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Institute Carries on G.K. Chesterton's Work

Father Ian Boyd on Continuing the Writer's Legacy

SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey, MAY 4, 2005 (Zenit) - An institute dedicated to continuing the work of Gilbert Keith Chesterton is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its journal and its mission of cultural evangelization.

Basilian Father Boyd is president of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture at Seton Hall University. He shared with us how at the heart of Chesterton -- and at the heart of the institute's work -- is a sense that the imagination must be cleansed and evangelized.

Q: What is the nature of the work done at the G.K. Chesterton Institute?

Father Boyd: The Chesterton Institute was founded in order to continue in our day that work that Chesterton began in his. This work consists chiefly in what might be called cultural evangelization.

Chesterton believed that the toxic consumerist culture of the Western world has a power to undermine faith and a decent way of life that is even greater than that of the totalitarian systems which have attacked Christianity in the past.

Our work is largely the educational work of a think tank, consisting of publications, conferences and the preparation of position papers on urgent contemporary problems, as well as such events as the restaging of Chesterton's debates with friend George Bernard Shaw.

Q: Additionally, you are the editor of a well-respected journal, The Chesterton Review. However, the journal covers lots of topics besides Chesterton. Why is this so? Is this in keeping with the spirit of the man himself?

Father Boyd: Yes; it is appropriate that a journal bearing Chesterton's name should be concerned with the luminous sacramental tradition to which Chesterton belonged rather than with a cult of Chesterton himself.

That is why The Chesterton Review has devoted special issues to Christopher Dawson, Cardinal Manning, Georges Bernanos, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George Macdonald and others -- they all possessed a sacramental imagination, a sense of the incarnate God present to us in history, culture and human community.

For the same reason, we have published on Ireland and the future of its Christian culture; fantasy and children's literature, Christian mysticism and the so-called New Age movement; ethics and economics in post-Communist Europe; and even Japanese Christian writers.

At the heart of Chesterton -- certainly at the heart of our work -- is a sense that the imagination must be cleansed and evangelized.

Q: Why are G.K. Chesterton's words important for our time?

Father Boyd: Chesterton wrote beautifully about beautiful things: faith, family, the extraordinary gift of creation itself. In everything he wrote he expressed a kind of joyful gratitude for God's abundant generosity to us.

He was also a prophet whose prophesies have been fulfilled -- another good reason for taking him seriously. His predictions must have seemed improbable to the readers of his own day but we who have lived in an age which has seen them come true now find that his words speak directly to us.

Think of one or two of such prophesies. At the beginning of the 20th century, a time of almost universal peace, he predicted that "before the liberal idea is dead or triumphant we shall see wars and persecutions the like of which the world had never seen."

On another occasion, he wrote that "the next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality," a threat to Christianity which he believed was even more serious than that of Communism.

"The madness of tomorrow," he wrote, "is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan." In view of the very welcome collapse of the Soviet Union and the very unwelcome triumph of the sexual revolution, one can only nod one's head in agreement.

Q: Why is it that so many different writers and public figures -- from Gandhi to Jorge Luis Borges -- have been influenced by this man? What gives Chesterton's writings an almost universal appeal?

Father Boyd: There are two reasons for this.

In the first place, he was a remarkable thinker. Étienne Gilson, the distinguished medieval historian, called him "one of the deepest thinkers who ever lived" and his book on St. Thomas Aquinas "without possible comparison" the best book about the saint ever written.

Because Chesterton was a philosopher, there is a Chestertonian view that illumines every subject, whether political, or economic or social. As he once explained, a true philosophy has something to say about everything "from an angel to an octopus."

Secondly, Chesterton was a poet whose writings form a kind of wisdom literature. His deepest insights are expressed in such memorable sayings that he is one of the most ...

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