A pleasant surprise

A pleasant surprise March 20, 2014

Andrew Sullivan, of all people, seems to endorse the idea of canonizing Chesterton.

I am of two minds about canonizing Chesteton. On the one hand, I think it obvious the man was a saint. I already pray to him on a regular basis and assume that I need his intercession a lot more than he needs mine. So it would be a wonderful thing to see him raised to the altar for much the same reason that you cheer when all the citizens of Minas Tirith follow the King in kneeling before the hobbits in their humility. The exaltation of the humble is always a beautiful thing and Chesterton was nothing if not a humble man. So I would be delighted to see him accorded the honors he so richly deserves.

On the other hand, I sort of worry that canonization will turn him into a plaster saint and that the starchiness that goes with pious officialdom will somehow distance him from us. I know that’s a stupid worry, but who says irrational worries have to be smart?

Whatever the Church winds up doing will be fine with me. I will always see GKC as one of my most cherished elder brothers in the faith.

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  • Maolsheachlann

    There is a kind of perception out there that Chesterton will be “a new kind of saint” and that his canonization would be that most beloved of things in certain circles, a break with tradition. I have even heard some people mutter that it would be a watering down of the requirements of sainthood. Like yourself, I feel little doubt that Chesterton was a saint– nearly everyone who knew him seems to have had that awareness of his holiness that people so often seem to perceive in the saints. I also pray to him, in my case for a specific miracle. So I suppose I’m saying that I believe he IS a saint and that I hope he is canonized but I do rather dread the way I think his canonization might be abused in some quarters. And we will hear all the tiresome accusations of anti-semitism again (Chesterton said some stupid things about the Jews but he was no anti-semite, rather the contrary).

    • meunke

      That whole “CHESTERTON HATED JEWS!!!!” thing does get brought up a bunch. The thing is, I’m sure there are very few saints in history that DIDN’T say some boneheaded stuff in their times too, we just don’t have any record of it. They WERE human after all…

      • Sean P. Dailey

        Also, he didn’t hate Jews.

        • meunke

          True, I was merely offering a parody of the usual BS people throw out who have never actually read him.

          • Sean P. Dailey

            LOL, and there are plenty of “experts” on Chesterton who have never actually read him.

  • Uncle Brian

    Better to be a plaster saint than not a saint at all.

  • Sean P. Dailey

    “I sort of worry that canonization will turn him into a plaster saint and that the starchiness that goes with pious officialdom will somehow distance him from us.”

    I assure you, Chestertonians will remain steadfastly starch-free, as will devotion to Chesterton. Cigar smoke drives away starchiness.

  • Quoted in the linked article: Another virtue of Chesterton was his remarkable ability to make friends with his intellectual opponents. No matter how heated his arguments became, he never lost sight of their common humanity; and proof of that is the emotional tributes his adversaries paid him upon his death.

    I love that. That’s a saintly characteristic we – I – could use more of, nowadays.

  • Daniel Nichols

    More problematic was his ambivalence about Mussolini and his failure to condemn the annexation of Ethiopia. I’m not sure if evidence for this is readily available; I saw it in an old compilation of GK’s Weekly, where I was surprised at how many distributists were supportive of Italian fascism. Indeed, the anthology is an eye-opener as to the diversity in early distributism. It made me restate my thesis that there is ‘left distributism’, which emphasizes redistribution, anti-capitalism, and worker cooperatives, and ‘right distributism’ which ranges from an almost libertarian anti-statism to an authoritarian Catholic militancy.

    • Mike

      FWIW, according to Ian Ker’s biography G.K. Chesterton (p. 714-716), he did “categorically condemned the Italian agression”, though at the same time pointing out the hypocrisy of other European nations reaction to it.

      • Daniel Nichols

        Okay, I checked a couple of sources and Chesterton did condemn the invasion of Abyssinia, though I would not use the word “categorically”; his criticisms were accompanied by comments to the effect that what Italy had done was standard European colonialism and that it shouldn’t be singled out. And his condemnation was slow in coming, which was not characteristic of GKC.

        • Sean P. Dailey

          Sanctity does not mean one is without human flaws, Daniel. Or as Doino writes in the Sullivan article that Mark linked to, “Yet a third characteristic of Chesterton’s holiness was his recognition of sin—especially his own sins—and the urgency to have them forgiven to receive eternal life.”

