Making a Saint: A status report on the Cause for Chesterton

Though holiness is rare thing, it is not a narrow thing. But people have a narrow idea of sainthood, and Chesterton generally doesn’t fit.

Some papers have reported that the Cause for G.K. Chesterton has already been opened. Chesterton, who made his living as a journalist, would be amused and not surprised that the papers would get it wrong.

Here is the status report.

Five years ago, Bishop Peter Doyle, of Northampton, England, appointed Father John Udris to be the Investigator for Chesterton, which means he was to prepare a report on Chesterton’s life, on whether or not there was evidence of heroic virtue and holiness, and if there is a cult devoted to Chesterton. Fr. Udris will be completing his report this month. It involved a lot of research, but also gathering testimony from people all around the world. Obviously, he heard from me.

But another person he heard from was Bishop Robert Barron, who wrote: “I’m convinced G.K. Chesterton is a saint, and should be formally recognized as one. I ask for his intercession often…But why is now the right time for his cause to move forward? First, I think, because as the world becomes increasingly secular—especially the West—Chesterton offers a healthy engagement with skepticism. He never smeared his opponents, never exchanged fire for fire, never used vulgarity. He loved his intellectual opponents and counted atheists among his closest friends (e.g., Shaw). We’ve lost the art of charitable religious argument, of ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15), and Chesterton can help us recover it.”

Bishop Barron also believes—as do many of us—that Chesterton represents a model of lay spirituality.

Fr. Udris will submit his report to the Bishop Doyle. The Bishop will then seek a Nihil Obstat from the Congregation of Saints in Rome, which means quite simply that if they don’t find anything in their files that would automatically stop the Bishop from starting the Cause, he can then make the decision to open the Cause and declare G.K. Chesterton a Servant of God. Then the real work begins. A Postulator would be appointed and Chesterton’s life and work thoroughly examined. It will be a years long process. When the Congregation for Saints is convinced that the candidate clearly demonstrates a life of sanctity it would declare him Venerable. The next vote, as they say, comes from heaven: a miracle. One miracle for beatification. Another for sainthood. It doesn’t mean we can’t have a miracle earlier in the process. People don’t wait for an announcement from the Church before asking for a miracle. They ask for a miracle when they need a miracle.

The first step in raising any saint to the altar is the devotion of faithful followers who have been affected by that person’s holiness and goodness. It is natural that they should ask for his intercession. They have no doubt that he is in the presence of God. At a certain point, the Church officially affirms it. That’s how saints are made. That is the basis for the process.

Though holiness is rare thing, it is not a narrow thing. But people have a narrow idea of sainthood, and Chesterton generally doesn’t fit. He doesn’t fit into anything narrow. He was, after all, a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, three hundred pound London journalist. But there have been saints who drank and smoke and were fat. Maybe not all at the same time.

Some have objected: “Chesterton never would have approved of people making him a saint!” To which I answer, “What saint would have approved of his own Cause?” Chesterton says every saint knows he is a sinner. One of the many reasons that Chesterton breaks the mould is that he is a layperson, who made his living in the secular world. But was a bright and shining witness to that world, and drew people like a magnet to his goodness and charity and blazing truth.

Chesterton himself praised the idea of more laypeople being canonized: “Speaking as a Catholic, I am very proud and happy to say that I know of no reason, in heaven or earth, why a barmaid should not some time or other be canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. It is simply a question of in what way, with what motives, and in what spirit she minded the bar.”

The momentum for Chesterton is growing.

I recently returned from Croatia, where I spoke at an international conference on Chesterton. The day after the conference was Sunday, and the conferees attended Mass at a very large old beautiful church in the heart of Zagreb. Place was packed. The choir sang a Mass by Gounod. The priest was the Provincial General of the Jesuits in Croatia. His entire homily was about G.K. Chesterton. He talked about Chesterton’s humor, his cigars, his humility. He talked about Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man and Father Brown, his defense of common sense, his mysticism, his conversion, the fact that he makes converts and that people return to the Church because of reading him, and that his Cause for Beatification will probably be opened this fall. Then he went on to describe him as a perfect example of someone who was in the world but not of the world, which tied nicely into the Gospel reading.

