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G K Chesterton, saint of the blogosphere

He loved debate and controversy but at the same time managed to remain magnanimous to his enemy

By on Monday, 20 December 2010

George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton at a London debate (Photo: PA)

George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton at a London debate (Photo: PA)

I note from the posts in response to my last two blogs that some people get extraordinarily heated over certain issues such as women’s rights, the spectre of over-population and so on. It sometimes seems as if it is not possible to conduct a serious debate without wanting to punch your opponent verbally in the face. What is the antidote? To love your adversary even as you explain to him/her that their arguments are shallow, ignorant, irrational or confused; easier said than done.

There is one man who loved debate, controversy and argument while at the same time managing to remain magnanimous to his enemy: this was G K Chesterton. I have just been reading The Holiness of G K Chesterton, edited by William Oddie, and reflecting that Chesterton would have taken to the blogosphere with gusto. Words, writing and quick repartee came naturally to him; ideas and images flowed ceaselessly from his pen. Faced by the atheist brigade he would have fizzed and sparkled, laughed and lunged, as ready to win over as well as to win.

In his introduction, Oddie quotes GKC on St Thomas Aquinas: Aquinas’s huge productivity, Chesterton comments, could not have been achieved, “if he had not been thinking even when he was not writing; but above all thinking combatively. This, in his case, certainly did not mean bitterly or spitefully or uncharitably, but it did mean combatively. As a matter of fact it is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer. That is why in recent literature there has been so little argument and so much sneering.”

Sneering was not in Chesterton’s make-up. He would have scorned such a tone of voice, as well as its bedfellows, bitterness and spite. He was also holy – because he loved the truth and loved people; because he hated humbug and cant; because he was large-hearted and humble. “Holiness” is a category foreign to atheism; it smacks of Christian skulduggery and hypocrisy. If atheists could only think of holiness as a very large man, jesting and generous, candid and humorous, full of faith and radiating happiness, they would have some idea of what it is about.

Looking back on his life Chesterton once described it as “indefensibly happy” – the happiness of a man who has found the pearl of great price and wants to share it with everyone he meets. Let’s pray for his canonisation – as the future saint of the blogosphere.

  • Abc

    The difference is that back then the other side was also a gentleman. Today many catholics are uninformed, and the “opposition” are equally or more uninformed, but far more arrogant and rude.

  • EditorCT

    Another important difference is that back then, GK Chesterton was debating with non-believers. There's a very clear difference in the nature of a discussion between someone who is an atheist and someone of the household of the Faith who is leading souls astray. I rather suspect GK Chesterton, like St Paul writing to the “stupid Galatians,” might have had difficulty keeping his temper with Catholics, often in positions of authority within the Church, who are sowing confusion and leading souls astray.

    Few Catholics appear to remember that it is a very serious sin to entertain doubts about the Faith – for the obvious reason that our Catholic Faith has been revealed by God. It is the height of impudence, therefore, to question what God has revealed.

    Yet in Catholic schools and pulpits up and down the land, we find teachers and priests exhorting people to question, to doubt, in order (mysteriously) to “grow” in the Faith. This same wrong-headed theory is leading editors of Catholic publications to allow columnists to spout heresy and to spread schismatic thinking. All in the name of “questioning” our Faith – which is, as I've just said, a very serious sin. Truly, you couldn't make it up.

    Throughout history, the Church has exhorted us to pray when doubts creep into our minds. Involuntary doubts we must dispel as from the Devil. To entertain them, to give them credence and to spread them, is a very serious sin.

    I've long been a fan of Chesterton. I think I can say with much confidence that given his sharp wit, his clear thinking and, above all, his love of orthodoxy, which led him into the Catholic Church in the first place, he would have said whatever was necessary in order to correct errors in fellow Catholics.

    The Church has always tolerated and embraced sinners. She cannot tolerate, let alone embrace or encourage, heresy or schism. Chesterton would not have minced his words to communicate that truth.

