Knight of the Holy Ghost, he goes his way,
Wisdom his motley, Truth his loving jest;
The mills of Satan keep his lance in play,
Pity and innocence his heart at rest.
— Walter de la Mare on GKC
That G.K. Chesterton was a humble, joyful, and courageous man was evident to those who knew him, and his singular spirit shines admirably through his many writings. All indications are that he loved God and neighbour, and he spent his life fighting valiantly for truth wherever he saw it. Is it possible that he was a modern saint? The idea has been tossed around by his admirers for a long time now, and last week the notion got some traction. England’s Chesterton Society held a conference at Oxford on the topic “The Holiness of G.K. Chesterton”, with the intention of assessing the case for his beatification.
Papers presented at the conference discussed the theological virtues in Chesterton’s life, his famous gift for warm humour, his humility (perhaps his most striking and refreshing characteristic), his sense of wonder and love of truth. Aidan Nichols, OP, the imposing intellectual powerhouse of Blackfriars, and not, I wouldn’t think, a man given to facetiousness, proposed that Chesterton might well be considered a twentieth-century Doctor of the Church.
The good news is that, based on the discussion at the conference, the decision has been made to formally pursue Chesterton’s cause. [Update. To clarify: those attending the conference decided that Chesterton’s cause was worth pursuing, but the local bishop, who must approve any official action, has not yet granted his support to the proposal.]
I am not sure exactly what is involved in preparing a cause for beatification or canonization, but I know it is usually a long and detailed process. I will say that I am glad to see it going forward. Whether he was a saint, I do not know, but he was a good man, and it seems entirely appropriate to make the argument and let the Church discern its merit.
One reservation is that if Chesterton were formally recognized by the Church as a blessed, I fear that it would harm his reputation in the eyes of some. He was a great expounder of arguments and insights, many of which remain very prescient and relevant today, but the people who would benefit most from his opposition are, I am afraid, the same people least inclined to lend weight to the wisdom, however jolly, of an “official” Catholic.
What would Chesterton think of all this? I expect that he would laugh heartily and raise a pint to Our Lady. Go thou and do likewise.