Thursday, September 19, 2013

On the cause of Saint Gill - Patron Saint of Hipsters

I am a fan of GK Chesterton.  The sky is blue.  Dogs love sticks.

Now that the basics are out of the way I wanted to spell out some thoughts on the recent momentum in the push for Chesterton to become a saint.  The momentum?  There was an announcement from a Bishop that a cleric is being sought to begin the investigation to opening a cause for GK Chesterton.

My initial gut feel was "ugh.  Why?"

I hate to work backwards (having an ends before the logic), but I initially didn't like the idea, and then started to figure out - why? OR why not?

Part of me wonders if his being labelled a Catholic saint would raise walls for the general reader.  The title of Saint would bring with it the whole baggage of the Catholic church.  Chesterton was a profound writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction.  If canonized, does he get labelled as simply a writer of "Catholic stuff".  It's very easy to say I don't want to read "Catholic stuff", I want to read a good story or a good defense of faith with reason, enough for an unreasonable world.  It is an ignorant view that is clinging to a stereotype; but these walls from the outside in were my concern.

I am not Catholic.  I have had a handful of wonderful and thoughtful conversations with some Catholics about faith elements and getting past into some of the basics of the Catholic church.  These conversations were incredibly enlightening and lead me to believe that the Catholic church, along with most other church bodies, has a terrible PR firm.  They and their beliefs are not understood well.  Truly God cares about the heart and not the image.  He wants the ruddy David and while the people seek the strong/tall Saul.  Truth doesn't need a PR firm.

As I was questioning my gut, I did some reading on what it means to be a Catholic saint.  Whatever my preconceived notion was, it was wrong.  From some research I found that a "saint" is confirmed to be in Heaven (the miracles are proof of being in Heaven and the candidates intercession in prayer), while on earth they had a life that exuded some level of favor (holiness) from God.  I fully believe GKC is in Heaven and while on earth he had some grace that set him apart. 

So at the basics it is a non-issue.

I'm in favor of it until I talk to some Catholics.  This is a broad brush I am about to paint with.  I feel the need to point to the target of my concern without pointing to all Catholics.  Bring out the Catho-tons. 

Catho-tons are eager to claim Chesterton as Catholic to the point that he was nothing else.  That is the start of the trouble; his writing is wonderful, why not claim it?  They work to label it as Catholic more than let it shine as Truth.  As if every word written by such a prolific writer was because he was Catholic and every word is Catholic teachings.  His sole motivation was the Roman Catholic Church. 

It forces me to ask:  Was he motivated by the RCC or the Truths that God revealed to him?  Are those truths exclusively Catholic?  If he never took the later life plunge into RCC would they be less true?  Is the Catholic cross different from the cross of Christ?

They are busy building the wall that my gut was worried about.  I was worried about a wall built from the outside and Catho-tons have built it from the inside.

I'm not sure any doctrine or church statement would point to a piece like The Ethics of Elfland.  Certainly it would lack the eloquence.  Where as Elfland certainly does shine the light of truth onto the church.  It provides the color to the paint-by-number of church doctrine.  But God speaks the color where as the doctrine can only try to define it by setting its edges.

 So was it God's irrepressible truth that stirred Chesterton to that piece?
Was it the Roman Catholic church that inspired him to fill in the gap?

The Catho-ton says his witty speaking of truth is Catholic, I'm saying his witty speaking is of Truth.

There is a prayer card that has been circulated:

The line that raises my hackles is "his lifelong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary".  GKC joined the Roman Catholic church in 1922 and his wife joined him in 1926.  Prior to this he attended an Anglican church with his wife.  From a few accounts there was much tension over this.  To call him a lifelong Catholic is a very Calvinistic view (once Catholic, always Catholic?).  It does not follow that to be with Frances he had to be Anglican; when they met he was not a believer.  The RCC could be claimed as a final destination of his faith, but the Anglican church was not a prison to appease his wife, at the minimum it was a stepping stone.  Since being saved, he certainly always had a regard for Mary (as all Christians should and generally do); but he was not immediately a Catholic as his own words state in his "Autobiography" - " reckless course in becoming a Christian, an orthodox Christian, and finally a Catholic in the sense of a Roman Catholic."

He was catholic from his first day of faith and Catholic in his later life.  I'd rather not confuse the two.

I have no issues with GKC being recognized as a saint.  I doubt he would approve, but few saints would (it is neither proof nor dis-proof).  My concern is still there.  His logic is relentless, his writing overflows with seeing joy in the mysterious.  He was a craftsman with words.

