A Catholic bishop is preparing to make the case for sainthood for writer GK Chesterton on the grounds that he has aided miracle conceptions. The move has attracted criticism from British Jews, pointing to his anti-Semitism.
Chesterton wrote over 80 books during his lifetime, including The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who Was Thursday. He also wrote several hundred poems and 200 short stories, the most famous of which are his collection of Father Brown detective stories.
Outside of writing about the holy sleuth, the case for sainting Chesterton, who converted to Catholicism in 1922, came after Catholic couples claimed he answered their prayers for “miracle” children. The claims sparked an investigation in 2013 into the man’s holiness and piety, commissioned by the Bishop of Northampton, and is due to report back next month.
Once published, the Bishop will then decide whether to recommend Chesterton to the Vatican for canonization. Conditions to be met include having performed at least two miracles.
If Chesterton manages to navigate the rather lengthy canonization process – it can take over 50 years to be named a saint – he would become England’s first Roman Catholic saint in over 300 years.
Canon John Udris, who was put in charge of the report, had previously said Chesterton could potentially be a “huge model” for a Catholic Church that is finding it difficult to hold on to its flock. As a beer-and-Burgundy-lover, Udris told the Catholic Herald that he “breaks the mould of conventional holiness.”
Among his fans is the world’s top Catholic, Pope Francis, who as Bishop of Buenos Aires had previously supported a conference on the writer in the Argentine capital.
But not all have been impressed by the move to make Chesterton a saint. Since news of the investigation surfaced in 2013, opponents to his canonization have pointed to a plethora of examples of expressions of anti-Semitism in his literary works, and comments made during his lifetime on how Jews should be treated in society.
Writing on the news in the Jewish Chronicle in 2013, Jewish historian Geoffrey Alderman wrote of Chesterton’s anti-Semitism: “Thus we find that in his Short History of England (1917), Chesterton wrote approvingly of Edward I’s expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. These Jews, Chesterton insisted, were the ‘capitalists of their age,’ and Edward’s eviction of them was the commendable act of a ‘tender father of his people.’”
Fast forwarding to the scandal of the Dreyfus Affair, Alderman claimed that Chesterton “had the effrontery to attack the ‘acrid and irrational unanimity of the English Press’ in siding with Captain Alfred Dreyfus, and continued to evince hostility towards Dreyfus even after the French state had admitted his innocence of the charge of treason leveled against him.”
Other examples of anti-Semitism can be found in his 1920 work The New Jerusalem. Chesterton claimed that while Jews should be allowed to hold high office, they should wear different attire so “that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.”
An exploration of these accusations is expected to be included in the report. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Canon Udris said that while presenting the views of “people who have hesitations, reservations, and actually who are dead set against the cause” is crucial to his report, his personal view is that there “wasn’t a racist bone in his body.”
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