• Chapter II. The Two Cultures
• Chapter III. Survivals
• Chapter IV. The Main Opposition
• Chapter V. New Arrivals
• Chapter VI. The Opportunity
Chapter III. Survivals
I PROPOSE in this section to take the main Survivals of old forms of attack upon the Catholic Church. I mean by these, forms of attack which, though no longer in the first rank, are present amongst us, if not all of them in all parts of the modern world at any rate each in some contemporary part. I shall not include those which are fairly dead and buried (say, Voltaire's "Deism"), but only such as are still in some degree active, and these it would seem best to arrange, as I have said, in their order of vitality: beginning with those which show the faintest tremors of remaining life and ending with the most vigorous, though already showing signs of fatigue.
In such a sequence there would seem to be five principal bodies.
(1) There is the most antiquated and moribund of the series, the Biblical attack: that is, the comparison of Catholic doctrine, morals, and practice, to their disadvantage, with the words of Holy Writ, regarded as a final authority in the Literal meaning of every word there found: the words of the said document also to be treated as all sufficient, and anything not there plainly recorded or enjoined to be branded false. This, which is called in the United States the "Fundamentalist" attitude, may also be called, on our side of the Atlantic, "the attitude of the Bible Christian."
(2) Materialism: the old-fashioned and very downright philosophy which ascribed every phenomenon to a material cause. This was postulated as a Dogma, from which it was deduced that not only all transcendental and supernatural but even all spiritual causes were out of court. Those who accepted them suffered from illusion; and particularly so did Catholics who rely upon a full transcendental philosophy, approve supernatural explanations and refer all things, ultimately, to a spiritual cause.
This kind of attack has, in its direct form, almost disappeared, but not quite: and as an influence on thought is still to be reckoned with.
(3) The "Wealth and Power" argument. This was the condemnation of the Catholic Church by the evidence of its economic and political results upon the societies it influenced: a judgment based upon the affirmed decline in comparative armed strength and in comparative wealth of Catholic nations, and the corresponding rise of Protestant. This was an attack of the strongest effect in the mid-nineteenth century, and its remains are still of considerable weight today, though manifestly weakening.
(4) The Historical attack. This was the comparison of Catholic affirmations to their disadvantage with what could be proved, or apparently proved, by historical evidence, e.g., the Catholic affirmation of Papal supremacy was attacked historically (a) by the evidence of early centuries in which that supremacy was less developed, (b) by the evidence against the authenticity of such documents as the Donation of Constantine (and the False Decretals in general). More generally the Historical Argument, being destructive of myth and legend, was, by an association of ideas, rendered destructive of truths connected with such myths and legends.
This form of attack was for generations the main assault upon the Catholic position. It was the most powerful weapon of the early Reformation and it remained for more than three hundred years the standby of all criticism directed against the Church, and the peril in face of which Her defenders were most nervous. It began to break down badly and publicly only in our own lifetimes. It is now in full retreat. The reason it was so formidable for so long, the causes of its recent rather rapid breakdown, I will discuss in their place.
(5) Lastly, by far the most formidable opponent within the memory of all of us was that which I will call Scientific Negation. The term is clumsy and inaccurate, but a better one is hard to discover. It was that form of attack which denied Catholic affirmations on the strength of supposed evidence drawn from physical science in the first place, and then, by an extension of the methods of physical science, from a minute and calculated examination of documents, of savage custom and ritual, and of prehistoric remains.
Its powerful influence was adverse not only to Catholic claims but to the whole structure of the Philosophy inherited by our civilization, and there was a moment (say about fifty years ago) when it seemed to have conquered for good and all. Teleological views as old as civilization—that is, the conception that things are shaped to an end, and exist to fulfill that end—the idea of Creation (let alone of Revelation) were thought destroyed, not by a new mood but by positive proof available to all. It was in the hour of this folly's triumph that its weakness first appeared. Some forty years ago the criticism against it was just barely vocal; ten years later it had gathered strength. Then, with increasing rapidity, and for reasons which will later be considered, it began to break down on the intellectual side, fell to the defensive, and has now joined the ranks of the defeated. Some, especially in England, would regard it as still holding the first place among our enemies. That is an error. It has yielded such pre-eminence to a much baser bastard child of its own which we shall deal with as "the Modern Mind." The unquestioned Scientific Negation of the generation immediately preceding our own is now the angrily defended attitude of elderly men, who have many younger supporters it is true, but who are no longer dominant against the Faith. It is, though the most living of the Survivals, definitely a Survival; and we treat with Scientific Negation as with an opponent who has lost his positions.
(i) The Biblical Attack
The origin of the Biblical attack on the Church is familiar to all, simpler, and much easier to account for than are most extravagances in religion.
From its origins, the Catholic Church had adopted Holy Writ as the Inspired Word of God. It began by accepting the traditional Hebrew Books because Our Lord had appealed to their authority and had sanctioned it, because they led up to His Incarnation and Messianic Mission, because the first witnesses to His Miracles, His Resurrection and His own claim to the Godhead were steeped in, and appealed to, those Books; but above all because She, the Church, who knew herself to be the divinely appointed judge of Truth, recognized the sanctity of this scriptural inheritance and confirmed it.
The decision of the Church to stand by the Jewish Scriptures was not maintained without difficulty. The documents were alien to that glorious civilization of the Mediterranean which the Church penetrated and transformed. Their diction was, in its ears, uncouth and irrational. The deeds they recounted (with approval) sounded barbaric and often absurd: taken as moral examples, some were found repulsive, others puerile: and the whole was of another and (to Greek and Roman) lesser and more degraded world. We have remaining echoes of the reaction against them including the fury of those heretics who ascribed them to the Devil; and even after they had been flooding Christian study for nearly four hundred years you may find such an ardent follower of them as St. Augustine confessing that they had disgusted his cultivated taste and that their alien style had presented for him an abject contrast to the noble tradition of classical letters.
But the Church firmly maintained their supernatural value and revered them as Divine Oracles bearing testimony to Her Founder. She did not indeed accept them of themselves. Of themselves they would not have concerned her. As law they were superseded. But they introduced and pointed to the Divine Event whence She sprang, and as such were sanctified.
The Church added to the Canon further books which were of greater moment, for these were not adumbrations and forerunners but records of the essential doctrines whereon She was founded. The precepts of Our Lord Himself as collected by His companions and their immediate associates, the chief events of His Mission, His Passion, His Rising from the Dead, the inward meaning of all this as He revealed it to the Apostolic group whom He had chosen (and in particular to St. John) these formed the Gospels of the Church: Her new and good tidings for men. These stood unique and on a different plane from aught else in the collection. To them were added the letters and exhortations written by the first propagators of the Faith and their successors, as also apocalyptic and symbolic treatises.
The process of deciding what among the books read in the Churches should be admitted as inspired was long. There was a sifting of the older Hebrew books, which left some of them outside the Canon; of the newer Christian books, which excluded some of these also (as the Epistles of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas). By the fourth and fifth centuries the thing was fixed. Its original Greek version in the East, its Latin translation in the West, had reached final form and Europe was henceforward in possession of the Holy Bible preserved and imposed by the Authority of the Catholic Church.
The living voice of the Church must obviously be the organ of doctrine, and tradition its main support. But the Church also persistently maintained the parallel authority of Scripture. Doctrine was confirmed by quotation from it and a ceaseless appeal was made throughout the centuries to the written text of the Canon. Though no Bible had existed, the Church would have sufficed to give her own witness to truth: but to the Bible, Her book, She perpetually referred. Thus the Primacy of Peter was amply founded in an unbroken acceptance of the doctrine: but She emphasized the Petrine texts and has engraved them on Her central shrine at Rome. The dogma of the Eucharist is Hers to affirm and define: but She also sends Her adherents, as well as Her opponents, to excerpts from the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper.
Therefore it was, on account of the Church's own practice in the matter and the Education she had given Europe therein, that when the great revolt broke out against Her four hundred years ago, Her own teaching was abused against Her. By a pretty irony, that Catholic thing which only the overwhelming authority of the Church over men's minds had compelled them to accept, was taken up as a weapon to destroy Her.
The men of the sixteenth century could only live by Authority, in religious matters as in civil. If the Primary Authority, the Catholic Hierarchy, was to be dispossessed, the secondary authority must be established as all sufficing: thus Bibliolatry appeared. The Bible, stark, uninterpreted, was set up as the one and only guide to truth. By the seventeenth century the Bible became an idol; and the intellectual effects of so base a perversion were not slow to appear. Men came to know so little of their own past that all the symbolic use of Scripture, all the allegorical spirit of the early Fathers, was forgotten. A dead document bound all.
The worst social effect of this was the ruining of the Renaissance. That mighty fountain of youth restored, that return to ancient order and beauty and to knowledge, was deflected, warped and fouled. Our opportunity for a full resurrection of culture was destroyed by the Reformers.
Of many examples one (which I have also quoted in another book) will suffice. Just when the religious upheaval was at its height a Polish Canon, Copernicus, revived in a more precise form, the old Pythagorean doctrine of the earth's motion, and communicated to many his speculation that the sun was the center of our system and that the earth revolved. At last, as he died, he printed it, with a dedication to the Pope of the day. This new hypothesis—so typical of the Renaissance advance in discovery—excited in the heart of civilization the interest it deserved. It was lectured on in the Papal Schools, and the lecturers splendidly rewarded. It was taught at Bologna. But the Bible worshippers were furious. On the authority of "the Bible only" they denounced the movement of the globe. Luther's own University of Wittenburg expelled its professor of mathematics for teaching the evil thing. Luther, Melanchthon and their followers roared against the blasphemy of a moving earth in scores of broadsides, and the evil example spread so far that it even infected Italy at last, and at Rome itself Galileo was condemned a lifetime later; though not indeed for advancing the hypothesis but for quarrelsomely teaching it as proved fact, which, as yet, it was not.
