G. K. Chesterton has been included as one of Catholicism’s “pivotal players” in a new video series produced by Robert Barron. A Catholic friend sent me the video, noting that Chesterton is a pivotal player for all of Christianity, not merely Catholicism. And this video helps us understand why.
First, a word about the production value.
The documentary on Chesterton does what you’d expect. The narrator visits the sites where Chesterton went to school, where he lived most of his life, and the cemetery where he is buried. We travel to a museum where we can see Chesterton’s typewriter, his hat, his drawings, and other artifacts associated with his life. My favorite scene features a stunning library, a room where English luminaries such as Rudyard Kipling were known to meet for conversation.
Second, a word about the documentary features.
This documentary provides a good overview of the historical details of Chesterton’s life, but also includes some of the funniest tales told about him. The script includes stories that help Chesterton’s personality shine. Why? Because we are learning not only from Chesterton’s writing, but also from his way of life—his ability to express with great joy the fundamental truths of Christianity, as well as debate atheists and agnostics as friends, rather than foes.
(Chesterton’s longstanding friendship with George Bernard Shaw is a case in point. The two figures were diametrically opposed on most major issues, yet they demonstrated a genuine fondness for one another in a friendship that lasted for decades.)
Third, something sets this documentary apart from others. It dives headlong into two of Chesterton’s greatest works: Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, the latter of which C. S. Lewis called the greatest apologetic for Christianity in English.
Now, one could critique these two choices (why not speak more of Chesterton’s fiction, or his poetry, or his essays?). But since this documentary frames Chesterton’s lasting legacy as “the evangelist,” it is only fitting that the two books that provide the strongest defense of Christianity be featured here. I agree with their choice.
Next comes the quandary: how do you sum up the arguments of Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man in the span of 15 minutes or so? The answer is simple: you don’t, really. You take the main gist of each book and then surround it with a couple of Chesterton’s ingenious illustrations (God telling the sun to “do it again” every morning, for example).
The latter part of this documentary may feel more didactic than the first part, but that’s because we’ve jumped into the brilliance of Chesterton’s mind, and also because the producers, like Chesterton himself, expect the audience to rise to the occasion, to lean in when discussing ideas of central importance. (Matthew Lee Anderson and I blogged through Orthodoxy, and our series is available here.)
The Chesterton documentary is part of a series designed primarily for Catholics, so it is unlikely most of my readers would be interested in the other episodes (although I am looking forward to watching the episodes on Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi). The good news is, much of Chesterton’s apologetic work took place when he was an Anglican, devoted to the “mere Christianity” that would later inspire Lewis and others, and his later writings are usually as applicable to Protestants as Catholics, even convictional, sola-loving, “radical conciliarists” (as described by Kevin Vanhoozer) like me.
The episode is available for purchase on its own at Amazon. If you’re looking for a brief overview of Chesterton’s life and apologetic thoughtfulness, this is a great place to start.