In 1996, writer, editor, and speaker Dale Ahlquist founded the American Chesterton Society, which is devoted to promoting interest in 20th-century English author, journalist, dramatist, biographer, and lay theologian G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). The Baptist Ahlquist was received into the Roman Catholic Church the next year, following the lead of the object of his admiration, who had traveled from Anglicanism through Unitarianism (and various other -isms) before converting to Catholicism in 1922.
Ahlquist has gone on to write more than 15 books on Chesterton. He edited the ACS magazine, called Gilbert (G.K. stands for Gilbert Keith), created and hosted a TV show on Chesterton, EWTN’s “The Apostle of Common Sense,” and co-founded the Chesterton Academy, a private Catholic high school in Minneapolis, next door to Ahlquist’s birthplace of St. Paul, Minn.
In October, Ahlquist landed in Los Angeles to visit his daughter, actress Ashley Ahlquist Johnson, and her husband, actor Kaiser Johnson, founder of the Hollywood Chesterton Society (HCS). He also took the opportunity to speak to a meeting of the HCS (video below) and then, the next day, to talk to Breitbart News over coffee in Santa Monica.
On how Chesterton might react to ongoing controversy over whether Pope Francis is politically a conservative or a liberal:
“One thing Chesterton would point out is that the Church is always bigger than the categories we try to put it into, especially in terms of conservative/liberal. You’re always going to have people from a smaller point of the spectrum criticizing because it doesn’t quite fit their narrow view of what the Church is.
“Chesterton has this great line, he says, ‘When something is condemned from all angles, it’s probably the right thing.’ If something is being condemned for being too tall, too short, too red, too green, too big, too small, it’s probably exactly right.”
On whether the pope is a Chesterton fan:
“I’m waiting for him to quote Chesterton. That’s what I’m waiting for the pope to do. One of the interviews with him describes his study and describes the Chesterton books on the shelf behind him. We know there’s that connection. We haven’t found a quote yet. We have people looking for it.”
On Chesterton’s popularity in Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s (now Pope Francis) native Argentina:
“Chesterton is very well-known in Argentina–you know why? Because the guy that always used to quote him in Argentina is Jorge Luis Borges, and Borges is the pope’s favorite writer, even though (Borges was not) a Christian, but because he’s an Argentine man of letters and truly a great social critic and observer of mankind. Pope Francis was always very attracted to Jorge Luis Borges, who quoted Chesterton in the 1970s, when people didn’t quote Chesterton.
“There’s a very active Chesterton society in Argentina. In fact, there was a Chesterton conference in Argentina, and Cardinal Bergoglio was the honorary chairman of the conference.”
On whether Pope Francis is supportive of the effort to have Chesterton named a saint:
“I think he’s out in front. We do know that the Argentine president of the Chesterton society, who was an ambassador, Miguel Angel Espeche Gil, wrote a letter to one of the Chesterton societies in England. In that letter, he said that ‘Our cardinal has just approved a prayer for Chesterton’s intercession.’ Well, that cardinal, three days later, became pope.”
On how Ahlquist came to the idea of sainthood for Chesterton:
“I didn’t have any understanding of the communion of the saints, as a Baptist. But when someone first suggested the idea of G.K. Chesterton being canonized over 20 years ago, I had an epiphany, an instantaneous understanding of what the communion of saints meant. It meant, the saints don’t get between you and Christ; they bring you closer to Christ. Saints intercede for you.
“I understand, if I want other people to pray for me, I ask them to pray for me. I understand a saint is in the presence of God, so I ask them to pray for me. G.K. Chesterton’s holiness came through to me. Also, I liked the idea that he’s my advocate. He’s already proved himself to be my friend. He’s proved to be a model that I follow. He shows what it is to live out the Christian life.
“I just loved how he goes against the expectations of what a Catholic saint looks like. He’s not a 14-year-old barefoot girl. Think of this, the two Americans who are closest to being canonized right now are (social-justice crusader) Dorothy Day and Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I’m trying to think of two more different people. Here’s the other point–they both were heavily influenced by G.K. Chesterton.”
On why Chesterton isn’t discussed much anymore outside Catholic circles:
“One of the great ironies is, during his lifetime, Chesterton was probably the most popular journalist in the world. Everyone knew who he was. He was the mainstream journalist, even though he was going against the grain even then. Everybody knew who he was, and everybody read him during his lifetime.
“There’s a revival that’s taking place; more people are discovering him. It’s just a matter of time before he regains his place as being a recognizable name.
“There’s this story of a woman coming up to him on the streets of London and saying, ‘Everybody seems to know you, Mr. Chesterton.’ He says, ‘Well’-and sighs-‘if they don’t, they ask.'”
On why he started a school:
“One of Chesterton’s great criticisms of education was, ‘The state has less power over a man when it could send him to be burned at the stake than it does now when it sends him to public school.’ Now, you’ve given the government more power than it’s ever had in all of history when you put education in the hands of the government. He said that education simply means passing on the truth from one generation to the next, but if we can’t agree on what the truth is, how are we going to teach our children?”
“We can’t teach the truth, all we can teach are these little fragments of disconnected facts, which are not connected to any larger philosophy, and that’s a recipe for disaster. We’re watching that all around us.”
“We’re working on a treatment right now, and we’ve got someone possibly interested in producing it, so I can say that. It’s such a wonderful story. It’s always grabbed people’s attention. One person has a theory that ‘Mission: Impossible’ is based on ‘The Man Who Was Thursday,’ with all the unmasking.”