Another dreadful consequence of Bibliolatry was the outbreak of vile cruelty in the persecution of witches. The hundreds of poor wretches—mostly women—who were tortured and burnt, or hanged (especially in East Anglia) during the worst of the mania owed their sufferings mainly to such inspiration. But indeed cruelty in general was fostered by the strange new fashion of accepting all the relations of the Old Testament as an infallible moral guide to the conduct of life. Another was the attitude towards the natives of new-discovered lands: your Bibliolater did not attempt their conversion but their extermination.
For he had read that those not "of the Law" were to be put to the sword, and as for those among whom he found himself he might massacre them cheerfully as so many Canaanites. Was he not of a Chosen Race, and was not everybody unlike himself an inferior in the eyes of the Creator?
For the dogma that this particular printed book was the sole and final authority upon all doctrine, morals, and the rest of it, meant that we are bound to imitate in every particular the deeds and the ethical code discoverable in that text.
It had another effect. What was not discoverable in the text must be abhorred. Thus the word "Mass" is not used for the Eucharist in the text—therefore it is an abomination. The war against the Mass had other origins, but this petty argument had strange force. Everything described by a word later than the words used in the latest book in the Canon must go.
It had another. Images were to be condemned; and art was suspect not only in worship but in all life—with consequences we can see around us.
The action was not consistent. Sunday took the place of Saturday (without Scriptural warrant) as a Taboo Day. Human sacrifice was not adopted, even as an exception. A priesthood—the center of the old books—was abhorrent. The elaborate ritual of the Jewish priesthood in its worship was not copied—rather was such a practice to be condemned, because the Church had adopted it. Black Puddings also were permitted, and one might eat a chicken though the gardener had wrung its neck.
But, take it in the large, the Biblical attack on the Church was the main one for three centuries; it supplemented the historical attack; it remained vigorous in nations of Protestant culture to the last third of the nineteenth century—anyone over fifty in Britain or the United States can remember it in full activity.
Today it is but the weakest of the Survivals, and its rapid disappearance was due to the advancement of learning.
It had already sunk into Literalism: the idea that the English text of the Hebrew scriptures, as published under James I 300 years ago, gave an exact historical and scientific description of all therein contained.
The Literalist believed that Jonah was swallowed by a right Greenland whale, and that our first parents lived a precisely calculable number of years ago, and in Mesopotamia. He believed that Noah collected in the ark all the very numerous divisions of the beetle tribe. He believed, because the Hebrew word JOM was printed in his Koran, "day," that therefore the phases of creation were exactly six in number and each of exactly twenty-four hours. He believed that man began as a bit of mud, handled, fashioned with fingers and then blown upon.
These beliefs were not adventitious to his religion, they were his religion; and when they became untenable (principally through the advance of geology) his religion disappeared.
It has receded with startling rapidity. Nations of the Catholic culture could never understand how such a religion came to be held. It was a bewilderment to them. When the immensely ancient doctrine of growth (or evolution) and the connection of living organisms with past forms was newly emphasized by Buffon and Lamarck, opinion in France was not disturbed; and it was hopelessly puzzling to men of Catholic tradition to find a Catholic priest's original discovery of man's antiquity (at Torquay, in the cave called "Kent's Hole") severely censured by the Protestant world. Still more were they puzzled by the fierce battle which raged against the further development of Buffon and Lamarck s main thesis under the hands of careful and patient observers such as Darwin and Wallace.
So violent was the quarrel that the main point was missed. Evolution in general—mere growth—became the Accursed Thing. The only essential point, its causes, the underlying truth of Lamarck's theory, and the falsity of Darwin's and Wallace's, were not considered. What had to be defended blindly was the bald truth of certain printed English sentences dating from 1610.
All this I say was Greek to the man of Catholic culture. He could not understand it at all. But we, living in a Protestant society, know well enough what it was and the general collapse that has followed. For, with the defeat of Literalism, Bibliolatry went by the board; and the Biblical attack on the Faith, a standby for centuries, has dwindled to insignificance.
Its disappearance in one area after another has been extending rapidly. Men of my age can remember all Britain and America, you may say, based on Bibliolatry. The older members of its votaries survived in numbers till the other day. Some few linger yet: more in the United States than here.
It having thus failed why do I include it among the "Survivals" at all?
Bibliolatry would seem to be nowadays a quaint chapter which the generality of educated men regard as unworthy of mention, or, at any rate, of so little account that it might be neglected by anyone dealing with the major problems of religion in our moment.
Well, it is true that even in the Protestant culture no one who counts would tolerate the serious discussion of such rubbish on lines familiar only half a lifetime ago; yet it must be admitted as a Survival—though the most exhausted of them all—because its effect, in the English-speaking world at least, is still felt.
I will give three examples:
Dr. Gore, a man of the highest cultivation, was lately careful to distinguish between the story of Jonah and the whale, and the miracles of Our Lord. The first he reverently abandoned—the second he deferentially admitted. We must recognize that the mere existence of such an attitude is a serious proof that Literalism still has some vitality even in Europe, or, at any rate, in this country. It seems that in the eyes of men of the first rank in the Anglican Hierarchy the Literalist is still a figure to be reckoned with.
My second example is from a recent article by Mr. Arnold Bennett. That deservedly popular writer is perhaps in closer touch with his contemporary fellow-countrymen than any of his colleagues in the province of letters, wherein he has achieved such eminence. Well, in discussing the causes for the breakdown of religion he says that it was successfully attacked at its "only vulnerable point" the Bible. These words are not applicable to the Catholic, for whom the Bible depends on the Church, not the Church on the Bible. But they are full of meaning to those who, though no longer Bible- Christians, remember Bible Christianity as identical with religion.
Mr. Bennett makes no such confusion. He knows the world too well to err on the nature of Catholicism. But here he rightly takes it for granted that his vast English audience have a universal tradition of a Religion based on the Bible. And he is right.
My third example shall be from another writer of high standing in our time, thoroughly representative of modern English thought and also in close sympathy with his great audience; skeptical in profession, though as Protestant as Dr. Gore in morals and tradition—I mean Mr. H. G. Wells.
Mr. H. G. Wells has been at great pains to discuss the fall of man, in which considerable catastrophe he puts no faith. But when he discusses the fall of man he always has in mind the eating of an apple in a particular place at a particular time. When he hears that there is no Catholic doctrine defining the exact place or the exact time—not even the name of the apple, he shrewdly suspects that we are shirking the main issue. He thinks in terms of the Bible Christian—with whom he disagrees.
The main issue for European civilization in general is whether man fell or no. Whether man was created for beatitude, enjoyed a supernatural state, fell by rebellion from that state into the natural but unhappy condition in which he now stands, subject to death, clouded in intellect and rotted with pride, yet with a memory of greater things, an aspiration to recover them, and a power of so doing by right living in this world of his exile; or whether man is on a perpetual ascent from viler to nobler things, a biped worthy of his own respect in this life and sufficient to his own destiny.
On that great quarrel the future of our race depends. But the inventors of Bible Christianity, even when they have lost their original creeds, do not see it thus. They take the main point to be, whether it were an apple—who munched it—exactly where—and exactly when. They triumphantly discover that no fruit or date can be established, and they conclude that the Christian scheme is ruined and the Fall a myth.
It is clear then that the most eminent writers in the Protestant culture can still be concerned with Literalism. It is almost equally clear that they have never grasped that full doctrine of the Fall—the sole doctrine explanatory of our state—upon which, coupled with that of the Incarnation, the Catholic Church bases all Her theology.
To put the thing in epigram (and therefore, of course, quite insufficiently), they are certain that we are animals which have risen. They have not met the idea that we may be a sort of angel who fell.
Now I submit that if men of this eminence take the Literalists thus seriously—one solemnly arguing with them, another not understanding that there has been any other kind of believer—there must be trace of life in Literalism still.
There are, of course, innumerable other instances. You can hardly find an article in any newspaper discussion on religion—save the very few by Catholics, which are occasionally admitted as a favor—but takes it for granted that advance in physical science has shaken something which the writer calls "religion." He can only mean the religion of the Bible Christian. For in what way could Physical Science affect the Catholic Church?
You can hardly get an allusion to the evolutionist writers (in this country it is always Darwin) without the same idea cropping up: "The Conflict of Science with Religion." But with what religion can Science conflict save Bibliolatry? On every side the recent presence of that strange worship—and even its present lingering—is taken for granted.
It is then a true "Survival," though I grant that it is on the point of death.
Before I leave it I would like to suggest a doubt to the reader concerning it. The Biblical attack on the Church has failed because Bibliolatry has been destroyed by extended geological and historical knowledge. It is dying and will soon be dead. But will it "stay dead"?
The good fortunes of stupidity are incalculable. One can never tell what sudden resurrections ignorance and fatuity may not have. Most of us, asked to make a guess, would say that in fifty years no odd Literalist could still be found crawling upon the earth. Do not be too sure. Our children may live to see a revival of the type in some strange land. Or it may come later. These aberrations have great power. We might, if we came back to life 300 years hence, find whole societies in some distant place indulging in human sacrifice, massacring prisoners of war, prohibiting all communications on Saturdays, persecuting science, and performing I know not what other antics in the name of James I's Old Testament—especially if James I's Old Testament should have become by that time (as it probably would have become by that time) a Hierarchic book preserved in a dead language, known only to the learned few.
