Some of the greatest Thomistic scholars of the 20th Century have praised his works. Etienne Gilson reviewing his book on St Thomas Aquinas said;
Chesterton makes one despair, I have studied St Thomas all my life and I could never have written such a book.He apparently wrote his book on Aquinas after reading only four books on the subject. Other Thomistic scholars have echoed similar sentiments. His intuitive understanding of Aquinas was better than their own, despite decades of study. The point that I'm trying to establish here is Chesterton's intellectual bona fides, and thereby his authority, on religious matters. Chesterton really was that deep.
The reason I bring up Chesterton at this time is because his understanding of Christianity serves as a good reference point from which to diagnose the problems which currently affect it. My thinking over the last few months has been preoccupied on this subject and the more I delve into the problem the more Chesterton's thinking impresses itself on my mind, and as a result, I'm increasingly of the opinion that the Church is in the grip of several heresies which, in many instances, have the support of both liberal and conservative factions.
Chesterton understood that Aquinas was an antidote to a latent Manichaeism which still persists in intellectual disposition if not the explicit theology in the Church. (i.e Flesh bad, Spirit good). But he also recognized that there were other tendencies which were also present in the Church, tendencies which were kept in check in the past but which have now become dominant and unbalanced it. Chesterton was aware that Church always contained within it a Tolstoyean spirit which though influential was never in control:
It is true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. ....... Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans were not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it.[ED] The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid.What Chesterton meant by Tolstoyean was the philosophy of life which were embodied by Count Tolstoy at the turn of the 20th Century. Chesterton savaged this philosophy, seeing it as a sort of Christian version of Buddhism but recognised that it had a strong tradition within Christianity which was kept in check by other forces. It was a tradition of self-negation and in many ways was hostile towards human pleasures, seeing them as an impediment toward religious enlightenment. Self-denial was the path to holiness, pleasure to sin. It was pacifistic, anti-assertive, anti-identitarian and anti-carnal.
The emotion to which Tolstoy has again and again given a really fine expression is an emotion of pity for the plain affairs of men. He pities the masses of men for the things they really endure — the tedium and the trivial cruelty. But it is just here, unfortunately, that his great mistake comes in; the mistake that renders practically useless the philosophy of Tolstoy… Tolstoy is not content with pitying humanity for its pains: such as poverty and prisons. He also pities humanity for its pleasures, such as music and patriotism. He weeps at the thought of hatred; but in “The Kreutzer Sonata” he weeps almost as much at the thought of love.Chesterton saw Tolstoy as a sort of anti-Nietzsche. Where as Nietzsche emphasised the will and ego, Tolstoy emphasised its negation.
The wild worship of lawlessness and the materialist worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless—one because he must not grasp anything, and the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan’s will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite’s will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is—well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads.”It's important to recognise that what Chesterton meant by the Tolstoyean tendency in the Church was not the explicit philosophy of Tolstoy, rather the personality type and theological currents that Tolstoy represented; that of brotherly love, hatred of the flesh in all of its manifestations, lack of self-assertion and non-violence.....i.e. the non-violent, universalist, religious ascetic. And if you think about it, this is precisely the type of religious person that is idealised by the contemporary Church. It's also a type that is idealised by many traditionalists.<