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John Howling: Chesterton and the art of Catholic wit

Why witty observations from the clever commentator are still popular a century later

John Howling: Chesterton and the art of Catholic wit

There is a particular style of humor that is very distinctly Catholic. It’s shocking, and ironic. It is often paradoxical, too, quite in keeping with the teachings of the Church’s founder, who said, “love your enemies” and “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

As G.K. Chesterton reminds us, “a paradox is an apparent contradiction containing a deeper truth.” If the dox doesn’t contain a deeper truth, then it’s not a paradox.

Chesterton was the “Prince of Paradox” and he could often best a thousand-word argument with the observation of one breathtaking twist of a paradox. On feminism Chesterton wrote, “Thousands of women marched in the street, chanting ‘we will not be dictated to!’ Then, they set out to become stenographers.”

This paradox contains truth, as opposed to a statement like, “Feminism is cancer,” which contains no truth. Additionally, his observation showcases a startling wit.

To Chesterton, comedy could not be separated from truth. Consider the definitions he provides for “wit” and “humor”:

Wit is always connected with the idea that truth is close and clear. Humor, on the other hand, is always connected with the idea that truth is tricky and mystical and easily mistaken. Wit is as abstract as algebra. It is a logical weapon very valuable to truth. But, Humor depends on human beings. Therefore, on special, separate human beings. Therefore, wit is international. While humor is national. (From George Bernard Shaw)

This article continues at [Aleteia] The comedy stylings of Catholicism

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