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Who next, now that Newman has been raised to our altars? It can surely only be G K Chesterton

He was nothing like our traditional idea of what a saint is like: but his time has come

By on Wednesday, 29 September 2010

GK Chesterton: 'a giant, spiritually as well as physically' (Photo: PA)

GK Chesterton: 'a giant, spiritually as well as physically' (Photo: PA)

On Saturday October 9, a week this Saturday, we will all be celebrating, for the first time, the feast of the Blessed John Henry Newman of the Oratory. It is a very momentous time, this; it was all brought home to me by a very simple thing last Sunday at Mass at the Oxford Oratory: as I came from the altar after receiving Holy Communion, there at the back of Church I saw for the first time the Oratory’s new Newman shrine, with votive candles burning and people kneeling before it; it all seemed so established, so natural, and yet before the beatification this month it would have been almost unthinkable.

And on October 9, we will keep his feast. On the same day, I shall be speaking at a conference organised by a group called Chesterton in the Chilterns on Chesterton and Newman. The date was chosen for this conference (for details go to the Chesterton Society website) before the announcement of the date of Newman’s feast day: but the happy coincidence leads me to suggest that it might now be time seriously to start thinking about an unavoidable question: after John Henry Newman, who next? My answer is that it can only be Gilbert Keith Chesterton.  

The obvious objection to this is that Chesterton was nothing like our idea of how a saint should look or behave. He was greatly given to the pleasures of the table; he was enormously, sometimes riotously funny; he was the opposite of Newman in so many respects (though Newman also had a brilliant sense of humour). The late Cardinal Emmet Carter described him on the 50th anniversary of his death as one of those “holy lay persons” who “have exercised a truly prophetic role within the Church and the world”, but he did not then believe that it would be possible to introduce a Cause for his ultimate canonisation, since he did “not think that we are sufficiently emancipated from certain concepts of sanctity” – though later he change his mind.

The distinguished historian J J Scarisbrick, however, thought that his sanctity was so clear that the opening of his Cause should indeed be seriously contemplated. “We all know,” he responded, “that he was an enormously good man as well as an enormous one. My point is that he was more than that. There was a special integrity and blamelessness about him, a special devotion to the good and to justice … Above all, there was that breathtaking, intuitive (almost angelic) possession of the Truth and awareness of the supernatural which only a truly holy person can enjoy. This was the gift of heroic intelligence and understanding – and of heroic prophecy. He was a giant, spiritually as well as physically. Has there ever been anyone quite like him in Catholic history?”

I agree; and this is what I and a distinguished group of theologians will be arguing in a book entitled The Holiness of G K Chesterton, to be published before the end of the year. Meanwhile, why not go to the Beaconsfield conference on October 9? Maybe I’ll see you there.

  • Eugene Pagano

    Here is the USA, the Episcopalian Church, although it does not have formal beatification and canonization, commemorates Chesterton in its calendar [].

    Eugene Pagano

  • rosmerta

    I'd love to see the causes for both G.K. and his wife Frances opened together. I think an excellent case could be made for Mrs. Chesterton along with her husband. His life and works to a great extent would not have been possible without her – a fact he would have been the first to proclaim. And what a lovely image of marriage to promote, in a day and age when marriage is bruised and battered on every side.

  • Stephen, of Adelaide

    A very big man indeed, but he had a saintly gift for brevity!

  • 2see

    Your Heading: I certainly hope not. Sainthood requires “heroic Virtue”. Chesterton was a writer; a convert; and
    a secular theologian. Plz explain where he exhibited “heroic Virtue” outside of the ordinary holiness of good people. Bl. Newmann was elevated to the altars not simply because he was a all of these things but also an outstanding priest who worked tirelessly w/the poor and the marginalized. Also he spent himself thoroughly in his priestly vocation. That's why he is blessed and on the road to St. Yes we all are called to be saints – but those raised to the altars by the Church are exemplary roles model of vitue – “heroic” Virtue.

  • W Oddie

    That's exactly what Chesterton was, and what those who have anything more than a cursory knowledge oif his life KNOW that he was.

