That summer, Frances [Chesterton] returned to Bath for another highlight: the production of her play, Faith and Fable: A Masque. The public received it enthusiastically and publicity photos abounded. Frances was asked to give a speech at the Bath Festival of Drama on August 9, 1927. Frances spoke on the subject of the children’s plays, and expressed the opinion that children should act in their own play, not simply watch movies or listen to radio. Movies and radio, she believed, were for older people who could no longer entertain themselves.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)


All of the practical aspects of life were left to her; Gilbert was not a man who dealt in details, he was an ideas man. Frances not only prepared Gilbert for the public by dressing him, she coordinated his meals; shopped; negotiated with his agent and publishers; kept a kitchen and a flower garden; took care of the children and visitors constantly welcomed under their rook; hired the cooks, gardeners, secretaries, and housekeepers; cared for the pets; kept up the correspondence with everyone; paid bills and taxes. It is no wonder she was still up at midnight, finishing up the lasts of fifteen – or more – letters: “Since we came back from our holiday I have answered one hundred and seventeen letters for Gilbert,” Frances once said.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

As 1924 dawned…Gilbert attained the honorable age of fifty (Frances would turn fifty-five). Their writing output continued on a prolific scale, as always. Frances enjoyed particular success. Samuel French, Ltd. published three of her verse children’s plays – The Children’s Crusade, Sir Cleges, and The Christmas Gift – as a set.

The plays, Frances stated in her preface, “make no pretense to any historical or literary value. They merely serve as a text or background for the exercise of that ingenuity and love of pageantry and even rhetoric which is the common heritage of all children.”

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

Loneliness is essential to the human condition, and marriage – even the happiest of marriages – cannot bring satisfaction.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

“If I had anything to do with this girl I should go down on my knees to her: if I spoke to her she would never deceive me: if I depended on her she would never deny me: if I loved her she would never play with me: if I trusted her she would never go back on her: if I remembered her she would never forget me.”

Gilbert in a letter, after meeting his future wife Frances, as quoted in Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

For nearly a century, Frances [Chesterton]’s story has been hidden amongst the pages of the poetry Gilbert wrote, Christmas cards sent to friends, letters to priests and relatives stored in library special collections, out-of-print biographies written by literary contemporaries, in boxes in the attics and garages of her grandnephews, and in scattered periodicals and books. Few people are now familiar with the details of Frances’s own writing career; few have read her published works.

It is, of course, a story intimately woven with the story of Gilbert. This is, after all, a love story. Frances and Gilbert worked as a team; they were lovers and friends, writing coaches and companions. They worked, ate, laughed, and slept together for thirty-five years, dependent on each other physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The love between them defined her life – and his. She was his first and biggest fan; his most successful marketer, and his most devoted cheerleader. She was the first to laugh at his jokes. She took dictation, dusted his hat, and tied his shoes. She clung to him when her life seemed out of control. She cherished the love poetry he wrote her, treasuring the words tenderly in her heart, never sharing the most intimate specimens with anyone. It is not an exaggeration to say that she was the person who would affect Gilbert’s life more profoundly than anyone. He was totally dependent on her for his happiness.

Nancy Carpentier Brown, The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015)

“Ths was the special gift of God to St. Ignatius,” according to Pius XI, “to lead men back to the practice of the virtue of obedience.” The order which he founded [the Jesuits] was to be so dedicated to this virtue that a special vow of obedience to the pope was to be added to the three substantial ones of evangelical perfection. All through life, in formal directives and in letters of spiritual counsel, it was obedience that Ignatius emphasized. […]

Superiors are not to be criticized in public, whether in formal discourse or conversation with ordinary people, because this will give rise to scandal and complaints, without correcting the evil criticized. Common experience proves this fact, of which the Protestant Revolt is a tragic example. Thousands of simple people who had no special grievance against the pope and the bishops were whipped to a frenzy of hatred for the Church’s authority by the fulmination of the Reformers. No matter how valid the complaint may be, there is no wisdom in exposing the evil before an emotional public which, at least in the Church’s juridical structure, cannot apply an effective cure. If anything, the correction may be delayed or prevented altogether after men’s feelings are aroused and demands are made for radical changes dictated by passion instead of prudence and considerate reason.

Father John A. Hardon, All My Liberty: Theology of the Spiritual Exercises (1998)

[Indifference] is not mere passivity in the presence of creatures, allowing them to pound the will with opposition, nor mere stoicism which resists their seductive attraction with no supernatural end in view. It is an active dynamism that positively seeks out those creatures which the mind, illumined by faith, determines are more conducive to the Beatific Vision. Behind this clarification stands the implicit principle that there are degrees of efficiency among creatures as instruments of sanctification, and that consequently it behooves us to train the mind for recognizing which are the more efficacious and to develop the will habitually to embrace them.

