Monday, October 01, 2007

Chesterton's Potential Sainthood and Dorothy Collins' Remark

Seems below Gramps is determined to throw a wet blanket on the idea of Chesterton as a saint. Well, none of us really knows. That's why we have a church to think about such things. All we can do is produce evidence, give it to the right people, and they will decide, not us.

However, as I was reading this past weekend, I came across this curious passage in Aidan Mackey's new book, G.K. Chesterton: A Prophet for the 21st Century, With an Introduction by Dale Ahlquist:
"Again, he [Chesterton] so belittled his own powers that even those who knew him could be deceived. On several occasions, I [Aidan Mackey] asked Dorothy Collins, his secretary, who was as a daughter to Gilbert and Frances Chesterton, with which languages Gilbert had some familiarity. Each time I was assured that he had no knowledge whatsoever of any tongue other than English, other than a very few words of schoolboy French. Yet a reading of his Chaucer and other of his works clearly displays very sensitive knowledge of French and acquaintanceship with Latin. In fact, he translated a sonnet from the French of Joachim du Bellay so marvellously, that Mr. George Steiner....paid it...high tribute [which Mr. Mackey goes on to quote].

...I have since discovered that G.K.C. was awarded the Sixth Form ('A' Group) Prize for French at St. Paul's School in have been the recipient of this award most certainly proves that he was brilliant at both written and oral French.
I merely relate Mr. Mackey's remarks as proof that even someone as close to Chesterton as Dorothy Collins may not have known him all that well.


  1. Saints aren't perfect human beings. They're real people and could and did have real faults. The three-volume biography of St. Josemaria Escriva shows him with a quick temper. He even got into a fistfight with another seminarian while in the seminary.

    I would submit that it is not only unfair to judge Chesterton's fit sainthood by one comment from his secratary, it would be just as unfair to assess her entire opinion of Chesterton based that one comment.

  2. Dorothy Collins was not the only one who expressed such a sentiment about GKC:

    "Neither Chesterton, with his ready acceptance of life's normal pleasures, nor Léon Bloy, with his bitter uncharity, ranks with the saints - yet both men are in their fashion spiritual geniuses. The question I should like at least to open is whether Chesterton had not both the deeper and greater mysticism, a mysticism closer to that of the saints, and a message far more valuable for the millions whose place is on the plains of daily effort and not on the mountains of asceticism and total renunciation."
    [Ward, intro to Return to Chesterton]

    Perhaps the complaint about "acceptance of life's normal pleasures" sounds a bit Pharasaic, but then she also mentions this "greater mysticism...closer to that of the saints".

    I cannot give a comparable Collins positive just now, but I think there is more to say about his cause - or I myself would not be busy with Chesterton-related work!

    Just for example:

    "And they were scandalized in his regard. But Jesus said to them: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." [Matthew 13:57]

    "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief." -- St. Paul
    [1 Cor 1:15]

    It's especially funny to think about saints with tempers as yesterday (9/30) was St. Jerome's day... Hee hee.

    But just to balance out this discussion, let's see what a Pope had to say about Uncle Gilbert:

    "Both Frances and Cardinal Hinsley received telegrams from Cardinal Pacelli (now Pope Pius XII). To Cardinal Hinsley he cabled 'Holy Father deeply grieved death Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton devoted son Holy Church gifted Defender of the Catholic Faith. His Holiness offers paternal sympathy people of England assures prayers dear departed, bestows Apostolic Benediction'." [Ward, GKC 652]

    One would think this has quite a bit more weight.

    But let us also hear from the woman in the street, Nancy, the maid of the Nicholls (young friends of the Chestertons):

    ...when G.K. died, Nancy came back from the ten o'clock Mass where his name had been given out for prayers for the dying. "Oh Miss," she said, the tears in her eyes, "Oh Miss, our Mr. Chesterton dying - he was a sorter saint Miss, wasn't he? - just to look at him when you handed him his hat made you feel sorter awesome."
    [Ward, RTC 318]

    Exactly. And then there are those books and essays and poems. And I've heard there have even been some conversions...

    So I for one am praying for the cause - of both Frances and Gilbert - for personally I believe in their heroic example.

    --Dr. Thursday

  3. ....I think that I may ask him to pray for me... I think I would have liked him a lot.

  4. Foxfier,
    that's how I feel about both of them...and I swear, they help me ;-)

  5. It seems the heart of this is a difference of opinion of what makes a saint. "he aint no saint" may mean he spent a lot of time in pubs drinking ale, smoked cigars, and hung around with that unsavory crowd on Fleet Street.

    The church looks for heroic virtue - and as it being "catholic" there is many expressions of that virtue. It doesn't necessarily mean one must be an ascetic, or a professed religious, or a founder of a religious order. (Perhaps the confusion is that many are). If you take the writings of St. Escriva to heart - one can live out heroic virtue - and become a saint - in one's ordinary daily life.