  • Michael O.

    Unfortunately, Chesterton probably won't be canonized for another reason – the accusations of anti-semitism (which are bogus, but that's never stopped anyone). After the Williamson fiasco the Church can't afford another black eye on that subject.

  • Roy Parker

    What about Christoper Columbus? Now he was a true Catholic hero.

  • Badger Catholic

    One need not be a hermit to be holy. All people are called to holiness(Lumen Gentium).

  • GKC we love you

    Chesterton most certainly had heroic virtue. Heroic gratitude. Heroic piety. Heroic Humility–how did he manage to escape the academic pretentions of the time? hiding his great erudition, wearing it lightly, caring for the truth and not for the namedropping that often accompanies winkling out the truth. Heroic friendship–think of all the intellectual opponents who counted him as friend after Cecil and Hilaire managed to alienate them. And who has not felt him as a friend in reading him–his gift for friendship irradiates from the text and he has become a boon companion in life and in dark times for many, providing solace and reorientation for bitter, hardened souls. It would be hard to single out which one of his virtues was most characteristic. A capacity for living constantly in the presence of God; a refinement in his dealing with Jesus Christ ever as God-and-Man. His essay on Certain Modern Writers on the Institution of the Family is a masterpiece of charity, a charity that he evidently lived. I guess, that's it isn't it–Heroic Charity, love of God and love of neighbor. Chesterton to a T. I have spontaneously prayed to him to grant me a double gift of his spirit in order to come through intellectual battles with humility and charity still all-flags-flying. When he is canonized I plan to attend. A turn of the millennium saint, a turning of the tide saint, a giant bestride millennia.

  • Thomas Lynch

    Hear-Hear Tom from Adelaide

  • Tybourne

    Much as I love Chesterton (who could fail to?) there are other Englishmen that seem more worthy of being raised to the altar- among them Servant of God John Bradburne:

  • Paul Likoudis

    I agree Chesterton would be a fine candidate for canonization, but I'd like to see a couple others added to the list.

    First, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning, the greatest Englishman of the 19th century. For the life of me I cannot understand why there is no movement anywhere in the English-speaking world to have this holy prelate fast-tracked to canonization. Can someone whisper the word to Archbishop Vincent? Not only was/is Manning's holiness transparent, but he was the greatest prophet of his time, in pushing for Vatican I (which the “inopportunists” have never forgiven him), but he also clearly foresaw and described the coming warfare between Church and State, and how that “pestilent infidel school” that dominated the Press, the Academy and the Government was all for removing any influence of the Church from society. On top of that, was there a greater champion of Catholic Social Action than Manning in the past two centuries?

    After Manning, how about Fr. Vincent McNabb, OP. Again, his sanctity cannot be disputed.

    I'd also like to see Hilaire Belloc moved to the altar, but that will never happen, so I pray to him privately as a saint!

  • Pulchritudo Musicae

    I would love to see the day. Chesterton would be a wonderful saint for the Church to look up to and learn by!

  • TheBlueWarrior

    “The Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of becoming a child of his age.”–Gilbert the Prophet

  • marco

    at least one miracle can be attributed to him – he made me want to become a Catholic

  • Pedro Erik

    Great Chesterton. He changed my life forever when I read Orthodoxy. The best for this immense human being.

  • Michael Petek

    Given that GK Chesterton was a rather large man, you'd need several strong men to raise him to the altar.

  • Kentuckyliz

    If you must become as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, Gilbert showed us the path of childlike wonder.

    Enough of plaster saints, I’d like to see some real laypeople who shined their light brightly–Gilbert, for sure!!!

  • F.P.Barbieri

    When St.Thomas Aquinas – on whom GKC wrote one of his best books – was being mooted for canonization, it was pointed out that there were few miracles ascribed to him, and none certain. The then Pope – I forget which one – replied something like: There is one miracle for every article in the Summa. I would say the same: almost every piece of paper GKC ever wrote on is the evidence of a miracle.

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