For the offertory, the choir sang “O God of Earth and Altar”, a hymn by G.K. Chesterton.

Then before the final blessing, the entire congregation prayed for Chesterton’s intercession and that the Church would beatify him.

The Mass was broadcast on Croatian national radio.

Stay tuned.

About Dale Ahlquist 30 Articles
Dale Ahlquist is president of the American Chesterton Society, creator and host of the EWTN series "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense," and publisher of Gilbert Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books on Chesterton, including The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton.

19 Comments

  1. This grows so old. Heroic virtue. That is what GKC transparently lacked. At this point the credibility of the same making machine is at an all time low. And people are pushing for the likes of Chesterton? C.S. Lewis seems closer in sanctity, and he wasn’t even Catholic. Even GKC’s biographer Maisie Ward conceded his apparent weaknesses as he neared death. Again, someone can be great, very admirable, but not necessarily a saint. If we are going to canonize every other whose books mean the world to us… It’s just getting ridiculous. Part of GKC’s appeal is ordinariness. He drank too much. He smoke too much. He ate too much. In a big way. So he was genial AND Catholic AND quotable. So is Jim Caviezel. We are in danger of doing a religious whitewash of history worthy of the Mormons. GKC in Heaven? Why not? An exemplar of heroic virtue? Please. “There have been saints who drank and smoke and were fat. Maybe not all at the same time…” ! LOL. Why does this sound like a line worthy of James Martin?

    • ” So is Jim Caviezel.”

      Yes! I love his books. I have all of them.

      “Why does this sound like a line worthy of James Martin?”

      It doesn’t. C’mon. Seriously. We both know what Martin is peddling. We also know how shallow and vapid are his writings. Completely opposite of GK.

      • Fair enough. Martin comparison disrespectful to DA, a terrific writer. I apologize there. Larger point simply being people’s impressive work doesn’t necessarily mean they were amazingly holy, which I have always taken to be the mark of a saint. Smoking, drinking, obesity… sinful? Maybe not. But also not exemplary. I’d guess that GKC, much like Day, would discourage his own canonization. If all it means is he’s in heaven and his creative output has converted lots of people, I’d agree with it. But for me he’s far closer to a jovial moderator of Theology on Tap than a St. Gilbert.

        • “I’d guess that GKC, much like Day, would discourage his own canonization.”

          Agreed completely on that count.

          “But for me he’s far closer to a jovial moderator of Theology on Tap than a St. Gilbert.”

          Much is made, understandably, of GK’s jovial, mirthy side. But when I first read “Orthodoxy”, “Everlasting Man”, and many other works, I was struck more by his metaphysical depth and deep understanding of Being. A vital work in this regard is “Paradox in Chesterton” (Sheed & Ward, 1948) by the young Hugh Kenner (he was 22 or so when he wrote it), which argues vigorously that paradox, in Chesterton’s work, is not flippant or “fun” but deeply metaphysical and essentially Thomist.

    • Joe, I doubt you e read a biography of CSLewis to say this. And I doubt you’ve read much of Chesterton either. I’m sorry you feel this way and think this way, because Chesterton was a writer whose writing makes one think, and makes one try harder to be a good Christian. That is what makes him worthy to be considered for sainthood.

      • “Chesterton was a writer whose writing makes one think, and makes one try harder to be a good Christian.”

        Amen to this. I think he was an amazing writer. No debate.

        When I was in the process of converting, his “St. Francis” had a big impact on me. Ditto “St. Thomas.” Another book that also did was Kenneth Woodward’s “Making Saints.” The explanation of the criteria and rigor the Church had historically applied to its process made me feel like it had something special there. That’s probably at the root of my reaction to the GKC cause. It seems driven more by enthusiasm for his books and spreading his fame than his personal holiness.

        Backing off a bit, however, I guess if the process is special, it will judge correctly and be able to weigh both holiness and hype.

