10/5/14

Pope John Paul I and G.K. Chesterton

Did you know Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani) was a great admirer of G.K. Chesterton? My first example of his interest in Chesterton is a selection from “A Letter to Chesterton” in which John Paul I, using the literary form of a letter, quotes and reflects on The Ball and the Cross. The letter begins,

Dear Chesterton,

On Italian television during the past few weeks we have been seeing Father Brown, your surprising detective-priest—a character who is typically yours. A pity we haven’t also had Professor Lucifer and the monk Michael. I’d very much have liked to see them as you described them in The Ball and the Cross, sitting beside each other on the flying ship.

Several paragraphs into the letter we read,

‘Lucifer was looking at him with a bitten lip,’ you continue.

‘ “Is that story really true?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” said Michael, airily. “It is a parable. It is a parable of you and all your rationalists. You begin by breaking up the Cross; but you end by breaking up the habitable world.” ’

The monk’s conclusion, which is yours, dear Chesterton, is quite right. Take God away and what is left, what do men become? What sort of a world are we reduced to living in? ‘Why, the world of progress!' I hear someone say. 'The world of affluence!' Yes, but this famous progress isn’t all it was once cracked up to be. It contains other things in itself: missiles, bacteriological and atomic weapons, the present process of pollution—all things that, unless they are dealt with in time, threaten to plunge the whole human race into catastrophe.

In other words, progress that involves men who love one another, thinking of themselves as brothers and as children of the one Father, God, can be a magnificent thing. Progress that involves men who don’t recognize a single Father in God becomes a constant danger: without a parallel moral progress, which is continuous and internal, it develops what is lowest and cruellest in man, making him a machine possessed by machines, a number manipulated by numbers; he becomes what Papini called ‘a raving savage, who, to satisfy his predatory, destructive, and licentious instincts, no longer uses a club, but has the immense forces of nature and mechanical invention to draw upon.’ 

—Excerpts from Illustrissimi: The Letters of Pope John Paul I.

Now, the second example is from a homily by John Paul I. To read this, jump over to Mike Miles’ Chesterton blog


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