As things now are, the survival of the Materialist cannot be long maintained.
Explicit Materialism—that is, the frankly stated philosophy that there are none save material causes, and that all phenomena called spiritual or moral are functions of matter—is now hardly heard.
But Implicit Materialism—that is, an underlying, unexpressed, conception that material causes explain all things—survives. Men do not commonly say, nowadays, as many did not so long ago, that man is to be explained as a machine or a set of chemical formulae. They no longer, in any great numbers, deny flatly the presence of immaterial factors in the universe. But when they speak of life or of death, or when they propose an explanation of anything, they imply, often without knowing it, that all of which they talk is material: that life is a material process, death but the cessation of that process, and that any human occasion—for instance any social development—can be completely understood when it is stated in terms of material things.
For instance, they will say that a community's character is the product of its physical environment; or again that the soul of a society changes with the introduction of a new machine.
That Materialism as an explicit, openly affirmed philosophy is—for the moment—vanishing, is due to two forces, each of them intellectually contemptible: the first is fashion, the second is the increasingly meaningless vocabulary of physical science. No reasoning man should allow himself to be affected by the mere intellectual fashion of his day without consideration of its value and of the proofs on which it relies. No reasoning man ought to ally himself with confused thought. The modern man is ashamed to call himself a Materialist "tout court" because those whose names are most quoted no longer call themselves so. Even Haeckel a lifetime ago had to put spirit into his atoms and say that they had in them the beginnings of consciousness and will. Bergson, whose influence, now declining, was lately so great, went much further and put an immaterial force at the origin—or at least at the base—of all things. These, and a host of others created that fashion against explicit Materialism which modern men dread to challenge.
Meanwhile they became alarmed lest, if they ascribed all to matter, someone should ask them "What is matter?" and they should be unable to reply. A little while ago it was plain sailing. Matter and its laws were thought to be certainly known. Today its definition is lost in verbiage and one hears such meaningless phrases as "a substance on the confines of matter," "Matter as an expression of force," and the rest.
Such fashions and such confusions are contemptible.
It is a stronger point against Explicit Materialism that, though perpetually recurrent, it has never made a long stay in human thought: that there would seem to be something about it which the grandeur of man rejects as beneath his dignity.
Explicit Materialism, compared with the other philosophies meeting in man's Palace of Debate, is like a jolly little self-satisfied dwarf who should be perpetually trying to push his way into the stately ceremonies of a Senate, and as perpetually getting turned out by the officials at the door: but who, on occasions, when the officials slept or were drunk, managed to push his way in and get at least to the top of the stairs for a few minutes. Materialism made one such successful raid in the generation before our own and was gloried in by many, especially among the popular opponents of religion in the nineteenth century. It looked at one moment as though it might get a permanent foothold.
Let me digress to confess a personal weakness, at heart, for that old-fashioned Explicit Materialism. My leaning to it lies in this—that it was full of common sense and sincerity.
It was eminently right as far as it went; and when I say "eminently" I mean "eminently" it was at the top of its own tree. It was not an aberration, still less a perversion. It was a half truth, squat and solid, but human and, in its exceedingly limited way, rational.
The Materialist of my boyhood went his little way along that open road which we all must follow when we begin to philosophize. Day in and day out, from moment to moment, we are concerned with a patent chain of material cause and effect.
Of things not material we have knowledge in subtle ways. We also have knowledge in subtle ways of the truth that what we call an "experience of matter" is not an experience of matter at all, but of something very different, to wit, an experience of the mind—which, by some action of its own, presumes a thing called matter and predicates it as a cause. We have to be conscious of matter even before we can make matter supreme—and consciousness is not material.
But our jolly little dwarf cannot be bothered with all that. Subtlety is not in his line. He knows, as you and I know, and as the chimney-sweeper round the corner knows, that if you fall into water you drown: so water is the cause of your drowning. If you knock a man on the head, he stops thinking, and for the time apparently he stops being. If you knock him hard enough he apparently stops being altogether. Therefore, the brain when it is working is the cause of thinking and being—and the stopping of its working is the stopping of thinking and being.
All around us and all around the Materialist are manifest innumerable examples—visible, tangible, real—of material cause apparently preceding every effect. The Materialist is the man who stops there, at a half truth which is a truth after all, and goes no further. All that appeals to me. It reposes upon two great virtues: simplicity and sincerity.
I have no patience with those who approach with grandiloquence my sturdy little dwarf, who is so full of certitudes. I have no patience with those who use long words to him and try to overawe him with that jargon of so-called philosophy into the which the Germans befogged themselves from misreading the clarity of Descartes. I have no patience with people who muddle the poor little fellow up with such words as "subjective" and "objective." I would rather pass an evening with a Materialist at an inn than with any of these sophists in a common room. Moreover, the Materialist fills me with that pity which is akin to love.
I mark him, in the chaos of our day, with an emotion of protective affection. I want to shelter him from the shocks of his enemies and to tell him that, weak as they are, he is weaker even than they. I want also to tell him all the time what an honest little fellow he is. For he is at least in touch with reality, as are we also of the Faith in a grander fashion. He tells the truth so far as he can see it, whereas most of those who sneer at him care nothing for the truth at all but only for their systems or their notoriety.
I have noticed this about such Explicit Materialists as are left—that they are nearly always honest men, full of illogical indignation against evil, and especially against injustice. They are a generous lot, and they have a side to them which is allied to innocence.
Among the Survivals they now take a very small place. They feel themselves to be out of the running. Their hearts have been broken with abuse and insult and with base desertion by their friends, who reject in chorus and with indignation the horrid title of Materialist. Therefore have most of them become apologetic. They commonly talk as an uneducated man among scholars; saying as it were:
"I know I am only a poor blunt fellow, and no doubt I'm old-fashioned, still, commonsense is commonsense after all. I can't talk Latin and Greek or German, but I can talk plain English, damn you, and that's good enough for me."
Now I like that.
But Explicit Materialism is not keeping up with the world. I rarely discover it today outside the columns of French provincial journals (for the clarity of Materialism appeals to the French temper), in a couple of obscure English weeklies, and in faded manuals a generation old treasured by elderly men. The Materialist has been left behind, and, for my part, I don't mind lingering in the rear of the column and making friends with the foot-sore straggler.
The Materialist will not recover strength in our own day. If I may be allowed to dogmatize enormously I will tell you why. He will not do so because the Devil has, for the moment, no further use for him.
The Devil used the Materialist (though the Materialist had no use for the Devil) for his own ends, between the middle of the eighteenth and the last third of the nineteenth centuries. Now the Devil has impatiently ordered the Materialist to get out of the way, and, like Youth, the Devil will be served.
He has made our generation too grand to deal with the Materialist. Spiritual forces have been awakened in us. We must talk about the "will to peace," "the will to power." "The will to" this and that and the other (a horrible piece of bad English). We want to live our "full life" and have discovered (oddly enough) that you cannot do that without a living principle—that is, without a soul.
So one may take it that the Materialist is today, after the Bible Christian, the last and weakest of the Survivals. And that is why I have put him second on the list.
He will not have wholly disappeared before my death I hope—though I fear he will—for when he has I shall feel very lonely.
There was a time—yes, up to the end of the '80's—when he was a constant companion, and one could be certain of meeting him pretty well anywhere. The world will be emptier without him, but he is on his last legs.
I beg that no one will mix him up with his more powerful, but nastier, modern brethren who are so angry at having the relationship mentioned. The Pantheist especially abhors him. But he is better than them all.
Should he die in my own time, which is likely enough, I will follow piously at his funeral, which is more than I will do for any of the others.
But when he dies his works will live after him and in due time he will return. He is irrepressible. He lurks in the stuff of mankind.
(iii) The "Wealth and Power" Argument
At this point we pass a dividing line between the Survivals that are patently exhausted and those which, though defeated, are still in activity and still play a considerable part in the modern offensive against the Faith. The Bible Christian is nearly a fossil; the avowed Materialist is a rare specimen dating from long ago. But the Historical Argument against Catholicism, the spirit of Scientific Negation, and this "Wealth and Power" contention which we are about to examine, are of great remaining weight though declining. They form part, still, of active discussion and they still affect the issue.
The "Wealth and Power" argument is briefly as follows:
The Catholic Church is false because nations of Catholic culture have declined steadily in temporal wealth and power as compared with the nations of an anti-Catholic culture, which, in this particular instance, means the Protestant culture.
The first remark we make upon hearing such an argument is that, supposing it to be true, it suffers from two defects in application: (a) It is irrelevant; (b) It does not establish a chain of cause and effect.
The second remark we make is that it is not true.
We stand, when confronted by this "Wealth and Power" argument, much as a man might stand when confronted by the argument that the broad streets and the careful planning of such a town as Washington, D.C., was misuse of energy, because it has been found in practice that a town with narrow and confused streets like Cairo, allowed to grow haphazard, had the higher birth rate.
The argument would be irrelevant because the building of a town with foresight, and giving it broad streets, is not intended to affect the birth rate, but ease of traffic and other conveniences of living; and there is no attempt at producing a chain of cause and effect between a high birth rate and narrow streets. Moreover, it is not true. At one period or in one country the one sort of town has the higher birth rate, in another place or time, the other sort.
