As we saw in the previous posting in this series, when the Catholic Church “canonizes” somebody, it has good reasons for doing so. Similarly, when the Catholic Church doesn’t canonize somebody, it has equally good reasons for not taking action. In the case of Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, the Catholic Church delayed canonizing him for over three centuries — and all because a great many people simply couldn’t get a rather simple theory correct. They were trapped in one paradigm relating to the natural law when Bellarmine was operating from within another.
In my opinion, the same thing is going to happen with the “cause” for canonization of Gilbert Keith Chesterton — except that the problems involved are a little bit more fundamental than most people realize or are willing to admit. Frankly, most people simply don’t care about the theories of sovereignty and natural law Bellarmine wrestled with as long as the government isn’t being abusive, and administers justice in a reasonably disinterested manner.
What we take as the basis of matters of faith and reason, however, affects pretty much everything and everybody on earth — and that is where today’s Professional Chestertonians and neo-distributists as well as the rest of the Chestertonian Establishment have done Chesterton the man (and possibly saint) the greatest disservice they could if the goal is to have his sanctity and heroic virtue recognized and used as a model.
Let me be clear on two things before I go any further. I mentioned both of these things briefly before, but it’s a good idea to mention them again — especially since they are the main reasons I believe Chesterton will not be canonized anytime in the foreseeable future.
One, by “Professional Chestertonian” I mean anyone whose career, vocation, avocation, lifestyle, personal philosophy, self-image or worth, reputation, or any other major aspect of that person’s life, liberty, property, or pursuit of happiness is in some way heavily influenced by, or dependent on Chesterton, or (more usually) an image of Chesterton that he or she has constructed and enshrined in some fashion.
Such people profess Chesterton, and in some way their lives would be substantially different had they never become acquainted with his life and work; they are professionals. It does not mean that their income, all or part, or their reputation is dependent on Chesterton in some fashion, although that sometimes turns out to be the case. Such people have a clear vested interest in maintaining their personal interpretation and profession of All Things Chesterton against all others. The “territorial imperative” is in full operation.
Two, by “neo-distributist” I mean anyone who applies to him- or herself the term “distributist,” or some variation thereon (such as “distributivist”), but who has changed some essential aspect of Chesterton’s thought (often unconsciously) to conform it to preconceptions or opinions about human nature, the social order, the institutions of the common good, the principles of faith and reason, the motives of anyone with whom they disagree, or the natural law that differ substantially from the principles that guided Chesterton in these areas.
As I said at the beginning of this series, this has nothing to do with the orthodoxy of Chesterton’s actual thought, sanctity, or heroic virtue. Except for a few, easily correctible errors that do not affect the underlying principles (just various applications thereof), there is nothing wrong with anything Chesterton said or did after he became a Christian that gives any rational person reason to suspect him of heterodoxy.
It does, however, have everything to do with what Chesterton’s followers have done to his thought, and the (per)version(s) of it they have gone to great lengths to promote, and to browbeat and intimidate others into accepting. Their departures from Chesterton’s thought and the extraordinary interpretations they have forced on both Catholic social teaching in general, and Chesterton’s thought in particular make it highly unlikely that any conscientious examiner would accept as orthodox such arrant nonsense clearly and directly opposed to what the Catholic Church teaches. That many of Chesterton’s latter day followers exhibit a high degree of malice toward anyone whom they think disagrees with them simply highlights the possible unorthodoxy of their thought.
We will start to address particulars of this in the next posting in this series.