Book Review

G. K. Chesterton and St. Francis: Book Review

St. Francis of Assisi by G. K. Chesterton

The other day I picked up a G. K. Chesterton book that I hadn’t thought of in ten years: St. Francis of Assisi.  I remember enjoying it then, if only understanding a 1/3 of it.  Now, that I’ve reread it, I understand more.  I love books that one can return to, because there’s such great depth.

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G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).  Intellectual Powerhouse.  Catholic Convert.  Terror of Heretics.

My problem ten years ago was that I had little understanding of the history of the Church, and that’s the great strength of this book.  Chesterton doesn’t just start by saying Francis Bernardone was born on a rainy day in Assisi in 1181.  Nope.  He devotes the first couple of  chapters to describing the world in which St. Francis was born.  He answers such questions as, what was going on in the Church?  Or, why was there a great need for a man like St. Francis anyway?

St. Francis of Assisi is just as relevant today as when it was published in 1923.  In fact, it is probably more relevant as our culture has completely forgotten its roots, and if it remembers St. Francis at all, it remembers flowers and birds.  Nothing really of the man Francis – of his uncompromising holiness.  He didn’t just preach to birds and admire the flowers.  No.  This was the man who willingly embraced a leper because he wanted to overcome his cowardice.  This was the man who walked straight into the heart of the Crusades and demanded to speak to the notorious Sultan to tell him about Jesus Christ.  This was the man who bore the Stigmata and asked to be moved to the bare ground to die upon, in nothing but his hair-shirt.

Chesterton does an excellent job of startling our drowsy senses into wakefulness with this book.  He clears up our dull and hazy vision to reveal a truly great saint.

If you’re in need of a good nonfiction book, get this one.  But be warned, even though it is meant only to be an introduction to St. Francis, I found it helpful to be somewhat familiar with a basic outline of St. Francis’s life, as Chesterton seems to take that for granted.

Chesterton for Kids

If you’d like to introduce Chesterton to your children, check out these excellent readers put together by Nancy Carpentier Brown.  My children love them.

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Nancy Carpentier Brown takes G.K.C.’s Father Brown series and adapts it for children.

Want More For Yourself?

There is an excellent magazine that my husband and I have been enjoying for years.  It’s called Gilbert!  Perhaps some of you may be familiar with Dale Ahlquist?  He’s the publisher and editor.  Subscription to the magazine comes with membership to the American Chesterton Society.  I strongly recommend it.

This magazine features various essays from Chesterton and other current writers such as  Dale Ahlquist, James V. Schall, and my favorite, David Beresford.

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Here’s our latest issue.  This magazine is truly a gem.  I look forward to it every month.  (Even though I think there are only 8 issues a year…)

If you’ve never read Chesterton before, begin now.  And don’t be intimidated by him.  Many start with Orthodoxy or his Father Brown series.  Both are excellent.  If you love fiction, go with Father Brown.  If you’re a lover of nonfiction, go for the former.

4 Parting Smidgeons

  1. Since I’ve recently mentioned Evelyn Waugh on these pages…Chesterton wrote a scorching review of one of Waugh’s early books, Decline and Fall.  (Waugh wrote that book prior to his conversion.)  At the time, Waugh thought it was hilarious and put Chesterton’s condemnatory remarks on his 1929 Christmas card.
  2. After Waugh’s conversion, he became great friends with Hilaire Belloc, who happened to be best buds with Chesterton.  I’m not sure, however, if Waugh and Chesterton ever met.  (If anyone knows the answer to that, drop me a line.)
  3. In England, the Church is investigating Chesterton’s life with a view for opening his case for canonization.  This is only the very beginning stage of a long, long process.  Read about it HERE.
  4. What’s my favorite Chesterton book?  Everlasting Man.  And I recommend THIS copy because it contains Everlasting Man, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Thomas Aquinas – three of my favorite Chesterton books.