Nevertheless the argument made a very strong appeal and powerfully affected men's minds in all countries till quite recent years. Even today it has considerable strength. Below a certain level of instruction it is almost universal in countries of Protestant culture, and though, in nations of Catholic culture, modern evidence has become too strong for it there are pockets of isolated, old-fashioned thought where it has lost little of its original value. These belated people, it is true, are rather to be found among those who have neither traveled nor read much and who are thinking in terms of old tags about enlightenment and progress—particularly such tags as freedom of the Press, education of the masses, and all the rest of it.
In connection with its irrelevancy there is needed a paradox which not all those engaged on the Catholic side of the controversy have heeded. It is, that such example is effective. Where a clear case of superiority in political and economic power can be established, the idea that there is a corresponding superiority in the philosophy or religion of those enjoying such power will be inevitably entertained by men. It will be entertained for the wrong reasons, from confusion of thought and false ideals, but—and this is the important point—it will also be entertained for reasons which have real intellectual and moral value.
As to the wrong reasons: The object of a religion or a philosophy is not to make men wealthy or powerful, but to make them, in the last issue, happy: that is, to fulfill their being. If such happiness is to be found by an immortal race it must not be sought in a transitory and mortal but in a final and immortal happiness. It is an absurd philosophy which makes one do that which pleases for an hour but makes him miserable for the rest of his life; and those who accept the doctrine of immortality cannot appeal to temporal effects as the aim of a true religion. But there is irrelevancy in the argument even for that increasing number who reject the ancient doctrine of immortality, which irrelevancy is that wealth and political power do not of themselves produce even mortal happiness. Even if the wealth and power be well distributed throughout a community, its members will not be happy unless they are inwardly so, and obviously where the distribution is bad, where the few have a vast superfluity and the many are consumed by anxiety or want, or where a few controllers can exercise their will over the many, society has failed, even though its total wealth and power be increased.
What then is the false reason which, in spite of such obvious truths, impels men to accept the argument? It is that all men have as individuals an appetite for wealth and for the power it brings, and the confusion between this and final good is the commonest of errors. Indeed, to our race, save when it is trained in the Catholic philosophy, wealth and power appear as being almost self-evidently the objects of life. St. Thomas has discussed that illusion in his famous question: "Whether money be the main good?" and all men not caring to pursue the reasoning to its conclusion, answer "Yes." Even where the Faith is preserved men pursue wealth and power inordinately. Where the Faith is lost they pursue nothing else.
Now the individual, being thus filled with the pursuit of wealth and the power it brings, projects himself into the community and sees in its increasing total riches a sort of greater individual doing what he himself would wish to do. In that pursuit he impoverishes himself and most others to the advantage of a small number, but the effect is lost upon him in the illusion of general prosperity.
Thus our industrial towns in the modern world boast their good fortune, though the bulk of their inhabitants are needy or half-enslaved.
Such are the false reasons which impel men to accept the argument when, in fact, greater total wealth and power are present in a Protestant than in a Catholic society.
But are there reasons for accepting it which have a real intellectual and moral value? There are—and that is the point I would particularly emphasize, because it is commonly forgotten.
We all live by economic effort and we all rejoice in the strength of our country. Virtue and necessity combine to make us do so. We rightly blame habits of sloth or a mood of indifference to the greatness of the state. When we say, for instance, that drunkenness ruins the power of production in a man, or corruption among its politicians the political power in a nation, we are putting things on a high and good ground, though not on the highest. The highest ground on which to condemn drunkenness in the workers and corruption in public men is that each is morally evil. But to say that their effects impoverish and weaken is to put their condemnation on sufficient grounds. If men hold a moral code which permits such things we rightly judge, by the outward effects of that code (poverty and national failure), that their code is false. If another code produces sobriety and hard word and a strict discipline over Politicians, forbidding their taking bribes or submitting to blackmail, then, other things being equal, we rightly conclude that this second code is the better. It is this commonsense consideration that is of such weight in the argument. If, wherever Catholicism ruled the minds of men and in proportion to its influence we found want and misery due to sloth and other bad habits and a breakdown in the power of the state; if wherever Catholicism was expelled, and in proportion to its absence, we found cheerful, productive, willing industry and a high standard maintained in the public service—especially in its chiefs; if in the first we found external ugliness, vile and insufficient food and drink, dirt and misery, while in the second we found beauty in building, good cooking, cleanliness and merriment, then nothing could prevent men from deciding for the second against the first. The practical argument would be too strong for the theoretical. No presentation of truth in the abstract could avail against the visible, tangible thing present to people's eyes and hands. Here things go well and better and better. There they go badly and worse and worse. The conclusion is obvious.
Now that is precisely the ground on which the "Wealth and Power" argument stood in its moment of chief effect, which was the mid-nineteenth century. There, though it had been badly battered, it stands for many even today.
That argument was particularly effective in England during the same mid-nineteenth century, and still remained very effective there to its close. This was a period when Protestant England was rapidly increasing in wealth, numbers, and extent of dominion, and when the nations of Catholic culture suffered either from decline in wealth in one case, or decline in population in another, or internal convulsions from which England was singularly free. Further, the example immediately to hand (that of Ireland) powerfully affected the minds of Englishmen. They saw there a nation of Catholic culture rapidly declining in wealth and numbers, compared with their own. They did not consider their own contribution to this result. They thought it an example of cosmic process, of divine judgment.
It was customary at the same time to press the contrast with Spain in particular. In all our popular histories a continuous curve of advance was shown from the England of the sixteenth century challenging the might of Spain and defeating it in battle, to the present day.
We were shown Protestant England advancing unlimitedly and the all-powerful Catholic Champion of the sixteenth century falling from lower to lower level for three hundred years, losing its dominion and wealth, lagging further and further and further behind in the advance of material science, failing in population and sinking to what an English Prime Minister, the most capable man of his generation, called "a dying nation."
At the same time, in the more apparently prosperous nations of Catholic culture, it was the anti-Catholic forces which were allied to material prosperity and political power. The revival of France after 1871 was slow until, in 1876, an anti-Catholic group captured the machine and maintained its power. It transformed public education, successfully copied alien institutions, increased the apparent wealth of the nation (or at any rate presided over its rising accumulation of wealth). The Universities achieved their new triumphs under direction vigorously opposed to Catholicism, and one law after another broke the power of the Church.
Italy, from a number of petty states, grew to be a kingdom united and claiming to some standing as a European power. It did so under influences which were at war with the Church. The Papacy was attacked, despoiled of its states and their capital, and thrust down a slope by which it seemingly must rapidly fall to insignificance. A movement parallel to that in France permeated the whole country. Its public education, its press, its literature took on the new tone, and with it a new Italy arose before men's eyes.
All this confirmed the English certitude that Catholicism was identical with decay, and there was added a domestic experience which strengthened the conviction. A vivid interlude of Catholic reaction on a small scale, but startling in intensity, illuminated and alarmed that generation. It secured a small but brilliant band of converts and roused in its votaries extravagant hopes for the future. But it failed. Its chief result was to modify the established Protestant Church, and it was soon perceived that the individual convert to Catholicism in England suffered in its pocket and in his social chances of every kind. He was (and continues to be) an object lesson in the theory of Protestant supremacy. If the convert belonged to a great commercial or financial house he ceased to affect its fortunes. He was not seen at the head of any new enterprise. He failed to establish a Press. As a writer his history or fiction was neglected. As a thinker he might create—as did Newman—a strong effect for a moment: but a passing one. Nor did the numerical proportion of converts to the rest of the nation increase.
The argument, thus effective here in England, grew to be equally effective elsewhere. This was the period in which Protestant Prussia rose to the height of its power. She defeated Catholic France and Catholic Austria; she confirmed her grip over the Poles and dominated the Catholic minority of her new Reich. It was the period in which the United States, after passing successfully through a very grave crisis, proceeded to a rapid increase in material goods, population, and, at the end, international strength. In general also the whole Protestant culture was advancing continuously in Industrial development. A long lifetime and more was filled with this impression of contrast to the disadvantage of Catholicism, and on that account, even today, when it is failing, the survival of this "Wealth and Power" argument against Catholicism, demands our close attention.
Now let us consider what truth there lay in this attitude, and why, in spite of that element of truth, it was fundamentally false, and today is growing less and less tenable.
In the first place we must heavily discount the Protestant culture's own view of itself. All human groups tend to this false perspective and so do all individuals. A man is the chief object in his own landscape, his troubles or successes are invariably less in the scheme of society than they appear to him to be. But the Protestant culture greatly exaggerates this natural tendency, from a morbid self-sufficiency which is to be discovered in all its forms of expression. This proceeds in part from the "Chosen Race" tradition which was originally rooted in Bible worship, but more from a general ethical principle. It is thought a duty, and coincident with patriotism, to cherish a conception of superiority: superiority of one's own national unit over the rest, and superiority of one's Culture in general over an opposing Culture. You find that running through all current speech: in the North Hollanders' contempt for those "South of the Dyke"; in Berlin's contempt for Vienna; in the American word "Dago"; in those innumerable descriptions of our own institutions and productions which end up with a sort of doxology "best in the world ."
Next we must remark that this spirit not only neglects what is excellent in others but forgets elements of wealth and power in which its own people do not excel. For instance, Urban Government in the Reich is, or was, the most orderly and economic in Europe; but the Urban architecture there was the least attractive. The man of this culture will note the less cleanly streets of a rival people rather than their greater beauty. If his food is uneatable, that is an insignificant point, whereas if his postal service is good it becomes a test of civilization. If his trains are punctual and swift and the track better laid than elsewhere these are proofs of leadership: that the cost of transport is excessive becomes a minor part. If his country leads in the amount of a particular product, then mass is the test. But if it leads in excellence, then excellence is the test and mass is a secondary consideration.
