Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Universe and Mr. Chesterton Reviewed by J. Peterson in Gilbert magazine

Thanks to John for allowing me to put this here for those of you (Nick, et al) interested in Chesterton, philosophy, and Orthodoxy.

A Landmark Chesterton Study

The Universe and Mr. Chesterton
by Randall Paine
Peru Illinois: Sherwood Sugden, 1999
Reviewed by John Peterson

This 160-page study of Chesterton is the book many of us have been hoping for, and a book many of us feared would never be written.

Since his death in 1936, ninety books about Chesterton have been published in the English language. There are major book-length studies of Chesterton from expert and scholarly professors of Literature, Journalism, History, Government, Political Science, Physical Science, Drama, Theology, and Pop Culture. It is not easy to think of another writer whose major commentators come from such a variety of disciplines.

Unfortunately, the list has not included a satisfactory book on Chesterton as a philosopher. Read more.The previous effort in this direction, Philosopher without Portfolio by Fordham's Quentin Lauer, S.J., consisted largely of the kind of faint praise that is both dismissive and condescending. ("Chesterton's ingenious mind enabled him to find what he considered rational grounds for affirming what he preferred to be true.")

In 1989, the year after Father Lauer's book was published, another priest completed a study of Chesterton the philosopher. This was Father Randall Paine, an American who has lived abroad since 1974, and who is for all practical purposes an unknown in Chesterton circles. After he was ordained by Pope John Paul II in 1983, Paine studied philosophy at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. His dissertation bore the title Chesterton and the Universe, and, as happens with the vast majority of such documents, has been lost in obscurity ever since.

But no longer. Fortunately for us all, Sherwood Sugden Publishers have come to the rescue. Now a newly edited paperback version of Father Paine's dissertation has appeared with a new title, a brief new concluding chapter, and an added appendix. You must read it. Paine's is the definitive study of Chesterton the philosopher.

After a brief overview of Chesterton as a thinker and rhetorician, Paine launches into a review of western philosophy's descent into subjectivism or what Etienne Gilson called the "300-year detour in Western thought." Paine terms this "The great refusal of modern philosophy" that began with René Descartes systematic doubt and ended in the blind alley of Edmund Hussert's phenomenology. Paine next discusses the remedy for such errors, which he believes to be nothing less than heavy doses of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. With this background in place, the author takes us through a chapter-by-chapter analysis of Chesterton's Orthodoxy to show that it is essentially a new and original exposition of the fundamentals of the Aristotelian and Thomistic approach. Paine's conclusion is that Chesterton's "remedial metaphysics" has truly enriched our philosophical heritage.

The foregoing summary was sketchy and deliberately so. I would not want to spoil this book for you by posting all of Paine's conclusions minus his arguments and documentation. I will simply promise that if you read The Universe and Mr. Chesterton you will learn exactly what was behind Gilson's remark that "Chesterton was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed."

Thank you John "Gramps" Peterson.

To read another interesting article by Father Paine on the "Dead" language of Latin, click here. To read an article by Father Paine on Chesterton's Autobiography, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Ive had the previous edition of this for a long time. Very good book. I didnt know it carried such weight. The new additions would be terrific.


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