 I think the world would be a better place if it would read more GK Chesterton.  I state that with the belief that all conviction and conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

He adeptly makes points of God's beauty, that I fall short, and I need Jesus.  In his published arguments with Blatchford he replied to "What do you mean by the word Christianity?" with - "The belief that a certain human being whom we call Christ stood to a certain superhuman Being whom we call God in a certain unique transcendental relation which we call sonship."

Catho-tons think "the world would be a better place if it were more Catholic."  I was at a Chesterton Society meeting where that was said - not sought Jesus more, or enjoyed the family more, it needs to be more Catholic.

The best example I can find of this are some comments by Dale Ahlquist.  He is president of the American Chesterton Society.  Their official press release contains the following:

G.K. Chesterton’s prophetic writings are being embraced by a new generation who are drawn to his eloquent defense of the Catholic faith, of the traditional family, the sanctity of life, and economic justice. He is known for his great wit, humility, and profound Catholic joy. He was a major influence on such figures on Archbishop Fulton Sheen, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Day, and Jorge Luis Borges. “I think he is very much a saint for our time and could draw many people into the Catholic Church,” Ahlquist added.
I'm not bashing Dale, it may have been a passing comment in the midst of an interview, and I'm straining gnats.  Chesterton was a spiritual hipster, he defended faith before it was Catholic.  He draws people to Jesus, not just the Catholic Church.  In my readings of GKC I see much that appeals to the masses and much less that appeals to the Mass.

 I really have no issue with GKC being recognized by the RCC as a Saint.  I think I would gladly send my children to The Chesterton Academy (there is one in Minnesota), I might send them to St. Gilbert's School, and as I sit currently I would never send my child to St. Gilbert's Catholic School.

There is nothing on the face of the action that is unsettling.  It is the Catho-ton defenses that stir me.  I struggle with ears straining to hear them proclaiming how we share common ground and only hear all ground being claimed as Roman Catholic. 

If becoming a Saint makes Chesterton less catholic (universal) and only Catholic - I for one am opposed.  I don't want to say one individual is larger than a long church tradition and should be held with higher regard than the denomination.  Yet certain individuals stand out beyond the Christian tradition to which they are a part - Thomas Aquinas, CS Lewis, John Wesley, George MacDonald, GK Chesterton. 

Now one week out I am in favor of it. Strongly.

I think the Catholic church might become more catholic.  As the average church member hears the rumblings of the news they may have to wrestle with the hailstorm that is Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

If the declaration of Sainthood on Chesterton, with all his wit, can nudge the Catholic church to talk to people how GKC did:  to enjoy communion with his fellow man in the pew, and beer with the cabman in the street; to battle the strongest minds with logic, top to bottom, and still present grace and love.  He didn't need a committee or a drive to reach out to people.  He saw their passion and their sense, their love and their loyalty; and he admired them for it.

Please mark him as a Saint and celebrate a feast.  Study his volumes of writing and dwell in the poetic prose.  Wrestle with the paradox.  But do not take away the cigar smoking, cheese eating, beer drinking, raucous personality that he was. 

"Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump, lest you free him of being a camel."


1 comment:

  1. One of the things that comes to mind after reading this is that sainthood seems to be a way to gloss over the less sanctified parts of one's character (Augustine, I'm looking at you and your chasteness quote). Humans are frail-spirited and puny-minded creatures who yield to their flesh on a daily, hourly, minutely basis and make a complete mess out of just about everything they get their hands on. We're a broken species in a broken world, and this desire to raise a person up and say "they are an example to follow" is noble but misguided. There is only brokenness and redemption - and we're all broken, and we're all redeemed by the same thing which comes not from ourselves but from the Father through His Son.

    Chesterton had a fantastic character, and I love the idea of sitting down with him over a pint or three and a few cigars and discussing theology (in my ideal roundtable, I'm sipping my beer quietly and listening to him, Lewis and Tolkien discuss matters of faith, faerie and literature whilst desperately trying not to faint). But he wasn't a perfect human and I would like to think he'd be the first to admit that fact. The problem comes when others concede the lack of perfection of a saint but give it no more than lip service and don't really think about what that means to the saint's life. Everyone has crap they have to work through and to a man, nobody ever completes the Herculean task of shoveling out their own Stable of Augeas.

    We expect people who are honored to be above reproach and when they aren't, we do one of two things - either tear them down because how dare they stand above us even though we put them there in the first place, or ignore their flaws and treat them as something other than human. And that is truly a great tragedy.