Beliefs Culture

Saint G.K. Chesterton? Some delight, others worry about effort to canonize writer

G.K. Chesterton and his wife Frances. Photo courtesy American Chesterton Society
G.K. Chesterton and his wife Frances. Photo courtesy American Chesterton Society

G.K. Chesterton and his wife, Frances. Photo courtesy American Chesterton Society

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Christians and Jews are mounting campaigns for and against a path to sainthood for British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), one of the world’s best-known Catholic converts.

Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, where Chesterton lived and worked, has ordered an examination of Chesterton’s life — the first step in what is likely to be a long and unpredictable process toward canonization.

Chesterton’s many admirers delighted in the news.

“There is a growing devotion to this life-changing writer,” said Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, who has pushed the church to explore a formal declaration of sainthood for a man he called “a maker of converts.”

Ahlquist said Chesterton, whose appeal crosses racial, gender, age and national boundaries, influenced two Americans who are currently up for sainthood — Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Dorothy Day. In the U.S., Chesterton is frequently cited by conservative Christians of all denominations.

Ahlquist also thinks Chesterton’s cause for canonization may get a boost from Pope Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires encouraged aspirations for Chesterton’s cause by allowing a private prayer to be said for his canonization.

Chesterton converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism in the 1920s. Known for his wit and ability to find truth in apparent paradox, Chesterton wrote literary essays, novels, poetry and plays. His short stories include the Father Brown mystery series.

He also wrote religious works, including books on St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi.

Dale Ahiquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Photo courtesy American Chesterston Society

Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society. Photo courtesy American Chesterston Society

“He’s one of my favorite writers,” wrote Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator magazine. But she believes canonizing the 300-pound cigar-chomping writer would damage his reputation — and that of the Catholic Church — because so many people regard Chesterton as anti-Semitic.

That’s a viewpoint echoed by two leading British Jews, Simon Mayers and Geoffrey Alderman. They condemn Chesterton for making what they see as anti-Jewish comments during two turn-of-the-century scandals involving false allegations against Jews — the Dreyfus Affair and the Marconi Scandal.

Alderman said that in the book “The New Jerusalem” (1921), Chesterton said Jews couldn’t be loyal to the countries in which they live because their first loyalty is to their co-religionists scattered around the world.

Chesterton’s views on Jews may have been best expressed in an essay titled “The Problem of Zionism,” in which he said that Jews holding high public office should dress as “orientals,” to remind people of their allegiance and origin.

Richard Aleman, executive director of the American Chesterton Society, said he didn’t think Chesterton was anti-Semitic.

“Chesterton believed Jews would like to be patriotic about something, defend something and belong to something of their own, as we all would. He also said the same of green-grocers, cheese-mongers, tavern keepers, etc.”

Canon John Udris of St. Mary’s College in Oscott has been chosen to undertake a fact-finding mission on behalf of Chesterton’s possible canonization process.

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Trevor Grundy

18 Comments

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  • Given that we are on the verge of a Republican-born government shutdown, we should consider two quote from St. Chesterton

    “Democracy means government by the uneducated, while aristocracy means government by the badly educated.” (Ted Cruz?)

    “There is nothing the matter with Americans except their ideals. The real American is all right; it is the ideal American who is all wrong.” (Tea Party?)

  • My denomination, the Episcopal Church, is includes both Chesterton and John XXIII in “Holy Women, Holy Men,” an enlarged calendar that is being considered on a trial basis and may be adopted on a permanent basis.

  • The accusations of anti-Semitism always arise from those who read GKC superficially, especially from those who don’t like what he says. Those who study him and his life extensively know better.
    It’s easy to read a quote outside of both its literary and cultural contexts and leap to conclusions based on the context of our OWN time. It’s not so easy to read even a fraction of the works of a man who wrote nearly a hundred books and over 5,000 essays and make a fair judgement. I’ve been reading him for over eight years and have managed not quite fifty books and maybe 500 essays, as well as several biographies and other books about him.
    There are Jewish defenders as well as Jewish accusers, so the existence of the latter proves nothing. People could also try reading GKC’s own response to such charges, which you can read in a free online issue of the ACS’s “Gilbert” magazine (Google it).

    But people who make and repeat these accusations mostly don’t want to read these things. In our context, an accusation of antisemitism is as good as a guilty verdict, and the enemies of Christianity are desperate for any brush to smear and dismiss this most able defender of faith, reason and common sense.

