In yesterday’s posting we saw that the “cause” for the canonization of G.K. Chesterton was given the thumbs down by Peter Doyle, Bishop of Northampton, and that this excited a somewhat negative reaction on the part of some Chestertonians, as followers of Chesterton are called.
|Gilbert Keith Chesterton|
At the heart of the disappointment suffered by the followers of the English journalist, appeared to be a misunderstanding regarding the difference between principle and application, as well as an inadequate grasp of the concept of infallibility. There is also the issue that some Chestertonians claim that the Just Third Way of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice is contrary to Catholic social teaching, and its adherents are therefore dissenters.
This is something that a great many people, especially Catholics, misunderstand about their own Church’s teachings. The Catholic Church claims to teach principles infallibly in matters of faith and morals. It does not claim to apply principles of faith and morals — or anything else — infallibly. Nor does it claim that any of the experts understand any of its teachings infallibly . . . especially in areas outside of faith and morals. . . .
|Pope Leo XIII|
The bottom line is how could CESJ possibly be dissenting from something when dissent isn’t an issue or even possible? Who cares how workers (or anyone else) become capital owners, as long as it is moral and financially feasible? It is not dissent to inform a bishop — or anyone else, including the pope — that a suggested method of reaching a desired goal won’t work, or something else would work better. Money, credit, banking, and finance are not exactly within the competence of the pope as pope, or a bishop as bishop. Of course their opinions outside their area of expertise have weight, and should be treated with respect, but not if their opinions are wrong or inadequate.
What would be dissent is disagreeing with or rejecting what a pope or bishop decides or teaches within the area of his competence, that is, in matters of faith and morals. We can, for example, agree with a bishop who says we must respect human dignity, and disagree with him when he gives particulars that do not appear to make sense or that seem inadequate or wrong when he says how to respect human dignity. That’s not dissent.
|Bishop Peter Doyle|
What would be dissent is when a bishop says we must respect human dignity and we say, no, we don’t need to respect human dignity. The former is a disagreement on how we respect human dignity, not whether we respect human dignity, which is the latter case. By saying we don’t need to respect human dignity, we reject the bishop’s authority to say anything about human dignity.
[For the record, these are what we call “examples.” We believe that human dignity must be respected; the whole of Catholic social teaching as well as the Just Third Way take this as a given. HOW to respect human dignity can be discussed, but not whether it should be respected.]
And that, having made our point, brings us back to our starting point. The disappointment of many Chestertonians over the action taken by the Bishop of Northampton seems to have led them to forget a few things . . . such as disagreeing with and second-guessing a bishop in the field of faith and morals might start to get into actual dissent, as might questioning the bishop’s authority or calling him a liar for making “false accusations” against Chesterton.
More immediately, some Chestertonians don’t seem to realize that one of the reasons the Catholic Church canonizes people (it does not “make people saints”) is to serve as examples to be followed by others. It’s not a popularity contest. And some of the interpretations latter day Chestertonians put on Chesterton’s words and actions might not be the kind of example the Catholic Church wants or can permit people to follow.
This says nothing about Chesterton, but a great deal about some Chestertonians. Chesterton, for example, might have meant nothing at all malicious by his comments about Jews, and he may have repented if he thought people took them what he considered the wrong way. Nobody is perfect. That’s not the point. The problem is that others might assume that saying such things is acceptable or even virtuous, just as some people today seem to think hatred or disparagement of another bunch of Semites who happen to be Muslims is somehow good, that Protestants are evil because they are Protestants, or that White Supremacy is an acceptable ideology.
Then there is the fact that far too many Chestertonians and distributists seem to think that distributism is socialism in all but name, yet Chesterton was quite clear on that point, as he was on private property. Still, under the banner of “Small is Beautiful,” which happens to be the title of a book that was billed as a New Age guide to “Buddhist economics” (?!?!?!?), socialist principles have been incorporated into many people’s understanding of distributism.
The book, by the way, was written by E.F. Schumacher, a member of the Fabian Society who converted to Catholicism — and remained a Fabian. Interestingly, the Fabian Society uses the wolf in sheep’s clothing as its emblem. Other Chestertonians claim that the writings of R.H. Tawney, considered by some to be the premier English socialist, are consistent with distributism and Catholic social teaching. This is even though Tawney ridiculed Chesterton and Belloc and attacked the Catholic Church, and he was on the Executive of the Fabian Society from 1920 to 1933.
|The Fabian Wolf|
Examples could be multiplied, but it is not necessary. The possibility remains that Chestertonians may have only themselves to blame for the bishop’s decision, who had to consider not merely Chesterton, but how people understand Chesterton. After all, Blessed Joachim of Flora will probably never be canonized due to the possibility that it would be taken as reversing the condemnation of his writings . . . which were badly flawed, even heretical.
So why is Joachim considered blessed? Because of his absolute obedience in submitting his writings to the judgment of the Church, and not second-guessing religious authority in matters relating to their area of expertise. He was probably very disappointed at the condemnation (even though the full condemnation only took place after his death), for it rejected his life’s work . . . but people were using his writings to justify dissent from the Church’s teachings, even putting them above the Bible. Some of them claimed to start a new church, even a new Christianity, with Saint Francis of Assisi as the new messiah. (No, we didn’t make any of that up. Chesterton himself alluded to it in his book on St. Francis.)
|St. Robert Bellarmine|
And what about Saint Robert Bellarmine, a “Doctor of the Church”? His canonization was delayed for three centuries because of serious flaws in his political thought (he theorized that God grants certain rights directly to the collective, an abstraction, which is impossible for reasons we won’t get into here). Once Pius XI corrected Bellarmine’s errors, Bellarmine was beatified, canonized, and named a doctor of the Church, all in less than a decade.
So, yes, Chestertonians have a right to be disappointed, but that does not give them the right to question the Bishop of Northampton or reject his authority in his area of expertise, any more than they have the right to judge anyone else in matters of faith and morals.