        • Joe, it’s great to have you in the Catholic Church. I appreciate your comments here in that you shared your sincere opinions in a way that was open to other opinions. To me, that’s what makes for good conversations. We can disagree about matters of opinion, but remembering that we’re all in this together. This helps each of us to think through and refine our understandings.

  2. GK Chesterton Prayer available in English, Igbo, Latin, French, Hungarian, Croatian, Portuguese, Urdu, Pro-Life, Large Print, Irish, Welsh, Maltese, Spanish, Polish, Romanian, German, Latvian, Russian, Slovakian, Catalan and Italian Versions; http://www.catholicgkchestertonsociety.co.uk/Printable-Prayercards.html and the Annual GK Chesterton Pilgrimage is on Saturday 28th July.

  3. May the dear Lord spare those who work at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints the Sisyphean task of having to read (and maybe even translate into Italian) the complete works of GKC, or at least a representative sample.

    • I can think of no more wonderful task than to set about reading all of GK. Would that I still had all of him to read. He is one of the most thought provoking and entertaining writers, and certainly the best essayist, in the English language. At times irreverent, at times serious, but always knowing what is important and what is not, and having the very rare gift of getting to the heart of the issue, often through paradox.

  4. I love G.K. Chesterton, the man and his writings — although I don’t fully know him as a person, and haven’t read most of his writings in all their volume. To me, some of his writings are not all that great; but many of them are brilliant in a wonderfully wise and witty way. It seems to me that, “The Everlasting Man,” is one of the greatest books ever written, and should be issued in an annotated version for the modern reader.
    I don’t necessarily pray for his beatification and canonization, but pray that he will be so recognized if he is indeed worthy. It would be wonderful to have Chesterton as a saint, in that this could attract more people to his writings and his person. It would also give more of us hope of attaining to sanctity, even as far as sainthood.
    Chesterton was born in 1874, the year after Therese Martin, who is famously known as St. Therese of Lisieux. I believe Chesterton visited Lisieux late in his life. I think the two of them could make a dynamic combination of saints for modern times.
    As I understand the essence of St. Therese’s message, as her attempt to get to the essence of Christianity: Jesus does not demand great actions of us, but simply surrender and gratitude. He has no need of our works, but thirsts for our love. He simply wants us to do what he asks of us, no matter how big or small it seems.
    This way of understanding holiness may help us to understand why Chesterton could be a saint (as well as the excellent case made by Bishop Barron).
    In closing, I’ll add that Therese and Chesterton may be gifts of God to us to bring more joy back into the Catholic Church, and then the world. True joy! Somewhere between pagan excess and puritan prudishness is the blessed moderation of Catholicism with its exquisite balance of feasting and fasting, and all that makes for the fullness of life. The Church needs to get away from the puritan/Jansenistic formalism of pre-Vatican II (which seemed to so oppress and torment Therese, and was the crucible in which she forged her little way of holiness), while not falling for the traps of secularism and sexualism that exploded into our culture just as Vatican II was coming to a close.
    We as Catholics have to provide an alternative to society that is neither to0 hard nor too soft, a way of life that is meaningful in suffering and satisfying in prosperity, an authentic life of love based on a real relationship of friendship and brotherhood with the God-man Jesus. Seek first Jesus, and all the rest will be added unto us.
    To paraphrase Chesterton’s dear friend, Belloc — Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine/There’s music, laughter, and good red wine/At least I’ve always found it so/Benedicamus Domino! (Let us bless the Lord!).
    In the love of Jesus, may gratitude replace guilt, and surrender replace scruples. It seems Chesterton is a great help in this cause, perhaps especially as a saint (and even a doctor, as is Therese) of the Catholic Church.

  5. Frankly, and with all due homage and respect to GKC, for whom I have the very highest respect and appreciation, I am all for a moratorium on canonizations for a while. How long is “a while”? Well, certainly for the duration of the current pontificate, and then some. The Church would do well to fast from canonizations for the next fifty years, lest they become banal.