  • As with everything else the tea party proclaims or does, the quotation attributed to them makes no sense. As for crude Ted Cruz, he is more than well enough known by now to understand his contempt for all people who do not agree with him. On that basis, democracy is not possible.

    We have moved further and further on the very long road toward true democracy in this country since our Constitution was written in 1787. We have a very long road yet to travel as proven by people like Cruz. Part of the sloppiness of democracy is that everyone is allowed to participate, even Ted Cruz, under the presumption that the majority are sane, sensible, and respectful of others. Yet is was the majority of the Texas electorate who hired Cruz in 2012. So Cruz is blaming his own electors.

    What prompted John McCain to select Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. McCain remains too proud to admit the horror of that error.

  • That would be plenty, “Holy Women, Holy Men.” How about “Holy People?” There is no need to continue with the ancient, dark notion of saints, even worse, the confounding graduations of venerable and blessed toward that highest elevation. I don’t know about heaven, but the calendar is already overcrowded. Still, Chesterton’s pompous arrogance would prompt me to block out the date designated for him on your “Holy People” calendar.

  • Dorothy Day certainly deserves consideration for recognition as an exceptionally thorough and solid follower of Jesus for others. But I think an Oscar would be a more appropriate award for Fulton Sheen, he with his swishing bishop’s cape on his TV drama series. I was close to Sheen in the spring of 1960 when he blessed a new school building where I was teaching. Great show.

  • Ahhh, but your first quote betrays you. Chesterton was “suspect” of s called educated people because he saw them as detached from reality and everyday life. He is actually giving the leg up to the “uneducated” because he does not mistake the so called “educated” for wise men and women.

  • “Dark notions” of saints? I am not sure what saints you are talking about? The word “saint” literally means “santos” or holy. Honestly….

  • From a Protestant point-of-view, Chesterton already IS a saint (Hallelujah!) , and one of the most capable writers of the past 100 years.

  • I know the times are trying, but how in the world does an article about G.K. Chesterton turn into a contemporary commentary about the U.S. government, its partisan divisions, and the debt-debacle of its own design?

  • As an Orthodox Rabbi, I strongly believe that it’s for Catholics, not us, to determine whom Catholics want as saints.

    Were Catholics to apply the criterion of not being anti-Semitic to their selection process, there would be significantly fewer Catholic saints than there are.

    Rabbi Chaim Frazer

  • Taking a swipe at Sheen does not add light to anything. I became familiar with Bishop Sheen on many levels; his contributions to philosophy, history, academics, and yes, sanctity are monumental. If one cares anything about justice being done to anyone then one ought to proceed with some knowledge of the subject and with charity, As to GKC in general and canonization in particular, the Church does not create saints but recognizes them. God makes saints. We also believe that in Heaven only one of God’s creations was without sin. To exclude Chesterton or anyone from such recognition based upon faults or perceived faults would be to make Heaven a rather lonely place.

  • Thats clever what you tried to do Trevor. But you and I both know that won’t work on true Chesterton fans. You completely misrepresent us, I just hope it is not deliberate. I don’t believe Chesterton would approve of anyone trying to make him a saint. He broke with convention yet kept the commandments as best he could. However I could be wrong, then again it’s not up to me to decide. No doubt other fans will disagree with me. However Im not opposed to the idea in theory at all.

    His work speaks to the masses of fallen away Christians and or disaffected intellectuals seeking truth. He has universal appeal, and many a professor has worked hard to limit exposure young minds get to Chesterton. To make him a Saint would take away from his popular appeal, and restrict his ability to appeal to the intellect of men who have no faith. His intellectual story is unique and special, it deserves to be respected and spread. Not by making Chesterton a Saint, but by simply allowing and encouraging people to read his books while they read Darwin or Nietzsche. Again this is only my opinion, Im just one man who wants to be alive.

    Regarding your main stream plug about anti semitism. The thousands of Orthodox Jews who Protest Zionism in New York, don’t get coverage or even called anti semitic. But anyone who doesn’t expressly agree with all things pertaining to Jews or people claiming to be Jews, are categorically defined as anti semitic. Disagreeing with the creed of one religious group, particularly one who rejected the Messiah, does not make one anti semitic. It simply means you disagree with them.

    In fact Chesterton marveled at the Jewish culture. In light of the fact that in his view, God chose Jesus to be a Jew living among Jews, of all the races in the world. Chesterton just believed that the Old law was fulfilled in the New set by Christ, so far as I can tell. Which said Gentile or Jew, Woman or Man, Servant or Free. G.K. Chesterton was no anti semite, but much of the world is Anti Christian.

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