G.K. Chesterton in 1935
Associated Press
G.K. Chesterton in 1935

Saint Gilbert?


There’s a movement afoot for the official canonization of G.K. Chesterton, with Dale Ahlquist, a leading Chesterton biographer and founder of the American Chesterton Society, leading the charge.

Ahlquist is somewhat new to canonization, as he was raised a Baptist who came to Catholicism largely through Chesterton’s influence. But he likes the idea of having such an articulate, witty advocate before the heavenly throne: “I just love how he goes against the expectations of what a Catholic saint looks like.”

The most strident objections so far come from those who point to Chesterton’s supposed anti-Semitism—painfully apparent in an essay titled “The Problem with Zionism,” where he suggested that Jews should dress differently in order to signal their allegiance to a promised homeland. That’s an obstacle that can be overcome, if we do him the courtesy of placing such thoughts in the context of their day. Still, canonization seems unlikely. Chesterton does indeed defy expectations, but perhaps not as we might think.

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How does canonization work? The process looks a bit like a flow chart, involving three stages: veneration, beatification, and finally sainthood. A person of heroic virtue, outstanding charity, and doctrinal orthodoxy reaches the first level. To be beatified requires all that, plus one miracle (most miracles involve physical healing) performed after the candidate has died, in response to an earthly petitioner. Sainthood requires all the previous, plus an additional miracle. Martyrdom cancels the miracle requirement.

In other words, it’s a checklist, or a legal procedure, whereby evidence is verified and quantified to the best of the examiners’ ability. And if ever a man was unquantifiable, it was G.K. Chesterton. What we love about him, Catholics and Protestants alike, is that he resists categories and checklists, a man unafraid to be uniquely himself, as God made him. He clearly admired the canonized saints, and probably called on them, as a devout Catholic, to intercede for him. But the “prince of paradox” might find the role of a saint somewhat paradoxical: He who in Orthodoxy (Chapter 8) described depictions of a medieval saint as “wasted to its crazy bones” with eyes “frightfully alive” might have laughed at the thought of himself occupying that pedestal.

I suspect he’d feel more at home with the small-s saints, observing and praising and using his linguistic gifts to dizzying effect, all directed toward the throne of God at the center. On earth he pointed directly to Christ; in heaven, I can imagine him doing no less: “There He is—talk to Him yourself!” The miracle of Christmas, he observed, “rests upon the great paradox that the power and centre of the whole universe may be found in some seemingly small matter; that the stars in their courses may move like a moving wheel round the neglected outhouse of an inn.” Heaven is a vortex, not (or not primarily) a hierarchy: All eyes are directed at Jesus, our one intercessor, and there I hope to find G.K.C. one day, among the throng.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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