    Writings (whether articles, letters or blog comments) aimed at atheists will, of course, be quite different from writings aimed at persistently dissenting Catholics. And I think I can safely say that I speak for Chesterton in the matter!

  • FriendlyAmericanCatholic

    Hear hear! But has he been beatified?

  • Tommy R

    “a very large man, jesting and generous, candid and humorous, full of faith and radiating happiness”

    Sounds like a description of Santa Clause.

  • George R. Kadlec

    Some Chesterton quotes:

    “There are an infinite number of ways to fall, but there is only one way to stand.”

    “I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”

    Is one religion as good as another? Is one horse in the Derby as good as another?

    “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

    “Psychoanalysis is confession without absolution.”

    “Be careful not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

    “I want a church that moves the world not one that moves with it”

    “Take away the supernatural and what remains is the unnatural”

    “Moral issues are always terribly complex for someone without principles.”

    “When men cease to believe in God they do not thereafter believe in nothing; they believe in anything!”

  • martini2

    Please though do not strive to beatify GKC – he was far too modest for this. It would cramp his style as a protagonist if he had the words 'saint' appended to his name! We can study and emulate him in many ways without thinking of him as a 'saint'.

  • W Oddie

    But why shouldn't we think of him as a Saint if, as I would strongly maintain, he actually was a saint? Of course he was modest; all saints are. Why not have a look at the book (I have an interest to declare!) The Holiness of G.K.Chesterton, published by Gracewing (details on the Chesterton Society website, just google it). Already, many are praying through his intercession. And why woulod it cramp his style as a protagonist: it would simply mean that the Church takes him seriously. Has it “cramped the style” of John Henry Newman?

  • W Oddie

    I think you are probably right (you often, though not always, are!)

  • W Oddie

    No; but we're working on it

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Cute, W Oddie, very cute! Listen, I may not always be right, but I'm never wrong!

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Don't let the Argentinian archbishop hear you say that – he doesn't believe in Santa Claus…

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Who? Santa Claus?

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    Listen, it must be quite a while since you attended a modern Catholic funeral or you'd know that the only requirement for canonisation these days, is that the candidate be dead. GKC qualifies – no question about it…

  • http://twitter.com/thereserita thereserita

    What the blogosphere really needs: A Patron Saint!

  • sam

    To be considered a saint by the Catholic Church one must have exhibited “heroic” virtue before any consideration. Plz explain to me – when and where did Chesterton do this? Sam

  • Kiloran

    Dear Mr. EditorCT, the disbelief of Monsignor Bergoglio about Santa Claus is, probably, his best act as shepherd of the Argentine Church! His quotes were related to the consumist fever and lack of perspective about Christmas in his country. The problem is that, in other matters, his opinions are probably more suitable for a non commmitted Catholic, easy to satisfy left winged political requeriments . . .

  • Anonymous

    Maybe Giacomo Alberione would be more appropriate.

    http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giacomo_Alberione

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giacomo_Alberione

    Alternatively, why have one at all ? Isn’t St. Isidore of Seville Patron Saint of the Internet ?

  • Anonymous

     A problem with beatifying or canonising people is that this can send the message that they are “CC-approved”, and, implicitly, that they are “safe” for Catholics, therefore, will say only what the CC wants them to say. They become, in fact, something like “party men”. And this has the effect of leading non-Catholics to ignore them. St. Thomas Aquinas seems to have become much more popular outside the CC since he ceased to be the theologian-in-chief of Catholicism; he is taken seriously as a philosopher in his own right, rather than being shunned as an RC ideologue. Neither Brother Lawrence nor Thomas a Kempis has been so much as declared Servant of God – it is hard to believe that their popularity among Evangelicals has nothing at all to do with their lack of hagiological status.

    If there are to be hagiological projects, I would like to see progress with the causes of the English & Welsh Martyrs. And that of Blessed Henry VI.