Blessed G.K. Chesterton?

July 16, 2009

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.

6 Responses to “Blessed G.K. Chesterton?”

  1. Barbara Says:

    The person who needs to move forward with this is Bishop Peter Doyle. Check out the Website for the canonization of Archbishop Sheen!‘s blog has Bishop Doyle’s address in the UK so you can write to Bishop Doyle urging him to start the process. Check out the prayer, written in 1988.
    My guess is that unless a foundation is set up to raise money to defray the costs, Bishop Doyle won’t be too enthusiastic. $1.35 million is the figure I saw.
    Chesterton has been disdained in the UK’s equivalent of the Academy. There is also a really unpleasant link to him and fascism. Funny the same folks totally ignore Sanger and her pals publication of Hitler’s Eugenicist in chief!

    • The cause hasn’t, yet, been officially opened. Bishop Doyle is known to think that though there is interest in Chesterton in the U.S., there’s none at all in England. He’s wrong about that: but until he has come to see it, communications from America are probably counter-productive.

      Incidentally, Barbara: your claim that there is ‘a really unpleasant link to him and fascism’ is quite simply totally unfounded. He loathed everything fascism stood for, as we see in his extreme hostility to Nietszche and in his outraged attack on Hitler’s persecution of the Jews

  2. cburrell Says:

    Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Oddie. I do understand that opening a formal cause for beatification is not something undertaken lightly. Personally I hope that Bishop Doyle will give it his blessing, but we shall see.

    Earlier this year we noted the publication of your recent biography of Chesterton, but, due to circumstances, have not yet found time to read it. It looks excellent.

  3. Nick Milne Says:

    Many people seem to confuse him with A.K. Chesterton, a cousin of his who really was involved in the English fascist movement. That Chesterton lived until 1973, so perhaps it’s his name that reverberates most particularly in the public memory as far as this matter is concerned. That would likely account for the “unpleasant link” of which Barbara (and others I know) have complained.

  4. Barbara Says:

    Sorry I was confusing. GKC was not a fascist!
    There’s a collection of essays linking right wingers in England to the deterioration of medical ethics in Germany that led to the Holocaust, “termination” of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, medical “experiments” etc. Belloc’s supposed association with Action Française, meaning he was a fascist, and his assocaition with Chesterton, enabled them to make a dubious and false connection.
    No direct accusation – just a nasty guilt by association vibe. The authors in the collection miss Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control League and her publiction of nazis in her magazine plus her support of the eugenics movement in England.
    I’ll have to dig up the name of the collection or anthology. One of its editors teaches at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.

  5. […] few months ago I noted that a conference at Oxford had been convened on the topic “The Holiness of G.K. Chesterton”. […]

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