Monday, February 27, 2017

“The Catholic Church"

“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine, but for unbelievers, here is proof of its divinity, that no merely human institution run with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

~Hilaire Belloc (source unknown)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"The essence of heresy"

“THE denial of a scheme wholesale is not heresy, and has not the creative power of a heresy. It is of the essence of heresy that it leaves standing a great part of the structure it attacks. On this account it can appeal to believers and continues to affect their lives through deflecting them from their original characters. Wherefore it is said of heresies that “they survive by the truth they retain.”

~Hilaire Belloc: from The Great Heresies.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Excursion

IT IS so old a theme that I really hesitate to touch it; and yet it is so true and so useful that I will. It is true all the time, and it is particularly useful at this season of the year to men in cities: to all repetitive men: to the men that read these words. What is more, true as it is and useful as it is, no amount of hammering at people seems to get this theme into their practice; though it has long ago entered into their convictions they will not act upon it in their summers. And this true and useful theme is the theme of little freedoms and discoveries, the value of getting loose and away by a small trick when you want to get your glimpse of Fairyland.

Now how does one get loose and away?

When a man says to himself that he must have a holiday he means that he must see quite new things that are also old: he desires to open that door which stood wide like a window in childhood and is now shut fast. But where are the new things that are also the old? Paradoxical fellows who deserve drowning tell one that they are at our very doors. Well, that is true of the eager mind, but the mind is no longer eager when it is in need of a holiday. And you can get at the new things that are also the old by way of drugs, but drugs are a poor sort of holiday fabric. If you have stored up your memory well with much experience you can get these things from your memory–but only in a pale sort of way.

I think the best avenue to recreation by the magical impressions of the world upon the mind is this: To go to some place to which the common road leads you and then to get just off the common road. You will be astonished to find how strange the world becomes in the first mile–and how strange it remains till the common road is reached again.

It always sounds like a mockery for a man who has travelled to a great many places, as I have, to advise his fellows to travel abroad; they are most of them hard tied. Yet it is really a much easier thing than men bound to the desk and the workshop understand. Britain is but one great port, and its inward seas are narrow–and the fares are ridiculously low. If you are a young man you can go almost anywhere for almost anything, sitting up by night on deck, and not expecting too much courtesy. But, of course, if you shirk the sea you are a prisoner.

Well, then, supposing you abroad, or even in some other part of this highly varied kingdom in which you live, and supposing you to have reached some chosen place by some common road–what I desire to dilate upon here is the truth which every little excursion of business or of leisure (and precious few of leisure) makes me more certain of every day: That just a little way off the road is fairyland.

It was exactly three days ago that I had occasion to go down the railway line that is the most frequented in Europe: I was on business, not leisure, but in the business I had two days' leisure, and I did what I would advise all other men to do in such a circumstance.

I took a train to nowhere, fixing my starting-point thus:–

I first looked at the map and saw where nearest to me was a quadrilateral bare of railways. This formula, to look for a quadrilateral bare of railways, is a very useful formula for the man who is seeking another world. Then I fixed at random upon one little roadside station upon the main line; I determined to get out there and to walk aimlessly and westward until I should strike the other side of the quadrilateral. I made no plan, not even of the hours of the day.

I came into my roadside station at half-past eight of the long summer night, broad daylight that is, but with night advancing. I got out and began my westward march. At once there crowded upon me any number of unexpected and entertaining things!

The first thing I found was a street which was used by horses as well as by men, and yet was made up of broad steps. It was a sort of stair-case going up a hill. At the top of it I found a woman leading a child by the hand. I asked her the name of the steps. She told me they were called "The Steps of St. John."

A quarter of a mile further down the narrow lane I saw to my astonishment an enormous castle, ruined and open to the sky. There are many such ruins famous in Europe, but of this one I had never even heard. I went lonely under the evening and looked at its main gate and saw on it a moulded escutcheon, carved, and the motto in French, "Henceforward," which word made me think a great deal, but resolved no problem in my mind.

