Following the English Apostle of Common Sense into the Catholic Church
by Angie Gadacz
“Ask after the dox. Ask how long the dox has been in the world. How many nations or centuries have believed in the dox? How often the dox has proved itself right. In practice, how often have thoughtful men returned to the dox? In theory, pursue the dox, persecute the dox. In short, ask the dox whether it is orthodox.”
G. K. Chesterton
In the 1920s, British writer G. K. Chesterton famously used ‘common sense’ to find his way into the Catholic Church. Now, many decades later and half a world away, another Protestant has followed in Chesterton’s footsteps.
As an American Baptist Evangelical and a C.S. Lewis fan, Dale Ahlquist’s curiosity about Chesterton was piqued after learning how Chesterton influenced Lewis. As he read his way through Chesterton’s prolific work, Ahlquist was so stunned that he began to feel that his four years spent in a liberal arts college was ‘fraudulent.’
How was it that he had discovered one of the greatest writers of the last century — a giant intellect with unmatched literary accomplishment — yet had never heard about him at university? He had learned about most of Chesterton’s contemporaries such as George Bernard Shaw, yet Chesterton was never mentioned.
After 16 years, Dale was received into the Catholic Church, he says, due to Chesterton’s words.
Not to Let the Next Generation Be Cheated
Today, Ahlquist is one of the top Chesterton scholars in the world. Determined not to let the next generation be cheated, he has dedicated his life to educating people about the great truths promoted by Chesterton.
As president of the American Chesterton Society, he’s is an internationally sought-after speaker, giving Chesterton talks on a variety of topics at colleges and other venues. (Chesterton seemed to have something to say about virtually every topic.)
“Aside from Chesterton’s literary importance,” says Ahlquist, “is his importance as a great soul and a great teacher. He tells the truth that we need to hear. And he tells the truth with great wit and beauty.”
Ahlquist also hosts an EWTN television series, G.K. Chesterton-The Apostle of Common Sense. He does frequent radio interviews on Morning Air with Sean Herriot (a Relevant Radio program), Kresta in the Afternoon (an Ave Maria Radio program), and others. The Society has also produced about 50 Chesterton Minute radio segments for EWTN radio networks.
1920’s British English
How should a modern reader approach Chesterton?
As some may find his 1920’s British English to be somewhat daunting, Ahlquist has written a series of books to help new readers engage in Chesterton’s work. These serve as a virtual ‘intro to Chesterton’ course and include G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, and The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton. Ahlquist then recommends that new readers should pick up G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and read it through three times!
Saint G.K. Chesterton?
Recently, the Catholic world has focused on the American Chesterton Society. At the annual Chesterton conference on August 1, Ahlquist was delighted to announce that His Eminence Peter Doyle, Bishop of Northampton (UK) will start the process to determine if a cause for Sainthood should be opened for GK Chesterton.
Ahlquist says that he has been in regular contact with Bishop Doyle ‘through various forms of communication, although none face to face.’ He also worked with Bishop Doyle’s predecessor to open a cause for the canonization of G.K. Chesterton.
It took a long time to convince the Bishop that there was a local cult devoted to Chesterton, in spite of the obvious presence of a universal cult. When people in England started making their presence known to Bishop Doyle, however, he was very gracious.
Looking for a dose of common sense? If you’re tired of the insanity that pervades so much of our culture, visit www.chesterton.org.
Dale says of Bishop Doyle, “In addition to our persistence, I think he was very moved by the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman (2010), which created great excitement in the Catholic Church in England. Then, most recently, he found out that Pope Francis is not only a Chesterton fan, but, when he was Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, approved a prayer for Chesterton’s intercession to be used for private devotion. That was an eye-opener.”
Dale and the American Chesterton Society are assisting in the process of working on Chesterton’s cause towards canonization. The clerics assigned to the cause will be required to conduct a thorough investigation into Chesterton’s life. The Society has spent years collecting this material; this may save much time in the research phase.
The Society’s goal is to show Chesterton’s great joy in defending the Catholic faith, and relevance to our own time. They publish Gilbert Magazine which addresses today’s controversial topics with Chesterton’s prophetic words. Certainly Chesterton saw the Culture of Death coming, Ahlquist says, pointing out that Chesterton confronted many of these problems squarely, as he foresaw today’s attacks against marriage, the family and the Faith.
“He is exactly what we need for today,” Ahlquist says. “It is great to see that the Church recognizes that he could be a saint. I am really privileged to have played a small role in the Chesterton revival. I hope I can do even more.”
Chesterton’s wit also seems to be contagious. Does Ahlquist have a favorite show to promote Chesterton?
“Well, I hear that “G.K. Chesterton – The Apostle of Common Sense” on EWTN is pretty popular, but I can’t bear to watch it,” he says with a twinkle. “The host is insufferable.”