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Q&A: Why Catholics should listen to G.K. Chesterton when it comes to history

Even experts struggle to categorize the man of the thick mustache, tiny glasses and iconic hat that was often seen wearing a cape and smoking a cigar — and rightly so. G.K. Chesterton could write with ease on almost any subject ranging from politics, history and economics, to literature, philosophy and theology.

“He said something about everything, and he said it better than anybody else”, as Dr. Dale Ahlquist, one of the most respected Chesterton scholars in the world, put it. The modern approach to history is no exception, Ahlquist assures. For that reason, he believes Catholics should listen to what Chesterton had to say on the subject and proposes “unlearning” much of what they might have learned in school.

Ahlquist spoke to the Denver Catholic in anticipation of his St. John Paul II Lecture Series presentation in Denver titled, “Unlearning Our History Lessons: Chesterton on History,” Oct. 22.

Dr. Ahlquist is President of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and The Chesterton Schools Network, publisher of Gilbert! Magazine, and creator of the EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense. He has written five books on Chesterton.

Denver Catholic: What makes G.K. Chesterton stand out from other great thinkers of the past century and why is he still important in our time?

Dale Ahlquist: Chesterton was accomplished in every literary genre and combined clear and comprehensive thinking with clever writing. He’s important because he’s prophetic and as timely as ever.

DC: How would you describe the contemporary approach to history in our public education system and why is it worth ‘unlearning’?

DA: The modern academic approach to history is deconstructive, just like it’s approach to literature. It takes things apart until they don’t make any sense. We also have the modern weakness of thinking modern history more important than old and older history — so that we have no idea where we came from, much less how we got here. Modern history is more about forgetting than remembering.

DC: What is most unique about Chesterton’s approach to history that makes it worth implementing?

DA: History tells a story. It has a point. Chesterton argues eloquently that Christ is the hinge of history. Everything turns on the fact that God himself entered history.

Dr. Dale Ahlquist is President of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton and The Chesterton Schools Network, publisher of Gilbert! Magazine, and creator of the EWTN series The Apostle of Common Sense. He has written five books on Chesterton.

DC: G.K. Chesterton wrote prolifically on a wide variety of subjects. How can educators provide a Catholic education that produces great Catholic thinkers, capable of engaging and leading in the present culture?

DA: Chesterton should be taught in our Catholic schools. The problem is that he is bigger than any of our narrow disciplines; he keeps spilling over into the department next door. It’s our compartmentalized way of thinking —and of teaching — that has kept Chesterton out of the classroom.

DC: Chesterton’s cause of canonization was recently stalled. Do you think there were just reasons to do so? Why should he still be canonized?

DA: It was a great disappointment that the Bishop of Northampton said he would not proceed with the cause, but what was really disappointing were his stated reasons. We had previously and thoroughly addressed these before — but we will continue to.

We think Chesterton should be numbered among the saints for many reasons. First of all, there is a worldwide devotion to him. Secondly, he has brought hundreds if not thousands of people into the Catholic Church. I’m one of them. Thirdly, he demonstrated heroic virtue in his lifetime. And here’s a fourth reason: we need more lay saints, more models of lay spirituality, and examples of Catholic joy.

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add regarding your talk or Chesterton in general?

DA: Read Chesterton. Pray for his intercession. Come to the talk!

Saint John Paul II Lecture Series
“Unlearning Our History Lessons: Chesterton on History”
Dr. Dale Ahlquist
Refectory at St. John Vianney Seminary
Oct. 22, 7 p.m.
RSVP at archden.org/lecture.

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez
Vladimir is the editor of El Pueblo Católico and a contributing writer for Denver Catholic.
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