To all this we must add the effect of history. History may be so written that every advance or success is a climax, every reverse an interlude—and history so written is worse than none. Yet Protestant history has been so written for generations. An incident petty in the future of Europe becomes capital because it is national. Everything leading up to the existing state of affairs is a piece of good fortune. It was a piece of good fortune that the Monarchy broke down, that Cabinet Government arose, that the industrial towns increased. For long it was a piece of good fortune that the population was rising rapidly. Now it is a piece of good fortune that the birth rate is falling as rapidly.
The most striking example of this spirit is found in the neglect of the basis of all society: the land. The loss of a peasantry—an irreplaceable loss in the strength of a nation—is passed over as a minor detail. The immense agricultural wealth of the Catholic Culture is left aside: a nation's volume of foreign trade and the intensity of its industrialism are made the tests of economic success.
Another consideration of the first importance in judging the "Wealth and Power" Argument is the secular fluctuations in these. It is not true that there has been a steady rise in the Protestant culture, a steady fall in the Catholic. The very buildings of the past are there to teach the least instructed man that lesson of fluctuation. History leaves no doubt on it.
The seventeenth century—and a generation more—was a period of Material Catholic Ascendancy, led by the French Monarchy. The phase on which the "Wealth and Power" Argument was based was a later phase—doubtfully apparent in the later eighteenth century, and only really manifest after the Revolutionary wars.
We may recall in this connection (the rise and fall of material wealth and power over great spaces of time) the old Mahommedan thesis. Mahommedanism at the height of its power claimed its superiority in the arts and in military strength to be the proof of its philosophic truth. Would it apply that test to the last two hundred years? There is no permanence in these things.
The Argument has, then, been advanced on a false basis. But it contains an element of truth which we must admit. In the nineteenth century the Protestant culture did, increasingly, dominate its rival. It followed a rising curve whose summit was reached and passed as the century ended.
The Causes were multiple—the French Revolution with its unexpected effect in creating Modern Prussia and its destruction of the French Fleet: the great "Anti-clerical" religious quarrel which long paralyzed Italy, still heavily handicaps the French and ran through all Catholic Europe with a violence only now diminishing: the successful exploitation of special natural resources—chiefly of coal—outside the Catholic Culture: the exhaustion due to civil disturbance and internal wars within it. But whatever its causes (and there were many more) the phenomenon was there. On it all that was solid in the argument turned.
But, I repeat, these phases of material success are not permanent and that is why the argument has no final value. Today, before our eyes and beyond question the tide in Europe has turned.
Consider in support of that conclusion the more obvious things. There are the new nationalities—Poland and Ireland—the remarkable rise of Italy, which at last men begin to appreciate: the slow but regular advance of Spain. There is the rapid and manifest increase—for what it is worth—in mechanical science throughout the Catholic Culture. There is the profound change in strategic conditions. Most important of all there is the appearance of the Catholic tradition as the one safeguard against the dissolution of our society.
That society will pass through many strains before it is reconsolidated. Wherever the Industrial system has reached its second generation it is threatened by two mortal perils. The first is the demand by an organized proletariat for sustenance without relation to the product of its labor: a demand which threatens the very existence of profit (on the necessary presumption of which Capitalism reposes). The second, and immediately graver danger is that of a revolt for the confiscation of the means of production. Against these two forms of menace it is the Catholic Culture to which men—confusedly—turn. Against the first the Catholic Culture is a defense by its tradition of cooperative labor, the resurrection of the peasant, and the doctrine of private property; against the second by its moral effect in a code which wars to the death against Communism. The presence of Poland as a bastion against the Revolution directed from Moscow is more than a symbol.
Underlying all the great change is a change in the mind: to one who watches Europe as a whole the chief spiritual phenomenon of these years is the return of Catholic Philosophy: directly, in the intellectual fashion of the schools, but, as yet, far more strongly in the indirect effects which you may see everywhere in literature and speech and action. It is witnessed to by the very contrast between itself and the extravagant Paganism around it. The first has the note of endurance, the second of a fever flaming to death.
(iv) The Historical Argument
Next among the more important Survivals is the Historical Argument. Like the others it has definitely crossed the borderline between active life and decay, but has more vigor left in it than remains to the "Wealth and Power" Argument with which I have just dealt.
First, let us define it.
I mean by the Historical attack upon the Catholic Church, not the common thesis that history shows Her to be but a man-made thing, with divinities that are illusions, like all divinities—that belongs rather to my next section on Scientific Negation; but rather the attempted proofs from history that the claims of the Catholic Church to certain historic positions are invalid.
e.g. The Faith affirms that in the sacrament of Her Altars is the full Humanity and Divinity of Jesus Christ really present. I am not here concerned with the idea that this is but one more example of an illusion such as many parallel heathen customs can show—that I leave to another discussion; but rather the argument that we can prove this doctrine to be a late invention of Hers, and that Her affirmation of its original revelation to Her by Her Founder can be disproved by Historical research. For centuries (it is maintained) no such doctrine was held.
Or again, the Faith affirms a Trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as a doctrine coeval with Herself. The Historical attack professes to prove, not that the doctrine is false, but that it formed no part of the original doctrine.
Again the Church affirms the supremacy of Peter: the Historical attack would make this a later accretion. She affirms the infallibility of the Petrine See. The Historical attack would attempt to prove that no such conception was possible before the later Middle Ages.
That is what I mean here by the Historical attack on the Catholic Church.
To note the weakening, in our own time, of this, which was for so long a main attack, is of very high interest. It is, perhaps, the most arresting change of all that has happened in the things of the mind during the last fifty years. Whatever form of attack Catholicism suffered during nearly 400 years—whatever other weapons might be used against it, from the scholars of the Renaissance to our own day, it was taken for granted that, in historical argument, at least, the Church would stand on the defensive; and,. until our own day, upon the defensive She did generally stand.
I am not saying that the defensive was not successful; it often was, as a defensive often is in any other form of conflict—but still, it was a defensive.
Even before the outbreak of chaos in the sixteenth century, before that is, the original confusion too much associated with the name of Martin Luther, there had been, for a lifetime, attacks upon tradition which derived all their weight from the historical argument, and when actual revolt broke out, after 1517, reliance upon history as a sure method of victory against the Faith became universal.
There were two reasons for this which are often confused, and which should be kept distinct.
The first is the fact that a number of unhistorical traditions and affirmations had grown up as accretions to Catholic practice in the course of the Dark and Middle Ages. There were masses of doubtful relics, masses of legend which had come to pass for fact, and all the rest of it. None of these affected the theory of the Catholic Church, but in practice an attack upon them was more valuable for weakening the authority of true religion.
The mind is powerfully affected by any association of ideas; also men easily fail to distinguish between the essential and the accessory. Therefore, when any part of the practice of a man or an institution can be successfully attacked, the whole of their claims and character may, with good fortune, be destroyed in the public mind. The value of playing upon such confusion has not been lost upon historical pamphleteers who have made it their life's work to attack the Faith: for instance, Macaulay. To reconcile his reader to his wildly unhistorical thesis that the English crown was by lawful right at the disposal of a few rich men, he enlarges on the horrid fact that James II indulged in mistresses. It is about as valuable an argument as it would be to plead the ugliness of a railway carriage in defense of not having paid one's fare. But it went down and did the work Macaulay intended it to do.
Now, the Reformers were—the more intelligent of them—well aware that every time you disproved a myth connected with religion you introduced in the public mind a doubt upon the value of the whole religious edifice. For instance, if you exposed the Donation of Constantine, and showed that the document was not of the date it was thought to be and contained a mass of unhistorical matter (mixed up with what are quite certain historical facts) you shook the authority of the Papacy; and this, although the authority of the Papacy had existed for centuries before any appeal was made to the Donation of Constantine.
Historical attacks of this kind offered a boundless field for the exercise of ingenuity and industry, because popular piety, distortion of tradition, misreading, credulity and forgetfulness had, in the course of so many centuries produced a thick growth of unfounded things; and men's very affection for them made their destruction the more effective. There was unlimited opportunity for exposing doubtful follies or ridiculous affirmation and practice, and therefore, by an association of ideas, weakening fundamental doctrine. Thus, there could not be two complete sets of relics of St. Mary Magdalen, one in the South of France and one at Vezelay; yet both were worshipped. Both could therefore be ridiculed. Acts of martyrdom containing gross anachronisms were used to throw doubt upon the very existence of the martyr, or on the plain historical fact of his having suffered death for the Faith. They could also be used to weaken all devotion to such heroism and to make men forget or despise the courage which had secured us in our Christian heritage.
It was not difficult to show that St. Denis, the apostle of Northern Gaul, and Bishop of Paris, was not, as had been childishly imagined, the same of Dionysius, the Areopagite, but of less antiquity. It was still easier to show that there was no contemporary evidence for his carrying his head under his arm. It was a simple matter to show (to the anger of the peasants of Carnac) that St. Cornelius, in spite of his name, had no special association with horned beasts.
This, then, was the first opportunity for using the historical method against the Catholic Church; to wit, that there was, when the attack opened, a great mass of legendary accretion which the historical method could destroy, and by so doing, weaken the main structure as well.
