Thomas Merton wrote a verse about cheese (despite Chesterton's comment about the silence of poets on the subject of cheese).
He also wrote about Chesterton – but in a way Chestertonians might not like.
In a January 2, 1959, diary entry, he compares Chesterton with Swiss theologian, Msgr. Romano Guardini:
A very fine interview with Guardini was read in the refectory – a wonderful relief from the complacent windiness of Chesterton (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Guardini spoke of power poisoning man today. We have such fabulous techniques that their greatness have outstripped our ability to manage them. This is the great problem. “Difference between Guardini and Chesterton – Guardini sees an enormous, tragic crisis and offers no solution. Chesterton evokes problems that stand to become, for him, a matter of words. And he always has a glib solution. With Chesterton everything is “of course” “ quite obviously etc. etc. And everything turns out to be “just plain common sense after all.” And people have the stomach to listen and to like it! How can we be so mad? Of course, Chesterton is badly dated: his voice comes out of the fog between the last two wars. But to think there are still people – Catholics – who can talk like that and imagine they know the answers.
Of course, I disagree. I like Merton – I have even more of his books than I do of Chesterton – but I think he is unfair to Chesterton.
That view is echoed in Michael Higgens in his Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton.
Higgens speculates that Merton had fallen for the caricature of Chesterton that had been created by GKC's fans (and, to be honest, by Chesterton himself). What Merton was troubled by in 1959 was more the kind of "complacency represented by Chesterton and his kind." Chesterton had become for Merton a symbol of the old Catholicism.
Remember, this is while the winds of change were whirling just before Vatican II.
I wonder if Merton's view would have softened had he not died in 1968 at age 51. Would he have been more open to recognizing what Chesterton was about in the wake of Vatican II?
Chesterton certainly has come back into vogue, and in the cyclical way of the world, his words are relevant in a way that perhaps Merton could not appreciate in 1959 before Vatican II.
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