PRESS RELEASE September 2004


1. Growing International interest in GKC

2. Discovery of hitherto unknown writings of Chesterton on Aquinas

3. 'Chesterton for Today' in London on 10 November!

1. Growing international interest in G.K. Chesterton
is attested by the success of two international conferences of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture this summer, one in Oxford and one in Vilnius, Lithuania, commemorating his visit there in 1927.  The Institute has been asked to help organize others as far afield as Poland, Uganda and Argentina.  Chesterton societies are also flourishing in the United States, Australia, Japan and, of course, England, where the journalist and playwright Gilbert Chesterton lived until his death in 1936. 

The Vilnius conference was opened and welcomed by his Eminence Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis, and the President of Lithuania sent a message to greet the delegates.  Such was the intense interest throughout the week from scholars, educators and journalists in Lithuania that by the end of the conference the Vice-Director of the National Library offered to open a permanent reading room and to establish a dedicated web site in the Library for the Chesterton Institute to continue its work in the region during the years to come.

What is it about Chesterton that so caught the imagination of Lithuania?  During the decades of Soviet oppression, Chesterton's writings had been circulated in samizdat.  But Chesterton had been equally critical of consumerist capitalism, and that makes his social philosophy even more relevant now that communism has fallen.  He was a dedicated opponent of Empires of all sorts and a defender of small countries and local traditions.  He was a democrat who truly represented the common man, rather than the oligarchs and plutocrats who manipulate democracy in order to maintain themselves in power.  He was a conservationist rather than a conservative, a radical not a reactionary.

The best example of everything Chesterton stands for was given in the conference by Remigijus Vilys, a young musician who had transformed the lives of countless deprived Lithuanian children by finding a way to educate them as musicians.  Children without hope had discovered a sense of value and destiny, their parents' view of them had been transformed, and a new cultural tradition had been born.  Maybe we spend too much time trying to reconstruct a culture that once existed, Vilys concluded.  What we should be doing is starting a new one - starting from the needs of the people we meet, and giving our time and creativity to answering those needs.  It was a lesson that underlined the whole tenor of the conference, which far from looking back nostalgically to a pre-Communist past was confronting the real needs of one of the newest members of the EU, and finding much-needed inspiration in the work of an English writer whose ideas transcend his own time and place. 

The other major Chesterton Institute conference of the summer had taken place a month previously at Christ Church in Oxford, attended by delegates from Ireland, Poland, Portugal, USA and western Canada as well as the UK.  'Landscapes with Angels' examined the current phenomenon of bestselling fantasy fiction, both books and films, and the spiritual role of the imagination.  In the age of Tolkien, Rowling and Pullman, it is increasingly through fantasy that modern children receive their moral formation.  Conference speakers drew on stories and writers from Peter Pan and Beatrix Potter through to David Almond and William Nicholson, not to mention the current spate of fantasy and superhero movies, to demonstrate the power of imagination to illuminate the quest of the modern soul for meaning and the battle for virtue that accompanies it.  The conference papers will appear in The Chesterton Review during 2005.

2. A major new cache of unpublished Chesterton writings on St Thomas Aquinas will be published in the forthcoming issue of The Chesterton Review.  Among the Chestertonian memorabilia acquired by the Institute in the last few years for its Oxford library, Aidan Mackey discovered several pages that turned out to be on Aquinas, but were not either a distinct article or a draft of the book which Chesterton published on the same subject in 1933.  That book had been praised by the great French Thomist, Etienne Gilson, in the following terms: "I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement."  Yet it had been written in the space of a few weeks, with a minimum of research.  Until now, apart from a brief article in The Spectator, it was thought that Chesterton had written nothing else on Aquinas.  The new writings appear in The Chesterton Review (Spring and Summer 2004) with commentary and notes by Dr Mark Armitage.  This discovery will be of enormous interest to the many readers of Chesterton around the world, whose numbers are growing as more and more of his books are reprinted, as well as to students of St Thomas Aquinas.

3.  You are invited to a Reception hosted by The Chesterton Review to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary year in the Crypt of St Etheldreda's Church in Ely Place, 7-9 pm on Wednesday 10 November 2004.  (Some parking available in Ely Place.)  Speakers will include Fr Ian Ker on Chesterton as a successor to Newman, Russell Sparkes (fund manager for the Methodist Church) on the Sane Economy, and editors of the Review on the vision of the Institute for a 'new kind of liberalism'.  For there are two kinds of liberalism, and the wrong kind is winning.  The wrong kind of liberalism is individualistic, selfish, utilitarian.  It separates economy from nature, culture and ethics, treating economic man as a machine or a bundle of desires, a machine for producing and consuming in ever-greater quantities regardless of long-term cost to the environment or to man himself.  But there is an alternative liberalism founded in a different vision of human nature, a personalist liberalism that respects community, that regards man as fundamentally cooperative rather than competitive, and sees examples of that cooperation in the cultures he creates in freedom - cultures of which an economic system is just one expression.  This is the liberalism that is rooted in Christian teaching about human dignity.

The Chesterton Institute is a foundation for cultural renewal in the Christian humanist tradition.  It is based at Seton Hall University in New Jersey with an editorial office and library in Oxford. Further information from Stratford Caldecott, Chesterton Institute, 6a King St, Oxford OX2 6DF.  Email <[email protected]>  Web site: