Chesterton: The Youth Will Save the Church

June 24, 2015


Those claiming the Catholic Church is dead are many. Secularists can’t wait to put the last nail in the coffin of their greatest enemy and publish the obituary. Anti-Catholic protestants can’t wait for the day when they can claim definitively that Rome has failed and fallen into apostasy. “See,” they hope to say with glee, “you thought the gates of hell would not prevail! Boy were you wrong.”

Liberals, too, within the Church cannot wait for the “old” dogmatic Church to die, so they can joyfully usher in a new, more welcoming, amorphous church that with no dogmas, no morality, and no hierarchy.

Yet, to borrow a line from Mark Twain, rumors of the Church’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the Church may be dying, but it will rise again. Indeed, to quote the great English Catholic, G.K. Chesterton, “Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”

How is the Church saved from age to age, according to Chesterton? By young people recovering the flame of an orthodoxy that had been denied to and even hidden from them. And just as he was on so many other issues, Chesterton was prophetically right (see herehere, here, herehere, here, here, and here to name a few examples). Here is Chesterton in his own words.

“The Renewal of Our Own Youth”

The Church had any number of opportunities of dying and even of being respectfully interred. But the younger generation always began once again to knock at the door; and never louder than when it was knocking at the lid of the coffin in which it had been prematurely buried.

Islam and Arianism were both attempts to broaden the basis to a sane and simple theism, the former supported by great military success and the latter by great imperial prestige. They ought to have finally established the new system, but for the one perplexing fact that the old system preserved the only seed and secret of novelty. Anyone reading between the lines of the twelfth-century record can see that the world was permeated by potential pantheism and paganism; we can see it in the dread of the Arabian version of Aristotle, in the rumor about great men being Moslems in secret; the old men, seeing the simple faith of the Dark Ages dissolving, might well have thought that the fading of Christendom into Islam would be the next thing to happen. If so, the old men would have been much surprised at what did happen.

What did happen was a roar like thunder from thousands and thousands of young men, throwing all their youth into one exultant counter-charge: the Crusades. The actual effect of danger from the younger religion was renewal of our own youth.

It was the sons of St. Francis, the Jugglers of God, wandering singing over all the roads of the world; it was the Gothic going up like a flight of arrows; it was a rejuvenation of Europe. And though I know less of the older period, I suspect that the same was true of Athanasian orthodoxy in revolt against Arian officialism. The older men had submitted it to a compromise, and St. Athanasius led the younger like a divine demagogue. The persecuted carried into exile the sacred fire. It was a flaming torch that could be cast out, but could not be trampled out. (From “Where All Roads Lead”, 1923)

Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


  1. Pat_h says

    Indeed, there hasn’t been a moment in the Church’s history when somebody wasn’t proclaiming its demise, and yet the opposite has always been true. The louder the cries of its irrelevance, the more spectacularly relevant it has been shown to be. In each instance, orthodoxy (the small “o” type) has not only prevailed, but shown to be fully “new” and fresh, as it is. And its always shown through against the corruption of the age.

    That might always be apparent to those who have to endure any one era of turmoil. To be a Catholic in England or Northern Germany during the reformation must have been agony. But we should remember what we’ve seen and endured before, even as we endure matters now. We may live to see the Church’s triumph on the other side, or with our short mortal periods, we may not. But that doesn’t really matter.

    What we can take additional heart in is that in each era of turmoil not only did the Church prevail, but it came out stronger. That’s inevitable too. The battering by the world shows itself the world’s arguments to be anemic.

  2. Christopher says

    The liberals have an uncanny ability to make themselves think they are “fighting the establishment” or some such nonsense, without the realization that they ARE the establishment. The coming youthful revolution will be orthodox, because orthodoxy is the only true rebellion left.

  3. Pedro says

    I have great hopes for the youth in places like Africa and China, where Catholicism is growing rapidly. Sometimes we think too much about the decaying West that we forget about the rest of the world.

  4. lincolnshirecatholic says

    It needs to be said that in England it is the youth who are attending the Latin Mass who are saving the Church. The Bishops appear to be incredulous that the Latin Mass has taken off, and particularly amongst young Catholics. If you check out the Chartres Pilgrimage there are over 10,000 young Catholic adults attached to the Latin Mass on pilgrimage. The Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage from Ely Cathedral to Walsingham is pretty much all young people. There is definitely some truth behind this Michael Voris video which I am particularly fond of called ‘the Great Catholic Comeback’….


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