But the second opportunity, more subtle and far less ingenuous, was perhaps of still greater effect. It was that of denouncing the necessary growth of the living church by referring every practice to the test of primitive forms where these were discoverable—and, where they were not discoverable, of saying they had never existed.
It consisted in pointing out to the mass of everyday people, who had never thought about these things, that something with which they were familiar in doctrine or practice, had not existed as a practice before such and such a date, or had not been defined as a doctrine before such and such a date.
This way of directing an historical attack upon the Church was based upon that most useful of all fraudulent practices in controversy, the taking for granted of a first principle without putting it forward in so many words: the inoculating of the mind of one's victim with a supposed truth which he thinks must be accepted because it is not even argued, but simply postulated.
In this case the first principle assumed was that anything added to an original practice, or any further and more exact definition of an original doctrine, was necessarily a corruption. This way of using historical argument against Catholicism had, as in the case of the first method, boundless opportunity.
The institution that the Reformers were attacking had existed for 1,500 years, and had, during all that period, lived an intense and flourishing life full of fruit and development. But the everyday man who heard the argument for the first time, used to the practice of his own time, might easily be shocked at hearing that such a practice was traceable to an origin not very remote, or at any rate, long after apostolic times. Almost anything could be treated as an innovation.
This second method was easier to meet logically than the first, but harder to meet in social practice. It has never had any weight with instructed men but it is fine sauce for fools, and a snare to the humble.
Tell a man, for instance, that the Host was not elevated before the eleventh century; that the celibacy of the clergy was in violent debate during the tenth, and that in practice it was not universal: Tell him that appointment to Bishopric and Abbacy had virtually been in lay hands long before the outbreak of the quarrel of Investitures, that genuflection and lights and bells are of such and such dates—in each case the plain man who was so used to the Elevation, Celibacy, Clerical appointment, etc., that he could imagine no other condition, would be shocked. He would say to himself: "This, which I had believed to be the very material of my religion, I thought to be also as much a fixed part of it in the earliest times as it is today. Now that I have been shown this was not the case I find all my religion untrustworthy."
I say that until our own time, the strength of the historical attack upon the Church held the field. It affected the unlearned far more than the learned. It never triumphed (that is, it never destroyed the thing which it attacked), because its method was false. But it was of prodigious effect.
There are three reasons why the historical argument against Catholicism has recently lost so much of its force.
The first is this: persistent reiteration has at last persuaded our opponents that in proving a custom not primitive or a full definition of doctrine to be late in date, they are wasting their time. Many continue so to waste it, but the more serious anti-Catholic historians will no longer engage themselves in beating the air.
So long as they thought that the method was damaging they continued: when at last they discovered that Catholic historians welcome the growth of custom and definition in the Church, that the Church is a living organism in which such development is part and parcel of being, they turned to other weapons.
The second is that, on our side, there has been a disuse of a bad habit: that of walking into the snare of the enemy.
It was natural for so very ancient and rooted a thing as the Church to maintain as much as might be of any tradition. It was inevitable that the institution bound up with myriads of the populace, thousands of localities and scores of societies, should find each defending its peculiar associations. Such and such a shrine will cling to its legendary as to its true history: such and such a population to its repeated tales. Moreover, in view of the damage done to the whole structure in the past by assault upon its accretions, loyal men were rightly chary of aiding such assault by acquiescence in the jeers of enemies.
But a vigorously critical spirit arising within the Church has grown continually and has by this time done invaluable service. It has even sometimes exceeded its task, but at any rate it has cleared us of reproach.
The third reason is allied to this. The same critical spirit on the Catholic side has at last successfully turned its own weapons against those who first originated the Historical attack and so long continued it.
There was a vast amount of accurate criticism on the Catholic side, begun in the late sixteenth century, and continued into the early nineteenth. But this industry was undertaken either without any polemic views, or only in answer to an attack already delivered. In other words it was filled with the spirit of the defensive. We did not take the initiative.
It is astonishing how late the idea first seems to have occurred, within the body of those who revere tradition, that a still more exact examination of evidence might prove in their favor. It was not, one may say until the nineteenth century, and hardly (in full vigor) before the last third of the nineteenth century, that this new spirit appeared. But, once it had appeared, the opportunities which lay before it proved so unexpectedly numerous that great numbers were attracted to the new interest. A school in defense of tradition was formed, rapidly increased, and rapidly gained weight. It is not a united school—it is formed of various sections often at issue one with another in their philosophy. But the general trend of the stream is clearly apparent, and it is running most vigorously.
There are many masters of this new historical work who have no particular sympathy with Catholicism; not a few individuals engaged in it have even an active dislike of Catholicism; yet, the new and more thorough examination of the past is making everywhere for the Catholic traditional standpoint. And with every year that passes, the position gets stronger.
I would give one example out of a thousand—that already mentioned of the Donation of Constantine.
From the end of the Dark Ages, somewhere in the ninth century, this document was known and used in the West and accepted as genuine. About a century and a half after it had first appeared in the West (or at least, after the date when we of today can first trace it in the West) it began to be used as a support for the Papal claims.
The Donation purports to be a gift, by Constantine, of Sovereignty to the Bishop of Rome over what were later the States of the Church and the Imperial city itself. It is bound up with a story of Pope Sylvester, the contemporary of Constantine, who is represented as having baptized the Emperor when he had been stricken with leprosy, as having cured the leprosy miraculously by the baptism, and as having received these new privileges and governing powers, together with a number of emblematic honors, from the gratitude of the Emperor.
The authenticity of that document began to be questioned in the fifteenth century. Arguments against it were advanced by Peacock, the eccentric but learned Bishop of Chichester in England, and by Valla, the great Italian scholar in Pavia.
It was badly shaken before the Reformation broke out. It became clear to the bulk of educated opinion in the sixteenth century that the thing was not tenable. It was full of myth; it antedated the baptism of Constantine by many years, and it was written in the spirit not of the early fourth century but rather of the seventh or even eighth.
Yet it was still defended officially upon the Catholic side until quite a late date, not being finally abandoned until the seventeenth century.
Now here was a clear case of the historic method used as a weapon against the Faith, and used with apparently complete success. A false document had been accepted as true; it had even been used for supporting a definite piece of Catholic doctrine: to wit, the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome; it had been defended long after it had lost all right to be defended; it was reluctantly abandoned, and the end of the conflict looked like nothing but a humiliating defeat of ignorance at the best, and deliberate falsehood at the worst.
But note what has followed in quite recent times.
The Donation has not been rehabilitated. For the matter of that, it never will be. But what has been proved is a most interesting example of the way in which legend and myth testify to the truth of tradition. A much more elaborate and widespread research than any of its critics had hitherto undertaken established in some points the probability, in others, the certitude, that the document first known to us (in the West) as the Donation of Constantine, was derived from a much earlier legend, the acts of St. Sylvester.
It was further established that these apocryphal acts of St. Sylvester were, like all their kind, rooted in real history. They were formed by layers and layers of accumulated legend wrapping up a kernel of truth: as for instance, the approximate date when Papal government began in the City, the gift of the Lateran Palace, the contemporary careers of St. Sylvester and Constantine, etc. Had all record of the early fourth century been lost these apocryphal acts would have given us half a dozen of the most important facts upon it.
The process continues on all sides. It was but the other day, for instance, that a Catholic scholar exploded the hitherto unquestioned academic teaching of an independent Celtic Church not in communion with, nor acknowledging the supremacy of, Rome. Non-Catholic scholars have similarly reestablished probable authenticity for the famous passage upon Our Lord in Josephus. A scholar definitely—even violently—Anti-Catholic re-established on critical grounds the historicity of St. Patrick, his mission and authorship of the "Confessio."
There continues, of course, a certain amount of brawling against the Faith on the Historical side, as in the case of the notorious Mr. Coulton. But that does not belong in this section of my survey. I deal with it in its place under the popular attacks of our time. Serious history is ceasing to oppose us. The Historians not of the Faith remain opposed to us in Philosophy—sometimes fanatically so. But the hope to damage the Faith by Historical research is weakening. It had a long inning!
(v) Scientific Negation
This, the last of my series of Survivals, and the most vital of them is very difficult to define. What it is we all appreciate: we still meet it daily. We all know the spirit when we come across it; it is a definite organic thing in the thought of our time, a thing which was triumphant not so long ago and formed indeed, in a generation which has not yet passed away, the Main Opposition to Catholic Truth. It is the spirit which dominated Victorian England and politically, if not socially, captured France in the later nineteenth century and flooded the French University. It is the spirit which was taken for granted throughout the ruling minds of Bismarck's new Prussian Germany, and, though inherited from the earlier and more cultured German States, was almost identified with the scholarship of the modern Reich. It was taken for granted, outside the Catholic body, as the mark of the intelligent and educated man during the "Liberal Period" of the Italian resurrection. Those who refused to accept that spirit were hardly treated seriously. Catholicism, its sole rival, was in its judgment stricken to death. The Faith was necessarily doomed, because positive scientific knowledge disproved it. Catholics were not regarded as competent to discuss philosophy, nor as intellectual equals. The individuals among us who by accident became prominent were thought, at the best rhetoricians and poets deliberately indulging their emotions at the expense of their reason, at the worst either insincere men taking up an attitude, or mere fools.
I have said that it is exceedingly difficult to find a name for this spirit. The popular name is, without a doubt, "Scientific." All that is connoted to the general mind by way of praise or blame in the words "Science" and "Scientist" attaches to this attitude of mind.
