05 March, 2007

Fr. Brown

Once it passes 9:00 p.m., I consider the school day over. Any reading I do past that time is strictly extra-curricular. That is how I've had time in the past two weeks to finish an anthology of every Fr. Brown mystery written. (I really haven't been procrastinating on schoolwork - I swear!)

The "Father Brown" mysteries are some of GK Chesterton's most popular and well-known works of fiction. None of the stories are novel length. They all are short stories originally published as collections under such titles as "The Innocence of Father Brown" or "The Incredulity of Father Brown."

Father Brown is an interesting character. In my opinion he takes his rank right alongside classic detectives like Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, or Sherlock Holmes. Although I don't want to overstate the obvious, I'd better mention that he's different from each of the three in a very interesting sense. He's a priest. A priest, that is, who hears confessions daily; who is good and close to God, and so has an acute sense both of what is holy and what is unholy. He can see the emptiness of the most convincing guise of innocence and can see innocence where no one else will.

This is an advantage Lord Peter, Poirot, and Holmes must make up for with intuition,deduction, observation, and shrewd guessing as their relative styles require. Fr. Brown is clever in all of these ways as well. His intellect is described as one that "could once paraphrase an entire page of Aquinas in two or three sentences." A big difference is that all three of these secular detectives are also arrogant to one degree or another (not to disrespect any of those detectives, two of whom I genuinely like). But Fr. Brown's cleverness is humble, hidden beneath an almost "foolish" innocence and charity. In this respect he reminds me of another character - St. Thomas Aquinas - whom Chesterton admired and wrote about.

Fr. Brown is a perfect image for Pope Paul VI's description of the Church as "an expert in humanity". As a priest, his business is ministering to humans through acting in the person of Christ, who knows each person better than they know themselves. Of course, it helps that Fr. Brown as himself is fairly brilliant.

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