Saint G.K. Chesterton? An Interview with Dale Ahlquist
Will G.K. Chesterton become a saint? Many people hope so. The jolly writer and apologist is a shining example of joyous Catholicism. Recently, Brandon Vogt sat down with Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, to discuss his work, his vast influence, and an update on Chesterton's cause for canonization
BRANDON: Who is G.K. Chesterton? Why is he still relevant?
DALE: He’s the greatest writer of the twentieth century. His writing is full of truth and since truth doesn’t change, he’s still relevant. But he was also prophetic, which also makes him relevant. And in an age of confusion, depression, and unbelief, he’s a writer of clarity, joy, and faith, which is exactly what we need—so that makes him relevant.
BRANDON: One problem many people face when they first encounter Chesterton is that he was unbelievably prolific. With over a hundred books and thousands of essays to his name, it’s hard to know where to start. What do you recommend to people who haven’t read much or anything by Chesterton? What’s the best entry point?
DALE: Yes, that is daunting. But the flip side is that once you fall in love with Chesterton, you’ll never run out of material! As for a starting point, I wrote not one, but two introductory books to Chesterton and they are designed to be doors: G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense and Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton. If you want the pure stuff, uninterrupted by my commentary, I would suggest a book of essays, such In Defense of Sanity, and you can’t go wrong with some Father Brown stories. After you’ve read one of those introductory books, you can read Orthodoxy.
BRANDON: Bishop Barron published G.K. Chesterton's classic book Orthodoxy in his Word on Fire Classics series. Tell us about that book. Why is it a classic? What impact has it had?
DALE: It might be one of the most quotable books per square inch ever written. Each sentence is a gem. But each sentence makes you stop and think, which is why it is difficult to follow the larger argument, because you really do get lost admiring the scenery and forget where you were and where you are going. It is the most unusual defense of Christianity that you will ever read, arguing for Christianity’s sanity as opposed to the insanity offered by other philosophies and other religions. Chesterton is describing his own spiritual adventures as he came to embrace the Apostles’ Creed; it is colorful and witty and unexpected at every turn. It is an unrelenting argument, viewing the faith from every angle, and an astonishing piece of rhetoric, completely fresh on every re-reading.
BRANDON: I know many people are excited about the possibility of G.K. Chesterton being named saint one day. Why do you think he’s a saint? And can you give us an update on his cause?
DALE: First the update: the Bishop of Northampton, England, Peter Doyle, appointed a priest, Fr. John Udris, to be the investigator for Chesterton’s potential. Father Udris is completing his report to the Bishop within the next month, and the Bishop is expected to approach the Congregation for Saints in Rome to officially open the Cause for Beatification. If that happens, Chesterton would be declared a Servant of God, and a postulator would be appointed. And the real work begins, with a thorough examination of Chesterton’s holiness and his cultus. The cultus is us, those who are devoted to him. And that is the answer to the first question. I think he’s a saint because there is a universal cultus devoted to him, finding in him a model Christian, especially a model of lay spirituality, and a friend and companion. That’s what the Communion of the Saints is all about.
BRANDON: The American Chesterton Society puts on a big conference each year, with hundreds of Chesterton fans and devotees. This year’s conference is from August 2-4 in Orlando, FL, and its theme is “The Test of the Imagination.” (I'll be there, giving a talk on "Chesterton and the Internet.") I understand there are still a few spots left. So why should people go, and where can they sign up?
DALE: The annual conference is the most fun you can have and still be on this side of heaven. It is time of great intellectual stimulation, spiritual enrichment, and laughter! The perfect combination and absolutely rare in the world. I encourage everyone to join us. If you don’t know anything about Chesterton, it doesn’t matter. Here is your initiation. Couldn’t be a better way. If you know everything about Chesterton, well then you’re a liar, but come anyway. Let’s see what you’ve got. No matter who you are, expect to have a wonderful time. Go to www.chesterton.org and sign up right now.