Sunday, 25 May 2014

Is Journalist ≠ Saint?

I know, I know.  My math skillz are super impressive.

I came upon this admittedly old but rather regrettable argument about why G.K. Chesterton shouldn't be made a saint.  First,  the distinction should be made that liking a person or his writing does not in one way or another qualify someone for canonization (I feel very warmly toward Chesterton, while many of the early Church fathers would have made me cry).  I have to put that out there.  This is not an argument in defense of the person of Chesterton or his writings, although I have been known to do that, but an argument against Ms. McDonagh's argument about why G.K. shouldn't be canonized.

The first argument against making him a saint is that he was a journalist (the profession he called the easiest in the world); it’s a contradiction in terms.

I find this argument so utterly nonsensical that I have to pause and register before rebuffing it.  Saints are cut from all clothes, across all races, genders, ethnicities, and professions.  Numbered among those who wear the crown of sanctity are prostitutes, actors, mass murderers, and queens.  I hardly think a journalist is unqualified.  How exactly a journalist saint is a contradiction in terms, our author never elaborates, except to say that, "It just doesn't go with the territory."  Does Ms. McDonagh subsequently believe herself excused from striving for sanctity because of her profession?

Nikolai Bruni, Saint Olga, source
Known to have buried and burned men alive.  Not exactly Nobel Peace Prize material.

She continues:

And canonising the man would make his output unreadable. It would invest all the pieces he wrote in railway waiting rooms and Fleet Street bars with the leaden quality of official sanctity.

Briefly, (1) canonization wouldn't so much as change a word of any of Chesterton's writings.  One would be hard pressed to vacate the over-the-top jocularity and joy of Chesterton's writings by emptying each word and refilling it with a new connotation full of all the "leaden quality of official sanctity."  Not to mention those pesky, not-open-to-interpretation denotations.  (2)  The fact that sanctification would make it less likely for secular readers to open a book of his is regrettable, but in their realm of responsibility, not ours.  If a mere title given by what they perceive as a corrupt and/or defunct religious authority turns them off of reading something enjoyable, engaging, and enriching, I can only feel for these people pity.  As I feel for pre-graduate Christie when I avoided books on their lack of orthodoxy, before I realized I didn't have to like or agree with something to enjoy reading it!  (3)  Secular people, as I recall, aren't put off the reading of St. Thomas More and St. Augustine.  (Why is Dante not a canonized saint, for that matter?)

Last, our journalist states that "G.K.'s views on Jews make him unapt for sainthood."  

G.K.'s self-portrait
Aside from the fact that his so-called antisemitism is something intelligent people are in disagreement about (I have a stout hatred for throwing around the word "racist!" at any comment or observation regarding a particular group of people . . . which makes me highly suspicious of those who throw it), antisemitism, and many other failings besides, have not prevented sanctification in the past.  Something Chesterton himself was well aware of.  In an obscure quote of his I cannot now find, but which was read in his Collected Works, Chesterton observes that particular and queer Authority of the Church as it has been granted by Christ through the Holy Spirit: that saints, while wholly good, can be wrong on dogma; and popes, while too often evil, cannot.

Blessedly, Ms. McDonagh finishes on a note of common sense:

The other thing is, he’d have hated the notion of being a saint. But that’s an argument for, not against.

Later, I want to talk about Ms. McDonagh's rationale for toting Chesterton's antisemitism and why, according to that rationale, I don't find Chesterton's views on Judaisim, so far as I have read them, antisemetic.

What do you think of this article so far?  Does the author have a point?  I'm particular interested in what non-fans think, as I am ever-cautious of personal affection getting in the way of objectivity!

For further reading, see GKC and Me on Everything to Someone (old).


  1. I just read that article and I think you're right, her arguments don't stand up logically, mostly because she doesn't have a Catholic understanding of sainthood. The whole point of Catholic sainthood is that any profession and any person can become sanctified to the extent that they go to heaven as soon as they die and that holiness is recognized publicly. And yes, saints aren't always 100% right about everything, although I would defend the assumption of Chesterton's anti-semitism, because people take a lot of his writings out of context and some of his ideas can't be understood apart from how he understood other principles. None of which people go into when they discuss the anti-semitism. It can be hard to be objective, I really really love his writings but I also believe that apart from his writings he's probably worthy of at least investigation into his saintly status. And if that adds some kind of prejudice against his writing, as the writer describes, that does make me a little sad, but that doesn't make an argument against canonization itself. The writer is much more anti-Catholic than Chesterton was ever anti-semitic.

    1. I didn't even think that the writer could be anti-Catholic. I think I was reading under the assumption that she's a Catholic herself, though anti-Catholic "Catholics" aren't outside the realm of my knowledge! Thanks for the feedback, Christy, and the great food for thought. xx

    2. I wonder if maybe the author doesn't quite 'get''s not a marketing tool or a promotional's not a label, so much as a opportunity to embrace reality. And it's something journalists, and obnoxiously self-important seeming old men are called to, just as much as pious girls and popes..So Chesterton is limited by his culture, so is Jerome..Chesterton at least had friends :p ..I don't like him, his attitude, his writing (for the most part), and I can see plenty of reasons to wonder about his eligibility for canonization, but his profession isn't one of them.

      I haven't seen antisemitism so much as an anti-Arab tone and themes that come across pretty racist to me, but again, I don't know his actual opinions, and whether or not they developed into something more palatable later in life..we have a LOT more information on modern saints than we ever had about the ancient saints..a lot more to absorb. But if he wants to start working miracles, you some point you just have to bow to the inevitable..;)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...