Father John A. Hardon, All My Liberty: Theology of the Spiritual Exercises (1998)

John Stuart Mill’s ideal of marriage as “a private, bargained-for exchange between husband and wife about all their rights, goods, and interests” has become a legal reality in contemporary America…But John Locke’s warning, echoing Thomas Aquinas, that the private contractualization of marriage will bring injustice and sometimes ruin to many women and children has also become a reality in America. Premarital, marital, separation, and divorce agreements too often are not arm’s-length transactions, and too often are not driven by rational-calculus alone, however much courts and mediators insist that they are. In the heady romance of budding nuptials, parties are often blind to the full consequences of their bargain. In the emotional anguish of separation and divorce, parties can be driven more by the desire for short-term relief from the other spouse than by the concern for their own long-term welfare or that of their children. The economically stronger and more calculating spouse triumphs in these contexts. And in the majority of cases today, that party is still the man, despite the loud egalitarian rhetoric to the contrary.

“Underneath the mantle of equality [and freedom] that has been draped over the ongoing family, the state of nature flourishes,” Mary Ann Glendon writes ominously. In this state of nature, contractual freedom and sexual privacy reign supreme, with no real role for the state, church, or broader civil society to play. In this state of nature, married life has become increasingly “brutish, nasty, and short,” with women and children bearing the primary costs. The very contractarian gospel that first promised salvation from the abuses of earlier Christian models of marriage now threatens with even graver abuse.

Recall the statistics we recounted in the preface to this volume. Since 1975, roughly one-quarter of all pregnancies in America were aborted. One-third of all children were born to single mothers. One-half of all marriages ended in divorce. Two-thirds of all African American children were raised without fathers in their homes. Single mothers faced four times the rates of poverty, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. Children from broken homes were much more likely to have behavioral and learning problems, and suffered four times the rate of serious sexual or physical abuse. More than two-thirds of all juveniles and young adults convicted of major felonies since 1975 have come from single- or no-parent homes. While these numbers have improved somewhat in the past decade – owing in part to a strong new family-education movement and new family-policy initiatives – the burden of the modern family’s breakdown falls disproportionately on women and children.  

The modern welfare state has softened and spread out the costs of marital and family breakdown over the past two generations by supplying nonmarital children, single mothers, abandoned spouses, and aged parents with resources and services traditionally supplied principally by their own natural kin. These are valuable advances that promote social justice and greater happiness for all. But the modern welfare state remains an expensive and risky modern experiment: it is not clear that it is a sustainable long-term solution even for the affluent West, let alone for underdeveloped or developing countries. In America today, those who depend on state social welfare often face bitter financial and emotional hardship and endless bureaucratic wrangling, and basic health insurance and decent public education are still beyond the reach of tens of millions. Better social welfare and health insurance systems are in place in Europe today. But these, too, depend on high median wealth in the population, all of which can disappear quickly, as the threats and realities of national bankruptcy in Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Spain, and italy have recently reminded the world.

Perhaps we are simply witnessing today the birth pangs of a new marriage order that will feature the final removal of sexual stereotyping and exploitation; the real achievement of distributive justice to women, children, and the poor; the sensible pluralization of Western marriage laws to accommodate new global patterns of sexuality, kinship, and bonding. These are goals to which the Western legal tradition of marriage must surely aspire. And as Harold Berman reminds us, great legal revolutions always pass through radical phases before they reach and accommodation with the tradition that they had set out to destroy.

It is hard to see the promise of these future benefits, however, in the current phase of the legal revolution in America. The rudimentary disquisitions on equality, privacy, and freedom offered by courts and commentators today seem altogether too lean to nourish the legal revolution of marriage and the family that is now taking place. The elementary deconstructions and dismissals of a millenium-long tradition of marriage and family law and life seem altogether too glib to be taken so seriously. The growing academic calls for the abolition of marriage seem so blind to the needs of children and to the dangers of depending on the benevolence of the state to carry on the work traditionally left to natural kinship networks.

John Witte Jr., From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition, 2nd edition (2012)

Agriculture was sunk to a low ebb at the decadence of the Roman Empire. Marshes covered once fertile fields, and the men who should have tilled the land spurned the plow as degrading. The monks left their cells and their prayers to dig ditches and plow fields. The effort was magical. Men once more turned back to a noble but despised industry, and peace and plenty supplanted war and poverty. So well recognized were the blessings they brought, that an old German proverb among the peasants runs, ‘It is good to live under the crozier.’ They ennobled manual labor, which, in a degenerate Roman world, had been performed exclusively by slaves, and among the barbarians by women. For the monks it is no exaggeration to say that the cultivation of the soil was like an immense alms spread over a whole country. The abbots and superiors set the example, and stripping off their sacerdotal robes, toiled as common laborers. Like the good parson whom Chaucer portrays in the prologue to the “Canterbury Tales”:

“‘This noble ensample unto his scheep he gaf That first he wroughte and after that he taughte.’

When a Papal messenger came in haste to consult the Abbot Equutius on important matters of the Church, he was not to be found anywhere, but was finally discovered in the valley cutting hay. Under such guidance and such example the monks upheld and taught everywhere the dignity of labor, first, by consecrating to agriculture the energy and intelligent activity of freemen often of high birth, and clothed with the double authority of the priesthood and of hereditary nobility, and, second, by associating under the Benedictine habit sons of kings, princes, and nobles with the rudest labors of peasants and serfs.”

Henry M. Goodell, “The Influence of the Monks in Agriculture and Christian Civilization” (Sacred Heart Review, 3 December 1910)