Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, the diocese in which Chestertion lived, recently appointed a priest to investigate Chesterton’s holiness, which could lead to the opening of his official cause for canonization.
The move has caused quite a stir, not least because the image of Chesterton—as a wise-cracking, cigar-smoking witticist—is so contrary to traditional ideas about sanctity. Yet, as Dale Ahlquist told me, “we need to expand our ideas about sanctity, and recognize the saints among us in the ordinary world”—not just mystics and martyrs from centuries past.
Evidence of Chesterton’s holiness begins with his lifelong resolve to heed Christ’s teaching: “Unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Throughout his life, Chesterton’s faith retained a child-like quality: Dorothy Collins, Chesterton’s secretary, said that “Chesterton was so excited by meeting the Pope [Pius XI], that he could not work for two days after,” writes biographer Ian Ker. “She also remembered vividly how distressed he was when he lost a medal of the Blessed Virgin Mary that he always wore.”
Another virtue of Chesterton was his remarkable ability to make friends with his intellectual opponents. No matter how heated his arguments became, he never lost sight of their common humanity; and proof of that is the emotional tributes his adversaries paid him upon his death.
Yet a third characteristic of Chesterton’s holiness was his recognition of sin—especially his own sins—and the urgency to have them forgiven to receive eternal life. Theologian John Saward believes Chesterton’s autobiography is in the “same noble tradition” of Augustine’s Confessions, and represents a “search for absolution,” and above all a key to “unlock Divine Mercy.”
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