Chesterton hiccup highlights trouble in getting lay saints


Following the recent announcement that the cause for sainthood for celebrated writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton would not go forward in his home diocese, Dale Ahlquist, an expert on the author, said this stall “points to the difficulty of getting a layperson canonized.”

Ahlquist noted one reason given for halting Chesterton’s cause was that the author, considered one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, lacked a discernible personal spirituality.

Speaking to Crux, he said that “now more than ever we need more lay saints, with clergy being under a cloud.”

He said it often seems to be “easier” for priests or religious who found orders to be canonized, since the order typically promotes the person’s cause for sainthood.

However, while these individuals might have been unquestionably holy, “they’re not great inspirations for laypeople,” Ahlquist said, adding, “I hate to say it, but they are not models of spirituality for what a layperson has to go through to live the Catholic life.”

Chesterton is a “prime example of what lay spirituality is supposed to look like. I think all the evidence of his spiritual life is there,” he said, saying doubt over Chesterton’s spiritual life is a “weak reason” to halt the cause.

One of the best-known writers in the 20th century, Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born May 9, 1874, and died June 14, 1936.

A convert to Catholicism, he was widely considered one of the most influential writers of his time.

While in the United States he is best known for his book Orthodoxy, a groundbreaking defense of Christianity, Chesterton is most famous in his homeland for his Father Brown series, a collection of short stories about a priest detective more dedicated to converting the criminals he catches than incarcerating them.

In 2013, Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, Chesterton’s home diocese, ordered that an initial investigation into the possibility of Chesterton’s sainthood be opened, however, he has decided not to pursue the cause, meaning the pipe-loving, cigar-smoking and general booze-enthusiast will not become a saint – at least, not yet.

Reasons given by Doyle for pulling the plug were due to what he said was a lack of “local cult,” or worship, of Chesterton on his home turf, that he could not identify a pattern of personal spirituality for Chesterton, and concerns that some of Chesterton’s writings contained anti-Semitic elements.

Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society and the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, made the announcement at the Aug. 2 opening session of the American G.K. Chesterton Society conference happening in Kansas City this week, reading aloud a letter from Doyle.

In his comments to Crux, Ahlquist said he received the letter from Doyle in April informing him of the decision not to pursue Chesterton’s cause.

  • While Doyle said he would not get in the way of efforts to pursue Chesterton’s cause elsewhere, Ahlquist said he took issue with Doyle’s reasons for halting the cause. Continue reading
  • Image: Crux
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