I went on again westward as the darkness fell and saw what I had not seen before, though my reading had told me of its existence, a long line of trees marking a ridge on the horizon, which line was the border of that ancient road the Roman soldiers built leading from the west into Amiens. "Along that road," thought I, "St. Martin rode before he became a monk, and while he was yet a soldier and was serving under Julian the Apostate. Along that road he came to the west gate of Amiens and there cut his cloak in two and gave the half of it to a beggar."

The memory of St. Martin's deed entertained me for some miles of my way, and I remembered how, when I was a child, it had seemed to me ridiculous to cut your coat in two whether for a beggar or for anybody else. Not that I thought charity ridiculous–God forbid!–but that a coat seemed to me a thing you could not cut in two with any profit to the user of either half. You might cut it in latitude and turn it into an Eton jacket and a kilt, neither of much use to a Gallo-Roman beggar. Or you might cut it in meridian and leave but one sleeve: mere folly.

Considering these things, I went on over the rolling plateau. I saw a great owl flying before me against the sky, different from the owls of home. I saw Jupiter shining above a cloud and Venus shining below one. The long light lingered in the north above the English sea. At last I came quite unexpectedly upon that delight and plaything of the French: a light railway, or steam tram such as that people build in great profusion to link up their villages and their streams. The road where I came upon it made a level crossing, and there was a hut there, and a woman living in it who kept the level crossing and warned the passers-by. She told me no more trains, or rather little trams, would pass that night, but that three miles further on I should come to a place called "The Mills of the Vidame."

Now the name "Vidame" reminded me that a "Vidame" was the lay protector of a Cathedral Chapter in feudal times, so the name gave me a renewed pleasure.

But it was now near midnight, and when I came to this village I remembered how in similar night walks I had sometimes been refused lodging. When I got among the few houses all was dark. I found, however, in the darkness two young men, each bearing an enormous curled trumpet of the kind which the French call cors de chasse, that is, hunting horns, so I asked them where the inn was. They took me to it and woke up the hostess, who received us with oaths. This she did lest the young men with hunting horns should demand a commission. Her heart, however, was better than her mouth, and she put me up, but she charged me ten pence for my room, counting coffee in the morning, which was, I am sure, more than her usual rate.

Next day I took the little steam tram away from the place and went on vaguely whither it should please God to take me, until the plateau changed and the light railway fell into a charming valley, and, seeing a town rooted therein, I got out and paid my fare and visited the town. In this town I went to church, as it was early morning (you must excuse the foible), and, coming out of church, I had an argument with a working man upon the matter of religion, in which argument, as I believe, I was the victor. I then went on north out of this town and came into a wood of enormous size. It was miles and miles across, and the trees were higher than anything I have seen outside of California. It was an enchanted wood. The sun shone down through a hundred feet of silence by little rounds between the leaves, and there was silence everywhere. In this wood I sojourned all day long, making slowly westward, till, in the very midst of it, I found a troubled man. He was a man of middle age, short, intelligent, fat, and weary. He said to me:

"Have you noticed any special mark upon the trees? A white mark of the number 90?"

"No," said I. "Are there any wild boars in this forest?"

"Yes," he answered, "a few, but not of use. I am looking for trees marked in white with the number 90. I have paid a price for them, and I cannot find them."

I saluted him and went on my way. At last I came to an open clearing, where there was a town, and in the town I found a very delightful inn, where they would cook anything one felt inclined for, within reason, and charged one very moderately indeed. I have retained its name.

By this time I was completely lost, and in the heart of Fairyland, when suddenly I remembered that everyone that strikes root in Fairyland loses something, at the least his love and at the worst his soul, and that it is a perilous business to linger there, so I asked them in that hotel how they worked it when they wanted to go west into the great towns. They put me into an omnibus, which charged me fourpence for a journey of some two miles. It took me, as Heaven ordained, to a common great railway, and that common great railway took me through the night to the town of Dieppe, which I have known since I could speak and before, and which was about as much of Fairyland to me as Piccadilly or Monday morning.