But if one uses that word "Scientific" unmodified, the Purist will at once object that it is unjustified. For the word "Science" simply means "That which is so firmly established by proof from observation or deduction that the opposite cannot be entertained." For instance Science teaches us that acorns grow into oaks; that the Hyperbola is a section of the Right Cone; that the earth is round; that water treated in certain fashion turns into two other very different substances with individual qualities very different from those of water, which substances we call "Oxygen" and "Hydrogen."
It is clear that "Science," used in this sense, cannot be the opponent of any scheme of transcendental doctrine: it can have no relation to a theology and therefore cannot be the enemy of that theology. The one word relates to research for the establishment of certain truths by experience in the physical world; the other to a philosophy. You might find out all there was to find about the reactions of matter without its helping you in the least to decide whether the Universe be created or self-existent from all eternity. You might learn all there was to be learned of contemporary evidence on a Man's life in the remote past without being any nearer to a decision as to whether that Man's claim to be God Incarnate were an illusion or a statement of reality.
Nevertheless, it was round this neutral word: "Scientific" that those connotations arose which gave it its effect in the controversies of the immediate past. There was such a thing as the "Scientific Spirit" of which men boasted, or to which men pointed with scorn. There was such a thing as a "School of Thought" connected with research into physics (and, by extension, into documents and monuments) which was not only admittedly opposed to the spirit of the Catholic Church, but which produced in every department of social activity from Letters to Architecture, and from Architecture to Legislation, fruits inimical to, and destructive of, Christian civilization. It is that spirit of which I speak. In an attempt to approach accuracy, I have modified the single word by another, and I give this spirit the title of "Scientific Negation."
A title, however accurate, is not an exposition. When we tell a foreigner that there is among us an institution called "The House of Lords" we give him no general idea of it. To do that we must describe its functions, recruitment and character. Let us so proceed with the matter in hand, Scientific Negation.
Scientific Negation was a system based upon a newly extended and a newly exact observation and coordination of evidence, primarily in the field of physics and thence in the field of documents, of relics left from man's ancient handiwork, of social customs and so on.
So far its action was strictly Scientific in the precise sense of that word: facts were established beyond the possibility of doubt, and newly established. The method earned prestige by its rapid extension of human knowledge. Its followers were rightly respected as men who could teach us a very great deal more than had hitherto been known and who had widely broadened the basis of human experience.
For instance, manifold observations proved the presence of innumerable fossil organisms in the rocks of the earth. The coordination of these showed that, in an overwhelming number of them, the fossils came in a certain order of depth, such and such in lower strata, such and such in higher. It further showed that, of these fossil organisms, some were identical with animals and vegetables which exist on earth today, while others were of a sort which, so far as we can discover, no longer so exist: they are, apparently, extinct. If a man were so foolish as to challenge this discovery the proofs could be submitted, they were patent to all, and he was hopelessly discomfited.
The increasing army of observers prided themselves on their integrity, the minuteness of their investigations and the accuracy of them. These three qualities are the essence of "Scientific Method" and they have been well maintained.
Hence arose a capital characteristic of the Modern Scientist which I will call "Instructed Confidence." He was quite sure of himself and his conclusions. They reposed on no mood or whim of his own. They were not debatable. They were established forever by every canon of the human reason. Opposition to them was invariably defeated without hope of recovery, and his continued experience of such success bred a habit of certainty upon matters requiring his expert knowledge. He was absolutely secure. His opponents were necessarily wrong.
So far, I say, the action of the modern scientist had been strictly scientific. But when we proceed to examine his action in more detail we shall see by what avenues crept in the errors which were to shake his prestige.
We note first that all his work was based upon measurement. Nothing was known to him save by measurement, and what cannot be precisely measured was outside his province.
Next we note that in this study there was necessarily present at every moment, in all its details and conclusions, as the very note of its activity, an unchanging sequence of cause and effect.
Dependence upon such a sequence was not new: it was as old as human culture. A man sowed because innumerable experiences in the past had shown that from seed as a cause followed harvest. What was new was the restricting of the study to this sequence of material cause and effect: the exclusion of all beyond them. The modern Scientific Method did not discover the regular connection of physical cause with physical effect any more than it discovered the art of breathing. What it not discovered but inaugurated was a habit of dealing with this alone, to the exclusion of less rigid things.
Now this exclusion of all not measurable and of all not physical was a first impediment to the discovery of reality, a first step out of the path of right reason, a deviation which was bound, at last, to render the wanderer ridiculous.
For instance, I am presented the poetic line:
"And what is more, you'll be a cad, my boy."
I affirm this line on my general judgment to be written not earlier than 1870, and probably after 1900, and in the manner of Mr. Kipling. It is affirmed against me that the line is of the late seventeenth century, from the pen of Dryden. I say that is impossible. I do not base my certitude on anything which can be tested by a metric test. It is a spiritual or moral conclusion, reposing on my sense and experience of language, style and the mental attitude of the two ages.
The Scientific Method is called in to arbitrate. It proceeds to note and measure all the physical circumstance. The paper on which the fragment is written is by every test identical with that of certain Dryden MSS. The handwriting is indistinguishable from that of Dryden and even under the microscope certain characteristics of his lettering are revealed. The ink, on analysis, proves to be the same sort as that with which he wrote, and its color proves its age. The Scientific Method concludes with certitude that the line is Dryden's. But I am right and the Scientific Method is wrong. Where it went wrong I may not discover (though probably with research I shall do so) but that it is wrong the common sense of mankind will agree. The Scientist has made a fool of himself. He may have been deceived by forgery or a hoax, old paper may have been used and the age of the ink imitated and the handwriting as well. Perhaps individual words and letters in Dryden's handwriting have been photographed and retraced in that ink. I don't know. But anyhow the line is certainly not Dryden's and as certainly it is of the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. The instance is grotesque and on that account did I choose it: as an extreme example. But it is not much more absurd than some of the stuff we have had from the "higher critics."
So much for the first cause of error. There is another and graver one.
The Scientific Method proceeds from Postulate to Hypothesis, thence to the confirmation of Hypothesis by further experiment and the search for converging evidence supporting it. This being discovered, the Hypothesis ceases to be called an Hypothesis and is called a scientifically proved Fact: a Scientific Truth. For instance, the Postulate is made that water, in all ages, has had the same effect on sand as it has today. I make the Hypothesis that a desert ravine was once a river bed. My Hypothesis is confirmed by the presence of sand stratified as it would be if laid down today by water and further research discovers fossils of fresh-water fish. My Hypothesis is now called a Scientific Truth, not established directly by the certain evidence of the senses (no one has seen the gully full of water) but by inference.
Now this process, which is of the essence of the Scientific Method, is valuable and has led to innumerable useful discoveries. It has not, for the establishment of truth, the same degree of value that direct evidence has. Yet it is given that false value.
It may go wrong on either limb. The Postulate may be incorrect or the confirmation of the Hypothesis insufficient, and both are always at the mercy of a new observation.
For instance, a Scientist Postulates that the more degraded a savage tribe the more nearly does it resemble our remote ancestors. He finds fossil human relics resembling in their measurements those of a degraded modern type of savage. He forms the Hypothesis that these fossils belong to a society which, like his modern savage, makes no baked pottery and has no knowledge of smelting. The hypothesis is confirmed by the absence of shards and metal in connection with the fossil bones. He affirms it as Scientifically established fact that this primitive type was a very early one and had no metals. But it is not proven fact. It is still Hypothesis and at the mercy of a new discovery. It is found that the ancestors of these modern savages, not so long ago, made pottery, and smelted metals, and that so far from being primitive they have fallen from a higher level of culture. His "Scientific Fact" has gone to join a thousand others, as confidently asserted and as contemptuously dismissed by reality—that ruthless enemy of Scientific Pride.
That is a simple example and obviously leads to no contradiction of religious truths.
But wait a moment. We observe already the tendency to accept hypothesis for fact, and the capital point that measurement occupies all the activities of the man—and measurement is a mechanical operation. We note that these are coupled with a long-established habit of Instructed Certitude. Lastly, our knowledge of men tells us that they establish among themselves, in any occupation, a corporate tradition or "school" in the tenets of which the older members of the craft are firmly fixed—not to say "rusted in" and to which recruits subscribe unconsciously as they are absorbed into the main body.
Put all this together and what would you expect—men being what they are? You would expect that with time a body would grow up of those engaged in such tasks, which body would, without direct incorporation, be bound together by common achievements, a common tradition and a common spirit. You would expect that devotion to mere measurement would tend to create a contempt for those forms of experience to which measurement cannot apply. You would expect that a greater and greater mass of hypothesis would be dogmatically advanced as fact, that when one hypothesis posing as fact broke down, instead of admitting error, another hypothesis would be framed to hide the gap, until at last a whole structure of imaginaries—hypotheses built up on other hypotheses "ad infinitum"—would raise its flimsy fog to the concealment of reality. You would expect that great achievements in the practical application of discovery would lead to such men's claiming a right to advise in matters outside their province and, when possible, to dictate and enforce their conclusions by law. You would expect such a spirit to come in conflict with the common sense of mankind and especially with the transcendental affirmations of religion which no mechanical system can comprehend. Finally, you would expect that, in such a conflict, common sense and religion combined would discover the weakness of their opponent's position and would wreck it.
And that is exactly what has happened. The Scientists came, the greater part of them, to form an unacknowledged international body. Its members—for the most part—took the non-measurable subjects of knowledge to be negligible. Hypothesis disguised as proved fact rioted everywhere, from guesses at the hidden antiquities of the earth to guesses at impossible authorship of the classics. On the breakdown of a false hypothesis, error was not admitted but new hypotheses invented to hide the failure. Too many affirmations were exploded, too many prophecies failed, and at last the common sense of mankind rebelled.
