In the previous posting in this series I hinted that, despite the enthusiasm shown by the Chestertonian Establishment, especially the neo-distributists and Professional Chestertonians, at the prospect, we probably won’t be seeing G. K. Chesterton canonized any time soon — assuming that things continue to go as they are now in the Chestertonian Community.
I should explain that “Professional Chestertonian” and “neo-distributist” are terms that I invented, or, at least, have adapted to my own purposes.
“Professional Chestertonian” is my term for someone whose personal identity, image, career, income, or self-worth or pretty much anything else is tied in some degree with promoting or professing a particular interpretation of Chesterton’s words, works, or life. He or she thus has a vested interest in maintaining that specific interpretation, sometimes at all cost and regardless of any logical consistency or empirical validity.
“Neo-distributist” is my term for people who allegedly support distributism, but who change meanings of essential terms, such as private property, and base their thought on faith, rather than reason, or on their private interpretation of something they accept as God’s Will. These shifts account for at least some of the “excitement” with which anyone who disagrees with them on virtually any subject is “entertained.”
As we saw, the Catholic Church certifies (“canonizes”) people as “saints” in part for them to serve as an example for the rest of us. How these saints did something is presumably okay with the Catholic Church and (assuming you accept the claims of the Catholic Church), okay with God, too.
Unfortunately, a lot of people manage to get things not quite right, especially when you’ve got that rather volatile mixture of faith and reason that characterizes “thinking religions” such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. People tend to put matters that pertain to reason under faith, and vice versa, or to misunderstand some fundamental principles rather egregiously in order to gain some desired end, such as an end to war, alleviating poverty, or what cheese to have with your whine. In some cases, the way people interpret what someone said or did comes out exactly the opposite of what is really the truth.
If the misinterpretation is material, this can be disastrous. The construction worker who hears “left” when the engineer says “right,” or who confuses right and left and drives the truck over a cliff instead of onto a bridge is one possibility.
Obviously, it is not the engineer’s fault if the construction worker that somebody else hired doesn’t know right from left, or if the construction worker is firmly convinced that right is left and left is right, or that starboard and port change from right to left depending on which way you’re facing on the deck of a ship. If, however, most or all of the workers consistently “hear” one thing when the engineer says another, then that engineer might not be the best choice for the job of directing others.
Thus, regardless whose fault it is, when it is a saint’s example that is being misinterpreted or misapplied by a significant number of people, that saint can hardly be used as a model. That being the case, when a person’s “cause” is initiated, it is not only the orthodoxy of the candidate’s thoughts and writings that is examined, it is also the orthodoxy of the person’s followers and students.
This makes sense. If the orthodoxy of the people who are already using the candidate as a model is suspect, then the candidate may not be a suitable model for emulation by the entire Catholic Church — or anyone else, for that matter. It would be better to put the canonization process of such an individual “on hold” for a while, say, a couple of centuries or so, until the aberrations die out and the truth is better understood.