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The Prophet of Beaconsfield: Chesterton Predicted a Battle in the Church
November 28, 2016
G.K. Chesterton had an uncanny gift for prophecy. It wasn’t mystical necessarily. I don’t believe he ever saw visions of the future like the prophets of the Old Testament. But his keen intellect allowed him to see where popular fashions and ideas would inevitably lead if uncorrected, and he was almost always right.
One excellent example of his gift of foresight was his prediction of a crisis in the Catholic Church over sexual morality.
A convert to Catholicism in a still very anti-Catholic England, Chesterton wrote a defense of his conversion in the short but powerful book, The Catholic Church and Conversion. In the very last chapter, Chesterton addresses the future prospects for the Church in a modern and fast changing world.
He admits that, while there were many converts to the Church in his day (many of them famous), the Church was also bleeding a significant amount of members, especially young people. And why were they leaving? Not because they had embraced some well thought out philosophy, not because they had discovered some better religion. In fact, they weren’t leaving because of ideas at all.
They were leaving because they wanted sexual freedom. They found the Church’s morality too restricting and wanted to be free of it. Here’s what Chesterton says:
Nothing is more notable if we really study the characteristics of the rising generation than the fact that they are not acting upon any exact and definite philosophy, such as those which have made the revolutions of the past. If they are anarchical, they are not anarchist. The dogmatic anarchism of the middle of the nineteenth century is not the creed they hold, or even the excuse they offer.
They have a considerable negative revolt against religion, a negative revolt against negative morality. They have a feeling, which is not unreasonable, that to commit themselves to the Catholic citizenship is to take responsibilities that continually act as restraints.
Keep in mind he wrote this in 1926, more than 40 years before the sexual revolution and the moral convulsions of the 1960s.
Chesterton doesn’t attack these young people for their license; he expresses compassion for them. “I do not say it in contempt,” he says, “I have much more sympathy with the person who leaves the Church for a love-affair than with one who leaves it for a long-winded German theory to prove that God is evil or that children are a sort of morbid monkey.”
So what did he predict would happen next? He predicted that the revolution would not last, and that when generations had sated themselves on pleasure, they would become burned out and seek a higher truth—and the Church would be there waiting to receive them.
But he didn’t stop there. He also predicted that the crisis would possibly infiltrate the Church and become a war within.
In so far as there is really a secession among the young, it is but a part of the same process as that conversion of the young, of which I wrote in the first chapter. The rising generation sees the real issue; and those who are ready for it rally, and those who are not ready for it scatter. But there can be but one end to a war between a solid and a scattered army. It is not a controversy between two philosophies, as was the Catholic and the Calvinist, or the Catholic and the Materialist. It is a controversy between philosophers and philanderers….
But the very laws of life are against the endurance of a revolt that rests on nothing but natural passion; it is bound to change in its proportion with the coming of experience; and, at the worst, it will become a battle between bad Catholics and good Catholics, with the great dome over all [emphasis added].
A battle between bad Catholics and good Catholics. A struggle between the advocates of sexual freedom and those who are faithful to the Church’s perennial teaching on sexual morality. Sounds a bit like today does it not? And the prophet of Beaconsfield predicted it exactly 90 years ago.
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