Monday, June 14, 2021

G.K. Chesterton, RIP

So last Friday night, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our Greater Wichita Chesterton Society local chapter (including residents of Derby, St. Mark's, Hutchinson and Newton) met in The Ladder to finish our discussion of Joseph Pearce's biography of G.K. Chesterton. As you might expect, the last event in Chesterton's life to be discussed was his death, 85 years ago today (June 14, 1936).

There were two very beautiful anecdotes about Chesterton's decline and death. One was that he had memorized the Sequence for the Feast of Corpus Christi (having published his great work on St. Thomas Aquinas just three years before in 1933). Pearce quoted the last two stanzas of Lauda Sion, with its prayer to see God face-to-face at the Heavenly Banquet:

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortáles:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodáles,
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Alleluia.

He also cited the last words of Verbum supernum prodiens, reflecting on Heaven as being in patria (our true native land!). For a man who loved England so much, this was remarkable statement.

UPDATE: I think that the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated on Thursday, June 11 in 1936. (Easter was on April 12; Pentecost on May 31, and Trinity Sunday on June 7.)

The other anecdote was that Pope Pius XI sent telegrams to Frances Chesterton and Cardinal Hinsley, referring to Chesterton as a "Defender of the Catholic Faith". The telegram was read at a memorial Requiem Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral on June 27, 1936. The British press would not publish the pope's telegram because it gave Chesterton the title which, in its view, belonged only to the King of England, Edward VIII. (Edward VIII had not been crowned yet and never would be because he abdicated in December of 1936 because he could not reign "without the help and support of the woman" he loved.)

Since he had not been crowned or anointed, or sworn his coronation oath to defend the faith, the future Duke of Kent was not really the Defender of the Faith at that time at all! 

I wonder what Chesterton would have made of all the ironies of Edward VIII's abdication in his column for G.K.'s Weekly.

Pearce reminded us, of course, that King Henry VIII had received the title "Fidei Defensor" from Pope Leo X "shortly before the King had rebelled against the Church". It was actually in 1521, about six years before Henry started seeking an annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. We could date his rebellion against the Catholic Church and Papal authority to 1532, so perhaps not that "shortly before". Pearce also comments that Chesterton had little in common with the king, "except perhaps the size of their girths."! (p. 485)

You may see a digitized image (showing the damage incurred in a fire) of the Papal Bull of Pope Leo X proclaiming Henry VIII the Defender of the Faith at the British Library's Medieval Manuscripts blog, reminding us why he received that title:

Henry was given the title Defender of the Faith in recognition for his Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments). Possibly written in consultation with Thomas More (b. 1478, d. 1535) and Cardinal Wolsey (b. c. 1473, d. 1530), Henry’s principal statesmen at this point in his reign, this theological treatise acted as a response to the pronouncements of the German theologian Martin Luther (b. 1483, d. 1546), whose ideas helped to shape the Protestant Reformation movement during the 16th century. . . .

Henry’s positive relationship with the Papacy did not last. Only a decade after Leo X issued the papal bull, Henry decided to break away from the Church of Rome, following Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon (b. 1485, d. 1536). He also distanced himself from the Assertio, claiming that he had been manoeuvred into writing it by his bishops. His actions ultimately resulted in his own excommunication by Clement’s successor Paul III (b. 1468, d. 1549) in 1538 and he was stripped of the title Defender of the Faith.

However, towards the end of Henry’s reign, in 1543, the English Parliament passed an act that restored the title for him and his successors. Since then, it has continued to be used as part of the styling of British monarchs (including the reigning Elizabeth II) to indicate their role as Head of the Church of England. It even features on coins of the realm, with the Latin Fidei defensor appearing in its abbreviated form F.D beside the Queen’s portrait.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Defender of the Catholic Faith, Rest in Peace in Our True Native Land!

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