    Perhaps one of his virtues is his charity to everyone he met. Surely, this is an example most of us can only dream of.

  6. Both his and Frances' perserverence in the face of their inability to have children strikes me as being a matter of some heroism. There's more to heroism than taking a bullet for the faith; to yearn for something with all of your being, and to live each day in thanks to God though it has been denied to you and shall never be yours, is no small thing.

  7. I'm happy to hve sparked such an interesting discussion. One question I would ask is this: why do Chesteronians so want GKC to be proclaimed a saint? The questions has not been asked and has (obviously) not been answered. Why?

  8. Not being catholic I am ahead of you, I already recognize him as a saint.

    But by your guys standards I think it is interesting debate. He was not someone who you would see as the virtuous becon of light like some saints are displayed as; because: "he spent a lot of time in pubs drinking ale, smoked cigars, and hung around with that unsavory crowd on Fleet Street."

    But I would say he was a saint because he tried to sanctified those things.


  9. Well, I guess that is a good question, Gramps. The answer could be several reasons. We in Opus Dei prayed ferverently for years for St. Josemaria's canonization. We knew, out if familiarity with his writings and his prayer life (and his intense mortifications), that he was a very holy man, with a deep reverence for Christ and a love for our Lady. On one level, I suppose, we did not need the Holy See to confirm what we already knew.

    On another level, however, we also (or at least me, I do not speak for the Work on this) did want the Holy See to affirm what we knew, and to proclaim it to the world: that the founder of Opus Dei lived a life of heroic virtue, and now stands before the throne of God in heaven. This is not insecurity. Quite the contrary: it is borne of a natural and very human filial devotion to our Father (what we call St. Josemaria among ourselves), the same kind of filial devotion one has for one's own mother or father. You love your mother and father, and wouldn't mind having a third party proclaim their sanctity to the world.

    And there is a second, more theological reason. We knew that nothing but good could come from the Church canonizing St. Josemaria. We knew it would be the source of many graces, and many vocations to the Work. And it has been. I mean, is a canonization ever a bad thing?

    And that's how it would be if G.K. Chesterton's cause was opened up, and he eventually canonized. The graces that would come from that -- graces that would work toward the restoration of sanity to the world -- would be immeasurable. You think there are a lot of canonizations now thanks to Chesterton's writing? Just wait and see what happens if he's ever canonized. The conversions that would come from that would be staggering. There are some who think that to canonized Chesterton would turn Protestants off, that it would turn them away, rather than toward, the Church. I think such a notion could not be more wrong, and only serves to thwart the efficacy of the grace of God in the world. I think such an opinion lacks a proper supernatural outlook. God likes canonizations. Who are we to be stingy about praying that Chesterton's cause may one day be opened?

    Now you answer a question:

  10. Adam, we cross-posted. But I think you make a very good point: like Christ, Chesterton sanctified ordinary human activities. He lived what we pray in the prayer to St. Josemaria: "lighting up all the pathways of this earth with faith and love."

    I love the anectote told about Chesterton on the morning of his entry into the Church: that he was digging in his pocket for his penny catechism, and out fell a penny dreadful. It is entirely fitting that a penny catechism and a penny dreadful should be sharing space in his pocket, because both involve mysteries.

    In Chesterton, the divine and the human meet. His monk's cell was the street, the newsroom; the office, and yes, even the tavern. Remember, it was in an inn that our Lord revealed himself to the two apostles at Emmeaus.

    I think it is bordering on clericalism to say that Chesterton makes a poor candidate for sainthood simply because he did not have a tonsure. It is to sniff at the laity as somehow unworthy for sanctity. Never forget that our Lord was a layperson, so to speak. He spent the vast bulk of his life learning and working a trade, and busying himself with all the domestic duties of a young man growing up and supporting a household.

  11. Nobody suggested that lay people should not be canonized. Nobody said that canonization is not an admirable thing. This part of the discussion started with something I said about Chesterton, not about sainthood. A careful reading of Maisie Ward's biography of Chesterton will not leave you with the impression you are reading the life of a saint. Chesterton was a remarkably good man but not, I'm saying, a saintly man.
    ~ Gramps

  12. Chesterton was a remarkably good man but not, I'm saying, a saintly man.

    Gramps: What do you say makes a saintly man?

  13. Heroic virtue makes a Saintly man or woman. Virtue of heroic proportions.
    ~ Gramps

  14. Certainly in the charity department, Chesterton qualifies. Has anyone else ever gotten such high praise from his enemies as Chesterton did?

  15. Also, I do need to read the Ward bio.

  16. According to Jimmy Akin, "He was not a missionary or a cloistered religious. He was not a priest, a theologian or a martyr. He was enthusiastic about books, beer and bacon. He was no slayer of infidels, but a slayer of heresies... he slew them with his pen."

    In my opinion, these are exactly the reasons that he SHOULD be canonized. We need more examples of such real, earthy holiness.


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