Thus ended those two days, in which I had touched again the unknown places–and all that heaven was but two days, and cost me not fifty shillings.

Excuse the folly of this.

~Hilaire Belloc: First & Last

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Sailor's Carol

The Sailor

"Noël ! Noël ! Noël ! Noël !
A Catholic tale have I to tell !
And a Christian song have I to sing
While all the bells in Arundel ring.

"I pray good beef and I pray good beer
This holy night of all the year,
But I pay detestable drink for them
That give no honour to Bethlehem.

"May all good fellows that here agree
Drink Audit Ale in heaven with me
And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noël ! Noël ! Noël ! Noël !
May all my enemies go to hell !
Noël ! Noël !"

Grizzlebeard. "Rank blasphemy I said, and heresy, which is worse. For at Christmas we should in particular forgive our enemies."
The Sailor. "I do. This song is about those that do not forgive me."
The Poet. "And it is bad verse, like all the rest."
The Sailor. "Go drown yourself in milk and water; it is great, hefty howl-verse, as strong and meaty as that other of mine was lovely and be-winged."
Grizzlebeard. "What neither the Poet nor you seem to know, Sailor, is that the quarrels of versifiers are tedious to stand-by, so let us go into the Cricketers' Arms and eat as you say, in God's name, and occupy ourselves with something pleasanter than the disputed lyric."

~Hilaire Belloc: from The Four Men: A Farrago

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Pelagian Drinking Song

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall ─
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

~Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, November 12, 2016

On Patmos

SOME time ago I happened to be sailing down south along the eastern coast of the island of Patmos, which I had never seen before save once from a very long way off from the west. Now, being close at hand, I was able to appreciate it more exactly and to see how the high outline of the island leads up to the Monastery of St. John towards the summit.
Monastery of St. John today
We all speak of the great beauty these Aegean islands show; and so they do in general outline. That sea which is so heavenly of itself in colour and texture is made the more wonderful by this diversity of its islands—every shade of hue from the intense green above the near shores to the last amethyst on the horizon, which may be land or may be cloud a long day’s sail away. But one thing strikes the western eye at once even more than colour, and that is the bareness of the land.
It is not the glittering bareness of limestone rocks such as makes the burning shores of Provence look half desert. The rounded slopes of Patmos and of nearly all the other islands which crowd all those lovely waters are fertile. They would bear dense growth and nourish large trees, as in antiquity they did. What has destroyed the forests has been the Mohammedan blight.

Islam is the enemy of the free, as it is the enemy of all patient and continuous human effort. Islam will cut down for fuel or for building or for mere devastation, but it will not be at pains to replant, still less at the pains of protecting the young shoots against goats and other enemies. So Patmos, though it is green, is bare, like all its neighbors between Crete and the Dardanelles. We do not see, when we look on it, the things that St. John saw, we see something that has been ravaged. In St. John’s time it was wooded. It even had groves of palm (a few of which remain). It was human with leaves. Now it is stripped and naked.

If that is true of the absence of trees, it is even more true of the absence of houses. There is no greater contrast between the east and the west of the Mediterranean, at any rate between the main Christian part and the shores which the Turks harried rather than governed, than this drawing back of human habitation from the sea line. There is no greater mark of what the Turk meant to the inhabitants of the Greek islands. He meant sporadic massacre and loot, both when he could not protect his subjects from piracy and when he himself fell into one of his fits of anti-Christian rage.

Men built under the shadow of that terror. They built little. They built far apart and sparsely. Their number declined. If we could get a full picture of what all that sea-world was in early Christian time and compare it with what we see to-day we should understand what ruin false doctrine can bring upon the world. The ancient paganism, being a preparation for the Faith, did no such hurt. It was Mohammedanism, the greatest and most virulent of the heresies (and most persistent), which must bear the blame.

