Chesterton and the Ordinariates
by Simon Dennerly
What do G.K. Chesterton and the Ordinariates have in common? In a sense, everything. This has lead to a project to promote the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, by promoting G.K. Chesterton: using a model that is easily replicable.
Many people are aware Chesterton was an Anglican writer who converted to the Catholic Church: but that is only half the story. To a vast majority ‘Anglican’ automatically means ‘Protestant’, but while Chesterton wrote many of his great works while a member of the Church of England, few are aware he was a member of the Anglo-Catholic section of that institution and critical of Reformed Theology. Faith shapes one’s world-view, and Anglo-Catholicism is more than just liturgy, it is also an intellectual school. So when we talk of Chesterton’s conversion: it was not to ‘Catholicism’, as he already held Catholic belief, but to its fullness in the Catholic Church.
It would be proper to say that the Personal Ordinariates were not just created for “Anglicans”, but specifically as an ark for Anglo-Catholics to preserve their Anglo-Catholicism in the Catholic Church. To draw the parallel, Chesterton and the founding members of the Ordinariates were Anglo-Catholics who ‘came home to Rome’. To deny the role of Anglo-Catholicism in this process is akin to saying being a Dominican had nothing to do with the thought and works of Thomas Aquinas.
G.K. Chesterton was a forerunner of the Ordinariates; he is our Anglo-Catholic kinsman we need to claim as one of our own. A good precedent for this is Blessed Cardinal John Henry, leader of the Anglo-Catholic revival the Oxford Movement, being the Patron of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Not so long ago at a Sunday Divine Worship mass here in Perth, I noticed the author of one of the hymns, “O God of Earth and Altar”, was G.K. Chesterton. This led to the formulation of a plan: I contacted the Australian Chesterton Society seeking one or more people to take classes on the works of Chesterton- and we were directed onto an associated local group, the Dawson Society, with whom OLSC is co-hosting the lecture series. The first series is on the Christianity in Chesterton’s fictional works.
Of course the works of Chesterton are vast and the project is as flexible as the presenter: you can study a particular book, study themes in his work and study selective quotes, hold Fr Brown movie nights, or my favourite, the economic and political system Chesterton developed with his good friend Hilaire Belloc: Distributism.
There are also internal and external reasons for members of Ordinariates to study Chesterton. Internally, Ordinariates are non-geographic dioceses that span countries, made up of spread-out and isolated parishes- it is up to individuals, but if there was a movement to study Chesterton, it would provide a common intellectual formation in, and amongst, Ordinariates. Externally Chesterton is held in high regard by mainstream Catholics and even by Protestants: put in a nutshell, he is a great draw card. Holding Chesterton study groups gives Ordinariate communities greater exposure. Before two of the classes our Ordinary, Mons. Harry Entwistle [Ordinary of Our Lady of the Southern Cross], will be holding Divine Worship exposing many to the Mass of the Ordinariates for the first time.
So if you are interested in your Ordinariate community hosting a Chesterton study group, start one. A good start might be contacting your local/national Chesterton Society, but this is not your only source. Take the initiative and start reading Chesterton yourself. And as always, fly your Ordinariate’s banner.