    • Agree or disagree with the talk of canonization for Chesterton, but let’s not act as it this popped up last week. There has been a grassroots movement for the cause of Chesterton for many years; I first heard of it some twenty years ago. So, while there may be an “assembly line” somewhere, this particular cause is not a part of it.

      • Saints Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher were martyred in 1535. Approximately 350 years later they were beatified. In 1935 they were canonized by Pope Pius XI. A year later, in 1936, G. K. Chesterton died. Magnanimous man that he was, Chesterton might well have regarded his prospective beatification and canonization as being under consideration with unseemly haste. He might also have wondered, why not also Hilaire Belloc, for whatever his friend might have lacked in the way of Chestertonian glibness, he more than made up for in ardent defense of his Catholic faith. It seems to me that both might have said, wait a while. If the likes of FIsher and More could wait, so can we. Meantime, if the Church is looking for heroes to honor in these troubled times, ignore recent popes, in favor of a few parish priests who have kept calm and carried on despite hierarchical failings all around them.J

        • I actually thought of mentioning Belloc in the context of things here… but then thought in comparison to him, GKC probably WAS a saint! LOL.

  6. Since my youth I have been entirely enamored of the Communion of Saints. For years I had a new “favorite” weekly. Though I often still do find a beloved new celestial character who lifts my heart and mind to Almighty God and the hope of a more virtuous life, the “saint project” has worn thin due to episcopal malfeasance.
    If I live long enough I’m prepared to see James Martin on the suggestion list. There presently appears a rationalization for everything.
    The saint enterprise vitalized by much venerated John Paul II has proven a catastrophe and we need to acknowledge that at present it has devolved to a poor imitation of a Hollywood celebrity cult.
    Pope Montini’s “Humana Vitae” might have served as his act of reparation for engineering, navigating and perpetuating the conciliar debacle but history does not back up the practice of fortitude, let alone some other virtues. Crocodile tears over the loss of the Octave of Pentecost are no substitute for a manly correction of a trajectory taken for the edge of the ecclesiastical cliff.
    We are long past the time for reinstituting a fifty year waiting period before a cause is even introduced, beloved Saint Therese of Lisieux not withstanding.
    Blood, sweat and tears — sorely lacking in many of the causes presently under investigation as evidenced by pontifical decrees and, really – just where is that second miracle, John XXIII?”
    Where indeed are the miracles? My memory is murky but as I recall before John Paul’s “reimagining” there were two required for beatification and two (or three?) for canonization.
    And where is the Devil’s Advocate? Boy, do we need him.
    The “Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum” has been reduced to a lax imitation of the special olympics. Could it be otherwise after the past fifty years, the present Prefect and the current pontificate?
    This will not due.
    Chesterton was a brilliant light, a man of extraordinary intellect, wit and most importantly faith. But he was not a man of heroic virtue.
    Is he in Heaven? I have no doubt.
    So is my grandmother – she merely had an unwavering and loving devotion to Christ, for His Blessed Mother and for the Church – and a lot of Old Sod common sense. But as a model of virtue worthy of public veneration and emulation on the deepest spiritual level?
    I don’t think so.

  7. I would think that as Catholics, we can agree that we are not looking for perfection in our saints. Lord knows, St Monica was impatient and had a drinking problem, St Phillip Neri was impetuous, St Therese was rattled by another’s clinking of beads, and Peter, well Peter, denied Our Lord three times. All of them made it to Heaven and we celebrate their saintliness every year. We strive to grow and get ever closer to God’s will. Remarks about councils or gluttony are what they are: observations made by mere imperfect people. I for one see saintly behavior in Jim Caviezel, if it is true he is living a kind of white martyrdom in Hollywood. I know he visits Our Lady of the Angels Monastery with his wife and the sisters thoroughly enjoy his stories and visits, he testifies to the glory of God in interviews, adopted two children from China with physical impairments, and seems to be a good husband. Are those not acts of love for his God? Of course, it could all be an act by an actor. I’m not the Holy Spirit guiding the Church…. and that is the point.

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