Another thought which struck me as I passed those famous but now lonely coasts was the meaning in those days—and long since—of exile. St. John was exiled on Patmos. It was conveniently near to Ephesus, and yet thoroughly cut off. It was a small place, and therefore easily guarded, yet there is here an historical problem, which I have never seen solved and which is this: what was the exact meaning of exile?

It was, we may say, a sort of free and large imprisonment. The chief burden of it (for most men) was separation from home and friends. All that we know; but how was it enforced?

 The modern world is full of an elaborate and ubiquitous police system both public and private. You never know in London or Paris in any public place or vehicle, whether the person next you may not be what is prettily called “a secret agent.” But that is one of the recent blessings of civilisation. Antiquity was more haphazard. A little place like Patmos could be watched fairly closely, but it could not have been impossible for an exile to make away. How did they keep an important man like Ovid marooned on the shores of the Black Sea? For the matter of that, how could Louis XIV, centuries later, be certain that a noble whom he “exiled” from his court to the provinces would “stay put”?

Another very much larger problem, an enormously more important question, arises in the mind as one looks at Patmos from the sea. It needs to be answered in a fashion at once delicate and profound. It is this: why did there thus arise an acute antagonism between the Catholic Church and the ancient civilisation from which we all spring? That civilisation is our own. It was the seed plot of the Faith, the Greco-Roman world was that which the Church permeated, transformed, and ultimately restored in better form after the ordeal of the Dark Ages. Why did it struggle so against the first stirrings of the Truth? The exile of St. John on Patmos was one of the very early examples of that conflict which was to endure for more than three long life-times. What was their quarrel with us? Why did Tertullian say that the twin sisters, the Empire and the Church should be at one, save that the Caesars could not be Christian? Why did it take the Caesars so long to accept their destiny? We have never had a complete solution to that enigma.

We know very well why the virulent, debased, modern hostility to the Faith is what it is. It is the hatred of corruption for health, the hatred of vice for virtue. But why should that which made the height of loveliness in verse and in stone have wrestled with complete beauty, and attempted to destroy the only final harmony?

I would suggest that the battle arose from those clouded but profound intimations of the future, “the cry of the unborn,” which seem, in some mysterious way, to affect men before the event. They make them dimly sentient of what is not, but is to be. The Catholic Church did not come to destroy but to complete. Unfortunately, that which it came to complete was too well satisfied with its own evil as well as with its own good. The threat of so much change was a mortal challenge. Hence (as it seems to me) the growing friction between the ancient Roman Empire and the Catholic Church for which that Empire was so noble a preparation. Hence, I think also, the explanation of the violence in which the persecutions ended. There was sort of spasm, a life and death struggle, at the very end, which we call by the general name of the “Diocletian persecution”—though Diocletian himself, poor man, was hardly the principal culprit.

There is about the Catholic Church something absolute which demands, provokes, necessitates alliance or hostility, friendship or enmity. That truth you find unchangeable throughout the ages, and therefore it is, that on the first appearance of the Church, the challenge is already declared—and that is what is meant by Patmos.

There was very much more of course that came into mind as I steamed slowly southward into the evening and along the coast and beyond it; and of all the thoughts that crowded in this one predominated: “What a testimony it is to St. John that his high vision should have been specially challenged by the enemies of religion!” It was not only the pagan world of the Aegean coast which singled him out for an enemy. It is, and has been, much more the modern anti-Christian attack which is and has been obsessed by him.

He is well able to meet it.

~Places: Essays by Hilaire Belloc (1942)

St. John Altarpiece (right wing), by Hans Memling.
Oil on oak panel, 1474-79;
Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"The Party System"

“MOST Englishmen until very lately, if told that they were not self-governing, would have laughed in your face.

“But now a dim suspicion has begun to arise in the minds of at least a section of the people that this historic optimism is not quite as true as it looks, that the electors do not as a fact control the representatives, and that the representatives do not as a fact control the Government, that something alien has intervened between electors and elected, between legislature and Executive, something that deflects the working of representative institutions.

“That thing is the Party System.”

~Hilaire Belloc & Cecil Chesterton: The Party System, Part I. (1911)

Share This