          • Daniel Nichols

            I know! I have written about that many times, most recently in response to the Really Orthodox Catholics, ie, the rad-trads, who are up in arms about the canonizations of JPII and John XXIII, though the real reason for this is they realize that means that Vatican II now IS Catholic tradition. And I was surprised and taken aback when I read Chesterton’s comments re Mussolini in GK’s, comments which Mr Ker may or may not have been aware of. None of that means he wasn’t holy, though. As Fr Benedict Groeschel once said, you can go to hell imitating the vices of the saints. This discussion was not about his worthiness but about the inevitable criticisms.
            And I have long advocated not only his canonization but that of Flannery O’Connor, though that one may be one of those long-delayed ones, like Joan of Arc!

            • Sean P. Dailey

              I can ask Dale Ahlquist about those comments in G.K’s Weekly.

              I too would love to see Flannery O’Connor raised to the altars.

  • Kathleen M. Ritter

    This is why I don’t think Chesterton, if canonized, would
    ever fall into the “plaster saint” trap:

    Because those toasting his elevation would literally be
    toasting his elevation, hoisting their pints of ale and singing manly poems.

    Because people, upon learning about this new “St. Gilbert”, would discover his writings, and be quickly disabused of any notion that a witty and playful genius of a man, who heartily threw his whole being (and it’s quite a large being) into battling the heresies of his age, all with a generosity of spirit that left him with no enemies, could possibly be shoe-horned into that place of insipid unreality that we tend to (unfairly) place so many of our saints. His very elevation would be
    like his writing and his life: a bracing adventure full of paradox and grace. There never was another like him.

    Because some of us moderns are too hardened to respond to the likes of St. Therese (our problem, not hers).

    Because cigar smoke.

    • Sean P. Dailey

      Amen, Kathleen!

  • Elmwood

    I think GKC also supported England going to war during WWI. I think this war had been denounced by Pope Benedict XV at the time. GKC was a patriot, I don’t think you can fault him for that though.

    I thought he was also opposed to woman’s suffrage, which ultimately brought us the likes of Obama, so he was no doubt a saint.

  • This is probably an anti-climatic tempest in a teapot, but… it always makes me wonder why the Chesterton fanbase (specifically, that which sees him as the best catholic apologist) never objects to (among other things) this little one: GKC views on the duel.

    Notably (but not only) in “The sphere and the cross”, where the hero [*] MacIan challenges the atheist to a duel (and this in the name in catholicism, to defend the honour of the Virgin Mary). MacIan even discusses the issue with a Tolstoian(Chapter 5), who argues that duel implies murder and hence it’s a sin (something that MacIan -and with him GKC… and his readers?- emphatically denies: “Murder is a spiritual incident. Bloodshed is a physical incident”). Later the tolstoyian argues against the duel in name of “all modern ideas”. Then he appeals to religion: “How you, sir, who pretend to be a Christian…” and MacIan gets very angry: “don’t you talk about Christianity. Don’t you dare to say one word, white or black, about it. Christianity is, as far as you are concerned, a horrible mystery.”

    For me the irony, of course, is that the tolstoian is right; or at least, he has a good point against MacIan… and, I’m afraid, GKC. The duel was (at that time) explicitly condemned by the Church as a grave sin. And if it was true that many catholics of the time (**) refused to accept that teaching, it was because of wordly (and romantic, in the worst sense of the word) “codes”. And, more to the point, the fact that we current catholics reject the duel is due in good part to those “modern ideas” that GKC and his fanbase are -perhaps- too prone to despise.

    This kind of thing in my experience, is practically never critized (or even noted) among GKC fans (they prefer to object things that to me are far less relevant: the ‘n’ word, jews, politics). I’m also a big fan (I have more then 40 books of him, and I owe him a lot, and I think that he is a brilliant artist and healthy thinker) but i think that to enjoy him is not at odds with reading him critically, and recognize some of his limitations as a catholic apologist.

    (* I know that the novel does not puts the christian in the “good guy” and the atheist in the “bad guy” roles, the christian has also his limitations, and the bad guy is reallly… the modern world. All the same.).

    (** The french writer Leon Bloy was infamously fired from his work, at 1895, because he refused -following Church teaching- to accept a duel challenge from a coworker)

    • chezami

      I reject his views on dueling. But then, I don’t think he should be canonized for his flawless perfect, but for his obvious holiness.

  • Elmwood

    We should also keep in mind that it took GKC much of his life–48 years or so–to finally enter the church. So his opinions on WWI shouldn’t be counted against him because he wasn’t subject to the Holy Father yet. Certainly his opinions of dueling should be seen in the light of the fact that he wasn’t Catholic yet.