The Ever-Timely G.K. Chesterton — Wednesday, 24th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

Today’s readings remind me of things said by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936,) the British journalist, writer, husband, and convert to the Faith, whose cause for canonization has just been opened.

In the Gospel, the same critics who rejected John the Baptist, who came “neither eating food nor drinking wine,” as too extreme are rejecting Jesus for being too lax, on account of his “eating and drinking.” This is akin to something Chesterton noticed about criticisms of Christianity while he was still a non-believer. Christianity was supposedly too meek, and the cause of countless wars. It was condemned for its penitential austerity, and condemned for its opulence. The Church imprisoned women, yet was criticized as being “too feminine.” The Church promoted celibacy against the good of marriage, and it promoted marriage, forcing the shackles of marriage and family upon us. The Church feared sexuality, and Catholics had too many children. (Though this was a century ago, similar arguments are still made today.) Chesterton eventually concluded that Christianity was sane and all its critics mad—in various ways.

Why did Chesterton go on to become a Catholic? Partly because he did not see how the Bible could be wielded as a weapon against the Catholic heritage:

The ordinary sensible skeptic or pagan is standing in the street (in the supreme character of the man in the street) and he sees a procession go by of the priests of some strange cult, carrying their object of worship under a canopy, some of them wearing high head-dresses and carrying symbolical staffs, others carrying scrolls and sacred records, others carrying sacred images and lighted candles before them, others sacred relics in caskets or cases, and so on. I can understand the spectator saying, “This is all hocus-pocus”; I can even understand him, in moments of irritation, breaking up the procession, throwing down the images, tearing up the scrolls, dancing on the priests and anything else that might express that general view. I can understand his saying, “Your croziers are bosh, your candles are bosh, your statues and scrolls and relics and all the rest of it are bosh.” But in what conceivable frame of mind does he rush in to select one particular scroll of the scriptures of this one particular group (a scroll which had always belonged to them and been a part of their hocus-pocus, if it was hocus-pocus); why in the world should the man in the street say that one particular scroll was not bosh, but was the one and only truth by which all the other things were to be condemned?  Why should it not be as superstitious to worship the scrolls as the statues, of that one particular procession? Why should it not be as reasonable to preserve the statues as the scrolls, by the tenets of that particular creed? To say to the priests, “Your statues and scrolls are condemned by our common sense,” is sensible. To say, “Your statues are condemned by your scrolls, and we are going to worship one part of your procession and wreck the rest,” is not sensible from any standpoint, least of all that of the man in the street.

What is the “pillar and foundation of truth?” Most Protestants would say “the Bible,” yet Sacred Scripture (in today’s first reading from St. Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy) answers “the Church.” The Bible cannot be trusted more than Catholic Church, which wrote and canonized its books (not to mention taught, revered, and preserved them for two millennia.)

(May the works and prayers of G.K. Chesterton aid us in the world today.)

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