to keep living and sharing the gospel and the fullness of faith. God bless.
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A big thank you from all of us here at Aquinas and More – you do great work for the Church, Dave, and we love your books.

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Related Reading

G. K. Chesterton: The “Colossal Genius” (Links Page; now discontinued; see old archived versions)

Interview With Dale Ahlquist for Gilbert Magazine, Regarding My Book, The Wisdom of Mr. Chesterton [March 2010]

TV Interview: On Catholicism, Over Against Protestantism [5-1-99]

Dave Armstrong: Catholic Apologetics’ “Socratic Evangelist” (by Tim Drake; Envoy Magazine, Spring 2002)

Interview for Catholic Books and Gifts / Catholic Free Shipping [4-23-10]

My Two Conversions: Interview with Spanish Journalist Itxu Díaz [3-31-11]

20-Question Interview on my Books and Apologetics Work, with Steven R. McEvoy (Book Reviews and More) [3-20-12]

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