St Gilbert of Fleet Street and Beaconsfield

The Times Literary Supplement has posted this essay on the "cheeriness" of G. K. Chesterton free online. You must read it. The piece is occasioned by Ian Ker's new biography of Chesterton, which will be reviewed in our pages soon. But particularly intriguing are Bernard Manzo's reflections on a book of essays on the "holiness" of Chesteron:

While the importance of Chesterton has often been questioned, there are signs that he is now – in Catholic circles at least – being taken very seriously. In the past couple of years, a number of works examining Chesterton as a thinker have been published – a meticulous study of the early development of his thought by William Oddie, an assessment of Chesterton as a theologian by Aidan Nichols, and now a full intellectual biography of Chesterton by the Newman scholar Ian Ker, and a collection of essays (to which Oddie, Nichols and Ker have all contributed) considering whether there might be a case for the canonization of Chesterton. St Gilbert of Fleet Street and Beaconsfield (his attributes a pint glass and a swordstick) would not, perhaps, be such a bad companion for St Francis, the saint Chesterton described as “the court fool of the King of Paradise”; or would this be a bad joke?....

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The virtues of Chesterton, by most accounts, greatly outnumbered his failings; but could he really be regarded as a saint? In The Holiness of G. K. Chesterton, some distinguished traditionalist Catholic thinkers consider this question. John Saward examines the Chestertonian philosophy of wonder, likening it – in its celebration of the clear and vivid perceptions of childhood experience – to the “Little Way” of St Thérèse of Lisieux, and interpreting it as an expression of true, childlike humility. Aidan Nichols assesses the orthodoxy of Chesterton, considering whether he could be regarded as a Doctor of the Church. Ian Ker examines the account Chesterton gives of the virtues involved in humour, the virtues of self-forgetful abandonment to a good joke, and of a humility that can acknowledge the “inconsistency” of things without seeking to overcome it: an account which provides a way of seeing the humorousness of Chesterton himself as virtuous. Nicholas Madden and Bob Wild offer opposing perspectives on whether Chesterton can be considered a mystic, their debate centring on whether or not there can be a “mysticism” of ordinary life. William Oddie defends Chesterton against allegations of anti-Semitism. Sheridan Gilley reflects on the possibility of regarding him as the patron saint of journalists, the profound “democratic faith” of Chesterton being the correlate of his belief in the dignity of humanity – so that for him “the journalist was the tribune of the people”. Gilley is right to observe that there was a genuine self-forgetfulness in his commitment to campaigning journalism: “he was more interested in his causes than in himself, and more interested in mankind than either”. All the essays are admiring of Chesterton – none presents a “case against” – but then one cannot honestly consider whether someone might be considered a saint without, at the least, thinking highly of him or her. It is not for nothing that there needs to be a miracle or two before someone can be declared a saint, because it seems impossible to pronounce on whether or not a person has lived a genuinely holy life. None of those who have contributed to this volume would claim to be able to do so; their essays seek to show how Chesterton, in certain respects, was unusually virtuous – and in this they are largely successful. Yet one cannot but feel, at times, that he is viewed, by most of the contributors, with too unqualified an admiration. The absence of the devil’s advocate is felt.

Read the rest here.

Tim Reidy 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Eugene Pagano
6 years 5 months ago
The Episcopal Church added Chesterton to its calendar of holy women and man in 2009.  He is commemorated on June 13:

http://satucket.com/lectionary/GKChesterton.htm 

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