Still more important in the production of Scientific Negation was the formation of mental habits. A study which dealt only with innumerable examples of apparently invariable sequence in material cause and effect, and which neglected all considerations exterior to that sequence, produced, in minds not strong enough to distinguish between habitual ideas and logic (few minds today are so strong), an irrational conception that such sequence was universal, necessary and unfailing: that exceptions to it could not exist. The miraculous, the exceptional, was impossible.
Posterity will be amused (or amazed) I think to remark so grotesque an aberration of the mind: as we are amused and amazed today by the astronomical errors of Ptolemists or by the credulity of tenth-century hagiographers. But so it was. The Scientist proceeded to Scientific Negation through this quite irrational mental habit. "Every time a human body has been weighed by me and my colleagues it has been found heavier than air. Therefore levitation is impossible."
The high-water mark of this confused thinking was reached in the late '70's and early '80's.
I quote from a book typical of those days. It is that of Baird's lectures published in '83.
"Every day adds to the overwhelming accumulation of evidence that He (God) though He might, never does interfere with the operation of natural sequence—called 'laws.'"
Note the word evidence! Was ever such nonsense? There is evidence of natural sequence? Of course—identical pieces of evidence by millions and trillions have guided mankind from the beginning and still do. We base all our lives on such evidence. But what rational connection is there between that general sequence and the impossibility of exception? Yet the writer of 1883 honestly believed he was thinking when he was only feeling: reasoning, when he was but suffering an emotion.
That process which as we have just seen might have been expected to take place is exactly what has happened. There are numerous exceptions, but the main body of modern scientists has gone down that road, and therefore the quasi-philosophic position in which they were so assured is now ruined; for it warred with reason.
It is no good protesting that the True Scientist is nothing of all this: that he does no more than patiently observe, never affirms a thing to be proved until it is, humbly rejects any claim to talk on things that are beyond him. Obviously the ideal scientist would behave so. But the human scientist, belonging as he does to a fallen race, didn't behave so. He denied wholesale; his "Scientific Negation" was, until lately, the mark of all our time.
For there followed from a confirmed habit of unreasonably postulating the necessary and universal sequence of material cause and effect the gravest result: the very principle of negation in Scientific Negation. It was as follows:
Since exception to natural sequence by the action of Will was, muddle-headedly, thought (or rather felt) to be impossible, the Scientist denied wholesale all that was external to it. He denied, of course, all the supernatural in bulk: the birth of Our Lord from a Virgin, the Miracles, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, Revelation, Immortality—all the Creed. But he also denied spiritual perceptions. He denied the whole basis of the Faith.
Let no one plead that he did so as an individual and did not engage a body of thought. The examples were innumerable. They covered Europe; and even today the Valiant Survivals carry on. Sir Arthur Keith, speaking not out of his private opinions but as a Scientist and from what he seems most strangely to have taken—at this time of day!—for "Scientific" evidence, recently proved to us, himself a Survival, that there was no Survival of the Human Soul after death.
I have put the Scientific Negation here on the extreme edge of the Survivals, marking it as a thing which, though it has already passed its zenith, is still of such power among us that it might almost seem to form today, as it certainly did forty or fifty years ago, the main contemporary force in opposition to Catholic truth. The reason I include it thus among the Survivals at all is that it is weakening; and by that mark may be distinguished from another, later force, its baser by-product with which I shall deal in a few pages. That product of Scientific Negation is now our chief main opponent, and I shall describe as such under the title of "The Modern Mind."
"Scientific Negation" is defeated. It knows that it is defeated, and it is beginning to retreat.
Let us sum up the causes of its failure, the weaknesses which have turned it into a Survival.
It has failed partly through its own self-contradictions, partly through its extravagances, more because the imperfection of its method has been exposed: and that exposure was largely provoked by its arrogance.
Its self-contradiction: It positively affirmed on one day irrefutable dogmas such as the indestructible and indivisible atom, which it had to abandon the next. It made matters worse by not frankly admitting error—it never does—but by pretending that its instruction had "expanded."
Its extravagances: As in its talk of "alcohol" of which no mortal ever made a beverage nor will, of "eugenics" and "sterilization of the unfit" which are half murderous and half inept; of the coming changes in man, which didn't happen; of its right to control our lives and perform on us every inhuman experiment.
But the main work has been done by its exposure on the part of those whom it despised. They began to insist that a man who said (as one of their principal spokesmen did) "we cannot really know a thing unless we can measure it" was below the normal level in reasoning power. They maintained with success that the certain must be preferred to the grossly uncertain; our moral sense (for example) to a succession of vague and quite unfounded guesses as to its prehistoric origin, and our experience of real things—beef, mutton, earth, sky, sea, love, bread, wine, poetry—to imaginaries ("The Ether," for instance) which were talked of as familiarly as the air we breathe but which no man ever has known or can know. We know the Gospels—we know their profound effect; but as for "Q," what is that ridiculous figment compared with them?
Thus has it failed.
For the special quality of "Scientific Negation" in all its various branches—in physical theory (or rather in false metaphysics ill-reasoned from physical research) in what is called "The Higher Criticism," in what is called "Comparative Religion" and all the rest of it—was as I have said, "Instructed Confidence." When that confidence came to be shaken, both in its own heart and in the judgment of others, the essential principle of the thing collapsed.
Ferrero's judgment stands. "The men of the nineteenth century thought they knew all. They knew nothing."
Its passing is not without the power to move us. Its exponents of that older generation, such as the great Huxley in one field, Renan in another, were men of remarkable stature. They not only had high powers of expression, but a very deep knowledge of their subjects. So armed, they had come to the fixed conclusion that the universe was thus and thus: incompatible with the Catholic doctrine. Today the Survivals of their kind, men often highly instructed, and also highly gifted in expression, are not, at heart, confident. They feel what their forerunners never felt—the weight of our fire.
We have in England many such survivors of that older type, they are in especial strength here, because in the Protestant culture the opposition to these false pretensions was ill-founded. They know little of the Catholic reply: yet even so they show all the symptoms of decline.
They are as dogmatic as ever their elders were, but every one of them carries the scars of wounds received in controversy, such as their elders never knew. They affirm with the same vigor as was common in a time happier for their school, but it is a vigor used on the defensive. The one will confidently assert that the Fourth Gospel has been "proved" to be no work of an eyewitness; the other will as confidently reaffirm the old dogma that there is no design in animated nature, that all teleological conceptions are false and that no Creator is needed. But in each case one feels that the attitude is no longer the attitude of the 1870's. It is no longer the old forward triumphant attack brushing aside a resistance which it could afford to despise. It is the attitude of a man on his guard, expecting to meet heavier and heavier counterblows. It is a defensive that wobbles and sometimes screams. It often has to shield itself by refusing to consider evidence, or by insufficient quotation, or even by silence.
Of old the man who—in the Protestant culture—got rid of a creative God by making development mechanical, expected to find against him at the worst some negative argument which further research would disprove. He was rightly contemptuous of such futile defense. If he were told that his evidence was fragmentary, and therefore inconclusive, he could confidently await a mass of new knowledge, the extension of which proceeded prodigiously year by year. Commonly, he was met either by obscurantism—that is, a refusal to look at the evidence—or by appeals to mere emotion (such as "Can we believe that the marvelous structure of the human eye, etc., etc."); or by thoroughly bad logic, such as the confusion between the facts of Evolution in general and a particular false theory upon its cause (as when a man said: "I do not believe in Natural Selection, because it would have me descended from an ape") or by begging the question, as by an appeal to the authority of Scripture which the Scientist did not admit.
Today it is quite another pair of shoes. The man who gallantly proclaims the old-fashioned dogma of Mechanical Natural Selection as disproving design and a Creator, is dreadfully aware of what he has to meet—and he meets it, to his discomfiture. It is he now, and not his opponent, who has to fall back upon doubtful forms of argument, to quibbling or to mere thumping of the table. It is he who is driven to phrases like "All Authorities are agreed" or "No Biologist with a reputation to lose will deny," and so on.
Thus, in a recent controversy, one of our most distinguished opponents, arguing against a Creator, quoted as an example of the working of Natural Selection the destruction of light moths upon a dark background, and of dark moths upon a light background. Whether this were unintelligence or quibbling is immaterial; it was manifest nonsense. The point is not whether animals get killed under circumstances hostile to them—of course they do—but whether dead and blind environment will mechanically and blindly produce a new kind of animal and endow it with new qualities. It is not a question of whether prolonged frost will kill bees, but of how a bee comes to make his invariable angle for the cell with the wax he fashions.
The old textual attack has gone down the same road. When a man quietly took it for granted in my youth that the Fourth Gospel was far too late to be cited as testimony he had with him nearly all that counted in Europe; the counter-attack had not developed. Today he has to read—from his own champion—the final conclusion that it "may have fallen within the lifetime of the Apostle" and "undoubtedly contains much Johannine material." It does indeed!
It is so all along the line, and this strongest of the Survivals is but a Survival now. Would that it had left no progeny!
1. With the notable exception: the words: "This is my Body...this is my Blood." There is irony in the insistence upon that one inconsistency.
2. "How the Reformation Happened." (Cape.)
3. M. V. Hay: "A Chain of Error in Scottish History" (Longmans).
4. The late Dr. Bury of T.D.C. and Cambridge.